Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, Provence
My always-planning-our-next-tour-husband asked me to plan a day trip while visiting Provence Region of France. "What do you want to do? Do some research and you plan a trip."
OK. I can do that.
So I did some thinking and I flipped through the photo guidebooks in our Avignon Airbnb. "What do I want to do?" I like hikes, drive trips, National Parks, being outside in a new environment and taking photographs. I'm looking for a French visual walkabout…
I chose a driving tour of "the most beautiful mountain villages in Provence, France" within Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon. I came to that topic by way of the book "Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Provence and the Cote D'Azure." It contained about one-million top lists of top 10 places to see in Provence. It bragged "Your guide to the 10 best of everything…" It listed Luberon National Park as one of the top 10 attractions in Provence, then there was an additional list of 10 best villages to visit in Luberon. There were too many choices!
To top off of my search of top lists, Google gave me "12 Top Tourist Attractions of Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, Provence", Written by Lisa Alexander. That's a lot of top lists!
Overwhelmed with possibilities, I had to simplify. I was only looking for one day. So, I just picked. My plan was to choose four villages, program the name of the town into the TomTom GPS, and watch the scenery along the way. When it says, "you have arrived at your destination" we would get out and walk.
My list was 1) Ménerbes, 2) Gordes, 3) Roussillon, 4) Le Barroux, then return to our temporary abode back in Avignon.
Before this trip, I started reading the book "A Year in Provence" published in 1989 by Peter Mayle. We also watched the BBC miniseries by the same name. The "Plus Beaux Villages" (Most Beautiful Villages), Ménerbes was first on our list.
My trusty driver entered Ménerbes into TomTom and it was not happy. It wouldn't just accept the name of the town, but also needed an address or "attraction." So "parking" was added to TomTom's destination. Somehow, TomTom didn't like any parking in Ménerbes and decided to take us to a nice little parking lot in Mallemout. Fifty kilometers and 45 minutes out of our way to Ménerbes. It was nice, but definitely not a "Plus Beaux Village."
"What do you think you are doing?" we ask our car's electronic guidance system? After no reply, and a few harsh words with "Tom", we started our drive again, this time for the Ménerbes Post Office. We figured the Post would be in the center of town. We soon saw road signs to our destination and took the first stop we saw with a sign that said "Ménerbes".
The parking lot was very empty.
Our rental car was the only car in the parking lot. We were proud, traveling off-season to beat the crowds, but as we followed the walkway up and between the stone walls, we started to notice something was amiss.
It was quiet. Zombie quiet. Quiet, like someone didn't tell us something, or we missed the "closed" sign. TomTom didn't know that it was January 5, the day of recognition of the Ephethny, and everything was closed. Everything except one small pizza place where we appreciatively enjoyed lunch. No truffels or wine today.
The famous French scenery was still available to us. Farms patchwork the valley below. The wavy lines of vineyards, constructed of barren winter twine. The lavender and sunflower fields were now the same color. The vines and fruit trees were bare, and the brown foliage didn't help to identify whether pear, apple, or quince. It was winter, and the muted browns and golds hinted at the beautiful bounty of the French landscape.
The second village on our list was Gordes. This was going to be easy. TomTom must have seen the blue road sign pointing the direction because we arrived without distraction.
The village of Gordes rises out of the rock, built of rock. Buildings built of stone, rising out of ancient Roman stone walls. It too, was quiet but we had grown to like our offbeat, offseason, have-the-place-to-ourselves approach.
We started with a plan to visit four villages, but only made it to two, and they were amazing. I doubt if the authors of the "top 10" lists actually visited all ten villages. I don't know how the two sites we saw compared to the other eight on the list that we missed. Now, I need to return for another walkabout in the countryside of Provence to see the eight other hilltop towns I didn't pick.
Sometimes it doesn't matter what you pick, as long as you pick something. Do a little research, make a decision, and do it. It will all work out, even if you need to make a few corrections in your directions.
Give me a photo guidebook and I can plan a beautiful day trip, if TomTom is in the mood to help.