“This doesn’t feel right. Are you sure we’re at the right campsite?” I say, as we drive up to reception. It had been an interesting 24 hours. We had extended our stay at the last campsite due to 60 km/hour winds, with gusts of up to 100 km which, on the top of an exposed hill near the picturesque Luberon village of Gordes, caused a lot of rocking and rolling in the van. In the hurry to get away in the morning I’d put the co-ordinates of another campsite into the satnav and we were now just north of Orange, about 180 km North West of where we wanted to be. Never mind, as they say good travel has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. The sun is shining, and we get to drive through even more of the stunning Provence countryside. Peter Mayles had A year in Provence (I think he ended up staying much longer), but we only have 10 days to sample the exquisite delights of Provençal life.
I could live here,
I think to myself as I sip some Châteaneuf-du-Pape on a terrace overlooking another breath-taking vista, in the oh so French village of Rousellin. And it’s here that I bump into an old friend of mine – a Citroen 2CV. I had a blueberries and cream D reg rolltop in the early 90’s and never quite got over the loss when her king pin crumpled!
We start our whistle stop tour of Provence at a campsite near to Aix (pronounced Ex)-en-Provence. On our first day we take a local bus into Aix-en and
I step into the epitome of shabby chic cafe life.
Around every corner sits another little square surrounded by plain-trees casting flickering light and shade on the pavements. There are countless art galleries, lovely coffee shops and bistros and when you look up, although there is still a chill in the air, the sky is the most amazing blue colour and the air is crisp and clear. It’s no wonder many artists have been drawn to Provence and one of France’s most famous, Paul Cezanne lived and painted in Aix-en for most of his life. We visit his studio and favourite outdoor painting spot where he completed more than 80 paintings of the majestic Montagne Sainte-Victoire, his muse. Luckily for us our campsite is right on its doorstop.
The centre of Aix-en-Provence
We spend the next few days walking in the Sainte-Victoire natural reserve
There are many well-marked walking routes and the scenery is breath-taking. On our second day, as we walk towards the Zola damn and lake, and we here a deafening squawk of what sounds like birds, but as we grow closer, there are no birds. It’s then that I remember I’ve heard this sound before, and I think it must be frogs. Later I learn that its male frogs calling for a mate, all croaking, whistling, chirping and ribbiting. We sit by the lake and listen and within 10 minutes the noise dissipates and then stops. Simply amazing!
Montagne Sainte-Victoire in the evening sun
Sainte-Victoire nature reserve
From Gordes, we cycle to the picture postcard villages of Luberon
– Rousellin (where ochre is mined), Lacoste and Mors. The only problem is that every one of these villages are built on top of a hill, which means that visiting them requires a slow climb to the top. I’m not good on hills, not on foot, and certainly not on a bike. So, by the time I had cycled back to the campsite, which sits 500m above the valley floor, I felt like my face was going to burst and it was the colour of a roasted lobster. The only way I managed to get up was to focus on the dashed white lines at the side of the road, no looking ahead, no thinking about my burning thighs. Next time I’m in Provence, I’m thinking a small sporty cabriolet would be a much easier way to visit these villages.
Hilltop villages of Gordes, Rousellin and Murs
Our final stop in Provence is near the village of Moutiers-Sainte-Marie, in the Verdon Natural Regional Park. This is our chance to do some Kayaking and we cycle to
Lac de Sainte-Croix and the Gorges du Verdon
The Verdon river flows into the lake after passing through the limestone Gorge, considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. The lake is stunning, a startling turquoise-green. Water from its glacial source contains suspended rock flour minerals, which create the colour. We paddle towards the opening of the gorge itself and this is a wow moment for me, a definite 10! The limestone rockfaces which have been sculpted by thousands of years of rushing water, the first green of Spring sprinkled across the trees clinging precariously to the rock faces, and the turquoise-green river ever flowing.
The Gorges du Verdon
So, after 10 days in Provence, all I can say is I loved it for: its exquisite hilltop villages; the colours – the greens, blues and ochres; the amazing wildlife – brightly coloured butterflies, crickets, chirping frogs, amazing birds, and don’t forget the sunshine – I’m definitely coming back!