A trio of captivating villages in Provence (or places you just gotta see)
It’s easy to feel blissful when the warm Springtime sun is shining, the sky is a vivid shade of azure blue and you’re in Provence, house-sitting a gorgeous home with an even more gorgeous dog.
Every day feels like a gift waiting to be unwrapped and every place makes us feel as though we’ve stepped into a Cezanne painting, complete with cobblestone paths leading up to turquoise shuttered windows with views across wide, emerald valleys dotted with flowers.
Even so, some places make more impact than others and yesterday we were treated to a day of special moments when we followed a path suggested by a friend of Skip’s who’d travelled this way before.
Go to Roussillon, Gordes and Fontaine de Vaucluse, said Insa. So we did.
Travelling from our temporary home in Plaisians, the route took us across mountain passes, around hairpin curves on roads overhung with craggy rock faces and above valleys carpeted with acres of lavender fields getting ready to bloom.
Majestic Mount Ventoux, the highest peak between the Alps and the Pyrenees, loomed in the distance still wearing her white snowy cap, and we raced around corners in our grape-coloured Peugeot to the sounds of birds twittering in the cherry blossom trees.
We reached our first destination, Roussillon, around 1pm so the first order of the day was lunch. Hard pressed for choice between cafes with balconies overlooking the valley and restaurants with outside tables arranged in sun splashed courtyards, we meandered around town in search of the perfect repas and discovered a backdrop that was spectacular. Narrow medieval streets wrap around stuccoed buildings painted in shades of yellow, blue and orange, and the town almost feels too pretty to be real.
Hanging on the edge of steep red cliff, Roussillon has been assigned the title of one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France and is set in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world, giving the whole region a rosy glow and stunning views from the top of the town. About 20 mins from Roussillon, the village of Gordes is staggeringly different and caused me to catch my breath on first glimpse. Another one of the “Most Beautiful Villages”, the town is a tiny jewel, built on the side of a mountain and brimming over with craggy cobblestone streets winding through ancient stone buildings, decorated with window boxes brimming with daffodils, pansies and geraniums.
We discovered a store selling hard-to-resist food items, including a balsamic vinegar infused with truffles that I had to pry away from Skip, and wandered through roads filled with artists studios, Provence-style keepsakes, an 11th century castle and a tiny ice-cold 18th century church decorated with stained glass windows and Renaissance-style paintings. We were running short on time when we left Gordes but couldn’t leave without seeing the third in the trio: Fontaine de Vaucluse. On the way, we found ourselves sandwiched between dozens of brilliantly-coloured lycra-clad bicycle riders climbing up steep mountain roads and cruising down at speeds faster than our car (a total delight for my Tour de France obsessed husband) and followed them into yet another gorgeous destination.
Fontaine de Vaucluse at first appears to be a pretty village in a valley with an emerald-coloured stream running through the centre. Once you explore further, however, you discover the main reason for visiting (other than the delicious noisette-flavoured ice cream and lots of pretty little cafes and shops). The town takes its name from the mysterious underground spring that gushes from the earth, cascading over large, craggy rocks and exploding into thunderous torrents of water before calming into the gentle stream that flows through the village. Nobody knows the depth of the spring and, in the 1950s, Jacques Cousteau came to Fontaine with a submersible to explore the depths but couldn’t find the bottom. One of the largest springs in the world, it discharges water at 52,000 gallons per second at this time of the year, so – unbeknownst to us – our timing was fabulous and we were treated to a turbulent display of sound, water and drama from our spot on the rocks above.
Heading back home, we came back around Mt. Ventoux as the sun started to sink below the horizon and discovered we’d travelled around the entire mountain in a journey lasting around six hours. Purple and pink hues were starting to emerge between the misted mountain tops and the only sound from the hillsides was the twitter of the birds and the whisper of the breeze.