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Provence A Week in the Luberon, Provence, September 2019


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Saturday September 14 2019
Sunny and hot.

After spending three weeks in Switzerland we drove down to the Luberon (Provence, France) for a week. The drive down went well but was long. A six-hour drive took us eight hours even though I had packed our lunch so we would not have to waste time looking for something to eat. We take breaks every couple of hours to do a short walk and switch drivers. It mostly autoroute driving and the traffic was good.

We arrived at Mas Perreal outside of Saint-Saturnin-des-Apts at 6:30, right on schedule. It was great to see Kevin and Elizabeth again. We’ve seen Kevin a few times over the years, meeting up for lunch or a hike, but have never stayed at their place. It used to be a five-room B&B but a couple of years ago they converted two rooms into small apartments. We were in one of the apartments.

Sunday September 15 2019
Sunny and hot. Temps in the high 80s, even into the 90s.

In the morning we walked into Saint Saturnin. It is an easy 20 minute walk along lanes and quiet streets. The small food shop and the bakery were open so we picked up a few things. I had not expected these to be open and we brought things with us from Switzerland because we knew we would arrive after shops had closed on Saturday. The bakery (beside the small Spar shop) is very good. Kevin recommends it in his house book.

In the afternoon we drove over to Bonnieux to meet Kathy Wood’s European Experience group. This week was a hiking week – her first time doing this. Freda, another SlowTrav person, was in the group. We first met her a few weeks ago up in the Cotswolds. We walked with them on an easy walk from Bonnieux to Lacoste. It was a different experience for us walking with a group. It was nice to not have to figure out where the trail and to be driven back to the start in their vans. A few of us went out for ice cream after the walk.

We stopped at Pont Julien, an ancient Roman bridge on the Via Domitia, on the way back. We’ve seen this bridge a few times before, even drove over it in 2004 when it was still open to vehicles. It is very beautiful and worth a visit any time you are in the area.

Monday September 16 2019
Sunny and hot. Temps in the low 90s.

I arranged this trip almost a year ago because Janie Chang, the Vancouver author who used to be a regular on SlowTrav, was spending a month nearby. Today we got to meet in person for the first time. Janie and her husband Geoff rented an apartment in Fontaine de Vaucluse, just 30 minutes from Saint Saturnin.

Fontaine de Vaucluse is a very pretty, but not undiscovered, town. The main activity is to walk up to the source of the River Sorgue along a town lane lined by restaurants and shops. This river, which runs through L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, starts from springs deep in the ground. It does not start out as a trickle but as a wide flowing river, coming from underground. There another area beside the river which we explored. It is across the river from the main part of town. Walk beside the Petrarque Museum and you come to a nice park area. Janie’s apartment was in this part of town.

We drove over, parked in the large car park just before the town, met Janie and Geoff, explored the town, walked up to the source of the river, then had lunch on their balcony with a view of the cliffs surrounding the town. It was wonderful to meet Janie after knowing her online all these years. I am a big fan of her novels too (Three Souls, Dragon Springs Road, and a third one coming soon).

We had hoped to do a good hike from Fontaine but it was very hot and Janie was feeling the heat and the jetlag, so we just did our short walk and lunch.

We did get a hike though. After lunch we met Kevin at the parking lot in Fontaine de Vaucluse and drove outside of town to a canal that runs through this area to Carpentras. He had guests recently who hiked along the canal and he wanted to do this. He parked in a pullout under a high bridge that takes the canal over the road and river. We scrambled up the hillside to get to the canal. There is probably a more elegant way of getting to this walk, but this worked. We walked towards L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for an hour, then turned around and walked back (5.6 miles). This was an easy, flat walk along a pretty canal with nice views of the hills. We even walked out on the bridge which is pretty high up.

Tuesday September 17 2019
Sunny and hot. 90F.

Our friend Dana from Portland was arriving today so we drove into the Apt bus station to get her. The traffic was very thick because it was the small market day. There was no parking so we took a chance and parked in the car park of a supermarket near the bus station. Dana’s bus was late because of the same traffic we had driven through, giving us time to visit the market and have coffee and croissants at a café. The best thing we bought at the market was a bunch of wonderful plums.

In the afternoon we all walked into Saint Saturnin and explored the town. It is a very pretty town with narrow streets and high houses. It sits up on the hillside with beautiful views from many places. That evening we drove into town and had a nice dinner at Les Voyageurs (recommended in Kevin’s house book).

Wednesday September 18 2019
Sunny and hot. Temps in the high 80s.

We drove to Goult to meet a friend of a friend of Dana’s. Raina is a photographer from Portland who now lives in Goult. Dana is also a photographer. We met in the café. We spent two weeks in Goult in 2004 and loved this café. Unfortunately it has changed hands a few times and is no longer as good.

While we were sitting and chatting a tour group on bicycles parked nearby. It was Kathy and her group! Today they were riding electric bikes around the Luberon. We joined them for awhile. Look at us – table hopping at a café in Provence! Kathy was doing this tour with Jonathan who lives in Bonnieux. We mentioned to him that we had rented the red house on the main square and he said he knew the owner and she was home. We went over and knocked and met Susan who we had rented from all those years ago. Susan used to run a vacation rental agency, Houses for Hire, and I worked on her website for her all those years ago. She was about to go out so we arranged to meet that evening at the café. We had not met in person before.

