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Haystacks in Provence by Van Gogh

If you have ever had the great fortune to find yourself in
the countryside of Provence, you may have felt, as I did even upon my first
visit, that there is something very familiar about it. This is undoubtedly
because history’s greatest artists have painted these landscapes for centuries,
and I have admired their work in countless books and museums. Traveling the
winding roads

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Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cézanne

through the hills of Provence, it is immediately apparent why
masters such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Renoir and Matisse found such inspiration
here.

As Blogger-at-Large, I recently
had the opportunity to visit Provence, a popular stop for the ships of Oceania
Cruises thanks to the charms of the port of Marseille and numerous other towns
throughout the region. On this trip, I decided to join the shore excursion
called Charming Castellet. I will try
to minimize my use of the word “charming” here, but let’s just say the
excursion was aptly named.

It was about an hour and a half by motorcoach from the port
of Marseille to Castellet, and the drive through Provence was gorgeous. Along
the way we passed vineyards, olive groves and quaint towns and farms.

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When we arrived at the base of the town, the views were stunning. As we began our walk up the road into the village,
I knew I had picked the right excursion to try out my new camera. In the French
countryside, I’m not sure it’s even possible to take a bad picture.

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According to
records, Castellet has been in existence since at least 1030. Originally a
walled town, some ancient ramparts remain, leading through old gateways to
narrow cobblestone streets.

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Beautifully restored,
brightly colored old houses line the streets and are accented with gorgeous
flowers, vines and bright green foliage. It was everything that I had imagined a
French country village would look like.

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Castellet is
a popular tourist town, and delightful little shops can be found around every
turn. Art galleries showcase local artists, and artisan workshops sell local
pottery, ceramics, candles and leather crafts. Gift shops offer all the icons
of Provence – lavender, herbes de Provence, olive oil, pastries – so I
purchased all of my gifts for family and friends here! There are also plenty of
adorable cafés and restaurants in which to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or a
glass of wine.

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As we meandered the streets, every corner unveiled another
spectacular view of Provence.

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IMG_6035As we approached the top of the hill on which Castellet is
perched, we came upon the one church in Castellet and took a look inside.

IMG_6036Near the church stood the Castellet castle built 2,500 years
ago. The views from its position atop the hill made this castle ideally suited
to keep a close watch on transportation routes thousands of years ago. Today
the castle houses government offices, and in an era in which invasion is no
longer a constant threat, the location now provides the perfect opportunity to
simply relax and enjoy the scenery.

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I have seen sprawling ancient cities, grand historic
churches and renowned museums on my European travels, and these are certainly
experiences not to be missed. But there is another European experience that is
equally enjoyable – leisurely exploring the charms of the little towns that dot
the countryside, chatting with the locals, sampling their wares and savoring
the extraordinary views under the warm summer sun.

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Life tends to move at a hectic pace, and even when on
vacation, we sometimes forget to slow down. So if your travels with Oceania
Cruises offer the chance to meander the streets of one of the many quaint villages
to be found along the shores and throughout the hillsides of Europe, I would
encourage you to take that opportunity. I imagine you will be smitten as I was
with the charms of Castellet.

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View of La Sayne by Renoire

 

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