While in the south of France, we’re renting a flat in Aix-en-Provence. Much to our dismay, Aix feels like any small city anywhere but French. During our stroll around town we appreciated the quaint and historic mix that seems to be a European speciality: ancient city blocks and metro shops… it rings familiar… I think Italy spoiled us, having already gotten a full dose of “old European city” in Florence. Aix therefore feels a bit old hat.
A major difference here is that English is not as commonly spoken as in Italy. As a result, I’m having fun dusting off my conversational French to get us around – and Thomas is happily reliant upon me to do so!
While Aix hasn’t fulfilled all we’d hoped, my main desire for coming to Provence was Seguret. I’ve been so excited to share this area of France with Thomas.
Today we explored Seguret, known as one of France’s “most beautiful villages.”
I visited Seguret with my family when I was 14 years old. I remember this place for the ancient yet living quality of a village built into the side of a mountain.
The doorways open from narrow lanes into homes built inside castle walls. I saw many people inside their homes as we passed through the town. Peeking in the open doors, I saw hearths, arts supplies, flower pots, boots. I imagine artists live here. Their homes – along with the hotels and restaurants – have a spectacular view of the Provencial vineyards below.
Before coming to France, I asked my sister and father to help me find the hotel where we stayed twenty-two years ago. I’d hoped Thomas and I would stay there and experience Seguret’s charm as I knew it. The dining room of our hotel had a plate-glass window overlooking the countryside, and inside the building was rustic and humble decor. Despite the research we all conducted online, no such hotel could be found in 2017.
Not to be deterred, Thomas and I ventured to Seguret.
We departed from the Seguret visitor parking area down a dirt road on our 9km hike to the ruins the Prébayon monestary. Each whiterock road led to the next. Our path wound down in the valley among fields of grapevines. Eventually the roads gave way to trails lined with trees and wildflowers.
At the bottom of the valley, we came upon a statue, some plaques and these old ruins.
The Prébayon nunnery was established at the bottom of the valley by the Dauphin in the 7th century. A natural flood occurred in about 962AD causing most of the nuns to die. Since about 1750, the Catholic church has continued to hold an annual service at the ruins site on the first Saturday in May (a few weeks from now).
The hike was peaceful and gentle and remoteness rejuvenated us.
We barely passed any cars or people in the 3+ hours while we walked. We spoke little and gratefully absorbed the wildflowers, light breeze, young trees, the gentle sun and the fresh air blowing the scent of earth and flowers. We’d come to France from Italy on Mistral Air, and the word “mistral” struck us both. After seeing the word around Aix, we researched its origin. “Mistral” is the term for the wind coming from the north in winter and spring:
The Mistral, a cold dry north or northwest wind blows down through the Rhone Valley to the Mediterranean, and can reach speeds of ninety kilometers an hour.
Provence has a name for its breeze! Who knows if we met le mistral today, but the air certainly rang of spring.
At lunch I told Thomas, “this, as opposed to Aix, is the Provence I wanted to share with you.”
We finished our hike just in time for our lunch reservations in the village of Seguret. I booked a table at the restaurant, Le Mesclun because of its reviews – and especially because of the view overlooking the countryside of Provence. Our several courses on the terrace were accompanied by fresh bread and more mistral, with a view of the vineyards from which we partook. We had the best glass of red wine I’ve ever had. It came from a local “domaine” in Seguret. Possibly from the same grapes we passed earlier that day.
This being Thomas’ first trip to France, he describes Seguret as the quintessential French vineyard country. We both had fallen in love with the countryside of Italy (Lucca in Tuscany, in particular), so I was curious how Provence resonates. For him, the hike in the nature was quiet, steeped in history, off the beaten path and pleasant. He prefers Tuscany for its less arid climate, and yet we dream of returning here to rent a Seguret villa one day!