Provençal wanderings

From our little base of Goult, we have ample choice for exploration, so that’s how we find ourselves on the way to the village of Gordes. Perched only a few kilometres away on a rocky outcrop, it’s a hilltop beauty with an ancient history going all the way back to the Romans, via a medieval castle, some Renaissance modifications and plenty of plush, lavishly renovated houses. Because you see, Gordes is a star-studded village, with many a celebrity and rich person having their secondary home there – fancy spas and hotels can also be found tastefully dotted around the surrounding heights.


As a result, although it is undeniably stunning, I’m not as taken by Gordes as I am by “our” village; we wander a little trying to find a terrace in the sun, but not much is open at this season, so it doesn’t feel very authentic. We end up on the gorgeous but super windy small balcony of the “Club des Republicains”, which does feel very authentic with its foosball table and workmen having pastis in the corner (literally the whole of the South of France is doing building work before the start of tourist season). The view is fabulous, but it really is quite windy and nippy for Zaza, so we get inside to make further plans.

Emboldened by the gorgeous weather and enticing hills around the village, we decide to push further North along beautiful mountain roads, in a loop through the Gorges de la Nesque – what looks like a precipitous and fabulous drive above a rushing river.

Zaza has other plans. She does NOT wish to be in the car this afternoon. After fifteen minutes of uninterrupted screaming, we give up the scenic plan; but we still need petrol! So we ask our satnav, which has a clever special function, to kindly direct us to the nearest petrol station. Cue endless rotations through tiny villages whose fuel stations look like they have been closed for a few decades, accompanied by a concerto in throat-rending wails from the back seat. We stop on the side of the road, I find a field full of spring wildflowers to change the baby’s nappy in (I mean, come on, that’s first class service!); she is all gurgly smiles – until she’s back in the seat. We return home harrowed (again) and drink wine (again).

The next day, although we have now sworn not to drive a lot EVER again with Zaza, Heather wishes to see the sea. Heather LOVES the seaside; she is pleading with me to take advantage of the beautiful sunshine (which of course is set to disappear over the weekend we are spending next to the seaside in a couple of days) and drive South to the coast in Cassis. I relent. What the hell; it’s probably going to be brilliant.


Eliza’s okayish with the way there, although the satnav seems to have a true passion for sending me driving THROUGH every town and village in the most bonkers convoluted way, calmly directing me, in its stupid laconic “James, English (UK)” voice, up and down crazy narrow streets in zigzags instead of the perfectly good straight road that just goes past the village (which we only see after we come out of the maze of medieval streets, haggard and tense, and I’ve tersely commented on Heather’s navigating AGAIN). “Turn left, then keep right”. “SHUT UP JAMES! There is no left turn! It’s someone’s house! Aaagh!”. “Oh! There’s the left turn, up there!” offers Heather helpfully after we’ve passed it.

Arriving near Cassis, with a blissfully asleep baby in the car, we decide to dawdle and take the impressive Route des Cretes on the cliffs between Cassis and La Ciotat. What a place! The road snakes up and up in tight turns among the dwarf pine trees and the bushes; all around there is rock, below us the sea shines in the sun, and in the background, inland, the impressive heights of the Sainte Baume and the surrounding mountains rise in lightening hues of blue. We stop often to admire the views over the Cap Canaille towards Cassis, and from the top of the cliffs we can see East towards La Ciotat as well. There’s a guy on a motorbike with his dog in the front who’s going back and forth between the two towns over the beautiful road, he must be having the time of his life! Eliza even has a little stop for another premium view nappy change and a little milk snack, at the most spectacular panorama.



Unfortunately, following this break the car seat must come again, and Zaza’s beautiful mood deteriorates markedly as we drive back to Cassis and it’s a fun, fun sonorous time in the final few miles. We arrive in Cassis where “James” directs me into the weekly market – everyone looks at our car hatefully, we turn around and I eject Hev and the baby out of the car to go park in the underground car park (I have to call them back from around the corner, however, as I’m approaching the entrance of the height-limited underground car park and I am unsure whether I’m about to destroy the roof box).


Free from the car, we wander around in sunny Cassis, taking in the little harbour with blue Mediterranean water and small boats bobbing on it, the waterfront cafes, the little beach, and the extensive roadworks in preparation for tourist season. We settle ourselves at a lovely terrace for a luxurious seafood platter of oysters, prawns, whelks, raw mussels (!) and sea urchins.

Eliza meanwhile is totally obsessed with the mission of grabbing my glass of beer (generally on this trip, we have discovered that our daughter has an unhealthy fascination with alcohol bottles and glasses), stopping only to vomit on the table as the waiter approaches with the food.  “Your baby is leaking”, he informs me in a completely deadpan voice. A touch of class, with Eliza Phillips.

Heather, who was aiming for the “baby likes beer” photo, strikes gold instead with this gem

After lunch, we want to visit the main attraction of the area: the calanques. These are narrow inlets of turquoise sea under great big limestone cliffs, not accessible by road and reputed to be beautiful. Having availed ourselves of the good advice of the waiter who said that walking to the closest calanque takes a good hour and a half without a small baby, we agree with him that we’re better off going on a boat tour. It’s a great afternoon bobbing along on the gorgeous clear sea, taking in the red cliffs of Cap Canaille from the sea this time, and five calanques.

The view is magnificent again, with great big spiky cliffs plunging into turquoise waters, vertical columns of stone, striped flat layers of rock jutting out over the sea with grapes of sunbathing people on them, and pine trees growing right out of stone with no soil needed.


One day when Zaza’s bigger though, we’ll walk to the calanques to be able to see the beaches at the bottom of them, and swim in the glorious sea.



We drive back to Goult holding on to these beautiful images in our mind as our daughter sings the song of her people with renewed vigour from the car seat, with frequent stops to calm her down / desperately attempt to placate her with milk / pick her up for a five minute silence break. The road is magnificent, and as we round a bend and find little hilltop village Bonnieux silhouetted against the setting sun, on a background of soft jazz and whilstling wind through half-lowered windows (all ploys to distract my brain from the hellish crying noise), even the racket from Zaza cannot stop me smiling. We enter Goult with a sleeping baby, exhausted by her vocal prowess, and have wine. Again.


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