The French Provence • Around the Gorges du Verdon
There is something about the Provence that instantly makes you feel on vacation. I’m not sure whether it’s the warm weather or the relaxed lifestyle, but either way there’s no better place to kick-off summer. Which is exactly what people all over the world seem to think! Two years ago I first discovered the Eastern part of this region with my family (as told in this two-part blogpost), so this time around we wanted to discover the West, more specifically the surroundings of the epic Gorges du Verdon. While staying in an Airbnb in Salernes, we discovered glorious nature and charming villages through multiple day trips documented here under.
DAY TRIP TO THE LAVENDER FIELDS
The Provence’s most famous icon is lavender of course, so a visit to the lavender fields is a must. The last time we were in the South of France it was end of July and sadly the lavender had already been harvested. To experience these incredible purple fields yourself, you should book your trip between mid-June and mid-July. We were here the third week of June and it might have been the most perfect timing because it was right before the start of the high season.
The Plateau de Valensole is a safe bet to get lost in these scented, colored oceans. Everywhere you look, the fields are seemingly endless. After you’ve soaked up enough of this unique piece of nature, head to Valensole, a typical provincial village, complete with 13th century church and 18th century fountain. Speaking of which, make sure to stop at the bakery located in front of the fountain to get a taste of their lavender ice cream and make your experience complete!
ROAD TRIP AROUND THE LAC DE SAINTE-CROIX
Located in the middle of the Gorges du Verdon, the Lac de Sainte-Croix is supposedly the most beautiful lake of the Provence and I’m not going to argue with that. Not only is it striking for its sheer size, its color is also mesmerizing! Never would I have imagined to encounter this kind of pure, turquoise water amidst that forest decor. It is irresistible to get near the lake itself for a swim or a pedalo tour, but you could also do a road trip around it and discover the villages set on its shores.
Coming from Salernes, our road trip first lead us to the small villages of Bauduen and Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. These spots don’t exactly offer major sights, but are rather authentic villages lesser known to tourists, giving you a taste of real provincial life. Further up North, we got to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie which is more of a tourists favorite. Mentally erasing all the people, it appeared to me as a place of great beauty, perched on a cliff, adorned with many flowers. From the 17th to the 19th century this was the capital of ceramics but nowadays it is a place buzzing with restaurants and little shops. To find some peace and quiet around here, you’ll have to climb up the stairs to the chapel on top of the cliff, where you’ll be rewarded with exceptional views of the surroundings. If you happen to be looking for a place to eat, we accidentally ended up at Les Tables du Cloître and loved it for its excellent tartines and salads, as well as the friendly staff. Closing the loop around the Lac de Sainte-Croix, we made a final stop at Les-Salles-sur-Verdon to find a more secretive part of beach to enjoy the turquoise waters.
DAY TRIP TO RIEZ & ESPARRON-DE-VERDON
The Provence’s history is one that dates back many centuries and for those longing for some time travelling, Riez is a great spot. Traces of the past go back about 2,000 years over here, with the remains of a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo (the god of sun) still standing just outside the city. Inside the city walls, you’ll find relics of a closer past, with the Grand Rue transporting you to the Middle Ages through its ancient houses, narrow alleyways and so-called ‘andrones’ (covered passageways that go under the houses). On the Allée Louis Gardiol, you’ll find many restaurants among which Le Five that drew us with its selection of burgers and cocktails. The owner got me a little baffled at first with her familiarity, but I must admit she was very friendly and clearly cared about her qualitative offer, including local products.
At about 15 minutes from Riez, you’ll find the small village of Esparron-de-Verdon. The tour of the village itself won’t take you long - passing by the small castle (which has been converted into a hotel), the church and the ancient houses concentrated in Rue des Fontaines and Rue Sainte-Anne - but you might want to spend a little more time on the shores of the Lac d’Esparron. It boasts that same beautiful turquoise water and feels like an open invitation to chill on the small portion of rocky beach.
EXPRESS TRIP TO TOURTOUR
Not far from Salernes, we discovered the small medieval town of Tourtour. Perched on a hill at 635m high it has been called the ‘village in the sky’. Besides the panoramic views over the Var which are best enjoyed at the church Saint-Denis, the village boasts the most charming, little streets where you’ll bump into many art galleries. Indeed, over the years, multiple artists have chosen to live in Tourtour, among which Bernard Buffet, the French expressionist painter Pierre Bergé was in a relationship with right before Yves Saint Laurent (for those of you who’ve seen the biopic with Pierre Niney it should ring a bell). With its traditional washing place, fountains and streams running through the city, Tourtour has become inseparable in my mind with the relaxing sound of running water. We were here one evening and after soaking in the charming atmosphere, we had dinner at one of the restaurants on the Place des Ormeaux during golden hour. It was such a great moment that the memory of it alone still puts me at ease.
All these destinations are within a one hour drive from Salernes. The Airbnb we stayed at can be found here. From Brussels it takes about 10 hours to get there. For more comfort, I wouldn’t advise doing that, in favor of taking the plane and renting a car at the airport upon arrival.