HOW I ACCIDENTALLY FELL IN LOVE WITH CAVAILLON, AND WHY YOU SHOULD TOO - PART 1
I’ve been in love with France, and especially Provence, for as long as I can remember. But it took me some time to actually get to Provence. It was just a dream, or a longing, for many years. I went to Paris, Bordeaux, Agen … but not to Provence.
Without realizing it, I actually heard about Cavaillon way back in the 1990’s, when I was watching the BBC TV-series «A Year In Provence», based on the wonderful book by Peter Mayle. But since Cavaillon was not the main focus of the series, I didn’t really pay attention to the name of that village.
That’s how, when I went on my first road-trip to Provence in August 2014, my only plan was to start in Nice, rent a car and explore Provence. I had a few places on my bucket list, though, like Aix-en-Provence, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and Avignon.
I didn’t book any accommodation beforehand, except for the first night. I just wanted to «go where my inner compass told me to», if you see what I mean. I only had one clear rule for the trip: Stay away from the motorways as much as possible.
Following the back-roads
Being on my own and therefor the only driver of the car, it was important to me to be able to stop where and when I wanted, and that’s just not possible on the motorways. I wanted to see as much of Provence as I could,, and not just have to keep my eyes on the road all the time (which you should, at a speed of at least 100 kilometres an hour).
So I went on the back-roads, which was a much more pleasant experience. The only stretch I traveled on the motorway was when I started out from Nice Airport, heading towards Aix, because it was simply the easiest way to get out of the busy traffic in Nice.
Besides, Aix-en-Provence was my first goal, and the only place where I had booked a hotel-room. So I wanted to get there at a decent hour in the afternoon and have plenty of time to explore the town in the evening.
I’ll tell you more about Aix and other places I visited in Provence in future blog posts. I just mention it here because it was the first destination on my road-trip, like it is for so many others who visit Provence. There are good reasons for that, of course, and I’m guessing you’ve heard them all, but I’ll come back to it all the same.
What I’ve experienced, though, is that very often, when we have high expectations for some thing or some place, we end up feeling disappointed. Or maybe we don’t even reach the destination we had in mind, and then we’re sad because we missed it. However, it’s what you least expect or plan for, that often turns out to give you the greatest pleasure.
Little did I know that this was exactly what the days ahead had in store for me.
Following my bucket list
Like I mentioned at the beginning, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was also one of the places on my bucket list for the trip, and so was Avignon. As it turned out, however, I didn’t really get to explore any of those places. Why? For a very stupid, but nevertheless real reason: I simply couldnt’ find any available parking space!
Let me explain:
This was at the beginning of August, and «all of France» was on holiday. Or at least so it seemed! Add all the foreign tourists to the equation, and I’m sure you get the picture… That’s right: Chaos! At least in the typical tourist spots, like l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where there’s not much space to begin with.
So after I’d been to Aix and arrived in l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue around noon on a sunny August day, the small village was packed with tourists. I mean, it was crowded! I searched and I searched, but I just couldn’t find anywhere to park my car. That’s why, after a while with no luck, I said to myself: «I’ll just drive on a little bit further, and then I’ll come back here later…» And so I did.
After a little while, I saw a road sign that said Cavaillon. Since it was in a convenient place to drive off of the main road and make a turn, I drove into the town … and then I drove out again, without checking it out. I knew I’d heard the name before, but couldn’t find any particular reason to explore it any further…
Now, you might say: «Wait a minute! You say you love Cavaillon, but you never actually went there!?»
Bear with me for a moment. I’m getting there…!
For some reason, I couldn’t find my way back out at first … In fact, I had to drive around for quite a little while before I found the sign that pointed me back to the main road, and I almost felt like Cavaillon wouldn’t let go of me…! I actually ended up in the same place in the middle of the town 2 times before I was able to find my way out. And when I finally did find the right way, it was actually quite easy, and I couldn’t understand how I’d completely overlooked it earlier!
Determination is key, they say
In the end, I was back on the road towards l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
I didn’t want to give up on that place quite yet, as I’d heard so much about it. So I wanted to go back there as soon as possible and give it another try. I thought to myself: «Surely, some cars must have moved by now…?»
Well, they hadn’t. Not one inch, so it seemed.
So I thought «OK, I’ll just skip it for now and go straight to Avignon instead.» After all, Avignon was only about 22 kilometers away, so I thought this was a great solution, and merrily I went on my way.
