Monday, September 08, 2008

Provence without Crowds

Provence in summer can make you crazy. On the one hand, the region offers one of the world’s most seductive landscapes and sensuous lifestyles. On the other hand, the entire charmed experience can be ruined by the crush of tourism and the problems which arise when lots of foreigners with lots of money invade. Between the high prices, the traffic and parking problems and the irritated locals, it is easy to decide that Provence in high season is oh so lovely but just not worth it.

This year, while driving back to London from northern Spain, we stayed with some savvy friends in the Luberon, made famous by British author, Peter Mayle in “A Year in Provence”, who introduced us to a magical village that seemed to solve the problem of how to visit Provence in high season without crowds.

Goult, located near the famous hilltop towns of Menerbe, Bonnieux and Lacoste, is a delightful place tucked up on the side of a hill that has somehow escaped the attention of tour buses and groups. That’s not to say that you won’t find tourists in Goult but you won’t find many. The atmosphere of the town was surprisingly quiet, chic, in an understated way and decidedly slow. We visited on a warm day in August and had our pick of parking places in the Place de la Liberation in front of the Romanesque church. The fact that we could park so easily was already a huge advantage, as was the fact that the children could wander safely through the narrow, quiet streets. A few tourists, like us, were wandering around appreciating the splendid views from the ramparts, admiring the windmill and photographing the lovely ancient stone houses.

The highlight of our visit was a long lunch on the terrace of the Café de la Poste which was filled with a jolly mix of locals and their dogs, tourists of every nationality and lots of children. It’s best to reserve or arrive early as the place fills up quickly. We had a wonderful time. Service was incredibly slow and slightly haphazard which bothered absolutely no one. More importantly, the plat du jour and several lunch menu options offered very good value. Everything was delicious.

Whiling away that blissful afternoon on the terrace of the Café de la Poste with all the sensual tastes and smells of Provence, we gave serious consideration to returning to Goult for a longer stay. Located in the Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon, Goult is a wonderful jumping off point for walking and bicycling. Surrounded by some of the most fertile agricultural land in France, the food in the markets really is too good looking to eat. An internet investigation revealed that there are several places to rent in and around Goult including the town’s rather fabulous chateau which can accommodate up to 14 adults and 10 children. Compared to the prices of hotels, even the Chateau ends up looking like a bargain. There’s no doubt about it. We’ll be back.

Café de la Poste
Rue Republique
Tel: 04 9072 23 23

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