Tasha & Kiri's Winter En France travel blog

borrowed bicycle and olive trees near Les Arcs, Provence

neighbourhood orange tree Les Arcs

var vineyard

gorge de pennefort var

classic St Tropez

note the little Private Yacht in the background

Rini in her medieval neighbourhood in Les Arcs s/ Argens

the Abbey of Thoronet

even the trees are built solid!

L'Eucalyptus, our quiet chambre d'hote in the Var countryside

Tasha: Var, France. Have you heard of it? It’s part of the Region of Provence, in the southeast corner. I’d heard of St. Tropez, of course, the resort town on the coast, but didn’t realize it was part of the Var; didn’t realize the famous Cote d’Azur extends all along that coast. Les Arcs sur Argens? Never heard of it. Would not have gone anywhere near it, except that a sister/aunt of our friends Tia/Imogen lives there. What a happy instigation to discover a beautiful chunk of France!

Rini, who grew up in Toronto, lives with her French husband Thierry and their two children Kolyan (18) and Naomé (15) in Les Arcs sur Argens. I don’t remember seeing Rini since we were in our early 20’s.

We found a secluded and very comfortable chambre d’hote, L’Eucalyptus, just outside of the town, within easy bicycling distance of Rini’s house. It had Wifi and a swimming pool. Turned out it also had the best breakfasts with a kind of jam I’ve never encountered before, homemade from Beatrice’s garden “Strawberry tree” (a Mediterranean species of Arbutus) fruits. I still can’t say what the taste resembles. Also turned out the weather was so cold there was a cm of ice on the swimming pool every morning, so obviously we were a bit optimistic to think we might possibly use our bathing suits!

Kiri: We weren’t sure how much time we would spend with Rini and family, and were prepared to hang out at our chambre d’hote, doing math and up-dating the blog, maybe exploring a bit on the bicycles they loaned to us… but it ended up that we were out and about with Rini every day.

The first day, Kirianne was invited to go with Naomé and her friend to Draguignan, the nearest, largish town where there was a market. Tasha and Rini went mushroom searching but found that the “sangliers”, wild pigs, had gotten to the suggested place first. All they found were their diggings.

Tasha: However, it was a lovely drive through the countryside, and gave me a good impression of the surprising wilderness of much of the area: mountainous and forested. We took a wrong turn and had to pass by the gorges of Pennefort, where we stopped for a short repose. Rini told me it’s a favourite place to go in the heat of summer, since the steep shady canyon is always cool. The afternoon also provided Rini and me with some time to chat together and get reacquainted.

Kiri: In the other days that came and went, we visited the ‘Abbaye du Thoronet’ where we heard how the sound is amplified and trampolined in the church hall, it was really quite amazing! We also went to the ‘Chapelle Sainte Roseline’, sadly it was, as you can probably guess, closed in January - I’ve heard that before. Anyway the story of Saint Roseline is that she was giving out bread to the poor of Les Arcs and then her father, the mean duke, who thought that giving food to the poor unladylike, or something came and when he ripped off Saint Roseline’s apron, where she had the bread, all of the bread turned to rose petals. Then she became the abbess and when she died she was buried but after 200 years she was dug up and she hadn’t rotted yet so she was put in a glass case and now you can see her in the chapel. Bugs got into the glass case and slowly ate away at her so there is supposedly not much left of her now, but her eyes are in cases where you can look at them. Kirianne was quite glad that it was closed in January.

We also went one day to, and you won’t believe this, but… SAINT TROPEZ!!!!!!!!! We didn’t see Brad Pitt or any other super star, not even Brigitte Bardot although we did see a poster of her. There were so many GIGANTIC private yachts, crazy big, some with gold on them; one was even named, in big letters in English ‘DON’T TOUCH’. I bet it was Brad Pitt’s boat! I don’t even think that Brad Pitt is that amazing, but it was pretty cool to think that I was in a town where there are superstars that live there in the summer, if not in January.

Tasha: A note about the Abbaye du Thoronet... It is apparently the best preserved Cistercian monastery in south of France, dating from the 12th Century. And the acoustics are truly amazing! When I entered and heard the reverberations of Rini's and Thierry's voices, I thought how wonderful it would be to hear the monks chanting. While comtemplating this, a small tour group arrived. Normally, I am not happy when that happens, and I dash away as quickly as possible, but I hung around a bit to hear what the guide said about it, and he talked mainly about how the architecture was specifically designed for sound. The reverberations of a single sound are sustained for 15 seconds - that's a long time! And then, to my delight, after apologizing that he was not a good singer, the guide began a long slow chant and walked all around the nave while chanting. The sound effect was transcendental! That made the whole visit for me!

Rini cooked up dinner for us every night, but the highlight was the “real French” dinner we put together, complete with aperitif (pistachios and wine), entrée (crevettes and wine), plat (delicious stewed rabbit in cream sauce with funny noodles, literally called “gigilli”s -say it out loud, with a hard g!, and wine), salade, fromages (with baguette and wine), and then I think we were all too full for dessert! YUM. I had invited to take the family out for dinner, but Rini countered that it would be too expensive and I think her idea was better: the meal we had was at least as good as any I’ve had in a restaurant, and more fun. The wines, of course, were local that we picked up in the grocery store along with all the other ingredients. Even shopping was fun: we got to watch the butcher chop up the rabbit, and he was quite a clown!

Thanks for the great visit, Rini et famille!

Oh, and even though I’d never heard of Les Arcs s/Argens before, it has a lovely restored old medieval town that is actually quite a famous attraction itself. Rini lives just outside the medieval walls!

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