Have you ever visited another place in the world and left a piece of your heart there? That’s exactly how I feel about the south of France. I felt so at home during my ten day solo adventure last year. The region felt so familiar to me it was almost as if I had lived there before. Déjà vu! I felt an air of familiarity everywhere I went, especially in the Provence region.
Perhaps it’s because their terroir is very similar to my home in California’s wine country, or because the language is easiest for me to understand having studied it in school. Or perhaps it’s because of my heritage. My grandfather was French and he would sing the loveliest French songs to me when I was little.
Last fall I traveled solo on a ten day adventure through the south of France, I visited the wine region of Bordeaux, colorful Aix-en-Provence, quaint seaside Cassis, the ancient hilltop towns, and scenic Nice & Monaco (which I have yet to write about). Today’s trip is to charming Avignon, a one day adventure I took while staying in Aix-en-Provence.
I’m familiar with the French language, I speak enough of it to order a meal or ask for directions but the imperfections in my pronunciation immediately identify me as a foreigner. Despite that, I had the most amazing experience while I was there and found most of the French people to be incredibly kind and welcoming. Once, I met a horribly grumpy old Frenchman on a train who bickered with me and claimed I was sitting in his seat (he was wrong) but I graciously moved over a row just to smooth his ruffled feathers. (Every society has its share of grouchy people.) Other than that one altercation, I’ve always had pleasant experiences with the French.
Train travel through France couldn’t be easier. You buy a ticket at a kiosk or in advance online and off you go. On this day trip , I hopped on a train from Aix-en-Provence to Avignon and arrived in less than an hour.
I’m a street eats kind of traveler whenever I’m somewhere where I have a lot to see, it’s cheaper and quicker to eat on the go and work it off by walking around town a few miles. I ate my share of quiche while in France, I couldn’t get enough.
Avignon is an ancient walled city and so walkable, you can see all of it in a day. You’ll want to see the top sites and that include the Palais des Popes (Pope’s Palace). It’s a magnificent structure and if you climb the steps, you’ll see views of the city beyond and Rhone river below.
My home base during my stay was colorful Aix-en-Provence, however I noticed during on my long walk around town that Avignon’s architecture was more neutral.
Every now and then I’d see pops of color on the storefronts, signs, or shutters, but for the most part the architecture is a lovely pale clay hue.
A highlight of my walk was Les Halles, it’s one of the most popular places in Avignon. The exterior has an amazing three story living wall of greenery, so lush and beautiful!
Les Halles is a giant market of produce, flowers, meats, seafood, all local goods. Inside is the market where locals do their shopping. Imagine shopping here every night for your dinner, wouldn’t that be amazing?
I was charmed by the groups of men playing cards inside Les Halles, it was a club where they met each day. I had to stop and watch them for a few minutes, it was clear to me they were enjoying their coffee and their game. How true is it that the simplest things in life that bring happiness, it’s not wealth or fame, but pleasure found in the company of good friends. :)
Avignon like any town in France has its share of shops and cafes where you can pause for a snack (hello crepes!) or for lunch, dinner, coffee, or a drink.
After walking the town, I had an hour to wait before catching an afternoon tour to the Pont du Gard so I had lunch on the main street at a cafe (quiche again!) and sat just watching a blend of people stroll by, some locals, some tourists, all exploring this town with so much history.
That afternoon I climbed in a van with 8 people from different parts of the world and an English speaking guide drove us through Arles and then to see the famous Pont du Gard. This first century Roman aqueduct is huge and you can walk across it, the picture doesn’t quite capture how impressive it is.
When you’re traveling solo, there are long periods of silence and it leaves a lot of time for contemplation. I remember thinking to myself, I could get used to living in the south of France, their relaxed pace of life, their daily trips to the market. I’ve noticed in my travel through Europe that most people live smaller and simpler than we do in the US. Their cars are smaller, and a lot of folks don’t own a car at all, they rely solely on bicycles or scooters or the well planned public transportation. Their homes are smaller too, they have far less stuff and square footage than we do. They’re happy in their simple lives, regularly meeting up friends down at the local cafe or pub.
