Just like a child eagerly anticipating Christmas with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads, we drove to Provence and I was giddy with anticipation. How could I not be? Provence was the object of my daydreams, the European promised land, the ultimate destination that inspired my love for France.
It’s My Mom’s Fault
It was all Peter Mayle’s fault, or perhaps it was my stepmom. She was the one that gave me that book years ago. Provence was no where on my radar, but once I read A Year in Provence, it became the center of my travel desire. Peter Mayle was Provence’s cheer leader the same way that Frances Mayes put Tuscany on the map with Under the Tuscan Sun. Peter ruthlessly dangled that Provencal carrot right in front of me and I had to pursue it.
I became a Francophile. My love of all things French showed up in my décor preferences and entertaining style. I read countless books about Americans who got bit by the Provencal bug, restored an old Provencal farmhouse and never left France. If asked what movie I wanted to watch, my answer was always, “something with France in it.” As I departed on my trip, my sister was certain that I would not return.
We arrived in Provence at the end of a long day of driving. Dordogne was lush and green and as we drove southeast, the terrain grew dry and rocky. As we drove along the southern coast of France I was surprised at how desert-like it was. Concerned with the area’s dryness, I was relieved as we swung northward toward Bonnieux at the base of the Luberon Mountains. Green began to reappear, and vineyards dotted the rolling hills. I was saddened that we had missed lavender season, as we passed countless lavender farms, but I’m certain that lavender season is strikingly beautiful.
Bonnieux is like so many other Provencal towns perched on the side of a towering hill. Our vacation home was located above the town. Provencal hill towns existed before cars. They’ve made room so that cars can narrowly scoot through them, but the roads are not kind or compatible with vans. Our introduction to Bonnieux was not a good one, only due to the unfortunate fact that after driving all day, my poor husband had to drive up roads that I’m not really sure how we actually got up.
Permanently scarred from our drive through the town, sightseeing of the area seemed to be out of the question. Our vacation home was beautiful, so staying home for this leg of the journey didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
This Can’t be MY Provence!
Situated above the town, the yard was dry and rocky. I felt deceived. Where was the beautiful Provence I had dreamed of for so long? However, nerves do eventually calm down and Steve and I headed into to town to explore. This was a pivotal decision on this trip, for when we returned to town, I found the view of Provence that I had dreamed of for years. It did exist and so did the joy that filled my heart.
OH! There it is!
One of the ideas that captured my heart about this region is the communitarian lifestyle and philosophy which emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. I didn’t have time to connect with the residents of Bonnieux, but I’m sure given more time we would have been bosom pals. However, I did thoroughly enjoy patio dinners with those I truly enjoy community with.
Always Bring it Home
Provence was made famous by Peter Mayle’s memoire. He along with other writers and artists such as Paul Cezanne chose to not only visit this sublime region but to call it home. I may not plan on changing my address anytime soon, but the way of life, the lingering outdoor dinners and the scents and herbs of the region all will follow me back to the Midwest.
Yes Virginia, Provence does exist, and you will be glad when you discover its beauty and charms.
The Traveling Twins
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