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LAVENDER COUNTRY

And by "lavender country" I mean Provence, bien sûr! We spent a few days in the area of the Alps-de-Haute-Provence, the most undiscovered region there. Its richness and beauty always surprises me, and takes my breath away. It is a bit different from Vaucluse, which is where we go most often - more wild and rugged. A paradise for hikers, bicyclists, and lovers of water sports with the Lac St Croix and Gorge du Verdon.


It was also the part of Provence I saw 25 years ago, and fell in love with. It was my first time in France, Paris, and Provence... and I will never forget how overwhelmed I felt with beauty of it all.

Lavender!

This time around it was the first time we were in Provence in the summer so we were able to see the lavender fields in bloom. The view is incomparable! Kilometers of purple fragrant flowers, dreamy... Next to them - big fields of sunflowers. This was our reward for going in summer, since we normally go to the south off-season, and never regretted it, because the region is truly magical in any time of year.

So it was the first time we were in this part of Provence since that first time 25 years ago. I was a bit afraid there would be too many changes, but the beautiful vistas, small towns scattered among the hills, aromas of figs and lavender, friendly people - this luckily stayed the same. The stone houses still stand quiet and strong, the pale blue shutters closed against the heat of the day. The rhythm of the day is unchanged, the delicious food always delicious.


Among the olive trees, a path leads through a stone wall to lavender fields...

So what do you do on a provençal vacation? It of course depends on who you are - ready to conquer the blue waters of Lac Saint Croix at the crack of dawn? Wonderful!

But I encourage you to surrender to experience a different rhythm of day - the day unfolds slowly here. You wake up with the song of birds. The leisurely breakfast follows. Plans are made for the day over strong aromatic coffee (these can be deviated from easily, if one sees a charming vista or a small town one has to stop in a wander around).


Colors of Provence - yellow and blue

Unless you are swift and energetic (not us), you head out before the heat of the day. But it's not us... We take our time!

You leave around 10 to get to your destination of the day. When you get there, it is just about time to sit down and eat. You find a charming bistro. The mid day meal will take about two hours. You sightsee some more, head back to your bed and breakfast, apartment, hotel... and have a siesta.


An apero in the shade is always a great idea

Around five, when it may not be as hot, you go for a stroll among the lavender fields. You might have found some cheese or olives to have with wine for an apero... Around 7:30 you have drinks with your hosts, and dinner is served no earlier than 8 PM. You eat under the stars and never want to go home...

Every small town has an amazing fountain or two; this one is in Quinson

So what to do and see in Alpes-de-Haute Provence? Here are some hints:


- avoid the high season (which is summer, June through August). As lovely as it is, it is hot in the middle of the day, and crowded. It is vacation time for nearly everyone... As well as France shuts down in August and you may find some places not available to visit...

All attractive sites - Lac de Ste-Croix, Moustier, Gorge du Verdon - will be crowded, and there will be difficulties in parking. Come in winter, spring, or fall - the sight of blooming almond trees in February is something to behold.


A fountain in Cotignac

- make sure you have a car to get around as the public transportation is not frequent, and most sites are accessible only by car (or bicycle if you're so inclined). Other necessities - sunscreen, water, and a hat. This is a dry, very sunny climate. It's easy to get a sunburn, and get dehydrated. I also bring a shawl or a light sweater. After the sun sets the temperature drops.


- this is a rugged, rural part of Provence, so nature lovers, hikers, will be in paradise there; but there is something for everyone - the history and architecture buffs will delight in visiting medieval towns and castles; do spend an afternoon in Sisteron with its 13th century citadel. I also recommend the underground cathedral in Saint Martin de Pallieres.


- take advantage of the culinary delights of the region - the olive oil, wine from small vineyards, honey... The food is fresh and local, no time for a dietary regime here! Don't forget to pick up a "sachet" of herbes de Provence and lavender to bring home.


- lovers of faiance, beware! This region is known for pottery ateliers. Moustier-Ste-Marie is well known for its famous ceramics, and there is a museum devoted to the original Moustier ware. Another town with a museum and ceramic studios is Varages (in the Var).

Entrance to Faiencerie de La Belle Epoque in Varages

- the most charming town of our vacation - Cotignac (just next door, in the Var region of Provence)! If you only have time to see one small provencal town, put Cotignac on your itinerary.

Beautiful Cotignac

- where to stay? There is no shortage of boutique hotels, private apartments to rent, bed and breakfasts.... there is something for everyone. I almost never do it, but this time I have to mention the charming place we managed to find, and were very happy with. It is in a tiny village of Saint Laurent du Verdon, and is called La Colombiere du Chateau.


- there are many travel guides and online resources, but I find that local Office de Tourisme, and there is one in almost every town and village, is the best source of information. They have local maps and brochures, and can point you to the places that cannot be found in a guide book.

Our discovery - La Colombiere du Chateau

Bon voyage!

Lavender fields at dusk


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