Provence in the south of France is one of those places which once seen is never forgotten. From the gorgeous fields of fragrant lavender to the man-made lakes for cooling off in, mountain villages, narrow streets, wonderful street markets and fabulous cuisine, Provence will stay in your heart forever says Provence aficionado Linda Matthieu.
My husband and I lived in Provence for over seven years and we loved it. I still miss Provence. Many people think that the Cote d’Azur is Provence but that’s only a part of it and while I love that area, I’m most familiar with the Luberon region which is where we went for a family visit recently.
We stayed on a little camp site where we had rented a small mobile home, it had a swimming pool to cool off in which was perfect for the summer heat and it was right next to the village of Forcalquier.
Forcalquier is an ancient place overlooked by an ancient church on top of a hill – every Sunday at noon the church bells rings out, providing the most marvellous, free concert. This town has the largest and oldest market in Provence, held every Monday morning – it’s such fun to push your way through the crowds looking at all that is offered. We bought two chickens there roasted on a huge rotisserie, along with potatoes cooked in big trays underneath, catching the tasty juices from those chickens – what a scrumptious lunch it was with the salad, fruit and dessert that also found their way into our basket. The market has many artisanal items for sale and, as usual, clothing at low prices – hats, shoes and jewellery and of course lavender products – as this is the heart of lavender country.
On a beautiful sunny day, we drove out to Valensole, we passed field after field of deep purple rows of lavender and the heady fragrance filled the car. Stopping in Valensole for lunch, I found some fragrant oil so I could take the odour home with me. In August there is a wonderful lavender festival here with all sorts of lavender products for sale. I still have lavender soap and incense sticks bought a few years ago to bring back memories of that fragrant bush.
Another day we drove along the stunning Gorge de Verdon with glimpses of the turquoise water far below and then stopped at the man-made lake to cool off. It’s just past the village of Moustier-Saint-Marie which tumbles down a steep rocky mountain with water swiftly flowing and dividing the village in two. There is a star suspended between two peaks there and a steep climb up to the church will give you a closer view. It can be packed with tourists and driving there is a nightmare so early or late visits are best.
My favourite city in the Luberon area is Aix-en-Provence; there are fountains everywhere, lovely ancient buildings, narrow streets and the interesting Saint Sauveur Cathedral. It is a mecca for shoppers too. One of my favourite villages to visit in the countryside is Lourmarin. It’s an almost perfect village, very clean and very well preserved with great places for eating but the best thing you must do is the Friday morning market. Along with really fresh and beautiful vegetables and fruit, you will find more high end items offered such as, jewellery and clothing. It’s just a delight to be there. We often go to a stall selling roasted chicken and pork and buy ribs, have them cut up and then walk into the park for an impromptu picnic. It’s a great family tradition.
So I leave Provence behind once more with sweet memories – of those deep blue skies, fantastic sunsets, fields of lavender and sunflowers, the markets, the vineyards. It’s a very special place… and I know that I will go back again… and again, it’s one of those special places that draw you back.
Linda Mathieu, a native Texan, lives in France with her French husband. She was a Paris Tour Guide and is the author of Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide, available at www.amazon.com.