In my final Provence Diary post, I wanted to share two beautiful – and quite different – towns that we visited. Carpentras was the largest big town near to our gîte, and had some good restaurants and cafes, as well as attractive shops, so we ended up going a couple of times. We had to go to Nîmes to replace our rental car after the disaster in Sault, and we decided to make a nice afternoon of it at least.
The area around the train station (and rental car pick-up!) is hardly attractive, but happily Nîmes has a truly beautiful town centre, with its sand coloured buildings and pastel painted balconies and shutters. It reminded my Dad and Grandmother a little of New Orleans!
Les Arènes, the Roman amphitheatre, is a truly awe-inspiring sight in the heart of Nîmes. It was renovated in the 19th Century for use as a bullring, and regular bull fights are still held there. The Maison Carrée stands behind the Arènes and boasts one of the best preserved Roman temple façades. I only had time for a quick walk around these ancient buildings, and would love to explore them properly on a future visit. Indeed, I’d happily stay in Nîmes for a couple of days as I thought it was lovely and well worth a thorough explore. Whenever I’m next there, I’d like to pay a visit to the Jardin de la Fontaine too.
Nîmes’ main town square comes wonderfully alive in the evening, with people perched on the sides of the big round fountain and laughing and eating at the numerous dining tables set up outside of the main restaurants crowding the square. By happy coincidence, an instagram follower of mine had given me a cafe suggestion should I ever happen to find myself in Nîmes, so I dutifully guided my family (thank goodness for smartphones and google maps!) to the Patisserie Courtois, situated in the main square.
The cafe, which has been going since 1850, boasts the most gorgeous interior – all chandeliers and gold and exquisite cakes beckoning from the counters. It was a hot day, so I decided on ice-cream; the Mont Blanc to be exact (I can never resist pureed chestnut!). I also picked up some calissons: sweet delicacies of provence that are bite-sized morsels of pure deliciousness (if you’re a fan of marzipan, that is).
Despite the massive ice-creams we shared, after a further stroll, we decided to get a bite (read: three course feast) to eat for supper and settled on Restaurant le Menestrel, which proved to be an excellent choice.
I enjoyed the most delicious meal of jambon cru and melon salad, perfectly tender octopus swimming in a creamy tomato sauce, followed by a peach and almond pudding. We loved dining al fresco as the twilight settled into dusk and live music, played from somewhere close at hand, sounded through the streets.
Our visit to Nîmes was brief, but very pleasant, and I hope I get to go back again sometime soon.
Carpentras certainly had a ‘shabby chic’ quality to it. Shutters were rather worn and paint peeled off the colourful walls of the buildings. I appreciated the faded charm of the town, though, and loved the pretty flags that fluttered above our heads as we explored the narrow streets.
We made a great discovery in Jouvaud Patissier, which was a stylish cafe filled with attractive homeware goods and – of course – exceedingly tempting cakes. I had a caramel millefeuille that I’m still thinking about! My Mum bemoaned the fact that there was no way we could carry back the beautiful pale green milk glass dishes they stocked back to London in our hand luggage.
Unsurprisingly (knowing us!), we also had a couple of lovely meals in Carpentras. The first was at Le Galusha, which had the most beautiful courtyard, a very reasonable and excellent set menu and an offer for complimentary Kir Royales. We were sold!
Our other choice was La Petite Fontaine, which was where I discovered a truly delicious aperitif that will forever remind me of our holiday in Provence. It was a combination of crème de violette and rosé and was heavenly! The meal was spectacular as well; I went for a beef carpaccio salad with crispy fried potatoes.
I hope my Grandmother (who lives in Canada) visits London again sometime soon so I can recreate a great Provence memory with some crème de violette cocktails!
There was also a lovely museum and art gallery in Carpentras: the Comtadin-Duplessis Municipal Museum, which had a small but interesting collection of paintings, and I recommend visiting should you ever be in the area. I couldn’t resist posing in the pretty courtyard for a quick snap!
Apparently, Carpentras is famed for the black truffle markets held from winter to early spring. Definitely a good reason to go back!
Have you ever visited Nîmes or Carpentras? Where are your top destinations to go in Provence?
I hope you enjoyed my Provence Diary travel posts. Here’s a little round-up for you in case you missed any (you can also explore my travel category):
I’m going to be spending a few days in Geneva at the beginning of October to celebrate my 30th Birthday, so I look forward to sharing some more travel updates with you then!