The Luberon

Trip Start May 19, 2007
Trip End Sep 02, 2007

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Monday, July 2, 2007

After an email from AVIS that the car was due back some weeks ago and that we actually had 3 separate contracts, not one (oops), we decided it was time to retire Benji the mini van.

Glenn asked what else was possible in the same category, and after telling Christie, there was no way he could get something else - Pergeot please. So a Pergeot 307 it is, and after prebooking, we had YASU (Yet another Stuff Up), Glenn was told that the car they reserved had too many kilometers and couldn't be given to him (being a bloody Australian who is used to driving many kilometres). After a bit of protest, there was one more Pergeot 307, but it was garaged and would take an hour or so...

So stubborn Glenn waited it out and was rewarded with BenjiQ, the cute 307 that really goes. With a 1.6L turbo diesel, it has much more zip than the van and has leather seats, chrome pedals and gear stick, automatic mirrors, lights and rear parking sensors. Best of all, it was a pleasure to drive, so Glenn soon bonded with BenjiQ (BJQ) and with the sound system pumping drove back to greet Christie.

Something that we have decided about this trip to France was that we needed to see new things and have new experiences. There's no point just doing and seeing the same things as last time we were here. So along with our previous weekend in Italy, we decided to do something different this weekend and get away from the coast by travelling to the Luberon area of France, which is very Provencal.

The summer holidays had officially started in France on this weekend, and we were a little worried about finding accommodation, particularly because this is lavender country, and the lavender is at it's prime right now (they only let the lavender flower for a few weeks before they cut it).

We managed to find a room in a bed & breakfast for the Saturday night in a very small village named Castellet. We weren't sure what it would be like but most other places were booked out so we decided to give it a try, we may not have a chance to come back to this area again.

On the Saturday morning we started the drive towards Aix en Provence on the A8. It wasn't long before we hit the holiday traffic. It was a very slow drive. Once we got to Aix we decided to drive through the centre of town to get to a smaller road that would take us to the area we wanted to drive through on the way to Castellet. This was a big mistake, Aix was more full of traffic than the A8 and it took us about 40 minutes to drive one kilometre. We finally found the rural road we needed to be on and left the traffic behind us.

Most of our stops were quick ones.

Our first stop was Loumarin, where we stopped for lunch at a Salon de The. (Home to Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence).

Bonnieux is now famous, being the village used for the filming of the Russell Crowe film "A Good Year" (based on Peter Mayle's book). Apparently locals proudly proclaim that Russell's second child was conceived in the town (and the mayor has offered baby Crowe honorary citizenship!). View over the rooftops of the town is pretty spectacular, you can see farmland and lavender fields for miles to the horizon.

We drove through Apt, the capital of Luberon in the hope of finding the tourist office, but couldn't find it so we went straight to our accommodation in Castellet to check in as we were already running late.

We checked in and couldn't believe again how lucky we were. Our room was amazing with beautiful views of the fields and the mountains and of course the lavender. And the village was picture perfect but quiet! Amazing.

Decided to take a quick drive around the small villages and fields closer to our place to take advantage of the afternoon light before heading back for a home cooked dinner.

Dinner at our guesthouse was pretty amazing too. Our hosts were an Irish lady and her French husband who was very thankful that Glenn spoke a little French. He said that he had been speaking in English for 3 days and needed a break! The food included stuffed vegetables for entrée, duck for main, caramelised bananas and chocolate ice cream for dessert and of course cheese after that. We were spoilt with unlimited red wine (that was pretty damned good), and a digestif after that. We enjoyed the company of our hosts for a while and then it was time to roll our big fat bellies into bed.

The following morning the view from our room looked even more spectacular than the night before. We went downstairs for breakfast and had to do a double take. The table was so full of food that there was hardly any room to eat! From fresh baguettes and pastries to home made muesli, farm fresh fruit, brewed coffee and hand pressed orange juice - we were impressed, especially since breakfast was included in the price of the room (about $100 AU a night! - we are in Western Europe right?).

