Heaven on Earth: Touring the Provençal Villages
When the Good Lord begins to doubt the world, he remembers that he created Provence. ~Frédéric Mistral
I’m not a big fan of organized tours but I decided it was the best way to maximize my last day in Avignon. To see more of the Provence region, I booked myself a one day Best of Provence tour. I was expecting a big tour bus but it turned out it was a van with only three couples plus me and the guide. I was disappointed to see that a man was already sitting in the front seat so I sat in the middle row next to the man’s wife. Immediately I smelled something awful. The wife (actually both husband and wife) smelled like they haven’t showered for days!
How on earth will I endure this smell for the next eight hours?
Couple #2 arrived and they sat at the very back of the van. We picked up couple #3 at their hotel, and I volunteered to move to the back so they can both sit together (also hoping to get away from the smelly lady lol). Unfortunately my misery didn’t end there.
The husband at the back of the van was either sick or he had a really bad habit of making loud breathing noises! No exaggeration, they were explosive snorting sounds every. few. seconds! I was so close to losing my insanity and was tempted to jump out of the van!
They say when you’re in Provence all your senses are awake. Unfortunately, at that moment, I wanted to shut down my senses of smell and hearing! But as soon as we reached our first destination, all my troubles suddenly vanished. Thank god for the other sense: sight!
Pont du Gard is the highest and best preserved of all the elevated Roman aqueducts. And yay an additional UNESCO World Heritage Site on my list! For centuries the aqueduct functioned as a bridge and travelers were charged toll by using it to cross the river. Today its only primary function is a tourist destination. The aqueduct bridge has three tiers of arches. Our guide told us that when he was a child he used to play and run around the aqueduct but it is no longer permitted today.
However when we got there we were surprised to see people on the bridge. We figured something was lost in translation. The guide forgot to mention that the middle part of the bridge was kept open to the public and it was actually on top of the highest arch that is now prohibited for use.
Back in the van, we drove another half hour or so to the village of Les Baux-de-Provence. Yeah, I know, I was just there! But I was happy to be there to get a second perspective on the village. Les Baux is so beautiful that I didn’t mind visiting again.
This time I was able to walk for an hour around the village. Although I spent a good afternoon here the day before, I still found new areas to explore.
I went inside the stores where nougats and cookies were abundantly sold. I also treated myself to a pistache gelato but nothing can beat the gelato I had in Amalfi (Italy), still hands down my favorite gelato of all time.
From Les Baux, we stopped for a couple of hours in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence for lunch. I asked the guide if we were going to explore the town, but he said there’s not much to explore. From all the things I read about Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, it’s one of the must-see places in Provence but according to our guide, it’s only famous for restaurants and shops. Well, okay then, this is why I can’t stand organized tours.
While others went on their own, I had lunch with the guide and Karen (she was from couple #3). Our guide found a crepe restaurant whose owners were from Brittany. I ordered a savory crepe and was expecting a saggy crepe filled with mushrooms, cheese, and ham, just like the way they make it in in America, but instead I got a crispy one. Self-proclaimed foodie that I am didn’t know a savory crepe is called a galette. My ego was quite hurt, I had to order a carafe of rosé!
After lunch, we proceeded to one of the most impressive villages in France. It is situated in the Luberon, at the foot of the Monts de Vaucluse, Roussillon is a must-see for everyone visiting the Provence region.
The village of Roussillon differed from the other villages we’ve been to with its infinite combinations of colors of yellow, orange, and red. The red cliffs, contrasting the lush green trees surrounding it, were magnificently breath taking.
Strolling around the charming maze of streets, I could see myself spending a few days here. I’ll most likely find a charming restaurant where I can sit for a few hours enjoying the gastronomy, drinking a glass (or two) of rosé, catching up on my reading, and totally immersing myself in the culture. Now I know where to spend a few days, if I am again given the opportunity to come back.
I was still dreaming under the vivid blue Provençal sky and admiring the subtle earthy colors of Roussillon until the guide told us it was time to go. I wanted to protest to let us stay for a few more hours, maybe days. Heck I haven’t even had the chance to fully absorb the village’s charm. I felt cheated. I was almost in tears getting back on that van.
Our next stop was Gordes. Gordes is one of the most expensive villages of Luberon where many movie stars and artists have made it their home. We were all still awestruck by Roussillon’s beauty and couldn’t find ourselves to admire this new village and its usual colors of white and gray stones.
We were dropped off at the main square and on the corner, we were welcomed by an extremely loud music with glittering colorful lights. We then realize it’s for bumper car rides. How inappropriately out of place especially in Gordes’ expensive real estate. But just like any Provençal village, we eventually warmed up to Gordes and found its charm despite the shock from that initial tacky greeting.
Our last stop was Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Our guide told us that in the summer months, it is one of the most visited places and the streets get very crowded hence the many tourist shops around. It is known for the spring that comes from the high cliff and flows down the river that engulfs the village. Poets such as Frédéric Mistral were captured by the magic of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
It was almost six in the evening when we headed back to Avignon. I started to feel sad on the drive back, already longing for Provence. It’s strange to feel this way. I haven’t even left yet. But knowing that same time tomorrow, I will no longer be around to admire this beautiful landscape.Provence, when I think of you, I’m overcome with emotions. For five days you filled my life with unforgettable memories. I fell in love with your sexy, irresistible, and magnifique qualities. You are the nearest thing to heaven on earth I had ever seen.
I will miss you terribly.