*Happy dance* The sun is holding. I had dreadful visions of bring trapped inside for a month while storms raged outside.
Instead, we’re in the heart of Provence, watching its loveliness unfold before us under crisp blue skies. This at last, is the Provence I’ve waited years to explore. Our first attempt, in summer, was met with such ferocious heat, it defeated us. Looking back, I’m glad it did. Provence in summer was a dry, colourless place. In autumn, it’s a kaleidoscope of colour and light. It takes moments for me to be mesmerised. By afternoon, when the light is at its best, my heart is lost.
Between the soft yellow stone, the vineyard reds, golds and greens, the lavender fields (oh, to see them in flower), the tall pencil pines lining driveways and roads, I feel I’ve fallen headlong into an impressionist painting. It’s very easy to envisage a life here, close enough to a village to enjoy restaurants and cafes, just far enough out to plant what ever I wanted, where the night skys are always Van Gogh’s starry night. *Sigh*
Taking advantage of the sun, we have an ambitious target today, with not one but two Les Plus Beau Villages stops.
First stop is Montclus, tucked into a bend in the Ceze river. Montclus is another village with ties back to prehistory. Once, a Benedictine monastery stood here, built into the troglodyte caves: today, only ruins remain. The monastery was also used by the Knights Templar.
There’s a 13th century castle here too, its tower casting a long shadow over the village.
The bridge crossing the river is an interesting one. It’s not dated, but clearly predates any form of mechanised transport. The current screams along after the storms, and if the debris in surrounding trees is any guide, the river is prone to flooding.
Only a short distance away, our second village is Aigueze, perched on a cliff overlooking the Ardeche gorge. Initially settled in the 8th century, much of the fortification work we see today is the work Count Toulouse, who wanted to strengthen his defensive stance against opposing regions – he chose Aigueze as his outpost. Whilst the village was raided and plundered in successive centuries, it survived, to be restored extensively by the Archbishop of Rouen, a local man, in the early 20th century.
Aigueze offers wonderful views of the river from its ramparts.
It’s another stone village, so prevalent in Provence, full of ancient arched doorways, secret passages and mullioned windows.
We also visit the wonderfully preserved 11th century church adorned with frescos
and admire the lavender fields planted in the distance – its an exceptionally pretty setting.
Most of the houses here (as they often appear to be in the Les Plus Beau Villages) are holiday rentals. There’s one, right at the edge of the village overlooking a lavender field. Imagine the sight and scent in summer – you’d never leave your balcony. Balmy summer evenings would become a scented wonderland.
Taking advantage of the fine weather, we drive towards our first stop tomorrow, stopping breifly to prevent myself from buying too many things at a French supermarket. We’re getting to the stage where we need to achieve progressive distance and run supplies down, despite the siren call of villages, cheese and wine that line our way.
Chris booked our ferry to England today – there’s an end date in sight, a rather sobering thought.