Saturday, October 21, 2023

Portugal and France

Portugal & France

Ever since visiting Lisbon and Madeira Island while on a cruise in 2015, we wanted to go back to Portugal. We did just that in September 2023.

Instead of returning to Lisbon or Madeira, we chose Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, located on the country's northwest coast.

Since traveling a long distance involves a lot of time and expense, we decided to take advantage of the situation and also visit the Provence region of France, a new destination for us.




We stayed in the historic center of Porto for two-weeks. Our apartment was conveniently located only blocks from the Douro River and the same distance from the Sao Bento metro and train stations.

Porto was very hilly and walking around the city combined with the 66-steps up to our 3rd-story apartment (plus 20 additional steps from the first to second floor of the apartment) proved to be very arduous. 

Douro River, Porto

Porto Photo Album

Douro Valley Wine Tour

One of the highlights of our visit to Porto was a small-group wine tour to the nearby Douro Valley. We visited three wineries, Quinta Dos Castel Ares, Julinha, and Fonseca. We enjoyed  lunch at Julinha Winery seated in a 'lagar', a pit where human 'treaders' mashed the grapes with their feet.

Douro Valley Wine Tour Photo Album


We took the train to Guimarães, a city and municipality located in northern Portugal, in the district of Braga. It is considered the birthplace of Portugal. Guimarães was founded in the 4th century and in the 12th century became the first capital of Portugal. 

Its historic town center has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001, in recognition for being an "exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town" in Europe.

Guimarães Photo Album


Aveiro is located an hour south of Porto by train. It is billed as the "Venice of Portugal" because of its many canals and picturesque Moliceiro boats. 

We joined a walking tour and enjoyed learning about the city's history. A stop was made at the Aveiro Municipal Cemetery to view its ornate mausoleums. After the tour we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant before returning to Porto.

Aveiro Photo Album



We flew from Porto to Marseille, France (on our wedding anniversary day) then (after some confusion locating the airport train station) rode the train to Arles, our home for the next two weeks.


Our apartment in the historic center of Arles was located only one block from the scenic Rhone River and a short distance from the ruins of the Roman Amphitheater and Classical Theater. The 'Gare' (train station) was also nearby. 

The city is popular for its deep Roman roots and being the home of the iconic Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. During Roman times, Arles was one of Gaul's most significant cities.

Arles Photo Album


Fontaine-de-Vaucluse ("spring of Vaucluse") is built around the Fontaine de Vaucluse, a spring in a valley at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains, between Saumane-de-Vaucluse and Lagnes, not far from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It is named after the spring, the source of the River Sorgue.

The fountain, or spring, of Vaucluse, situated at the feet of a steep limestone cliff 230 meters high, is the biggest spring in France. It is also the fifth largest in the world with an annual flow of 630 million cubic meters.

In 1946, Jacques Cousteau and another diver were almost killed while searching for the bottom of the spring. An air compressor used to fill their tanks had taken in its own exhaust fumes and produced carbon monoxide—nearly killing them before they could return to the surface from a depth of approximately 100 meters.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse Photo Album


Gordes, listed among the 'most beautiful villages in France' and one of the perched villages of Provence is 38 kilometres east of Avignon and built on the slopes of a large rock in the very scenic Luberon area of Provence.

Gordes is a lovely traditional Provencal village with narrow cobbled streets that wind ever higher through the tall, ancient houses to the church and castle that stand above the village, with views across the Luberon mountains and region.

We visited Gordes on market-day (Tuesday) and enjoyed strolling through the many vendors selling fabrics, linens, soaps, lavender, clothing, and food.

A short distance away from Gordes was the Abbey Notre-Dame de Sénanque which was founded in 1148 by a dozen of Cistercians monks coming from the monastery of Mazan, located in Ardèche. The fields surrounding the Abbey are one of the most famous places to see lavender in Europe. Unfortunately, the lavender had already bloomed and had been harvested.

Gordes Photo Album


Roussillion, a hill town of the Provence area, sits on top of a huge ochre deposit. which reminded us of the Red Rock area of Arizona, USA. Roussillion has been a protected village since 1943 and has not been redeveloped.

A magnificent half-cylinder polar sundial by Jean Raffegeau sits on top of a local viewpoint.

A specialty of this area is lavender ice-cream and, of course, we had to indulge!

Roussillion Photo Album


Saint-Rémy sits in the foothills of Alpilles Mountain. It is the largest village in the Alpilles region and serves as its capital. 

After months of hospital treatment in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh allowed himself to be committed to the Saint-Paul de Mausole psychiatric institution in Saint-Rémy de Provence. Vincent spent a year in the asylum and painted many of his most famous works there. 

A highlight of our tour was truffle-tasting at a shop in Saint Remy. We sampled summer truffles on a bread cube, a cheese cube dipped in truffle honey, and a taste of some truffle salt (good on French fries). The summer truffles have a lighter taste than the winter truffles.

Les Baux-de-Provence

Les Baux-de-Provence is a village 20 kilometers south of Avignon in Provence and within the Regional Natural Park of the Alpilles. Said to be the most visited village in France, with approximately two million visitors a year. It is listed among the 'most beautiful villages of France'.

Les Baux-de-Provence, also called Les Baux, is located on a spur of the Alpilles Hills rising abruptly from the valley floor, northeast of Arles. On this rocky hill, about 1,000 yards (900 meters) long and 220 yards (200 meters) wide, is a ruined château and streets of abandoned houses, plus a church, a museum, and small modern tourist shops. 

Les Baux-de-Provence Photo Album

Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard (Bridge of the Gard), a giant bridge-aqueduct, is a notable ancient Roman engineering work constructed about 19 BCE to carry water to the city of Nîmes over the Gard River in southern France. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Three tiers of arches rise to a height of 47 meters (155 feet). The first tier is composed of 6 arches from 15 to 24 meters (51 to 80 feet) wide, the largest spanning the river; the second tier is composed of 11 arches of the same dimensions; the third, carrying the conduit, is composed of 35 smaller (4.6-meter [15-foot]) arches. Like many of the best Roman constructions, it was built without mortar.

I am always amazed by Roman engineering feats and it was spectacular to view this one in-person!

Pont du Gard Photo Album


Avignon is the capital of the French department of Vaucluse in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, and is on the banks of the Rhône river. Avignon was one of the European Cities of Culture in 2000 and its historical center has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Avignon is famous as the city to which the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century. Le Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes) which was built then is the world's largest Gothic building. It was largely emptied over the centuries, and its vast stone rooms are filled with little more than old frescos, but it is still an imposing building. The Ramparts themselves were erected to keep the plague and invaders out during the turbulent Middle Ages, when Avignon belonged to the papacy and not the French crown.

Its early history is much older than the popes, however. Avignon occupies a strategic location for several reasons - it is at the confluence of two once-mighty rivers: the Rhône, still one of the biggest rivers in France, and the now largely-dammed Durance. Both were important routes of trade and communication even in prehistoric times. In addition, there is a long island in the Rhone that made it possible to ferry people and goods across, and later bridge the river, more easily than in other places.

Avignon Photo Album

Wine Tour of Provence

We took the train from Arles to Avignon to join a small-group (6-people) 'Wines of Provence' tour. We visited three wineries in the appellations of Beaumes-de-Venise, Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Domaine Des Bernardins, Gabriel Meffre, and Chateau de la Gardine.

After the visit to the Gabriel Meffre winery, we enjoyed a picnic of bread, cheese, tapenades, grapes, boiled eggs, and grape juice furnished by our guide, Arnaud.