Finally, it was a day of clear blue skies without the howling Mistral winds. Our breakfast today was a leisurely one. We had plans for the day to visit L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse and Roussillon. We weren’t particularly in a hurry as a knew we had the whole day. Our host Serge asked us about our plans for the day and when we told him what we had planned, he gave us his input. His opinion was that L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Fontaine de Vaucluse may be too touristy for us. We had told him in earlier conversations that our favourite thing about travelling in France was experiencing the local way of life and the local culture and flavour. He suggested that we might like to check out the Fête des Olives Vertes in the neighbouring town of Mouriès. He thought mum and dad would enjoy seeing the different cultures and tradition of Provence. A few of the other guests at the table chimed in with their opinions. Many of them had been travelling to Provence for holidays annually for many years now. One guest even pulled out his Michelin map to show us a scenic spot in Gordes that he thought we should visit. We didn’t need much convincing to change our plans for the day so we headed out to Mouriès after breakfast.
We found a place to park the car just outside the village centre. The village main street was closed off to traffic for the big event. There was an air of excitement in the air and we saw local townsfolk, dressed up in their finest traditional provencal outfits heading towards the town centre. Even the children were dressed up in costume.
The Fête des Olives Vertes is a festival held to celebrate the harvest of the bright green early olives. The town of Mouriès is rooted in olive oil production and it is France’s premier olive oil producing municipality, with over 80,000 olive trees. So it is no wonder that this festival is a very important event on the town’s calendar. Today the festival has extended well beyond the town’s borders and comprises of a gathering of groups from surrounding towns. It is a celebration of culture and tradition of the different regions and villages in Provence. The grand parade through the town consists of people from different regions, dressed in their traditional outfits, showcasing their local specialty or produce.
We got there just before the parade was about to begin. The sidewalks on the main street was packed with people. The cafés were doing a roaring business with their tables filled with patrons having a coffee or a drink while securing a good viewing spot to watch the parade. We managed to secure good standing spots. There was a great buzz of excitement in the air. There was animated conversation at every table. Copious amount of pastis was served.
Then the band started playing and the parade began. The parade was colourful and lively. There were marching bands, dancers, olive pickers, horses and cowboys from the Camargue, locals dressed in their traditional outfits, cattle, horse-drawn carriages, and then there were everyday figures like a baker pushing a bread cart, children walking down the street with their mothers, all dressed in traditional costumes.
The entire festival actually runs for the entire weekend, with various activities schedule throughout the day. After the parade, there was more festivities to come, but having now spent our entire morning here in Mouriès, we had to get moving to get to our next destination, Gordes. Passing through the village of Saint-Rémy, we stopped by to fill up on gas. Being a Sunday afternoon, you can imagine our concern when the auto-pay machine rejected one credit card after another. Like all other machines in France, it would only accept a card with a chip. Well that meant we couldn’t use the AMEX. Between hubby and I, we had 4 other cards with chips but we tried one after another with no success. We were down to our final card when finally, it went through. There was a huge sigh of relief when we realized we could continue on our journey for the day. But we will be sure to remember to top up our gas on a weekday when we can still pay by cash in the future. We also stopped by the local supermarket to grab some bread and cheese for a ‘lunch on the run’.
We drove on to Gordes. Gordes is a village perché with narrow cobble-stone streets. It is perched on the southern edge of the high Plateau Vaucluse. Classed as one of the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’, it is swarming with tourists in the summer months. Luckily for us, the summer crowds were gone, although there were still bus-loads of tourists being dropped off in the town centre.
The streets in Gordes were narrow but the view from the village of the surrounding countryside was magnificent. We stopped for some ice-cream at a lovely ice-creamery called So Glace. The guy was mixing up the mixture for a new batch of ice-cream by hand when we walked into the store. He was very apologetic about making us wait. The flavours of the ice-cream were amazing. It tasted so natural and full of flavour. We sat on the steps outside the shop, enjoying our ice-cream and people-watching.
Our next stop was Rousillon, another village classed as ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’. Roussillon has the most significant ochre deposits in the world. Ochre is in the sandy soil which makes up the cliffs around Roussillon. Iron oxides colour the sands with different shades varying from yellow to purple with all the shades of red and pink in between. There are at least 17 different shades of ochre.
The Conservatoire des Ocres et des Pigments Appliques, situated just outside the village has information for the visitor about how ochre is treated and used. The brilliant hues of red colour the buildings and houses in Roussillon, making it a vibrant sight, especially in the afternoon sun.
We wandered down the streets of Roussillon. It is a small village with a nice, relaxed feel to it. There were a few art galleries. One in particular, caught our attention. The works on display at Galerie Porte Heureuse were captivating in colour and motion but unfortunately priced way beyond our limit. So we purchased a few prints to take home with us.
There is a French term ‘flâner’ which translates to English as ‘to stroll’. But it is so much more than just to stroll. It means more than just taking in the sights. It means inhaling the ‘life’ of the place, absorbing the feel of the place into your skin, it means experiencing a place with every sensory fibre in your body. This is what we did in Roussillon – ‘nous avons flâné dans les rues du village’. It epitomized everything I love about visiting these little villages in France.
We stopped at a little café to have a drink. I was keen to try a pastis to complete my experience in Provence. (I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it as it has an aniseed flavour and I’m not a fan of aniseed but I still wanted to give it a go.) Pastis is usually drunk mixed with water. After all, it contains 40-45% alcohol. The waiter found my order a little amusing, I think. Well it was no big surprise that I didn’t finish my pastis. I am and will remain a vodka kinda girl, although the pastis had this sweet after-taste which I did not expect.
After that we headed over to the ochre quarries. ‘Le Sentiers des Ocres’ is the walking trail through the quarries. There are two trails to choose from – 30 or 60 minutes. It was fairly late in the evening so we chose the shorter trail. The trail took us through the ochre quarries where we came face to face with the ochre cliffs in different hues of red and orange. The colour was a startling contrast against the lush green vegetation. While the trail is not difficult, good walking shoes are a must. Also, be prepared to have your shoes stained a rust-brown red from the ochre coloured soil. We came across some kids playing on the ground and they were covered in red dust, much to their mum’s annoyance. It was a lovely walk which we really enjoyed though. The striking colours of the earth around us were made even more brilliant in the light of the setting sun.
We decided to have dinner at Roussillon. We found a pizza place, which gave us a sweeping view of the countryside. It was lovely sitting out there, watching the sun set, against the beautiful backdrop of Provence. The food left much to be desired, but the views made up for it. It was dark by the time we started heading back to Maussane but the iPad navigation did not fail us and we got back safely.