There is this graceful flow to their lives and I found myself wishing I could live in France for an extended period of time. I want to immerse myself in a culture different than the one I’m living in, knowing there will be awkward moments during my residency but embracing that feeling that whenever I’m outside my comfort zone, great things happen.
Has this ever happened to you? Where you felt so at peace, so happy, so comfortable in a different part of the world, and you envisioned living your life there? How many of you have had this experience?
Where do you dream of living abroad? I’d love to know.
My late husband was an Aussie-I heart Australia to the moon and back! I’m remarried now, with adult kids, living in SoCal.
My BFF of 20 years moved to Sete, France two years ago-I miss being able to pick up and just go places with her, but we talk on the phone everyday. I’ll be visiting her next summer!
She would second the slower pace, the daily market run ( or walk, lol) and amazing food and health care. She moved when she was 67 years old, btw-proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams!
Wow amazing Susan, I’m inspired by that! Enjoy your trip next summer, like you said, the slower pace is intoxicating!
Wow good for the older friend that ventured to,France. I wished I had lived in France when I was younger. I love the country and lifestyle. How. lucky too have that opportunity, but for me I got married and raised my sweet daughters. That’s why I love reading about your trips to France…such a treat.
Avignon is one of my faves in France because of all you said ;) but also because it becomes for most of July THE place of theatre in France. Suddendly the place is crowded with actors promoting their shows and spectators having a blast.You got the “In” in which you get the plays you might see on the national and prestigious stages of France the next two years and the “off” festival d’Avignon which is much more diverse and hides treasures.
Thanks for speaing about this nice city!
I was unaware of that Lorelieke! I will have to remember that for when I’m living there in summer ;)
My Husband and I got to go to the Provence area 4 years ago, and I still feel like a piece of my heart is there! We kept saying that any way you turn and look could be a painting. We were in many of the same towns that you mentioned, and it brought back such neat memories. I will forever love France, and it sounds the same for you! Thanks for this post and the pictures-what a treat.
How lovely Theresa, thank you for sharing!
Thank you for posting about your French travels. I too would love to live abroad. Thirty years ago we had the opportunity to live in England with my husbands company and we have nothing but fond memories of our time there. Our daughter was actually born there and coincidentally is living in London with her husband and our baby grand-daughter right now so we have been visiting regularly with a goal of 4 times/year. This past Christmas we did pop over to France for just a few days too and it was amazing. We do dream of having a place in the Cotswold area when we retire and have fun driving around and looking at villages and thinking, yes we could live here!
I have heard the Cotswold area is divine! I love how you go back and forth like you described. I met the nicest ladies from London when I was in Provence and they described their weekend adventures to Europe, it’s easy to take the train on hop on a quick flight. How lucky you are!
Kate, you’ve always struck me as someone who feasts on life, and right now I think the feast that lays before you is France. I sense that even though you love where you live, love designing fabric, flipping houses and blogging, something is missing, and this post hints, in a big way, at what it is.
If nothing else you’re resourceful, so take that attribute and find a way to make this happen. Your children are older now and I sense Matt will be ok with it too. I’m not suggesting you leave for years, but your family can survive for six months, perhaps a year, without you, especially if they can visit over the summer months :). Don’t put it off for ‘someday’, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow, and someday rarely comes.
One word of caution…you may never want to return to the states!
How you read my mind Doreen! I thank you for the kind compliments about the work I do where I live in California, but yes I LONG to live in France for an extended period of time! I have two friends, one Norwegian, the other from Czech, and the live in their native country for 2 to 3 months out of the year, and I confess I envy their ability to do that! Their families have adjusted to it and it’s their way of life!
Thank you so much for your comments, it means so much!
Doreen–thank you. Thank you for your empowering reminder that we don’t have the promise of unlimited tomorrows, but that TODAY is a good day to seize the moment, follow dreams, live in expectation and purpose,and love others well.
Couldn’t agree more, thanks so much for sharing that Jenni!
My husband and I have lived abroad off & on our entire lives. We must have been nomads in a previous life – thank goodness we found each other! I couldn’t recommend it enough.
