S is for…

SSt. Hilaire Abbey

In Provence there is a 13th century convent tucked into the fold of the hills of the Vaucluse. St. Hilaire is my happy place. When I meditate that is where I picture myself, sitting on the grass in the courtyard in back, watching the poplar trees across the valley sway in the breeze. We sat there for a long time, Kosta and I, just drinking in the peace infused in the very stones of the place. We didn’t speak, we just sat and watched the sky, the trees, and felt the breeze wash over us, content to just be. Even if I never return (and I sorely hope that is not the case) I will never forget the way that place made me feel.

The front entrance of the abbey.

The front entrance of the abbey.

Set in stone.

Set in stone.

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

N is for…

NNotre Dame de Paris

I have visited this cathedral twice in my life–once on a study abroad tour in 1995 and once with my husband in 2013. It was really the first true Gothic cathedral I visited and it blew me away with it being massively cavernous, and yet somehow delicate and ethereal at the same time.

The western facade

The western facade

Both times were crowded, but my most recent visit was truly packed. We were there in September and the line to get inside wound around the square in front of it. And much to our dismay, some hillbilly with a thick southern accent was pointing at the church and shouting at the line, “Is this FREE?” I wanted to die, I was so embarrassed to be an American. I’m not usually, but ask me again if Trump gets elected.

Light and shadow

Light and shadow

If the place wasn’t so crowded I imagine it would be a place full of quiet peace. We found it to be stuffy, loud, and hard to navigate through the throngs of people. Even so, it is a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold.

Looking up. For you art nerds, see the four part nave elevation?

Looking up.

L is for…

LLourmarin

Lourmarin is a beautiful village in the hills of Provence. We visited in 2013 and were infinitely lucky we turned up on market day. You would not believe the markets in France, they are the best and most wonderful in the world, in my humble opinion. That day we bought fresh goat cheeses, tapenade, olives, crusty bread, and wine. There were also Provencal soaps, lavender, scarves, lace, olive wood bowls and spoons, herbs, and all sorts of gorgeous goods all heaped together.

all the

Olives, olives, olives!

Kosta in the thick of things.

Kosta in the thick of things.

After we wandered the stalls we sat at an outdoor cafe and had a drink while we watched people. There was a crazy bald man with an accordion busking for change and making us all laugh with his songs and dancing. My husband, who is a huge fan of Peter Mayle, noticed later that his author photo on his books was taken at the very same cafe where we sat. Sadly, we did not see him, otherwise we may have had to gush.

Cheese!

Cheese!

Highly entertaining kook with an accordion.

Highly entertaining kook with an accordion.

C is for…

CChateau-neuf du Pape

The premiere wines of Provence come from this little town, which is in itself a gem, a central fountain, winding streets up the hills, and many wine caves for tasting the wares of the different vineyards. We spent a lovely afternoon there after a morning in Avignon.

In the vineyards

In the vineyards

We had lunch at an outdoor café and then explored the town, walking up the hill to the church and then back down again to buy some wine. We came away with five precious bottles – three to be given as gifts to our hosts, and two to come home with us. If you’ve never been to France let me tell you there is no such thing as a bad bottle of wine. Even the cheap €3 bottle we bought for a picnic was far superior to anything we can get in the US.

Savoring lunch.

Savoring lunch.

Wine tastings are available in these wine caves all along the main street.

Wine tastings are available in these wine caves all along the main street. You can see the picture on the left of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie–their most famous visitors.

You can't really see him, but the man we bought from was a dead ringer for Elvis Costello.

You can’t really see him, but the man we bought from was a dead ringer for Elvis Costello.

Charming and great wine? Yes, please.

Charming and great wine? Yes, please.