A word of warning: if you want to see your childhood dream of walking through fields of lavender come true, you need to a) have the lavender season on your side b) book your tour well ahead of time. Luckily for us, we had a). Unfortunately for us, we didn’t do b).
Through a thorough scan of the internet, I was able to find us some of the last places on a half day tour leaving from Avignon. So we bought the tour and some train tickets, and the next day we set off to see the lavender.
Avignon was worth a visit in its own right. The Palais des Papes is an old and majestic building and I would’ve liked to have had the time to explore it. Instead, we headed over to the famous bridge that once spanned the river, connecting several medieval townships.
We ended up singing ‘Sur le pont, d’Avignon‘ for the rest of the day. It also happened to be the start of the Avignon Festival, and in the space of a few small hours we witnessed several thousand signs for plays, musicals and shows get posted up on every available vertical surface. If we hadn’t had such a strict itinerary, I would’ve loved to stay to watch several of them, and test my capacity for understanding the nuances of French drama onstage.
It was soon time to head off on the tour. Interestingly it was given in English, but we managed to have several in depth conversations in French with our guide. Driving through the countryside, we stopped at several age-old villages to admire their provincial beauty. We stopped to visit la fontaine de Vaucluse, with its beautiful turquoise waters and its ancient paper mill. We also stopped by Gordes, a stone walled village set into a hillside that looks out across the fields and countryside.
The main attraction was L’abbaye de Sénanque, an Abbey which for hundreds of years, has sustained itself by growing and harvesting lavender, which is then sold locally. The grey stone of the Abbey and the vibrant purple of the flowers made for a beautiful contrast. Although the place was buzzing with tourists, I felt a sense of quiet and peace as I walked between the purple rows, the lavender scent shimmering around me like a mirage. When it was time to leave, I dawdled reluctantly back to the bus, trying to soak in the feeling.
We stopped in several larger commercial lavender fields as we drove along to our next destination: Roussillon. Roussillon is a town with houses built from the ochre cliffs it sits upon. The contrasts of the reds, greens and pale blue shutters lend a real beauty to the place. Wild lavender was growing from the clifftops where we sat to eat lavender ice-cream from the local gélaterie and soak in the evening sun.
We arrived back in Avignon just in time for our train (after an alarming roadside inspection by the gendarmarie). As we sped back to Marseille, we watched a big full moon rise over l’estaque, each lost in thoughts about all the beautiful places we had been.