Moved by Travel

Pico Iyer had this to say about travel:

You’re not traveling to move but to be moved.

I’m sure this is not true for everyone, and it is but one reason to travel. But, it is an important reason. One of the great beauties of travel is that it does open your eyes: To new ways, new approaches, new beliefs, new concepts, new understandings. And these things move you.

Orvieto's mid-level walk

Orvieto’s mid-level walk

Being moved is more difficult if you are constantly moving as you travel. If you do not have time to absorb and take in a place. If you don’t allow yourself time to reflect, to simply gaze, to be unhurried. This is why I am such a fan of slow travel, and why it is how we do our trips.

We have been going to Orvieto for 15 years, twice a year, for 3-8 weeks at a time. There hasn’t been a trip where I didn’t discover something new, see something I hadn’t seen before, had a revelation of some kind, where I didn’t have some kind of aha moment. Truly, it has been a privilege.

Early morning in Orvieto

Early morning in Orvieto

 


Kristi and Bill Steiner began leading “learning vacations” to Orvieto, Italy in 2003. Through Adventures in Italy they provide a cultural immersion experience. Many trips include the pursuit of some kind of creative work that complements and reinforces exploration of Italy’s culture. Relationships built over the years enable Kristi and Bill to provide experiences that a typical visitor to Orvieto never gets.

Trips are held in May and September/October every year. Their Discover Orvieto and Taste of Orvieto trips are available to groups any time of the year.

Learn more about Kristi and Bill’s trips. Stay abreast of Adventures in Italy developments, and follow Bill’s musings about travel and Italy on his blog Make Haste Slowly. View Bill’s photos of Italy, Orvieto, and other memorable places at steinerstudiophotos.com, and follow him on Instagram.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

Posted in Bill Steiner, Italy, Orvieto, Slow Travel Benefits, Umbria | Comments Off on Moved by Travel

On the South Side of the Luberon: three villages, a castle, and a bridge

The area known as “the Luberon” is– we think– the most beautiful area in Provence, stretching about 37 miles on either side of a low, rocky mountain range, an hour or so north of the Mediterranean Sea. The Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon (the Luberon natural regional park) covers about 230 square miles extending on both sides of the mountain. The area includes a few towns, many small villages, remote farms, mountainous terrain, and beautiful countryside, encompassing a wide diversity of natural beauty, agriculture, and heritage.

The mountain is actually two mountains– the Petit Luberon (2385 feet) to the west and the more massive Grand Luberon (3691 feet) to the east. A narrow twisting pass cuts through the two mountains, with the village of Bonnieux perched on the hillside on the north side of the pass and Lourmarin in a flat area on the south side.

The twisting road through the narrow Combe de Lourmarin

Our Luberon Experience week focuses on the north side of the Luberon, a lovely valley with incredible views across the Luberon valley to the Monts de Vaucluse and the distinctive 6,272-foot peak of Mont Ventoux in the distance. There’s so much to see and do in this area without making the drive to the other side.

That said, the south side of the Luberon (its “Côté Sud”) offers its own distinct pleasures, and our Return to the Luberon week provides a great opportunity for our travelers to venture further south. “Return to the Luberon is a special week for “alumni” travelers who want to experience more of beautiful Provence. We’ve hosted groups in 2013, 2014 and 2016 and will welcome our next Return group in May 2018. No two Return weeks have been exactly the same.

South of the Luberon

The south side of the Luberon– between the Luberon and the Durance River– has a more gentle characteristic. And there’s a more Mediterranean climate, a bit warmer and drier. Most of the villages are on flat ground, surrounded by vineyards and wineries, farms, and country estates. There are impressive chateaus from the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras at Lourmarin, Ansouis, Lauris and Tour d’Aigues. The Durance River, the major river and water source in Provence, sets the southern boundary, with its source in the Alps and finally flowing in the Rhône near Avignon. After crossing the river near Pertuis, the busy city of Aix-en-Provence lies just 30 minutes further to the south.

Our Return to the Luberon groups always enjoy a very full day south of the Luberon. You could spend a week, a month or more in this area, exploring villages, markets, restaurants, shops, castles, wineries, even a recreational lake. But to get us started, we’ll focus on a few of our favorites: three villages, a castle, and a bridge.

Ansouis and its chateau

The village of Ansouis (population 1,057) is designated one of the “most beautiful villages in France.” It’s a quiet and well-preserved village, sitting on a small hillside in the midst of vineyards, topped by a beautiful fortress/chateau. There’s also a highly-regarded restaurant, La Closerie, awarded one Michelin star.

The village of Ansouis

Our groups have a private visit of the Chateau d’Ansouis, hosted by its owner Madame Rousset-Rouvière, who with her husband bought the property at auction and has worked tirelessly since then on its restoration. The chateau is particularly unique because it consists of three different castles. In the center there’s a medieval fortress, parts built as early as the 10th century. Hundreds of years later when the threat of invasion had disappeared, a residential palace and gardens were built around the ancient fortress. Then on the top of the chateau, there’s a private mini-chateau with its own garden, a place for the women to retreat, kind of a boudoir. The story is fascinating!

Main entrance to the chateau

The little pleasure palace and private garden on top of the chateau

View of the valley and Luberon from the private garden

The Chateau d’Ansouis is open to the public for guided visits (in French) only on certain afternoons during the season.  (Check their website for the schedule.) It’s well worth a visit, for its history, the wonderful antiques, and the beautiful views. No photos are permitted in the interior.

