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How to make the most of an empty nest: Travel to Provence with a dear friend and spend a week improving your French with Virginie!

My dear friend Ulrike (who lives in northern Germany) and I (an American) both have grown children and are experienced language teachers. We agreed that a week-long homestay in beautiful Provence would be the perfect way to improve our oral French skills while enjoying time together in the lovely region surrounding Aix-en-Provence.

We drove to Virginie and Alex’s welcoming Provençal home from Germany, stopping in Strasbourg and Switzerland along the way. The week chez Virginie passed far too quickly, as we spent each morning discussing current events and other topics of interest, lingering over our morning coffee/tea and pastries.

Virginie kindly prepared a list of vocabulary for us at the end of each day, helping us review what we had learned. While we chose to focus on oral skills, Virginie was ready to help us with any grammar questions that arose during our discussions. Our morning discussions were rich cultural exchanges that I will never forget. Ulrike and I appreciated Virginie’s willingness to adapt to our needs as well her expert native-speaker advice concerning vocabulary and colloquial expressions.

We had a fabulous time sharing stories about our families, our travels, and life in general, tout en français !

If you are fortunate enough to spend a week with Virginie and her delightful family, you will be warmly welcomed and treated to a week of delicious local specialties and wines (if you desire), have the opportunity to interact with her three adorable children, and have the distinct pleasure of working with an expert language teacher who will introduce you to the pleasures of living en Provence.

During our stay, we visited the charming market in Éguilles, sampling calisson and a variety of olives, tapenades and cheeses and purchasing and then preparing local fish for dinner. One afternoon, Virginie treated us to a relaxing Korean massage (ask her for details).

I found time to drive to Le Camp des Milles, a museum housed in a former brick and tile factory in Aix that was used as an internment camp during the Vichy regime. It was a sobering and timely reminder of how easily a society can devolve into one which allows atrocities such as the Holocaust to occur. On a much lighter note, we spent a wonderful day together in Aix, visiting Cezanne’s studio and exploring the city. I was delighted to learn that the chorale from the University of Delaware (where I teach) was scheduled to give a concert in Aix during our stay. Listening to these young vocalists (including one of my former students) was the perfect end to a magical week in Provence.

Ulrike and I continued our explorations of Provence after our homestay, guided by the sage advice of Virginie. We visited one the France’s most beautiful villages and home to a medieval fortress, Les Baux de Provence; the Roman ruins in Arles; the Pont du Gard; we spent a day kayaking in the Gorges d’Ardèche, and then stopped in Lyon on our way back to Germany. Merci mille fois, Virginie et famille !

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