Thursday, 13 July 2017

Exploring Provence: Gordes, Roussillon and the Lavender Fields

Our Provence exploration continued when we signed up to a little day trip which took us out to see the lavender fields and the very different towns of Roussillon and Gordes.

Our day started quite early, with a small group of us piling into the back of a people carrier and being driven out of the walls of Avignon. Our guide was very chatty, telling us all about the history of the region, how the Popes came to be there and what happened to all the lavender being grown, as we drove through the beautiful Provence countryside.

Our first stop was Sénanque Abbey where monks still live today. Here, they tend fields of lavender and keep honey bees for their livelihood, as well as offering tours of the abbey. 

After a quick look around, it was back into the car and on our way to Gordes. 

We turned a bend in the road and suddenly we could see the town in front of us, jutting out of the ground on a great peak of rock, overlooking the plane of the surrounding countryside. It was quite a magnificent sight! 

When we got down into the town, we discovered it was market day! We wandered amongst the stalls, before buying a large tranche of cheese which got demolished by time we'd made it back to the car.... Ooops.  

I popped my head through a hidden wooden door and found a beautiful painted church inside. 

The town was made up of winding pale stone streets and pretty shuttered houses - I wish we'd had more time to explore, but before we knew it it was time to head back to the bus. 

Our third stop was the lavender fields. Our guide explained how all the flowers we saw were actually 'lavandin' which is a specially bread variation of the flower characterised by its stronger colour as well as larger, more plentiful flowers. It turned out that lavandin is often the plant used when a stronger smelling oil is required and that most of the 'lavender' in Provence was in fact 'lavandin - as much as 80%'!

The field smelt absolutely incredible and I had far too much fun trying to photograph the waving stems (while trying to avoid  the million and one honey bees everywhere!). 

Finally, it was off to our last stop: Roussillon. 

The first thing I noticed about Roussillon was the huge contrast it posed to Gordes, Pale stone had given away to a rich red landscape with houses carved out of the same ruddy colour.

'No Filter Needed'

The amazing colour comes from the ochre deposits in the ground - the village was once famed for the quality of ochre which could be mined there. Now, the mining has stopped and the village is left with an incredible quarry landscape which you're able to walk around.  

The colour is so intense you almost feel like you've stepped into an artist's impression of the red planet... 

I loved how the vivid green of the trees stood out against the rich red of the ground. 

Before long, our tour was over and it was time to return to Avignon. The tour had most definitely been whistle-stop  and I wished we'd had more time in each place, but I'd definitely gotten an informative taste of the amazing places available to visit in Provence. Hopefully I'll be able to return soon and explore it further! 

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