The day started with petit déjeuner in the delightful cloisters, a lovely place for fresh croissants & warm bread, pure orange juice, confiture de fraises and bowl of strong coffee. A leisurely breakfast is one of the delights of a holiday – far removed from the rushed version of normal life.
We planned our route with the aid of our faithful Lonely Planet and the road atlas I had brought along. Today we would be doing lavender field, quaint village, tree-lined, long lunch in the sunshine, Provence. The one brought to our attention by Peter Mayle and his blessed year in the vicinity.
Route all mapped out, picnic purchased, roof down, French cafe music on and we were off. Twelve minutes later we were lost! Maybe we should have invested in that sat nav after all? I pulled over to the verge and looked at the map. A Citroen driver pulled up beside us and wound down his window.
Yes you can help actuellement – we are trying to find the road to Lourmarin. The friendly middle-aged Frenchman responded that he was heading in that direction, so we should follow him.
It was difficult to follow the tail as my eyes were everywhere taking in the beauty of the surroundings. You could count the other road users on a couple of fingers as we sailed serenely through plane tree arches, the early morning sun shining through the leafy canopy. This is my favourite kind of road trip in the world and for the first time ever, we had an open roof through which to marvel at it.
Add this to the immaculate vineyards with their regal chateaux, the fields of lavenders, still just short of peak condition but spectacular all the same, the majestic horses that ran free as birds in their grassy meadows, and concentrating on a battered white CV was pretty tough.
The understanding good samaritan recognised this quandary, stopping to let us catch up several times. We then saw a signpost for Cadenet, which was on our tick list, so gave our leader a couple of toots of gratitude and turned right for our first proper stop of the day.
On a scale of one to ten, Cadenet was about a five in les beaux village stakes, but a pleasant spot all the same for morning coffee. We didn’t linger long though, we had better fish to fry that day.
Next stop the floral nosegay that is Lourmarin. This is the place that Mayle apparently calls chez nous, a notch or two up when compared with Cadenet. The day was heating up nicely, so we were both grateful that we had brought our hats. The compact centre was perfect for a leisurely stroll around its narrow alleyways lined with colourful gift & clothing shops, eclectic art galleries and enticing cafés & eateries.
It was the flowers however that won the day for us – multi-coloured and scented, with not a deadhead in sight. It seemed that every vendor had a perfectly maintained display and the private houses were certainly not outdone in that department either.
Next stop was Saignon, a few miles further on, straight in at nombre une on our faves list. If the first two port of calls were whistle stops, here was one to savour a little longer. It started with our latest and best coffee of the day, accompanied by delicious home-made cherry pie from the petite boulangerie.
Rania and I both thought the same thing in unison – it would be splendid to buy a place here. It costs nothing to dream!
Just down the car-free street, we came across a picturesque fountain whose cooling spray was a real treat for our sun-kissed arms and face. A golden retriever decided to take the opportunity for a bathe in the early afternoon heat – lucky dog!
We strolled for thirty minutes in the tranquility, imagining how busy the place must get in the height of summer. For today, all was peaceful, so we were able to enjoy the vine clad stone buildings with their pastel blue shutters completely hassle free. Ornate tubs spilling gorgeous flowers in unruly fashion down the balconies and window sills on which they stood, only enhanced the scene still further.
Having got our fill for now of beaux villages, we next headed for Abbaye de Senanque, the one that appears on so many postcards, coasters, calendars and other such paraphernalia, the like of which you may find at your grandma’s home.
The approach was precipitous, with the road hugging the mountainside. You would need to be an accomplished coach driver to be trusted with this journey. Thankfully the powers that be had the sense to make the route one way.
We eased our way downwards, before turning the final bend at the end of our descent when the abbey honed into view for the first time.
You could easily see why this was one of France’s most photographed icons outside of Paris. The French lavender that fronts the main building may have been sub-prime, but the effect was still magical.
We had come mainly for the facade, so baulked at paying the €15 entrance fee, especially as the tour would be in French only (O-Level French was far too many years ago). We more than satisfied ourselves with our baguette, pâté & tomato lunch, together with some lovely shots of the abbey.
Following the one-way system, we soon found ourselves at the hilltop village of Gordes, another picture perfect stroll to add to the burgeoning list. Some very nice shops and restaurants too, however we were in browsing mode only.
Probably the best thing about Gordes, lovely as the interior was, is the view from the high road outside. As the sun shone it’s waning rays on the honeyed buildings, we sat on a wall and drank in the scene. Apparently the buildings take on a red-orange hue as the sun sets fully – we had neither the time or the patience to wait and see for ourselves.
We had a final stop of the day on the agenda and this would include dinner. Our last destination on our itinerary was Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Another very pleasant place with its watermill and central pond, overlooked by tree-lined sandstone cliffs.
We did not actually have the opportunity to go and see the fountain itself, a natural spring fed from the Sorgue River situated on the outskirts, but from the postcards on display, the visit would be well worth it on another occasion.
It was food we wanted and boy did we hit the jackpot. Spoilt for choice, we plumped for Chez Dominique and took a table on the upstairs balcony overlooking the water. I don’t usually write about food but this place was exceptional and not too pricey by any means.
We went for one of the fixed menus – tomato salad, salmon and a dessert, the form of which escapes me. All three courses were great, but the tomatoes were simply gorgeous. Three different varieties, freshly picked, packed with flavour and set off perfectly with rocket and balsamic vinegar. Delicious!
We’d had a fabulous day, one to live long in the memory. There were at least half a dozen other villages we could have enjoyed. These have been firmly saved up for next time – we may just give Dominique another visit though!
We recounted the wonderful day and unwound with another beer at student central in Aix. Tomorrow we would give the car a day off…..