Memories of a few precious days spent discovering the ethereal beauty of southern France
Author & Images: Anastasia Prokofyeva (@ironcurtsey)
Editor’s Note: Greetings dear readers. We hope that everyone is staying healthy, happy and safe during this time of social distancing. It’s been a few weeks since our last post, time that has allowed us to organize our lives in these changing times. We’ve also picked up a few important daily routines, including 20-minute dance-offs with our 5 year old and dressing up for a cocktail hour at 5 pm. My wife Anastasia has taken up the daily practice of reviewing old photographs and sharing them with us while telling the story behind the moments captured in each image. These slideshows have become an eagerly anticipated part of our days and may cover historical accounts of grandparents’ lives, awkward teenage moments, weddings of friends and family, or a long lost travelogue. After some intense negotiation, she has agreed to start sharing these stories in this publication.
Anastasia is a traveler in the truest sense of the word. She was born in Russia in the early 1980s and has experienced life in the USSR, the chaotic hustle of post-communist Russia, and the culture shock of starting life anew while a teenager in the United States. Currently a dual citizen of both countries, she spent many years traveling professionally within the US, Europe, and the Middle East, always with a camera close by to document her experiences. This lifetime of travel and never being intensely rooted to one place shielded her from overexposure to the popular culture of one particular country and has resulted in her incredibly unique outlook and voice.
We’re excited to welcome Anastasia into the writing group at 55 Cities and look forward to sharing more of her stories with you in the near future. First up, a photo essay telling the story of a weekend excursion into the south of France.
A few years ago in spring, I traveled to visit a close friend who lives in Spain just north of Barcelona. During that trip, my husband, eight month old daughter and I did a lot of traveling across the northern region of the country and experienced some of the incredibly unique cultures that make up this area. In addition to that, our friends were able to take some time away from work, so we decided to pack up the families and drive a few hours north to the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France for the weekend. Having visited Paris, Provence and the French Riviera during previous trips, we were excited to venture out to a new destination.
So on a warm sunny Friday, we packed into two small European sized cars with some weekender bags and strollers and set out. The morning drive was sunny and enjoyable, handsomely manicured trees appearing lining the highway as we crossed the border into France. We stopped at a gas station for coffee expecting a styrofoam cup of some simple brew, but were ecstatic to get a freshly made steaming espresso and crunchy ham and Brie baguette that we could eat at the little cafe before heading back out on the road.
Although still early in the tourist season, the coast was already booming with visitors in May. Some of the towns that we hoped to visit, like Collioure, where Matisse once painted, were so packed with French residents on holiday that we could not find parking for our two tiny cars. We were left to satiate our curiosity by taking in a view of the town from a convenient vista along the coast. Nonetheless compared to the nearby French Riviera, the region felt less glamorous and touristy, and satisfied my “roads less traveled” urge.
Languedoc has a lot to offer to a traveler depending on your interests. It’s really impossible to do everything. Famous French artists of the 20th century lived or worked in the area, an extensive network of wineries in the region produce one-third of French wine, structures built during the Roman Empire still endure, and sandy beaches lure visitors in the summer. We chose A la Voile Blanche, a small hotel overlooking the port of Bouzigues as our base, venturing out for day trips to Nîmes and Montpellier. Our activities focused on family-friendly, low key site seeing that could be easily accomplished with small children and allow plenty of time to catch up, enjoy conversation and experience the amazing local food and wine.
Considerably smaller than the other two cities we visited, Bouzigues is located on the shore of the Étang de Thau and was the original site of oyster farming in the area, which now produces some 13,000 tonnes of oysters annually according to Wikipedia. The oyster and mussel tables are visible from the shore, and these beauties are served along with local fish at the small cafes and restaurants dotting Avenue Louis Tudesq, the main road which runs along the lagoon. Staying here allowed us to enjoy some amazing meals, world-class seafood, house wine and each other’s company. Raw mussels, typically presented in a fashion similar to oysters with a dash of red wine vinegar? Yes, please.
Montpellier is the administrative center of Languedoc, the 8th largest city in France with a historic center and multiple points of interest. We spent some time in the Place de la Comedie and the surrounding streets keeping to the quieter historic center. We shared a few pizzas for lunch, because how can you avoid ordering more than one of those thin crust beauties when in Europe? Pizzas were followed by ice cream from one of the many gelato stands and a little charcuterie shopping.
Nîmes is known as the most Roman city outside of Italy, and is home to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world. It was quiet and peaceful during our visit, perfect for walking around with napping babies in strollers. We found a little outdoor cafe with a lovely view of the 2000 year old Arena, which still hosts events today, including bull-fighting. On the way out of Nîmes we were able to spot the Pont du Gard – the highest and best-preserved of all Roman aqueduct bridges.
…For the Memories
Between the daily site seeing, driving and taking care of kids the weekend flew by and left me wanting to see more. But the memories I will cherish the most are not of the sites and the vistas, but of spending time with the people I care about, sharing stories, memories, laughter (and wine) on the balcony of a small hotel overlooking the quiet port below with its sailboats, the blue water, and the incredible sunset.
Follow Anastasia’s photography @ironcurtsey on Instagram.
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