UNTOURS’ TUSCANY AND PROVENCE
In Florence: A big city. The market here is wonderful. A note about markets: buy what you want when you see it
because you won't find it again. My favorite museum is the Accademia with Michelangelo's beautiful white marble David. I go there every time I am in Florence. Just BEHIND the Duomo is a tiny museum, the Opa or Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore with Michelangelo's "La Pieta di Michelangelo." This was meant for his tomb, and he gave his own features to Nicodemus, a sculptor, who helped remove Christ's body from the cross. In Lucca (see below) there is actually a life-size carving of Jesus BY Nicodemus. It was awesome seeing it, knowing that he had actually SEEN Him. I have never been to the Uffizi or Bargello (everything closed on
Mondays) because of time. If you don't have a car, try to make reservations for the Uffizi BEFORE you leave or you will stand in line for hours. The Medici Chapel, Cappelle Midicee, is easy to get in, near the train station,
and has beautiful sculptures if you are not on overload from them.
We were in Buonconvento, just to the south of Siena (must go to) one time, and Calci, just east of Pisa, another. You will have a car so you can get out into the Tuscan countryside. One of my favorite cities is the pedestrian-only city of Lucca. Maybe you could hit Pisa the same day – no need for long! Another must-see is San Gimignano - crowded but fun. Collodi, Pinocchio's birthplace, is not worth going to.
In Provence: Isle-sur-Sorgue was our village, and the market there was especially good - not just the antique market which is known throughout Provence, but the regular market (on Sunday, I think). Get some zucchini
blossoms and fry them in a little beer batter (beer and flour) - the essence of the French or Italian experience! Be sure to see the Abbey de Senanque and the Pont du Gard. Close villages are Roussillon (red cliffs), Carpentras (if you happen to see Bistro Van Gogh, enjoy a beer for me!). They are just lovely - eat outside and enjoy the sights and sounds and people. Also Cavillion - see if you can find Chez Auzet in Place Duclos. It is a famous bakery and you will not believe the hundreds of various things they do with bread - incredible imagination. Try to eat outside on the main square (les Jardins d'Emilie). In Menerbes (where Peter Mayle lived), from the Restaurant Clementine, is a beautiful view of Mt. Ventoux.
Near another village, Saumane (I believe on the road from Isle-sur-Sorgue) is a cremade for santons. There was a small sign directing you down the hill to her house/studio. Santons are French equivalent of the crèche figures but include the townspeople. (Another Christmas card.) I have added to my collection twice from this same artist. They are delightful but fragile - they are painted but NOT FIRED. However, I put mine out every Christmas, and I've had very little breakage in 14 years.
Arles is historical with its Roman remains (if you're not tired of them by now!) and full of reminders of Van Gogh. You can see where he painted some of his paintings - Hotel Dieu was once his asylum and the gardens have been kept like they were then.
Aix is one of my favorite cities - walk down the Cours Mirabeau, supposed to be the perfectly proportioned street to buildings. Les Deux Garcons is a famous café where all the artists and writers hung out (eat outside, of course, and have another beer). Cezanne's studio is there, and Picasso is buried nearby in the hills outside Varvenargues, his last home but not open to the public.
My favorite village of all probably was St. Remy, one of Vincent's (Van Gogh) last stays. Ancient olive trees under which to picnic, a beautiful quiet cloister from which to give thanks for the beauty of Provence. It can’t get much better than this - you can tell how much I loved it!