By PAT HARTMAN
Susan Spano, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, sees Provence through the lens of a reader. She was attracted by the writings of Peter Mayle, who has published no fewer than four books featuring the district, only to have a fan of show up in his living room. And then there’s a book called Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes, which which brings throngs of devoted readers to the area of the Luberon Mountains.
Spano, however, is not content to stick with trekking off to see the sights described in any of these books. With us peeking over her shoulder, she visits the town of Apt, where the market day is a famous attraction:
The Apt market, stretching along pedestrian-only streets…draws tourists and locals alike for its dazzling array of regional merchandise — handmade lavender soap, lotion and sachets, olives and olive oil, wine, artisanal honey and liqueurs, cheese, herbs, flowers, candied fruit, pottery, baskets and fabrics in all the bright, beautiful patterns of Provence.
Every one of those items is practically mandatory baggage for the home-bound visitor, especially the lavender products, because this is lavender world headquarters. And a serious market-goer has to know the ropes: Show up early, like 8:00, because first of all you want to be able to park.
Spano also explored the a mountain village called Sivergues, which she describes as “sort of Provençal ghost town” situated near the scenic Aiguebrun River. In fact, there appears not to be an inch of Provence that isn’t scenic. Art tourism vies with literary tourism as the big draw, especially since the recent opening of the house of Jane Eakin, a painter who inhabited Ménerbes for about forty years. Know who else used to live in this town? Dora Maar, one of Picasso’s muses.
Travel Examiner Mickey Sewell has also written extensively about Provence, adding an interesting detail about the area called the Luberon. No new buildings are permitted, so if you want to live there, you’d better have a relative who owns a house and who is anxious to remember you in their will. Sewell claims Texas as her other area of geographical expertise, and also is a proficient technical writer who grew up in many different parts of the world.
In La Belle France, she also covers the territory immortalized by painter Vincent Van Gogh, and the village of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, where Gypsies from around the world gather each spring to celebrate Sara the Black, patron saint of the Romany folk. Another town in Provence, Cassis, is where Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Roger Fry tended to hang out. And that’s only scratching the surface of the treasures Provence has to offer. And now, wouldn’t you know it? Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have invaded Provence and bought a 35-bedroom chateau with a 1000-acre back yard.
It goes without saying that this incomparable section of France is a favorite of a certain travel writer whose name is at the top of this page. Kevin Dolgin sings the praises of Provence like nobody else, in The Third Tower Up From the Road. We won’t give away too much, but he does say:
All of these things are wonderful and you should go to Provence and stay a long time and read about them, then check them out and then decide to stay even longer…
So, there you have it: Provence, France – be there or be square!