We love the long, hot summer days here, getting up early and heading off on the bikes, arriving home before lunch time, then spending the afternoon in the shade, relaxing, or just pottering gently with jobs that need to be done.
We never tire of the heat, in fact it was one of the things that helped us to fall in love with the area all those years ago. Pusscat loves it too, spending the days, stretched out under a chair or bench on the terrace, or lazily chasing grasshoppers and lizards that happen to come within reach. It’s certainly not a bad life for a little Cornish stray.
For Millie though it’s a different story and although she loves her early morning walks in the cool of the day, she then spends the rest of her time stretched out on the stone floor in the cool of the ‘cave’. She shifts around during the days seeking out any chilly spot she can find, and avoiding stepping outside the door if she possibly can, until mid-evening, when she feels she can just about cope with the heat…
Although she has been clipped and we brush her regularly, her thick fur is not really the most appropriate coat for summer in the South of France.
So we have spent time, hunting out rivers and swimming spots, where she can simply lie in the water and swim, just to cool down. We have some lovely spots near us, like the beautiful Etang de La Bonde, just the far side of Lourmarin. A favourite for us (as the water is so warm for swimming in), and for Millie too, as she can swim, then roll in the mud and dust, so that she looks utterly revolting by the time we leave, which seems to be her favourite state!
Another favourite though is to take her for a walk along the Vallee du Toulourenc, which sits below the northern slopes of Mont Ventoux, running from Montbrun Les Bains towards Malaucene, where the landscape is so different to the open slopes to the South.
The Vallee is sandwiched between the towering wooded slopes of The ‘Geant de Provence’ on one side and pretty villages (including Brantes) clinging to rocky outcrops on the other. It is a beautiful little spot, and worth the drive to get across to it, although it’s important to check the weather before going as it is prone to flash flooding during thunderstorms or heavy rain.
The walk along the River Toulourenc is different to so many other river walks, in that it isn’t a walk along a river bank, but a walk along a river bed instead. With little more than a pair of comfortable shoes and swimwear being needed you can have a great day ambling through the crystal clear, cool water of the river as it runs gently through the valley.
We used to start the walk at the Malaucene end of the valley, but over the last few years this has become increasingly busy, so now tend to walk from the Sault direction, which may not be as dramatic, as you don’t walk through the steep-sided gorge, but is much quieter and has a superb peace to it.
We tend to stop in Sault, on the way across, grabbing a sandwich from the excellent boulangerie in the town, along with drinks to pop in the rucksack, as there are no little snack bars on the way along the river, whilst walking, but there are some absolutely perfect picnic spots…..
We then head off along the lavender-filled, Aurel Valley towards Montbrun Les Bains, taking the road towards Vaison La Romaine, pulling off into a wooded parking area by a bridge a few km beyond Brantes.
As soon as we open the boot of the car Millie is off, and running towards the water in the river below, immediately sinking down and lying in it as can only be expected from a hot, water-loving Golden Retriever.
And as we start walking, she soon has a spring in her step, bouncing through the water and enjoying swimming in the deeper pools that form in the slow moving water under the steep banks…
The water here is incredibly clear, with little, or no algae growing on the rocky riverbed. It is teeming with wildlife, and with fish too, which is the source of endless delight for Millie, who often stops to snuffle her nose under the water to see what she can catch …. needless to say she never catches anything, but not through lack of trying!
For us too it is a delightful walk, ambling through the water, which for most of the walk is calf-deep, although at times reaches our upper thighs (hence the swimwear). The delight is that even on the hottest of days you always feel cool, and for once, so does Millie.
Not only is the Valley stunning, but it’s also incredibly peaceful, especially at this Eastern end as most visitors tend to spend time in the narrow Gorge, with its deep pools at the Western end near Veaux.
In fact, the times that we have walked here, we have only seen a handful of people, all sitting on the banks near the access points, rather than walking through the flow.
Generally, the only things accompanying our walk, apart from the splashing of a happy and cool dog, tend to be butterflies and dragonflies flitting around us, and the Grey Wagtails dashing from stone to stone in the river ahead of us. There are always the high wheeling calls of Birds of Prey circling overhead too,vying for attention above the constant chatter of Cicadas from the trees growing on the banks
During one walk there, we were surprised to see a Praying Mantis standing on a rock, apparently enjoying the cooling spray from a waterfall just behind it. I’m not sure which of us was more fascinated with the other … if I didn’t know better I would have said that it actually posed for this photo, turning its head to look directly at the phone just as I pressed the button!
On the whole we always see things that fascinate and delight us, apart from one occasion, when Millie sniffed at a rock, only for all of a sudden a small snake to emerge and start swimming towards us . I wish I could say we reacted calmly to the situation, but if I am brutally honest, it was more like a scene out of a cartoon with our legs moving so quickly that we could (I’m sure) have run across the surface of the water if we had wanted to.
As you walk through the water though, you get a sense of the changing geology of the valley, with the banks changing from pebbles, to slabs of harder stone, eroded over thousands of years to create the channels for the river to flow through…
After ambling for an hour or so, we find a spot to stop for lunch, and sit on the bank in the shade of the trees to enjoy our baguettes. Millie is always very attentive during lunch, and I’d like to think she is wondering when she will be back in the water again, however I think it is more whether she will be allowed a bit of baguette too!
We simply sit and watch the world and water go by for a couple of hours, enjoying the peace, whilst Millie finally gives up on the thought of food, and lies by us, dozing, and for once, not panting.
Eventually we always feel we have to drag ourselves back to our feet and start to walk back the way we have come … at least walking up and down a river bed there is only one option so you can’t get lost.
After another gentle hour’s walk we arrived back at the car with an incredibly happy, chilled out dog, who for once seems to have had a delightful day, rather than trying to find the coolest spot in house to lie in.
It really is the most beautiful place to go for a cool walk, in the heat of the provencal summer