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Well after a bit of break from blogging in the lead-up to a wonderful family Christmas, I’m back to describe our side trips to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and the magnificent town of Gordes.

Having had a delicious breakfast in the light and airy dining room at Domaine de la Petite Isle in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, we set off early for Fontaine-la-Vaucluse along a wondefully scenic route. We encountered very little traffic and were able to take in the countryside. Beautiful Provencal homes set among fields of lavender, a magnificent Roman aqueduct and much more … It was fine and warm as we set off and before long, we were entering Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, keen to see the biggest spring in France and enjoy relaxing by the sparkling clear waters.

Our first stop was a riverside cafe for a tasty morning tea of coffee and pastries, as we listened to the waters flowing by. Feeling refreshed, we set off to find the famous deep spring, passing Restaurant Philip, much to my husband Phil’s delight. Set in a picturesque area on the riverside, it would be a wonderful place for a relaxed lunch, though we didn’t have time to do that ourselves. An ancient ruined castle overlooks the town – a place we found thoroughly enchanting – it has a Second World War history involving the Resistance complete with museum (Musée d’histoire 1939-1945 – L’appel de la liberté), which sadly was not open, and also has the Petrarch Museum, which was absolutely fascinating. If you are doing the Lavender and Luberon trip, I can highly recommend the excursion to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Even more highly recommended is the side trip to the fabulous hilltop town of Gordes – what stunning place that is. It makes for a long day on the bike (9am-5pm for us), and ride itself is much more challenging, so be prepared for 6 kms of deceptively steep incline, but every pedal stroke is worth it… This is one of the most striking places we saw on the trip, and that first glimpse of the old town perched on the craggy hilltop, will remain with me forever. Not only that, the French Air Force seemed to be on some sort of practice manoeuvres, doing several low flying passes over the town. This was an absolute payoff for my husband, who works for an airline and loves his planes! Unusually, he had struggled with the long slow climb in the heat, having to stop and re-gather himself in a shady spot, part way up. We later discovered that this was probably the first indication of 3 blocked arteries which made themselves known two years later, on a couple of hill rides here in our own lovely home suburb of Titirangi. While he had no heart attack, the niggly chest pains were an indication of a problem, and now he has three stents, but was back riding very soon after and he continues to do, in preparation for our next cycling adventure in 2014.

Having taken in the amazing view, we set off to find some well deserved dejeuner. The town was very busy, but we found a lovely little cafe, where I had the most delicious and enormous Salade Nicoise, and my husband a tasty pizza. We took our time, enjoying the ambience, the hustle and bustle out in the town, and beautiful food.

After lunch we walked through the town, and decided we must go on a little further to see the twelfth century Cisterician Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, (Sénanque Abbey) famous for its lavender fields. While we would have loved to visit the Abbey, we decided to simply view it from on high as we had a long way to go to return to our hotel in Isle-sur-La-Sorgue in the afternoon heat. The view from the top the hill overlooking the Abbey is magnificent – the architecture looks impressive and the lavender fields are huge. On our return in 2014 we intend to return to visit the Abbey itself.

The trip back to the hotel was of course easier and uneventful, and we were so looking forward to having a meal at Cafe Bellevue on the riverside. The riverside cafes in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue are very enticing – the residents are so lucky to be able to sit and dine in the summer evenings in any one of the many attractive cafes on the water. It is such an enviable lifestyle .. and one I still hanker after. So much so, that I have just bought another book on the Provencal lifestyle, this time My French Life by Vicki Archer, whose blog French Essence, is one of my favourites.

I should mention too that on this particular tour, France-Bike gives you the option to cycle down Mt. Ventoux, leaving from l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Intially we had booked for this, but thought better of it, and France-Bike happily refunded that part of our fee. For those of you who are more adventurous, you may like to try it – France-Bike will take to the top of and you can cycle down at your leisure!