About a year ago at this very time, I have been contemplating what was supposed to be Mus’ birthday’s gift. A trip to the lavender fields, her long time photohunting ambition. Armed with the knowledge of Russian, English and French Internet and, of course, with our cherished collection of the most beautiful French villages, we spent days designing the most picturesque road trip through the French Provence. Here is where we ended up driving and a glimpse of what we saw in a week.
At the dawn of the lavender season, many photohunters will find it useful.
Paris –> Montrésor –> La-Roque-Gageac –> Avignon –> Gordes –> Roussignon –> Lourmarin –> Ansoui –> Moustiers-Saint-Marie –> Les Baux-de-Provence –> Mirmande –> Vézelay –> Noyers –> Paris
Spoiler: BONUS in the end of the post!
Montrésor is a cute little village which houses, quiet predictably, a castle of the same name. It is also not a surprise that the castle, built in 1005, had changed a number of noble owners until in ended up in 1849 in the hands – here comes an element of surprise – of Xavier Branicki, a Polish homme d’affaire of Russian decent. Hence a selection of game from Slavic forests on the castle living room ‘s wall. According to the legend, a not found treasure is still lurking among the castle bricks (hence the name).
La-Roque-Gageac is a sheer delight and one of my favorites of this trip. It looks like a perfectly staged set-up for an episode of Game of Thrones (well, to be honest, a lot of France looks like Game of Thrones to me). Like Montrésor and pretty much any other village in this post, La-Roque-Gageac is listed as one of the most beautiful French villages, as Mus and I eagerly learn. The entire village of 400 residents is reduced to one street alongside the Dordogne river. Its encrusted in rock houses are called the Swallow Nests.
Avignon can easily be a subject of a separate post. With its perfectly preserved historic center, its Palais des Papes (a residence of seven successive Popes between 1309 and 1377 during the Avignon Papacy), its impressive cathedral and, clearly, its Pont d’Avignon, Avignon is a destination of its own. (Here, everything reminds me of Borgia, another of my favorites series, which confirms again that I travel to the imaginary land all too often.)
Like every famous to any degree French city, Gordes is a) picturesquely stunning and b) a house of a castle bearing the same name. The essentials of a cute Medieval village and the castle are completed by the Saint-Firmain Palace cellars and the iconic Sénanque Abbey, the photostage of the most beautiful lavender shots.
Roussillon is simply amazing. Every French person I asked about the hot lavender hunting spots was marveling at the beauty of this place, and I totally get why. The small city itself is of course very cute, but the wow factor here is the nature. Roussillon is hidden in the ocher canyons, and that’s from ocher that it gets its passionate color. Place to admire nature and to pay tribute to life – and that’s me, a die-hard city person, who is saying that.
Lourmarin is another village with a castle, only it is probably the cutest one. Even though it houses its share of a Renaissance castle and Catholic and Protestant churches, the main charm is the place itself, with its gingerbread streets, tiny art shops and ivy-covered walls. It may be the most stereotyped French village, fine, but these are the very comforting stereotypes. If this is not enough for a wanderlust motivation, the road itself, full of lavender and sunflower fields, makes Lourmarin a magnet.
Ansoui is another paradise village-with-a-same-name-castle (as you can see, with some gorgeous pieces of authentic equipment) cosily stashed on the territory of the Luberon National park. The 10th century castle is considered one of Luberon’s best. The paradise itself is a testimony to Provençal traditions: narrow streets with gardens full of secrets in between.
Moustiers-Saint-Marie. Oh yeah. This one will always have a special place in my heart. When all the other Provence villages blur and fade in my memory, I will remember Moustiers-Saint-Marie. Not because of the breathtaking views which open up from its top. And not because of the mysterious golden star shining on the invisible thread above its chapel between the rocks. Mostly, because the last time I have been to this captivating place, the GPS in our BMW brought us to the village from the wrong side of the mountain. The road abruptly ended and the only way for us to get there was to leave the car and to cross the mountain by foot. Then to go down the mountain gorge, then to go up again and then some.
Les Baux-de-Provences dates back to the long forgotten days of Celts (now we are back to Game of Thrones). Its hidden among the rocks houses are full of art, of which I proudly own one piece, a mirror with a ceramic window frame and a contently full grey cat in its corner.
Mirmande is a hip bohemian place of early 20th century. It was then that Andre Lhote, an apparently famous painter and a sculptor whose name, to my (moderate) shame I hear for the first time in my life, set his eyes on this rocky town to be a home to his school and spiritual cradle. Since then, the streets or Mirmande are full of artistic ateliers, shops and improvised exhibition halls.
Vézelay is a holy place for both church and wine lovers (and – I am trying not to think about Borgia here – in this it is quiet unique). The faithful ones are lured to Vézelay by the relics of Mary Magdalene. The small city is also a major starting point of the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela, one of the key religious routes of the Middle Ages. The second pilgrimage to Vézelay is that of wine lovers. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Melon de Bourgogne grapes all flourish here in happy abundance.
Finally, Noyers (me too, I have been thinking that this post will never end), which was called Lucida back in its early days, has known many owners, ups and downs, as any reputable French city. Today Noyers is all about quiet peace and charming Normandy-like half-timbered houses, which brings a great soothing ending to our epic and rich-in-impressions journey.
To Mus’ fans: here, low in the lavender, is of course Mus.
What to the lavender itself, the drought and extraordinary heat of the last summer, burnt most of it by the end of July, when we set off. Shall the same faith befall on you this year, resort to the city of Gordes as the last lavender retreat. It is in Gordes that the lavender hides from the heat.
At last, the fruits of our lavender hunt.
The promised BONUS! If you loved reading about this trip, pick one of the places on our way for me to tell you more about it in my next posts.