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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Two Days on the Road Chasing Lavender & Sunflowers


MA & Nola in front Gordes


Two Days on the Road Chasing Lavender & Sunflowers

I have long had the desire to experience and photograph the famous Lavender fields of the south of France.  Last year when we were here it was too late in the season for that.  So after we got home I began researching the timing and best places to visit these beautiful purple fields.

MA and I were very fortunate that her sister’s best friend Karen wanted to lease her condo in July, coincidentally right in the middle of Lavender season. So we planned accordingly and here we are!

The Lavender fields are mostly grown and harvested around the areas of Apt-Gordes in the Vaucluse, Sault, and the Valensole valleys.  My camera-ready plan was to hit all three during a two-day road trip.

We started out early Thursday morning.  MA’s sister Nola came along as an extra pair of eyes and companion French speaker to MA’s classroom French. MA’s doing quite well in French and I’m proud of her and Nola speaks like a native! I had my packed Garmin GPS with a SD chip of Europe but forgot the car cord for it.  God was watching out for me because I found one in Vence just before we left. 
We left Vence and drove down to Cagnes sur Mer and got on the French freeway designated A8.  It is a toll road and our trip to Cavallon cost us about $20.

By the way! Here’s a hint about pronouncing French words.  Don’t pronounce the last letter.  The city of Cannes is pronounced “caun.”  I don’t know how many times MA and Nola reminded me of that as I talked about our itinerary.

We got off the A8 and drove north to our town, Gordes (gord).  You’re now speaking French! Gordes is listed in the Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France).  Needless to say I photographed it extensively and if you look at the photograph you can see why.  
Our next stop was the Village de Bories, an ancient hamlet of flat stone buildings.  Along the way I began to have some concerns about the reason for our trip because the lavender fields we were coming up on had already been harvested leaving only the green round stalks.

Undaunted, we enjoyed a walk-through Bories and then headed the short distance to the Abbey de Senanque. In every photograph I’ve ever seen of it, there is a lavender field in front of the building. This time I was not disappointed. 
Senanque Abbey

Our next destination was Apt.  Again I noticed that most of the lavender fields had already been cut.  We decided to keep going toward another “listed beautiful village” called Roussillon. We were not alone in this decision and as a result could not find a place to park there.  So we headed on to Murs where MA had booked a hotel, only to arrive and find it all locked up.

There was nothing else for us to do but press ahead, so we programmed the GPS to the north to the town of Sault, an old perched village situated on a high ridge with a valley of lavender fields below it.
The view from Sault

Some of the fields there were in the process of being harvested, but there was still plenty others to admire and I got lots of photos of the beauty of this purple landscape.  We drove into the village and it was as crowded as Roussillon.  Undaunted MA and Nola managed to find a very nice hotel in the middle of town named Le Signoret.  It was clean, quiet, and very affordable. 

The two sisters decided to walk around town and I took off down the valley - camera in tow.  I found an old medieval village named Aurel and it made for a great photograph.  When I got back to Sault, MA and Nola were strolling around enjoying the sights of the town. Did I mention they hadn’t stopped talking yet!!

We sat down at an outdoor café and a nice young American named Barry stopped by our table very happy to hear some American English. He was from Georgia and works as a computer programmer.  His European adventure was to bicycle by himself from Switzerland, through France, to Italy and back. I asked him how he got bike over there and he said that it comes apart and he packs it up as luggage.  He obviously enjoyed some good ole USA companionship over a cup of coffee.

Sault turned out to be a great stop.  We were off again in the morning heading east toward Vence. Along the way we drove to the beautiful village of Simiane le Rotondo.  It sits high on a hill and is surrounded by lavender fields.  This little village goes back to the middle ages and its main feature is a huge stone rotunda dating back to the 12th century when it was used for by the Simaine-Agoult family for music performances.  It has been restored and still used for traditional music concerts.

Our journey east and south took us to the large town of Forcalquier and a very nice café for coffee. While the girls continued their nonstop reminiscing and conversations I wandered around for an hour and photographed the local culture: doors, store fronts, signs, etc.  Leaving Forcalquier, we went on through a place called Manosque. 

Our next lavender area was the Valensole valley.  Not to my surprise most of the lavender there had already been harvested leaving only green round stubs in the field.  Happily I did manage to find some sunflower fields which Nola spotted.
Mousteirs Sainte Marie

Our next to last stop of the day was the beautiful village of Mousteirs Sainte Marie.  Like other villages of the middle ages it also sits high on a ridge with majestic rocky cliffs behind it.  Its beauty attracts a lot of tourists and they were there this Friday.  We found a parking place and decided to have lunch in a nearby outdoor café.  As soon as I was finished, I excused myself to go wandering around this crowded but beautiful place.
Mousteirs is famous for its ceramics known as Falence Pottery.  There are numerous shops which sell this pottery and dishes.  I took a look inside a shop and met Bruno LOUIS whose painted ceramics are world famous. It was really interesting watching him work.   
Tourretes sur Loup at sunset

We soon moved on toward Vence, stopping at Tourrettes sur Loup to let me photograph this beautiful perched village. Nola lived and worked at the Burger Bistro here in the 70’s and 80’s and has some very interesting stories to tell about life in France back then.

All in all, the two-day road trip was a huge success. We had a great time and I accomplished many of my photography goals.

3 comments:

  1. Wow! I love it when you travel. I can hardly wait for the next installment. I loved the pictures.of the beautiful lavender. Went to a great party tonight to say goodbye to some very dear people. Be safe. Carolyn

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  2. 3rd post try.

    Congrats on the timing for the lavender fields. I knew this was a concern for you. Thanks for the update and keep them coming. (Hope this comment gets posted)

    HAVE A GOD BLESSED DAY.

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  3. The 3 of us had a blissful time wandering about on narrow French country roads. Wayne did all the driving and did a great job. MA and Wayne's GPS which they nicknamed "Angel," was amazing! The sunny blue skies of Provence were stunning, the temperatures were perfect (72-75 degrees), the scenery, landscape, towns, villages, farms, fields, rivers, and lakes were everyone's dream of a perfect summer visit in Provence. Let's do it again, WW and MA, and soon! Love you both, Nola

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