Friday 8th August.
We are parked up tonight in a Camping Car Aire in the very sleepy town of Villeneuve on the edge of the Parc Regional du Luberon. We bade farewell to Greoux-les-Bains this morning and after a stop at Super U for some shopping arrived here. It's a great little spot we are parked up on amongst a mix of pine and olive trees and yet it's one of those towns that one wonders why one came here. A bank, a couple of bars, a boulangerie and a pizza shop. That's it. Oh yes, a clock tower built in the mid nineteenth century which dominates the town.
We wandered around the town this evening, which didn't take long, and ended up in a little bar with a terrace overlooking the valley and over to the hills in the distance. The other customers comprised of a couple of English families, slightly paunchy pasty faced blokes with blonde wives who were struggling to control kids called Hugo, Archie, Domique, Olly and Luke. We know the kids names as their parents were constantly screaming at them as the kids threw their pizzas around the table and behaved just as you would expect kids with those names to behave. Sorry, but I can't help having a dig at the Chelsea set and their badly behaved kids
Tomorrow we are setting off to explore more of the Luberon, we have plenty of options and we are no hurry to rush away from this area.
Saturday 9th August.
We are parked up this evening in a vineyard in Bonnieux near Apt in the foothills of Montagne du Luberon. Whilst it's free to stay in the vineyard as part of the France Passion scheme it's accepted that you will taste the wines produced by the vineyard, in this case Chateau Les Eydins. So after we got ourselves parked up and settled down we wandered over to the cave where a very pleasant elderly lady gave is a taste of the wines produced there. Now, it would be a harder man than me who would then say thank you very much and return to his motorhome empty handed. We could probably stay on campsites for less but, then again, we wouldn't have a motorhome full of wine would we? On all the vineyards we have stopped at here, in Burgundy and in Bordeaux there are always hunting dogs wandering around and today was no exception. There was a kind of cross bred bloodhound with big feet, a dopey expression and a tennis ball in its mouth. I got fed up with throwing the ball before the dog did but I'd made a friend as Phil found out when she fell over the dog this morning which was lying under the van step.
Before arriving at the vineyard we stopped in Apt, which is the capital of the Luberon and which according to the guide book doesn't have much going for it other than it's Saturday market. We thought that a little unfair, the market was in the throes of closing down when we arrived but there were still plenty of stalls selling all manner of food, clothes and other tempting delights, but we thought the town itself quite pretty too.
We shared the vineyard camping with a Belgian couple and a British motorhome, the first one we've seen for ages. I went over to say hello and have a chat but the door was firmly closed and I could hear the tv so I left them to it. I wonder of they missed the sunset over the vines, we didn't and it was as beautiful as ever.
Sunday 10th August.
We are parked up tonight in the car park in the little town of Banon next to Plateau de Vaucluse. We only intended to stop here for a leg stretch and a sandwich but we were enticed by the Sunday bric-a-brac market and by the many restaurants full of families enjoying Sunday lunch. The specials in all the restaurants was lamb in various forms which neither of us fancied so we stopped in a wine bar and bistro for a drink while we decided where to lunch. When I say wine bar it really does the place a disservice, the owner sat us down at the bar with a glass of white and a glass of rose which he insisted we first taste to make sure it was to our liking and when I asked if he had any food exclaimed that he had some incredible food. We looked around and sure enough people were tucking in all around us. In-between serving the other customers he explained that he would serve us a tomatoe paste on whole meal toast, a pea houmus, two kinds of ham, one dried and one with truffles, a green salad, two cheese, an olive spiked muffin, and a small pot of local grains flavoured with cumin, carrot, coriander and something else I forget. It doesn't sound like much but it was light and delicious and he recommended a different rose wine to accompany the food. A mini chocolate fondant, a cheesecake topped with apricot, a raspberry fool and a couple of coffees completed the feast. The small dining area was almost squeezed in between boxes and boxes of wine and floor to ceiling shelves displaying wines from all the regions of France but especially the local vineyards. The wines ranged in price, obviously, but he only charged an extra €5 for serving them to diners, very reasonable. Almost everybody who enjoyed lunch there bought wine to take away as well. Not just the odd bottle but cases. Additionally folk were calling in to buy wine who weren't eating, again it was at least a half dozen bottles purchased at a time. There were maybe thirty or so people eating and people popping in and out for a drink all the time and there was just the owner, his wife and a lass helping in the kitchen. They never missed a beat and had time to chat with everybody, even us! They loved the fact we were in a motorhome and said they were taking a week off in September and were hiring a motorhome for themselves and their two young children to tour parts of France. We enjoyed our aperitif wines so much that we had to buy a bottle of each for the motorhome which is beginning to resemble Oddbins-on-wheels.
And our lunch.
Obviously driving was out of the question after our lunch so we will push on tomorrow to Sault at the foot of Mont Ventoux. There's a scenic route that takes you to the summit at nearly two thousand metres but whether I can stand twenty kilometres of switchbacks is another matter. We'll see tomorrow.
Monday 11th August.
We are parked up this evening in a vineyard in Chateauneuf de Gadagne, another wine producer participating in the France Passion scheme. We are a stones throw from the cave and overlooking the vines with their dark red grapes. We are not far from the Chateauneuf du Pape region but here the wine is all Côtes du Rhone. Yes, we tasted some on arrival and yes we bought some, it would be rude not too! We are also just five hundred metres from a railway station that will take us into Avignon in fifteen minutes. We were planning on driving to Avignon tomorrow and stopping a couple of days but the people here tell us it will be much easier taking the train and parking here for a day or two.
This morning we left Banon and set off over the plateau to Sault and at last we saw our first fields of lavender.
We also came across this example of agricultural art, hay making with a difference.
We stopped briefly in Sault for our coffee and croissant and watched the cyclists setting off for the twenty six kilometre climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux. We set off following them and as we climbed through some stunning woodland I tried to remember why I remembered the mountain from years ago. I knew it was a regular climb on the Tour de France and then, as we neared the summit I remembered just as the memorial to Tommy Simpson came into view. It's almost a shrine now and the parking area next to it was crammed with vehicles and cyclists so we had no opportunity to stop. The summit is only another few kilometres which makes his death at that point all the more poignant. The last few kilometres are above the tree line and the sun bouncing off the limestone rock and shale is so bright that we were squinting in dark glasses. The first few kilometres out of Sault aren't too hard for the cyclists, rolling pastoral countryside but then it kicks in and it's a 10% climb all the way to the summit. We were lucky today that there wasn't too much motorised traffic on the way up as the road is fairly narrow and we managed to reach the top without knocking any Lycra clad madmen or women into the pine forest. The views from the top are breathtaking, it's 1900 metres and a refreshing cool wind was blowing when we finally found somewhere to park, take a few photos and make lunch.
The views from Mont Ventoux.