June 4th, 2005, 10:35 AM
I am trying to plan our itinerary for a one day visit in Provence. We are on a cruise ship and only have about 11 hours in this area. Since we are there on a Sunday I really want to go to L'Ilse sur la Sorgue for the market, but then I am torn between which other towns to visit. I am deciding between Gordes, Roussillon, Bonnieux, Meberbes and Oppede le Vieux. I want to stay away from the large crowds and experience some beautiful villages. Any advice on your experiences either positive or negative would be greatly appreciated.
June 4th, 2005, 06:23 PM
I assume you're planning to rent a car? We were in Provence last year, not on a cruise but staying in a gite, and spent a day in this area. Hopefully it will at least give you an idea if I tell you what we were able to do in a day.
We got a very late start, having driven from Paris the day before, and didn't get to Isle sur la Sorgue until about 11am. It was packed, cars parked every which way, but because some people were already leaving we were able to get a space without too much stress. The market is truly amazing, and the little streets and bridges just wind everywhere. We spent 2 hours, maybe even more, including a picnic lunch in the park with the wonderful food we bought in the market. (We had a rotisserie chicken that was better than I knew chicken could be. I can still taste it!)
Then we drove to Gordes, with a side trip down a narrow, twisting road to the Village Des Bories, which was only moderately interesting and probably not worth your time. Gordes itself was also packed ... probably spin-off from the Isle market day ... but absolutely spectacular. Have your camera out the window as you approach, and don't forget to look back up the hill as you drive away down the other side later. Parking is even more of a nightmare. We only spent 1/2 hour there, just to wander a bit but if you're a shopper you could spend much longer.
We then drove to Roussillon which is a MUST. Have a spare roll of film because there's another photogenic shot around every corner. We stopped for an ice-cream and my daughters shopped for purses ... probably spent an hour altogether.
From there, we headed towards "home" which was near Aix so we had to drive through the hills to Lourmarin, which was more twisty and mountainous than we had expected, although very scenic. If you turn off the N100 towards Bonnieux onto the minor road D149, there is a little arched bridge that you won't think much about unless you realize that it's the Pont Julien, a 2500-year-old Roman bridge that you can still drive over! Worth a quick stop.
We were just passing through at that point, but there are lovely views of the valley from Bonnieux, and we stopped to take photos. There didn't seem to much else to stop for. If you turn back west from there, you will drive through Lacoste (home of the Marquis de Sade) and Menerbes, which are both reported to be beautiful perched villages but probably just drive-throughs as well.
We passed through Bonnieux at about 6pm, and I'd estimate to get back to the freeway with brief photo stops in Lacoste and Menerbes would take at least an hour. It's not far, but the roads are very local. We had a good Michelin map, and didn't get lost at all. It's actually signposted very well.
I hope that helps you to lay out your plans. Like anything, it will depend on how much you like to linger and shop, and when darkness falls, and many other factors, but it's a fantastic area and I know you'll have a great day.