- Ryan Cowden
Three Days in Provence, France
Gordes in the Luberon region of Provence
Fall has come and gone, at least here in Chicago! The city switched on the lights to the tree at Millenium Park last weekend and Thanksgiving feasts have been enjoyed. Chicago already had an 8-day cold snap that the thermometer barely reached freezing and the days are short. If all of that has you thinking of warmer temperatures and an escape this winter or if you have wanted to add a new destination to the travel map year in the warmer months, it is time to plan. Typically travelers could plan their summer adventures in January or February of the new year and still find reasonable airfare and options for lodging. Not in the current travel climate! Airfare is much higher than in the past at this point for the following summer while one Italian supplier advised us in September, that he was completely booked for all of May 2023 and nearly booked in June. If a new destination in our colder months appeals to you, then South America offers great value as airfare is not significantly changed versus “normal”. In this edition, I'm highlighting my trip to Provence this past summer. After spending a couple of days in Marseille, I headed to the Luberon. This part of Provence is an iconic destination for its markets, hilltop towns, fields of lavender, orchards, and of course wine. Scroll through for memories of summer and maybe find a bit of inspiration for your adventures in 2023! If you are ready to start planning or if you are thinking about a visit to Europe next year, it is time to start planning. Schedule a call and let's get started.
Le Panier neighborhood of Marseille Photos: R Cowden
Three Days in Provence, France Marseille Provence is one of those places that once you visit, it is nearly impossible not to fall in love with it. Marseille is the 2nd largest city in France and until recently, was often avoided. But it is a worthwhile stop to explore this ancient port. There has been a settlement or city here since it was a Greek colony in the 6th century BCE. Making it the oldest city in France and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in all of Europe. It is often a port on cruise itineraries, but it is also a convenient starting or ending point for your trip to Provence. With a view to the south and the Mediterranean, this city has a very different feel from the rest of France. Check out the North African Market and get a taste of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco or walk along the quai early in the morning and see the fishmongers at work with their daily catch.
Photo Above: The Vieux Port area of Marseille Photo Below: La Panier neighborhood
Photo Above: Bonnieux in the distance, from the road near Lacoste. The valley floor is nearly all agricultural uses (why would they waste the land, as one friend put it) while the towns are perched in what were defensible positions
Hilltowns The Luberon Natural Park encompasses the Calavon River valley and the Luberon Massif (ridge in English). But “Luberon” refers to both the north and south face of the massif, the valley, and the massif to the north across the valley too. Luberon's main attractions are the hilltowns. Gordes, Rousillon, Bonnieux, Joucas, Ménerbes, Lacoste, and Lourmarin are some of the main towns though there are several small hamlets scattered around the valley. Each has a different vibe to it. The color palette of the shutters, doors, walls, and whether or not there are flower boxes, for example, are just some of the small distinctive features. Rousillon once was a fortress town, but the claim to fame today has more to do with the fact it sits on one of the largest ochre clay deposits in the world. Gordes is another famous town that cascades down the side of the hill it occupies. Most streets are winding alleys and staircases that lead those that love to meander into hidden corners of the towns themselves.
Above: Roussillon is another hilltown, known for its ochre colored buildings, which come from the ochre clay deposit that it is located on top of, which are visibile in the cliff below the town to the right. Below: The narrow stairways of Rousillon's alleys
Below: Gordes and the Calavon Valley in the foreground and the Luberon Massif in the distance.
