I have always believed that there is a romantic streak in all of us. No matter how much we deny we'd still give anything to be in a place breathtakingly beautiful, and even better if we have someone special to share it with. As kids we grew up singing the traditional French song during singing class, here in India -- 'On the bridge to Avignon'. Well that bridge is famous and was built in the 15th century and so we decided to go see it and the lavender!
Flying into the Charles De Gaulle airport you can take the fast train (TGV) to Avignon. It's like a step back in time here. One can walk about in vineyards and savour the finest French wines. Explore the gorgeous lavender fields of Avignon, where it opens up like a painter's canvas of rolling green valleys, sleepy homesteads interspersed by immense blue lavender fields. The lavender season is fairly short, from mid June through to about the middle of August, so try and make it in the season.
Nearly all lavender and hybrid lavender is harvested in the Sault region, and we were told that the rest of the production in the Vaucluse comes from the Enclave of Valréas, and the Luberon. The blooming period of the lavender, adds to the allure of Avignon, and beckons with its sweet fragrance along with the historic sites of medieval towns in the area.
Perhaps the most sublime in all of France, is the sight of the hills of lavender fields swaying in the breeze against the sweet romance of the sea as a blazing blue back drop. The rolling lush hills of lavender, fill the air with the most intoxicating perfume imaginable. Later in the summer, these same fields turn into fields of sunflowers, bathed in golden light, which seem to disappear into the horizon. Offering the most delightful and dramatic landscapes around every bend, the winding roadways throughout the region, are a photographers delight. Stop by one of the hilltop towns alive with bustling marketplaces and festivals throughout the year, celebrating both the spiritual and secular.
The first place we visited was the famous Avignon bridge, which is officially called the Pont St. Bénézet, but it is better known as the Pont d’Avignon on which one dances to the song. We got pictures of it as dusk fell, an old bridge constructed in the 15th century, made famous by the song and the dance steps.
In Avignon one must see Europe's biggest gothic structure, which is the Pope's Palace in Avignon, among other architectural gems, set against the coastal beauty of the Rhone River. The residence of the sovereign pontiffs in the 14th century, is the largest Gothic Palace in the world. Go in and see the ceremonial halls, chapels, cloisters, the Pope's private apartments with their priceless frescos, as well as an area with a lot of paintings. In the Musée de l'Oeuvre, one can get a chance to view the development and history of the building since it was first built. Today it is ranked as UNESCO world heritage site.
The structure and its history is worth a visit. But, be sure to rent the handset for the self guided tour. This monstrous fortress is devoid of significant artifacts, and the art display was not really creative, yet the beauty of an old stone structure is priceless, with its hoary history behind it.
We also visited the Monastery of the Val de Benediction with its marvelous frescoes is another great place to visit. Founded in the 14th century by Pope Innocent VI, he entrusted the decoration of his private chapel to Matteo Giovanetti, the artist who painted the frescoes in the Popes' Palace. The three cloisters, the 40 monk cells and the splendid gardens makes the Val de Benediction the biggest Carthusian Monastery in France.
Take a stroll down the cobbled streets of Saint Remy, the village which inspired Van Gogh's masterpiece 'Starry Night'. Encircled by the plane tree-lined roads, this was home to an interesting pot-pourri of famous names down the years – Nostradamus, Gertrude Stein, Van Gogh, Princess Caroline. It’s a swish town with chic addresses, full of charm, restaurants and interesting shops.
Visit the Place Flavier which is an archetypal St Remy square, with its fountain and plane trees, cobbled street and pleasing facades. In Place Flavier you can find the Musee des Alpilles which is housed in a Renaissance mansion and focuses on local traditions and folklore, including Nostradamus’s prophecies.
Inspired perhaps by the ghost of Vincent, St Remy is full of art galleries and exhibitions take place throughout the year. Wednesday morning is market day, and this is a great time to visit, as the squares are taken over by stall-holders, and the market is colourful and well worth a detour.