Unfortunately we had to leave our little peace of heaven in Castellet, although we did vow to our hosts that we would be back! But, we had sightseeing to do and after a quick stop at the near by crag top village of Saignon which looked stunning with Mont (Mountain) Ventoux as the backdrop, we decided to head up to Sault - about an hours drive, be it through scenic field upon field of lavender. It ended up being about a 2 hour drive with all the photo stops it was so beautiful.

We had decided to stop in Sault for lunch, and as soon as we got out of the car the smell of lavender just hit us, we couldn't believe how good and strong the smell was! We found the tourist office just before it closed, and the lady there told us that the smell is so strong in mid summer that she is surprised that everyone isn't asleep! She also told us that a little town nearby (Ferrassieres) was having a fete nearby and that it would be a great experience to go. She then suggested a beautiful drive from that town and basically helped us to plan the rest of our afternoon!

So off we went to Ferrassieres, driving past families having picnics in the fields. Now we knew what we were going to do for lunch! We parked the car and walked into the little village. They had lots of market stalls set up selling lavender, soaps, oil, honey, meats, breads and cheeses - We thought we were back in heaven again! So we stocked up with bread, cheese, meat, honey and some fresh apricot nectar and decided to go and have a picnic of our own. Glenn also managed to find a particular type of meat that he had been wanting to try for ages. The way he explained it is that the meat is cured by salt, not cooking, over a long time. They bury a raw pig (!!) in salt and then three years later, voila!, you have a very tasty and expensive meat product. Perhaps Glenn's understanding is a bit basic, but it sure was great.

We decided to continue with our drive as planned and hoped that we would find a nice place to have our picnic along the way. Well we definitely found it, just outside the town of Montbrun-les-Bains, right next to a lavender field and a running stream with a close up view of Mont Ventoux poking up behind the village. This was the Provence experience you read about, that you think you would be lucky to ever have in your life, and here we were, it all seemed a bit surreal. That was until it started to rain! We had a great little picnic though (under the door of the car boot) and we met a couple of French tourists (two older blokes) who had stopped to take photos of the lavender. They were pretty impressed by our stash of goodies, which we offered to share with them. They politely declined, however they did offer to take our photo - see photo of us together in the lavender attached.

The afternoon was ticking on and there were still a few places we wanted to see before we had to head back to Antibes. So we drove a little closer towards Mont Ventoux to catch a glimpse of the picturesque town of Brantes, and then we made our way back down towards Sault and on to the town of Roussillon.

This area is known for it's rich coloured ochres, which some 2000 years ago the Romans used to use for producing pottery glazes. These days the whole village of Roussillon - even the cemetery - is built of red stone. Non residents are not allowed to park inside the town and have to park in the paid car parks outside, at the cost of about 2 Euro. Glenn was a bit miffed about having to pay for parking, but he resigned himself to the fact that it was a necessity. He parked the car and as we were locking it up, the couple parked behind us were leaving and generously gave Glenn their parking receipt so we didn't have to pay! (tinny bugger, tinny bugger). We of course spent the 2 Euros on an ice cream in town! By this stage of the afternoon we were both getting tired, Glenn was getting increasingly frustrated by his defunct camera, and we weren't enjoying it quite so much anymore. So had a quick walk around the towns and the market, before we decided it was time to call it a day.

There was however, one more thing that Christie wanted to see before we left the area. The Abbaye Notre-Dame De Senanque. A Cistercian abbey founded in 1148 - which is framed by fields of lavender in the month of July, hence the reason we had to see it now. The road leading down was quite narrow and steep and being that it is peak tourist season for the Abbaye there were many cars on the road. At a few points cars could not pass in opposite directions meaning that cars had to continually reverse up or down the road to let other cars pass. It made for a much longer and stressful drive than it should be. But we made it okay and found a park for the car.

Unfortunately the weather was now very overcast, so not so good for scenic photos of the Abbaye. It was still extremely beautiful to see it in real life, and although we arrived too late to see the inside of the Abbey, we were glad we found the energy to see it at this time of year. Then it began to rain.

After this we were both exhausted and decided to call it a day and make the drive back to Antibes.
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