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Lavender, Van Gogh & Wine: A Weekend in the South of France

Last month, a group of CEA Paris students met at the train station at 7:00 a.m. for our overnight adventure to Provence! Despite our tiredness because it was so early, everyone was in good spirits and very excited to visit the south of France. Provence is a region in the south of France and our guide took us to a number of sites and towns in the region during our two days there.

Our first stop was Avignon and the Palais des Papes. This historical palace was built hundreds of years ago when there was a Catholic pope from France who didn’t want to live in Rome. After him, a number of other French popes lived there too. The palace is full of artwork and ancient statues. Our audio guides were great for learning about the beautiful palace and about the history of the region. After we finished at the Palais des Papes, we visited the Pont d’Avignon. This is a famous bridge and it even has its own song!

Next we went to a wine tasting at a vineyard. There were six different types of wine for us to try, and we learned about the flavors of wine, how to properly taste it, and what make a good wine. One tip: For white wine, you hold the glass by the stem, but for red wine, you should hold it around the cup part so it heats the wine a little bit.

That night we stayed at a hotel after we were served a delicious dinner. After multiple weekends of sleeping in hostels and on friends’ floors for weekend travels, I think everyone was excited to sleep in a real bed! The hotel was very cute and it was a little like a giant sleepover – we all piled into someone’s room and stayed up late talking.

Around the corner from our hotel was the mental hospital where Vincent van Gogh stayed when he was sick. The next morning (after a huge, delicious breakfast!) we visited the area. We saw the grove of olive trees, which he painted many times. There were signs with his paintings, and it was cool to compare the painting with the reality and see just how accurate he was in painting the area!

Next up was a stop at L’Isle de la Sorgue. This was absolutely the highlight of the trip for me. We got off the bus and we were next to a river. Behind that river was an enormous outdoor market with anything you could imagine wanting – soaps, Provence’s famous lavender, fresh fruits and vegetables, scarves, clothing, toys, and more. Many of the stalls gave free samples of their food, and it all was delicious. The sun was shining and people were sitting outside at cafes, enjoying the day. It felt very French – it was definitely one of the coolest places I’ve been since I was here.

The one thing about Provence that I didn’t love was the mistral – a famous (or infamous) wind that, even in the summer, can turn a day a bit cold. We didn’t experience a full mistral, but we definitely had some chilly winds. All the tables at the market had big rocks on them to keep them weighed down, so I’m guessing the winds must be very strong!

My trip to Provence has been one of the highlights of studying abroad for me. I loved the area, I thought the places we visited were a great mix of historical and fun, and it was so nice to spend two full days with all my CEA friends. If anyone is thinking of visiting France, I absolutely would recommend going to Provence.


Eleanor Harte is the Spring 2014 CEA MOJO in Paris, France. She is currently a junior at the University of Massachusetts.

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