'Imagination will take you everywhere'
Vincent Van Gogh once declared; “The whole future of art is to be found in the South of France.”
In particular, the stunning landscape of Provence was often depicted by the Impressionists. Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh et al; all seemed to be entranced by the southeast region. The area has continued to mesmerise and inspire artists (or anyone for that matter) – spurred by the magical southern light and charming vistas.
I have always loved Impressionist paintings – the animated brush-strokes and vibrant colours capturing the atmosphere of being en plein air. Looking at these paintings it’s hard not to imagine the sun’s rays warming your skin and smelling the scent of pine trees mingled with wild herbs or a whiff of lavender.
So when we visited Provence this summer it was like wandering through an Impressionist painting. Our villa was perched on the side of a hill amongst an olive grove – just outside the magnificent village of Gordes – giving us a panoramic view of a huge valley dotted with cypress trees and bordered by the imposing Luberon mountains. The sky was a never-ending blue. The light was ever-changing; pale and fresh in the morning, pure and bright in the afternoon, and a warm, orange glow in the evening as the shadows grew. It was the perfect place for a painter to wield a paintbrush – I was even inspired to sketch.
Admittedly it wasn’t exactly a quiet, unknown area. Walking around the local market in Gordes was like being in Britain – every other voice was English. But its popularity proves the magnetism of the area. If you venture out early, you can miss the swarm of tourists – flock to the Boulangerie with the locals and sip coffee in the tabac with the old French men, smoking and debating life’s conundrums. We wandered through the twisting cobbled streets and watched people flinging open shutters and setting up market stalls in the square.
The weekly market on Tuesday is a big occasion, with local producers coming to sell their wares; fresh fruit and veg, an array of fromage, meat, pastries, bread, honey, herbs, woven baskets, linen, scarves, lavender, leather goods – the list is endless. The church with it’s grand entrance, domed ceiling and pale blue wall, offered a peaceful respite to the hustle and bustle outside.
The ochre cliffs of Roussillon, the lavender fields surrounding Abbaye de Senanque, and the quaint hilltop village of Menerbes, are all close by. But all we wanted to do was stay in our own little paradise. Hidden away from the buzzing outside world, we wandered amongst the silver leaves of the olive trees, drank rosé (‘French water’) and feasted on ripe figs plucked from the garden. The hot climate means that any strenuous exercise results in a lot of sweating, so we opted to sunbathe, read and splash in the pool – that suited us just fine.