After the success of our small-group excursions to Cassis and the hill towns, I signed up for a full day trip to see lavender in Valensole and to visit some additional provençal villages. The advantage of this particular trip was that I had more time in each location, so I feel that I got to see all that I wanted and take pictures to my heart’s content.
Valensole is a large plain known for having field after field of lavender, or actually lavendin. We learned that virtually every “lavender” field is usually lavendin, which has a more compact grouping of flower heads on the stalk and slightly different attributes than its better known cousin. The first stop was to a farm with lavendin, olive and almond trees. We were allowed to go right into the fields to take photos, as is typical of farms with shops, as opposed to farms that simply produce the crop and do not appreciate tourists traipsing through their fields. Because it had been a cool spring, the lavendin was not quite in full bloom, but it was still a beautiful sight to see! My favorite parts were the poppies growing between breaks in the plants. Of course, our visit ended with the opportunity to buy some of the organic products.
Then we went to the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Anne, home to beautiful faïence, or pottery, for centuries. There were traditional patterns, the same as the one ordered by Louis XIV and modern interpretations. I was highly tempted by a mug with a hot air balloon, celebrating the success of the Montgolfier brothers, and a trio of vases in graduated sizes decorated with tropical birds. I resisted, but did indulge in a simple leather belt that I was able to customize in the color, size, and buckle style that I wanted.
The village deserves its inclusion in the list of the most beautiful towns in France. It perches on a series of terraces, about a hundred yards up a limestone cliff. Far above the little town, a golden star twinkles above the town, suspended on a chain between two cliffs. According to legend, it was hung by a knight who made it home to Moustiers after having been imprisoned during the Crusades to fulfill a pious oath. It’s been replaced a number of times since the 10th century, of course, most recently with the aid of a helicopter. How they managed to suspend it in the pre-helicopter days defies my imagination.
Perched between the village and the star is a tiny chapel, Notre Dame de Beauvoir. It’s a long climb up there, on stone steps rendered slick from the passage of many feet over the centuries. You can see the chapel in the photo, above, where the bridge is at the bottom left and the chapel is at the top right. The chapel itself manifests little architectural beauty, but it is well-named as it provides a magnificent vista over the valley. Legend attributes its construction to Charlemagne in the 9th century. For sure there are historical references to it early in the 12th century, which is sufficiently extraordinary.
The day was far from done, but I’ll share the rest of our itinerary in another post. Have you ever been to Moustiers? Did you succumb to some faïence?
Provence Made Easy: The Sights, Restaurants, Hotels of Provence