We drove on to Gordes and parked, which sounds easy but was not. First we missed the turn up to the town and the SatNav took us up a very narrow, winding road. Then when we finally got up to Gordes it was packed with people. We had to drive into the town, creeping along with all the people, to the parking. Then it was the usual long line of people trying to figure out the parking machine.

The whole week was like this for parking. Long lines of confused people trying to pay for their parking. The machines are hard to figure out, even if there is an English option, and time out quickly. You have to enter your license number. It was not just tourists being confused, French travellers also had problems.

We headed out on foot on the main road out of town hoping to find a sign for the trail to Senanque Abbey. I had a description of the hike in the Cicerone hiking book but we were starting from a different place and the directions did not make sense. I was unprepared for this hike. I had a hiking map and I should have studied it and compared it to the book. Anyway, we walked along the road out of town and came upon some people walking down a dirt road. One of them told us how to get onto the trail.

The trail was dry and rocky, like so many of the trails in the Luberon, and we walked out towards the abbey. We talked to another group coming towards us and they said it was a very steep descent to the abbey and they had skipped it. We did the same, walking out to a view point with the abbey and its surrounding lavender fields below, then turned around and walked back. You can do a much longer hike in this area, but this was enough for us. It was hot and past lunch time.

We picked up some prepared salads at a nice deli near the parking lot then drove back.

It was a hot day and I went for a swim. The pool at Le Mas Perrael is very nice and the swim was refreshing.

We drove back to Goult to meet Susan and her husband and had a lovely time chatting at the café.

Thursday September 19 2019
Sunny and in the 80s. Cooling down a bit.

Kathy had posted photos from her group’s hike at Lioux and we decided to do that hike today. This is a very good hike. Kathy has a description of it in her hiking notes (see Resources). The short description is: Drive to Lioux, park in front of the town hall. The hike takes you from one side of the small town up onto the cliff, across the cliff, then down to the other side of town. Facing the huge cliff that rises behind the town, if you go left you have a steeper climb and if you go right it is a longer but gentler climb up.

We went to the left and I think this was the best choice because going down the gentle descent is easiest. Either way it is not a difficult climb. The walk is only 4 miles, with a 760 foot ascent. It took us 2 hours.

We brought lunch with us, thinking it would be longer, but didn’t eat it on the hike. Instead, after the hike we drove back to Goult and visited Dana’s friend at the old farmhouse where she used to live and was doing a photo shoot. We had an idyllic countryside lunch eating our sandwiches on old chairs left out under a tree, overlooking vineyards and the valley.

After our visit we drove to Roussillon. All these towns are very close together so we were not doing long drives. This time the parking was easier and even paying was easy. We walked around the town and then did the walk out into the ochre hills. This is well marked and you have to pay a small fee to enter the area. Well worth it to see these beautiful cliffs close up. You can also walk in the Colorado Provencal area but we did not do that on this trip.

That evening was a SlowTrav GTG! We all met at Kathy and Charley’s apartment in Bonnieux – Kathy and Charley, our group, Janie and Geoff, and Freda from Kathy’s tour. After visiting for a bit we went up to a great restaurant that Kathy and Charley like for pizza. We sat outside on the terrace with a beautiful view of the valley, an extraordinary sunset and the best pizza that I have had in ages.

Friday September 13 2019
Still sunny, still hot.

Dana spent the day at Le Mas Perreal and we headed out for another hike. We drove to Buoux, high in the hills on the other side of the valley, above Apt. We missed our turn (again!) because we stopped for gas and the SatNav was slow to start up, so we ended up on narrow roads winding up the hillside. Buoux is not much of a town, just a few houses, and we continued to Fort de Buoux, an archaeological site.

The Cicerone guide is very specific about where to park but were wrong about the number of parking areas. We would have done better to park right at the gates to Fort de Buoux. Instead we parked further away and took a trail from that parking lot along the river. I thought this would lead to where we were going but it didn’t. It was a nice path and we walked for 20 minutes or so in woods along the river. We passed below the rock climbers on the cliff above. Eventually I realized we were not heading the right way so we crossed the river on an obvious path but then it disappeared. We ended up scrambling up a steep slope and coming through bushes onto a road. It was so steep that I had to get a passing hiker to pull me up. We didn’t speak the same language but she understood and got me up onto the road. Then I got Steve up. Such experienced hikers!

We were not far from the Fort so we went there first and ended up spending a couple of hours exploring it. We walked to the parking lot near the entrance, then walked in about half a mile on an uphill dirt road to the house where you buy your tickets. From there it is more uphill to the site. Once on the site you are still climbing. The Fort is on a promontory over the Aiguebrun Gorge. It was first inhabited by a Neolithic tribe, then Celtic, then Roman, and finally medieval. There are remains from all the ages. We walked up along the main path, past the remains of houses, ramparts, guard houses, water silos cut into the rock, the walls of a 13th century church, to a roman tower at the very end of the promontory, at the edge of steep cliffs. We had our lunch up there.

