I must confess, after signing on for this trip to France, I had a case of buyer’s remorse. I had vowed to do something exciting, different, meaningful this summer so when I saw the invitation to a Provence writer’s retreat, I leapt.
Yet not long after sending in my deposit, regret began. Had I acted too soon? And what about a little thing called money? My husband’s starting his own business and here I am jetting off to Europe. And speaking of jets, aren’t I the one who doesn’t like flying, let alone long, overseas flights? Nevertheless there was no backing down.
The day of departure came and after eight hours at 35,000 feet, I arrived jet-lagged and blinking in the Nice sun. After getting lost with my group in the confines of the airport parking garage for what felt like weeks, I finally emerged into the French countryside, driving past green fields and vineyards that looked like a wine commercial.
Ninety minutes later I enter the village of Collobrieres with its ancient streets and walls of stucco and stone. Next to an outdoor cafe, men play boule, their version of bocce ball. I’m thrilled to hear French with its hard consonants and rapid-fire delivery but know my high school classes taken decades ago will not suffice.
I’m dog-tired. Still, the wisdom is not to give into sleep which beckons like water in a desert. It’ll only be harder to slumber and make jet lag worse, which doesn’t seem possible.
The Hotel Notre Dame is in the center of town. With its husband and wife owners, the establishment is a charming mix of hip downtown New York meets Fawlty towers. My room is called the pink room and does not disappoint. Shades of hot pink, bubble gum pink, shocking pink, strawberry pink, and pale pink converge and battle for domination in this tiny space. But rather than being garish, I find it cheerful and strangely soothing.
The TV doesn’t work which would send my husband Randy into apoplectic shock, but makes me happy. It’s one more thing to disengage from this week, one more habit to shed. I take a desperately needed shower and discover something else. The water doesn’t stay in the stall. After soaking down, I’m sure I’ve flooded the village.
My first meal is lunch at a little outdoor cafe in the center of town, a simple feast that lives up to all the Provence superlatives. First is a tiny sip of spicy gazpacho, then marinated tomatoes, eggplant, and mushrooms. After that, olive tapanade spread on crusty French bread. Goat cheese arrives, so creamy and delicious I could eat it with a spoon. Despite wanting to curl up and sleep under the table, I feel revitalized.
All around, families and couples and friends sit and have lunch. Two young women enjoy champagne poured over glasses filled with fresh-cut strawberries. I make note to put that on my wish list. The pace is slow and unhurried. People linger and eye each other with friendly curiosity. After hearing my accent, I wonder what they think of Americans, famous for big bodies and Type A personalities.
That night I eat dinner on the terrace of the hotel. It’s lovely and dappled with a bubbling river below and lots of quacking ducks. Owner Olivier is a triple threat as caretaker, concierge and as I discover, talented chef. After dining on fish done to perfection, I say goodnight, happy to finally get to bed. I drift off, hearing the pleasant murmur of Olivier talking to his children on the terrace below and wonder if this is a nightly family ritual. I fall asleep but before I do, realize I’m glad I came.
For more of Laurie’s stories about Provence France
Laurie Stone is a writer living in Easton, CT who occasionally hears the siren sound of travel and needles her husband and two college-age sons to come explore. If they’re not available she’ll take any unsuspecting friend or colleague. The more she travels, the more she sees how humans are really all alike, despite language, cultural or political differences.