I can honestly say that yesterday felt like a holiday. I know that probably sounds a bit ridiculous – I’m in Provence, I cycle almost every day, I have stunning villages to visit and explore, surely every day should feel like a holiday.
The fact is that generally it does and don’t get me wrong, I love everything about life here, but with everything that has been happening, this year has felt so different. Since we came back we’ve been sensible, avoiding busy places, content just to pass our days cycling, chatting and making plans for this autumn’s renovation work, meeting up (in socially distanced settings) with just a few friends and simply enjoying being back where we feel so at home. I don’t know if it is just that our perception has changed after seeing everywhere so empty during lock-down, or the fact that we weren’t here for most of August last year, but it seems to be so much busier than the past and at the moment I am really on my guard. Yesterday though, I had a day out and it really did feel as if I was on holiday.
In the last few years Saturdays would normally involve a trip across to the wonderful Brocante market at Villeneuve-Les-Avignon, arriving early and spending the whole morning just fuddling around the stalls, finding new pieces for the house, or simply letting our imaginations run riot with what we may be able to create with other finds. We’d spend ages squirrelling through boxes, looking in cases and just seeing what we could find, always delighted when we came away with something wonderful. The whole morning would pass gently by and we would often find ourselves leaving just before lunch, having spent nearly 4 hours there. But so far we haven’t ventured across as it’s normally so busy by mid morning and I’ve found that I have really missed it.
This weekend would normally have been the huge Antiques, Art & You Festival in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, a superb event filling the streets and central gardens with a great selection of stalls that can keep us entertained for a whole day. Understandably though it has been cancelled, but as the weekend approached I just fancied doing something a little bit different to my normal (very lovely) cycle ride. Add in the fact that Andy has been back in the UK for 2 weeks, I have to be honest and say there are only so many conversations I can have with myself before I go totally mad. The big issue though was where could I go that wouldn’t be too busy, where I would feel comfortable.
Over the last week I’d noticed big banners on the bridges in Apt announcing the annual Brocante and Vide Grenier event at the Bergerie de Berdine in nearby Saint-Martin-De Castillon and thought perhaps this would be a good place to start. The Bergerie is an incredible local social enterprise, an entire hamlet that welcomes people who struggle to function due to addiction problems and provides housing and support in return for them working in one of the various businesses they have established there- from supplying wood ( we have used them since buying the house), to bread, cheese and honey-making and also a small on-site Brocante shop. It is a superb, supportive facility and has been so successful they have recently built retirement accommodation for those who despite their best efforts just cannot re-enter wider society. I’m always happy to support them, so this felt like the perfect way to start the day.
Needless to say I got an early start, hopped into Fifi (as she is our only car here at the moment) and decided to drive the longer way round, via the village of Saint-Martin as the early morning light on The Luberon is always so beautiful. The pretty, perched village has the most beautiful view across the valley floor and when I drove through shortly before 8, the light was perfect with the shadows accentuating the deep folds in the hillside and I enjoyed just stopping and taking in the view for a few minutes as the sun started to rise higher in the sky.
The event was already bustling with early buyers when I arrived and I just enjoyed ambling around, seeing what was on offer, picking up a couple of things before heading on again.
It was still only 9am and after some thought, rather than call it a day, I decided to head across to l’Isle Sur La Sorgue. Although there wasn’t the normal Festival, I’d seen that the Antiques’ ‘Villages’ in the town were having a ‘Foire’ for the entire weekend and by my reckoning Saturday was potentially the quietest day. This was based on the simple fact that it was market day in Apt, which has been especially busy over the last few weeks and I guessed that people may wait until Sunday to visit the ‘Foire’ , when L’Isle Sur La Sorgue has its own superb market and weekly Brocante event. From the amount of traffic I passed heading into Apt as I drove through, it looked as if I had made the right choice.
Pottering across in Fifi was just a delight, although I’m not sure that the drivers in the queue of cars behind me were enjoying it quite as much as I was, racing past at any (even slight) opportunity they could see. The thing about going anywhere in Fifi is that you can’t go fast – she potters along happily at a reasonable pace (about 70kmh) and that suits me down to the ground. In some ways for me, she’s the motorised version of cycling – in that you experience the area very differently. Driving our old Clio, we had just driven the road like everyone else – but in Fifi I noticed the slight inclines, I was more aware of the changing road surface and I certainly didn’t feel the need to check how fast I was going as I approached the speed camera. With the roof down, a smile on my face and knowing now to wave at any passing 2CV, I had a lovely time just driving, which is something I would never have imagined myself saying in the past.
When I got to L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, I realised my hunch had been right as it was pleasantly quiet, so I parked Fifi in the shade of a tree, donned my mask and wandered into town. It’s strange isn’t it how quickly we have changed our habits – I always make sure my handbag now has a supply of masks and sanitiser, in a similar way to I used to check I had nappies and wet-wipes when the boys were tiny.
Finding a table tucked away in the shade at the Cafe de la Sorgue, I settled in with a coffee and sat just watching the world pass by in front of me, simply enjoying the gentle buzz of life going on around me – albeit muffled by masks of all shapes, sizes and designs. In fact I enjoyed just sitting and watching so much that a second coffee had to be ordered.
The narrow streets were quiet and it was nice to be able to amble through, popping into shops and starting to think about the work that we’ll be doing later on in the year, thinking about what we will need, seeking inspiration and mentally noting ideas as I went.
Somehow (I cant imagine how) I found myself outside the Cour Aux Saveurs – my favourite chocolate shop and needless to say I couldn’t just walk away before buying a small bag of their wonderful dark chocolate ‘Mendiants’ , which always bring to mind the novel ‘Chocolat’ , in fact the range of delicacies on offer here could easily have been found in Vianne Rocher’s shop. A little something to keep me going as I ambled around.
As ever the rivers flowing in and around the heart of the old town gave it a real sense of being cool, even in the late-morning heat of a bright August day….
With the waterwheels turning gently as the river burbled below…
The Village Des Antiquaires de la Gare was open for business and had stalls outside the entrance….
And as well as the normal shops and stalls, the pretty shaded courtyard was filled with a great selection of pieces to rummage through too and within minutes I had redesigned the terraces at the house several times over.
It was just so nice to spend time browsing, doing something that I have really missed and I slowly felt myself starting to relax and my creative side start to re-emerge. It seems strange to say, but the constraints and restrictions of the last few months have somehow stifled that side of my brain, and it was just so nice to feel it start to awaken again – I’ve missed it!
Sitting on the quay at lunchtime, dangling my feet in the icy-cold river, whilst eating a slab of quiche was just lovely. Whilst the cafes were filled with masked staff rushing about with trays and plates, this was unhurried, peaceful and slow, in fact my idea of a perfect lunch and again I just enjoyed the moment, feeling as if I had spent a relaxing morning out.
Then back into Fifi for a slow drive back through the valley and a final stop in the peaceful village of Saint Saturnin Les Apt on the way home arriving back much later than I had imagined.
It may not have been the full morning at Villeneuve, but it was a close second and above all it has probably dealt with some worries I had about visiting places safely during this very strange time.
Masks are now obligatory at all markets, brocantes and events in most of the towns here, as well as in particular streets and areas, which certainly makes it all feel a lot safer. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we will be going to busy markets and events again for a while yet. What it has done though is to give me the confidence that every so often, with a little bit of thought and planning, I can have a safe and thoroughly enjoyable day out during these most complex times.