In the blistering heat of the car, we start counting the kilometres to our final destination for the day. We have covered so much ground since we left Cannes in the morning. Our journey took us along the cote d’azur to St Tropez and the infamous Plage Tahiti, then en route through the rolling scenery in Provence, we stopped for a bouillabaisse in Marseille, back on the road looking for the Cours Mirabeau in Aix en Provence then giving up in frustration. We could not wait to reach Avignon soon enough.
Feeling hot and thirsty, we take the sortie to Avignon and continue on the N538. We follow arrows and signs to our Minotel near the airport.
Much to our surprise, we reach it easily, park the car and step into the air conditioned lobby. The girl behind the desk gives us a warm welcome and courteously tells us we are in the wrong place. I knew it was too easy to find our destination first go! She explains that there are three Minotels in Avignon and she telephones Hotel Paradou to confirm our reservation and draws us a detailed map on how to reach Morières-les-Avignon.
In a very short time we are on Route Nationale 100 and take the right turn into the Paradou. We park our Renault 19 and check in. Room 17 on the first floor is a basic room with two single beds separated by a small table, an open style wardrobe, a small television which doesn’t work and a very French bathroom.
“Today, you’ll take your first French shower,” Mr G says chuckling to himself.
We carry our luggage up the stairs and change into our swim suits. Set amongst lush trees, the swimming pool looks so inviting after the scorching heat of the day. We dive into the refreshing water, find a gushing water outlet and take turns in front it to massage the knots out of our back and shoulders. It is nearly 8 pm but the sun is still warming the peaceful and lush one hectare surrounds of the hotel.
A few guests are gathered around the pool. A middle aged Frenchman sun bathes while reading a book. Two American families are having trouble keeping their eyes off Mr G’s torso, sunburnt in a striped pattern. A young French couple are keeping an eye on their very young daughter in floaters who insists on going in and out of the water even when she is shivering and her lips are blue.
The American families order some drinks, the lone Frenchman dives into the pool, the trembling little girl yells out, “caca” and her father rushes her to the toilets. When they return, she insists on pushing her young papa into the pool who plays his part so well much to the delight and entertainment of maman.
When the sun disappears behind the hills, we leave la piscine to have a shower in our room. Unaccustomed to hand-held showers that trickle water, I flood the bathroom in an instant. Washing long hair with an uncooperative instrument brings a lot of amusement to Mr G who decides to help with the task.
Feeling a lot more relaxed, we walk down to the restaurant which has the look and feel of a large provencal kitchen. In fact the minotel, is like a large provencal house, from its basic but clean and comfortable rooms to the chaleureux service and smiles of the staff. We felt right at home and settle in for an evening on the terrace under the trees.
I finally get to order my first pastis in Provence and clink glasses with Mr G’s Heineken beer. The menu on offer is simple but regional, just what we want to experience during our travels. I order saumon cru mariné au citron et a huile d’olive, raw salmon marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, a light and cool entrée. Mr G chooses the cocktail d’avocat au thon, a seafood cocktail with fresh tuna and avocado. For the main course, I have noisettes d’agneau aux senteurs de Provence, lamb noisettes perfumed with provencal herbs while Mr G has the mignons de porc aux trois moutardes, pork mignons flavoured with three varieties of mustard. For the wine, I am eager to try my first Chateauneuf du Pape. We order a bottle of Chateau de la Gardine 1989 – AOC, from the Cotes du Rhone villages.
We enjoy a leisurely-paced dinner under Provencal stars. Every dish is delectable. The wine, with its delicate bouquet and dark red colour pleases the eye and the palate.
We end the meal with a selection of fromages followed by a couple of Marc de Provence. The heat of the night seeps through us and we relax into it. This is our one and only night in Avignon and we feel ourselves becoming immersed in Provence.
We toast our last drop of Marc de Provence to the long and eventful day and the impeccable evening. We’ve enjoyed delectable regional cuisine, a delicious wine, a romantic location and perfect company.
A night to remember.
… continues tomorrow
‘Le Tour de France Gourmantic’ series is the story of a young couple from Australia who took to the French roads on a whirlwind Tour of France back when the internet wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips, phones were still attached to sockets, GPS was an unfamiliar acronym, digital cameras were a pipe dream and the Euro hadn’t replaced French Francs. With just one fold-out map of France and boundless enthusiasm, they took their Renault 19 and went on a cultural and culinary discovery.
Avenue Léon Blum – RN100
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