Friday, October 11, 2019

My Wild and Precious Friend


Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
         --From “The Summer Day“ by Mary Oliver (1935 - 2019)

One of the many things I've loved about living in Provence is how it attracts a steady stream of fascinating, accomplished people from all over the world. If you're here for any reasonable amount of time and open to it, you can have the most-wonderful experiences with a whole gamut of humans, with experiences vastly different from your own.

Susie Rheault and her husband Gil Williams are a perfect example. I have no idea how we first met but we bonded instantly. With their kids grown and having families of their own, Susie (now 70) and Gil (81) were splitting their time between Boston, Martha's Vineyard, Provence and Africa. Susie was still working and Gil was theoretically retired (his field was organizational development after many years as an elementary school principal), and together they were involved  in various projects on three continents.

Besides their gentle warmth and general adorableness, one of the many things that drew me to Susie and Gil was their devotion to do-gooding. They seemed to be continuously nurturing a large group of people including friends, family, clients, neighbors, colleagues and more. But the thing that really got me were the stories they told about Tanzania and the work they were doing there with extremely vulnerable children.
The short version is, they had found a small "desperately grim" orphanage that needed help...and they had jumped in.  
If you want the longer version you're in luck because Susie tells the whole remarkable story in her just-published book, My Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir of Africa (Bush Baby Press, September 2019).
A psychologist with a specialization in organizational development, Susie has spent her 30-plus year career working globally, with senior execs across the private and public sectors. Since 2007, she'd been a Special Advisor for the Clinton Foundation Health Access Initiative supporting field offices in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland. In each of these countries, she trained local staff to accelerate HIV testing and treatment using a grassroots team-based approach.

The years Susie spent working in sub-Saharan Africa with the Clinton Foundation had made her even more hungry to help others. She had been longing for a long-term project, something where she could see real sustainable results over time.

"I started in Africa in '07," she recalls in a podcast here. "I worked for the Clinton Foundation off and on for the next five years. I'd bounce back and forth on these trips that were pretty exhausting, on flights of 16 hours or so. The more I traveled to other countries, the more I missed Gil who was keeping the home fires burning. And I was...tired of trying to learn a different African language with each visit. I started to say to myself, what if we could find a smaller project where they need us, where we could stay put and see what noodles stick on the wall?"

And then one day in tiny, rural Nshupu, Tanzania, she and Gil stumbled on the Precious Orphan's Childrens Home: two small, very-spare concrete buildings that was home to nine kids, all of whom had been orphaned or abandoned. "There were no toys, no books, no blankets," Susie remembers, "nothing except these kids bouncing around on a bunk bed. We were just stunned. We couldn't believe they were as animated as they were, living under such dire circumstances. There were dirt floors...there was no running water...nothing!"
A local school teacher named William Modest had started the orphanage after having watched his own mother die of AIDS when he was a teen. He and his wife Sarah--also a teacher--were running it single handedly, having given up their other jobs. "All they had for funds were handouts from the local church," Susie continues, "which meant a bag of maize every so often but nothing like a predictable meal plan."  Susie and Gil formed an alliance with William and Sarah in 2011 and launched the Precious Project.
What's been accomplished there in just eight years is astounding and deeply inspiring. "Precious" has grown to include a new home for 21 children, a 10-room primary school, am elementary school with 350 students, a working organic farm, a library, a community/dining hall, a dorm and two women's empowerment groups.
Today William and Sarah manage day-to-day operations, Susie and Gil handle strategic development and a board of directors provides wide-ranging expertise. A dedicated group of roughly 45 employees includes five education administrators, 12 teachers, cooks, childcare providers, bus drivers, a gardener, a librarian, volunteers, "mamas" and more.
It was an uphill battle, to say the least. "We had never run an orphanage, we didn't speak Swahili, and we had never done any fund-raising," Susie says. "But we jumped in with both feet. I was convinced that somehow my experience crisscrossing the continent would inoculate us from making the most egregious mistakes, but of course that wasn't true. It's been a roller coaster of hope and hard learnings! We would be mildly euphoric with a sense of renewed purpose but then, time and again, regularly humbled by the undertow of desperation that poverty engenders."
While it continues as an orphanage, the key focus at the Precious Project is now education. "We see that as highly important work in the world," Susie says, "and it's making a huge difference in the lives of these children, the leaders of tomorrow."
Today Susie and Gil live half the year in Africa, where they work closely with William and Sarah. The rest of the year they're back in Boston with occasional visits to Provence, although having sold their home in St. Remy, they're around much less than they used to be. From what I can tell though, the couple could not be happier.
"It's never too late to live a life of purpose," Susie proclaims. "It's never too late to have adventures and stretch yourself. People who have a deep sense of purpose live longer and live better. This, I guess, is the third chapter of my life and it's been the most deeply rewarding. This is definitely my life's calling.
"Each time we return to Tanzania," she continues, "we see the children we have cared for since 2011 sprouting up and becoming extraordinary people. It's so deeply gratifying...everyone deserves a chance!"
My Wild and Precious Life is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A portion of proceeds goes to the Precious Project.
To learn more about the Precious Project and donate in any amount, click here.
You can also follow Precious on Facebook, see their videos on YouTube and listen to Susie being interviewed here.
To connect with Susie, reach out on LinkedIn or email her directly: susie@rheault-williams.com.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Two-for-One French Meal Deals