We started to walk back as recommended on the guide they gave us, outside the fort along the edge of the cliff, until we reached a very steep set of steps with rock cliff on one side and steep drop off on the other. I could go down them. It was just too steep, and my fear of heights took over. We went back to the fort and walked back the way we came. I mentioned these steps to Kevin and he said there is no problem with them if you have no fear of heights. He likes to surprise his friends when he tours this site with them, bringing them down by these stairs.

We loved touring this site but now were ready to do the hike to another village on the hill, Sivergues. We found the trail and started out but turned back after 30 minutes. Another dry rocky trail and it was getting late in the afternoon. We should have pushed on – this is supposed to be a very nice hike – but we felt like we’d had enough.

On the way back we stopped at a wonderful natural foods shop outside of Apt – Luberon Bio. Really excellent. We bought some vegetarian burgers for dinner and a bunch of things to take back to the UK with us. They had a great selection of soy sauce and tamari, some natural shaving cream that Steve likes, and some other interesting things.

We cooked all our dinners except one in the apartment. The kitchen is small with a two burner portable stovetop, but we well enough equipped for cooking meals for the three of us. It was warm enough to eat outside on the terrace.

Saturday September 14 2019
A bit overcast and not as hot.

Rain was forecast for the area on the weekend. Mid week we decided we wanted to spend another week in Provence since the weather was so good and we had no reason to go home. We started booking an apartment in Vaison-la-Romaine, but then the weather looked bad so changed our minds. On Thursday we changed our minds again and tried to book, but it was too late. The owner could not coordinate things that fast. This was an apartment reviewed on Slow Europe. I didn’t want to spend time searching for something else, so we decided to go home as planned.

We had a lovely week at Kevin’s. There is something special about that place and the area. It was very peaceful and quiet. We enjoyed the place and the town.

Now there would be three instead of two in our car. We managed to get everything in and we headed off. Dana was going to Lyon and we were spending the night further north in Beaune. The traffic was thick going up the main autoroute. I had packed lunches for us and we stopped at a picnic area. Mid-afternoon we dropped Dana off in Lyon and we got into Beaune around 6pm.

We spent a week near Beaune a few years ago. This time we stayed in the Mercure hotel. We walked into the center and had dinner at an Asian restaurant. No rain – a lovely evening.

Sunday September 15 2019
Cloudy and cooler as we went north.

We drove all day and arrived in Amiens, north of Paris, around 6pm. We stayed at the Mercure on our trip a year ago and stayed there again this time. Our room had a view of the cathedral. We walked around town and had dinner at an Indian restaurant. I booked our Chunnel ticket online.

Monday September 16 2019
Sunny and warm.

I don’t like to admit this, but we walked to the McDonalds for breakfast. We got a nice walk through town, had an Egg McMuffin for breakfast (no meat - mine with cheese, Steve’s without). This is our on the road breakfast in the US and the UK and we wanted to try it in France. No hash browns! I guess they are not a French thing. But good coffee.

We drove an hour and a half to Calais, to the Chunnel, and were greeted by a crowd of cars! This was our fourth time using the tunnel and we had never experienced crowds. It probably took us an hour to get through the lines but finally we were on the train.

Back in the UK. I hate driving on the M25 around London, but there is no avoiding it. By the time we reached Dorset, 3 hours after leaving the tunnel, it was pouring rain and the last hour of our drive was bleak. But we got home in good time.

I was a little disoriented driving on the left again. It has taken me a few weeks to feel normal driving again.

Great vacation but we really should have stayed that extra week. It rained for a week once we got home.


Le Mas Perreal – B&B and apartments on an estate outside of Saint Saturnin-les-Apts. Highly recommended. See my review.

Hiking book – Cicerone, Walking in Provence West. Hikes in the Luberon for Fontaine de Vaucluse, Senanque Abbey, Colorado Provencal, Fort de Buoux, Mourre Negre.

Hiking notes – Hiking in the Luberon by Kathy Wood. Good notes about what to expect with details on several hikes.
Sounds lovely, Pauline. You had a busy week.
Of course, I enjoyed your report! It is always fun for me to read a trip report in which I appear... our trips intersected, once again! It's always great to see you and to share a walk (and a meal) together.

I'm glad you did the walk to Fort de Buoux. I have done it so many times... at least 25. I rarely take a group down those secret stairs. The stairs are exciting, but the rest of that route isn't interesting. I wish we could have been together at Fort de Buoux. Our group did a long circular walk to Sivergues on our last afternoon... now I know the way, next time, perhaps this is one we can do.

Here's another resource for you: A Luberon Experience - Fort de Buoux (I always park at the lot on the right, marked to Fort de Buoux, up a little hill. This is the lot by the gate that you mentioned. Every once in a while-- on a weekend-- there's no parking there.
Thanks Pauline for all this, especially the photos! You have so many friends everywhere. I was happy to see quite a few, too: you & Steve, Kathy & Charlie, Freda, Janie & Geoff, and Kevin. What a crew!

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