Eddie Bauer guide Caroline George has earned her stripes not only as a fully certified UIAGM guide but also on some impressive life list rock, ice, and mixed climbs such as the six north faces of the Alps. In winter and summer, she lives and works in the mountains surrounding her home base of Chamonix. But after long seasons of climbing and guiding, the off-seasons are her time to rest, recharge, and decompress.
This past off-season she headed south for the warm Mediterranean climate, thriving local culture, and backyard bolted limestone of her parents’ house in Provence. This is her report from the time off.
Words by Caroline George, Images by Connie Aramaki
I don’t know what it is about heading down south, but as the miles fly by, the time seems to slow down. So much so that by the time you arrive in Provence, you have already taken years off your shoulders. After a busy season of guiding in the mountains, this is the place I go to fill up on rest, sleep, eat delicious and nutritious meals, exercise a bit (of course), and above all spend time with Olivia and rediscover the wonders of life through her marveling eyes.
Now that we are parents, the meaning of a good day on our time off isn’t only based on how many pitches we got in on a given day– it’s also about how much quality time we’ve spent with Olivia. To strike a good balance, it’s important for Adam and me to share a little time climbing together, only to be better parents for Olivia for the rest of the day. Luckily for us, my parents have a beautiful house nestled in a tiny valley deep in the heart of Provence, with a perfect bolted limestone cliff in the backyard. The climbing is so close that we can talk to each other from the cliff to the ho
use. It’s a win-win situation, as we get to climb while Olivia gets to play among the olive trees with her grandparents, who can simply be with her, play with her, and help her discover the good life in Provence.
In the morning, we often end up sleeping in despite our best efforts to wake up early to go climbing. It’s so quiet at the house that there is nothing to disturb our sleep. So the first person to be up will drive a few miles down a dirt road to what is said to be the best bakery in the whole region, L’Ami Louis, where we get a diversity of delicious breads and baked goods: pistachio bread, croissants, fougasse drenched in olive oil and covered with black olives and sesame seeds, as well as a baguette. We enjoy breakfast on the little rusty metal table outside the house as the sun gently bathes this little corner of paradise.
It’s usually 9.30am by the time we’re ready to get out of the house. Sometimes I’ll go for a bike ride to Les Baux-de-Provence, a little town set atop a rocky outcrop, crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. Nothing says Provence like riding along bright red fields of poppies and along perfectly lined up alleys of lavender fields, strolling down the old cobblestone streets of Les Baux, sitting down at a little cafe to read the newspaper in the sunshine, and just simply taking the time… to take the time.
Each day the market is in a different town. I love the Wednesday market in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There is a beautiful fruit stand that sells organic garriguettes, the most delicious and juicy strawberries I have ever tasted. The market is a wild experience for all senses, and it is only enhanced by watching Olivia taking it all in. I sometimes carry her on my shoulders so she can have a lofty view of the bustling crowd and also so that she doesn’t get crushed by all the excited people who walk down the narrow streets. You can find it all in this market: fresh fruits and vegetables, saucissons, spices from all over the world, multicolor olives, homemade breads and baked goods, local organic olive oil, but also beautiful clothes, handmade jewelry, typical baskets from Provence, Savon de Marseille, nougat and paintings of the local countryside. You name it, they have it!
Normally, in the afternoon, Adam and I pack our bags to go climbing on the cliff in my parents’ backyard. It takes less than five minutes to walk to the crag. The wall offers the widest range of climbing styles I know: grey pocketed slabs, vertical walls and overhanging routes up the most stunning honeycomb featured faces. Climbing can usually take up a full day, between the driving, the hike in and getting the right amount of pitches in. Yet, with having the crag so close by, we only need a few hours to feel good about our day, shout out to my parents that we are on our way down and be greeted halfway back to the house by Olivia’s screams of happiness when she sees us.
On days when we don’t climb, we take Olivia to the sea. She gets so excited at the sight of seagulls! She loves the feeling of the warm sand running through her toes and is very curious about the things that seem to attack her all the time… Mommy calls them “waves.”
My mom is an amazing chef and surprises us each night with delicious meals. Some of her signature dishes are Moroccan tajines, anchoiade–which is freshly steamed vegetables that you dip in an anchovy sauce–and her unique brandade de morue.
It only takes a few days in the south of France to feel rested and energized. Although it’s always hard to leave, I am lucky to know that deep in the heart of Provence, there is a little mas that awaits us anytime we need to slow down the clock of life.
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