As the global travel doors open up again, the fields of Southern France and Coastal Spain are calling us back like old friends to a reunion. With travel restrictions waning, we jumped back into planning out the details, but took an accelerated, more spontaneous approach.
Of all the places to travel, we desired a mixed cocktail of adventure that would assault our five senses. To make our first escape from the U.S., we wandered the fields around Barcelona, the Tarn, the Dordogne, and Provence. There were nine fields in all.
Starting with Sunflowers, we found abundant fields outside of Uzes and Valensole, France. Turning their face toward the warm sun, these vibrant flowers once inspired the “mad genius” of Vincent Van Gogh, providing light to a dark period of his youth. Here, you can walk as far as you can see and never leave a field of sunflowers. And of course, walk in the direction of the sun and these faces turn to you, too.
Visiting the small villages and towns, we loved the fields of tents occupied every Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday by bakers, merchants, and planters selling their harvests. From these fields came the most beautiful olive oil, cutting boards of burled olive wood, fresh bread, sausages, and aged cheeses found only in this part of the world.
Dancing fields of wheat were abundant near Beynac et Cazenac in the Dordogne. One restaurant had their tables and chairs on a terrace that practically ran into the rows of wheat. The breezy evening created a waving dance against the golden glow of sunset. Back in Barcelona, at the Sagrada La Familia, we were reminded of the importance of “our daily bread” artistically represented in 50 languages on the massive bronze doors across from the cathedral altar.
One unexpected field were of antique dealers sprinkling the downtown areas of Isle Sur la Sorgue, Uzes, St. Remy de Provence, and of course, Barcelona with the Mercat dels Encants, Europe’s oldest antique market founded in the 14th century. Here, we observed old men with their ancient collections in juxtaposition against a youthful audience who seemingly had no interest whatsoever in collecting anything new. But for the crazed bargain hunters, including us, we could unearth practically anything ephemeral, including the occasional tire-buchon (our personal favorite collectible – a corkscrew).
No trip to France or Spain is without endless fields of grapevines. This time of year, you can see the trained and the unwieldy versions of green grapes starting to cascade. Drive through the Cotes de Rhone region of France and you will appreciate the myriad number of grape varietals that produce luscious wine. Carla has a sweet tooth so she loved the taste of the Gewurztraminer wine.
Fields of olive trees described by Van Gogh as “silver-green saddened with gray” is not the happiest description, but the olive oil you taste is a delight. Our singular favorite “must-see” tree was 700 years old. Given to France from Spain, this twisted and gnarled beauty sits on the banks of the Gardon River adjacent to the famous Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct.
Of the nine fields, our favorite and most inspiring was the lavender of Provence. Carpets of waving lavender were dotted on every hill which stood out in glorious contrast to the deep green fields of vineyards. We drove through two distinct regions, one around Sault in the Vaucluse and Valensole in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Sault was surrounded by fields of “fine lavender” but driving D950, we discovered photographic fields outside of Ferrassieres. Valensole is renowned for its lavender, but the most amazing photo op occurred during a quick pullover between D900 and D4100 where we jumped out to explore an old stone farmhouse in the center of the fragrant field of deep purple.
The surrounding fields around the Dordogne, site of the 100 Year War between France and England, are dotted with hillsides of well-preserved chateau and crumbling castle ruins. At one time there were over 1,000 castles in this region. From the majestic castle atop Beynac et Cazenac on the Dordogne River to the massive Hautfort Chateau, we thrilled at the chance spotting of these amazing structures against the brilliant blue sky of France.
Barcelona itself is a field of diverse and spectacular architecture. Everyone knows of the Sagrada Familia which Antonin Gaudi designed and built, but the city is sprinkled with detailed carvings, like the Bishop’s Bridge, El Pont del Bisbe, found in the historic Gothic Quarter. Make a wish while you walk backwards under the bridge and look directly at the carved skull and your wish will come true. We were on a scavenger hunt to locate the oldest storefronts and observed over two dozen. A bronze plaque was embedded in front of each location and our favorite was the El Rei de la Magia, the oldest magic shop in Europe.
To all of our friends and Living Seasonally tribe, may you be inspired to travel again, enjoying the spontaneity of discovering your own fields of wonder. Remember that some of the most memorable trips may not require the usual rigors of planning. Leave some surprises and serendipity in the mix. Your fields await you.