July 8, 2016

The beautiful lavender fields of Provence

Today we set off to the Luberon valley with the assistance of British Bob to view an iconic 10th century abbey surrounded by blooming lavender fields. For anyone who has viewed pictures of Provence lavender fields before in a calendar or on a poster has surely seen this abbey before; it's quintessential "Provence" at its best. We're about 2 hours from this part of Provence, certainly an easy day trip. Our timing has never been great to see the lavender in bloom as we've typically toured this area later in the summer or in a different season altogether, so it's finally something on my "bucket list" that I get to check off.

I'm convinced that British Bob is determined to make every road trip a "white knuckle" driving experience. We sailed pass Aix-en-Provence on the A8 toll road and then exited the super highway once we got into the Luberon valley. British Bob apparently has a fondness for farm roads; we were literally driving on barely-paved narrow roads between fields. How can this actually be a road meant for cars? Thank goodness we rarely encountered any other car traffic or farm equipment, but it was an unnerving driving experience to say the least.

I know what you're thinking -- it must be a setting in the GPS to avoid larger roads. We have checked and verified several times that the navigation options include ALL roads, so I'm unsure why British Bob is trying to turn our hair white and take us on the "touristic routes". He must know we are "stupid Americains". The actual road to the abbey was recently made a "one-way" road, which is a good thing given how narrow (and high) this "balcony" road was. But, we finally made it, and lucky for us, we arrived before the bulk of other tourists. Due to jet lag, we were up at 5:00 AM and after a leisurely morning, we still were on the road by 7:30 AM.


The first foundation for Sénanque Abbey was built in 1148 by Cistercian monks. Support from the local community enabled the monks to build the abbey church, which was completed in 1178.


Other structures at Sénanque followed. Among its existing structures, famed examples of Romanesque architecture, are the abbey church, cloister, dormitory, chapter house and the small calefactory, the one heated space in the austere surroundings so that the monks could write, for this was their scriptorium. A refectory was added in the 17th century, when some minimal rebuilding of existing walls was undertaken, but the abbey is a remarkably untouched.


We could have toured the inside of the abbey, but the crowds were starting to get thick and to be honest, it didn't quite seem worth the 17 Euros per person.

So we just enjoyed the surrounding area and walked along the back side of the abbey.


To be honest, I expected to see many more "fields" but we did see some additional fields in the area as we left the abbey on the way to our next stop, Gordes. That didn't stop us from taking over a 100 pictures of just the abbey alone - lol.

Just a couple of kilometers away is the hilltop village of Gordes. The view of the village from the roadway were stunning.
Apparently this village was occupied by the Roman Empire until an abbey was built by the monks in the 8th century. The castle was built in 1031 and later fortified in 1123.
During World War II, Gordes was an active resistance village. On 21 August 1944, almost a week after the beginning of the Operation Dragoon on the Provençal coast, a German patrol was attacked by the resistance, which the German retailiated the next day, forcing the locals to enter their homes, shooting those who were late or that were not cooperating, and started to shoot from the rock on the other side with a canon and destroyed a dozen houses. On the other side of the village, the rest of the troops set fire to houses and roads, blocking potential followers. More than twenty homes were destroyed. After the Liberation the resistance destroyed another part of the village, including the notarial house with all the archives. All of this destruction caused Gordon to be added to list of "stricken cities" of the Vaucluse region. By war's end, thirteen persons were killed or executed in Gordes, twenty citizens fell under the enemy bullets and five citizens were deported out of the country.
Until the 1960s, Gordes was a virtual ghost town of derelict buildings where locals led simple lives and had few ambitions. Then came the theater festival in Avignon, bringing directors who wanted to re-create perfect Provençal villages on film. Parisians, Swiss, Brits, and a few Americans followed, willing to pay any price for their place in the Provençal sun.
Today Gordes is renovated top to bottom and mostly inhabited by wealthy Parisian's and foreigners as property prices have been driven out of reach for the locals. All the new buildings in Gordes are made of stone and use terracotta roof tiles. No fences are allowed, only stone walls. These walls line the entire village and a lot of the surrounding roads leading away from it. We were amazed at the craftsmanship.
One of my favorite stores and SO cute!
After a lovely lunch, it was time to escape the hordes of other tourists and the heat, so we started the very LONG drive back to Plan-de-la-Tour. See, British Bob thought we really should see MORE of the Luberon and not only did we visit some more farm roads, we traveled along windy back roads across rivers, other hilltop villages, more farms, a couple of lakes, some forest and finally, the A8, but not until we had reached Aix-en-Provence, with is literally 2/3 of the way back to Plan-de-la-Tour.
I have a lovely, detailed Michelin map of Provence and it was my mistake that I left it on the table in our rental. Oops, my bad. So we were forced to wander and take the touristic route; probably close to 2 hours out of our way (or the 2-hour longer route). Ugh. Good thing Sean decided to cat nap in the car because I'm certain he would have become car sick with the winding, curvy roads we were on for at least half of the journey. But in British Bob's defense, we did drive through some beautiful scenery and some of the villages are definitely worthy of a return visit.
Á bientôt!

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