Cucuron

Cucuron (population 1,828) is one of our favorite villages in this area and a bit off the tourist circuit. It’s probably best known for it’s unique “bassin,” a man-made pond surrounded by old plane trees. The bassin was a filming location for the movie “A Good Year.”  (And no, they do not show old movies outdoors there, as they did in the film!) The weekly market is held around the bassin on Tuesday mornings. There are a few restaurants and cafes around the bassin, a nice place to relax. (The most famous restaurant in the village– the Michelin 1-star La Petite Maison— is nearby.)

The bassin at Cucuron

We like to cross the street from the bassin, pass through the old village walls, and explore the medieval village. From the ruins of the old dungeon of the former castle on a small hilltop, there’s a beautiful view back across the rooftops of the village.

The beautiful rooftops of Cucuron

Ruins of the medieval chateau

Colorful houses in Cucuron

The church– the 13th century Notre-Dame de Beaulieu — sits on a square on the other side of the village from the castle ruins. It’s beautiful inside! Be sure to pull on the door to see if it might be open.

Cucuron is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and it’s an especially good place to buy olive oil.

Lourmarin

Lourmarin (population 1,127) is also one of the “most beautiful villages in France” and a very popular village with a easy pedestrian center.  It’s a delightful place with shady plane trees; lots of restaurants, cafes and upscale shops; artist galleries and antique stores; and a chateau/museum that’s open to the public.  There’s quite a large market on Friday mornings… go early to get a parking place!  (Lourmarin’s most famous resident was Nobel-prize winner Albert Camus, who is buried in the cemetery.)

The village of Lourmarin

The heart of the village is the Place d’Ormeau, where several cafes with outdoor seating share either side of the small square. It’s a great place to have coffee or an apertif if you’re just passing through or lunch if your timing is right. Lourmarin has several fine-dining restaurants.

The chateau of Lourmarin stands on the edge of the village. Originally built as a fortress in the 12th century, it was transformed in the 15th century and later fell into ruins. Today it’s a museum and a center for the arts, open to the public year-round.

The chateau de Lourmarin

We always enjoy exploring the quiet streets away from the main commercial streets.

A quiet street in Lourmarin

Pont à Coquille (the shell bridge)


If there’s extra time before returning to the north side of the Luberon, we recommend a short diversion to visit the unique “shell bridge” over the Aiguebrun River. The bridge is a historic monument, built in 1722, featuring a detailed shell pattern on one side of the bridge… quite a surprise to find in such an isolated setting!  Perhaps the bridge was once on a major route, but today it’s on a trail, an easy half-mile off the main road through the Combe de Lourmarin.

Coming from Lourmarin toward Bonnieux on the D943, pull off to the side of the road after passing a big farmhouse on the left, just before the the hairpin curve and the left turn to the D36 which continues to Bonnieux. There is room for a few cars to pull over on the right side of the road. The trail is marked with a signpost at the Grottes des Brigands. Once at the bridge, climb down on the left of the trail to see the unique shell pattern.

I’ve finished this post in the Atlanta airport, on my way to Provence and a few relaxing weeks back in our Bonnieux apartment.  I’m definitely planning to spend at least one day south of the Luberon!

 


Kathy and Charley woodKathy Wood and her husband Charley lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their “Tours of a Lifetime” for 2012, the top 50 tours in the world.

In 2016 Kathy and Charley offered Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Alsace, and the Cotswolds. Their 2017 schedule includes trips in the Luberon, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. See their 2017 schedule here.

Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for over 25 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They’ve hosted 75+ Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They now live part-time in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

Posted in France, Kathy Wood, Provence | 2 Comments

Wowed by Bordeaux

Anne & Kirk Woodyard – Music and Markets Tours

It’s been twelve years since we’ve been in Bordeaux, and since our Music and Markets Bordeaux/Dordogne tour starts and ends there, we took time for a refresh last year. A Unesco World Heritage walk through the city is the perfect way to get to know Bordeaux – so we begin in Place du Parlement (where there’s no parliament any more, just a pretty square) before heading down a a side street to Le Petit Commerce for lunch. Known for its seafood (the crabs trying to escape the basket exemplify the freshness!), it may have been petit at one time, but as it’s grown in popularity it’s expanded from building to building on this tiny lane!
With that hearty lunch down the hatch we’re ready to explore the historic center, and continue our discovery with Place de la Comédie and the majestic Grand Théâtre, a colonnaded masterpiece built in the 18th century, as was much of Bordeaux’s historic center. Inside and out it’s a dazzler, ringed with graceful Corinthian columns, the gilded entry leading to a monumental staircase. From the Place de la Comédie one boulevard of the “Golden Triangle”, Cours de l’Intendance, is perhaps the grandest street in the city. We’re impressed by the gleaming white façades, not a one in need of cleaning! Have we ever seen an entire section of a city so very spic and span?! Lined with high-end boutiques and glorious architecture, the Cours invites a relaxing wander – definitely more time than we have to give it today! But we can’t resist strolling into a Galerie – the Passage Sarget, one of those beautiful predecessors to today’s malls.

As twilight falls, we continue to the grand Cathédrale St. André, where Eleanor of Aquitaine celebrated her marriage to Louis VII. The next landmark on our tour, the Grosse Cloche, is such a beauty, glowing in the night! The former belfry of the 14th century town hall and a gate in the 13th century walls, it’s a don’t-miss in our books.
One more Unesco site completes our tour today – the Place de la Bourse (stock exchange), linking the city to the Garonne River, from where the “red gold” of Bordeaux flowed to the world.

So that’s just a taste of this beautifully restored city – we’re eager for more!

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The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we’re interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We’ve visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with our Music and Markets guests.
Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and the south of France.
While both of us have experience in organizing travel and music groups Kirk’s background is in project management and competitive writing, and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over thirty years of teaching experience, and a travel and food writer specializing in France and Italy.

Posted in European Travel, Food, France, Kirk and Anne Woodyard, Restaurants, Southwest France | 1 Comment