13 July 2015

Provence the Beautiful

You can  probably tell I took this from the car. We were on our way to the lavender fields and this was a lovely little town called L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, known as the "Venice of Provence." I'd love to visit again and actually have a chance to look around. By the way, that reflected glimpse of my hat is as close as I got to a selfie :)
I thought I would end my posts on Provence with some photos of villages and the region in general. The first batch of shots are from my day out with Elodie of Provence Authentic (you can read more  here about the great time I had with Elodie).

That castle on the hill is the ruins of one of the Marquis de Sade's castles. It's in the town of Mazan and is currently owned by designer Pierre Cardin. Apparently Mr. Cardin holds a yearly event to raise funds to restore the castle. Just a thought, but I think he'd have a lot of luck holding a fundraiser BDSM ball in the ruins--I'm sure the Marquis would approve.

This is the beautiful town of Roussillon. In fact, it's been named one of France's most beautiful villages, and I have to agree. Deposits of ochre in the soil there are what give the buildings their vivid colours. It was a bit touristy, but I didn't care. I loved the buildings and the fantastic view (which, like an idiot, I didn't take pictures of). We also stopped for ice cream at a great little place that had unusual flavors, including basil and violet (I went with lavender to keep with the day's theme).

All the colours on the buildings are completely natural and derived from the soil

This was a sketchy looking staircase that supposedly led  back up to the main village square at the top of the hill....
It just kept going...
...and going...
That doesn't look right. It was fine, though--the exit was just around the corner and it opened onto a side street with some very cool little shops.

The next village s called Gordes and it also one of France's most beautiful villages.  You may have heard of it thanks to Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.  The whole town is made of stone and there are even troglodyte caves there. It was also a stronghold of the Resistance in WWII. France's history is extensive and fascinating, even in these small villages. I don't think a lifetime would be enough to learn it all.

This would have been a great picture if it weren't for that TV antenna! Who still uses those?

Church doorway
Niche above church doorway. I believe the statue is of the Pope at the time when the church was built.

Because the cliff-side town doesn't have much room for expansion, people started building over streets. The "ceiling" of this passageway is actually part of someone's house.
Stunning views

Just outside Gordes we pulled over to take a look at this 12th century monastery, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque. To the right is their personal lavender field (not yet in bloom). Apparently seven monks live there.

We visited yet another Most Beautiful Village of France: Venasque. For some reason there were hardly any tourists here, even though it was just as picturesque and historic as Roussillon and Gordes. It is well worth a visit.

I loved all the hollyhocks that seem to sprout wild throughout France. This one was outside a church in Venasque.

Although this wasn't the only church I visited, this is the only one I took photos in.

This is a solid silver cross that continuously rotates. This side portrays Mary; the other side features Jesus.

This is the same shot as above, with a lighting adjustment.
We stopped at a farm stand to buy some cherries, in season and a specialty of the Vaucluse region (I'm not entirely sure how the regions are decided in France but we were in the Luberon, which is part of Provence. Vaucluse is also part of Provence and seems to encompass a large area that includes at least part of the Luberon).

The remaining photos are of Avignon and a few shots I got from the train back to Paris. France is so beautiful and inspiring, I just want to keep going back and exploring...

This is the famous Pont d'Avignon. I don't know about anyone else but I think between school and piano lessons, I spent my entire childhood learning this song:

Sur le Pont d'Avignon

Sur le pont d'Avignon,
L'on y danse, l'on y danse,
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond.

Les belles dames font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça

Sur le pont d'Avignon,
L'on y danse, l'on y danse,
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond.

Les messieurs font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça.

Sur le pont d'Avignon,
L'on y danse, l'on y danse,
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond

Les jardiniers font comm' ça
Et puis encore comm' ça

It was immensely satisfying for me to finally see this bridge (sadly, no one seemed to be dancing on it). It actually is quite a lovely structure and worth a visit, as is the town of Avignon.

A short distance from the pont there was what seemed to be a parking lot with a tiny fun fair (permanent? temporary?) set up. I loved the Ferris wheel and wish I'd had a chance to take some better photos of it.

Side note: on the sign on the right of the picture above, you can see the French symbol for a speed bump. Every time I saw one of these signs, I had to smile because it totally reminded me of Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince and the book's illustration of a man's hat:

 Which (spoiler alert) turns out to be:

An elephant inside a boa constrictor.

I love The Little Prince. It was a nice bit of whimsy on the trip. Crazy French speed bumps :) (Btw, the signs in Toronto are much less fun).

These last photos are at the train station or taken from the train. I have to say, I did not enjoy taking the train. Although it was a smooth ride and much faster than driving from Provence to Paris, it was uncomfortable and frustrating. There's not nearly enough room for baggage (especially when fellow passengers put small bags that could fit in the overhead racks on the racks meant for large pieces of luggage). And I was shocked at how unhelpful the train staff were, both in Paris and in Avignon. On both trips I asked for help finding a spot to put my one piece of luggage (not because I was lazy, but because I really didn't know what to do). Both times I received excuses ("Just put it wherever" and "I need to get off the train now." Really?) I had no choice but to leave my suitcase unsecured, out in the open. I spent the entire time worrying about someone snatching it at the next stop (because, of course, you can't see the luggage from the seats, and if you're sitting next to the window you can't get by your seatmate--you have to ask them to get up, which doesn't work so well if they're asleep). Anyway, it was all fine in the end but next time I need to take the train in France, I'm getting a first class ticket.

A piano for your use at the Gare d'Avignon (train station).
There are parts of Provence that feel like being inside a Van Gogh painting. All this particular landscape needs is a couple of cypresses and maybe a haystack.

Lots of lovely looking villages, castles, and churches on hilltops.
I actually saw my first lavender field from the train on the way to Provence. They're just as magical from a distance, although they don't smell quite as nice.

I've been missing Provence since I left (although I am pretty happy not to be suffering the 40C July heat). I can't wait to go there again. Among so many other places I'd like to visit (or revisit) is Arles, the town where Van Gogh lived and worked.

Next post: Paris Day 1

Missed one of my posts about France? 
Photos ©Whimsy Bower

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