Living abroad provides amazing brain food – everyone and everything (even simple tasks) are interesting. And you have an appreciation for everyday when it’s something you’ve wanted to do so badly. It’s always been really easy meeting new friends.
Our kids have lived abroad with us too. It is such a gift to give them. In fact, a plan is in the works to live abroad again. Stay tuned!
Fantastic Lulu! I couldn’t agree more with this: “Living abroad provides amazing brain food – everyone and everything (even simple tasks) are interesting. And you have an appreciation for everyday when it’s something you’ve wanted to do so badly. It’s always been really easy meeting new friends.” I was so stimulated too! I love how you describe it as “brain food” I’m stealing that! And I did find it easy to make friends, in pubs, on tours, I loved it all.
So enjoying your travel adventures! Looking forward to stretches of time spent living abroad, hate wishing my life away, but excited for the future. My favorite place on Earth? Tears induced that I might never revisit my beloved Tuscany, particularly the area of the Val D’Orcia. This is where my heart lives, truly. The light, the pace of life…
Wow Donna, thanks for sharing! Tuscany is a magical place. My aunt lived in Siena for 15 years and speaks of it as you do.
Avignon has a wonderful Saturday antique market, just across the river. I leave for Aix en Provenance, a week from today. Yes, I could live there and I don’t even speak French!
Enjoy Barbara, you will LOVE it!
What a beautiful post, Kate, and that it should come today. Just yesterday, I was reflecting on how I feel so “righteous” every time I walk into Trader Joe’s here in Surprise/Sun City West Arizona, and also Sprout’s Farmers Market, and it has everything to do with France and everything you described in your post. I’ve never been there in this lifetime and, although never say never, I don’t expect to, I know I HAVE lived there before and it was so wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading the diary of yours days when your new living opportunity comes soon.
Wow you sense it too! I look forward to those days when I can live there I know it will be the experience of a lifetime. :)
And I agree, never say never, you may find yourself there too someday.
I enjoyed your article on the South of France and I reflected on a visit there a few years ago. I was fortunate to live in Paris for 5 years with my family and I miss
it every day. It is true that Europeans live with so much less, but seem to enjoy
life everyday so much more. I would move back in a heartbeat. The quality of the
food and markets are so much better than here on the East coast. The pace of
life is so much simpler. Try to make your dream come true, you will never regret
How wonderful that you lived in Paris for five years, one of the most beautiful places to be in the world, so stimulating! I love Paris so much! The European way of life has so much appeal. Thank you for your kind wishes.
I highly recommend it! We lived in Belgium for 8 years and long desperately to return to expat life – the pace of life, the friendships made, the opportunity to travel. If I had the chance to do it again, I would jump at the chance. I hope you can find that opportunity- it’s life changing in the best way. In fact, on my personal FB page today I shared the recent post from Wine & Cheese (doodles) about this very subject.
Yes Europe does have a simpler way of living. I grew up in germany. Countryside close to the Rhine river but even as a child I always knew I wanted to live in the US. I absolutely consider it my home. I felt at home here the second I left that plane more than 20 years ago now. However now that I am in my 40s I long for some the simpler ways although things have changed there too and it no longer is as it once was. I remember Saturdays involved a lot of housecleaning. Everyone swept the street outdoors and washed their windows. We did go to the market twice a week. Good memories.
Loved reading about your trip! However, I could not imagine leaving my husband and, especially my three boys, behind for a year. Kids need their parents and change so much in the course of a year. Move the whole family! The experience is education for them. We’ve dragged our kids all over the world- we homeschool so we have lots of flexibility. Anyhoo, they have learned so much from our adventures both here and abroad. Take them with you!
Last year I went abroad for the first time, at age 56! I only made it to the south of England, but fell in love with Oxford and Bath. I could definitely live in either of those towns. France will be on my next voyage, for sure.
Thanks for the article. Now I’m going to write the post to people who want to move here, and, the one I wish I could have read 15 years ago:
I grew up in SoCal but live in Aix w/ wife (she’s FR national) and daughters. Let me say right off, Yes, I feel privileged. I’m in bed watching the sun rise behind Mont Sainte-Victoire as I write this.