Avignon, however, turned out to be just as packed with cars as l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, if not more. And since I’d never been there before, I didn’t really know where I was going, so I just had to follow the signs and see if I could find a parking area somewhere.
Voilà! Big fat «P» sign and an arrow showing the direction! My hope rose again, and I followed a long line of other cars who were heading in the same direction, through a narrow arch-way, into some old castle grounds, so it seemed … or was it a village in the middle of the city? I couldn’t tell.
We all went further and further in, and the buildings were suddenly towering over us on each side of the street, which had now become significanctly narrower than where we came in… Turning around was completely impossible at this point.
And then everything stopped. No one could move. The first car had reached a dead end, and when the driver tried to back out, he was trapped. The «jungle telegraph» would have taken forever to reach the car in the back and make everybody realize there was no possibility of getting any further, so I started to look for some other option to get out of there.
All come to those who wait
I was lucky! Some locals (or so I reckoned) was just passing my car on foot, so I boldly called out through my car window and asked (yes, in French!) if they knew of any way out of this trap, other than backing out. And then one of them showed me the solution:
Right where I was standing (Dieu, merci!) – and where they were heading – was a pedestrian passage through to the road outside these «castle walls», and the sidewalk was just wide enough for my car to drive through! I was lucky enough to have a fairly small rental car, - which turned out to be a blessing in this situation.
Although it was a not-quite-acceptable manouver, I decided to take my chance and go for it. I only hoped that there was no gendarme nearby who would give me a fine or put me in jail …!
Well, there wasn’t, and I managed to wiggle my car out of the line and got both myself and the car safely back out on the D973, without as much as a scratch. I must admit that I gave a sigh of relief…!
Heading back to l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
However, the experience didn’t exactly encourage me to try and find another parking area. It was a hot day, and the traffic in Avignon was rather heavy, so I decided to leave it behind and try l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue again instead.
About 25 minutes later, I was back in the famous village, only to find that the parking situation had not changed at all.
This was a huge disappointment. I’d been looking so much forward to visiting this beautiful village, known for its numerous antique dealers and second hand shops, beautiful mansions that have been converted into art galleries and museums, and of course the fairs that take place from Easter and over the August 15th holiday.… But it obviously wasn’t meant to be. Not this time, anyway.
However, I’m a person who always tries to see something positive in a situation, so after a few minutes of disappointment, I shook it off and told myself that now I simply had a very good reason to go back to Provence in the not too distant future. And then I’d come back at a less busy time, I thought, like early spring…
This lifted my spirit significantly, and I decided to drive a little further along to find somewhere to stay for the night, since I didn’t want to wait until too late in the afternoon before I booked myself into a hotel or some other accommodation. I had no plan, though, - just decided to see where the road would take me….
All roads lead to Cavaillon
And there it was again: The road-sign that said Cavaillon.
Was it a sign from above?
As soon as I saw it, I got a strange feeling inside. This was the third time that day that Cavaillon sort of called me back! It was the strangest thing…! Was it a sign from above?
«Well … All good things are three…», I said to myself, and it was with a feeling of both curiosity and anticipation that I entered the town for the third time.
And now the road was familiar. I drove straight back to the same spot where I had been twice already: A huge parking area right in the middle of the town. And lo’ and behold: There were plenty of FREE parking spaces available!
I could hardly believe it! I checked for parking meters, but couldn’t find any. Nor did I see any signs that said «No parking» or «Interdit» or showed any restrictions whatsoever.
I just had to laugh! Cavaillon was where I was supposed to stop, for sure! So I parked happily and went out of the car. It was wonderful to be able to stretch my legs at last, after several hours in the heat, just driving around to find a parking space!
On my left hand side, just a few meters away, I saw a big but charming building with Hôtel du Parc written on it (https://www.france-voyage.com/hotels-guide/hotel-cavaillon-57459.htm ), and right in front of me, at the end of the parking area, at the foot of a hill, was the Office du Tourisme.
Picture from Hotel du Parc's webite
I decided to go to the hotel first and find out if they had any available rooms for the night, since I would have to drive on and find something else if they didn’t, - and then – if I had any luck - I’d head for the tourist information office after that, before they would close for the day. (I checked the sign on the door, to be sure, and noticed that there was still time.)
