22 February 2008

September 2001 in Provence

Every day, I spend a couple of hours reading and posting on an Internet travel forum that I enjoy. There's a whole section on the forum about France, which is where I post. Although the forum title is France, 80% of the time it's really about one of two places that Americans like to visit: Paris and Provence.

The "perched village" of Gordes
in the Luberon Valley of Provence
September 2001

The Dordogne, the Loire Valley, Normandy, Alsace, and Champagne get some interest on the forum, but not much compared to The Big Two. I try to give some information there about Loire Valley area and sights, but not too much. To be frank about it, I don't really want to encourage a lot of tourists to come to our area. I'd rather not see our little towns and villages get more touristy than they already are.

Besides, Americans, at least the ones on this particular form, are really focused on Provence. And Provence is beautiful — no doubt about it — with its perched villages, craggy hills and mountains, olive trees and vineyards, and deep blue skies. The Loire is not as knock-your-eyes-out picturesque. Our countryside is flatter (though not flat like the countryside north of us, nearer Paris), our skies are not as frequently bright blue, and the landscape is kind of soft or gentle, with forests, fields, rivers, and vineyards.

I get the impression from posts on the Internet forum that there is a lot of seasonal business in Provence nowadays. If you don't go in the late spring, summer, or early fall, you are likely to find a lot of hotels, restaurants, and shops closed down for the off-season. Here in the Loire Valley, I don't see a lot of that. Life goes on here, even in winter. People live here year-round, not just in summertime.

A café in Lourmarin. I took this picture on September 11, 2001,
a few hours before we found out what had happened
that morning in New York City.

My history with Provence, while not extensive, goes way back. The first time I came to France was in late 1969, when I was 20 years old, and the purpose of the trip was a semester studying French language, literature, and history on an American program in Aix-en-Provence. I spent the first six months of 1970 in Provence, and I turned 21 there.

I went back to Provence in the late 70s with a friend for a short visit. And then Walt and I went back and spent two weeks in the Luberon, north of Aix, in 1993, for our 10th anniversary celebration. We rented a gîte rural that turned out to be a very comfortable and fairly big house. The village it was in was quiet and not as picturesque as others, but it was conveniently located and not touristy.

The famous Pont d'Avignon — « l'on y danse... »
September 2001

It was the first gîte we had ever rented, and it was fun to shop the markets and supermarkets down there and cook our own food. We ate a lot of salads and fruit. We picked cherries off a tree that grew up over the patio. For the first time, we bought wine en vrac — in bulk — having a big plastic jug filled from a wine vat instead of buying it in bottles. It was a lot of fun. We saw and did a lot.

We mostly took day trips to see the now-famous villages of Provence that include Bonnieux, Gordes, Rousillon, Opède-le-Vieux, Ménerbes, Lourmarin, Lauris, Lacoste, and Vaison-la-Romaine as well as bigger towns like Apt, Avignon, and Aix. We even drove down to Cassis and Porquerolles on the Mediterranean, and we went to Marseille. It was around the time that Peter Mayle published his Year in Provence best-seller.

Bonnieux, another perched village
in the Luberon Valley in Provence
September 2001

All that was before the age of the digital camera. The most recent trip we took to Provence was in 2001. September 2001. I took a lot of pictures. I think I'll post some of them here over the next few days.


  1. My first foray into France was a summer I spent in Avignon. Provence certainly has its draw. But thanks to you, I am happier to return to the Loire Valley.


    New Bern

  3. will u share the travel site?
    Happy Callie B'day

  4. Some of us love both Provence and the Loire, Ken, although I agree with you that most of the attention seems to focus on Provence.

    I've just been re-reading all your Paris posts while I count off the days until our Paris trip. Any chance I could talk you and Walt into coming to Paris for a day while we're there? It would be great to see you.

  5. Hi Chris, I wish we could come to Paris while you are there, but with the dog it is difficult. She's not happy in the car, so even bringing her is not an option.

    I know you and Frank like the Loire too, and a lot of other people do as well. I love Provence, you know, I just can't live there...

  6. Lovely to visit Provence cyber-way. It's beautiful on the big screen. I didn't know that le Pont d'Avignon didn't reach the other bank. It's not in the song. I wonder why the villages are perched when there is so much flat land below. So it seems. Of course, it adds character to the places.

    Bonne Fête Callie, you lucky, gorgeous, happy, best puppy in Vallée de la Loire.

  7. In August 1969 we sailed on a student ship, the Aurelia, from NYC to Le Havre for a travel year. We were not students but envied those who were.

    I love the area where you and Walt live. Chedigny, Montresor, Genille, the drive along the Indre, Loches... We appreciate the way agriculture continues to co-exist happily with town life there (and elsewhere in France).

    I read and sometimes post on the same travel site you do and I've noticed the same thing. If it ain't Provence or Paris, it ain't happening. As someone who grew up in a tourist town, I feel as you do. It's possible for a place to be uncomfortably popular.

  8. Louise, I grew up in a tourist town too -- it's a beach resort. Maybe that has affected my attitude.

    Claudia, I think the villages were built on hilltops for defensive purposes. At least a lot of them were.

  9. Hey Louise,
    you and I were on the same ship, but I think my group left in Sept. That Aurelia was pitiful....we followed a hurricane outta NY harbor and the crossing was especially rough...it took NINE days to get to Le Havre....I was sick the whole time .....horrid memories of that ship, but the best year in Paris with Mary Baldwin group


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?