The river Sorgue at sunset.

And it’s on to Provence!

My previous Blog ended with my man and I leaving Menton by train and heading for Avignon for the second half of our holiday. We left on a Saturday morning, caught the local train to Nice, then another train to Marseille and the TGV for the rest of our journey. We had to wait a little while to pick up the hire car at Avignon and although it was no hassle the hire company decided to upgrade our car to a rather splendid Merc. It was so whizzy we had to ask where the ignition was!

Having more or less got to grips with this rather splendid car we drove towards the town of Le Thor which is about twenty minutes from Avignon to ‘our’ cabin at Le Mas de Miejour We’ve stayed here for the last five years. It suits us being tucked away at the rear of the owners’ house. No-one bothers you, it’s adjacent to the superb pool there, the garden is private and it’s a perfect place to enjoy a glass of rosé.

Mas de Miejour
‘Our’ cabin (Le cabanon), at Le Mas de Miejour, near Le Thor

We first came to this area about thirty-five years ago, then had a break exploring more of France when the lure of Provence brought us back again. It is our favourite area, we know it very well and it’s never lost it’s charm or appeal. There’s so many places to visit including the delightful medieval villages in the Petit Luberon and the pretty towns of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Les Baux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and many more. You’re spoilt for choice.

There is a famous market every Sunday in L’Isle sur la Sorgue. It’s a typical lively French market with an array of local fruit and veg. If you’re interested in Bric-a-Brac this Sunday market is the place to go. Unfortunately though its become very touristy and in the last few years very crowded, you can spend ages just trying to park. We now prefer to visit the town in the week so we can have a leisurely walk round.

So on this Sunday we decided to drive just a few miles away to the large village of Monteux (This is a link to a Blog. The actual website for the town doesn’t mention the wonderful painted buildings everywhere). The whole of the medieval centre is like an artist’s canvas.

Monteux, Vaucluse
The town of Monteux with its many murals. All is not what it seems!

Murals in Monteux, France
A selection of some of the interesting murals in Monteux

As I’ve just mentioned, it’s very peaceful where we stay so we tend to go out in the mornings and then chill out by the pool in the afternoon. Sometimes we’ll have a bbq in the garden in the evening or a meal out, it’s not a week when we plan too far ahead or do lots of things.

The pictures below were taken in the medieval village of Venasque, famous for amongst other things, cherries. We weren’t there this time for the cherry festival but that’s quite something – the producers take their cherries very seriously. If you’re feeling fit you can always walk up to the village which we have done. It’s perched on a steep cliff so the walk is not for the faint-hearted! The 13th century church is well worth a visit and you get a terrific view of Mont Ventoux from the castle. As you can see from one of the pictures below there’s a handy fountain where you can sit and enjoy your wine and free nibbles if there are no seats left outside the cafe. The baguette at the nearby Boulangerie was excellent too.

A typical Provencal village, full of history.

Our friends who live near Le Thor suggested we take a trip over the next day to two villages in the Luberon which are not on the tourist trail but well worth a visit. They were right – we only saw two other tourists all morning. On the way to the first village of Joucas I made my man stop the car so I could take a picture of the famous hilltop village of Gordes. Now this is a touristy place, they even charge you to park and the price for a beer is just silly. It was featured in that lovely film ‘A Good Year’ about an investment broker who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence. That’s what dreams are made of!

Back to our tour of a few Provencal villages … We happily strolled around Joucas in the sunshine admiring the lovely old stone houses, winding pathways and great views over the plain towards the ochre cliffs of Roussillon. Then we drove to Goult, another village perched on a hill with a medieval castle and fabulous views. The steep walk up to the 17th century flour mill with its four sails was well worth it. It has been restored and apparently if you’re lucky it might be open – it wasn’t on the day we were there but you can still admire it from the outside.

Main picture is the hillside village of Gordes. Below is Joucas and Goult.

All this walking in the mid-day sun meant we were in need of refreshment so we headed into the Luberon to my favourite village, Lacoste. We usually manage to park just at the bottom of the village near to yet another favourite of ours, the Café de la France. The food is great and the views from the terrace are superb. Yes it’s touristy but with a location like this, you don’t mind. As I write this I’m back there now soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying one of their excellent salads washed down with a glass or two of provencal rosé …if only!

After lunch we walked up the steep cobbled street, through the 14th century Portal de la Garde gate and on up to the Chateau de Lacoste. This has had a chequered history to say the least, one of it’s occupants being the infamous Marquis de Sade. One can only guess what when on when he was in residence! Before the fashion designer Pierre Cardin bought it in 2001 the chateau was neglected and in a state of disrepair. We can remember when you could just walk in and look round the ruin, now its been renovated you have to pay to go in. Full price 12€. According to the village’s website Pierre Cardin not only spent a considerable amount of money on the chateau he also bought about thirty buildings which again he has restored. It sounds as though the jury is out regarding what the locals think of this. They’re already used to the many American students who come here every year to study art which has put Lacoste as the cultural, artistic centre of the Luberon.

There’s only so many hilltop villages you can visit in a day and with the temperature still around 25º mid-afternoon it was time to head back to ‘our’ pool. It’s rare for anyone else to be there.

Lacoste, Provence, France.
The beautiful, mediaeval village of Lacoste. My favourite Provencal village.

By mid-week we always pop over to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It’s known for its antiques stores and weekend markets, plus many waterwheels on the Sorgue river which winds its way around the town. In the centre is a very grand 12th century church which gleams in the sunshine having recently been cleaned. The Cafe de Paris opposite is a popular meeting place and good for people-watching as you sit outside to enjoy your beer. Alongside it is an excellent ice cream parlour. The town is very quaint and was once a very important centre for silk and paper-making. Nowadays some of the magnificent mansions have been converted into Art Galleries or antiques centres.

A hot day in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
A hot day in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Pictures down the r.h.s are of Partage des Eaux. A lovely peaceful spot outside the town.

After a leisurely walk around the town we drove just 2km east to the Partage des Eaux. This is where the crystal-clear river Sorgue divides into two. The water is a constant 13 degrees. Although I’ve never swam in it, we did go on a canoe trip once which was fun, especially the section where you have to wade through the cold water up to your waist without the canoe! It’s a popular spot for fishermen and great for a picnic if you want to brave walking across the weir to the opposite bank. We just enjoyed sitting on the seat by the waterwheel watching the river drift lazily along in two directions! We can recommend the local wine at the cafe Le Pescador alongside the river where you can sit in the courtyard escaping from the searing midday sun.

We’re halfway through our week in Provence and a perfect spot to pause this Blog. There’s plenty here including lots of pictures and I’ve still got more for the second half. Hope you’ve enjoyed this account so far. Please come back to read the rest.

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