The True Provençal Life 

Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by Bill and Pam Seney

If you’ve seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, then you may be familiar with Belle’s ache to escape the simplicity of French life; today’s tourists of the region may disagree. France’s Provence region is known to attract lovers of lavender, cheese, medieval architecture, and decadent food. For avid travellers Pam and Bill Seney, the slow “provençal” life proved to be a true delight in experiencing the beauty found in the French countryside. 

Bill and Pam in front of the great ochre in Roussillon.

Even before their cruise let them off in Marseille, they knew they wouldn’t be sticking around the city. Bill says there was plenty of beauty to see in Marseille, including the gorgeous port and the surrounding restaurants, but Pam echoes that these two aren’t big city people. The Seneys are infamous in the Windsor-Essex region for their well researched spreadsheets that they prepare before travels, so Pam emphasizes that this detour to the country was a planned affair. They had arranged for a driver to meet them once the cruise docked. There wasn’t a minute to spare, they had both Lourmarin and Roussillon in the region of Luberon to explore that day. 

Being the architectural enthusiasts that they are, Pam and Bill planned this hour drive outside of Marseille specifically to see Le Château de Lourmarin, the medieval castle in the area. “We’ve seen temples and other ruins, but this was actually our first time in a castle,” Pam shares their excitement, and says they weren’t disappointed upon arrival. In every other village in Luberon the castle (or ruins of a previous castle) are found in the centre with the village developed around it, whereas this one is found just outside. This château is said to be the first renaissance style castle to be built in Provence, and it was nearly torn down if not for Robert Laurent-Vibert who spent five years (and a great deal of money) restoring it. It was listed as a historic monument in 1973 and now incorporates a marvelous olive grove filled with 250 olive trees that tourists can visit, as well as a gift shop that — of course — sells delicious local wines. 

Pam and Bill may have gone to Lourmarin for the castle, but they say that the village alone is a reason to visit. Lourmarin is known to be one of the most beautiful little villages in all of France and the two say that the photos, albeit beautiful, still don’t do the scenery justice. “It was like the world kind of stopped. There’s an unbelievable peacefulness to the streets,” Pam describes the feel of the village. Bill adds that “it would have been nice to be here for a week. It’s not a big village but there’s such a peacefulness it offers that you would just enjoy having breakfast on the streets.” 

Bloggers have echoed that what Lourmarin lacks in size she makes up for in charm and in village activity. The village is filled with restaurants spilling onto the cobbled roads, and although you may not be able to fit a car down these streets, there are over 15 restaurants to choose from, whether you’re looking for a simple meal or Michelin-starred dining experience. Pam and Bill couldn’t resist stopping here for a beautiful and authentic French lunch filled with wine and favoured dessert of creme brulee, before they were off to explore more of the region. 

Their next stop of the day was Roussillon, which was filled with all of the same breathtaking stillness that Lourmarin was, but with an added pop of colour. In one of the photos of Pam and Bill you may notice a rock formation behind their head, which is one of the most memorable features to visit in this area: the ochre mines. 

Roussillon’s ochre quarry was once one of the most significant ochre deposits in the world. The quarry holds 17 different shades of ochre which has famously been used to paint the 300-year-old homes around Roussillon. The area is filled with this ochre because millions of years ago it would have been found submerged beneath the sea, however the reason behind its multitude of colours is still unknown. If anything, this mystery is part of the appeal of the region and why so many, like Pam and Bill, flock to Roussillon to experience its beauty. 

“With the invention of modern pigmentation they don’t do this anymore,” Bill explains their draw to the region. “It’s strictly a tourist attraction now but contributes to the beauty of the area. It’s so unique and brilliant. If the sun shines on it it brings out the colours: the yellows, browns, violets, reds. We’ve never seen anything like it.” 

Both the Roussillon and Lourmarin area are a host of art galleries and have housed a number of artists throughout the years. It can be assumed that the colours along with the age and state of the villages would attract anyone in need of a creative muse. Pam and Bill say that the way these villages light up reminds them of Quebec. “You can see how parts of Canada have been influenced by the French in a positive way. We’ve been to Montreal and now we can notice the reflection of French culture: the architecture and the commitment to socialization with the restaurants and gatherings.” 

On their way back to Marseille, the Seneys enjoyed the collision between natural and man-made beauty and said it was truly a marvel for their eyes. They’ve only seen a sliver of what the south of France has to offer and were grateful for the drive and boat ride that allowed them to view more of its port cities, cliffs, housing, and the incredibly striking panoramic view of the coast of France. 

There is something for everyone found in the Provence region of France. For those, like Belle, who are looking for “adventure in the great wide somewhere” there are fantastic resorts, luxurious restaurants, and big city energy. And for anyone who appreciates the small moments: the steam rising above their cafe au lait, the curves found in the narrow winding roads, or the precious meals that are worth waiting for in mom and pop restaurants, the provincial area may prove to be a lovely stop along the way — or the entire voyage. 

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