Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Somewhere to stay in Provence - gites, apartments, villas...

It's mid-summer and the area is full of highly-visible tourists, wearing shorts, holding hands and displaying ultrawhite limbs with sore patches of red sunburn. Tourists move differently. Local people drift along, rather relaxed. They move quite slowly. Tourists tend to stride, slightly ill at ease, with this awkward couple-here-together-in-a-place-we-don't-know habit of holding hands. Bet they don't walk down the street at home holding hands. It looks faintly childish. They look different too. I couldn't say how exactly but I can spot a Belgian, Brit or German a mile off. And often the Dutch and Danes too. Swiss and Austrians? Too hard. Not sufficiently distinct in dress or manner.
Most of my neighbours seem to let apartments, studios or villas in summer. Usually lovely properties in or around the little hamlet here which centres on a swimming pool set in lovely lawns dotted with oleanders.
It's certainly a blissful place for a holiday. Vines draping over balconies. Lavender buzzing with the bees which produce honey for the local mielerie. Cats and kittens here and there snoozing on a wall in the sun or swiping at lizards as they disappear under stone steps. The cicadas sing in the heat all day. The scent of baking bread drifts from the old stone oven in a neighbour's courtyard. And the olive trees add soft foliage to the picture, dropping away down from the old stone buildings to the pretty canal near the village. As I write, horses are passing the house on the chemin de terre - their riders' voices wafting in through the wide open window. They'll ride up into the garrigue between here and Fontaine de Vaucluse, taking in the heat and light, cherry orchards and olive groves, and wander back happily late in the afternoon. It's great countryside for horseriding. Most of the riders are local but some are on holiday, staying in local gites or chambres d'hotes. From what I've seen in the last five years some of the best places to stay are on slightly obscure French websites - gites, studios and apartments rented out by locals only tangentially involved in tourism. They're good places to stay because they're in local communities so you experience local life, which can be pretty blissful. This week a bunch of us had an apero dinatoire and invited a Belgian couple staying nearby. They've been visiting for years and have made good friends here, which adds to their holiday. And last night we were invited to their place in return. It's worth looking around before renting a gite or apartment hermetically sealed off from local life. If you're going to travel to Provence your vacation will be much more fun if you get into the swim of the local community.