Booking opened today for the 10th annual Tous au Restaurant promotion, in which restaurants across France offer special "buy one, get one free" multi-course menus at lunch or dinner or both. Tous au Restaurant runs Sept 30 to Oct 13 and roughly 1000 restaurants are signed up. What a great opportunity to sample restaurants you’ve been wanting to try...or to plan a foodie road trip...or to make like a big shot and treat your friends to a fancy meal!

Launched in 2010 by superstar chef Alain Ducasse, it's meant to encourage people to eat out more often: in mom-and-pop bistros, in top Michelin-starred restaurants and everything in between. 
Last year roughly 250,000 people reserved tables in close to 1800 restaurants. 
Organizers say the two-week festival is designed not as a money-maker—many restaurants just break even--but to get people out and about, discovering new chefs, neighborhoods, cuisines and more.

So what's the deal? Book online and order the special Tous au Restaurant menu and a second person at the table enjoys the same menu free. (Pas mal!, as the French would say, when something is very good indeed.) The restaurants choose what meals to offer, on which days and times. In some cases there's no choice; you eat what the chef is serving. In many cases however, you have multiple choices for each course. Restaurant ratings come from the French restaurant-booking site La Fourchette, the major sponsor.


A small caveat: the Tous au Restaurant site just went live this morning (10 am France time) and isn't quite up to speed. For example, if you choose Provence or Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur from the drop down menu, you get just eight or nine restaurant choices. But if you choose one city--Marseille, for example--you see 28. Hopefully the kinks will be worked out soon so be sure to check back. Also, restaurants are still being added and will be, probably right up to Sept 30. That said, the most-popular places and times sell out quickly so book early and book often!


To get started, click here and click the red box Je Réserve. Start typing your city and choose the correct one from the drop down. (In Paris you can search by arrondisement or see a complete list.) Find the restaurant you want, review the special menu and then click "
Réserver avec cette offre." You'll be asked to pick your day, time and party size...and then be taken to another page to input your contact info and special requests. I assume they follow up with a confirmation email. The site is only in French but it's fairly easy to figure out; it also works pretty well if you have your web translator on although that leads to some cute names such as "The Plug of the Transplants" (Le Bouchon des Greffes in Nimes) and "Craftsman of the Marsh Truffle" (Artisan de la Truffe in the Marais neighborhood of Paris).

Reservations are online only. If you book and need to cancel, you can do that through the site as well. Cancellation policies vary but are clearly stated. Can't wait to hear where you ate and what you loved. 
Bon Appétit!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Heritage Days are Sept 21 & 22


It's that time again: The 36th annual Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) takes place Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22, in cities and villages all over France. The program was launched by the French Ministry of Culture in 1984 and has since spread all over Europe (officially it's now called European Heritage Days). This year the theme is "Arts & Entertainment" and 17,000 sites in France are participating, with 26,000 events. It's one the biggest events in France and one of my favorite weekends of the year.

The idea is that a wide range of historic monuments, religious sites, estates, gardens,  domaines, workshops, galleries, ateliers, factories and more are open for special visits, including many that are normally closed to the public. Most sites are offering free entry and will have a guide on hand; some are hosting special tours and events (mostly in French). Some may require you to sign up in advance...but for the most part, you just show up. 

The main website is here (or in English here) but you'll fare much better with the department-by-department listings here. Or, check in with the Tourist Office or the tourism website of the village, city or region you want to visit. For example, as of today the department-listings page mentions just six participating sites in my village of St. Remy (in Department #13, the Bouches-du-Rhone) but every year the village publishes its own terrific guide and this year it lists 22 participating sites. You can see them all, with the map, here. If you prefer a printed copy,  you can pick one up at the St. Remy Tourist Office or at most of the participating sites.

Here are programs for AvignonAix, ArlesMarseille and Nice. But don't forget about tiny villages, many of which offer fantastic tours, visits and programs as well.  

The best idea is to choose the village you wish to explore, pick up or download their schedule as early as possible and map your route, because some events happen only at certain times. Some villages have events on Friday Sept 20 as well.

To get you started, here are the listings for the six departments of PACA (Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur): Alpes-de-Haute-ProvenceAlpes-MaritimesBouches du Rhone, the Hautes-Alpes, the Var and the Vaucluse. And here's the Gard (which is not technically in Provence but never mind). For an amazing list of what you can see and do in Paris, click here.

And here's a list of local and regional Tourist Offices in Provence and on the Cote d'Azur, all of whom should have info on their own sites and events.

Vive le Patrimoine de France!

Photos: Get out there and explore! A few of the thousands of sites offering Patrimoine events include The Unterlinden Museum in Colmar (Alsace), The Confectionery Factory Roy René and Museum of Calisson outside Aix, the fantastical houses of Jacques-Emile Lecaron in Clamart, the Théâtre Antique d'Orange, La Cite Radieuse by Le Corbusier in Marseille, the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on the Cap Ferrat, the Roman Amphitheatre in Arles, the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, the Jewish Cemetery in St. Remy, the Maison du Riz in the Camargue, the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, the Heliport of Paris, The Château Raspail in Gigondas and the Palace of Versailles.  At the bottom, this year's poster.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

What's Happening in Provence?

Coming up this week (or super soon), we've got grape stomps, gladiator games, gourmet golfing, a Basquiat show, Michelin-starred meals, a pottery market, the last of the lavender festivals, a precious pig needing a perfect home and more. Read on!

Gourmet Golf Tournament at Manville
On Sunday Aug 25, enter the Bistrot du Paradou Cup at the Domaine de Manville and enjoy a gourmet buffet at hole #10. The event is organized by Bistrot du Paradou owner Vincent Quenin and held on the 18-hole course at a five-star resort between Les Baux and Maussane. If you know Manville, you know the setting is gorgeous. And if you know the Bistrot (or Paradou, as everyone calls it), you know the food is going to be great. For info and to register, click here or call: +33 (0)4 90 54 40 20.

Last Call for Lavender!
The village of Dignes-les-Bains has not one but two major lavender events each year. The first, the Corso de Lavande, has come and gone but the second happens this week. The 98th annual Lavender Fair (Foire de la Lavande) is Aug 21 to 25, with 200 stands from 150+ exhibitors offering every possible lavender product plus food, decor, gifts and more. This year there are two free horse shows every day, featuring the famous white Camargue horses we all love. The fair runs from 10 am to 8 pm daily and all the info is here.

Good Vibrations in Avignon

The 30-minute, 360-degree sound-and-light show called Vibrations, held every evening in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, opened for the season on Aug 11 and runs through Oct 12. In August, there are two shows each evening at 9.30 pm and 10.30 pm, while September and October feature one performance at 9.30 pm nightly (plus a second show at 10.30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights only in September). The schedule and all details are here.

Music Under the Stars in Avignon
The program Sous Les Etoiles at the Musee Louis Vouland presents two classical concerts and a lecture this week, in the garden of the museum, starting at 8:30 pm. The concerts are tonight and Friday. For all the info, click here.

Basquiat, Darroze & More at Chateau La Coste

There's always something happening at Chateau La Coste. With the help of the Enrico Navarra Gallery in Paris, La Coste just unveiled an exhibit of 140 Jean-Michel Basquiat drawings from the years 1977 to 1987 (Basquiat died in 1988 at age 27). The show opened Aug 11 and runs through Oct 13. Another temporary show opens Thursday Aug 22; this one features the work of Jean-Michel Othoniel and Yoshitomo Nara. The vernissage (opening party) for that show is 5 pm to 6:30 pm and all the details are here. If you want to try the cuisine of Michelin two-star chef Hélène Darroze (of Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London and Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris and Moscow), she's cooking until Sept 1 in the restaurant aVilla La Coste, the property's 28-suite, five-star hotel, where two Michelin three-starred chefs, Francis Mallmann and Gérald Passédat, also have restaurants. (To book: +33 (0)4 42 50 50 00, reservations@villalacoste.com.) And the Château La Coste summer program of live music on the terrace of the restaurant La Terrace (6:30 to 8:30 pm) wraps up this week with rock/reggae (Thurs Aug 22), swing/manouche (Sat Aug 24) and pop/soul guitar (Sun Aug 25). For my recent story about Chateau La Coste, click here. For the website, click here. (Photos: A Basquiat, chef Hélène Darroze and the Villa La Coste Restaurant.) 

A Roman Holiday in Arles
For one week in late August, every year since 2007, Arles is transformed into the ancient city of Arelate to celebrate its Gallo Roman past with circus games, gladiator classes, Arena tours, Roman camps, street performances, Roman taverns, film screenings and much more. This year's Arelate Festival runs until Sunday Aug 26 and includes plenty of activities for families. On Saturday Aug 24 for example, there are kids workshops in the square between the Amphitheatre and the Antique Theater. These include: dressing up Roman style at 11 am (5€), mosaic class at 10:30 am or 3:30 pm (5€), weaving (5€), Roman hair-styling (5€), amulet making and more. See the full schedule, in French, here. For info in English, try the Arles Tourist Office.

Epic Films in an Epic Setting
As part of the Arelate Festival, there's the 32nd Annual Peplum (Epic) Film Festival in Arles until Aug 24, with projections on a giant screen in the Théâtre Antique, starting each evening at 9 pm. An intro to the film is provided each evening by a cinema expert. The schedule includes Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), Barabbas (1962), The Mummy (1999) and more. The schedule and details are here.

Courses Camarguaises in Arles
If you want to see the summer evening Courses Camarguaises in the Roman arena in Arles, you've got two more chances: Wednesday Aug 21 and Friday Aug 23. (They're every Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout July and August at 5:30 pm). Courses Camarguaises are also held at village fêtes throughout Provence but there's definitely something about seeing one in this monumental Roman site. Think of this as a kinder, gentler bullfight: people are rarely injured and the bulls are not killed. Known as razeteurs, the young men (I've never seen a woman do it but there must be some?) aim to pluck ribbons and rosettes tied to the bulls’ horns, cutting them free with special barbed gloves. The competitors are on foot and rely solely on speed and agility. And you can rest assured the bull will live to see another day. Tickets (11€ adults, 7€ kids), can be bought at the arena or at the Arles Tourist Office.

Looking for Love?
On Sunday Sept 1, it's "journee portes ouvertes" (open doors day) at the S.P.A des Baux-de-Provence. Also called the Refuge Saint Roch, it's like what we Americans call the Humane Society. From 2 to 5:30 pm, come visit and find the perfect companion; all dogs and cats ready for adoption have been vaccinated, sterilized and given a tatoo ID. Last time I checked, they were also looking for the right home for a five-year-old pig named León le Cochon, who was "raised like a little dog and comes when called." Tempting!

Foodies on the Loose!
St. Remy is filled with artisinal food producers, working in traditional ways, keeping local food traditions alive. And luckily, many have shops and workshops right in the heart of the village. On this half-day walking tour for food lovers of all ages (Thursday Sept 5 from 3 to 6 pm or Saturday Sept 21 from 9:30 to 12:30) you'll be paired with other travelers (ten people max) for a very filling and fun adventure. Rendezvous with your guide at the Tourist Office and then hit the rue running! Staying in the heart of the village (with minimal walking), you'll roam from shop to shop tasting chocolates, cookies, nougat, honey, olive oils, tapenades, confitures and more. You might take a break for coffee with a few macarons on the side--gotta keep energy up!--then most likely move on to a cheese tasting, enjoyed with a glass of a favorite local wine. Along the way you'll get a taste of the rich history of this cobblestone village and a glimpse into local life from your charming guide. 75€ pp for adults, 50€ ages 12 to 18, 30€ ages 6 to 12. Kids under 6 are welcome at no charge as long as they're fearless and willing to taste! The tour is also available other dates...just ask. For info or to book: whattodoinprovence@gmail.com.

Potters and the People Who Love Them
Thirty or so ceramic artists will be selling their work at the Crillon-le-Brave Potters Market, from 9 am to 7 pm on the Place de la Mairie on Sunday Aug 25. There will be pottery demos, a workshop for kids and adults, a free raffle and food available. For more info about the event sponsor Terres de Provence, the regional association of ceramicists and potters, click here.

Playing Catch-up at the Carrieres
This year's show at the Carrières de Lumières is about Vincent Van Gogh and it's attracting record numbers. (All the details are here.) But for those who missed previous years' shows or want to see them again, the program called Les Intégrales des Carrières repeats three of them, all in one evening...ten times during the season. The next dates for Les Intégrales are Sept 13 & 14, 20 & 21, 27 & 28. On these evenings the entry fee is 24€ (37€ if you want to enjoy a special meal) and tickets must be purchased in advance. The doors open at 7:30 and the shows start at 8:30. This year the program will feature "Picasso and the Spanish Masters" (2018), "Chagall: Midsummer Nights Dreams" (2016) and "Klimt and Vienna: A Century of Gold and Colors" (2014). For more info, click here.

Lourmarin Summer Music Festival 
There's still plenty of time to enjoy this splendid classical and jazz festival held at the Château de Lourmarin. This week on Thursday Aug 22, hear four-handed piano with Irina Chkourindina and Magali Lauron, playing Schubert, Brahms, Ravel and Piazzola. Next up, on Monday Aug 26, hear Andrei Korobeinikov on piano, playing Schumann and Rachmaninov. The festival continues through October 12 and all the info is here.

Special Evenings at the Caumont in Aix
At the fantastic Hotel de Caumont (aka the Caumont Art Center) in Aix, the summer show, "Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation" runs until Sept 29. A special way to see it is on a Friday night, when the museum stays open late and offers a more exclusive experience with Champagne, live music, an optional dinner on the terrace and more. Tickets must be booked in advance, at the museum or here. Or, see the Guggenheim show on a Wednesday or Saturday and stay on to hear live jazz in the garden. The concerts start at 7:30 pm and your 20€ entry includes a glass of Champagne. Info on the jazz concerts is here

Grape Stomps at Les Pastras
And none too soon! Grape stomping starts up again on Sept 2 at Les Pastras in the Southern Luberon and runs until roughly Sept 30. Your Instagram needs this! Sign up (two people minimum) and tour a Provençal farm, learn how grapes are cultivated and how wine is made, then stomp away in enormous waist-high antique oak barrels with a view of Cezanne's beloved Mt. Ste. Victoire. You'll learn the difference between harvesting wine grapes and table grapes, dance to Piaf, learn French drinking songs and laugh a lot...guaranteed! Afterwards you'll enjoy platters of cheese, pâté and charcuterie; all you care to drink of Les Pastras rosé and red wines; and a tasting of the farm's olive oil and truffle oils. Price: 60€ pp adults, 40€ pp kids. Offered weekdays at 10 am or 6 pm but please book at least a week in advance. All details are here.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Free Choral Concert Next Weekend

Every summer, a group of talented singers from Nice and the UK known as Ristretto arrives in tiny, charming Lumières in the Luberon to enjoy good food and wine, the beauty of Provence, lovely warm weather and a week of intensive choral singing. This year's program will be works by: Bach, Schumann, Part, Naylor, Macmillan and Pearsall. And every year, the group offers a free, open-to-the-public concert showcasing the works they've perfected during the week. This year, the concert will be Saturday August 10 at 6 pm, in the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Lumière, Lumières/Goult near the Hotellerie Notre Dame de Lumières, a very-special hotel in a former 17th-century convent. Admission to the concert is free...just show up! For a casual dinner afterwards, stroll over to Le Garage, grab an outdoor table and tuck into a terrific selection of tapas, small plates and cocktails. Lumières is just off the D900, just below the village of Goult...about 15 to 20 minutes from Gordes and the 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque. And if you're planning an event of your own, please keep in mind that the highly regarded Ristretto and its musicians are available for weddings and other events throughout Provence and the Côte d'Azur. For more info: RistrettoVoices.comchoralsummer@aol.com, +33 (0)6 83 53 23 50. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

River Kayaking in Provence


On a hot day, river kayaking is a fabulous way to while away a few hours and doing it in Provence is super easy. You can kayak (and stand-up paddleboard) on the Rhône from Avignon (details below) but whenever I get the chance, I love kayaking on the River Sorgue, from Fontaine-de-Vaucluse in the Luberon. You can also kayak on the River Gardon from Collias (a great way to see the Pont du Gard) and while I haven't done it there myself, my friends and clients who have say it's fantastic. If you've never kayaked before, not to worry! You'll get a short tutorial, on the Sorgue there are staffers on the river to help and these are not fast-running rivers. Here are details on everything above!

KAYAKING ON THE SORGUE

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is 15 minutes from Isle sur la Sorgue and if you hit the big Sunday market or smaller Thursday market there (Isle sur la Sorgue), kayaking from Fontaine is a great way to spend the afternoon. It’s an easy trip (about five miles) on clear, cool shallow water and you see lots of lovely, lush countryside. You leave your car in Fontaine and they bring you back by bus.  There are two companies that do it: Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion. Both are outside town with big signs so they’re easy to find. I prefer Canoe Evasion--they're a bit more organized--but either is fine! If you go with Kayak Vert, there's sometimes a wait at the beginning of the route where you have to climb down some steps, but there's always someone there to help. Both have small snack bars for cold drinks and ice cream.

With Kayak Vert, you can go at your own pace; with Canoe Evasion you’re sort of encouraged to stay with a group of boats but you don’t really have to.  The trip takes 2 to 2.5 hours and there’s a little break in the middle for swimming or just chilling on the river banks. And don't miss the rope swing!  Whether you swim or not you’ll definitely get wet so plan accordingly; it's good to have a beach towel with you. Also, definitely wear water shoes or grippy sandals because there's a place where you have a little walk on slippery rocks.

Both outfitters give you a watertight container for your stuff (still, let's leave those priceless heirlooms at home)...and life preserver vests...and there's staff here and there on the river to help if you need it.

Here are the two outfitters for kayaking the Sorgue and reservations are definitely recommended!

Canoe Evasion: 2019 prices:  20€ pp adults; 10€ for kids under 14; free for kids 3 to 6. Groups of 10 or more: adults pay 16€ each.  Payment is by cash or check (no credit cards). The price includes your gear  (boats, paddles, watertight cans, life jackets) and your return ride in the bus. There’s no minimum age per se, but kids have to be able to swim at least 25 meters and be able to submerge themselves (meaning, not panic if they go under water). In general, the company prefers kids be five or older. Open every day from mid May to mid October.  Departures every half hour, from 9 am to 11:30 and 1:30 to 4:30. To reserve : +33 (0)4 90 38 26 22, canoe-evasion.net

Kayak Vert. 2019 prices:  23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. For groups of 10 or more, adults pay 16€ each. Price includes boats, paddles, watertight cans, life jackets and your return ride in the bus. Kayak Vert’s age minimum is six and kids must be able to swim. 23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. Cash only, the last time I checked.  Open from the 3rd weekend in April thru October. To reserve : +33 (0)4 90 20 35 44 or +33 (0)6 88 48 96 71, canoevaucluse.com, kayakvert@aol.com.

