Our good friends Michel and Shirley have a wonderful home in a small village in the Côtes du Rhône region of France. They invited us to join them for a few days recently, an invitation we were happy to accept. Google maps told me that the journey from our home to theirs was approximately six hours and so we decided a stopover at the beach for a night would break up the drive nicely (read about it HERE). After a relaxing night in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, we headed north to Sablet, France so that we could savor an enjoyable visit with good friends.
We arrived in Sablet as scheduled, late in the afternoon. However, I had misplaced all the phone numbers to reach Michel and so I wasn’t quite sure exactly where to go upon arriving in the village. Michel gave me specific instructions not to attempt a drive directly to his home. “The roads are far too narrow – many cars scrape on either side. Don’t attempt it – park at the local bakery and head by foot”. I only had his home address plugged into the GPS and admittedly, I had the words of Barney Stinson ringing in my head “I shouldn’t attempt the drive… challenge ACCEPTED!” After creeping up, up, up, slowly, slowly, slowly – I made it to their home. Luckily I made it with all car paint intact – but it was close. I had been far too cocky and got lucky – I literally had centimeters on either side of my car at times. We found their home and discovered they were just out at the local market, preparing for our arrival.
Michel is a business man, blogger (his blog), wine connoisseur and a fabulous chef. He owns a restaurant that I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, Bistro des Copains in Northern California. Jen and I knew that we were going to be in for a treat if he was coming back from the the market with fresh groceries to make dinner. When they returned home, we walked in, unpacked and quickly settled in for an epic meal. Luckily, Michel and Shirley are grandparents of four wonderful kids – and so they were naturals with Julia, who instantly fell in love with them both. After a wonderful dinner, stuffed and tired from a long day – we turned in, excited about the following day. Even though we didn’t know the plans, we were still eager knowing that we would have an action-packed day lead by two wonderful guides.
Pan fried fish cooked by Michel
Filleted and seasoned with butter, oil and capers
Shirley made the most amazing strawberry and rhubarb torte
Cheese and baguettes for breakfast. Not something you normally think of eating at 8:00am. However, this rich indulgence seems perfectly normal when you’re in France…and when the cheese and bread are that good, you are happy to get your fill. After breakfast, but before I finished my last sip of coffee, Michel jumped up and declared that, “we will be leaving in ten minutes!” For me, this was wonderful – an early start to the day. For Jen, nothing could be more horrific. She rushed to get herself ready, get the baby ready, get the diaper bag packed, etc. and still make it to the car before we pulled away. Somehow she managed and we set out to the first of three villages we would see throughout the day.
The term, L’un des Plus Beaux Villages de France (official site) means, One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. This is a formal classification, reserved for only the most special of villages that dot the landscape of this fantastic country. Of the 32,000 villages that make up the country, only 157 are classified as such. 15 of these villages are in Provence, where Michel and Shirley have their home. We were fortunate enough to see 3 of these impressive places all in one day.
One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France
The first stop on our tour was Venasque, a hill-top village at the foot of Mont Ventoux. Venasque overlooks vineyards of many types, including vast fields of cherry trees (a unique sight in a landscape otherwise dominated by grape vineyards). The cherry’s were just starting to come into bloom and so we stopped to take a couple pictures. This medieval town has only the remains of three Saracen towers from those times. A large church from the 11th century stands in the center of town, composing part of the unique beauty we discovered while there.
Venasque sits high atop a hill
We passed fields of cherry trees
Michel in action, capturing images for his own blog
Julia and Jen in front of the remains of the medieval castle
The view of the valley below
Julia enjoying the scenery
A fountain in the center of town
We passed many bicycle tour groups in each of the villages
Michel strolling along with Julia
A street scene in Venasque
The villages main church framed behind a wonderful tree
A fountain in town, La Planette
Church in the center of town, dating back to the 13th century
Julia playing in the fountain
After leaving Venasque, next we drove to Gordes, a village with houses literally clinging to the sides of the Vaucluse ridges, overlooking the Cavaillon plain. The houses and narrow cobble streets are arranged in winding tiers all the way up to the [existing] Renaissance castle and church. Gordes is a village well known to artists, including Chagall (and others I don’t know and can’t remember). Before entering the village from the top and winding our way down and back… we needed to refill and refuel. Lunch time! Michel and Shirley selected a place they had dined before – a charming outdoor restaurant tucked behind a local gift shop. After a delicious lunch, we started winding our way through the streets of Gordes. Jen and I bought Julia a cute hand-made sun dress. We found some of the most picturesque scenes we’ve ever encountered. And right on cue for our magical family photo – Julia didn’t want to cooperate for a posed photo. At least I got some nice landscape photos.
I’ve never seen anything quite like this before – simply stunning in person
Gordes – another angle
It almost appears to be sliding off the side of the cliff
Approaching the city wall – marked by the medieval castle
The main square, what we call a piazza… what do they say in French?
Further into the main entry point
Walking through the village
We had a great time walking around
The girls had fun
A scenic view, indeed!
View of the valley below
and of course, this!
The buildings in Gordes were truly special
Even the angels come here to day dream
A better view of the castle
Le Jardin – store in the front, restaurant in the back
Enjoying a wonderful lunch
Julia stopping to smell the flower with Shirley
Jen took a picture of me taking a picture of the village
We eventually left Gordes and drove to Roussillon, a village far different than the first two. Along the drive in between towns, we passed a beautiful vineyard that I thought to be so typically French. But the real bonus was when we discovered a huge field of poppies, growing wild – we had to pull over and take some pictures.
Anyone up for a bottle of wine?
Large field of poppies
The poppies were growing wild
Roussillon screams its independence from other nearby villages by proudly brandishing peaks of vibrant red and ridges of bright orange. We were instantly reminded of Sedona, Arizona. The village sits atop the biggest ochre deposit in all of Europe and the result is a civilization built on bright orange clay-like earth. The village itself has since been shaped by the surrounding land and the homes, churches and buildings all marry this natural beauty perfectly. After a long time exploring, we stopped and had an a apéritif at an outdoor cafe.
Roussillon from slightly above
The earth beneath the village was wonderful to behold
The orange earth follows the bends in the road
The houses were painted to match the landscape and unique soil
Strolling through town was wonderful
Beautifully landscaped front yards
Julia started dancing to music she heard coming from a nearby store
Julia snuggled up to me in a nice field overlooking the valley
Great bell tower
We found “cat-lady’s” home – we counted 8 cats just in this area
Stairway to heaven?
Now that’s the way to ride down a long set of stairs
Beautifully painted door
We had one more stop left – an abbey built in the middle of the 12th century. Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque is a working abby, where the local monks tend to large fields of lavender that they sell to subsidize the abby (along with tourist sales of tours and merchandise).
Abbey as we approached from above
The monks “front yard”
Fields of lavender, not yet in bloom
12th century Abbey
Julia had fun
Julia thought this was the dog from, 101 Dalmatians
By the time we reached our “home” village of Sablet at the end of a long day, we were wiped out. But we were only half-way done! We had dinner plans with friends of Michel and Shirley’s – a couple that owns the local bar in town. We had just enough time to freshen up and then head down the street to meet them in front of their bar. We all shared a nice bottle of rosé over introductions and then headed out for dinner. I’ll feature this dinner, along with a few others in a separate “food” post.
Jen and I decided that we had so much fun on our first day, we needed to extend our two day trip into a three day trip and our wonderful hosts obliged us. Stay tuned for tales of glorious wine tastings, wonderful meals and impressive historical sights.