Some things you never forget and some things you’ll always remember. Our honeymoon in Paris, many moons ago on a shoestring budget had both of these things and since that trip, I have never looked back, sparking in me a passion to go somewhere always. It may seem strange – to want to cram your things into a suitcase and then sit for hours on a plane. But that never grows old for me because the wonder of waking up in a different place where everything seems new again makes you forget everything else before that. Where the simplest act of walking down a street is laced with excitement. Where you are forced to befriend the unknown and just soak in everything that’s different and unique. It is simply intoxicating! So here are some of my memories of the country which started it all – France.
There’s more than enough written about Provence to fill a bookshelf. But there is a good reason for it as we discovered that some of our fondest memories are from here. From its lavender fields to markets full of delicious local produce, its a place that’s filled with charm. We simply just can’t get enough of it.
Our base was a small little village high on the hills called Saignon. With roads too small for tour buses to enter, this 13th century village consists of only a small number of inhabitants. There’s no car parking to speak of and we had to park outside the village after dropping our bags off at Place de La Fontaine where we stayed. Right at the centre is a fountain where after a day, we happily swapped our bottled water with jugs of fresh spring water from here like everyone else. Almost no one spoke English here, so on our first night at the small local restaurant Le Baladin, our introduction to French got a steep learning curve right from the get go.
The ochre-red village of Rousillon is a strange contrast from some of the other villages here. But this is because of the ochre quarries that this village once derived its living from. Sentier des Ocres is one such former quarry which you can take a walking tour on. Filled with jagged cliffs of ochre, it is amazingly colourful. Beware though as the fine reddish-orange coloured sand will stick to just about anything. We had to constantly watch the kids as no one wanted orange coloured kids when we got back to our clean rental cars!
Listed as “one of the most beautiful villages in France“, Gordes stands on the beautiful plateau of Vaucluse. Unlike Rousillon, the buildings are all made of white stone here. and right at the top of Gordes sits the church and a castle that faces the hills of Luberon. We drove up here on market day and braved the summer crowds and traffic. Parking is 3 euros a day and a young teenager stands at the entrance collecting the fee. We trust he’s working for the council as he was pretty entrepreneurial. We gave him a 5 euro note and as he is handing us back change, he asks if we would like to donate 2 euros to charity. See what I mean! Anyway, It is definitely worth the visit and amidst the market and labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, there’s every chance to bump into celebrities (who’ve made their homes here) – not that we will recognise any French movie stars even if he was talking to me!
Abbey of Senanque
A short drive from Gordes lies the Abbey of Senanque in a hidden-like valley. Cisterian monks still live here growing lavender and tending honey bees. With its breathtaking lavender fields, it is a picture of Provence you can never forget. One tip though, the drive down here is so narrow in some sections, I am convinced it was only built for mules! We managed to inch our way down praying constantly there would be no buses coming the other way. Although there are tiny sections where you can pass, if you are caught in between, you can guess who will be doing the reversing with a bus full of tourists staring you down.
This medieval village would have to be one of the most touristy spots you can find in Provence. Many come here to see the “source” where at the base of a cliff, there is an entire river gushing out of the ground to form the Sorgue river. We were hesitant about coming here at first as we had read about how touristy it is but we were glad we did. Our visit was met with the dry season so there was not much water from this long mystical source. However, we were rewarded with the river which sparkled emerald green in the sun looking almost luminescent and magical. The green comes from river grass that grow long like ribbons on the river bed. As the crystal clear river runs over them, they sparkle and glint off the sun like emeralds in the water. It was quite a sight. That alone I reckon is worth the visit!