Thursday, March 22, 2012

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Lubéron National Park, Gordes

For my parents, today began well and ended well—but the middle of the day was rather a dud.

This morning, tour participants were transported to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a small town situated on an island in the middle of the Sorgue River.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known for its many canals as well as for its many antique shops.

Participants were requested to focus on the town’s open-air market (with the expectation that they buy things)—but the town proved so lovely that virtually everyone in the tour group quickly departed the open-air market and strolled the streets and canals of the town. Flowers were in bloom, the day was sunny, and the bright colors decorating the town’s buildings gave the morning a joyful, even festive, air.

Despite the fact that there was absolutely nothing of historic interest in the town, my parents loved their visit to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

From L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the tour group was transported into Lubéron National Park, a Provencal nature reserve set amidst three small mountain chains.

In the middle of the park, the tour group was deposited at The Lavender Museum, a museum devoted to lavender and its history, cultivation, harvest, distillation and production.

The Lavender Museum is a family-owned enterprise not all that dissimilar to such family enterprises in the United States. Like U.S. variants of this noxious lineage, The Lavender Museum was little more than a haphazard collection of junk.

Not only were tour participants forced to spend time at The Lavender Museum, tour participants were also required to endure a lengthy and near-unbearable guided tour by one of the museum’s owners—“just the sort of thing for people who like this sort of thing”, according to my father.

During the guided tour, the Lavender Museum guide pointed out, a hundred times, that the museum owns the largest collection of copper stills for lavender in the world. After the guide's 90th iteration of this fact, my father turned to my mother and said, in exasperation, “Well . . . I would certainly hope so.”

Sadly, the copper stills and copper colanders were by far the most interesting items on display at The Lavender Museum. Nothing else was of any interest whatsoever.

To make matters worse, the tour group was made to sit through not one but two insufferable videos. When the museum guide started the second video, my father turned to my mother and asked, “Don’t we get time off for good behavior?”

At the conclusion of the guided tour of the museum, tour participants were made to spend twenty-five minutes in the requisite gift shop. The men in the group were particularly irritated by this, and started openly cracking jokes, comparing The Lavender Museum to the world’s largest ball of twine or a temple devoted to linoleum.

After The Lavender Museum, the tour group was driven through more of Lubéron National Park, which was pleasant enough, and then deposited at the base of Gordes, an ancient hilltop town situated on the side and summit of a small mountain.

Gordes, according to my parents, made the day worthwhile.

The buildings of Gordes, set into hillside cliffs, are made of a uniform white stone that looks yellow from a distance. Italian poplar trees and carefully-conceived greenery break the monotony of the whiteness of the stone.

Narrow cobble streets wind through the town, taking visitors to the top, where rests an ancient castle, church and other buildings—and where visitors may enjoy marvelous views over the plain below.

According to my parents, Gordes was breathtakingly beautiful—which probably is why it is the most-visited small town in France.

My parents walked the winding narrow streets from the base to the top, stopping for a coffee and pastry along the way, and they retraced their steps on the way down, stopping for a cappuccino on the return portion of their stroll.

It was a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

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