The Lavender Route
We are poised on the cusp of June when lavender, Provence’s most iconic plant, starts coming into blossom. Scattered all about the region, from June to August the fields become awash with an unmistakeable purple hue which will linger in your mind for some time after a sojourn in this land. Indeed, embarking on the lavender route is one of the best ways of touring this priceless French region, dotted with charming villages which exude that je ne sais quoi you will find absolutely captivating, beckoning you back year after year. Not for nothing were artists of the calibre of Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso fascinated by the light – that light ! – as well as by the charm emanating from the landscapes of Provence, which they set about immortalising in their works.
Picture Postcard Villages
The Vaucluse is the area of Provence with the highest concentration of lavender farms. There you will encounter vast fields filled with this aromatic plant, ideal for taking the snap that will earn your Instagram post a host of “likes”. You will also come across myriad charming villages which you are advised to venture into and stroll around. Gordes,which clings to a hillside, has become something of a magnet for the well-heeled of late, featuring upscale restaurants and hotels that contrast starkly with the rural calling of the surrounding area. Another village just waiting to be framed is Roussillon, where house fronts are painted in all possible shades of ochre, forming a harmonious ensemble. Bonnieux, which is one of our favourites, boasts large stone houses and a church at the top of the village commanding stunning views of the surroundings. Les Baux de Provence is another classic in the area. Its major landmark is its ruined castle, while the village is renowned as a venue for a troubadour song festival.
Apart from picturesque villages, a tour of Provence will reveal such gems as the 12th-century Sénanque Abbey, whose monks grow lavender – could it be otherwise? The idyllic image of the abbey features in practically all guides of the area. An interesting visit near Gordes is Village des Bories, an open-air area with around twenty restored bories, a unique type of stone hut made of limestone. If you’re a nature lover, be sure to head for the environs of Rustrel where, in a spot known as the French Colorado, erosion has carved out an unusual landscape dominated by ochre tones.
Provençal Markets – Tastes of Proximity
Find out in advance which days of the week markets are scheduled for in the various towns and villages you are likely to pass through, as they are the perfect excuse for getting to taste the flavours of each area, in addition to being the days on which the atmosphere is liveliest. Be sure to stock up on delicious craft cheeses and a fresh baguette, and seek out a pleasant spot to savour them. Wash it all down with a fine wine from the region – Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a great option – and a hearty tuck-in is guaranteed.
De Luxe Cuisine
Gastronomy is one of the fortes of this route. We can assure you that, wherever you go in Provence, you will find good food, although prices are a little on the dear side. We can also guarantee you will always be able to eat your fill, as helpings tend to be generous. Suffice to behold the size of their delicious, expertly dressed salads to realise that you’ll end up feeling anything but peckish. Bear in mind that the region does attract lots of tourists in the high season, so it’s worth booking a table in advance, particularly for dinner. Black truffle devotees should drop in on Chez Serge, located in Carpentras, where you can go to town on their dishes based on that aromatic fungus. And, among the unusual delicacies you can get to savour in Provence is homemade lavender ice-cream, occasionally served up for dinner at Château de la Gabelle.
A Lavender Souvenir
One thing that catches one’s attention when visiting Provence is the sheer number of products incorporating this pretty flower with its unmistakeable scent. No wonder, then, that Provence accounts for 80% of the world’s lavender production. You are sure to end up buying some lavender souvenir, from the classic ornamental bouquet to sachets for keeping in wardrobes, honey, sweets, soaps and all kinds of toiletries.
Book your Vueling to Marseille and strike out on a tour of Provence at its moment of maximum splendour.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUISmore info
A Route through the Périgord Vert
The Périgord, a former French province distributed across the departments of the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne, in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, is divided into four sub-districts named after the dominant colour in the area. Thus, the Périgord Pourpre (Purple) is so called on account of the colour of its wine; the Périgord Noir (Black), named for its truffles and the dark woodlands there; the Périgord Blanc (White), for the limestone prevalent in the soil, and the Périgord Vert for the intense green of its meadows and oak forests.
The Périgord Vert, the northernmost of the four, has its capital in the commune of Nontron where for centuries the main activities are trades relating to leather and the art of table dressing. This town is the best spot from which to strike out on a route through the lush meadows of France as it traverses an amazing variety of landscapes belonging to the Périgord-Limousin Regional Nature Park. You won’t be at a loss for things to do in the Périgord Vert as it offers a host of activities, including hiking routes or tours of oil mills and fortified castles.
Another itinerary that comes highly recommended is the well-known Richard the Lionheart Route which stretches for over 180 kilometres and covers 19 areas open to the public. The route is signposted on both sides of the main road by a lion crowned with a heart pierced by an arrow, in remembrance of Richard the Lionheart’s sad end. Dotted along the whole route are vestiges of the battles and power struggles among the Dukes of Aquitaine, sparked by marriage agreements, which also involved the Kings of England and the French monarchs.
Touring the Périgord Vert
Apart from soaking up nature in the Périgord Vert, it is worth visiting the charming villages in this sub-district of France, notably Brantôme, famous for its Abbey and the Church of Saint-Pierre, which boasts the oldest belfry in France, dating from the Visigoth period. Brantôme is sited on the banks of the river Dronne, which runs along gentle meanders that set up a beautiful picture postcard scenery known as the “Venice of the Périgord”. Setting out from the abbey, by crossing the unusual, 16th-century right-angled bridge, you get to the monks’ garden and the heart of the town, featuring numerous vestiges from the 16th, 17th and 18th century. However, the best guarded secret of Brantôme are its troglodytic caves, where Benedictine monks once sought refuge. A few kilometres from Brantôme along the river Dronne lies the village of Bourdeilles, a commune with two landmark buildings – a medieval fortress and a Renaissance building housing an interesting collection of 15th- and 16th-century Spanish furniture.
