English translation = France smells magnificent.
As soon as I walked into Anny’s yard in Lisores three weeks ago, I noticed the fragrance. I couldn’t place the smell. No wonder, I don’t live in France. Anny’s gardens and house smelled enticing and exotic, smoky and salty and earthy, almost marine which made no sense, being more than 100 kilometers from the coast. Was it the stream gurgling through a lavoir on her property (a public place in France set aside for washing clothes — I’ve seen many in villages since being at Anny’s house), the vegetation, the gardens, France itself?
The delicious smells of France have followed me to Provence. Never having been here, but having seen many photographs of the hilltop villages in the Luberon area of Provence, I expected a French version of Tuscany. It’s more like an Arizona version — high, dry hills and mountains and canyons and the smell of sun-baked cedars and scrub oaks and lavender. Lovely.
We spent Monday doing a Cotes du Rhone wine tour, circling the Dentelles de Montmirail, a small but magnificently scenic range of mountains south of Vaison la Romaine. Many of the vineyards we visited were tucked up against the slopes of the Dentelles, terraced lines of grape vines as high on the slope as possible until sheer rock faces made any further agricultural encroachment impossible. We have a plan (drinking and packing with bubble wrap and clothes) to get all the wine that ended up in the trunk of our rental car to Tuscany (we have a flight from Marseilles to Rome on Saturday), and if there’s any left, back to the U.S.
Yesterday we left Vaison la Romaine and drove south to Bonnieux, by way of Mont Ventoux, a 6,200 foot mountain that dominates the landscape of Provence, much higher than any of the surrounding mountains. The summit is all white limestone, giving it a unique color on the typically green horizon. We saw as many bikers climbing and descending the road over the mountain as cars. In fact, the summit parking area was closed because a Netherlands film company was shooting a film about biking on Mont Ventoux. The star (or the man at the center of the cameras’ foci) looked in his 60’s, which was consistent with the bikers we saw chugging up and zipping down the road. This is not a trip only for the super-fit — there were many older men with substantial bellies popping out of their biking shirts.
The biggest surprise was the Gorges de la Nesque, a spectacular canyon south of Mont Ventoux, where the River Nesque has cut through the calcareous rock of the Vaucluse plateau. Today we found another canyon driving over to nearby Buoux to check on a restaurant and a hiking destination for later in the week. This afternoon we walked through the ridge-top Foret de Cedres (towering cedars planted by a forester in 1860 for lumber), the town forest of Bonnieux, with striking views to the south. We could see the Mediterrean coast in the distance, and perhaps Italy, waving to Alison and John who we’ll be joining next week in Tuscany.
And I kept sniffing the air, relishing the odors of a hot, dry and astounding world.