Last month, I had a wedding just outside of Viens, France. My husband wasn’t able to join me, so I brought along a dear friend of mine. Fawn is a fellow photographer and a mutual “instinctual adventurist”; meaning, we do not have itineraries when we travel...we run on instincts! We started our trip in Geneva, Switzerland and continued through the French countryside; it was 5 incredible days of discovering unexpected castles, villages, towns and long forgotten roads.
In Geneva, we stayed at this Airbnb in the heart of the Old Town. The location is unbelievably perfect. We were able to walk to restaurants, cafés, shops and markets very easily! On a Saturday night, we were kept up until 4 am with the sounds of people “celebrating” below. I’m guessing Friday night is the same story. Weekdays, we were told by a local, are much quieter. Luckily, we didn’t mind being up so late; we were able to sleep in a little. It won’t take long for you to find a great restaurant or cafe in Old Town. The locals are unbelievably accommodating and kind if you need recommendations! Geneva’s primary language is French, but most people here spoke English, which was super helpful to get our trip started. (Also, If you’re a Harry Potter fan, like me: Old Town looks like Diagon Alley at night and it’s pure magic.)
In France, we stayed at the Le Hameau de Treimars where my couple generously put us up with other vendors, friends and family. It was a beautiful place that seriously made me feel like I had stepped back in time. Each morning, fresh croissants and jam were waiting in the kitchen for us. There is a pool on the property and many places to walk and explore. It’s a photographers’ dream.
Every meal was incredible on this trip, but our favorite experience was at the La Pastorale in Cereste. UNREAL, you guys. It was this quaint, unsuspecting little restaurant on the second floor of a quiet building. We made our way up the wrought iron stairs and entered at the most perfect moment: we were able to get the last table for two, as everything else was reserved or full. Everyone behind us was turned away for the evening. Serendipity! We sat down and began with a bottle of red wine and reminisced about our magical day of coming across a castle converted to an apartment complex where one tenant was selling miel (honey), a rainy afternoon of exploring a small and quiet hillside village where we explored every little twist and turn of cobblestone sidewalk.
On our first day, we spotted a stark white, wild horse in a field. Pure magic. We quickly pulled the car over and ran over to grab a few photos. Immediately, this gorgeous animal ran over to us (I’ll admit that I was REALLY nervous at first) and she let us pet her and absorb all of her beauty. Thirty minutes passed like a minute.
The day after the wedding, we headed to Moustiers Sainte Marie where I climbed up to Notre Dame de Beauvoir to view this beautiful village from above (the hike is much easier than it looks; just bring good shoes and water). Afterwards, I wandered through the village to take photos and enjoy the Medieval architecture surrounding the aqueduct. This place is a miniature Venice, where everything is slow paced and everyone is wandering around on foot, crossing over bridges to explore each side of the aqueduct. You can almost hear the waterfalls at every point in this village….it’s so peaceful.
On our way back from Moustiers Sainte Marie, we stopped at the sweetest lavender market EVER: La Maison du Lavandin. This shop is run by the beautiful Michell Fanguiaire in Puimoisson. We picked up essential oils and dried lavender to take back home. From here, you won’t miss the famous lavender fields of Provence. The lavender was not blooming (you’ll need to visit in June - August) but we weren’t disappointed one bit. You could still smell the sweet lavender in the air and the fields are still beautiful; abandoned stone structures are in abundance here, too.
Over the next few days, we made small trips across Provence. We turned off the GPS and trusted our instincts at every turn; honestly, this was the most exciting adventure I’ve ever had in my life. We discovered a public market in Sault, where we wandered around for a few hours. This is a small town and almost no one spoke English here, so be prepared to know your basic phrases to make purchases and ask for directions. It is worth the visit if you’re looking for a place without tourists!
This was my first time renting a car in Europe. It gave us the flexibility to wander outside of our comfort zone. While a train ride is an incredible experience, having a car gave us a chance to go where no train or bus can take you. One afternoon, we found a castle that had been converted to an apartment complex. Outside, a sign read “miel a vendre” (honey for sale); as we walked through the entrance, we saw children’s toys and bikes, clothes hanging on a line and flower pots on doorsteps.
Oh! That reminds me: be aware that many stores and offices close between noon and 2 pm (sometimes even later) for a long lunch. The midday meal is the most sacred in France. It’s a good idea to plan a long, relaxed lunch (and a good book under a tree) at that time. Good news about driving in France: the steering wheel is on the left and you drive in the right lane (just like here, in the U.S.). If you rent a manual car, ASK MANY QUESTIONS. I made the mistake of driving off and not asking how to get into reverse. Ha! Luckily, we had internet to view the manual for our car to discover the trick to getting in reverse. Additional tips for traveling through Europe: stop at the market for lunch when you have a full day. Fruit, bread, nuts and seeds make for a perfect picnic at the park or on the train to your next destination. Lastly, bring a reusable water bottle. There are many “puits artésien” (artesian wells) to refill your bottle for free!______