Call it luck. Or maybe fate.
Early into our recent trip to France, we made a three-day stop in tiny
Tourrettes-sur-Loup, staying at a B&B in the mountains overlooking Nice.
Hoping for a quiet refuge from an itinerary filled with cities and too-many tourists, we discovered a medieval village lost in time, a gift that rewarded us with
nature's bounty and unexpected new friends.
Let's face it. When we travel, we gamble.
Figuring out where to go and how best to spend
your time and money is the $64,000 question.
We chose to stop at Tourrettes-sur-Loup because it was off the beaten
day-tripper circuit, close to Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Grasse,
two towns I've carried on my wish list for many years.
Since I always try to stay in at least one small village to get the
feel of "la France profonde", I guessed (correctly)
that taking the path less traveled would be better
than staying in the more jacked-up, lionized towns nearby.
Winner Winner, this one added true authenticity to our overall experience.
And guess what.
Tourrettes-sur-Loup far exceeded our expectations.
We fell in love with this little-hyped community, a breath of
fresh air that's far from the usual tourist highway.
I liked the other more acclaimed towns of course--- but for a real cultural
experience, it's sometimes better to book the "cheap seats" --- destinations
few have discovered, special places without the tour book ink.
Our hostess met us at the post office to show the way up the winding
road, past countless fields of green, scarlet and yellow to our "castle".
The views were mesmerizing -- Nice, Monaco, even Corsica
could be seen from our own private patio.
Our hosts probably could have thrown sleeping bags on the patio and called
it a day-- but yes, we had a small private room in a cozy turreted tower -- which
we abandoned for the great outdoors every chance we got.
The innkeeper's border collie immediately adopted us,
encouraging an on-going game of puppy soccer.
Bird song and frogs were our musical playlist and the smell of flowers ---
lush, delectable, supernatural--- was everywhere.
A perfumed paradise.
It was a good reminder of why we travel.
A good trip intermittently raises (exciting cultural experiences)
and lowers the pulse (relaxed living, gentle harbors).
Road trips are best when all your senses are in gear.
In Tourrettes-sur-Loup, it's easy to be an over-achiever without lifting a finger.
Every single sense effortlessly engages, rewarding you
with a warm feeling of celestial bliss.
Tourrettes-sur-Loup is an artisan village perched on a rocky
plateau, fewer than 20 miles from Nice.
The tourism economy dominates, yet never feels touristy.
The pedestrianized vieux village with its arched passageways
and impossible landscapes can be walked in less than an hour.
But you'll want to spend days here, relaxing in the sun and chatting up the locals.
There's an ooh and an aah around every corner of the half-moon circuit.
It's a friendly place, starting with the owners of our B&B.
Former Parisians, Guylène and Michel made their way here
for the very same reason we did.
We arrived as visitors and left as friends.
Tourrettes-sur-Loup is a sanctuary, remarkable for its simplicity,
made memorable by its peaceful tranquility and privileged theater in the sky.
there's an astonishing view of the blue sea every where you turn.
Justifiably famous for violet production, the delicate flower
has been cultivated here for over 100 years.
Just like its hometown flower, Tourrettes-sur-Loup
looks, smells and tastes divine.
Artistic creativity reigns.
Dozens of local artisans live and work behind the pretty stone walls.
You'll find shops and galleries with paintings, pottery, jewelry and sculpture.
Not at all cheapened by these enterprises, the town
and its artisan abodes feel just right.
A violet museum -- La Bastide aux Violettes -- has a greenhouse and garden
filled to the brim with the pretty purple blooms. There's a medieval church
(St. Gregoire - 12th to 15th century) along with a charming chapel (Saint-Jean)
that features engaging murals of locals woven into biblical stories.
But the joys of Tourrettes-sur-Loup don't lie in sensational museums or
fancy restaurants (though they do boast a Michelin starred restaurant).
It's in the weekly farmer's market where you'll stare in awe at the stooped,
elderly local pulling her cart back up the steep hill after the weekly market.
It's on the petanque court where the unshaven "gang" doesn't
pay a moment's notice when you point your camera their way.
It's in the bored faces of the local youth, dreaming of an urban escape.
This is a place to stop and smell the roses -- literally.
Try the crystallized violet candy, sample the local organic goat cheese,
buy a jar of the local honey or candied fruit, it's all good.
in the aromatic and profitable world of scents.
A crazy winding ride up to Gourdon, another village perched on
the edge of the world, is pretty much a must-do.
But then again, you'll likely find it hard to leave.
The 1300-foot altitude and narrow roads of Tourrettes-sur-Loup are
not for amateur drivers or scaredycat passengers.
Buckle up, drive slowly, carefully, thoughtfully --- and be
rewarded with some of the best views in France.
used Tourrettes-sur-Loup for some of its most crucial scenes.
Little wonder producer Alfred Hitchcock was able to evoke mystery and beauty,
his vision of the local paradise we call Provence.
The romance of the region is front and center in the film, crucial to the story, helping
make this production THE movie you think of when the name Provence is mentioned.
And if you prefer French cinema, one of the all-time great
movies was conceived and filmed nearby.
"Les Enfants du Paradis", though mostly filmed on a film set in Nice,
is connected to Tourrettes-sur-Loup through
screenwriter/poet Jacques Prévert and director Marcel Carné.
Allegedly, the movie's Jewish set designer and film composer were living
nearby (under assumed names) while the movie was produced -- a
harrowing two-year period under Nazi occupation.
Some of the film extras were Resistance agents weaving the web of their
covert plans as well as collaborators that Vichy had assigned to keep watch.
Perhaps next years' Paris-Nice race?
If you love The Tour de France, why not dodge the crowds and
show up for France's premiere Spring cycling event?
The well-respected Race to the Sun is an eight-day event that features many of
the same Grand Tour contenders we see in the standing-room-only Tour de France. I've been on the Champs-Elysées for the big event, crushed by the crowds.
For my money, I'll take Paris-Nice and wait in a nice comfy chair high up
on the beautiful hills of Tourrettes-sur-Loup.
Dreams do come true, don't they?
Or perhaps I'll return for the Fête des Violettes, a festival that
boasts carnival floats made of violets, a traditional market
and dinner & dancing in the streets.
Maybe I'll return for no reason at all.
A glass of wine on my perch ....
a game of soccer with my new canine friend....
a taste of la vraie France.
A Special Place in the Sun