Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17, 2011: Avignon - Roussillon, Gordes, Baux en Provence, Pont du Gard

This morning was our biggest block of "free" time, with time to walk around downtown Avignon to do some shopping. Mom was after some souvenirs, and I was on a mission to buy savon rotatif (an ingenious rotating soap that is mounted on a fixture over the sink, so that you don't need a soap dish) at the request of my friend Laura, who is no longer able to re-stock online.

The historic quarter has lovely little pedestrian-only streets, and it was a sunny morning. The day before had been very windy although warm - our taxi driver told us it was the famous Provençal "mistral". But today was calm and pleasant. We strolled about, popping into stores with herbs, confits, honeys, candies and other assorted delicacies.

At lunch we headed back to our hotel, where I prepared lunch (couscous with sautéed carrots and onions, tossed with fresh arugula and topped by a fried egg) and met our tour bus for the rest of the day. Our driver, Caroline, took us and 10 other people in a small van to see the local villages of Roussillon, Gordes and Les Baux de Provençe as wel as the famous Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct. It was a great drive - the countryside has such a distinct Mediterranean appearance, with many tall cypress trees, yet it also uniquely French - the lavender fields aren't blooming yet, but they should be within a month or so. Actually, we learned that they are lavandine fields - lavandine is cultivated for its scent, but the true lavender flower grows more wildly and only at higher altitudes in the Alpilles of Provençe - and that's the one that has medicinal properties.

At each village we had about 45 minutes to walk about, enjoy a snack or do some shopping. It was astounding how each village had such a distinct look and character, quite different from its near neighbours. Our last stop was the Pont du Gard, which is truly impressive - both that the Romans could build a structure of such size and precision, and that it is still so intact almost 2000 years later.

Mysterious veiled figures carved on the Chapelle des Penitents Blancs

A typical small street - gleaming white stone like Marseille, but charmingly small and quaint

By chance I come across a fantastic living green wall on the market building in the center of town
Mom is thrilled to finally meet a French cat
The many hues (our guide told us there are officially 17) of ochre-painted buildings in the village of Roussillon

Mom tries both the lavender and the violet ice cream (just kidding - the violet is mine)

The otherwordly eroded ochre hills of Roussillon
A view of the village of Gordes, known for the flat white stones used in its construction (the ancient form of shelter in the area looks a bit like stone igloos)

A narrow staircase in Gordes is actually named as an official street (see the sign on the right?)

A crack runs through Gordes' church wall, a result of an earthquake
Candied fruits for sale in Les Baux de Provence (the whole pears are adorable)

Ruins of formerly great buildings in Les Baux de Provence

Pottery for sale

A shopping street in Les Baux - no cars are allowed in this historic village at all, which makes walking about very pleasant
Us, in front of the Pont du Gard
Carefully carved grafitti of the 1800s - so charming compared to what we have now

Amazing to believe these huge arches have held for so many years

Someone has climbed to the illicit higher level of arches

Thousand-year-old olive trees

 It may have been too cold to swim at our hotel in Marseille, but not so here in the Rhône river


  1. We have signed up for a semi private 4 person tour fro Avignon in March--leaving at 1, returning at 6.
    We thought we could see all the sites you mention, but apparently, your trip returns at 7:30.
    We need to decide between Gourdes and Les Baux.

    1. If you are interested in architecture, I'd go to Gordes. If you like shopping, I'd go to Les Baux. Have fun - they're both lovely!