After an early start in Lyon to travel by high speed train to Avignon, and spending the morning exploring that beautiful city, I had different plans for my afternoon. I had found an afternoon small group tour of Provence that would show me more of the region. I thought that would be a great way to make the most of my afternoon.
The tour offered hotel pick up in Avignon, but since I was just day tripping I arranged to be picked up by the town hall. The group was small, just six of us; a group of three, a couple, and me. Our driver was a local of the region and pointed out lots of things of interest along the drive. I have to admit I had booked this tour on a whim and hadn’t remembered much about it. It was actually good to go to places that I hadn’t researched to death.
First stop was Pont du Gard, a very well preserved ancient Roman aqueduct crossing the Gardon River. We parked by the visitor centre and had a short walk to the site. The location is spectacular. It was a lovely day and people were swimming and doing other water sports on the river, making us quite jealous! The three tier aqueduct is an imposing structure and a reminder, once again, of the brilliance of the ancient Romans. We were able to walk right across it and I even climbed a little up the opposite bank to get some more photos. There were many walking tracks in the area, as well as restaurants. You could certainly make a whole day of a visit there. It had a very relaxed feel about it despite being a very popular French tourist attraction.
Our next stop was Les Baux-de-Provence, a beautiful hilltop village. We had some time here for a wander and a little shopping. The village, while beautiful in itself, overlooks a spectacular valley.
As we drove to our next location our guide pointed out to us a peculiarity of the roads in Provence, many are lined by plane trees which provide both shade and a lovely spectacle. Doubtless they’d be removed as a hazard if in Australia.
Our third stop was Gordes, a village that we didn’t visit, except to drive through, but instead stopped to take panoramic photos of. It is another spectacular clifftop village and apparently a tourist hub. It is a fabulous sight. The buildings in Gordes are all built dry stone wall style, it is a requirement that the style be maintained and it is quite striking to see a whole village built that way, and quite wonderful to see old building techniques preserved. Again overlooking a wonderful valley.
The final stop was probably my favorite. Roussillon is built on massive ochre cliffs and all of the buildings are colored with that ochre. It looks spectacular, and on the overcast day we had, made for great photographs. The village was pretty quiet too so we could wander at leisure and not be pushing through crowds.
All in all it was a good afternoon. We covered quite a bit of ground, probably about 180km in the 6 hours and of course, more time in each village would have been lovely, but for what it was, the trip worked. We had quite heavy rain at times, but fortunately that was pretty much all while we were driving. I would recommend the trip for anyone who wants to get a taste of Provence while short on time.
I was dropped back in Avignon at the end of the tour and grabbed some dinner before catching the trains back to Lyon.
I got back to Lyon quite late, after 10pm and made the long walk back to my apartment, taking a wrong turn or two I came across lots of shops bursting with piles of food on tables and people everywhere, and remembered that it was Ramadan and I must have stumbled upon the Muslim area of the city. As tired as I was it was great to find myself in the middle of such a festive atmosphere. Another great day. And another waiting.