Settling in after a few weeks away…..

Time is a very strange thing indeed, I have been back in the UK for less than 4 weeks and although the time has flown by, it feels as if I have been away from France for so much longer. I am sure there is some psychological explanation for this, but I wouldn’t have any idea where to start …. all that matters though is that I’m back now for a few weeks, for a bit of a break before we start the busy season of Fairs and events before Christmas.

I may love being in Exeter, but always yearn to be back in Provence

When I was last here, the early signs of Autumn were starting to appear, so it’s been interesting to see what has changed during my absence, although arriving back in the dark a few nights ago, it was hard to see anything at all.As I got into the car at Marseille a friend messaged me to ask if I had arrived safely at the house as a huge storm had just hit Apt…. She wasn’t wrong and the lightning was soon turning night into day as I drove out of Aix towards The Luberon. In Cadenet all the lights went out as I drove through the narrow streets and by the time I reached Lourmarin I had to pull off the road as I couldn’t actually see anything due to the weight of water hitting the windscreen and the road itself was best described as a river in full flow.

A stormy sight in Lourmarin

After a short delay I headed on again through the Combe that leads towards Apt, whilst the sky above was lit by dramatic forks of lightning, arcing across the narrow road. At just after midnight, as I finally drove up what appeared to be a river bed leading to our hamlet, I had totally given up on any thoughts I had been having of a bike ride the following morning to ease the last few weeks out of my body and to just enjoy being back in the area we love so much.As I went to sleep with the rain dashing against the wall and shutters, I started to plan for a day inside, sorting out a few things and reading a book.But Provence always takes unexpected turns and when I threw open the shutters a few hours later, the rain had stopped, the last of the clouds were catching on the highest points of The Luberon opposite and the sky was a stunning shade of blue.

The last of the storm melting away

Despite over 25mm of rain having fallen in Apt during the night, the roads were already nearly dry and I had no reason not to throw on my cycle kit, hop on the bike and head off for breakfast and a gentle tour of some of my favourite spots in the valley.I have to admit to being rather a creature of habit, especially when I’m here on my own, and follow a route that takes me out of Apt, along the old road to Bonnieux, where I immediately stop for breakfast. There is something wonderful about the gentle babble of the boulangerie out of season. Set just off the main roundabout in the village, it is very welcoming and there is always something going on. It’s the perfect place to sit on the terrace with a coffee or two, watch the world pass by and settle gently back into Provence.

Breakfast at Bonnieux… A favourite spot

The ‘busyness’ of the summer has now passed and a gentle calm has returned to the area, with just a couple of cars passing me as I took the back road between Bonnieux and my next stop Menerbes. The views across the valley from here are beautiful and it just makes my heart sing to see the villages, ticking them off in my head as I see them … Villars, Saint Saturnin, Lacoste, Gargas, places that are now almost more familiar to me than those around us back in Devon.

Abbaye Saint Hilaire just behind Lacoste on the way to Menerbes

The grape harvest is in full-swing with tractors busy in the fields and piles of pomace (the waste left from the pressing process) left in a field, its colours echoing those of the Ochres in nearby Roussillon and the sweet, slightly tart smell attracting late season wasps…..

Ochre colours of grape pomace

… and the Olives are also starting to swell on the trees, bright green against the sage tones of the leaves, although their harvest is still some months away.

Olives swelling on the branches

Arriving in Menerbes I headed straight for our little spot on the wall below the Citadelle and above the garden that is filled with sculptures. It seems that almost every time we visit, there is a new addition to the collection and this time it was the bright green roof, belonging to what appeared to be, a ‘Romany’ caravan……. very different to the other pieces that are spread across the landscape.

There is no missing the roof of the new arrival

This is just one of ‘those’ views, in that the component parts are always the same, but there is always so much going on that it is so very different each time we sit there. After the storm, the air was beautifully clear and the distant details seemed to be magnified, with even the gullys in the scree-zone of distant Mont Ventoux visible in the sunlight….

A clear Ventoux in the distance

A far cry from the summer days when the haze was so heavy that it was hard even to see Roussillon clearly, just a few miles away, whereas in the clear air it felt as if you could almost make out the individual houses there….

Ochre colours of Roussillon on the hill behind Goult

I have to say that sitting there on my own is never the same as when I’m with Andy …. one pair of cycle shoes in the photo doesn’t look as good as two and I end up chatting to myself about the fact that there are still a few swallows left and that the ‘guepiers’ seem to have disappeared now….. but I’m sure I look totally normal talking to myself as I sit and watch the view.From there it was across to Les Beaumettes and its handful of Troglodytic houses …. something that always makes me smile as our youngest’s response to any letter used in childhood games of ‘I spy’ was ‘Troglodyte picking up sticks’ …. a throwback to early trips to the Dordogne and the amazing Troglodytic villages there, but bizarrely Les Beaumettes always makes me think of it.

Pretty Les Beaumettes

Then onto Gordes and the beautiful view of it from the road that runs below the village on the way back towards Roussillon…..

Ever beautiful Gordes….

coupled with stunning views back across the vineyards and fields towards Apt in the distance….

The views along the valley are stunning

and finally back via Roussillon with its vivid colours and another wall for me to sit on for a while and simply watch the world pass by.

Vivid colours at Roussillon… Another favourite sitting spot

I must admit if someone had told me (even 5 years ago) that the first thing I would do when I arrived in the valley would be to go for a bike ride, I would have thought they were mad. I would have expected that I would arrive, potter to a market, sit at a cafe with a coffee (or three) and fill my basket with nice produce, before heading home, but now that just doesn’t feel right.I love just being here, cycling around you get a sense of the place, what has changed, what has stayed the same….

A newly planted lavender field near Bonnieux

The longer shadows as the sun has dropped in the sky….

Long mid-morning shadows

The subtle change in colours and scents, or the way the grapes have swelled since I was here a few weeks ago.

Grapes ready for harvest at Domaine de Marie, Menerbes

I always end up feeling tired, well exercised, but grounded after a ‘welcome back’ round-the-valley ride and now wouldn’t consider doing anything else.Once I arrive home, it feels as if time has shifted again and that I have hardly been away, it’s probably a bit clichéd to say that I feel a weight has slipped from my shoulders, but that is the case. It is as if I have started to change into my ‘French Skin’, although it still takes me a couple more days to complete the transformation but it’s a great way to start….

Getting back into the French flow at Fontaine de Vaucluse

It’s just great to be back….

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