It’s hard to imagine that there may be any hidden gems left to discover in our little part of Provence, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, as I’ve really discovered over the last few weeks.
Of course, there are delightful places, that are hidden due to their location, as they just aren’t on the normal tourist trail, including the beautiful gardens and idyllic surroundings of Valsaintes Abbey..
Or perhaps, even the beautiful hilltop village of Simiane La Rotonde, with its amazing circular keep..
But that’s just the start of it. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while now, you will know that we love nothing better than to get out on the bikes and take to the back roads. By turning left rather than right, or vice-versa, we have found some wonderful, peaceful spots, hidden just off the well-beaten track.
But even these are only accessible by road, and there is a whole new world, beyond those strips of tarmac, that I have really only started to discover in the past few weeks. In fact if there has been one huge positive from breaking my collar bone, it has been that I have popped my walking boots on, grabbed a map and headed off to explore little areas, that are just not easy to get to by car.
There are places that I had heard of, but never visited and one of those was Travignon, a tiny, abandoned hamlet set high on a ridge at the head of a gorge above Saint-Saturnin-Les-Apt. So a couple of days ago, I decided to head off to pay it a visit.
I didn’t really know much about it, other than it was a remote village that had finally been abandoned by its last residents in 1914, and that since that time the houses had just been taken over by nature, and so thought it would be nice to see it for myself.
I wasn’t disappointed. The walk took me out of Saint Saturnin, with some incredible views, back across the village and along the Luberon valley, which was veiled in places by a gentle, morning mist.
I love these views and just walking up that trail opened up some new ones to me too, looking back over to the Mourre Negre, under gold-fringed clouds, and I was happy to stop for a few moments, as this certainly wasn’t a gentle incline.
After over 6km of climbing we turned onto the path to Travignon, which took us through beautiful woodland, with moss-covered trees and boulders, still climbing higher. By this time I was really wondering whether it would be worth the effort, but then I suddenly found myself passing the first of the collapsed buildings, and the ancient old ‘restanques’, the terraces that were built to help residents grow food and crops.
The side of the path was then a carpet of Irises, the new growth starting to force its way above the dead leaves of last year. It seemed so strange to see these beautiful plants growing so well, in such an isolated place, as on the way up, there were just the wild plants of the garrigue poking through a carpet of fallen leaves. It was a sure sign that I had arrived in the hamlet, and that it had been a place that had been loved and cared for by its previous occupants.
The path brings you to the front of the hamlet, where the houses, now barely recognisable under the blanket of brambles and shrubs, open out onto one of the most incredible views I have seen of the valley, with distant views towards Marseille.
The hamlet was silent, apart from the gentle sound of birdsong. There are no roads nearby, no other houses, nothing to disturb the peace of an early spring morning, and I took a moment to sit and just take it all in.
In many ways, it has a sense of being lost in time, almost as if it has been taken over by Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted woodland. I am sure that if it was more accessible, it would be restored, with the houses achieving high prices just for the peace and that jaw-dropping view. But I am so pleased that isn’t the case.
This really is a hidden gem of a place, and well worth the walk (although I think there are shorter routes to it from other roads) and next time we go up, we will take a picnic and simply sit, absorbed by this unique and enchanting little place.
Then heading back, we scrambled down steep, stony tracks below the village, into the heart of the gorge. Millie was in her element, running on ahead as we dropped deeper, below the towering cliffs on either side, on our way back to the village.
This isn’t the only place that has charmed me over the last few days. The peaceful beauty of the Aigue Brun valley, was incredible.
And the gorge between Simiane La Rotonde and Valsaintes, totally hidden from the road above, with a rocky path criss-crossing the clear, babbling brook, which flows at the bottom of beautiful cliffs, carved out over millions of years by this tiny stream, that is now so small that I can jump across it.
And finally the discovery yesterday, of a collection of Almond Trees on a hill facing Valsaintes , which were in full blossom, their pink flowers a real herald of spring, making my heart sing.
In fact, if I’m honest, any thoughts that I may have harboured that there was nothing more to discover here couldn’t have been further from the truth …. In fact all I can think now is what will we discover next ?