If I add up my time of Provencal ‘living’, I have no hesitation in saying it counts as time-well-spent. Add in my time in the town, Uzes, which is technically in the Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon region merged, in 2016 with the Midi-Pyrenees), just west of Provence, and a resounding ‘Yes!’ can be heard coming out of my mouth
!I certainly can’t put full claim to knowing Provence upside down and backwards but I do know that I have had a variety of experiences there from countless eye-popping ones as well as eye-soothing ones of which all have brightened my spirit. Throw in an alliance of friendships formed, and the kindness of strangers’ episodes that remain unforgettable to this day and, I do always, recommend Provencal travel.
During our family’s first visit to Provence, we quickly settled in our hotel in the village of Gordes for a few days. I need to point out this visit took place well over 30 years ago now, and, at a time when I didn’t think any other American could claim they had even heard of the village of Gordes, let alone found it!…and then stayed there. You see, date-wise, we were there pre-Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence. (Remember this one has sold over 5 million copies to date?)
One of the first things we did, on that initial morning, was make our way to the local farm market on the main square. After having made a variety of delectable selections, we settled down on our hotel’s grassy blanket to indulge in our simple but flavorous pickings for lunch, while affording us the ‘view to die for’ from what turned out to be a surprisingly, rather sophisticated cliff-edged hotel. With the swimming pool just beyond, and the seemingly never-ending gorge vista just behind and showing off what it’s known for, we soon felt satiated and content to stay put and play a board game with our young daughter.
As I glanced out to get another visual hit of the vista, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Was that lovely woman, Anne Bancroft, standing poolside in an ever-ready position about to drape a towel around her husband, Mel Brooks? After all, how could they know about this place? Wasn’t I the ONLY ONE that had discovered it? And, so it goes….more Annes and Mels and Harrys and Sallys and, possibly you, continue, to this day, to follow the now well-worn path to the south of France.
As it turns out, various people claim various regions of Provence as a ‘must see’. Fast forward my life a few decades later with divorce papers freshly in hand, I, ultimately took a leap of faith and decided to choose what felt best for me at that time…to return to this same region of Provence for a long stay to see if I would feel the peaceful quietude of the hilltop Luberon villages once again. I can attest my choice proved invaluable. The hair standing on end on my arms, started to retreat and, eventually, became soft and smooth once again. Whether this Luberon region can have the same effect on you, I can’t say.
But the villages will give you a splendid sightseeing tour, if nothing else…Gordes, Bonnieux, Lacoste, Menerbes, and Roussillon, with many more that can be claimed as your favorite. For instance, Lourmarin’s perfection of a Friday morning market (just a twenty minute drive from Bonnieux and in the ‘flats’) ended up being my ‘go-to’ farm market. The description ‘perfection’ meant for me: lively, but not too crowded with a diverse selection of products, yet not overwhelmingly so, as well as a choice of cafes/restaurants for lunch or a drink, if I chose to linger.
Another day might include a short excursion to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (also flat terrain) for lunch to sit by the refreshing river that passes through the town, especially when done on a warm day which allows for a cooling down session.
By the way, all of these villages have designated days for markets. The photo below is of the start of the Bonnieux market in full swing in the summer. https://www.theluberon.com/things-to-do/luberon-markets/
I have taken friends to the winery that was the sight of the movie, The Good Year, having set down my Provencal roots for my long stay just 5 minutes away.
Or, make your way to Goult for lunch at the main cafe in the village that is not so well known for its tasty mouth-watering food but was known for being a hub of the region: https://www.srp-luberon.com/?cafe-de-la-poste
This phots shows Bonnieux, my village choice, spilling down the hillside…
A road into Bonnieux well-traveled…
The long views…
And the ‘short’ views…
Prior to my long stay, I went to Provence in early January to decide where I was going to live. I did not get the final statistics but, I believe, it ended up being one of the heaviest snowstorms in Provencal history! I had to delay leaving for a few days because the roads were impassable (no snow removal equipment), the trains were not running, planes were not flying…etc!
I had rented an apartment for a week at a Bonnieux resort, just out of the village. They had a restaurant and I had plans for lunch with a few friends for my birthday. Instead, since the storm didn’t accommodate anyone being able to arrive, the Michelin-starred chef came and got me in his 4-wheel drive to take me just a few hundred feet to his restaurant. Then he suggested that the waiter serve me my lunch in front of a roaring fire in an adjoining room to the dining room. Such a perfect choice!
The sights out the window were gloriously beautiful and I was inside, cozy and warm. I was able to do some serious novel reading, have some impromptu fun, and spend a half day shoveling out my rental car! Oh! And, before the storm hit, I had found what was to be my ‘home away from home’, which made the time even more relaxing since a decision had been made.
The evening light is special too. Off in the distance is the nightly showing of the Marquis de Sade’s chateau in Lacoste. I could see this view from my apartment window in Bonnieux.
Lacoste and Marquis de Sade’s Chateau now owned by Pierre Cardin (died in 2020).
The restaurant, below, was on this petite Place.
If you get to choose the season to be there, choose Spring. The almond blossoms start it off and then the cherries and then the vineyards and the lavender and….
Someone up there is getting a bird’s eye view…
Roussillon, walking its Ochre Trail.
Day and night…
I don’t know how you experience being in a foreign country but I find accomplishing simple tasks can oft times feel monumental and rewarding. And when the ‘kindness of strangers’ kicks in, it sweetens up the accomplishment even more. For example, at the car wash when I couldn’t figure out how to pay and the French stranger ahead of me took it upon himself to pay my 5 euros because I didn’t have the coins to do so…right about the time I was feeling frustrated.
I have had the village manicurist complete my appointment and then insist on leading me across the street to help me order a chicken from the village butcher for my upcoming dinner.
And, the prize was being taken ‘into the fold’ of English-speaking women living in the various neighboring villages.
Yes, Provence may be just a bit more challenging to navigate. A rental car with GPS was essential for me to find my way. But then I am not embarrassed to admit I am ‘directionally challenged’.
And, I will say, although in France I now find it is fairly common that someone speaks some English, yet, in truth, as you venture further from Paris, it is still less so. I have been known to pose the question, to the people surrounding me, “Do you speak English?”, more than once. I have also made the point to compliment them for assisting me by speaking English. And, I see the pride that seems to put a smile on their faces when I do so. Hand gestures sometimes work too. And laughter. If the situation warrants it, I whip out my phone and use the translator app.
The Luberon mountains…If you have the time and inclination to turn off the ‘navigator’, do get lost and discover more of this region’s magic!