A week in Provence (1)
September 13, 2013 § 7 Comments
I remember reading A Year in Provence – my mom’s library copy, which she passed to me when she was done – not long after it came out, when I was eleven. I also remember immediately resolving to visit Provence as soon as I’d finished. It took nearly thirteen years for that dream to come true.
My first taste of Provence came over the Easter break the year I worked as an assistante d’anglais in Tours. I spent it travelling across the south of France, working my way east from Toulouse to Nice. I was on a shoestring budget and was restricted to visiting places I could reach by train, but that meant I was able to spend several glorious days in Avignon and Arles. Well, glorious and exhausting – at that point I was still in Desperate Young American Traveller mode and determined to hit every single sight in every town I passed through, thinking it could well be the last time I ever visited. I distinctly remember my two days in Arles as one breathless dash from one Roman ruin to another, broken only by a night in one of the grimmest youth hostels I’ve ever stayed in.
Fast-forward ten years and I finally got, if not a Year in Provence, a much more leisurely and civilised week. This time, my boyfriend and I rented a cottage and (luxury of luxuries!) hired a car. It was his first time in Provence, but in some respects it felt like a first for me as well (even though I got to revisit both Avignon and Arles) – being able to explore the countryside at the slow pace it deserves.
And yes, it’s probably shamelessly self-indulgent to post my holiday snaps here, but it is my blog, after all.
The cottage we chose was in Lagnes. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, that makes you part of the 99.999999999999% of the world’s population who hasn’t. Lagnes is tiny. It has one square with a fountain (above), a minuscule grocery, a café/tabac/newsagent and a single restaurant (L’Auberge de Lagnes) that happens to be extremely good (‘even if the chef is English’, our landlady and her husband told us, sounding mildly scandalised). What makes it a perfect place to stay is its location – on the doorstep of the Parc naturel régional du Luberon, and a short drive (or in a few cases, hike) from scores of lovely villages and towns.
The nearest town of any size is L’Isle sur la Sorgue, which, as its name suggests, is built over a series of islands in the River Sorgue. Apart from the moss-covered waterwheels and bridges, it’s best known for its Sunday market – food in the morning, antiques (its main claim to fame) all day.
Peter Mayle said the one thing you can’t find in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a bargain, and almost 25 years after he wrote those words, that’s probably even more the case. The bric-a-brac sellers set up along the quays, but there are several indoor markets whose goods are of the same quality and, sadly, price as you would find in Paris. I did treat myself to an old postcard, but apart from that I was content just to photograph the stalls. (Besides, let’s be honest – there really isn’t room in my flat for a bunch of old soda siphons and pétanque balls.)
The second day, we spent in Avignon. I didn’t feel all that compelled to photograph everything since I’d done that ten years ago… which was quite liberating. We spent most of the day at the Palais des Papes and the Musée du Petit Palais, and at least half of my enjoyment was in seeing my boyfriend experience them for the first time. The main subject of my Avignon photos, I’ll leave for a future post (no spoilers here!)…
The next day, we left the car behind and hiked to Fontaine de Vaucluse, the source of the Sorgue. Apparently it gushes out of the mountainside at a much more impressive rate in early spring, but this aside, we were both floored by the beauty of the place and the crystalline clarity of the water. The village itself is barely larger than Lagnes and boasts its share of souvenir shops, a working paper mill (busman’s holiday!), and a museum dedicated to Petrarch which we skipped in favour of strolling along the river and eating truite meunière at one of the waterside restaurants. Besides, one always needs an excuse to return, right?
The next day we got back in the car and headed off to Arles. I’d assumed I wouldn’t be taking too many photos here, for the same reasons as in Avignon, but I proved unequal to the temptation of the west front of St Trophîme. Those angels…!