Postcard from Provence
Me: “Have you been to Provence?”
Friend: “No. Well, not this year. I mean, of course I've been to Provence”
Of course you've been to Provence! Who doesn't go to Provence? Provence is the middle-class Blackpool. Last year I went to Provence for the first time. My husband & I packed up our car and left home at 4am to avoid the heat of the day because our car doesn't have working aircon. We spent a few days driving around, and trying to avoid tiger mosquitoes in our tent.
Now I understand why so many people love Provence. Because it is absolutely stunning and you should go and see for yourself. We went in July and I absolutely recommend going at this time of year in order to see the lavender at its best. Normally we are quite active on holiday, we like to hike or cycle but this was more of a roadtrip- in no small part due to the heat (especially with last year's heatwave), so if you're looking to do one of the village-to-village cycle/hike routes then earlier or later in the year is a much better time to go.
So, the number one reason for most people to go to Provence is the aforementioned lavender, and it doesn't disappoint. I'd seen the postcards, I knew to expect rows of gently scented purple flowers punctuated by tall, bright yellow sunflowers, and yet I was still blown away by the vibrant colours, comforting fragrance and the low humming of insects emanating from the fields. It really is a sight to behold. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to photograph the fields and capture the perspective of the terraces of lavender. The tourist board knows why we're all there, and so it produces leaflets (available at tourist info centres) which detail various driving and cycling routes that you can follow to see the best of the blooms.
The villages in the Luberon national park were spectacular. I loved the warm golden colour of the stone farmhouses and the almost ubiquitous light blue (lavender?) shutters. Now, I imagine most people throw the budget out the window when going to Provence, but as with anywhere it's possible to do it on the cheap- as I mentioned, we took our trusty tent, and while I highly recommend camping, on this occasion I initially found it to be slightly uncomfortable, due to the heat and the abundance of mosquitoes. Well, that was the case until a few nights in, when we reached Camping Les Olivettes, which I adored. The pitches are well thought-out, the site is beautifully landscaped (with mosquito-repelling plants) and the whole place evokes a wonderful luxury that can be difficult to achieve at a campsite. It is definitely worth seeking out if you are in Provence, and it is well-placed to explore both the Luberon and the Verdon. So, back to fiscal matters. Provence is expensive, and everyone there looks like they can afford it. We actively sought out cheap eats or sacrificed eating out to cook in the tent. The good news is that boulangeries offer great, tasty lunchtime snacks which are affordable and the supermarkets are great too. And there's no need for pricey tours if you're happy to follow a map to hunt out the lavender.
We actually started our trip driving through the Gorge du Verdon, which, for me, is a must-see. You should go there purely to witness the turquoise colour of the water- it's like someone amped up the colour saturation levels on an instagram filter. We went wild swimming in the afternoon (except not where we supposed to go, because I was in charge of the map reading and made a shameful right/left cock-up) and then had to deal with a car emergency which put us off our itinerary for a day before heading down to Cassis. We had intended to hike the calanques but they were closed due to fire risk and so we settled for some sunbathing on the beach before some moules frites. Cassis was nice, but a bit too pristine for my tastes, but if you like breton stripes and yachts then it will probably be your bag.
All in all, I loved Provence and would go back in a heartbeat. It's nice to have a bit of cash in your pocket if possible, but it's possible to do cheaply too.
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