A Sunday afternoon drive in Provence is priceless.
You never know what lurks around the next corner...
We left our home-away-from-home in Saint-Remy-de-Provence just
after breakfast, resolving not to get side-tracked by the tempting array
of antique shops, olive oil mills and vineyards along the route.
Our pre-determined destination was Pernes-les-Fontaines, long
distinguished for their charming claim-to-fame -- fountains -- a
staggering forty fountains in just one tiny town of fewer than 12,000 people.
Fountains in Provence have a long and lofty history.
First engineered by the prolific Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.,
they are front and center of most historic towns in the region.
But most towns boast just a handful so we were
curious about a borough that flaunted forty of them.
So one sunny summer day in May, we chose the scenic route (of course!)
and zig-zagged through the back roads,
pausing only to let a flock of sheep and goats pass by.
Before long we found ourselves in the lovely watery landscape
In typical french fashion, we were surprised by our own good fortune.
Sure, there were fountains - a marvelously diverse collection, as promised.
But as luck would have it, we had stumbled upon a local celebration -- one
that left us in stitches and aching for more.
To our wide-eyed amazement, innstead of gawking at medieval walls and reinforced fortifications, we were treated to a day of all things American.
Cowboys and convicts, Harleys and hamburgers, classic American cars
and a band playing rockabilly, it was a day to celebrate the red white & blue.
Yes, 3,000 miles from the shores of the U.S.A, it felt like the 4th of July.
a sliver of a world known by few -- spontaneous and unpredictable -- a
perfect addition to our already fun adventures in the area.
This was not a regional festival or a holiday merchandising effort.
It was just an honest-to-goodness block party that brought everyone out to enjoy
the inherent blessings of an enchanting town on a beautiful Sunday in May.
Families that play together stay together and in Pernes-les-Fontaines,
you could fill the pages of a homecoming scrapbook.
We engaged with the locals on their level, making this particular stop a
tour de force -- and part situation comedy -- of good times and friendly people.
Joking, flirting, dancing and singing, the welcome mat was laid out for all.
They didn't seem too worried that we Americans might be judging
their American fete -- but then again, it was getting close to lunchtime
when all good french men and women have more important things on their mind.
"There are some days when I think I am going to die from an overdose of satisfaction."
When in Provence, whether you choose a fine bistro or a local hole-in-the-wall,
you can always expect something fantastic on your plate.
We chose Café de la Place, hoping for a traditional Sunday lunch.
A terrace overflowing with locals, it seemed
like a good gamble -- and we weren't disappointed.
Would-be cowboys and cowgirls were camped out waiting
for their prix fixe options - chicken or duck - although we noticed
quite a few diners tucking into Texas-sized steaks.
Influenced perhaps by all that broad-shouldered Wild West bravado in the air....
Dessert was a homemade masterpiece, a Provencal medley of
chocolate and orange that looked as good as it tasted.
All washed down with a chilled rose, it was what Sundays in Provence should be.
The Wild West may be a cliched view of America born of old movies
but there is nothing cliched about Sunday lunch in France.
I found the fountains intriguing but readily admit we didn't
chase down all forty of them -- or even come close.
Aided by an enthusiastic "volunteer" who insisted she could blaze a trail,
we were treated to an over-the-top rendition of "La Vie en Rose" rather
than a knowledgeable search for the town's historic legacy.
But that's okay.
Sometimes it's good to re-wire your expectations.
After all, it's people and interactions
that make for some of the best travel memories.
All in all, it was a memorable stop, one that reminded us that the best
trips are those filled with surprise and personality.
"To me, adventure has always been to me the connections and bounds you create with people when you're there. And you can have that anywhere."
Bear Grylls, British Adventurer
Pernes-les-Fontaines is home to smaller, more modest water displays,
many without any H20 remaining other than last night's rainfall.
Styles range from classic face carvings to modest stone troughs
and everything in between.
The tourist office has a map you can follow if you're keen to see them all.
Keep a look out for the town's other attractions such as the medieval Ferrande
Tower (frescoes!), a covered market (dating to the 17th C.), as well as scores
of defensive walls and gates, some dating as far back as the 11th century.
If you climb to the top of the Tour de l'Horloge, you'll be treated to amazing
vistas of the surrounding countryside, including the rugged Vaucluse Mountains.
The Conservatoire du Costume Comtadin is a museum that focuses on a 19th century draper's shop filled with period costumes & accessories of a long ago time.
This little town even boasts a full-on festival in August called the Font'Arts,
Pernes being the perfect stage for a musical and theatrical spectacle.
And of course, if you don't get enough of your Provence on here, you're
just a few short miles away from two other amazing towns - Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
(antiques galore!) and Cavaillon ( the capital of melons!).
You really can't make a wrong turn in this part of southeastern France.
"A Sunday well spent brings a week of content."
We found that and then some.
In the end, we discovered a simple truth.
The best adventures happen when you least expect them.
Chasing cowboys and Cadillacs in the middle of Provence is not a bad
way to spend a̶ ̶r̶e̶l̶a̶x̶i̶n̶g̶ an audacious Sunday in southeastern France.
Pernes-les-Fontaines is a fountain of surprises.
As I always say, go with the flow.