22.07.2010 - 26.07.2010 38 °C
We travelled to Coustellet in southern Vaucluse to visit the excellent Lavender Museum.
Although small, the museum is crammed full of a variety of old copper stills and other interesting artifacts from the lavender industry. Sandi had a ball capturing the wonderful exhibits - wishing her ex aromatherapy students were there to experience the pleasure too.
We were instructed in the difference between lavender and lavandin by a pretty French lass who spoke perfect English. True lavender historically grows in poor quality rocky soil, high on sunny mountain slopes at an altitude between 500m and 1500m. It has been prized and harvested for centuries for its high quality essential oil yield.
Lavandin is a modern hybrid with more spectacular flowers and a bigger yield, and is cultivated in fields on lower slopes. The chemistry, aroma, application and prices differ, respectively.
Nearby, perched high against les Monts de Vaucluse, we visited Gordes, rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. We browsed through some interesting ceramics on sale, then had our picnic lunch in the shade of an olive tree.
Dry stone walls are a feature in the Luberon region.
The next village on our route was the village of Rousillon, perched atop colourful cliffs. We had a steep walk up to the village itself, which was exhausting in the heat.
The vermilion, yellow and red ochres are mined in open-air quarries. Even the colours of the houses reflect the warm colours of the ochre.
Many shops sell the minature nativity clay figurines made in the time-honoured manner by the santonniers, which brought back childhood memories for David.
Cicadas, which are plentiful, are the quintessential summer-sound of Provence. Their continuous rhythm is reminiscent of vuvuselas - or zillions of seriously fed-up buzzing and screeching goggas. Although one hears them constantly, one never sees them, except as souvenirs in the shops. At night, when their cacophony stops, the silence is suddenly exquisite - and as the sun rises higher in the heavens after dawn, one knows that their frenzied song heralds another day of rising heat.
Up till now, we had still not seen the fields of lavender for which Provence is renowned. We drove past orchards full of peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries, and farmstalls selling melons everywhere. As we meandered along twisting, hilly country roads heading back towards Carpentras, we started to see more and more fields of lavendin, as patches of hazy purple in the landscape.
After a long day, our final stop was at Beaumes de Venise for a wine tasting occasion. About a dozen local vintners offered tastings of their Muscat, for which the area is famous. They were all delicious and we got back to the campsite quite tipsy! It was time for the monthly camp-site social; Paella Party! Leon, the manager, spent the whole day cooking paella in 2 of the largest paella pans we have ever seen! It was delicious, and we danced the evening away, encouraged by the French singer and guitarist.
Friday was our last day, and we spent it in Carpentras at the huge weekly street market. The narrow streets were decked with hanging paintings, and the stalls extended throughout the centre of town, selling Provencale linens and other goods, foods, household wares, plants etc. Fabulous!
Sadly, we had to pack up and leave early the next morning. We had 18 hours of driving to cross France from the SE up to our ferry port at Roscoff in the NE. We crossed the Rhône, passing many fields of sunflowers en route.
Bales of hay, tree-lined lanes [plus luscious cherries and strident cicadas] will always bring back happy memories of France for us.
We used the France Passion book to find an overnight stop halfway, on a farm next to this meadow of flowers.
The last night was spent in Roscoff, where we treated ourselves to a last French meal in a cosy restaurant, before crossing the Channel to Plymouth the next day.
First stop on UK soil - PCWorld Plymouth - and immediate replacement of a laptop so we could once again be in touch with our other world, since there were no English keyboards or software in Spain and France!