I met Fé seven years ago, and at the time had never been to Paris, never been to the south (of France), in fact I’d never holidayed in France. Shocker! The most I’d done was a day trip on the ferry that only took us as far as Le Touquet & a school history trip to The Sommes, to visit the battle lines. Hardly uplifting!
Within a month of meeting him Fé booked our first trip to Paris, and that’s when my affair with France began…and my love for this country grows with every visit.
France is so culturally rich, so diverse, and the way of life here is unlike anywhere I’ve been before.
I’ve just returned from a quick fling in Provence. It’s not the first time we’ve met, I made my debut in Provence in 2010 and returned two years later but then we became estranged until last week when I took along bubba too.
Provence is stunning, breathtakingly so. And as luck would have it, Fé’s family own Le Petit Maison; a tiny country house in the village of Vaugines.
The house once was the servants quarters to the large house next door which was sold off just before I met Fé (yes I was gutted about that bit too!). However, the views are the same; orchards of fruit and the green hills of Luberon.
La Petite Maison certainly is “petit” but perfect for our new family. With kitchen, bathroom, dinner table and two big windows, with shutters I might add (huge shutter fan here!), looking over the tree tops of Vaugines and beyond. It’s a charm, in the heart of a sleepy picturesque village.
In the Luberon valley, where (name drop) Kate & wills stayed when she was pictured topless that time, you’ll find villages on hill tops, towns etched into cliffs with sheer drops and spine-tingling views of the valley below.
With a week in the region, the parents mapped out the markets for us, so we could plan and get a taste of all Provence had to offer, literally. The food markets here are unrivalled. Lex had a diet of peaches and melons all week while Fe’s was entirely saucisson and wine.
I love Provence. I’m calm there. I think clearly and the pace of life is oh-so-slow. It’s a huge juxtaposition to the London girl in me who was itching to get back to work and be in the city. But as the years tick by, and values evolve, one begins to wonder “What’s good for my soul?”
We’ve always said we’ll retire here and open a B&B and that’s still something we’d like to do. The little girl in me is losing patience and wants it sooner. So for now, while we have keys to La Petite Maison, we’ve vowed to frequent Provence for weekends and holidays to get our quick fix before packing up and re-rooting here for good.
Alas, be prepared for plenty more Provence spam over the next few years. And if you find it oh-too-irresistable here’s the region’s best, in brief…
My Guide to Provence
So if you’re thinking of visiting the region, here’s where it’s at. Please note: when I say somewhere is commericalised, I’m talking in Provence terms. That means its oh-so slightly busier with both tourists and locals, and the village is pristine and kept as opposed to rustic with crumbling walls. Think cracked shutters not painted shutters. You get me?!
Market Day – Friday
Lourmarin market is one of the biggest, overspilling into the villages intertwining streets. The market was very busy but had the best variety of products we saw all week.
The town itself is very quaint. On a non-market day I feel it offers a happy medium; there are small beautiful boutiques to peruse and a lane lined with 3-4 bistros spilling out onto pavements. But if you walk off the beaten track you can easily lose yourself on the steep backstreets and open roads leading to the castle, Chateau de Lourmarin. That’s what I prefer to do.
Market Day -Saturday
On Saturday many locals in the region will travel to Apt, a small town with a maze of streets and alleyways lined with market stall holders. The banter, the smells, the people are a draw in itself. Let alone the products on offer; fresh fish, vegetables, linens, cheese, meat, soaps, it’s got it all. And if you want to fit in with the French women then make sure you have a wicker basket draping off one arm and a tiny pooch hooked under the other. Apt is renowned for it’s market and little else, so Saturday is the day to come here!
Aix-en-Provence (or “Aix” as we call it – pronounced “ex”) is the city at the heart of the beautiful region. It is teeming with beautiful five story buildings decked with rustic white shutters. You’ll find water fountains in just about every street corner, square or alleyway. Aix has a trendy feel, with a decent student population, and an air that’s not too dissimilar to that of Barcelona. We always come to Aix, Fefe loves the atmosphere and I love the shops. Parfait! Aix is overflowing with pharmacies where I can stock up on products such as BioDerma, Avene and Vichy creams. Whilst there I also get my Maison du Monde fix (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about read my blog on French fancies here…https://madamemathieu.com/2016/03/10/french-fancies-perk-purchases/).
Etang de la Bonde
On Monday we had a break from the markets relaxed at the nearby lake, Etang de la Bonde. This stunning turquoise lake has a cafe and other amenities to keep you happy. We even brushed shoulders with a local Citroen CV, perfect photo opp for me! Yes, they’re VIP to me! Hubby & I made a pact that when we move here I will get myself a vintage Ctiroen CV to run around here. Not practical, but oh-so-pretty!
We then explored the village of Gordes, which stands on the edge of the region’s plateau. It is known as one of the ‘in’ villages in Luberon owing to its picturesque windy paths and cobbled steps which are dotted with ice parlours & bistros. It is geared to tourists with perfectly manicured shop fronts. Not as manicured as the hotel Fé and I spied on approaching the town though…check out Bastide de Gordes. This new luxury hotel clings to the cliff edge and has been revived and refurbished in an £18m make over. Worth a visit, even just to gawp at the Louis XV decor inside.
Market Day – Thursday
Not far from Gordes stands the red village of Roussillon. Roussillon sits majestically high and distinctly different. The whole village is built from the red ochre clay from a neighbouring quarry, which makes a stunning contrast to the infamous green pine trees of the region. With a Thursday market in the square, the village has a buzzy fill, yet it cascades in a way that doesn’t feel overpopulated.
The name gives it away; this ice cream parlour is famous nationwide for its extravagant presentation and fabulous flair in ice cream. Not only that but it offers truly unique flavours accustomed to the region. For example, lavander, provencal honey and thyme to name just a few. Check the open hours before your visit and take a good map. It’s off the beaten track in the most beautiful setting ovelooking the valley. Well worth a visit…http://www.artglacier.com/
As a stark contrast to the popular haunts of Provence our quiet village, Vaugines lies completely untouched. Infact local pictures from 150 years ago show no change other than the cars parked in the square. Vaugines has just one cafe and one restaurant right in the heart overlooking the water fountain. It became our daily ritual to walk the village, send Lex off to sleep before Fe and I hit the local watering hole for a drink or two, okay maybe three, before retiring to La Petite Maison for the night.
Market Day – Tuesday
The neighbouring village of Cucuron has a low-key rustic feel, but with the Tuesday market it comes to life around the large pond lined with 150 year old trees. I like Cucuron because it’s large enough to have a Boulangerie and it’s own market, yet quiet enough to maintain a sense of calm and the slow-paced life that is so famous of the region. And oozing plenty of character, let’s not forget.
It is hard to compare the villages, they are all magnificent and stand majestically on their own hilltop and cliff edges. Infact, I always proclaim one is my favourite before moving onto the next one, and realising that tops it. This continues the whole holiday until I realise I love the whole region.
In Provence, you can rest-assured you will feel relaxed here. That’s everywhere but the markets. All of a sudden sleepy villages come to life but that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? An impressive atmosphere, a bit of banter and a shed load of people watching. Mais oui, c’est sur!