Provence villages, France

New Friends in Gréoux-les-Bains

Provence France

Sidewalk cafes of Greoux-les-Bains

Along the way during a summer of exploring France, we picked up a charming book that profiled seven “Routes of Discovery” in Provence.  From Romanesque art and pretty villages to the Giono and Ancient Provence routes, the author and photographer attempt what is seemingly impossible – to pull aside the veils and shine the light on this enchanting area.  I applaud their undertaking; but just as you try to define one area or quality of the Provençal landscape, another rises … and another.  We would gladly offer up a good portion of our lives toward the delight of discovering every corner of Provence, yet we have been fortunate to explore a good portion of this tantalizing region in our travels.

While staying a few days in Aix-en-Provence, we decided to wander north to the little village of Gréoux-les-Bains.  Even the name sounded enticing, and the Provençal sky and landscape were captivating in early August.   Along the Route de Vauvenargues, the muse of Cézanne – Montagne Sainte-Victoire – accompanied us, as we wound through pines and olive groves, lavender fields and a landscape that invited us to travel further, further.

ong known for the thermal baths used since the Gallo-Roman era, Gréoux-les-Bain combines a rich history with  appealing architecture, fountains and a hospitable populace of under 3,000 people.  We easily found our way to the charming pedestrian rue Grande, where visitors and residents wandered among quaint boutiques and one after another sidewalk café.  Colorful musicians stationed themselves close to our chosen restaurant, and waiters dashed between outdoor tables, strolling crowds and their indoor kitchen.

Provence villages, France

Greoux musicians add to the evening

We were enjoying a fresh rosé and awaiting our pork tenderloin order, when a huge pan of mussels arrived at the table of our neighboring diners – not the most enticing aroma for those who avoid shellfish.  Not a problem.  The evening was lovely; and we tended to ourselves, as we enjoyed our respective dinners.

Truth be told, though, I was dying to converse, to at least say hello and try to connect with my basic French.  With the arrival of dessert, I finally summoned the courage to say hello.  Like me, the husband seemed shy about trying to converse in broken English-French, but his wife was delightful and managed to understand my walk-around-it-if-you-don’t-know-the-word French.  Turns out, they were staying in a nearby campground and had left their children with friends to enjoy this evening out.

Then, our surprise of the evening occurred.  Our new friends treated us to a nightcap – their traditional drink of Provence, they explained.  What a nice gesture from them!  Definitely not for ‘lightweights’, I barely touched my tongue to the aperitif before passing it along to my husband.  A little research later, I discovered that Marc is one of the so-called eaux de vie – waters of life that are fruit brandies flavored by each region with its own artisanal variations.  Our particular Marc, it seems, began with distilled grape pulp… and continued with whatever the unique Provençal recipe required.  Certainly not Absinthe but strong enough to seal a new friendship!

All things considered, our foray into the evening offered color, friendship … and to some degree, an understanding of the potential influence of local drink on some of the colorful artists of the day.

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