In search of a cool escape, we’ve booked a night at a B & B north of Aix, pre-requisites: a pool and air conditioning! Passing the iconic Provençal village of Gordes on the way, we look forward to returning for dinner – it’s the closest village of any size near Les Jardins d’Eleusis, the B & B we’ve found. We meet the friendly owners, spend an hour or so by the pool, join them and the other guests for an aperitif, then wind our way back on the narrow country roads to Gordes. One of the most well-known Luberon villages, Gordes is often a victim of its own popularity: wall-to-wall visitors, full parking lots and fully booked restaurants and hotels making it difficult to enjoy. But this evening in early July, just a few folks wander the lanes, and a table’s available in the most popular restaurant with views across the valley. La Trinquette, we learn, means to toast – as in “cheers”! And cheered we are, sipping a local rosé along with a delicious dinner, as the lights twinkle on below.Crowned with a massive chateau, hovering over the pale stone homes tumbling below, Gordes is deserving of its award as one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages. It’s a pleasure to leisurely walk through quiet squares and lanes on our way back to the car.
Today will be another scorcher, but it begins with a light sprinkle. We shelter under the broad overhang on our private terrace and get a good start to the day with an abundant breakfast, brought to us on a tray by Stephanie, our hostess, then walk to the nearest hamlet, Murs. From the top we look out over the surrounding fields, peer across the rooftops, take in the immaculate garden of a private chateau, and check out the ancient stone homes, some adorned with old farm implements. It’s lavender season, and that’s one of my must-sees on this jaunt. We’ve read that the nearby village of Lioux boasts a few fields, and a spectacular setting beside a towering cliff, and when we track down the field, we just stand there, letting the fragrance and the beauty flow over us. Walking through the village, we don’t see a soul…but DO spy a few photo-worthy corners. The door to this ivy-covered church is open and we pause in the quiet space before snapping the town hall…where IS everybody? Maybe it’s just a film set?
On the way to Joucas, our next stop, we find another purple expanse then move along to the village since it’s lunch time.
Sculptors have left their mark in Joucas…from the parvis of the church to the vineyards and orchards below. An atelier is tucked beside a lane – keep walking, what we will find next? The stone paths are almost as intriguing as the houses lining them. Hostellerie des Commandeurs is the most popular place in town, with an inviting terrace – beside a VERY inviting pool. Can we dive in after lunch? Snails starts us off, and we both choose the fish of the day for our main course. Of course I can’t resist a Café Gourmand for dessert! Our next stop may be the most touristed in Provence today – the crush of huge buses dwarfing a string of crawling cars makes it almost impossible to see. What a difference from the quiet villages we’ve paused at earlier!
It’s the lavender that we, and hundreds of others want to view….we had planned to walk the significant distance from the parking area to the Abbaye de Senanque and it’s signature purple fields, but I chicken out and stay by the car, parked up a hill heading out of the valley, and leave the photo op to Kirk. Yes, it’s gorgeous, but definitely spoiled by the out-of-control buses and crowds on a summer Sunday.
And our next stop is not much better… Fontaine de Vaucluse, home of the mysterious source of the rushing river flowing through town and into the region,proves to be another popular Sunday destination. You’d think that all that water would make it cooler, but I’m nearly fainting from the heat by the time we climb the hill leading to the source….and thinking that I’ll get closer to the chilly stream on our way back down. Aaaaah……I think we’ll stick to lesser-known villages on summer weekends from now on!
Monday, May 13, 2013 Delights in the South of France Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear fromyou! Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium.
Our fellow Slow Travel Tours members, Charley and Kathy Wood, have invited us to join them for a day of their Luberon Experience tour, and it’s just a gorgeous day to explore this enticing area with them.
We’re staying in Lourmarin for a couple of nights, and buzz by the elegant chateau on our way to meet the Woods in Bonnieux.
After zig-zagging our way up and over the Combe de Lourmarin, we come out above the valley and snake down through upper-town Bonnieux to meet Charley at the Clos de Buis below, which they’ve filled with Luberon Experience guests for the week. Several of the group are hiking with Kathy across the valley to Lacoste, crowning the opposite hill, and we’ll meet them there later.
Our first stop is the peaceful Abbaye St. Hilaire, where Charley points out the WC – carved into the adjacent cliff!
The Abbey, with origins in the 1300s, was abandoned for decades, and is now being slowly and carefully restored by a family who is also living there.
We enjoy the views of farms below and cliffside gardens,
then pile back into the cars to meet the rest of the group in Lacoste, where we begin our tour above the town at the chateau, now used as an exhibition venue, that was the former abode of the Sade family…
yes, THAT Marquis was chased out of THIS town and imprisoned in the Bastille. Across the valley you can see Bonnieux to the right.
Beyond the sculpture, gleaming white-topped in the distance, is Mont Ventoux, a yearly fixture on the Tour de France.
Kathy shares the history of this now quiet and peaceful place, and we walk down through the town, which is mostly inhabited by students and faculty of the Savannah College of Art and Design… not even a bakery is here any more.
The Wood’s favorite Provencal artist, Francoise, whose shop is just on the left as you enter the village, shows us her work, and at least one Luberon Experience guest takes home a beautiful painting!
