Story and Photos: Anh Ngoc
Returning to Provence many years after my first visit here, an old fondness filled my heart as if it never faded away. Impressions of the unbound purple vastness waving in the winds had haunted me for so long, until I finally returned and stood in awe once again under the sun on the highlands of Valensole.
Mountains, incredibly lovely little towns, narrow and meandering lanes of churches and chapels from Luberon to Valensole in Provence has enticed countless visitors in this region. It is especially inviting on a late June afternoon, when lavenders start ripening, until mid-July when neighboring villages harvest those flowers to make perfume and other products.
For many globetrotters, Provence is a godsend bestowed upon France. Provence has marvelous seafront cities on the Côte-d’Azur, from Cannes, Nice and Antibes to Saint Tropez and numerous other coastal towns. It prides itself in art bulwarks such as Arles or Aix-en-Provence. Museums and historic landmarks associated with the incredible number of artists who have found inspiration in Provence, such as Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and Van Gogh.
This is the hub of perfume-making, Grasse, and of course those spectacular fields of lavender across Luberon, Vaucluse and Valensole. Taken together, Provence is a world of colors, fragrances, and above all, a sense of serenity and joie de vivre. Worldly concerns seem to dissipate here. From a hilly vantage point of Luberon, the region is a mingled palette of mountains, patched with harvested fields of barley, pale yellow lawns, lush green trees, reddish and undulating roofs , the moss blanketed tiles of old Sénanque Chapel and the most spectacular of all – a purple ocean of lavender in full bloom.
In Valensole, in the midst of lavender fields stand purple windows of a workshop that specializes in lavender-based products by Angelvin, tiny houses loom behind shrubs, and a dark purple and silky-smooth veil seems to indefinitely line the earth to the horizon.
Many have traveled to Provence, fallen in love and stayed forever, buying old houses amidst those fields and growing vines to make wine. Thirty years ago, an Englishman named Peter Mayle arrived here, acquired a little farm and stayed after it had dawned on him that it must be where he needed to live, and write. His book A Year in Provence became a best-seller and triggered a new fascination with the region, attracting countless visitors, including celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who owned a small castle here.
Others did not find their final peace here, however. Vincent Van Gogh spent the last time of his life here, painted like mad in his dying existence in Saint Remy de Provence and Arles. Novelist Albert Camus resided in Lourmarin, one of the finest villages of Provence, yet many of his works still reeked of solitude.
Those who traveled and left, like me, seemed to feel something like regret upon leaving the lanes of lavender behind. Peaceful little towns such as Gordes and Lourmarin, or rural markets in Saint Remy de Province, Provence never left my memories. Finally coming back felt less like a vacation and more like a homecoming.