Book your Vueling to Bordeaux and delight in the fantastic scenery of the Pèrigord Vert, a two-hour ride away.
Text by Tus Destinos
The route by the coastline of Wales
Green pastures and sharp cliffs are the regular landscape of Wales, a land full of myths and legends. At Snowdonia, northeast of Wales, it is said that King Arthur was born. Here you can find the tallest mountain in England and Wales, and the highest lake in Wales. It is located exactly at Snowdon – which refers to ‘snowy hill’ in old English – is the highest point of the park, which is named after it.
The best way to discover Wales is follow the coastline path, the longest in the world. To fully enjoy this wonderful natural environment, a 1.350 kilometers long path was inaugurate in May, 2012, Wales Coastal Path, which follows stunning landscapes.
It’s easy to get to the Welsh coastline. You should take into account that everybody around here doesn’t live further than one hour away to the beach. This is one of the most recommended destinations to nature lovers, as it goes by 11 natural parks and many other natural reserves, this route is accessible to hikers and parts of it are also accessible by bike, trolleys or people with reduced mobility.
Wales Coastal Path right from Chepstow (South Wales) to the mouth of river Dee, in the north, that is by the border between Wales and the Cheshire Country, in England. The route follows all the Welsh coastline in a path that will take you to the Gower peninsula – with sandy beaches by the area of Pembrokeshire-, the strait of Menai in the isle of Anglesey – that links to the land by an iron suspension bridge -, the seafront in Cardiff bay, the cliffs in Porthcawl or the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Along the way, you can enjoy rich and varied wildness species. The cliffs, bays and sandy beaches are great viewpoints to sight sea birds like guillemots, puffins, razorbills, gulls, glaucous and shearwaters. The popular Cardigan Bay is famous for the dolphins, gray whales and porpoises that visit the shore often to play with the waves.
Picture from Wales Coastal Path by Hogyn Lleol | Strumble Head by Hogyn Lleol | Pembroke by JKMMX
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A route through Bilbao
The route starts in the Siete Calles area, in the pedestrian streets that alternate the more classical shops with the more innovative and brimming with bars and restaurants to sample the very best in Basque cuisine.
This metropolitan area has an outstanding architectural and monumental heritage, with civil and religious buildings of great interest and where the bars and shops truly come to life. El Arenal of Bilbao is the best Gateway to the city’s Old Town and its bridge, a watchtower over the Teatro Arriaga, a great centre of Bilbao’s cultural life, built by Joaquín Rucoba and Octabio de Toledo, who took inspiration from the Paris Opera in its creation.
We enter the Siete Calles through the Arenal and, at 2 calle Fueros, we encounter Lautxo, a small shop specialising in all types of take-away croquettes and cannelloni. The huge selection of croquettes includes Basque style cod, prawn and mushroom, baby squid cooked with onion, and chorizo, and the cannelloni delicacies include leek, Idizabal and mushroom.
To eat we were recommended to try Kasko, a colourful restaurant with oak columns offering modern cuisine combined with Basque products. It offers menus to suit all budgets.
Strolling around the Siete Calles you will come across interesting shops such as lu:la, in plaza Santiago s/n, which sells beautiful shoes, the latest fashion and one-off accessories. Another of the shops that caught our attention in the Old Quarters was La Casa del Yogur of Bilbao. Located at 2 calle Víctor, this outlet specialises in dairy products from Cantabria made from 100% natural yoghurt.
The Plaza Nueva, which is built in a defined neoclassical style and with 64 arches supported by Grecian columns, is teeming with bars. We loved Víctor Montes, with its huge array of pinchos (brochettes), but you can lose yourself in any of the many lively, popular bars and establishments in the square.
At number 2 Calzadas de Mallona, you will find the Archaeological Museum which houses the Basque Country history in a chronological route from prehistoric ages to the modern age.
Climbing the 213 steps of Mallona which start in the plaza Unamuno, takes you to the Basílica de Begoña, passing by the cemetery of Mallona. This stretch forms part of the Route of St. James via the Costal Route. From the viewing point you have the best views over the old quarters. And for the lazy, you have the alternative of going up in the Begoña lift.
Most noteworthy in the Etxebarria Park is the old chimney which still remains intact on the Aceros Echevarría steel factory. This is due to the fact that many of the industries were located inside the city.
Going down, you arrive at the river where you will find the Mercadillo del Nervión, a curious shop selling second hand items. Antiques, rarities and a little bit of everything. If you are a lover of vintage clothing, you must visit the market on calle Dos de Mayo which takes place on the first Saturday of every month. Here you can find second hand and new clothes, old vinyl, vintage furniture and much more.
Bordering the estuary we come across Zubizuri, which means “white bridge” in the Basque language, it is also known as the Campo de Volantín Pedestrian Bridge or Calatrava Bridge, which has become the new symbol of Bilbao.
Continuing along the path through Volatinse country you come to the plaza del Funicular which will take you up to Artxanda. The funicular railway was built in 1913 and during the journey which lasts a few minutes, you will pass through Ciudad Jardín (Garden City), an area of pretty houses with beautifully kept gardens.
A Artxanda has always been considered the lungs of Bilbao because the town was formerly the location of a lot of industry and the air wasn’t as clean as it is nowadays.
Once you are up there you will come across a park with grass, a children’s play area and a picnic area where the Bilbao inhabitants go up to sunbathe and relax after having lunch in one of the rotisseries. There are three good restaurants to eat in, the Sidrería Artxanza cider bar with a menu of cod tortilla. fried cod and drink for €28, the restaurante Txacolí with typical Bilbao cuisine and the restaurante Antón.
Picture by kurtxio
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