Aix-en-Provence and surrounds
03.05.2016 - 03.05.2016 15 °C
I woke up to a spectacular, sunny, blue-skyed morning with croissants (the best of the southern France region I would have), baguette, fresh coffee, homemade jams, the most amazing breakfast cheeses, including my favourite chevre, ham, and of course, being in France, butter. Exquisite butter. My best friend, butter.
After a very leisurely start to the morning, I headed into town via bus from a local parking area (€2.20 for all day parking AND your bus ticket to Aix) to meet my tour group for the trip through the small villages of Provence. It turned out there were only three of us on the tour, plus our guide ‘Florence’, with myself and an older couple from Canada/America…Kevin and Elaine.
We started out towards L’Isle sur la Sorgue, where I was due to return tonight for my accommodation. It is a beautiful little town with a lovely river running through it (the river Sorgue of course!), and it used to have hundreds of water wheels. Now however it only has a couple of moss-covered wheels along the main street, and no doubt a few others I didn’t manage to see. The three musketeers wandered through town, had a look at a few of the shops (it is meant to be an antiques place, but we only say ‘new’ old stuff), then stopped for coffee and a few pastries (lemon curd tart and opera cake). Back on the bus an hour later and we were off to the old (they’re all old!) town of Gordes, as recommended by Johnny D at work!
Gordes is a little commune village build on the foothills of the Monts of Vaucluse, facing the Luberon. It is an incredible little hilltop village, and driving up towards it there are some spectacular views of the whole village, which cascades down the hill face with little manicured gardens and houses all around. We had a wander around the markets, which were on until lunchtime, and battled the wind constantly. Our guide had told us that one of the local specialty produce grown in the region is a melon, similar to a rockmelon, so I found one and bought it (at great expense) and ate it for dessert later tonight.
After Gordes we stopped at a lavender shop to hear a little about the difference between real lavender, which is grown above 800m elevation and only has one flower per stem, and lavendine, which is the cheaper stinky stuff which grows everywhere and has three flowers per stalk. I must say, I cannot stand tours which take you to shops with the intention of hanging around buying crap, and thankfully neither could my companions on the tour, so a few minutes later we were out and on our way to Roussillon.
Roussillon is located in the centre of one of the largest orchre deposits in the world, which makes the town a gorgeous red colour, with the countryside dotted with deposits of red rocks. There are apparently 17 shades of orchre, and each house seems to be made out of a slightly different shade, which is spectacular. Reminded me of northern WA. Apparently a local legend is that a princess was married to a wretched older bloke who kept going off to war or something, so she took a lover and fell in love. Her hubby found out about it, and killed her lover, and fed the princess her lovers heart unknowingly. When he told her she was so devastated that she killed herself and her blood discoloured the earth. Not quite the children’s bedtime story I was expecting!
We wandered through yet another labyrinth of winding cobbled streets, and I stopped to buy some canned fois gras (hope that makes it back through customs!), and some Calisson sweets. These little sweets are a traditional candy made with a smooth, melon and almond flavoured jelly-type-stuff, with a thin layer of royal icing on top. They were originally made in Aix-en-Provence, and are believed to have first originated at the second wedding of King Rene of Anjou. Apparently, he was marrying some little 20-year-old who was half his age, and she was so upset and crying all the time, that the chef decided to make her a little sweet for her wedding day, which would be like a ‘little-hug’.
The next little town we went to was Bonnieux, a steep town with an old church at the top and a newer church at the bottom. We were dropped at the top, almost climbed to the top church, but didn’t [stairs!], and strolled to the bottom over half an hour. It was extremely quiet and pretty, but as with the others, windy as all hell! We stopped at one last little town for the grand total of 5 minutes, but unfortunately couldn’t walk over the castle as it was closed to public strollers. Oh well…another time.
We were dropped back in town, where I promptly got on a bus to pick up my car, and double back to tonight’s accommodation in L’Isle sur la Sorgue (I would practice and practice the pronunciation of that town’s name, and to a French person still sound like I was drooling). The bed and breakfast was beautiful, on a large property, with a two story stone house, gorgeous room, and an ensuite built into what I originally thought was a wardrobe (they had obviously found some antique wardrobe doors and repurposed them!). There were chickens, a warm but failing sun, and a night of cozy comfort ahead of me.
Small villages visited - 5
Windy streets perused – 1,000
Fois gras purchased – 85g
Sad medieval tales of lady-woe – 2
Being thankful that I’m not being married off to some old ghoul….priceless!