“Les Ponts du mois de Mai” –
French Holidays of the month May
“Pont” means bridge in French. The space we are bridging here is the gap between the weekend that is created by a holiday (jour férié) mid-week. Several of these occur during the month of May and herald the coming of sunnier days. It’s the first real chance to get away for a short holiday with the sun reliably shining throughout much of France. Book early because of the French holidays in May if you are planning to visit France during this time in order to beat the crowds.
The holiday roundup includes:
- May 1 – Labor Day
- May 8 – Remembrance Day > President Charles de Gaulle declared the end of WWII on this day in 1945
- May 14 – Ascension > the day that Jesus Christ ascended to heaven after being crucified
- May 24 – Pentecost > celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension
- May 25 – Pentecost Monday > signaling the end of the Christian season of Lent and/or Day of Solidarity > Bringing awareness to issues of the elderly. Some people work for free on this day and donate their earnings to charity.
So what does one do in Provence during these fabulous long weekends ?
Here for you, as my privileged guest, is a quick peek into MY past weekend – No planning, no reservations, just off the beaten track with Girl Gone Gallic…
Day 1 – Wednesday:
Yes, even though the long weekend officially starts Thursday, by Wednesday afternoon many people (including myself) sneak off work early to start their long weekend. I started mine early with a short shopping spree in Aix-en-Provence (my favorite city to shop). The only issue with Aix is parking, so arrive before the crowds (which I unfortunately did not). I picked up a lovely dress at Berenice for an event in Monaco next week. Aix also has a fine assortment of book stores, so I finished the day browsing the bookshelves before having a quick drink at a café on the Cours Mirabeau (main drag) to rejuvenate myself before heading home.
Day 2 – Thursday:
A leisurely slow and lazy morning savoring my day off before hitting a couple small local “ Vide Grenier” (empty your attic) sales, similar to a rummage sale. There are no garage sales in France, just these “empty your attic” sales.
Many cities and villages organize Vide Grenier, they are pretty easy to find. Check out the websites Vide-Grenier.org and Brocabrac.fr if you want to join in the hunt. You will find anything from the mundane worthy of the trash bin, to the strange and unusual, and when lucky that occasional delectable prize. Personally, I particularly like sales in the rural areas where I find the more unusual “treasures” (my family is sometimes horrified by what I bring home). All I found this time was a brand name dress for just 5€, but I really had to dig around to find anything good. But then – the fun is in the hunt!
I stepped it up a notch in the afternoon by visiting a “Journée de Brocante” in Valence. These are not rummage sales but somewhere between a flea market and antique show. I picked up a couple vintage cameras for just 15€, and a sparkly necklace for another 10€ (a girl can never have too much bling, especially Girl Gone Gallic).
Day 3 – Friday:
After logging so many hours in front of my computer week after week, I’m in desperate need of a little cardio exercise… Although I like the idea of jogging way more than the actual thing – I can now proudly say that I can run a full 90 seconds before collapsing and needing to take a “short” rest… Some may argue it is more of a walk than a run, but I figure anything is better than nothing. Luckily I found a beautiful trail close by that goes through a joyful little pine forest, trots along the olive groves, and then meanders through fields of blooming wildflowers.
After a must needed restorative rest and lunch, my next adventure was a visit to the Chapelle Notre Dame de Beauregard in Orgon. This is a landmark that I have been passing by for months without knowing much about it. As I followed the marked trail heading up, I was finally able to get a better glimpse of the remaining castle ruins that are just below the Chapel. I decided to skip the hazardous rock climbing that would have allowed me to explore the castle in more detail for when I have company – just in case something goes wrong. The French definitely have a different sense of what they think is safe – the government doesn’t impose but allow individuals to make their own educated choices. I like the choice this allows, and I usually tend to play it on the safe side anyways.
A pleasant short hike through the pine forest and takes me up to the Chapelle where there are gorgeous views of the encircling valleys (thus the name “Beauregard” – beautiful look). After exploring a while and enjoying the views, I headed back down to the village below of Orgon. It’s a tiny and quaint medieval town worthy of a stroll if you want to extend the pleasure for a little while longer.
Day 4 – Saturday:
It’s market day! I never miss the opportunity to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit. I picked up a couple of baskets of strawberries (to go with that lonely cream I have in the fridge), peas in the pod, asparagus, lettuce, tomatoes, artisan cheese, free range eggs, and organic bread.
In the afternoon I headed out to the Vintage Festival in Trets, but it was a bit of a dud L. I managed to see everything in about 20 minutes, primarily American vintage for some reason. Not worth the drive unless you are really into that kind of thing.
No worries, there is ALWAYS something interesting nearby. I asked “Pierre” (my GPS) what else there was in the area. He suggested the small village of “Fuveau”, which it turns out is a village I’ve been driving by at a distance and also wondering about. Fuveau is a sleepy little medieval village with the tiniest little streets to explore. No tourists here, this is definitely off the beaten track. Maybe not worth a detour, but if you are in the area it is quaint and pleasant and very authentic.
To finish my day, since I was SO close, I drove over to “Plan de Campagne”, a city which solely exists as a five-mile long strip mall. It is the ONLY mall in the area that is open on Sundays by special permission from the government. You can find every kind of chain store you can imagine, French or American. The traffic and crowds are horrendous, and the area is like any strip mall, unattractive. But, having all those stores so close together on the other hand is indeed very convenient. I picked up 6€ bikinis and a pair of sneakers that ended my several week search (Yes, I am picky!). For the “Shop until you drop” types out there, there is even a hotel to accommodate you. I usually only go to this mall in desperation on a Sunday afternoon and hate every minute of it…
Day 5 – Sunday:
I thought I would to try to find the intriguing ruins of Château de Reine Jeanne (also known as Castellas de Roquemartine) and the adjacent Chapelle Saint Sauveur. The only access I could find would have been trespassing on private property, so I need to get more info and try again later.
This is the heart of the Alpilles Nature Preserve, so there are tons of other intriguing options me to choose. Following D24 in direction of Aureille, just after Domaine La Vallongue, is the Pont Romain. There’s a dirt parking lot next to the bridge, and is the start of a lovely hike through pine trees and rocky outcroppings (follow the green markings). Very pleasant and not crowded even on this past holiday weekend.
Now backtrack to the beautiful Domaine de la Vallongue winery, a gem that you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area. “Vallongue” means a long valley, and this one is in the most gorgeous setting at the feet of the Alpilles mountains. The location is along the ancient Roman route that joined Rome to Spain. 100 years ago, this was an active farm, the first vines were planted in 1962 and have been grown organically since 1985. I missed the fashion show that was going on that day, but picked up a bottle of Domaine de la Vallongue 2011 Pierres Cassées. It was sublime at just 16€.
Last stop : Eygalières… a quick peek at the sleepy medieval village which I found to be perfect for a pleasant Sunday stroll followed by the obligatory “Pastis” is to sip under the shade of the lovely Plantain trees. I will have to come back soon to explore those castle ruins I see up there above town, but I did see this cool little car – bonus points if you can tell me anything about it and the green one above…
How sad, it’s the last day of the long weekend ! No reason to fret though, there’s another one coming up!
What’s do you think ? Should I have planned ahead, or do you like my meandering hit and miss strategy ? What would you do in Provence if you had four days and nothing on the agenda ?
-Girl Gone Gallic