We recently spent a few days in Provence with the children. Traveling within this region is a very unique, special experience. Each village has its own flavor. Every village you go to in the Luberon mountain region east of Avignon dates back to the mid-evil days or as fall back as 17 BC. Roman bridges, roads and castles are all found in this region. There is a lot for children to learn about – markets to explore – remains to discover. Our kids don’t typically like being dragged around, but they fared pretty well on this trip.
What’s better than riding by field after field of lavender? It was absolutely beautiful and sometimes we even got out of the car, and picked a few pieces to inhale the scent on our journey.
We rented a car from Alamo at the train station and drove to our friends’ home in a small village called Rasteau. There really is no better way to get a know a destination than when you are shown around by its natives. We had our own guest house, access to their swimming pool, trampoline, playground. Everything we ate came from their vegetable garden and we helped feed their rabbits (no, we didn’t eat rabbit but apparently they do) and chickens (from which fresh eggs spawn daily). We took a tour of their small town, visited its local patisserie for croissants and bought wine at the wine shop.
We took one of the family’s children along with us to Avignon one afternoon. The Julien Bridge or Pont St. Julien is a three-arched bridge that is testimony to Roman engineers and to the importance of this rural area 2,000 years ago. It’s the only surviving bridge on what was the main road from northern Italy to Provence – the primary route used by Roman armies. The 215 foot-long Roman bridge was built from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. The kids loved walking across this bridge and proudly listened to the free audio tour that came with our tickets to cross the bridge (9 euros per family). At the top of the town lies beautiful gardens, the Notre Dame, Palace of the Pepes and a grand square covered with cafes and buskers. My kids had their first crepe in Avignon, another special memory, and one that they would revisit over and over on our trip. Unfortunately, they didn’t know the children’s song that goes with this town, but we did hear it on our audio tour.
On another day, we left one child with the French family (she didn’t want to leave her friend) and took a tour of the region, visiting Vanesque, Gordes, Rousillian and Lacoste. Our other child wasn’t happy about traveling solo, but he was quickly pacified when we told him he would get a special present on our journey.
Our first stop was Vanesque. We quickly learned that the streets inside the villages are very, very narrow and parking comes at a premium. Vanesque is small, with a few cafes and art galleries but very picturesque. As a matter of fact, each village got more and more picturesque throughout the day.
Our next stop was Gordes. In the 1960’s, the village of Gordes was virtual a ghost town of derelict buildings. But now it’s thoroughly renovated and is filled with rich Parisians and wealthy foreigners. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in this town and the views are magnificent.
Then we we went on to Roussillon, a protected village since 1943 and has benefited from a complete absence of modern development. An enormous deposit of ochre gives the earth and its buildings that distinctive red color and provided this village with its economic base until shortly after WW II. This village was really beautiful, but was actually our least favorite stop as it was a bit too touristy and crowded.
We ended our day in Lacoste, and it was the most fantastic of them all. The castle at the top of Lacoste was first built by the Romans and then lived in my Marquis de Sade (1750-1814). He lived in this castle for more than 30 years. Author of dirty novels, he was notorious of hosting orgies behind these walls, and for kidnapping peasants for scandalous purposes. My 6 YO son insisted on hiking to the top of the hill to see the castle, for which we paid 5 euros each. Inside there were art installations and old furniture to replicate the time period. Again, the views were indescribable. To reward our son at the end of our wonderful, but tiring, journey, he had two bowls of chocolate ice-cream at the local bar.
As for a present, he was shocked that we couldn’t find a toy store in Provence, so he decided to save his gift for Paris. Believe me, we heard about that gift for days until we got to the City of Lights.