the lavender chase
September 04, 2014
I was obsessed with visiting Provence for a long time and always pictured it with the cliché image of interminable blooming lavender fields. So, I basically had a point on my bucket list entitled “see a lavender field in Provence”. Therefore, I was uber-excited while scanning the map and making a route through the heart of Provence, with the aid of Peter Mayle’s popular series about the region. After reading his books, my obsession with this part of France became stronger and I was already seeing myself wandering through the empty old streets of Menerbes or Bonnieux after photographing a beautiful purple lavender field and then enjoying a delicious café and a pain au chocolat in Aix-en-Provence.
But things never turn out as planned, do they?
We arrived early morning in Avignon, on a cloudy day, and didn’t had the intention to stop there, but noticed the cathedral from the car and decided that half an hour of a pit stop won’t kill anyone. So we found a parking spot and hurried up through the city to find the cathedral… we found it, but we felt so overwhelmed by the amount of turists and general chaos, plus it started raining and we didn’t have the umbrella with us so almost ran back to the car and left the crowded Avignon as soon as we could.
We decided to head to Aix-en-Provence and find a camping to spend the night there (yup, we love campings!) and pass through Menerbes, Bonnieux and Apt on the way. Those 3 towns are often mentioned in Peter Mayle’s book, that’s why we knew about them. However, all my idyllic dreams were soon turned to half-ashes, as we arrived in another uber-touristic place, where I couldn’t take a photo without someone else photo-bombing me or standing next to me and photographing the very same view. I also had a bad experience with a 11-euro Nicoise salad (which were the most expensive pieces of veggies I ever payed for, but I was so hungry I could eat the pavement) which had a worm in it. The waitress nonchalantly killed the worm in front of me and left. No money back, no new salad for me. So I disappointedly ate the salad (I WAS SO FREAKING HUNGRY!) and left disgusted of the French way to attend clients (and their generally unreasonable exorbitant prices).
But without the plethora of tourists, Menerbes is cute and I managed to capture a few empty streets. It’s a charming place with its cute little shops and beautiful pastel wooden window shutters. I would love to have a few photoshoots there. However, the town itself was extremely silent and discovered afterwards that the few residents still there were hanging out at their hidden pools behind the stone walls.
No lavender field until now. We headed to Bonnieux in the hope that the purple plants will suddenly pop out from where they were hiding, but nothing. We decided to head to Apt with the same thought in mind. I was already feeling pissed off, as the evening was slowly covering us and bringing cloudy skies and a smell of storm. I just wanted my lavender field, where was it?
All the way to Apt, nothing! It was already getting late and we had to arrive in Aix-en-Provence that night, so we decided to stop in Apt and ask, like genuine tourists, where are the lavender fields. In a bookshop, while waiting for the clerk to finish talking with a client, we randomly opened a Lonely Planet local guide right to a page with the map of.. lavender fields. The next second we were rushing to the closest pin we found on the map – Lagarde – , a small town somewhere a bit off road, north of Apt. It was getting darker outside and still no sign of lavender…
And then, ta-daaa! Here’s my anemic lavender field (not even fully bloomed):
We couldn’t make it all the way to Lagarde, as it was already too late and had a long way to Aix-en-Provence, so I had to settle for what I had – a small, anemic, lavender field. I did pick up some lavender though, as a free souvenir for my mum. ^_^
We arrived very late in Aix-en-Provence but luckily found a campsite. However, 10 minutes after we mounted the tent, a terrible storm with lightnings and thunders caught us up, just to wake up to a sunny morning the next day.
I liked Aix-en-Provence more than Avignon, I found it more charming and welcoming. I have to confess, though, that I couldn’t afford the 4-5 euros coffees (what’s wrong with this country?!) and the 11 euros breakfasts, so I preferred to pay 5 euros for a large cup of natural juice that was healthier and more filling.
Oh, and we witnessed a live match of Pétanque, the traditional Provencal game. Ironically, it was played by a few pairs of… British people.