- Carol Duval
A Month in Provence
Updated: May 17
Well, close enough. From northern Spain to our first stop in France, two days at Les Bruhasses, near Condom. The French/Canadian owners greeted us with an aperitif outside on the terrace where we met the other guests--all French so my language skills got a workout.
We had a relaxing day or so enjoying the slower pace of the Gar region, the bastide of Fourcès, Valence-sur-Baise and the Cistercian l'Abbaye de Flaran. The Cistercians are my favourite medieval order. They really knew how to pick the best locations, close to good water sources, in picturesque spots and with fabulous vegetable and herb gardens --and plumbing.
Our next stop was our biggest disappointment: Le Jardin, a B&B in the little village of Aspiran. With its gorgeous website, we had high hopes for an atmospheric overnight spot on our way to Provence but the reality was very different. It didn't help that the evening we arrived, the mistral was blowing full force, the advertised free parking spot was in a difficult-to-manoeuvre alley, the owner couldn't let us in until 7 pm and the pool area was unusable. Our tiny bathroom under the stairwell was trendily decorated with Easter Island heads but with nowhere to put anything, let alone move.
The next morning we left early for Pézenas which was filled with atmospheric secluded squares and made it to a restaurant for lunch before closing time. Not always easy in France.
Then it was on the road again to find our airbnb at Collias. L'Oasis was up a winding stony path and surrounded by olive groves. This little house had all we needed: cosy combustion fireplace, living space, bedroom, private terrace and visiting peacocks.
Uzès, with its busy market in the Place aux Herbes, was nearby and the main reason for us choosing this stop. I'd read the French novel, Le Librairie de la Place aux Herbes by Eric de Kermel and loved it. I had no idea there really WAS such a bookshop, though not of course related to the author! Interestingly, they didn't even stock any of his books, including the one that drew me here.
One day we enjoyed a peaceful river walk with our host, Anne, and another time explored the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. We were close enough for days trips to Avignon, St Rémy de Provence and the archaeological site of Glanum with its impressive Roman ruins.
Our last and probably best B&B stop ever was at little-known Solliès-Toucas. The hosts, Caroline and Jacques, were helpful when needed but also left us to enjoy this beautiful place in peace. With a pool, unfortunately not the season for swimming but lovely to look at, and lots of spots to sit, BBQ, or just soak in the views, this was perfection.
Being so close to the Mediterranean we thought it was ridiculous not to go so drove to nearby Le Lavandou and enjoyed a good fish lunch at Welcome Beach. For the same reason, we felt compelled to visit Aix-en-Provence, not just for its artistic heritage but because we had fond memories of stopping there decades ago and sitting at a leafy cafe on the peaceful main square. This time round--unrecognisable!
But it was the hilly countryside that interested us most. For example, Cotignac, built into the sides of a steep river valley; the Bastide du Caloulou, where we stayed with Dave and Diana Dawson almost thirty years earlier; and the hilltop village of Gassin, famed for its pot plant gardens.
Just down the road from our B&B was Belgentier with an unexpectedly interesting fresco and WWII history and Méounes with fascinating water systems created over the centuries, feeding washing areas and turning mills.
After our week in southern Provence, we headed north to what turned out to be the piece de resistance-- Gordes in the Luberon. Yes, it's touristy but not as frenetic as the coastal areas and has more charm. We did the 20 minute walk from our hotel up to Gordes a few times and never tired of the views--or the serenity of the gardens surrounding the hotel.
Each hilltop village in the Luberon have its own special flavour. With Gordes, there was an imposing central square but most memorable was the view of it from a distance, emerging from its stony hilltop foundation.
In Roussillon it was the colour!
Lourmarin was a jumble of atmospheric lanes.
Cabrieres d’Avignon had a horrible history, being the site of the 1545 massacre of 'heretics' --but now a tranquil village with an unexpectedly glamorous restaurant, Le Vieux Bistrot. It was also unexpected, in such a quiet village with barely a person to be seen, to find a restaurant--not only open but busy.
I wanted to visit Fontaine de Vaucluse mainly because of its literary links to the sonneteer Petrarch. I could certainly see why he was keen to escape Italy's religious problems and take refuge in this valley, the source of the Sorgue River. Here he could write and read in peace, surrounded by mountains, his garden and the sound of rushing water.
Having seen the source of the Sorgue, we had to visit the Isle sur la Sorgue, famed for its antique markets. It was May Day so there wasn't much open, which might have been for the best because the tourist traps so many friends had warned us about, weren't so obvious.
After nearly three weeks in Provence, it was time to wend our way south to Spain, with a break in Beziers, a pretty city with an impressive series of parks and views over the plains beyond.
Our last hotel in France was close to the border, Les Chartreuses de Boulou, high on a hill and with a flamboyant owner, Vincent, whose hair and trousers reminded us of the artist. Not wanting to be spotted taking a photo, I could only get a shot of him exiting the kitchen.
Being halfway between Céret, a favourite of ours with its shady squares and Picasso museum, and the seaside village of Collioure, Boulou was a good place to stop for our last two days.
Last stop--Elaine's apartment in Palau Saverdera in the hills behind Roses on the Costa Brava.
Then it's on the road to back Madrid and home to Sydney.