Thursday, October 11, 2012

Provence Vacation - Part 2

In September, Muschi and Paschi took us on vacation to the Luberon region of Provence.  Here are some pictures and my notes on our time there.


Morning.  Paschi, Donnie and I head to the Rustrel bakery for the daily bread.  We buy a baguette and a fougasse.  (A fougasse is made from olive oil dough which is rolled flat and slit, producing a branching appearance and lots of nice, chewy crust.  The Rustrel bakery uses a wood burning oven making their fougasse is particularly good).  We also buy two little cakes--one apricot, the other chocolate with pears--to eat that day for Louisa's birthday.

Later in th morning, after Louisa goes down for her nap, Paschi, Muschi  and I head to Apt.  Paschi sits in the car while Muschi and I visit the Apt farmers' market.  We buy fruit, pate, lavender essential oil, zinnias, wine, and one bar of very expensive soap.  

A group of school children visiting the produce stand.

Birthday zinnias!

A gate leading to the old city of Apt

Back at Le Rosier, we celebrate Loulou's first birthday. I'm grateful that her birthday has fallen during this vacation.  It's so good to be with family.  The fact that we're traveling means the event is nice and simple.  We have a good lunch under the grape arbor, sing happy birthday, and open a few presents.   Louisa doesn't need any help from us blowing out her candle--the wind does it for her.

Now, I'll take a break from the travel narrative to note that Louisa's first year has gone by so quickly and sweetly!   I've heard different opinions on whether it's easier to transition from no children to one child or one child to two.   For us, it has been much easier (and less angsty) to go from one to two.  I credit Loulou's cheery and affectionate personality, and the wonderful way that she and Maria get along.   Louisa has brought a fullness of joy to our family life.  We love her so!  Now back to the log...

Following lunch, we have "quiet time" (Louisa sleeps, Maria doesn't), and then rush to get to the Lavender Museum before it closes.  The Lavender Museum is an exquisite learning and indoctrination experience.   The whole place smells of  lavender, and the walls are painted a gentle purple gray.   Exhibits show the process of extracting essential oil from the plants, and the evolution of distillation technology.    

Now I'm going to get a bit pedantic, and recount a few of the interesting factoids we learned at the museum.  Please feel free to skip:

* There are two different plants that are often called "lavender."

There is fine lavender and lavandin.  Fine lavender is the natural plant--the one that Provencal peasants gathered wild in the mountains and sold to perfumers to augment their income.  Fine lavender can only grow in a narrow range of altitude.  The plant has a fine, subtle fragrance and many medicinal qualities.   

Lavendin is a hybrid of fine lavender  and can grow almost anywhere.  It has a much stronger, headier scent, and is used to perfume detergents.  Lavendin is much easier to grow and produces much more essential oil per unit volume.   According to the museum, lavandin has no medicinal qualities.

Hearing this, does it surprise you that the museum is the side business of a fine lavender farm?  Promoting the benefits of fine lavender over lavandin is one of their explicit missions.   

(Learning this distinction, Muschi and I realise that the essential oil we bought in the morning at the farmers' market must have from lavandin rather than fine lavender.  Fine lavender essential oil would have cost us three times as much.)

Other factoids:

*The city of Grasse became a perfume capital after local leather workers discovered they could perfume their products to mask the unpleasant smell of tanning chemicals.  Thus the guild of leather workers became the guild of leather workers and perfume makers.

*Flower oils are distilled in much the same process, with much the same equipment, as alcohool.  One of the the stills we saw had been rendered inoperable by the customs officials, in order to  prevent its owners from using it to make illegal cognac.   Now we're thinking that distillation really needs to be covered in our future homeschooling curriculum.

Returning to family travel narrative....

At last, we break free of the museum's beautiful-smelling and pricey gift store and pile back into the car.  While Paschi is setting the Garmin, he discovers that we are not far from another notable site, Fountaine de Vaucluse, the source of the Sorgue River.  We spend twenty minutes driving through narrow country lanes, into the Sorgue river canyon and arrive at the village as night is falling. 

As the trip was unplanned and unresearched, I'm not prepared for the sublime landscape that greets us.  The Sorgue river emerges from the foot of cliffs, which loom over the valley like petrified waves. 

It was too dark to take pictures when we were at Fountaine de Vaucluse, but we spotted this painting of the Source several days later when we visited Avingnon.

We follow the path up the the river, up to the source, where the water appears suddenly, at full river strength, from the shaddowy rock.   We hear scratching noises presumably made by spelunkers investigating a nearby cave.  I pray that no one close to me ever takes up that dreadful hobby.

As we drive away, I'm grateful to have seen the source, but glad to put the hulking cliffs behind me.  Donnie declares that the Sorgue is now his favorite river.  The way home is difficult driving---dark, winding farm lanes.  We are grateful when we pull into the driveway of the La Grand Bastide.

Another great day in Provence.

Some video from Loulou's birthday festivities:


  1. Oh sweet Sheehy family. I love hearing your voices! :) Happy Bday, Louisa!!!