It continually blows my mind that you can buy literal chateaux in France for under a million dollars, extremely stunning four hundred year-old apartments for under $200,000, and sun-drenched townhouses that haven’t been renovated in generations for under $50,000. [The baroque apartment above, in Nimes, is 350,000 Euros for God’s sake.] Sometimes I scroll through French property sites and take a little flight of fancy, pretending I might put in an offer on some gem of a place, or more likely some diamond-in-the-rough, in the South of France. It’s very enjoyable, except when I find a place that looks absolutely perfect for me — as in, “this is my home” — and realize it won’t actually be mine, and then it’s kind of painful.
Even restricting my search to properties under 350,000 Euros (which makes it feel more realistic, even though it is not at all realistic), I found the most wondrous places tonight. I’ll start with one of my favorites but leave the best for last:
My love for Avignon was almost immediate and grew in leaps and bounds with every corner I turned. And unlike the other four towns and cities I visited in the South of France, my feelings went beyond mere admiration or appreciation. I felt a strong connection and chemistry with this place. I don’t really know why, but I think it has something to do with the way it embodied both my town and my countryside ideals: the perfect size (about 500,000 in the urban area), full of old beautiful buildings, full of history and culture, full of delicious things to eat, a mild and sunny climate that still has seasons, and a landscape of trees, hills and rivers.
I was being considered for a remote job at the time that I visited, and I strolled along the streets fantasizing about installing myself in Avignon and telecommuting from my corner bistro. It was an intoxicating idea, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get the job, but at least my dream life wasn’t shattered until after I got back to Paris. And by then my weird change of heart had started to kick in and I didn’t mind sticking around up north after all.
Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous town that I will forever associate with Candyland, because within five minutes of my arrival I happened upon the most wondrous food festival – in celebration of the local confection, the calisson – in the plaza a few steps from my AirBnB.
In addition to the star attraction in every color and flavor, there were wedges of nougat as big as wheels of cheese, macarons that looked like watercolors, marshmallows in soft pastels, every kind of jam and jelly, and a variety of cookies for good measure. Continue reading →
After a strong start in Montpellier, my whistle-stop tour of the South of France continued in Arles, a town that interested me because it was once home to Van Gogh, my favorite painter. I wanted to see the place that had inspired him to create some of his most beautiful work. Continue reading →
My original France plan was to 1. arrive in Paris, 2. spend a month doing informational meetings with the heads of communications for agencies and organizations that could give me work making videos about the European refugee crisis and other humanitarian issues, and 3. then head to the South of France to wander town to town until I found a sustainable place to base myself.
For various reasons, that never happened, and for better or worse, Paris seems to be becoming my home in France. But I did finally take a whirlwind tour of the South to at least see what I was missing. I spent five nights visiting five cities in Provence and Languedoc that I suspected I would love. And love them I did, though want to live in them, I did not – until my last stop.
But to begin at the beginning: Montpellier. I had seen such beautiful images of this place, I was convinced it would be heaven on earth. Here are some pictures: Continue reading →