9 – 11 May: A dash through France – Champagne to Provence

Author: Mr A

Location: Beaune, Mirmande and Bagnols-en-Forêt, France

We had three days to travel just under a 1,000km through the centre of France in order to reach our next get together with friends in Provence. That meant the freeways – expensive, boring and fast would be my summary. We spent around €100 on tolls, but arrived early enough at our stopovers to at least see something of the country.

Thursday: The first night we returned to the town of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgandy. We had been here a few years ago and loved it, staying at a great free parking spot within walking distance of the town centre.

The old hospital from the 1400s
Mr A strolling through the wet cobbled streets
Basilique Notre-Dame de Beaune – 13th century church
Founding date of the hospital for the poor
The most magnificent cheese shop

It rained on and off but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for ogling the amazing selection of food and wine shops that cram into the tiny centre. A very classy place is Beaune. We escaped with our wallets intact, only giving way to our desires with a round of washed rind sheep’s cheese, a type of cheese Catherine can tolerate small amounts of with her dairy intolerance.

Friday: We were up and off in the morning and hitting the freeways again. We managed to get to Mirmande, our stop over, early enough to have a good explore on the bikes.

Camping in a meadow full of daisies – we’ve been in worse locations!

Around 4km from our delightful little campsite (La Poche camping) was a village a friend had recommended as it is in the category of “one of the most beautiful in France” – along with hundreds of others I think, as there seems so many. In fact I looked it up, there’s 156 that an association formed in the early 80’s recognises as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France“. There’s some criteria they need to meet and a branding they can use. All very noble.

Our trusty little e-bikes powered us up right to the 12th century church at the top of the village, with outstanding in views right down to the Rhone river.

Built in the 12th century, the church of Saint Foy – now hosts an art exhibition rather than a congregation
A wall with a view

Magnificent 360 degree views across the countryside
A fabulous art exhibition space within the old church
Beautiful views around every corner
Lots of reminders of the ancient past
The village is as famous for its gardens which complement the views
Ivy covered buildings with fabulous views
Passing the old ramparts on our slow passage down through the village

It’s the little details that count

The village also has an award for the best roofs in France
Riding up to the Church, we can hardly believe the residents bring cars up here

Mr & Mrs A in front of the village

After snapping away for a while I dragged Mrs A away and we headed down to the Rhône through some lovely countryside.

The Rhône – a strong current and a very long river

The climb back up to our camp was 4km straight up – thankyou Mr Bosch we love your pedal assist technology!

Saturday: The final day of the drive into Provence was completed without incident. There was no tailgating, or middle lane hogs, drivers are almost all respectful to others on the road. A pleasure to experience, coming from Australia and New Zealand. So we finally reached our destination at our friends’ place just outside a small village called Bagnols-en-Forêt in the hills behind Cannes and St Tropez. And what a place it is! They have created this private oasis of a garden, and a house of eclectic, exquisite taste. Colin is an awesome master of his domain, the kitchen, and dinner a sumptuous affair. The rest of the mob arrive tomorrow, so we enjoy the time to ourselves catching up with these guys.

It’s fascinating to get their perspective on French life, as Australians who moved out here 8 years ago. I think the best phrase I heard them use was that the French life in a “bubble”, where the world in some ways doesn’t seem to touch them too deeply. Traditions are maintained, micro-agriculture common, family life still central to their lives it seems. The finer and often simpler moments in life are still treasured. A long lunch with friends (where mobiles seems less prevalent than at home), a walk through the woods, choosing the weekly shop undertaken with such care at the local market. These are the things we observe and love about France.

Rescued dog Genie is slowly getting used to us
Blue skies and a tempting looking pool (though at less than 20 degrees, not ‘that’ tempting!)

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