Provence was put in the international spotlight back in the ‘90’s when Englishman, Peter Mayle, wrote about buying and renovating an ancient home near Menerbes. He started off his first book describing the mistral winds in winter. We were in summer, but endured something akin to that the night before our own mecca to Menerbes. Shutters shuttered, thunder clapped and rain fell hard in this summer version of what Mayle described. We woke the next morning, however, to a gloriously sunny and clear day.
From Rustrel we would have to go through Lacoste and a few other smaller villages before reaching Menerbes. The roads in Provence are about as wide as a one-way street in the states and often flanked by very deep ditches on either side. Thankfully, our car was small—but there were quite a few local worker’s trucks and vans and a few mid-size campers floating around this time of year. The worker’s would just come barreling down on you, even if you were going fast, and expect you to get out of the way. The campers would kind of create their own lanes as they floated down these tight roads. God forbid if you had an impatient worker behind you and a camper in front and another camper coming in the other direction. We witnessed more than one vehicle turned on its side in the ditch.
After Alex pulled her fingers out of the dashboard from one harrowing incident, we slowed to a view of Lacoste perched high above the valley floor. About mid-way through our ascent we noticed a picture-perfect lavender field with rows of olive trees. Most fields we came across were open to walk in– or at least near—for a good picture. This one was not. There were hedges in front and though there were no “No Trespassing” signs, it seemed a bit ominous. Alex wasn’t having it though, and really wanted her shot (or to get shot). She jumped a hedge and lined up her frame. “Take the shot Alex,” I whispered loudly from the other side of the hedge. Just then, a door or gate slammed loudly nearby and someone yelled harshly. Alex came scrambling back over the hedge. “Go, go, go!” She said frantically as she ran behind me. “Start the car!” We jumped in and tore out of there like Bonnie and Clyde, as if we had really done something horribly wrong when we were just appreciating the beauty.
Driving into Lacoste we surprisingly saw some references to our current state of residence back in America: a guy wearing a University of Georgia hat, a girl with a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket T-shirt and a poster for a SCAD event. SCAD is the Savannah College of Art and Design and they have a satellite campus in, of all places, Lacoste. Apparently, they bought a few old buildings for classes and residences. What better place to study art and design than a centuries-old village touched by Kings and Queens, and fondled by the scandalous Marquis de Sade, who came from this very town. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop, since we still had a ways to go to get to Menerbes.
I had read that Menerbes was a “honey colored paradise” and whoever wrote that was spot-on. The yellow-gold hues of stone shone like honey in the Provence light of early afternoon. This was a very clean, very upscale town. We found a stone picnic table in a small park just at the edge of town overlooking the valley below. We cut into a fresh baguette, added the usual ham and cheese, poured some wine and just took it all in.
Nearby was an old man sitting at a small café table with a black cat curled up next to him in the sun on the sidewalk. The cat rolled over and the old man used his cane to rub the cat’s belly. This was obviously a routine that happened here most every day. A local woman strolled by pushing a baby carriage. Her husband came to meet them for a stroll, probably on his lunch break. Only a couple cars passed through this side of town. The hilltop breeze kissed our cheeks as we bit into our picnic dessert: fresh apricots that exploded juice with every bite. We left Menerbes feeling full in stomach, head and heart.