Provence – the French Romance
The south-eastern region of France – known as Provence is a perfect summer holiday destination. For its picture postcard landscape, rippling lavendar blossoms, tasteful vineyards and some fascinating history. No wonder, this place has inspired everyone from Nostradamus to Van Gogh. And it is best experienced on road by car.
Last summer, we went on a rewarding road-trip for 4 days – 3 days on road and 1 day in Avignon. Of course it is daunting to cover entire breadth of this fascinating region in 4 days. In fact, most travelers spend at least a week here. We made the best use of our time and cherish every moment spent there. Over 3 days and 500 kms, we covered most beautiful villages of Provencal France starting with the city of Avignon.
Avignon->L’Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue->Lavendar Museum->Gordes ->Russilion->Les de Baux Provence->St.Remy->Pont-du-Gard->Nimes
Begin in Avignon
Avignon is one of the larger towns in Provence, and we began our road-trip mainly because of its accessibility to TGV and surrounding Provencal villages. Avignon is just 2 hours and 40 minutes by TGV (French bullet train) from Paris. Most of the car rental services are available just outside TGV station. We headed to Avis rental and booked a GM Chevrolet Cruze. For next 3 days, we stayed in the city center and explored the region by car.
Avignon is definitely worth exploring because of its history. It is well known in the region as the ‘Papal City’ where the Roman Catholic Church once fled in the 14th century. Particularly, the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in the city centre is worth visiting here. Also, the other attraction of Avignon is Pont St-Benezet – the ‘unfinished’ bridge.
The walled city center of Avignon is best explored by foot and has numerous restaurants serving quintessential French wine. The scenery on weekends is quite colorful with road-side musical performances and outdoor restaurants.
Day 1 Itinerary
All days are beautiful in Provence and I won’t repeat this statement further. We started our day driving to the town of canals – L’Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue. About 23 kms from Avignon, we drove to this town. The central market area is along canal and we enjoyed a relaxing brunch by the canal. We could not help noticing as we strolled through the town that it has many antique shops.
Our next stop was the Lavender Museum, in Coustellet, France, in the heart of the Luberon Regional Natural Park. The museum is entirely dedicated to true lavender. The museum started as an extension of the lavender farm, and is housed in a traditional Luberon farmhouse. Provence region is known for its picture-postcard lavender farms and this museum is an ode to it.
The admission fee is 6.80 Euros and includes an audio guide. The museum provided detailed information on the history and evolution of the growing, harvesting and distillation of lavender. There is a small gift shop after the tour. It took about an hour to tour the museum.
Our next stop was beautiful village of Gordes which is about 29 kms from Avignon. The view as we drove towards Gordes was simply breathtaking. Gordes is perched on hilltop where the terrain appears fairly dry and rocky and has distinct sandstone shade. Gordes is one of the most famous towns in the Luberon region and its mere sight from distance is enough to comprehend why. We strolled through the market admiring arts & crafts, and sample some of the fresh market foods especially honey and cheese. I would recommend to spend some time exploring the cobbled stone paths which meander around the town. It is pure bliss.
Ochre Town – Rousillion
After exploring the beauty of Gordes, we thought no other town could be a match. But we were wrong. Just as we drove 14 kms further from Gordes, the ochre splendour of Rousillon welcomed us. The bright orange and red houses here blend really well with the naturally occurring ochre rocks of the town. It is one of the premier villages in the Luberon region, and understandably so given its unique colour and formation. Even though this was only the second village we visited in Provence, I finally understood why they say no two villages in the Provence area are the same.
We returned to Avignon and had splendid Provencal meal with local wine before going to sleep. But while returning, we could not help but take a halt and marvel at the beauty of imposing Gordes!
Watch out this space for Day 2 and Day 3!