Having just returned from a break visiting friends in Provence, it is easy to see why Peter Mayle, the British author of ‘A Year in Provence’, fell in love with the area about thirty years ago. We were also blessed with sunny days and temperatures in the mid-twenties in March when we were there and so saw this beautiful region of France at its best and without the hordes of tourists who flock there mid-summer.
We were greeted Provence-style with the obligatory ‘triple kiss’ by Dave and Jan when we arrived and given a tour of Avignon. A seat of the papacy at one time, its legacy is still to be seen in the Popes’ Palace high on the hill, overlooking the ramparts surrounding the old town. A quick coffee and pastry in one of the busy squares and then a stroll through the medieval streets and lanes gave us an idea of the varied history of the city. The Popes’ Palace, the Cathedral, the beautiful gardens nearby are a must-see, while the city is renowned for the traditional French song ‘Sur Le Pont d’Avignon’. See the famous bridge below.
Finding where we had parked the car in an underground car-park proved to be a difficult task, as initially we could not find our way back through the labyrinth of tiny streets. Note to self…take a photo of the street or pay more attention.
L’Isle sur la Sorgue (above), set at the foot of the Vaucluse mountains, is a picture-perfect town, complete with riverside cafes, weirs and large wooden waterwheels from former industrial days. We spent a morning wandering through the farmers’ market and checking out the local produce, idling down narrow streets and enjoying the ambience. The Art Nouveau ‘Café de France’ was like stepping back in time.
The town is a mecca for antique lovers and if you have a sweet tooth like GG, you will be tempted by the array of cakes and pastries on show in the patisseries, particularly the massive meringues.
Coffee did not disappoint in a local flower and interior decor shop and look at the view we had (below) from our table.
Our hosts took us on a wonderful walk along old mountain paths to the village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, where the poet Petrarch lived for a time. How do I know that? There was a statue of him in the centre, surrounded by the most magnificent plane trees, that’s how! Here is a photo of a tree. Petrarch is just out of shot.
An ancient paper mill is another place worth a quick visit and our hosts also showed us caves in the mountains where members of the Resistance hid during World War 2.
But the village is also famous because it is built around the largest spring in France and fifth largest in the world, The Fountain of Vaucluse. At the bottom of a 230 metre high cliff, this spring surges in March for about five weeks and then subsides and the mechanism behind this surging remains a mystery.
Our walk back that morning took us along a canal where white blossom or seeds from the trees covered the ground like a blanket of snow beneath us.
Another highlight was a trip to Gordes, another Resistance stronghold. Perched on the edge of the plateau of Vaudine, the village (below) looked spectacular in the afternoon sunshine as we approached. The church and castle look out over the valley as the rest of the stone buildings rise in a spiralling motion towards them. The village, sleepy this time of the year, gave us panoramic views of the valley as we climbed the narrow stone streets, admiring doors and towers and houses as we went.
Of course, no trip to France would be complete without sampling the local cuisine and fine wine and we had two beautiful meals out in local restaurants. In L’Isle sur la Sorgue, we ate in ‘Au Chineur’, situated right next to the river, an olde-worldly bistro that was like stepping back in time. I loved the menu produced in the style of an old newspaper. Old adverts and bric-a-brac festooned the walls and the quirky mixture of odd tables and chairs appealed to me.
The owner Pierre was charming and his food delicious and reasonably priced. We ate fish and duck and steak, all served with freshly-cooked French fries and salad or vegetables. A sample of what we had can be seen below.
On our last night, we ate in another charming restaurant ‘Auberge du Lagnes’ in nearby Lagnes. A little more upmarket, with linen tablecloths and beautiful cutlery, we chose to eat from the cheapest menu option of the three on offer and for €23 each we had a superb three-course meal, all of us well satisfied with our choices. In the summer, there is a lovely terrace outside, but in March we were indoors in a very elegant room.
Too soon our trip came to an end, but we also managed to fit in a game of golf, played in T-shirts and shorts. In Ireland, we are lucky if we get to do that a dozen times in the summer. So Provence, we loved you and the only problem was that when we returned to Malahide, we found it difficult to dispense with the triple kiss!