After what seems like slot of city touring on this trip and also having read A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle. We decided that today was the day to go rural and go to the hills of Provence. We have selected a week’s worth of villages for our tour and we are looking forward to a slower pace for the week.
We set off for the slightly inconvenient 20 minute walk on a road without pavements from the Nîmes aire this morning before we could get to some green land with the dogs. Luckily they decided that was also too far and most unusually did their business on tarmac. We decided to turn back, not knowing at the time that this time saving would prove critical later.
It was my turn to drive today, as we left Nîmes on the D999, Kev navigating and singing Roxanne to me for info 🙄😂🎤 We had a pleasant drive down the back roads toward Provence, as the flat lands have way to wooded limestone cliffs and hills.
We reached the aire at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse without event. There is only one in the village and it is run by Camping Car Park, a private company who have a network of aires across France where you have a membership and add credit to your card and use this to enter. We noticed the night before we arrived that there were only 2 of 26 spaces free. However we could not secure a space without paying separately by credit card, we already had quite a bit of credit from our previous trip to use so we decided to risk it.
When we arrived around 11:15 it was a left turn into the aire. There was one van at the barrier and another in the road waiting to turn in with hazards flashing. Kev got out to take a look, saying to me, don’t let anyone past you looks like there are only 4 spaces and we are the third van waiting. The van at the barrier after a few of minutes moved in to the aire. It was at this moment I saw another motorhome had pulled up behind me. I swapped my hazards to a left indicator to show we were heading in. However after a moment or two of hesitation from the van in front of me, the guy behind swung past us both into the gate! At this there was uproar and the guy in the front of the queue tore strips off him (in French) and pointed out his wife was entering her details into the machine and he could not enter in on those or would have problems entering. He made him reverse out and let him through. Kevin getting this gist of what was happening, pointed out to the wife she did not need to enter her details, that was to top up credit on your card, showed he how to swipe her card at the machine and they went in. However, reading the mind of the queue jumper he then stood in front of him and using international mime explained to him he was not jumping in front of us either and signalled me to swing past him into the gate. A quick swipe and we were parked up under the last bit of shade in the last bit one pitch.
Normally the carparks have marked spaces but this was bare limestone surface and three vans, apparently related to each other have taken the space for 5 vans complete with awnings and chairs out. The booking system was still showing 2 empty spaces and vans were still arriving who would get in through the barrier to find they could not park and I think you get charged for the night as son as you are in. We concluded it was all likely to kick off soon as the French seemed unlikely to put up with that.
We walked into the village, naively expecting a quiet and peaceful village. However the village car park was rammed too including a queue to pay for tickets. They had actually closed the road into the village however there were a lot of people milling around and still cars and lots of motorbikes trying to thread between them. We quickly deduced that lunch was going to Albert a rugby scrum too as soon as it turned 12, so I tried one restaurant, fully booked then a second and managed to book us in for 12.30.
We then headed to the main attraction of the village (and I hope the reason this village in particular is so busy), the spring source of the Sorgue river which pours from a network of underground caves. Apparently Jacque Cousteau came here years ago with a submersible to try and find the bottom years ago and did not find it. A probe years later measured 308m depth. It is said that all the rainwater from the Luberon and other surrounding mountains comes out of this one source, making a catchment area of 1100 square km (425 sq. miles). During spring or very heavy rainfall it lives up to its name, with water gushing out at 200m3 (52,000 gallons) every second – this is apparently one of the largest springs in the world. It takes amazing aquamarine blue photos when the sun is on it but we did not quite time it correctly for that. A natural beauty nonetheless though very busy with visitors.
We head back into the village centre and made it just in time for our table for lunch. We had a most enjoyable 2 hour lunch due to a bit of a delay receiving our lunch however we did not mind as we had some marvellous Provençal rose wine and we felt we had finally assimilated to France 🇫🇷🥂😂
Whilst we were dining we were slightly surprised to get a call on Kev’s mobile from Camping Car Parking. They were calling everyone staying in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse to let them know we were not allowed awnings or chairs apparently as it was not a campsite 😂 Though when we got back to the van they still had all their camping gear out. True rebellion at a level only the French can do properly.
We opened the doors to find we had reach a new van temperature record. Despite a little bit of shade and all the blinds shut except the top hatch which was cracked open, we were at 43.8 degrees C 🥵 Thank god we installed aircon! We both dove in the back to cool under the vents and even the dogs weren’t panting once the nice cool breeze from it started.
Despite the business, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a beautiful place with limestone cliffs, honey stone coloured buildings and ruined castles. We are hoping as the village is rather small that all the visitors will turn out to be daytime only and we will return to explore properly when all reopens after lunch and the weather cools down.