Walking Tour Provence

Day 3 - Sunday, April 28, 2013 – Explore the Area of the Perfume Industry and a Factory; Visit Ste. Maximin and Basilica; Walk to the Grotton at Ste. Baume

We were up and in the breakfast room by 7:30 trying to avoid the crowds. Vanessa had told us they were expecting three large groups for the weekend.

When we arrived a large group from Italy was just leaving and the staff was frantic. There was no fruit left, they did restock the breads and yogurt but the manager said, "They cleaned us out!" It was an opportunity for us to practice our tolerance and understanding!

Everyone was on the bus on time enabling us to leave Cannes at 8:29 - a minute early! We met our driver, Gianni and boarded our 25 passenger mini-bus.

Jean-Sébastien told us a bit about our morning and warned us about the weather - 95% chance of rain.

Our first stop was in Grasse, considered the world's capital of perfume, to visit and tour the Fragonard Perfume Factory. It was Sunday and the factory was not in operation but our guide, Martine walked us through the whole production line explaining every procedure.

We learned about the distillation process to obtain the oils and essences of lavender, rose, vanilla, and other fragrances used to combine their famous perfumes and soaps. The essence for their spring promotion was Lillie of the Valley.

Some of the smells were overwhelming but after awhile they all seemed to blend together. Of course, there was a well stocked gift shop at the end of the tour. Gennie bought a few small gifts.

At 10:00 we left Grasse and traveled west on a well maintained highway. By the time we had gone a few kilometers the 95% rain had extended to 100%. Driving through the heavy rain, it was difficult to see the countryside but what we could see was extremely green and thick forests with numerous vineyards.

By 11:30 we were in the small village of St. Maximin for lunch. Many of the shops and cafes were closed because it was Sunday. We shared a kebab and soda and then we went out to take photos.

We met the group at 12:30 to visit the Basilica of St. Marie Madeleine. This is the legendary burial site of the relics of Mary Magdalene. Jean-Sébastien gave us a tour and pointed out the interesting art work in the church. We went down to the crypt to see the relics displayed in golden cases.

The Basilica was not on our official itinerary but Jean-Sébastien said with our small group he likes to make spontaneous stops. This is delightful for us as we get to experience more of the local flavor of the area.

By the time we reached the forests of La Sainte-Baume (Holy Cave), for our walk of the day, it was raining again. We donned our rain gear, covered our cameras, and took on the challenge.

There were two paths to get up to the grotto at the pinnacle of the rock face. One was a gravel road and the other was the original rocky steep path the monks and medieval pilgrims used to climb to the grotto to pray at this holy place. Most of us chose the original path but as it turned out, only four of us took the pilgrim’s path.

We had decided not to bring our backpacks, which was a great decision. The pilgrims' path was steep, and especially slippery due to the rain. We made great time and even though we started later, we made it up the hill to the last set of 150 steps before the others. The altitude at the grotto was 2,971 feet above sea level.

The grotto itself was dark and foreboding. One can hardly imagine Mary Magdalene living here for 30 years after she was said to have spread Christianity to France.

At 4:00 we were all back at the little café at the base of the grotto. Jean-Sébastien treated us to a snack and drink when we arrived. It was wonderful to have a warm drink or glass of wine as we were all pretty wet and chilly from the hike. The temperature was 46° with 94% humidity.

Johnny had the bus warmed up for us weary and cold pilgrims and we drove on to Avignon arriving at the hotel at 6:15. It rained for most of our trip into town, but we could see the city walls and ramparts protecting the Popes from 1309–1377.

Our rooms were ready and our keys waiting for us when we arrived. Jean-Sébastien had given us our room numbers on the bus and with only 17 of us, the process went smoothly and quickly. Our room was on the second floor on the corner facing the street with a good view of this section of the city.

After hanging up our wet rain gear, we sorted photos and Gennie caught up on the journal that she had started while riding in the bus.

We only walked 4.36 miles today but the steep climb to the grotto made up for not walking at least five miles! It was nice to get to sleep a bit early as we have another day of exploring Avingon tomorrow.

Accommodations: Hotel Bristol - - - Meal: B - - Rating: B+

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Go Ahead Tours: Walking Tour of Provence


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Fragonard Perfume Factory

Fragonard Perfume Factory

Gianni and Jean-Sébastien

Gianni and Jean-Sébastien

Basilica of St. Marie Madeleine

Basilica of St. Marie Madeleine

Pilgrims’ Path to La Sainte-Baume

Pilgrims’ Path to La Sainte-Baume

Grotto of St. Marie Madeleine

Grotto of St. Marie Madeleine

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