Perfect Provence: Serenity in Southern France
Bunches of lavender hang from the beams, beeswax colored pastel pigments cover the walls, and homemade jams accompany a gluttonous breakfast spread on our patio table as we linger in bed late into the morning. The scents from the surrounding fields of cypress, almond, and olive trees on the warm trade winds blow through the curtains, cleansing our senses with each deep breath, and preparing us to enjoy the finer things that only the French know how to provide. It’s another lazy morning, bringing with it the difficult choice of enjoying more fresh, local goods at a rotating farmers market, exploring our enchanting surroundings, relaxing in the pool, or crawling back into bed, surrounding ourselves in pillows for a few more hours. In the evening we’ll walk into the nearby majestic Provencal hill town to enjoy a first-class dining experience and watch the sun disappear behind the lavender fields below. Stress? Gone. Worries? Forgotten. Cares? Just bring another pastry please. The serenity of southern France has won.
Provence, the area typically pictured when referring to the South of France, is overflowing with beauty, and we’d managed to stumble directly into it. Our bed & breakfast, Mas de la Beaume, is perched on the outskirts of Gordes, an out-of-the-way hill town surrounded by beautiful simplicity. Just outside our door lavender fields frame rustic stone hill towns, and in the distance ancient Roman ruins beckon to be explored. Unfortunately, this side of Provence can be easy to miss, resulting in another busy, sightseeing whirlwind leaving you tired and sunbaked. Most visitors choose to stay in a larger city, such as Avignon, Arles, or Aix-en-Provence. Each offers historical tourist sights and are main transportation hubs for the surrounding area, definitely worth a visit, but none offers what this part of the world is famous for: an escape to the finer things in life. Great food, beautiful countryside, and a slow pace to enjoy the warm, dry air, Provence is where you go to relax and indulge. This is not a place for tour groups, hectic sight-seeing, tennis shoes, or selfies. This is where you go to find your own perfect Provencal hideaway.
Bed & Breakfasts were created for Provence. The thought of staying in a hotel, or even a rented apartment in town, is almost blasphemous. It takes intentionality to step away from the well-trodden areas and take a risk at finding your own secluded hideaway, but trust that Provence will reward you handsomely. Your first task is to choose your favorite sleepy village and B&B, a difficult choice given the plethora of options. Wherever your choose to stay, make your decision based on your preferences for a B&B, as you will be able to make day trips to the surrounding villages and sights by car quite easily.
We settled on Gordes, staying at Mas de la Beaume, both for its commanding view of the surrounding fields, proximity to Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque’s lavender fields, and ability to drive to top sights in Avignon or Aix-en-Provence, as well as other nearby picturesque villages, in a reasonable day trip. As described above, we wanted to stay at Mas de la Beaume forever. Wendy and Miguel are fabulous hosts, which shows by the meticulous attention to detail and serene escape they’ve created for their guests. Anything you need they will help you find. Wendy even recommended a few top restaurants in town and offered to make reservations as tables are booked quickly.
Just down the hill from Gordes is Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. This is not your typical tourist sight, with hordes of tour buses, guides, and a lengthy ancient history to discover. Instead, it’s a peaceful escape, just as the monks would prefer it (though the Instagram crowd is aware of this spot). Spend some time meandering through the lavender fields. Meditate to the sound of bees busy at work and a beautiful scent on the breeze. Slow down. Make this a true vacation.
Rousillon, with its burnt red, pastel pink, and golden-sunset-colored facades, makes for another top choice as your home base. One of the most beautiful villages in France, Rousillon owes its elegance to the surrounding ochre deposits, which give the village its unique hue. Though tourism has replaced the mining industry, you can still experience that history firsthand by taking the Ochre Trail through the colorful cliffs surrounding the village. The village itself is the real star, and is even more exciting to visit on market day, which for Roussillon is every Thursday.
Speaking of markets, in this area of Provence farmers markets can be found nearly every day of the week, so long as you know which village to find them in. Check this website to discover the villages and days you can find markets with fresh produce and handmade goods from the surrounding area.
For many, there’s nothing more Provencal than miles of lavender fields, and a trip here isn’t complete without wandering through one or two. But how do you find them without driving around aimlessly? To be honest, we’d actually recommend a small amount of aimless driving, as a large part of this experience is to stumble upon tiny charming villages you’d never visit otherwise for a quick pastry before moving on. For a general direction, though, choose to head toward one of three areas: Sault, Luberon Valley, or the Valensole Plateau.
Lavender fields aren’t as concentrated here as around Sault or Valensole, but the dramatic hilltop villages more than make up for it, and provide a delightful taste of village life. If you’re staying in Gordes or Rousillon, you’re in the Luberon Valley, and for a nearly guaranteed lavender field, head to Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque.
The village of Sault sits between a dense forest and a valley of lavender. Commanding views of the valley can be found from the village as well as the roads leading into Sault.
The largest area in France devoted to growing lavender, if fields of the purple and blue extending to the sky are on your list, Valensole is for you.
Wherever you choose to hunt for lavender, please be respectful and stay out of the fields! Remember that these fields are the property of the farmers, and the crops are their livelihood. Don’t disturb the plants or the soil. The people here have labored for centuries to build upon the natural beauty of this area. Slow down and spend some time indulging in the finer things of Provence. Let it captivate you, leave you awestruck, and leave it as pristine as you found it for others to enjoy.