Have you ever had one of those travel moments when a single decision changes the course of your entire plan? I was visiting a family friend, Mme. P, in Provence last July and she had been invited to celebrate a friend’s 80th birthday. As her guest I was also invited; now, I loved my grandparents, but their birthday parties were hardly raucous affairs. I passed on the invite, but offered to drive Mme. P to the weekend celebration, where I would continue on with my grand solo-traveler itinerary. What’s that saying about best-laid plans? As soon as I entered that idyllic Provençal setting, complete with lavender plants, olive trees, and the requisite dog napping in the sun, I knew my carefully mapped-out schedule was doomed. Also, my arrival to stay in an unknown town all by myself followed by a pleading phone call to hostess Mme. H asking to return to her house might have had a little something to do with it.
Dinner with this (thankfully) British family consisted of good food, plenty of local wine, and a late-night hike to open the sluice that divides the water supply between the handful of houses nearby. It seemed eleven o’clock at night was as good a time as any to bring water down for the garden; we were rewarded with a beautiful star-filled sky lighting our way back to the house as we trudged through the recently harvested melon fields.
Saturday morning, we loaded up the group for the hour-and-a-half drive to Cassis, a medieval fishing village located about 20km southeast of Marseille, and painted in the pastels of Provence with restaurants from one end to the other, naturally all featured some sort of seafood. (Note:when driving on the toll roads, I learned the hard way to have plenty of coins on hand to avoid a sudden separation from your guide when you get stuck behind the toll bar because your credit card won’t work.) At the port, Mme. H had rented a lovely boat for our group of eight and we set out on a private tour of the calanques, literally translated as “creeks” and named for the waters that once flowed into the Mediterranean, thus carving out the rock. Mini fjords would better describe the impressively high white cliffs reaching out of the fantastically blue water.
We sipped champagne (brought by our eminently thoughtful hostess) as we glided through the entrance to a calanque flanked by high jagged cliffs. The second one revealed a different setting, with lower tree-lined hills, but still the same deep blue water, and with just a handful of visitors, we enjoyed the beauty that was almost exclusively ours. The third inlet wasn’t a disappointment as much as it was a surprise. What was once an old fortification had become a marina mooring some pretty impressive boats. A slow cruise took us back to port for lunch and people-watching along the promenade. What some people choose to wear in public!
We got lost finding our way out of town (the two-way road into town had become one-way, in the wrong direction naturally). This was after driving in circles searching for way back down to the entrance of the recently-exited parking garage in order to pick up Mme. P. Cassis can beautifully frustrating. Still, I think my decision to stay was a good one.
Curious: Is the number 13 really a good choice for the captain to wear on his back for all his passengers to notice? Hhmmm…