Look : you are visiting towns and villages that have streets since Roman times. By now their pavement is perfectly smooth and your heavy walking shoes will feel out of place. Instead, bring your best office shoes with you : In France, a person status is very much determined by what he/she wears on its feet. And nice shoes might help you resist the temptation of bermuda shorts, flowered shirts and tank-tops.
2-Splurge on a three star restaurant
Yes,they are great, but also mightily over-priced : why pay New York prices for decent french food when you are in France ? Instead, ask around for nice places. With a good guide and more importantly advices from your hotels, the local shopkeepers, you can have a great lunch or dinner at french prices. And save the money for an other trip.
3- Stand in line to visit Avignon’s bridge.
First, you wont even reach the opposite bank ! The far end of St Benezet bridge has been destroyed several centuries ago by the Rhone river and the mighty mistral wind. But althought a lovely sight, it is ridiculously over priced, simply because the town wants to make most of its reputation. Instead, take the free shuttle boat across to river to green Barthelasse island and you will enjoy a view identical from the photograph above. Do not forget to visit the Palace of the Popes even if it seems pricey, and the Pont du Gard, a huge roman aqueduct 25 Km west of the city.
They’ll cost you “ la peau des fesses” your bottom’s skin. Avoid also the tourist trains slow and prone to get stuck in traffic. ( Not always so slow : one of them recently overturned in Marseilles due to an excessive speed). Instead, enjoy public transportation on the fine network of subsidized buses, both inter cities and inner cities , or on 'velopop' the pay-per-ride bike lending system in Avignon
5-Keep a large bottle of mineral water in your bag
Again, this is a civilized country. No need of toting your personal water reserve as a trekker in Betchuanaland. And the climate, though sunny, doesn't make our place a subtropical country. (Provence is at the latitude of Maine or Oregon). Instead , enter a café at any time of day. Drink at the counter. A glass of water is free, by tradition ; should you want a free pee-pee also, you might be definitely pushing your luck with the bartender. Order something, anything. The cheapest drink in a french bistrot is a lemonade, enjoy it with mint or grenadine syrup : it will often be cheaper than a can of soda at a vending machine or in a convenience store !
6-Book in a Hotel Chain
They are made for visiting businessmen and often tucked in industrial outskirts miles from anything interesting. Instead, book in a small city hotel or a flat or guest room rented by one of the locals. You won't be bothered by the whirr of the central air conditionning, and you’ll be more likely to hear the cicadas ... Have you visited our august 2009 post about the flats we rent ?
Côtes du Rhone is the word here. And also Côte du Ventoux, Coteaux d’Aix. Lovely landscape. Small exploitations. Some people dream to make a life style of it. And are ready to sell everything aat home to buy the whole gammut, a few acres of land, a house with plane-trees and cellars. Talk about a million dollars. It is a sure way to ruin if are not willing to toil for selling the stuff. Forget quiet evenings watching the wine leaves changing colors, sitting on a stone bench under the plane tree. Over-production of cheap and intermediate wines is such that several dis-illusioned investors are putting back their dream for sale. Instead, if you are in love with wine, visit the specialized shops : I recommend Avitus, a cave and wine bar, and of course l’Hermitage, soon to open downstairs from our building.
8- Try to park in downtown Marseilles
The streets around the Vieux Port are as congested as Chicago, and your lovely Mercedes or Peugeot brand new and shining from the Avis stables will be at great risk of being hijacked or burglarized. If I was a good guy, I’d tell you were is the one free parking lot downtown ( tip : in the backyard of a no frills supermarket.) But then Marseilles was not meant for good guys. Reading the news, it apparently still is the nations capital of organized crime, keeping loose links with politics and unions. Thank God, the organization itself appear far from perfect, so the ambience is relaxed. Marseilles is a great city for a day tour. Instead, go by train, keep your sun glasses on at all times, like the local boys do, and fancy yourself as a deputy of Al Pacino coming to settle a few scores with the Corsicans.
9 – Gape at real estate agents windows.
Locals feel that the price of real estate has been pushed up tremendously by the influx of foreigners. It is probably depressing to see tourist gaping in clusters at wide-angled-photographs over hiked up prices in agents’s shop windows - just like kids in front of an icecream parlour.( The Real estate market has long been depressed in France, and moves slowly.) Plus, figure that the old Madame Escartefigue, willing after all to sell one of her lovely village house, is not keen at all of seing its intentions advertised in front of the neighbours she despizes since about 1955. Instead, should you want to invest, do it quietly, from your armchair, on a computer, and start using first the four big real estate agency networks : Orpi, Fnaim, Laforet, Guy Hoquet.
In western Provence and the Languedoc, the corrida de toros is taken seriously. A month ago, the web site for Arles Easter feria was hijacked and defaced by anti-corrida hackers : they published across the homepage a sentence by Mahatma Gandhi saying that a one could evaluate a civilisation’s greatness by the death it bestowed on its animals, and a few gruesome photographs. Instead of voicing your love for animals ovr a glass of pastis, consider the wisdom words of the Mahatma : the barbarian but noble death of the toro, admired and respected by thousands of people united in a spiritual fervour at the arena, is much more civilized than at the slaughterhouse.