I arrived in Paris early on the morning of Monday, October 15. What would any sensible person do? I got on a train for Provence. The high-speed TGV means that Avignon and Marseille are only a few hours from the center of Paris or the airport. As I like to drive around, I had reserved a rental car. I picked up a silver Renault Clio at the station and drove to my first B&B.
the road from
Pelissanne to Aurons
Madame Brauge met me at the gate and showed me to a nicely decorated room with a sitting area at the back of their house. She gave me information on local restaurants. They provide breakfast on an enclosed porch with a view over the hills toward the sea.
I had no particular plans for my first day in the region. The Brauges suggested, as I was still tired from the flight, that I take a drive around l'Etang de Berre northwest of Marseille. This led me to discover some nearby towns and villages, particularly
St-Chamas and the lovely and unspoiled "perched" village of Cornillon-Confoux. I had to ask Madame to say the latter name several times before I could remember it to find it on a map.
I was scheduled to leave all too soon. (I prefer to research where I want to stay before I leave and to make a reservaton for each night. I had chosen to stay in 3 different B&B's, even though the distances were not great.) I stopped for lunch -- good plats du jour such as lamb or rabbit -- at Cafe Gaby in Lourmarin to fortify myself for the final hilly drive across the Luberon Hills to Bonnieux.
The owner's mother greated me at the door and showed me to room decorated with straw hats.
turn left at the old bakery oven for my room
the main dining room set for breakfast
the colors of Provence in St-Saturnin-les-Apt
I stayed 4 nights in Bonnieux, so I had some time to visit local towns and villages. The temperature was fairly warm, but the weather was threatening part of the time. It rained heavily all day when I went to St-Remy, so I only darted in and out of shops, but I still got thoroughly soaked
the Old Church atop Bonnieux
I knew from experience that there was some delightful villages nearby, but I also wanted to spend part of my time in places that I did not know. The first afternoon I headed for Buoux, as the year before I had purchased a lithograph of the village. The village was simple and small -- little more than Town Hall and a few farms, with an old church attached to one of them. The road was narrow and windy, as is often the case, but provided great views of the rocky and forested hills.
Abbaye de Silvacane
My traveling companions know that I should not be left too long without either lunch or a visit to old stones, particularly old churches. The starkly beautiful Cistercian Romanesque Abbey of Silvacane thoroughly filled the bill.
In my view no visit to Provence is complete without sampling a few street markets. There is a market in all but the tiniest villages on a set day each week. There is always local food and usually at least a few other local products. Bonnieux and Lourmarin have small markets on Friday. Gordes has a large one on Tuesday. The bigger ones offer more in the way of fabrics and pottery.
Apt is the largest town in the area and has a good market every Saturday. I made a point of heading there. The town also has many shops, including those of local potters.
The saleswoman here spent a long time helping me pick out tablecloths for my family. Her "Anglo-Saxon" tape measure (in inches) was very useful.
Don't miss the fine local goat cheeses -- in the restaurants, if not the markets.
It was time to pack my bags again all too soon. I wanted to spend a day or two in the Cotes du Rhone area near Avignon. I chose the winding route touristique over the hills of the Ventoux range, across le Col de Murs (Murs Pass) and through the Venasque Forest.
Fabienne greeted me warmly at the gate and showed me to upstairs a large and comfortable room decorated in typical Provencal colors. She suggested a drive to Avignon for Sunday afternoon. The sun had reappeared, so I had lunch outside on a main square and wandered around. Fabienne had recommended a visit to the weekend's chocolate exposition, and I sampled quite a few of the best local chocolatiers. I had correctly guessed that she wouldn't object to my bringing her back something. Christophe, her husband, kindly offered me a true Pastis de Marseille the next evening.
My plan for my last full day in the region was an excursion to Vaison-la-Romaine. I left Vedene at a reasonable hour and was able to have most of the afternoon to visit the Roman museum and to wander around the hilltop Upper Village and the ruins of the Roman town, including a bridge still in daily use and an amphitheatre. On the way I saw from the valley a hilltop village topped by a large fortified castle and decided that a detour was in order. The castle was closed, but I took a very enjoyable stroll through le Barroux.