Photo Above: Senanque Abbaye and its lavender fields, nestled in a small valley near Gordes Photo Below: Hidden little alleys and stone walls of Gordes glowing in the morning sunshine
Photo Above: The main junction in Gordes, France Photo Below: Hôtel de Ville, Roussillon
Photo Above: Flower vendor in a small neighborhood square of Marseille Below: Cheesemonger in Lourmarin
Photo Above: North African Market in Marseille Photo Below: Lourmarin's Friday morning market
Village Market Days France's local markets are an amazing experience. From Paris' rotating neighborhood market days, the square outside of the timber church in Honfleur, Normandy, small storefronts full of flowers or traditional baked goods, or even the book stalls opposite Notre Dame de Paris. Markets, shopping locally and seasonal fresh foods are a way of life in France. The markets in the villages of Provence and the Luberon are quite possibly the reason you come to visit these small towns of the region as the French ritual of fresh, seasonal produce, local culinary delights along with handmade handicrafts and art take center stage here. All of the towns have a market day. If there isn't one where you are staying on a particular day, another one nearby almost surely does. The key is to plan ahead where you would like to go and what you want to experience. Some towns and cities are known for one thing in particular. For example, Marseille is known for soaps while L'Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue has a bit more antiques and Cavaillon has a bit more flea market/bargain hunter appeal. Cheese, cured meats, baked goods, flowers, sweets, and of course seasonal produce are found across every market though. Some of the leading market days are Lourmarin (Friday), Apt (Saturday), Gordes (Tuesday), Cavaillon (Monday), Coustellet, and L'Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue (Sunday). Apt is the largest but Lourmarin is probably the one that is a “Must Do”. Every village has a market though, so you can always find a market day in the region somewhere. Depending on the season, you'll find a variety of different items for sale. Sundresses, lavender in July and August; strawberries in the spring; cherries and apples in fall; truffles and winter root vegetables in the winter months while Christmas is also a unique time to visit the year-round markets of the region.
Photo Above: Locally produced cheeses and cured meats at the Lourmarin Market Photo Below: Basket and bag vendor in Lourmarin
Photo Above: Olives and garlic feature prominently at every market in Provence while lavender and herbs also are part of the culinary tradition of the region Photo Below: Cafe culture abounds in Provence on market day in Lourmarin
Photo Above: Soap vendor in Lourmarin Photo Below: Fishmongers, Marseille
Photo Above: Iconic villa and farm in the Luberon Photo Below: Back roads on the Luberon Massif headed to Lourmarin. The valley had area of lavender scents, these roads clinging to the base of the mountain were intoxicating with the smell of pine!
Enjoying the Outdoors One of the highlights of a visit to the Luberon is the pastoral setting and the ease of fully experiencing it. The markets and market towns of course, but taking the back roads on bike or by car reveals many of the small farms that produce the honey or grow the lavender and basil that are iconic of this region. While I was visiting at the very end of the lavender harvest, I won't soon forget riding by some of the fields that filled the landscape with the scent of lavender. You could usually smell it before you actually saw it! Coming to the Luberon, visitors can arrive at some of the towns by rail, L'Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue is on a mainline route as is Cavaillon, the administrative hub of the region. Going beyond those towns to Gordes, Bonnieux, Lourmarin, or Roussillon however, will require your own wheels or careful planning to use the local public bus service. I did use the bus service to reach Bonnieux and met a friend for dinner nearby, but I also rented an e-bike in Cavaillon near my hotel. The Calavon Valley has a rail-to-trail bike route running the length of it while there are country lanes begging to be explored by two wheels and are designated bike routes. Alternatively, I can organize a private tour for those hoping for a bit more time or set up a group tour from Marseille, Avignon or Aix en Provence. The timing was unfortunate as I was visiting during the worst heat wave to hit Europe, maybe ever. But there were plenty of bicyclists exploring the valley and the massif towns. Of course I crashed into a heap in the aircon each of the two days I spent pedaling my way around the Luberon. But it was spectacular and rewarding, and I wouldn't change a thing.
Photo Above: Some of the irrigation canals that criss cross the valley Photo Below: I missed the peak of the lavender and sunflowers but there were still a few sunflower fields greeting the morning sunshine
Photo Above: Riding into lively small towns at lunch time all over the Luberon Photo Below: Vineyards dot the landscape and line many country lanes
Photo Above: Apple orchards along with olives, cherries and some apricots can be found throughout. Photo Below: Riding out of Roussillon the ochre cliffs are on full display
Sunset at the Pont Julien, a Roman Bridge from 3BCE near Bonnieux.
Ready to Start Planning Your Visit to Provence or a European Destination in 2023? Exploring France beyond Paris is a rewarding experience, whether it is a market town or sampling your way around the wine growing regions. But there are so many ways to explore and destinations to experience, starting to plan now is essential!
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