France of culture, of cuisine and great wines: a guarantee if you search for the history and the tastes that are always surrounded by a unique charm. The France of landscapes shaped by the nature and by human creativity is less famous. In the Southern France you can see unexpected villages that are set in amazing landscapes. You can start your discovery with leaving from the gorge of the river Verdon in the Upper Provence and reach Gruissan in Oxcitaine. The river Verdon has shaped the most impressing canyon of Europe, it stretches for 25 kilometres with walls that are 1500 metres high surrounded by a lush vegetation. The most interesting part is between Pont du Galates and Castellane, a Medieval village that can be reached by crossing the Roman Pont du Roc which has been the only passage for centuries. A stop at the restaurant of the hôtel du Grand Levant is a must, it’s an historical restaurant with a nice outdoor space that looks out on the main square. A 200 metres high hill dominates the village and on the top of it there is the Chapel of Notre Dame du Roc.
Valensole, the plateau of lavender
The sunny Valensole plateau is stretched between the river Verdon and the river Durance, it’s the realm of lavender that covers the whole plateau with its colours and scents from May to August. The area is spread with distilleries, eco-museums, workshops as well as the “villages de caractère”. Valensole is one of these villages whose fame is related to the production of the lavender honey that enabled it to be entered among the 100 best cities of tastes. If you want to learn about this aromatic plant the right place to go is the factory Angelvin where some guided tours are held to see the big copper alembics at work as well as the tiny farming museum. A few kilometres away an old legend will lead you through the visit of the village of Moustiers Sainte Marie. They say that the knight of Blacas hoisted a star between the two walls that support the village to thank the Virgin Mary for letting him come back from the crusades. The star is still watching the village which is also famous for its pottery featured by the typical blue decorations that has been produced since the 17th century.
The global garden of Domaine du Rayol
The route goes towards the sea and reaches Rayol Canadel sur Mer, a tiny village that doesn’t care about the wordly pleasures of the nearby Saint-Tropez: a handful of houses that look out on the blue sea water and are protected by the thick vegetation. You must reach Jardin des Méditerranées to find a special view that was designed by Gilles Clémant according to his view of the global garden. It’s a seven hectares wide botanic garden overlooking the sea and it’s a great example of bio-diversity since it includes different environments belonging to different types of Mediterranean areas. It’s a sort of global “table of contents” of the regions of the world that are biologically similar but are also very far from each-other. At Frédéric Dhaussy’s restaurant which is set on a terrace in the core of the garden the chef offers a selection of creative dishes: it’s a kind of journey around the different cultural influence from the different Mediterranean cuisine.
A palette called Camargue
It’s a mix of land and water according to the Rhone river’s mood, there are pink flamingos, horses, reed beds and tamerici. If you want to admire this landscape in all its beauty you must go to Les Baux de Provence, a village perched on a rock that contains some unique architectural treasures like the Medieval Chateau de Baux, the Church of Saint Vincent that combines Roman and Renaissance features and some interesting art galleries and museums. Les Carrières de Lumières is an exhibition centre that was made inside a bauxite quarry where exhibitions dedicated to big names of painting are held each year. Van Gogh is on show now: 7.000 square metres of rocky walls that are 14 metres high are the background of some spectacular multimedia installations. Saintes Maries de la Mer is not far, it’s a little town where the history, the legends and the sacred and profane masterpieces come together. The pilgrims use to go there to visit the shrine of Santa Sara. It’s nice to get lost around its narrow streets in the evening and eat in one of the several tiny restaurants that are spread all around to the sound of the gipsy music.
The white gold of Oxcitaine
Aigues Mortes is a city-museum, its fortified village dating back to the 13th century is a bright example of preservation. The Tour de Costance is the main attraction, it was a feared prison in the past, it’s 52 metres high and it still shapes the city’s skyline. From there you can stretch your sight up to the biggest salt mines of the Mediterranean Sea: 9.000 hectares of white salt pans that you can visit through a trip by an old little train or by a 4x4 vehicle. Then you can go towards the South along a route that is featured by sweet and salt waters and you can reach Gruissan, a round-shaped village where the narrow streets are wrapped all around and the Medieval Barberousse tower stands out . The two tourist harbours of the city deserve a visit as well and also Gruissan Plage where you can see long sandy beaches as well as the characteristic district of 1300 stilt houses. Some of them belong to the fishermen, they are beautiful terraces on the sea where you can taste the fresh oysters and sip the local white wine.
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