Travel: A tear in Provence

PUBLISHED: 10:29 01 October 2013 | UPDATED: 13:17 04 October 2013

The hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France

The hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France


When the temperature is touching 100, there’s no air-conditioning and the famous fountains can’t be found, maybe the Cotswold rain isn’t so bad after all.

After the hols, a melancholy mood can set in. Right now I’m staring out at the rain, remembering the Provençal landscape shimmering in the heat, the sizzling of the cicadas, the smell of melons… But wait! There were bits of that tour of Provence that were slightly less than perfect.

The Hotel du Crap, for example, in the purlieus of the enchanting hill village of Venasque. (I like the way purlieu rhymes with curlew, and I shall write a verse celebrating it, one day.) We were greeted at reception by a tormented face peering out at us from behind a doorway, like something out of a Goya painting. The receptionist may have been having a difficult menopause, to be fair.

Obviously our arrival was a disaster, but not as big a disaster as the room. We had booked air-conditioning, indeed, as the furnace that is the Mediterranean summer raged outside, air-conditioning was our only need. I would happily have slept standing up, like a horse, if only I’d had access to refrigerated blasts of air.

There’s a limit to the amount of remonstration that can be achieved with rusty A-level French, even from Pate’s Grammar School, but I demanded (or, to be honest, begged) a fan – un ventilateur. Or was that an Intensive Care device: a respirator? Either way it would be welcome. Eventually they brought us a fan, warning us, ‘Be careful, it’s lost its guard!’ In French, of course. Though in English, that phrase does usefully demonstrate the correct use of it’s and its.

Later we asked her to make us a cup of tea, and received a village pond in which pieces of the Shroud of Turin were floating. (Tea made with tepid water and laced with boiled milk). Oh yes, there were moments when Provence was an absolute ordeal, to be honest.

Then there were the drivers. My chap Steve is the perfect holiday chauffeur, stopping for rare wild flowers and driving at 2mph on vertiginous mountain roads while I scream, ‘Slow Down!!!’ But the locals didn’t appreciate the way we dawdled along, entranced by their Cistercian abbeys and wayside lavender stalls. They were hell-bent on getting from Apt to Gap, rather like a word game, at 90mph, driving right through our car from behind if necessary and emerging triumphant through our windscreen. I’ve never seen such determined attachment to a rear end since our terrier last encountered a bitch in season.

Drawing a veil over the episode when I nearly had to puke into a carrier bag and Steve to pee into an Evian bottle – perhaps the absolute nadir of our fortunes – the most disappointing moment was our visit to Perne Les Fontaines.

I have always longed to see Perne and its mediaval and Renaissance halls and walls and thingummyjigs, most of all its 40 graceful fountains. Accordingly we parked, in scorching heat, and crept out to explore, hoping to plunge our heads into one of the fountains.

Mysteriously, we found ourselves in a tiny square. All windows and doors were shuttered. Nobody was about. The lanes led nowhere. There was only one goddam fountain and it was dry as a bone. The temperature was touching 38 – 100 degrees in old money. My earrings had melted and fused to my earlobes, and there wasn’t a single medieval thingummyjig in sight. We fled back to the car and whacked the air-con up to max. And even then we were too hot.

So, maybe sitting staring out at the autumnal rain in the incomparable Cotswolds isn’t so bad after all.


Sue Limb is a regular contributor to Cotswold Life.

Follow her on Twitter: @sue_limb

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