While in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, we stayed in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. This is where we experienced the lavender fields and summer markets (marchés) that this region is known for. Here is what we did there.
Provençal Lavender Fields
As I mentioned in my first blog about this trip, since we arrived late in the lavender season, we went out to view lavender fields on our first night and second day in the region. Our first night, we stopped at a field between Simiane-la-Rotonde and Sault to take pictures. It was beautiful to stand in the field as the sun was setting. We were overwhelmed by purple and gold. Of course, the air was fragrant. There was a quiet hum of bees throughout the field.
On our second day, we drove from Sederon, through Ferrassières and Saint-Christol, on our way back to Simiane-la-Rotonde and enjoyed a few more lavender fields on that drive.
There is an observation area on this route where you can stop and enjoy the view of surrounding valleys and mountains in the distance. By the time we got there, most of the lavender had been cut or was being cut, but the view was still impressive.
If you are going to Provence, don’t forget to pack your market tote, or a few! Every day, different villages host weekly markets throughout the region. I found listings here and here, and I am sure there are many more on the internet. Our hostess gave us a list of the closest ones to us each day of our stay. The markets are typically held in the morning and end by 1:00 p.m./13:00 hour.
The markets are a great place to shop for fresh, local produce, meats, cheeses, and arts and crafts by local artisans. One regional specialty that was fun to try was fresh nougat. I was surprised not to find many bakers at the markets, but every village had bakeries open near the markets. We went to two markets during our trip, in Sederon and Banon. Between those two trips and few trips to local groceries, we were able to eat in the house or with picnics on the road almost the entire week.
We went to the weekly market in Sederon, which is actually in the Rhone Alps department, just outside of Provence. Unfortunately, we got there pretty late, so a lot of the vendors were starting to pack up.
Still, we got some fruit, cheese (the best goat cheese of our trip from Fromagerie Raspail), and our son picked out a hemp bracelet for himself. (His recent summer camps gave him festival-style cotton bracelets so now he’s going through a bracelet stage.) After the market, we walked through the small town to enjoy the views. This is also where I encountered the first squatty potty of the trip. Good times.
We went to Banon for its weekly market. There, we bought fruit, vegetables, a rotisserie chicken, and Banon Goat Cheese, a regional specialty of goat cheese that has been aged in chestnut leaves. This infuses a flavor that was a bit too strong for my tastes, but was fun to try.
We also enjoyed walking around beyond the market. Our hostess recommended a trip to Le Bleuet Librarie, which I had also read about online. This insta-worthy bookstore has a huge selection of books as well as a café. I bought a book about Provence with watercolor illustrations for our travel library.
We walked up the streets to the “old town” of the village and enjoyed views of the valley below. I find myself using the word “quaint” a lot in Europe, but Banon fits the description. It was a quintessential Provençal village on a hilltop.
Simiane-la-Rotonde is another quintessential Provençal village on a hilltop. It was the closest village to our Airbnb rental. We spent one afternoon touring there, in addition to eating a few meals there during the week.
We toured the Chateau Medieval, a medieval castle of Romanesque architecture. Its highlight is its rotunda which was simple and beautiful inside, and can be seen distinctly on the city’s skyline from the surrounding valley. Two of the castle rooms that were once living quarters now house the Sainte-Victoire Laboratory for aromatherapy, managed by Young Living. There, you can learn about aromatherapy and purchase Young Living oils and other products.
The Chateau has an activity for children, a two-page questionnaire/information hunt that helps them learn important facts about the castle. It was only available in French, but my husband helped our son translate it. Upon completion, he received a laminated badge granting him knighthood from the castle.
After the chateau tour, we walked the steep, narrow cobblestone streets of the village. There are a few artists operating gallery shops there, so we admired their art. There is also an antique shop where I bought an antique porcelain platter adorned with lavender colored flowers. A perfect souvenir of lavender country, despite it being of German origin!
We had some ice cream and drinks from a small café and enjoyed the view of the surrounding valley from the café’s overlooking terrace. In the distance, we saw what we think was smoke from forest fires that were burning southeast of us, and we later saw some of that damage firsthand on our drive back to Marseille at the end of our trip. It was sad to see, and a visual reminder as to why our hostess asked us not to smoke! (We aren’t smokers, so no problem!)
While the Chateau and the shops are clearly there for tourists, Simiane-la-Rotonde was a very quiet, sleepy village. We weren’t the only tourists there, but it was far from crowded, so it had a leisurely ambiance to it. We passed a few locals going about their day, and just as many local cats lounging just off the village paths. I really enjoyed its quiet calmness.
On two occasions, we had great meals at Le Chapeau Rouge and the Boulangerie du Chapeau Rouge. Both at the same location, Le Chapeau Rouge is the main restaurant and the Boulangerie is a bakery and pastry shop which hosts a “pizza night” two nights a week. We enjoyed pizza night one night, then a full chef’s menu at the main restaurant on our last night in town. Both were delicious and the service was great, including being accommodating to families and children. It’s hard to beat a fresh meal, made with local ingredients, eaten on a terrace with a great view, with wine from regional grapes to top it off!
I am so glad we found the Airbnb that we did and stayed near this village. It was everything I hoped for in Provence, and more.
The Gorges du Verdon is a river gorge that I have seen referred to as the Grand Canyon of Europe. Not having been to the Grand Canyon yet, I can’t say the comparison is accurate, but it is a beautiful sight. The river is a bright turquoise color due to its glacial source and mineral deposits in the water.
The best way to experience the gorge is to be in it on the river. You can rent canoes, kayaks, electric boats, and paddle boats from many different companies. We rented an electric boat from Verdon Electronautic in Quinson. We spent 3 hours between there and Esparron-de-Verdon.
Like everything else we did in Provence, I wished we had more time doing this! If we were to do it again, we’d rent for at least 4 hours so we could stop and swim in a spot or two, or just float to enjoy it more. We did spend some time with our toes in the water and it was so refreshing.
Because I wanted to see the lavender in bloom, staying in the department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence was perfect for us. We loved it there and it was a great spot from which to venture out to other areas, which you can read about in my other blog posts about Provence here: