August 28, 2013

The Cruise Highlight: Jumping Ship and Getting Away to Saint-Rémy

If you've read recent posts, you may know that the longer the cruise went on, the more disenchanted I became. So I was very thankful that my son, his companion, and I agreed in advance to jump ship as soon as it anchored off Monaco early in the morning and not reboard until late the next day in Marseilles. Rather than spend the night on the ship, I'd booked us into a lovely hotel I had enjoyed six years ago in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. At least that's what I thought I'd done.

Two Wrongs Make a Right
In that earlier visit, a friend and I spent five days in this lovely little hotel just a short walk from the center of Saint-Rémy -- an excellent base for exploring the rest of Provence. I fell in love with the town, and really looked forward to having a day and night to wander its streets again. When I booked the accommodations this time, the charges seemed much higher than they were six years ago -- an increase mere inflation couldn't explain.

We had put the hotel's name and address into our rental car's GPS. I was happy when it directed us into the center of town . . . but then it led us out of town, into unfamiliar countryside, further and further from St Rémy. Finally -- following the instructions -- we pulled into the courtyard of an estate with a manor house that had been converted into a hotel. It was lovely and elegant. But it wasn't the hotel I'd stayed at before. With only a day to spend in Saint-Rémy, I wanted to be in town, not miles out in the country. I'd obviously made a major screw-up that looked like it was going to ruin our escape-from-the-ship day.

Then the lovely ladies at the reception desk checked our reservation and found I'd made another major goof: I'd booked the rooms for the next night, and they didn't have any rooms available for today. We couldn't stay for the next night, since we were due back on the ship in Marseilles. The receptionists couldn't have been more helpful. They called around and found two rooms at the Hotel Gounod located on the main square in the center of town.

This arrangement was even better than staying at the hotel I'd used before. That earlier hotel required a walk into the center of town that was easily done six years ago, but would have been more difficult today. The Hotel Gounod couldn't have been more centrally located. The owner of the charming hotel was a big admirer of composer Charles Gounod who lived in Saint-Rémy when -- 100 years ago -- he wrote his opera Mireille. We were a bit taken back by the huge statutes of Jesus and Mary that were everywhere you looked. Seems Gounod was highly religious. The hotel's website included these videos that nicely depict the hotel and the town:


Seafront Lunch in Marseilles
The next morning we wandered the town streets, lined with giant sycamores. Reluctantly, we got back in the car and headed for Marseilles, 90 minutes away. I'd never visited Marseilles and imagined a big, busy, gritty commercial port. Wrong. We had time to spare before reboarding the ship, so we drove along the city's seafront. We saw a lovely-looking restaurant in a building jutting out from the sea wall, so we found a parking space and headed there. It turned out to be a swimming pool club with a restaurant for members only, but they had a few extra tables just outside the restaurant. We enjoyed a great lunch and this view of the Mediterranean:

Our Escape-the-Ship Day confirmed my preference for independent -- not group -- travel.

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