Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lavender Fields of Provence, France

Saru: "Enough!! I cannot take this anymore!"

There are many ways to torture the husband and I discovered a very unique way when we were holidaying in the South of France.

We were driving around the Luberon region and the foothills of Mount Ventoux in Provence. It was late June and the country side was full of lavender, wheat and sunflower fields. Purple lines of lavender interspersed with golden wheat stalks in the foreground of a hilltop village...this is exactly how I imagined Provence to be and there it was!! Purple and violet contours extend out as far as the eye can see.

"Put some lavender stalks on the car floor. Every time you step in and out of the car, the air will be filled with fragrance" said the guidebook. I took the advice.... a little too seriously. I would stamp on the lavender, take in the heady scent and as soon as the perfume faded, I would stamp on the stalks again. In the beginning, Saru was amused. "It takes very little to keep my wife happy" he told himself and snickered while I would take deep yogic breaths every few minutes. But when the car started to smell like a like a lavender factory, he lost it!

I LOVE lavender!! At home, I have lavender scented candles, lavender home freshener, lavender oil, lavender lotion, body get the picture!! When our trip to France got postponed to the end of June, I jumped at the chance to add Provence to the itinerary knowing fully well that it was peak time for Lavender. For 4 days, we drove around the country side stopping at every lavender farm, buying lavender products. One evening, we even went to a restaurant "Les Lavandes" and had lavender flavored ice cream at which point Saru screamed:

"Enough!! I cannot take this anymore! I need to get back into civilization soon!!

Our base was a small village called Monieux in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in Southeastern France. We stayed in a bed & breakfast run very lovingly by Isabelle - Chez Isabelle . A lonely lady in her forties, she rented out 4 rooms. She barely spoke English, but that did not stop her from chatting with us. A little bit of English, a little bit of French and a lot of animated gestures later...we understood each other. She had a huge spread of homemade bread and jams and cappuccino for breakfast every morning.

On the first morning, we woke up early and went for a drive. A fat lady was just opening her bakery, so I ran inside and got us a couple of croissants. They were whole wheat croissants (!!!) and let me tell you something – when you are putting a slab of butter on every fold (see this picture of croissant dough) you are screwed anyway. What is the point of using whole wheat? The croissants were not so good, but the views from the hill were just fantastic. The ground was covered in thick morning mist while the sun was just rising. We spent an hour clicking pictures and just breathing in that cold crisp morning air.

Morning Mist and Lavender fields at Monieux

Saru went back to sleep while I chatted with Isabelle. I had a mini-breakfast with her and a second one with Saru.

"Un Cappuccino, deux Cappuccino, Très Cappuccino problem" She said while talking me into trying Lavender honey with bread.

"I love summer. Weather is nice, rooms are full and I am busy. Winter is bad. When the mistral (cold winds) rolls in, it is so cold, I cannot leave home. For days, I do not see anybody!"

“But my daughter comes home for the holidays and we go skiing” Her eyes lit up while she spoke lovingly about the daughter that was studying in Paris.

I don’t know if I can ever live in such an isolated place, but I love to vacation in these small towns. Saru LOVES big cities and the energy in them. I like them too, but my idea of a vacation is to take it slow. The peace and tranquility of the countryside offers just the kind of holiday I want. For 4 days, we drove around some of the most beautiful villages in Provence. There was no long list of attractions – we drove aimlessly. Lunch in one village, snacks in one and dinner in yet another village. In between these villages were long stretches of lavender farms, wheat fields and wineries. After 4 days, I was completely rested and Saru was totally restless. He needed to move to an urban scene....see some wide roads, tall buildings, crowds, noise, pollution ( I am just being mean here!!). More than anything, I think he was sick of being in places whose names he could not pronounce. Languages are not his forte and he will not even try to pronounce the names right. In the entire trip, I could not get him to say 'Bonjour' to anybody. He will say a very enthusiastic "good morning" or a very spirited 'hello', but never 'Bonjour'. On our trips we visited many cities and he butchered pretty much every name - Gordes, Roussillon, Montbrun-les-bains, Bonnieux, Monieux....and his personal favourite – L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue. For the life of him, Saru could not remember that name. On our way to the town, he kept repeating the name again and again. It was like riding the car with an idiot savant (remember Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman keeps repeating things...).

In comparison, Nice and Monaco were easy to pronounce. Nice...was well... Nice and Monaco according to Saru, was a salt biscuit. Nice and Monaco deserve its own post, so I am not going to mention the topless women at the beaches there.

Here are some more pictures of the famous lavender fields. The difference in colors is because of the difference in plant species. True Lavender is the variety that is pure and used in the perfume industry. It grows only in higher altitudes (>1800 ft). Lavandin, a hybrid variety has darker colors and grows at lower elevations. We got a detailed Lavender trail from Fodors Provence forum (thanks Stu Dudley) and followed it to get to these picturesque locations. Mornings were cool in Summer, but afternoons were HOT!! Every afternoon, we would pick a nice shady tree, open the doors of the car and take a nice nap. A couple of evenings we lucked out with sudden thunder storms and then the place cooled down. I don't know if I will ever go back to Provence in the middle of Summer, but it was worth braving the sun for these views.

Traveling in Provence is a treat to all senses. Beautiful vistas of mountains, plateaux, an occasional chateau and precariously placed hilltop villages. In a follow-up post, I will write about the villages we visited, food we ate etc.

Follow-up Post : Beautiful Villages in Provence -Les Plus Beaux Villages de France

Click on the link to read about our Paris trip - Paris- How Dan Brown screwed up my trip!