We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
A handful of my observations is below the fold - cheese, hiking, etc - check it out -
Dinnertime (actually, suppertime) begins 8-9. Same as Italy. How do they get to the gym at 5 am? They do not. 6 or 7 pm is cocktail hour.
French still smoke. A lot. I don't care.
In town (ie villages or in towns like Aix or Avignon) women are chic and trim. All ages. Visitors, not so much at all.
People think about French wines, but the cheeses are the thing. Eaten with a fork - not on something. It's for the cheese course or for breakfast. Waiter challenged me with their stinkiest cheese , I think, as a joke - it was dynamite. Wow. Imagine old wet rotten socks with some rotten road-kill raccoon meat mixed in. Snooty waiter could not believe I loved it. With French cheese, gve me your best shot. We snuck some home.
Wine? In this region, Cotes de Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, etc. Too expensive for me. I stuck with the vin de pays - ordinary table wine. Not great, not terrible.
Why do the lovely French women have such a cool, forbidding, unmeltable look to them? Zero American friendliness but they exude a sort of tough sexiness.
I learned that 5-star places are not my favorites. Their chefs try too hard to be inventive. Just MHO, but I feel fortunate to have checked it out several times in France.
Provence has been a Brit hiking destination for a century or more. Seemingly endless rocky trails through woods, over hills and mountains, through farmlands and village-to-village. (Even with the food and wine, I lost 7 lbs. that I had no desire to lose). With Brexit, more Parisians, or so our cab driver explained.
Interesting to me: After 4 or 5 days, my French began coming back. Haven't used it for decades. In the countryside, outside of tourist hotels, there is no English. They aren't faking that. I'd come out with a sentence then turn to Mrs. BD and say "Where the heck in my brain did that come from?"
One of our cabbies (a rare trip for us without a rental car, but this was hiking) told us he was going to English School in Washington DC for November. Needs it for his license as a tour guide. Yes, he needed better English for that.
May, maybe June, and October are the right months. Too hot in summer and probably too many visitors. The villas for rent in summer have pools for a reason.
Hiking trails: Rural and mountain trails, as in most of Europe and the US, do not appear on GPS. Why are they all uphill? Furthermore, in many areas, as we experienced, there is no cell service. Trail markings are welcome but infrequent and not always visible. It's easy to take a wrong turn as we did a number of times. Backtracking and getting confused can add plenty of time to a hike especially when you are alone and there is nobody to ask. I think we only encountered 4-5 other hikers in days. Need for a hiking pole or two? You bet unless you enjoy a sprained ankle in the middle of nowhere.
Cool outcome: Mrs. BD discovered that she loves France. She's been an Italy/Sicily/Scotland/England person until now. We feel Parisians give all French a bad rep.
Absolutely agree about Parisians v the rest of France.
Making an effort with the language is much appreciated.
Walking in France is much better now than 20 years ago.
If Provence is not so good, try the neighbouring Languedoc or Gascony. In the Tarn and Tarn et Garonne there are many, very well-marked footpaths ranging from grande randonnees down to PRs (promenades et randonnees).
When you go back, I recommend a tour of the bastide towns and vineyards. Some excellent local wine and wonderful views and ancient hilltop towns like Cordes sur Ciel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordes-sur-Ciel,
although I prefer Puycelsi (see also the excellent TV nature programme based on/in Puycelsi, Wild Tales from the Village))
CHEESE! I'm not a epicure like you but, the best cheese I've ever tasted in the U.S. is from https://www.jasperhillfarm.com/ in Vermont. Check them out. (Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with them in any way.)
I lived in Provence for 6 years. The wine I liked the most was rosé, still to me back in the US the taste of summer. I had a 10 litre cask and the local wine cooperative would fill it up with something like a gasoline pump for 5F (this was pre-Euro) per litre, so about 75ç per litre. To me, all rosé is roughly the same, the cheap stuff from the gas pump or Bandol. Domaine Tempier is nice but way overpriced.
My favorite cheese, yes a smelly strong-flavored one, was époisses. You can get it in Whole Foods but it is very expensive here, 4 or 5 times the price it is in France.
In my time traveling through France, I have had only one good wine, a Chateuneuf du Pape. It was phenomenal.
Otherwise, I pretty much only purchase the local wine. The French tend to keep their best stuff at home, anyway - and that was doubly true in the 80s, when I was visiting. After all, that was the Common Market period of "mountains of butter and lakes of wine" - misguided subsidies led to oversupply of so many things, and as a student, I benefitted.
But skiing in Chamonix, and being a student, I had no money. We survived on cheeses, wine, bread and apples. All of these were cheap and readily available. If you swapped the cheeses around and mixed up the wines a bit, each meal was unique in itself.