By Roberta Lasky
Six hours after my kids’ bus safely departed for sleep away camp, I zipped off to Kennedy Airport for my flight to Paris.
Since my husband had already been in Paris for a week on a business trip, the hotel arrangements were set. We were staying in Paris for the first two nights so I could adjust to the time change before embarking on our journey south to Provence.
Seven hours and two movies later (“Orange” and “Zootopia”), my airplane landed at Charles du Gaulle Airport.
Wait on taxi cue-√.
Twenty minute cab ride to K&K Cayre Hotel in the 6th Arrondissement-√.
My husband, Bob, greeted me with “bon jour” in the hotel lobby for our complimentary breakfast. We walked around the City of Light until the afternoon when my jet lag suddenly kicked in. We decided this was a good time to stop for a café by the Louvre Museum. After which, my energy level perked up and we walked through the Luxembourg Gardens en route to the Pompidou Center. Here we checked out a photography exposition on the 1960s’ Beat Generation. They had the original pages of “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac.
On our first night, we dined at Le Bistro d’Henri or Henry’s Bistro in English. We wanted to have dinner close to our hotel and this cute place we discovered on Trip Advisor fit the bill. We chatted with Americans from San Francisco and North Carolina in this adorable restaurant.
On day two, we decided to stroll through the The Marais-The Jewish Quarter. We visited The Jewish Museum and stopped into L’As du Fallafel (or as we fondly call it, The Ace of Base Falafel) on rue de Rosiers for a delicious lunch.
For dinner, Chez Omar fulfilled our craving for amazing Moroccan cuisine. Their infamous couscous is divine. Omar opened a sister Chez Oskar in Williamsburg so New Yorkers can skip the flight and take a car drive to check-out this offshoot.
On to Provence…
The next morning, we filled up on croissants and formage and headed over to the gard (train station) for our three-hour journey, via the TGV high-speed train, to the Central Station in Avignon. We witnessed a strong security presence first-hand, as a german shepherd sniffed our luggage and we saw numerous guards with guns. After disembarking from the delightful and scenic train ride, we picked up a Mini-Cooper rental from Hertz and headed over to our hotel.
Upon arriving at Auberge de Cassange Hotel & Spa, we were treated to a glass of Prosecco with grenadine and toasted to our six night stay. After a quick tour of our home-away-from home, we decided have a gourmet dinner at the on-site Michelin rated restaurant helmed by Chef Philippe Boucher. Dining al fresco, we enjoyed lobster three-ways, a cheese course, petit fours, macaroons (dessert before the main dessert) and for the finale, crème Brule filled our bellies.
We tried three other restaurants in Avignon:
Le Moutardier du Pape (The Pope’s Mustard)-located right by the Palace de Papes with terrific food & outdoor seating facing the palace.
Les 5 Sens (The 5 Senses)– an excellent restaurant with an outdoor patio and very friendly chef.
Christian Etienne, a high-end restaurant, but casual attire.
Side note about restaurants
Many restaurants have prix fixe menus. Tip: Book restaurant reservations on www.thefork.com. It is the French equivalent of Opentable.
Off To See The Towns and Sites…
Arles-Different colored buildings lining the streets adorn this pretty town. The Arles Amphitheatre is a popular tourist attraction. As you sit on the blocks of stone, you can imagine the gladiators dueling in this arena, as well as chariots racing. We had lunch at Le Cafe La Nuit. Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe Terrace at Night” was painted right in front of this popular spot. We had a beet salad and a HUGE portion of very good paella. Very touristy (as expected), but worth stopping for a Kodak moment. Van Gogh painted and drew over 300 pieces of art in this city from 1888-1889. Plaques are placed at each spot where he created his works so you get a sense of where he was at the time that he painted some of these most noteworthy pieces… The Night Cafe, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and L’Arlésienne.
Gordes-Here we visited the ancient 160 foot high Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, as well as the Sénanque Abbey where the monks grow lavender & make olive oil.
Chateauneuf du Pape-After relaxing at the hotel pool, we drove to this region and visited Chateau Fortia, a great winery. We had a lovely lunch at Chateau Des Fines Roches inside a four-star hotel on the grounds of a former castle. We chose the Club Menu at 27 Euros.
L’Isle Sur la Sorgue-This is a cute town surrounded by the Sorgue River and wonderful waterwheels. We visited a great street market at Avenue de 4 Otages, where we discovered delicious green olives called Lucques.
Las Palmas, a truffle hunt at Les Pastras (an organic farm) was recommended to us here, but we ran out of time to do it.
Les Baux-de-Provence-Here, at Carrières des Lumières, we watched a spectacular visual show illuminated on old cave walls in the quarries of the Val d’Enfer. We saw a show on Chagall and the Paris Opera House.
Aix En Provence-We drove an hour from our hotel to view the fountains in Aix en Provence. After posing by a bronze statue of Cezanne, we checked out the lovely street market on the main avenue, Cours Mirabeau. We bought a beautiful linen tablecloth and some exquisite jewelry. We also tried olive oil and different flavored nougat.
Here, we ate lunch at L’Epicerie Le Restaurant. We stumbled upon this marvelous cafe set in a lovely quiet courtyard near the 3 Ormeaux Fountain (Fontaine des tres Ormeaux) at Place des 3 Ormeaux. (Ormeaux means young oak tree.)
We made the worthwhile 20-minute uphill trek to stand in the middle of Paul Cezanne’s Studio. The curators have meticulously kept each artifact, including his coats, hats and objects seen in his still-life paintings in exactly the same place where he left them making you feel like you are back in 1906.
We also visited Fondation Vasarely, another wonderful museum.
On the last morning in Avignon, we made the reverse commute. We dropped off the rental car at the train station and boarded the high-speed train back to Paris. We had to stay one more night in Paris in order to fly home. (I know, it sounds torturous.)
July 4th in Paris
The Fourth of July happened to be our last night in Paris. We had the best steak at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte on rue St-Benoit. Although the restaurant opens at 6 pm, people start lining up at 5:30 to ensure they get a table during the first seating of the night.
Here is a very accurate description of the restaurant…
“…walnut salad, tender sirloin steak served with its famous sauce and golden thin-cut French fries, as well as its delicious desserts, have been a mark of success for decades. Wines are from Château de Saurs. The efficient yet friendly service maintains the values of the company in a warm setting of wood paneling, mirrors and vintage posters.
Our tables are covered in red, yellow, blue and green tablecloth and a glazed and embossed white paper. Our waitresses wear a faultless uniform of a black dress with a white collar and an apron.”
We topped off the evening with French Martinis at Le Closerie des Lilas. This café has been on Boulevard de Montparnasse since 1847. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Miller and other American writers have hung out at this “American Bar” (meaning it has many liquors on display behind the bar.) We listened as the piano man played songs written by American composers in honor of Independence Day.
On our last day, we made the most of our free time before our flight back to NY. We walked through the Tulleries, visited a Rousseau exposition at Musee d’Orsay and an Impressionists Retrospective in the Musée Jacquemart-André on Boulevard Haussmann. We devoured Crepes filled with Nutella. These activities topped off our final hours in this beautiful European city as we said “au revior”. For now…