by Dan Hartman
Victor wrote two years ago that I sold the newspaper to him and moved to the South of France. Well he was right in that I sold him Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly but he was joking when he said I moved to the south of France. The joke has at least partly come true. I am writing this article from a villa in the south of France with my wife who is a Chef and who is cooking at a Restaurant in Avignon called “Restaurant Christian Etienne” in the Provence District of France. I came along to check out the area, eat great food, drink great wine and do some motorcycling.
I rented a bike in town and on a Sunday morning my wife and I headed out with a full tank and a map in hand. We wanted to find a small town just out of Avignon with great antiques. My wife had heard of the place. The bike was a little cruiser. Most bikes in France are crotch rockets from Japan. I don’t like to ride them so I looked for a Harley and found not a one. I’m not sure they even know what a Harley-Davidson is over here. I had to settle for a Honda Shadow. It was the closest thing I could find to a real bike.
The sun always shines in Avignon and the temp was in the 60s. Helmets are required and everyone wears them. It’s not a bad idea with all the narrow old roads in France. The roads have been here a long time and are often made of stone. Rough roads make for interesting control issues. I’ll bet controlling it is almost impossible when they are wet.
Well off we went and the first thing we did was get lost. Neither my wife nor I speak French very well, which makes for interesting discussions on how to find someplace. It took us twice as long but we finally found the place and it was worth it. L’Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue was the name of the town. It had many shops all selling things from the past. We didn’t buy much since the bike had no space to carry anything. My wife found a lamb mold for cakes that was over a hundred years old. We had to buy it and then we had lunch in the little town. We ate pizza. Believe it or not in France we ate pizza with eggs on it at a French Bistro in town. It was great.
The next stop was the small town up the road for gas. Hard to understand but after some time figuring out the French names on the pumps we were back on the road again. If you like to down shift and move through the gears on your bike, the south of France is for you. It reminds me of the Black Hills of South Dakota with all of its turns and curves. The towns are old and very interesting for someone who is interested in French history. The ride back to Avignon was uneventful. The Sunday ride came to an end as we got back to our place.
The following Sunday we were on the bike heading south to the sea. Marseilles is only an hour away and we will then be on the Mediterranean. Aix-en-Provence just north of Marseilles is a place of great food and wine. A stop there is a must. We ate at a restaurant in Aix-en and it was something. All meals were at least three courses with an appetizer, followed by an entree and then dessert with coffee. I ate fish with liver pate and ice cream. My wife tried the fish soap and beef tips with fresh fruit. (The word would be wonderful.) From “Restaurant La-Nuit” next was to point the motorcycle south.
The road this time was a 4-lane freeway with open speeds and I took advantage of it. I thought for a moment I was on I-90 in southern Minnesota heading west. Then the sea opened up to me and I came back to reality and I was really in the south of France. The town was Cassis next to Marseilles. It was a quiet fishing village with a beautiful beach. Fresh seafood is what we had to look forward to as we ate by the sea. It was a great Sunday, one of many in France.
Monday was the last day on the road. This time not far from Avignon was the wineries of the popes. Chateauneuf-Du-Pape was the name of the town. Again there was a three-course lunch with more wine to taste than you could imagine. Fresh sea bass overlooking the valley with grape vines cut back for next year’s crop. We left town with two great bottles of wine from the “Le Domaine Giraud” Winery. The people of France drink a lot of wine. It’s a great personality trait.
One final comment needs to be made in a country with more than its share of motorcycles and most of them crotch rockets. The other night I saw my first Harley-Davidson in France. My wife and I stopped at a bar in the walled city of Avignon for a drink, outside up next to the window was a Softtail as we settled in for a drink. I asked about the bike. The bartender said it was his motorcycle and was quite proud of it. We talked about Harley both in French and English for some time.
We took pictures on our travels next to motorcycles in different places. It was great to see all the bikes. It made us feel at home.
Rouler sur et vous seras libre!