Our Nest in Provence
Accommodations: Our first experience with gîte life was in the small village of Le Paradou in the southwestern part of Provence between Avignon and Arles. Our accommodations were actually billed as an apartment but even apartments are included in the gîte category now. The owner Sophie, a real estate agent, greeted us in English with a lengthy, rapid-fire litany of all the places we should visit during our stay. Fortunately, there were piles of pamphlets to back this up and, of course, we had the Internet to guide us in our adventures. Though it served our needs very well, this was the most rustic and cheapest of our accommodations. It was a small but spacious renovated space with separate bedroom and bath that was originally part of a larger 18th century building.
Theme: Most gîtes have some sort of theme to entice visitors. In this case, the idea is that you spend your day touring the area and then return to your “Paradou Nest”, hence the name Le Nid de Paradou.
Pros: a comfortable couch and bed, an adequate kitchen with a full-size fridge, free wifi with strong, fairly fast connection (albeit a very long convoluted password), bargain value ($500/wk — well within our $100/nt budget), and location, location, location — central to all the big name towns in Provence… St. Remy, Avignon, Nimes, Arles, Orange, Aix-en-Provence, Roussillon, and more.
Cons: rather dark interior, traditional small windows with shutters that close you in every night, front door only three feet from the roadway (don’t step out the door without looking both ways), little cross ventilation (we bought a fan which came in handy throughout our trip), stone floors (very typical but hard on the feet and back), a dishwasher where there should have been a clothes washer, and limited built-in storage for kitchen items. Also, we discovered that the French have an affinity for mixing IKEA furnishings with antiques. Aside from the inharmonious decor this creates, IKEA products don’t hold up too well in rentals. They tend to fall apart with repeated use by so many different people. This place had a high ratio of IKEA items.
Community: Le Paradou is a quiet, completely residential community except for one boulangerie (rather average quality) and what Americans would call a mini-mart. However, just a hop, skip, and a jump down the road is another town, Maussane, where you can find absolutely everything you need for your stay. We generally drove a few miles to Saint-Martin-de-Crau for our shopping and the convenience of the unique outdoor laundromat at the Super U. People everywhere need economical options for their day-to-day shopping and the Super U is the place locals go for groceries, sundries, and even clothing. We discovered them all over Provence and definitely found the best deals there. The whole of Provence is occupied by Brits as they love the warm, dry climate. No exception in Le Paradou.
Lessons Learned: We need outdoor living space. This accommodation had none. We knew that when we rented it, but didn’t think too much of it. We didn’t realize how much we are used to this at home — eating or relaxing on our patio. We felt a little cooped up. So one evening we took a couple of chairs outside and sat by our front door with a glass of wine being careful not to get run over by the passing cars. It was such a relief not to be confined to the four walls of our apartment for a little while. We realized that a patio or balcony has to be on our list of priorities the next time we research places to stay.
Overall Rating: 👍👍👍 Rustic but fun for a week nevertheless. It served our purposes, but we would not stay here again. There are many other options throughout Provence. Now that I know the area better, with a more advanced search I’m sure I would be able to find something more to our liking. That said, it’s not really going to be an issue because of all the places we visited, Provence was the only one that wasn’t green. Too hot and dry for us.
Link: In case you’re curious… Le Nid de Paradou