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A Back Road Serendipity in Provence

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My cousin and I exited the A51 shortly after Manosque onto the D82, faithfully following the GPS mounted on my windshield. We were excited to be on the last leg to our vacation rental, chattering like magpies, wondering if we’d see any of Provence’s famed lavender fields. We’re both unabashed Francophiles, so our first trip to Provence this past mid-July, and the first time we’d seen each other in over forty years, was a big deal.

Somewhere during the last several minutes the road had gotten narrower and very winding. And much, much higher. We were driving along the top of a cliff overlooking a gorgeous, azure-blue lake far down below. The road snaked and curved along the lip of the drop-off. Minus guard rails.

“This must be the Verdon Gorge,” I told my cousin. “I can’t imagine why the GPS sent us this way.” As soon as I’d said it, I knew. The puckish gremlin in my GPS had struck again!

There was no alternative but to keep going, since there were no other roads or places to turn around. The road soon headed away from the gorge and carried us on our way to our destination. We relaxed as the road straightened, anticipating dinner that night in some great, local brasserie.

It was a short-lived respite, as the curves returned with a vengeance. The final hairpin turn took us to the very edge of the precipice, the blue water a beautiful contrast with the cream-colored cliffs.

“Wow! Look at that!” I was driving and craning my neck to see past Jane into the void below, lured like a moth to a flame.

Jane wasn’t having it; she sat gripping the edge of her seat, eyes closed, face taut and grim.

“Jane?”

“I’m not looking! I’m afraid of heights!”

“Well, that was the grand finale,” I told her. “You can open your eyes now.”

We both let out a collective sigh of relief that we’d left the heights of the Verdon Gorge, and continued on our way to the village house we’d rented for a week in Salernes. We were alone in our journey; we hadn’t seen another human being since we’d left the main road what seemed ages ago.

The sun prepared its final descent toward the horizon. Hills in the distance were tinged a faint shade of purplish-mauve. We looked at each other, jaws dropped. Excitement grew as we navigated a few more kinks in the road, and voila!

An idyll of Provence was spread out before us: the gentle hillside nestled in a valley dressed in well-tended lavender rows, was surrounded by pin oaks and pines in deep-summer green. A glint of blue in the distance was a reminder of the Verdon Gorge and its cerulean river.

Jane snapped several pictures and we stood a few moments longer, marveling at the bucolic scene before us. A growling in our stomachs and the deepening dusk nudged us back into the car and onward in our journey. The sun was setting, now, dripping its liquid gold warmth over the countryside and over our first visit to Provence.

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