“We like to be out in nature so much because it has no opinion about us.” – NietzscheI prepared for Provence like most children prepare for the first day of kindergarten. I had my new backpack, new shoes, new bathing suit, my brand new travel-sized tubes of sunscreen, all of the Google maps I’d printed out in advance, my guidebook, my notebook, my camera. I studied for Provence like it was finals week.
And I’d say I got an A-! (Does anyone else miss school as much as I do?) There were a few small hiccups — my rental car ended up being slightly more complicated to handle than I’d anticipated, for instance, and those ancient cave paintings I so wanted to see ended up being really difficult to reach — but the scenery was stunning, the weather was perfect, the people were kind, and I got to see pretty much everything that had been on my list: lavender fields, Luberon villages, and Marseille’s beaches.
Fun fact that I learned about lavender fields firsthand: you know who loves lavender as much as tourists do? BEES. GIANT BEES. They love to hang out and buzz around your face as you’re frolicking through lavender. Frolicking through lavender has now been upgraded to a Level 3 dangerous activity for me (right there behind volcano boarding and drinking horchata from a gas station in Guatemala).
Another fun fact I learned about lavender fields: they are often located right next to sunflower fields. I’m not sure why people don’t talk about this more when Provence lavender season comes up — there were literally just fields of sunflowers as far as I could see in any direction, and it was so ridiculously beautiful and I was shocked I hadn’t really read about it anywhere beforehand, not on Pinterest (!) or my guidebook (?) or anywhere.
One of the things I wanted to see most were these little towns perched on the sides of hills. There was no warning when this one came around the corner — I was driving very carefully along the narrow winding hillside road, my French pop music radio station turned down to a responsible volume level so that I could concentrate, and all of a sudden there was THIS view and I almost drove off the cliff trying to park at a good vantage point. Priorities. (Please excuse the iPhone quality of this photo — my camera was running low on battery at this point)Another highlight of Provence for me was my Air BnB. It was the cutest! It was HOT while I was in Provence, just aggressively hot all the time, day or night — but my Air BnB had a pool, so that’s where I started and ended my days. On the evening I arrived in Provence from Paris, I was exhausted from the day’s travel events and even more exhausted from the weather, so I spent the evening reading for two hours in this pool, and it was the most relaxing evening I’d had in a long time.My first full day in Provence started off with a lot of nerves — over the course of the previous night I had convinced myself that I would crash the temperamental rental car and die in France. I am nothing if not logical and optimistic. But off I went anyway, onto the highway with tolls and into the winding hills where the roads were sometimes one-way, and often I was making turns along really treacherous-looking cliffs — but I knew I would hate myself if I didn’t at least try to see these amazing things I had come so far to see. Like the Gorges du Verdon, widely considered to be one of the prettiest bodies of water in the world. And of course the lavender and the sunflowers I already mentioned.
On the second day, I wanted to spend less time in the car. I drove about an hour to the Luberon villages — I chose three in particular: Lourmarin (made famous by author Peter Mayle), Bonnieux (made famous because it’s gorgeous), and Cadenet, not really that famous but conveniently located for my routing. These tiny villages were essentially what Pinterest was invented for, I think — all cobblestone streets, flowers growing up the walls, quaint little cafes, colorful doorways and shuttered windows, a bakery every 300 feet or so — essentially, I spent all of this day feeling like I was living out the opening song in Beauty and the Beast.In the evening, I took myself to dinner in Aix-en-Provence, right on the main street, and the waiters were randomly really delighted that I was there by myself with my book, and they gave me some free white wine and a weird but decent fish appetizer. Merci!
The last day and a half of my Provence trip changed drastically at the last minute. My two first days were great but busy — I’d been driving around a lot, trying to see so much, and the thought of driving around and potentially rushing to see all these caves (and spending most of the day in the car in transit between caves) really didn’t sound appealing to me.So I decided that the caves could wait — I know I’ll be back to France at some point in the next decade, and so I’m not worried I won’t ever get to see the caves — and instead I spent my last day and a half in Marseille, cruising along the Calanques and drinking iced coffee on the beach. And it was fantastic. It felt so great to be out of the car, wandering around, cruising on the water and feeling sand on my bare feet, with my big floppy hat and new bathing suit and a few fashion magazines in tow. Best last minute decision I have ever made — and if my math is correct (probably not) I only lost about $50 making this change (with my hotel cancellation and then booking a new hotel) — which isn’t ideal, obviously, but it’s an amount I can live with. I mean, just look at this. I think I will always want to live in a big city, but vacation — vacation is going to happen in places like this from now on. All tiny towns and relaxation and seaside cruises and bare feet, all the time.