A Bit about Fontaine

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is an interesting village so leave some time before or after kayaking to explore. This pretty little town (population 600 or so) is best known for its deep-water source or spring at the foot of a steep cliff 230 meters high. It’s the biggest spring in France and the fifth largest in the world; it's where the Sorgue River begins and when the water is high and running strong, the source is truly a gorgeous site to see. Even when it’s not at its peak, the river is super peaceful, bringing serenity in the height of the summer crowds. In 1946, Jacques Cousteau and another diver were almost killed searching for the bottom of the spring, at about 100 meters down. (They weren’t even close, as it turns out: the bottom is at 308 meters.) The spring is the only exit point of a subterranean basin that collects water from Mont Ventoux, the Vaucluse Mountains and Lure Mountain. People have lived in the area since Neolithic times (you know, back when you could still find an parking spot easily). Archaeological digs have turned up more than 1600 coins, from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD. 

Fontaine has an interesting museum in an old paper mill (with a cool shop selling all types of paper products, diaries, puzzles, handmade books, stationary and other goodies around the same theme), a museum about Petrarch and one filled with Santons (traditional Provencale figurines). Plus plenty of cafes and restaurants on or near the water and some cute shops.

And not far from Canoe Evasion is a "parc accrobranche" that kids love. This is one of those ropes courses where you swing from trees on zip lines and such. It's called La Passerelle des Cîmes and friends who’ve been say everyone loves it...all ages. As you approach, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, you’ll see the signs.

KAYAKING ON THE GARDON

To kayak the Gardon River and see the Pont du Gard you can try Canoes Collias but the main outfitter is Kayak Vert; both leave from the town of Collias. You can keep the kayak all day if you like but most people like the basic two-hour paddle, taking them 8 km up to and under the Pont du Gard. What a fun way to see this 2000- year-old Roman aqueduct! All along the river there are little beaches and places to picnic, swim, sunbathe, etc.  The two-hour  time frame is calculated on paddling from Collias to the Pont du Gard non-stop, but you can keep the kayak as long as you like for the same price. As they do on the Sorgue, they bring you back by bus. 2019 prices: 23€ for adults, 19 € for teens, 12€ for kids. Cash and credit cards accepted. Reservations not required but definitely recommended. For a family or small group, try to reserve at least a few days before.  Kayak Vert, Collias/Pont du Gard, kayakvert.com or +33 (0)4 66 22 80 76, contact@kayakvert.com.

KAYAKING ON THE RHONE AT AVIGNON

Run by an association (Canoe Outings Comite de Vaucluse de Kayak) rather than a private company, this is extremely popular with river-cruise passengers, locals and groups, who often bring their own translator or request one because not all the staff speaks English. That said, they're currently the only outfitter offering kayaking in this gorgeous city, their prices are low, they have solid reviews on Trip Advisor so I see no reason that paddling around (before or after dancing on) the famous Pont d'Avignon wouldn't be great fun. +33 (0)6 11 52 16 73, canoe-vaucluse.fr, contact@canoe-vaucluse.fr

Note: The three places mentioned above are by no means the only places for kayaking in Provence; you can do it in the Camargue, on the Gorges du Verdon and in sea kayaks up and down Mediterranean coast. If you have a favorite kayak place and want to share the info, please leave a comment below.

Photos: (1, 2) Kayaking on the Sorgue (courtesy Kayak Vert and Canoe Evasion); (3) At the Pont du Gard (courtesy Canoe Collias); and (4) on the Rhône at Avignon (courtesy Avignon Tourisme).

ShareThis

Related Posts with Thumbnails