I flew back to Switzerland from Croatia on a Thursday morning, and rather than coming back to Vevey, I decided to head straight for France. Provence, to be exact. One of my goals for this summer was to go see the lavender in bloom. Originally, I was going to go with several girlfriends earlier in July, but a work trip forced me to change my plans. I knew that if I didn’t go this weekend, I would likely miss the lavender all together (especially givne how hot and dry it’s been).
A couple of weeks ago, I met a Nestlé colleague originally from St. Tropaz in the south of France. When I mentioned wanting to see the lavender, he followed up with several recommendations for adorable little towns to visit, restaurants to try, and other sites in the region. Without him, I’m not sure I would have made it to most of these places. I love working in such an international environment where I’m constantly receiving recommendations from the locals!
I drove directly from the Geneva airport toward Valensole. This is really the heart of the lavender. As I neared the town, I saw multiple distilleries and stands selling all kinds of lavender products. Then, I saw the first glimpse of a lavender field…and it was already harvested!!!
I literally almost cried when I saw this. Seeing fields of lavender was the reason for my trip! I gave myself a pep talk to keep it together and kept driving through the windy, country roads in search of some lavender that hadn’t been harvested. I didn’t find much, but I found enough to capture some of the photos I hoped to take. And it. was. beautiful!! I drove around with the windows down, because the smell was incredible – particularly as the farmers were harvesting. I wish there was a way to share the scent!
[The scent being produced by these farmers while they harvest their crop is MAGICAL!]
There were so many fun surprises on this adventure. The first being how many fields of sunflowers I saw!! They look SO happy!!
After finding some lavender, I headed to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the precious little cliffside town where I would spend the night.
I stayed at Les Restanques de Moustiers, and per the recommendation of my colleague, enjoyed a very traditional Provençal dinner on the terrace at La Bastide de Moustiers watching the sunset behind the mountains.
In the morning, I decided to walk through Moustiers-Sainte-Marie before embarking on the next adventure, and I’m so glad I did! It was market day, and it was my favorite market of the trip! The products were beautiful, and I bought all that I needed for breakfast & lunch, including the best pain au raisin I’ve ever had!
With my car loaded with goodies for the day, I drove off to find Les Gorges du Verdon. This is the French version of the Grand Canyon, and while they’re not really comparable, it was absolutely stunning. First, I came to Lake St. Croix…
Then, I drove the narrow & very windy route des Crêtes for some incredible views into the canyon (at points 2,300 feet deep!) and the surrounding landscape. All I could think throughout the drive was, “WOW! I had no idea things like this existed in France!”
[At one point, I drove through the rock!]
[So many kayaks and pedal boats going into the canyon! I wanted to do this, but I didn’t see any single person kayaks. Just need to go back with a buddy next time!]
Upon leaving the canyon, I drove through the Luberon. The countryside was so gorgeous! I don’t know if it was my Midwest roots coming out, but I felt so at home on the country roads. The scenery was lovely!
For the next two nights, I stayed in a little town called Gordes in the Luberon, and this was the view as I drove into town!!
[My hotel had the exact same exterior as I would want if I ever bought a vacation home in Provence! Love that stonework and the green shutters!]
On Saturday, I had one more chance to see some lavender…less than five minutes from my hotel! Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque has a lavender field outside of the church. I was nervous that it would be harvested, too, but thankfully, it was in full bloom…and it was stunning!
After enjoying these lovely views, I drove on to Avignon. I visited the Popes Palace (construction began in 1335). It is the biggest Gothic palace in Europe. Avignon was the papal residence in the 14th century before it moved back to Rome (an historical fact I did not know prior to this visit).
Avignon is also home to Pont Saint-Bénézet (or Pont d’Avignon). This bridge was originally built between 1177 and 1185, but was destroyed several times by flooding of the Rhône River. Today, there is only a portion of the bridge remaining. It is believed that the remaining portion was built in 1345.
I paused for a nice lunch at Restaurant Christian Etienne. Three amazing courses, including one of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life! I also got to experience the local substitute for Coke Zero.
As if all of these incredible sites weren’t enough, I headed off to see Pont du Gard, which I expected to be incredible. And wow, was it ever!!! Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct that was built around the 1st century. (Rick Steves says 19 B.C. Wikipedia says sometime between 40-60 A.D.) It was part of the Nimes aqueduct that carried water 31 miles! It is 160 feet high, and it’s the second tallest Roman structure in the world (after the Colosseum in Rome)! I’ve seen so many incredible structures in the past two years, and I’m constantly amazed at what people were able to engineer a long, long time ago without power tools!
[Originally, the water flowed from tunnels in the rock and across the top of the aqueduct bridge.]
Before starting my drive back to Switzerland on Sunday morning, I visited the market at L’Isle sur la Sorque. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. It is known for being one of the biggest in the area, but it is not charming like the smaller ones I visited. It feels much more like a flea market, and I left empty handed after a short time walking around.
But, despite the disappointing Sunday market, I absolutely LOVED Provence. I know there are a lot more small towns and ruins to discover in this area, which means I’ll just have to return. I highly recommend a roadtrip through this region of France. You won’t be disappointed!