Provençal Magic

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Singing frogs, magical castles, and gardens worthy of Eden. Sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s actually the very real place we had the pleasure of spending two weeks in--Provence, France.

From a Villa in St. Remy de Provence to the Palais des Papes in Avignon, this voyage took us to some of the most beautiful sites of the Rhone Valley, none forgettable.

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I’ve never aspired to become famous or live like royalty, but half way through this trip I was Google shopping bidets. With a live-in maid and a local private chef, we could not have been occupying the lap of luxury any more. Our chef would cook for us one night and drop off food on the other days, so we could focus on visiting castles and getting lost in the picturesque hills that inspired many classic paintings from the 1800s. Provencal classics like Ratatouille and stuffed bell papers warmed our bellies on cool spring nights, while Rosé, cheese and fresh baguettes (yah, that’s about it) kept us going through the beautiful sunny days we savored.

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Our house looked like a small castle and it had an 18th century inspired interior to match.

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Every room was a master with its own sitting area and en suite bathroom, one with an antique bidet. My room was bigger than my entire studio back in Brooklyn, with a baroque floor to ceiling tapestry that ran the length of an entire wall. But my favorite part still, was the set of double doors surrounded by flowing curtains overlooking the topiary garden below.

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The topiary garden housed a lily pad-covered pond where the resident frogs sang their lullaby here, day or night. But thankfully the pond was situated toward the back, because as beautiful as it sounded, these little guys had strength in numbers and were often noisier than the construction outside my window in New York.

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Past the pond was a picturesque olive tree orchard that we would stroll through while we sipped our morning coffee. A small walk-though grapevine, multiple fountains, and the pool with it's own small house and outdoor lounge area.

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Every day that I didn’t see a white rabbit in a waistcoat with a pocket watch surprised me.

There were few things that could tear us away from the royal abode—but shopping was one of them. We visited several French markets in various towns including St. Remy, St. Etienne du Gris, L'Isle-sur-la-sorgue, and Eygalieres.

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Wineries of course were on the itinerary, and we learned about one of Provence’s largest industries while touring an olive oil facility, including the best part to my 9 year old self *samples*.

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One of the highlights of the trip was visiting a castle near Les Baux. It was completely vacant, but housed an installation of classic paintings projected onto the walls—floor to very tall ceilings. The renderings were animated and constantly changing. The whole display was set to classical (and at the end, classic rock) music, which delighted both our eyes and ears. Quite possibly the coolest art installation I’ve ever seen.

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The next leg of our trip took us inside the town of Les Baux. No driving is permitted on it’s historic cobblestone streets, but the quaint village hosted a plethora of cute shops, a fort with preserved war equipment, lookouts in the hills, and a beautiful cemetery.

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The history of this site was woven throughout every stone, connecting us in the present to those who lay before us of the past. After, treating ourselves to lunch overlooking the valley, there was no more obvious dessert choice than lavender ice cream.

The trip was full of incredible moments, but the most magical would have to be our outing to the Palais des Papes (or Papal palace) in Avignon. The largest medieval gothic building in Europe built in the 13th century, and an important symbol of early Western Christianity as home to the Pope through six elections before returning to Rome. We made a crepe stop and listened to a local play the accordion while we ate on the steps with the bluest of skies hanging out above us. Our eyes, ears, and bellies satiated by each of these elements made for a film worthy moment in that courtyard I can only hope to relive one day.

Overall, this trip was one for the books. I lived like a princess and witnessed wonders like never before. Our voyage through history, art, and nature served as a reminder to really stop and smell the roses, and truly appreciate the beauty of the world around me. Harder to do in New York, yes but it’s the effort that counts, and the memories that help make it easier.

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Alexandra Schmidbauer