Arrived by air, from Bordeaux to Marseille, just before noon, from a place with torrential downpour to the land of sunny blue skies, fascinated by the azure Mediterranean coastline, while descending from the sky.
Wanting to see more in the available time, we planned to not stay on the coast, but do a drive through (we had already been to Paris, Bordeaux and Burgundy, on this french summer holiday, and still had Provence, Loire valley and bit of Normandy, on the itinerary).
The ambitious, original plan was to drive from Marseilles to Nice, with a stopover for lunch, in a coastal town and then drive up to L’isla’sur’la Sorgue, our local stay for next 3 days, in Provence.
The deviation from the plan was only that we did not drive all the way to Nice, but part of the way, and took pit stops along many smaller coastal towns with awe-inspiring views of the Mediterranean Sea.
After picking up our rental car, we navigated through the Old port of Marseilles, considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of Marseilles, and a harbour for cruise ships, as well. The view was spectacular with boats moored along the quay, cruise ships in the distance and the magnificent fortress, Château d’lf perched on the island of Lf in the distance, made popular by Alexander Dumas’, Count of Monte Cristo.
We meandered through the popular, Rue de la Republiqué, teeming with tourists, including those from the cruise-ships, with a picturesque promenade, dotted with cafes and restaurants.
We didn’t stay in Marseilles for long, as the plan was to have lunch at Bandol. Here, the challenge was to map our route, to be able to drive along the coast and soak-in the blue hues, as far as possible, and avoid driving, in-land. Unfortunately there isn’t a coastal highway, à la, Highway 1 pacific coast. So we mapped our route from coastal town- to town. Our first stop was Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, then La-Ciotat, latter a smaller port with similar promenades that dot most coastal towns.
The beaches are pristine white, contrasting with the shimmering azure blue seas and the sunny blue skies. Our breaks included finding a parking spot which was always a task, walk/ sit along the promenade, have an ice- lolly or a beer depending on the age, and click lots of pictures!
We reached Bandol, about 4 pm and had a late lunch here, paired with a Bandol Rosé, a product of Mourvédre grape, specific to this region, blended with Grenache. Bandol is amongst Provence’s increasingly popular wine regions, known for its young and crisp Rosé and spicy Reds.
From Bandol, we started back, at 6:30 pm, the shortest route via Marseilles again and then inland, reaching L’isla’sur’la sorgue at 9 pm.
This small picturesque town is also known as the Venice of Provence, with the shallow, clear steams of river Sorgue, forking through the town, lively cafes and restaurants lining the river side and picturesque bridges connecting the right and left banks. Colourful flowering shrubs along the river side, vibrant boats on the shallow waters and the eclectic lighting from the cafes, are a Photographer’s delight making for splendid pictures.
The town itself is very lively, bursting with tourists and locals alike, exuberant restaurateurs, eclectic shops and street musicians contributing together to make a perfect holiday atmosphere.
Our homestay (Air B& B) here, hosted by Olivier, was another of those great finds (of course not unexpected since DH researches a lot to find us the perfect spot). Perfectly situated, in a quiet by lane, just two minutes walk from the main market and the most happening foodie streets of the town. The apartment itself was eclectic in decor and fun to explore.
First evening was spent loitering about the town, soaking in the vibrant scenes and clicking away, at the perfect time of the day, twilight! Found a nice Italian restaurant who sweetly offered the patrons, cosy comforters, seeing us shiver in the evening breeze, along with delicious food, of course!
Next day was an ode to lavender! Since this french trip was timed perfectly to coincide with lavender bloom, we had travelled to Provence to see this natural marvel.. my dream since forever. Also, being an ardent fan of L’occitane products, and knowing their origin in Provence, had thought of visiting their production site, which we finally decided against, since that trip would have taken up much of a day. Eventually I shopped from their local store in town, at much discounted rates, compared to home.
Finding blooming lavender fields was the agenda of day 2 in Provence and made easy by the online “Lavender routes of Provence” Maps. We charted these on our google maps and headed for Gordes. On the way, did some roadside shopping for freshest of cherries and peaches, the bounty of Provence!
Spotted a cicada, another regional symbol, which chose poorly, to venture into our car and made for all the ensuing mini-frenzy!
French countryside like most of Europe is dotted with the most picturesque little towns, and the region of Luberon is dotted with these charming hill-top villages, known as “Les plus beaux villages de France”.
Gordes is one of those awe-inspiring spots, reminding me much of Andalusia. The photography began long before we meandered through the narrow winding and steeply uphill lanes, which was an adventure in itself, in our minibus!
After a short break here, we headed for the most photographed spot in the region, the fields of Abbey Senanque, in Vaucluse, with its perfectly manicured rows of lavender, pictured against the timeless Abbey, in stone!
Though the lavender bloom was not at its peak, it still was one of the most dramatic sites, vivid in shades of lavender and violet! Thank god for digital cameras, else we would have spent an entire roll of film here!
Next stop on the map was the village of Rousillon, known for the dramatic Ochre hills, and the village itself theme-painted in earthy tones of ochre, red and pink.
We had a routine lunch of pizza here, having reached later than usual hours, followed by delicious gelato and then lazily loitered through the shops, selling the perfect souvenirs for the tourists. Bought the most aromatic candle here infused with the Herbs’ du Provence!
Then we navigated towards Sault, the plateau around this town, is lush with lavender for miles. Just before reaching Sault, we had our first glimpse of lavender fields next to the road and we literally jumped out of the car to roll amongst these!
Unlike the Abbey Senanque, where venturing into the lavender fields is not allowed, here we could roll, bath and tumble amongst the river of lavender! It was all that I foresaw in my imagination and more and a thrill for everyone! We lolled around here, clicking pictures and collecting sprigs of lavender for a while.
I cannot say that we had our “fill” of lavender, but we were satiated for the moment.. and though we did go upto Sault, we enjoyed the lavender panorama, unfolding on the drive.
We were late for most of the lavender farms or factories, which were closed for the day, but without worry, as the towns sell enough of everything a traveller can need… and more! Back to town, we bought loads of lavender soaps, lotions, pillows and candles! … ummm, so aromatic and delightful!
Day 3 in L’isla’sur’la Sorgue, we did nothing. And as a result.. soaked in so much more of the town and it’s beat. We could have made a day trip to Nice.. as earlier planned.. but then, would we have stayed in bed till lunch time? Could we have had a lazy breakfast, strolled through the lanes and along the streams, ogled at the vivid sky and speckled clouds, at ducklings paddling in the streams or colourful buntings adorning the already vibrant town? Definitely not. Sometimes doing nothing, especially on a holiday, is the best thing to do. We’re anyway not the “big town” loving folks, already residing in one.. and if given an opportunity, we’ll always be found, in some nook and cranny of a lush countryside.
DH & dad & me did some wine and cheese tasting at Chez Stéphane.
& tasted the venerable, Châteauneuf-du-Pape!
Last morning in Provence, we marked our attendance at the weekly, farmers market in town, known widely for its arts and eclectic crafts section, along with the usual bounty of foods and such, not wanting to leave, but had to advance our journey onwards to central France, on to Loire Valley.