The only way to properly see the famous lavender fields and the historic villages of Provence is by car which we picked up from Marseille. As it was May we knew it would be relatively quiet as the lavenders don’t start to bloom until late June.
The first stop was Aix-en-Provence, a university city of around 140,000. Our hotel was close to the Cours Mirabeau which is the heart of town and adjacent to the old town. This is a beautiful historic area and we spent several hours just strolling the markets and shops, checking out the numerous cafes and restaurants. Especially stunning was the old Town Square with its 16th-century clock tower and the nearby St Sauveur Cathedral.
The following day we drove to Gordes, considered as one of 7 most beautiful villages in France. Built on the foothills of the Monts of Vaucluse, its houses and buildings of white stone root themselves into the sharp cliff of the mountain. We spent a couple of hours here strolling through the narrow streets and taking in the views of the surrounding countryside.
Close by is the 12th century Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque – a Cistercian abbey well worth a visit especially when the lavenders are in bloom. It is still an active monastery.
The village of Roussillon is renowned for being sited in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world with its magnificent red cliffs and ochre quarries. There are a couple of informative short walks through the old ochre quarries which Geoffrey raced through! However we spent most of our time there just having a relaxing drink admiring the surrounding views.
Our next village Sault was our most disappointing stop. It was getting towards the end of the day and the weather began to turn. There are stunning views of the lavender fields to be had when in bloom, but it was April, and the village was cold, wet and largely disserted.
First stop next day was Lourmarin village and the local market was open which was a bonus. There was a 15th Century castle nearby set within a large poppy field which is was stunning sight so typical of Provence.
The road to Valensole Village travels through the picturesque lavender countryside and where you will find some of the best photo opportunities. The Plateau of Valensole is also famous for its truffles. The village itself is yet another example of beautiful old houses set in the colours typical of Provence.
You hear the phrase “the most beautiful village in France” so often in Provence but Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, in my opinion takes that accolade. The village is built on platform terraces a hundred or so metres up the side of a limestone cliff and there are amazing views of the village from the road. I would have loved to have spent more time there to take on the challenging walk up to the 12th century Chapel Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir. It was probably not as far or difficult as it looked, and as well as seeing the chapel you also get lovely views across the rooftops of Moustiers. But it was getting late in the day so it will have to wait for next time!
Our final stop was the Lake of Sainte-Croix. This is actually a man-made lake that was formed by the construction, between 1971 and 1974 of a reinforced-concrete arch dam by the name of Dam of Sainte-Croix. But you would never know – the waters are a beautiful emerald-green and it is used extensively for swimming, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking, catamaraning, pedalo boating and fishing. You can get some great photos of the Gorges from the Galetas bridge at the Northern tip of the lake.
I would love to return to Provence in July / August but I’d be fearful of the crowds. The very narrow countryside roads could make driving a nightmare and parking at the villages almost impossible. But the scenery would be totally out of this world…
Til next time then… If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.