As part of my university degree, I had to spend a year abroad through Erasmus in order to enhance my language skills, and I chose to be based in Provence! Before I arrived, I envisaged myself as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, floating through the pastel cobbled streets with a basket of baguettes on my arm, singing to the bakers and shouting ‘bonjour’ to everybody I passed. I didn’t quite get to do the singing part, but the rest didn’t disappoint.
I was based in the beautiful town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, in the heart of the Vaucluse. The town is famous nationwide for it’s antiques, and tourists flock from all over the world for the weekly antiques markets lining the streets. Antiques aren’t really my thing, but the atmosphere was always electric. I fell in love with the narrow alleys and colourful window shutters, and waking up every morning to the smell of pain au chocolat baking outside my apartment. L’Isle sur la Sorgue translates to ‘the island on the Sorgue’ – the Sorgue being the river which runs through the town. In fact the whole town is on water and wherever you turn, you will find ancient waterwheels turning day and night.
It is a tourists dream in the summer and the perfect place to sit in the sunshine and enjoy a glass of wine and a platter of French cheese while watching the world pass by. I couldn’t have chosen a more picturesque town to live in and I think fondly of it as my home. Looking back at my photos feels bittersweet. I feel such a deep attachment to those streets I wandered, the woman in the crêperie I came to know so well, and the hours I sat in the square by the church on a Sunday morning with groceries from the market. But at the same time comes a sadness that I cannot return at the click of my fingers, and personal painful memories which now haunt the town for me.
Nevertheless, if you are going to Provence, L’Isle sur la Sorgue has to be on your travel itinerary. You can find hundreds of shabby chic apartments on Airbnb to fully immerse yourself in the Provence lifestyle, which I find is the better way to fully appreciate the beauty of the region.
Despite having everything I needed on my doorstep, sometimes I would venture out into other small Provencal villages to explore. Gordes was one of my favourite villages I visited not too far away from home. We took the motorbike up through the mountains to the the village with the most beautiful views I think I have ever seen. You have to stop halfway up the spiral roads just to take in the views. (Except don’t do what I did and get off the back of a motorbike and get a second degree burn from the exhaust pipe.. not a good idea when the pharmacy closes for lunch and you will find yourself sat waiting for it to open with an infected leg). But anyway, the town itself is simply stunning.
There’s not a great deal to do in Gordes aside taking in the beautiful scenery, but you could easily spend a few hours getting lost in the old town and eating a crêpe in the square. Another must-see for those exploring the Provence region!
You’d also be foolish to miss out on a day in Avignon, the capital of the Vaucluse region, and in the heart of Provence. It is perfect for a day of shopping with all of the high street brands, but also hundreds of independent boutiques. I bought so many pretty summer dresses in pretty French florals! It has more to a city feel to it than the other sleepy Provence towns and villages, but it is still brimming with character. In the main square you will find the Palais des Papes, dating back to the 14th century where the Pope used to live. For a small town it is home to this enormous palace, which is now the UNESCO world heritage site.
Another personal favourite of mine is La Fontaine de Vaucluse, a little treasure tucked away right on my doorstep. The waters run so clear through the rocks and it almost feels like walking through a rain forest with all of the greenery and sound of the river. Canoeists sail through the waters and on a sunny day you will find locals stripping off and jumping into the currents. I loved sitting on the rocks at the waters edge and dipping my feet the water, and then walking hand in hand up the path and stopping for a fresh smoothie or a Nutella crêpe. If you are close by, la Fontaine de Vaucluse is the perfect place to share a sunny afternoon loved up.
I couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful region to spend my year abroad and I will look back with a heart full of love and nostalgia for what will always be my second home.