I love her patio – what a perfect place to sit and be inspired!
We’re all roussillon colored as we sit down for lunch in Cafe des Couleurs,
then take time to stroll the lanes, a photo op at every turn, from the tower
to a poppy strewn cliffside.
A couple more stops with the group – the graceful arch of Roman Pont Julien,
and a hand- picked- by – Kathy poppy field, just right for a scarlet- surrounded photo. Once again, Mont Ventoux gleams in the distance.
Thanks so much, Kathy and Charley, for generously sharing a Luberon Experience day with us!
We take off on our own for a few more Luberon sights, such as Gordes, another of France’s official “most beautiful villages” ,
and leave time for a wander around Lourmarin,
where our chat with a sidewalk guitarist leads us to his shop – he’s also an artist! And while we browse and buy he entertains us with a Johnny Cash tune or two.
Each day’s proving even better than we could have imagined – one unexpected surprise after another, with gorgeous weather as a perfect backdrop.
Knowing that Karen plans to sell this house and we’re not likely to ever return to this memory-packed home of our friends, we took a long last look and lots of pictures. Maybe if we return to the area and tell the new owners that Vic is “buried” under the olive tree, they’ll let us stroll through and pay our respects if we promise not to pick any pears in the garden.
Our first stop is at Gigondas on our drive to Marseilles. We pull in the driveway of the Domaine de Tourelles and find out why the two towers are on the bottle. The chateau on the edge of town looking west over some of the Rhone’s best vines is framed by two cylindrical 40 foot stone towers topped with inverted cones. We followed the signs to the retail shop and rang the bell, but the vignerons must have been in church. So, though we’d rather buy a bottle from the vineyard, we settled for the wine shop about 100 feet away in the heart of Gigondas.
From Gigondas, we went in search of Venasque, heading southeast through Carpentras. Ensemble Morandi, the string quartet whom we’d heard Friday night at the Domaine de Mourchon in Seguret had a concert Saturday night at the Auberge de la Fontain in the center of Venasque, so we thought we’d check out the venue. We’d heard the name before but have never been there. When we were about a mile from the village, we could see it was dramatically topping a very high hill. So from the foot of the mountain we zigged then zagged while we salivated thinking about the views we’d enjoy from the top. We parked French style (wherever we wanted to) by the fountain and Kirk stayed with the car while Anne and Jill got a tour of the hotel’s concert venue.
We’d never driven north to south through the entirety of Provence like we were about to today. We usually either spend all our time in the haute Provence or below the Luberon mountain range; but today we’re going to connect some previously unconnected points. From Venasque, we emerged from the forest at the Abbaye de Senanque, about a month away from any lavender blooms, but we could use our imagination to see the purple rows, hear the near roar of the bees, and smell the fragrance rising in the valley.
Within minutes, another photo-stop at Gordes. The hilltop villages of Tuscany have nothing on these high altitude villages and Gordes is one of the most picturesque.
From Gordes, looking almost due east we could see our next stop, Rousillon, the village beside the multicolored cliffs whose rocks were crushed, sifted, and sold as pigment for paint for all the famous French painters. The pigment was also used for coloring plaster and almost every house in Rousillon is one shade or another of the ochre/rust still visible in the cliffside adjacent to the village.
We had a quick salad lunch on what used to be a home’s patio then drove past a poppy field and the hilltop town of Lacoste, crowned with the fortress/castle of the Marquis de Sade, to Bonnieux.
Between Bonnieux, and Lourmarin we stopped for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They leftItaly where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Loumarin is always worth a stop and walk around. Lots of other people had the same idea but we pushed through the upscale crowd to get a Loumarin specialty, Le Gibassier de Lourmarin. It’s about a foot long and looks like a fougasse – a hand-shaped flat bread – but is sweet like a cookie. It contains lots of olive oil which makes it sweet in a sophisticated sort of way. We also stopped at the wine shop and got a couple bottles of rosé from the region to fill out our six-bottle Styrofoam case.
From there the very familiar drive south through Cadenet and Rognes to Aix en Provence. We did an informal high-level tour of Aix for Jill and took a little break in the lobby of the Hotel des Augustins before dinner at Jacqu
es le Croquant featuring specialties from southwestern France. After duck, goose and rabbit, we drove south to turn in the rental car and check in to the airport hotel at Marseilles. We reluctantly asked for a Monday morning wake-up call for our early flights to Frankfort and Paris then on to Dulles by mid afternoon.
As always, we’ve gotten more than we had hoped for in a short week’s visit – some planned adventures, and some wonderfully serendipitous surprises! We can’t wait til the next time!
Au Revoir, France!
Music and Markets Blog
Slip into the window seat in our aisle and join us on our search for a symphony of views, flavors, culture, sounds, and friends. We'll let you know when we hear the harmony we seek - whether in a WOW classical concert, an awesome night of jazz, a magical vineyard or olive farm, or an outstanding bistro, trattoria, wine, garden, or experience. From our delightful maison de village near a Languedoc beach* to a canal-side string ensemble in Amsterdam, you'll read and feel like a real local.
The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we're interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We've visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and in the the south of France. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with you.