Let me say too, that there’s are a LOT of Anglo expats in Provence. There is even a support Anglo group for Provence.
And, the excellent public junior high where my daughters go, there is an international section taught in English.
Plus with all the new possibilities of working as a nomad online, it is very doable. And there is a desperate need everywhere for English teachers/ tutors if you can get working permit, Carte de Sejour.
Also, Lots of Brit expats start B&Bs or supplement income with Air B&B. Follow the their lead. Many Brits sell everything and start anew here. Granted, it’s a bit easier for them being part of the EU (for now), but’s still.
There are many websites/ forums out there.
That all said, it’s not all roses and chocolates. There are times I miss the practicalities and efficiency of the States: 800 customer service lines, basic banking, getting a phone turned on, etc.
And, unlike Brits, Yankees can’t take a shuttle flight home for a few days. It’s a once a year thing to go home,( if even that).
But the health care is AMAZING, as are the schools, low crime rates, culture, food, climate, etc. etc.
Finally, there are so many other options and Less expensive than Provence: the Loire Valley is beautiful, Brittany is is like New England without the snow, Dordogne is magical (and has a lot of Brits/support), and Burgundy, and Normandy, and…
The two biggest hurdles are learning basic French (people do speak some English, but for admin stuff, not so much), and finding a way to get extended visa. Basically you need to prove you have ome form of income, or are a skilled worker like science or tech. Good thing is Macron is trying to attract startups, here.
So there you have it.
If you think you can do it, I say go for it.
Amazing insight Eric, thank you! I learned so much already just reading about your time living in the Provence region, I so appreciate you sharing your personal experience!!
Wonderful recap Kate! I lived in centre ville of Avignon for 3 months on my first trip there in 2016. I LOVE Avignon and cried when it was time to leave. I kept saying to myself “This is Home! ” when I return to the next year I stayed in a little village across the road from Avignon so I could visit it regularly. ( I stayed with a lovely French woman I met there) And you are so right about the French people being so nice. Everywhere I went people went out of their way to help me navigate my way through the train stations and bus depots a part of my heart definitely belongs in France and I can’t wait to return!
Sounds like you have the same love affair as me Penny!
Wondering if you have read A year in Provence???
Yep! That’s what put the South of France in my head when I was younger! It never left, so I’m glad I finally got a glimpse of it.
Yes! A part of my heart is always in France. I had traveled to many countries in Europe but always yearn to be in France. So much so that a couple years ago when I had an empty nest I moved to Provence for a year. I loved it so much that I am planning on living there 6 months out of the year. I love all of France but Provence feels like home to me. I lived in a small village by the sea, about half way between Cassis and St Tropez.
I am amazed at how many people say to me that I was so brave to move there by myself without knowing anyone, that they could never do that. I don’t think I was so brave, I was more afraid of getting to the end of my life and regretting not doing it. It is great if you have someone to travel with, but if not, it can be wonderful going alone. I now have many new friends and look forward to seeing them again.
Dana, I applaud you! “I was more afraid of getting to the end of my life and regretting not doing it.”
That’s exactly how I feel.
Kate, I’ve never left the shores of my motherland but have always dreamed of living abroad. This post further puts it down for me that it’s possible. Thanks for sharing.
P.S. Obviously, I’ve never visited another place in the world so I can’t leave my heart yet! lol
Kate, You should see the lavender fields they are east of Avignon – it’s amazing! The flowering season mid June – early August.
Great feature on Avignon, Kate! I did a study abroad program in Avignon and lived just outside of the Ramparts (wall). Loved my time in Provence and have been back several times as well as many trips throughout Western Europe. I had the wonderful experience of living in China and Korea as an expat and traveled extensively throughout Asia, loving it all. However, it wasn’t until a trip to Alsace a couple years ago that I found “my place”. We have family roots in Alsace and I can’t believe I hadn’t made it a priority to get there on previous trips to France. The wonderful small villages, vineyards (I live near the Oregon vineyards), the people, the terrain, all just resonated with me. My sister and I are now planning to spend a couple months a year in Alsace when we retire, in about 15 years!! Happy Travels Always!