After we had a “taste” of Provence from the day before and saw all the great things in the tourist brochures that we could do and pay an arm and a leg for, we decided to do it our way. We high lighted all of the featured places to see, rented a car from Marseille’s train station, and headed out into the south of France with a few boxes to check! All in all we were able to save money, see what we wanted with our kids without the stress of traveling in a herd of strangers, and make up our own itinerary.
First of all, Hertz hooked it up! We got the car, the GPS ( my God I totally recommend this! ), two car seats AND full coverage for $200. Tour alone would have costed north of $400 for the fam. We set off for our first conquest to a town called Lourmarin. On our way, we saw the remnants of an old Roman aqueduct ( unbeknownst to us!) CHECK! We entered the town and found parking right away. We all high fived and marched on to the Chateau ( which really looked like a castle ) CHECK!. The Chateau was Chateau Lourmarin, of course. After the kids scuffled and argued we continued our march through the sleepy picturesque town to our destination. The sunlight here is soooo gorgeous. Seriously, it has a golden hue to it. We walked up to the entrance, passing olive tree groves, and entered into the garden. The Chateau had a huge koi fish pond which the kids loved. We then proceeded to tour on our own through this amazing house. The stone spiral stairs were incredible and the interior of this place, with the large windows, huge fireplaces, and rich colors, surely left you with an impression of how good life was in this yesteryear of an estate. Que the record scratching sound and that is where our children come in. We pleaded with them to be quiet so that others could enjoy this beautiful setting. That didn’t work. Mylan said he had to have an emergency poop session and Sienna was bouncing off the walls and seriously cannot speak below 75 decibels. The kids got to fill out a questionnaire and get a present when they left. The present was a book mark. Sienna was not impressed.
We left the town and headed towards Gordes, our next French provencal hilltop town. Luckily, I packed 5 PBJ sandwiches for our kids along with a bag of grapes, cereal, and apples so I could feed them along the way with ease. Not to mention the 3 bottles of water. We again found parking with ease and marched into the town. It is so small so it doesn’t take long to conquer a town. We took a few pics and meandered through the winding alleys and found a place to have lunch. At this point the children had their first and second lunch, so this was their third lunch and our FIRST lunch of the day. We inhaled a gorgonzola and mozzarella pizza with fresh basil and washed it down with a glass of wine (CHECK!). The town was one of France’s most beautiful towns ( according to travel brochure we had ), and it was just that. There was an old provencal church made with the old French stone, the old castle, and views that stretched for miles overlooking the vineyards and farm land. I could live here. Okay, time to snap out of it and get back on schedule. We loaded ourselves back into the “PANDA”, our very small eco friendly vehicle and drove to the famous Abbaye de Senanque. ( http://www.senanque.fr/ ). When you think of southern France and lavender fields, you picture this place (CHECK!). We made the very tail end of the season, you could smell the lavender as we pulled into the parking lot. This place was beautiful. I can only imagine what it looks like in full bloom. We decided to not go on the 1 hour tour since we had our two busy bodies and opted for walking around the grounds. I wanted to buy everything lavender but knowing that I had to carry it with me for the rest of the trip was enough for me to resist. Que the wheels screeching out of the abbey and we were off to find a vin cave ( winery ). Our last check in the box.
We decided to take a different way back and passed by a winery in the heart of wine country. Mike said ” Let’s check this out ” and Tokyo drifted into the place. Luckily, we were the only people there as it was after 4pm and the owner was still there. Hello Domaine de Chantegrillet (translated – Singing Cricket). Madam Michelle (the owner) was so sweet and accommodated Mike and I, and more importantly the children. Not ONLY did she let us try her fabulous wine BUT she also happened to be a Lego maniac. She brought out a huge bin of monster sized legos for the kids to play with while mommy and daddy got our wine tasting on! OH YEAH! THIS WAS MEANT TO BE! After our wine tasting, she gave us a tour of the winery. We went into the cellar and there was a special treat. She had a mini lego collection and a layout of southern France festivities during the holidays. I am a Christmas junkie so I totally got a kick out of this. Everything was so detailed and the kids love it. Madam Michelle told us that they were harvesting the grapes that day and the truck would be arriving. We asked if we could stay to see the grapes being delivered and she said that would be fine. In the meantime, she gave us a tour of her winery. This included meeting Bacchus, the BIG black horse. The kids got to pet and feed him. This horse was as big as a Clydesdale and was from Belgium. After that, we walked through the vineyards where the kids got to pick and eat some of the grapes. Michelle showed us a few plants that would burst if you touched it with a stick. I tried it and got some of the spray in my face and frantically asked if it was poisonous-luckily it was not. We met her two truffle dogs, her chickens and peacocks, and ended the day watching the grapes being delivered. This was an awesome experience and I must say, we checked all of the boxes on our do-it-yourself itinerary. Plus we saved hundreds of dollars and scored 4 bottles of wine!
Travel Tip: Rent the car at the train station or air port. If you try to rent ( with short notice ) from Aix En Provence city or TGV, you will most likely not be able to get a rental car. If you go on a tour similar to what we did, with two children, it would have been very expensive and only include being shuttled around, not lunch and tour costs. Renting your vehicle and making your own destination will save you time and money. Go HERTZ!
p.s. More pics to come (there are over 100 from Aix en Provence) but we are on currently sleeping on a min-yacht in the harbor of Genova, Italy and have limited wifi (1 will have to do for now)…more on Genova in a bit!