Dear South of France,
Every time I visit you, I fall in love all over again. People are kinder here and spirits seem much high, despite your recent tragedy. Your sun-kissed, exuberant region is still and forever will be popular.
First romanticized by author Peter Mayle in his book "A Year in Provence", the South of France has a reputation for a good reason. But you don't need to read the book to understand why this place is glorious.
Why visit Southern France?
Let me just point out some awesome reasons:
- swimming in the deliciously warm Mediterranean sea
- did I mention this sea has a deep azure color (ahem, Côte d'Azur)?
- visits to historical sites like the Sénanque Abbey, Château d'If, and fortified/castle cities nestled in the hills of Provence
- euphoric-tasting produce (especially tomatoes and herbs)
- people who smile
- beaches where you can sunbathe topless without judgment
- beaches where you can choose not to sunbathe topless without judgment
- eating bouillabaisse, tomato salads with giant shallots and herbes de provence, nougat, and other provençal delights
- also snacking on gelato, italian ice, and granitas (slushies)
Need I say more?
When we first arrived on our trip, Petit Copain and I feasted on beautiful tomatoes from his parents' garden. They were also growing the biggest shallots I've ever seen in my life. Around his neighborhood of Cassis, we searched for wild blackberries. With the extraordinary help of Petit Copain and his sister, I made my first confiture or jam. Our stay was a food paradise and I kept asking his mom for recipes. She kept exclaiming all her meals were very simple to make! The real secret was her fresh garden ingredients that made every meal blissful (also, some great deals at the store on peaches and apricots). I still couldn't help going "mmmm!!!".
Finding Lavender in the Luberon Valley
This was a challenge as Petit Copain and I visited the lavender fields at the end of its season. Lavender season in the Luberon Valley peaks at the end of June to mid-July. By the time we went to the distilleries and fields, the lavender was either already harvested or the flowers were dried up. We weren't able to travel to Sault, but the conditions were the same. The lavender fields were no longer in bloom. They have an annual lavender festival on August 15th where the villagers demonstrate how lavender was historically harvested. August 15th is also a huge holiday in France (The Assumption of Mary) and many places are closed. If you plan to attend the Sault Lavender Festival, you may want to stay overnight to enjoy other places in the Luberon that will be shut down on this day. More information here.
The distilleries that we did visit were the Distillerie de lavande Les Agnels (in Apt, see pictures above) and the Sénanque Abbey (near the town of Gordes). We bought a big bag of dried lavender, lots of bio (organic) essential oils, and lavender honey.
Visiting the l'Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque (Sénanque Abbey)
This famous, picturesque spot for lavender still had some fresh flowers in bloom. A solitary place for Cistercian monks, the inside of the abbey is somewhat more plain than the fancier cathedrals and churches that Europe is known for. It is still one of the most beautiful, scenic places to see lavender fields. The abbey also produces other products (lavender honey included) and you should definitely take the self-tour in the morning to make more use of your visit). See information about the abbey here (in English). Note: you must wear proper attire before going inside the abbey. That means no revealing shirts (bring a cardigan for sleeveless tops) or short shorts or skirts. The abbey also provides wraps if you forget to dress "appropriately".
The Brocante (Flea Market) of Apt
A tiny village surrounded by lavender fields, we accidentally stumbled into the city while looking for another distillery. Passing through the main streets, I happily cried out to Petit Copain to park ASAP as I saw the huge brocante in the city center. Petit Copain was very reluctant but obliged. We've seen scary prices at brocantes in Paris and Nice, and we were afraid to see the same thing here. However, there were some fair prices and vendors were very happy to negoticiate... except for one... This vendor kindly agreed to subtract 5 euros from the asking price for an antique wooden cutting board, but once I tried to beg with a very sad puppy dog face saying "Treize euros?", she gave me the sharpest look I've ever received from a French person. Humbled, we bought the cutting board anyway. It was still a good deal... :P
The Fortified Town of Gordes
Once a Celtic village, then a Roman settlement, and finally a fortified city with a castle, Gordes is a breathtaking little town to visit. Perched up on one of the highest hills in the Luberon Valley, the streets of Gordes are rich with history, beauty, and old cobblestones leading to the finest views of Provence. It’s just nearby the Sénanque Abbey and there’s ample parking (although it is somewhat competitive along the routes near scenic viewpoints). Petit Copain and I had some rosé at a small bistro to celebrate our fine day among the lavender fields. A band was setting up for a free music festival in the town square and there were many happy families gathering in the city. Gordes is a must-stop destination. LOVE LOVE LOVE.
Well, here is part I of my love letter to the South of France. Stay tuned for next week's post about Marseille and Château d'If!