The French Provence • Part one
When I say cicadas and lavender, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? That's right, the Provence! A poetic region in the South of France and a getaway for many lucky ones in summer. With its wild nature and idyllic landscapes, it is a haven of serenity. While at the same time, the many picturesque villages scattered across the region offer plenty of options for discovery. It can be daunting to approach a region this big, so in true 'Gerrit and the City' fashion, I made up a few day trips for you. Enjoy!
L'ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE, FONTAINE-DE-VAUCLUSE & VENASQUE
The village of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is surrounded by a small river punctuated with old paddle wheels and is often referred to as 'The Venice of Provence'. It's not only a favorite among romantics, but also among antique-lovers. Strolling around the old town feels like a journey back in time and the 'Collégiale Notre-Dame-des-Anges' church will surprise you with its Italian Baroque interior design.
A major attraction in the area is the outdoor source of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the biggest one in France. Climbing up to the source, you'll cross many kitschy shops (it is very touristic!) but also, and most importantly, beautiful stretches of nature and wild cascades. Adventure-lovers can explore the area on water with Kayak Vert.
Set on top of a cliff, Venasque is one of those villages labelled as 'Most Beautiful Village in France'. It is home to one of the oldest shrines of France, a baptistery that dates back to the 6th century (set on the vestiges of an ancient temple), but what you'll probably remember most of this small village are its picturesque streets and ramparts, as well as the panoramic views. And for those who enjoy a dinner with a view, Les Remparts has the best terrace!
GORDES, ROUSSILLON & MÉNÈRBES
Gordes is another village set on a mountaintop that provides the necessary epic views. With its cobbled streets going up and down and its rock buildings, the village has a definite medieval feel to it. This is only enhanced by the castle standing proudly in its middle (art exhibitions are held inside, but don't expect any furniture or views). About 4 km from there, you can visit ancient preserved settlements of an agricultural village from the 19th century, characterized by its buildings in dry stone ('Village des Bories').
Set at the top of a cliff on the world's largest ochre vein, Roussillon is all about that signature color, as the houses form one with the earth from up far. Legend has it the earth was colored by the blood of the beautiful Sermonde who threw herself of a cliff after her husband killed her lover. Romantics will love to wander Roussillon's little streets and should go up to the church for panoramic views. Those who wish to discover the former ochre quarries will do the promenade called 'Sentier des Ocres' in the East of the village.
With its long and narrow shape, Ménèrbes has been called the 'stone ship', navigating on a green sea. This ancient fortress, complete with 18th century homes and medieval ramparts, is really picturesque and inspiring. No wonder Picasso chose it to be his home at some point in his life.
The 2nd part of my Provence travel guide is right here!