I went into the hotel. It had such a welcoming athmosphere, and as I entered the reception area, a woman came out from a room nearby and greeted me with a smile: «Bon après-midi, Madame! Bienvenue au Hôtel du Parc!»
I greeted her back, and asked in my humble French if she had any rooms available for the night, and I was lucky. A few minutes later, I’d been handed the key to room #62 and was on my way up the stairs.
I can’t really describe how I felt, but I suddenly had a feeling of coming home… And when I opened the door to my room, my feelings just overwhelmed me! I felt something burst in my heart, and the tears started running down my cheek.
My room at Hôtel du Parc
This was meant to be. I was sure of it! I felt now that my inner guide had been trying to tell me all day that Cavaillon was where I should stop, - not l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or Avignon. But I’d been so determined to see those places that I’d pressed on to make it happen… only to be disappointed.
And here I was, in this beautiful and homely hotel in Cavaillon … and now I couldn’t wait to explore the town! Would I find it just as charming as the hotel?
I decided to go to the Office du Tourisme to get some leaflets and possibly a map of the town, and then find somewhere I could get a meal. Because by now I was starving! As I went into the tourist office, I noticed some old stone steps to the right of the building, and a path that seemed to lead up the hill. I decided right a way that I’d take a closer look at it later.
As I checked the town map, I found out that the place where I was standing, right outside the Office du Tourisme, was Place du Clos, and the pathway that I’d noticed would lead me up the Colline Saint-Jacques (or Saint-Jacques Hill), - should I be so bold as to try it on.
It looked a bit steep for a woman in my condition (I wasn’t at my peak back then…), but I decided to go for it. But first: Food!
Just a few blocks from the hotel, I found a nice restaurant with an eating area outside. I think it was called Chez mon oncle, but I can’t remember 100 %. Anyways, it looked inviting, so I sat down at one of the tables outside. It didn’t take long before a waiter came with a menu, and shortly after, a delicious meal was presented to me.
I felt like I’d arrived in heaven, for sure! It had been a long day, with a few disappointments and also quite a bit of stress before I got out of the «castle grounds» in Avignon, - but all I could feel now was gratitude. Gratitude for having been guided to this calm oasis, this tranquille town in the Lubéron district, where there didn’t seem to be many tourists at all, but plenty of free parking!
After my delicious meal and a coffee to follow it, I took a stroll along the nearest streets, before I went back to the hotel to rest for a little while and ask where I could park the car overnight. It turned out that they had a garage under the hotel, with free and safe parking for guests, so I moved the car there and brought my suitcase up to the room.
It was still early in the afternoon, so after a good rest and enough time to digest the meal I’d had, I decided to climb Colline Saint-Jacques.
It turned out to be a very good decision. Actually, it’s one of the 10 good reasons I fell in love with Cavaillon and why I believe you might, too. So let me put that down as my ……
Reason # 1) Colline Saint-Jacques
The hill is a detached outcrop of the Lubéron Massif to the west of the town. Generations of Cavaillon’s citizens have made this walk to visit the small chapel on top of it, Chapelle Saint-Jacques. It’s been there for at least 1,000 years.
You get a beautiful view of Cavaillon on your way up the steep slopes of the hill, and there are beautiful plants to enjoy along the path.
The first steps on my way to Colline St. Jacques
If you get tired, there are a few benches where you can rest for a while and enjoy the view.
When you get to the top, there’s an adorable little garden, and also an orientation table which points out the various landmarks in the plain below and Petit Lubéron to the east.
Some pictures of the Orientation table at Colline St. Jacques
I enjoyed very much walking up this hill. It was so peaceful up there, and the view was absolutely amazing! I could hear the distant sounds from the village below, - one was a young man singing and playing the guitar; another sound was from a group of people laughing and obviously enjoying each other’s company… and then there was a barking dog … All familiar sounds that made me feel very much at home and happy and grateful for being in this beautiful, tranquil place.
I walked around on Colline Saint-Jacques for a little while, and discovered that beside the chapel there were also other estates up there, estates where people lived. And I said to myself: «What a great place to live!»
A sign on a wall made me smile … it seemed so typically provençal!
View from Colline St. Jacques
I eventually decided it was time to go back down, as the sun was going down and I thought I'd better go down before it got dark. I took my time on the way down, as it was quite steep. I was sad to leave that place, but I decided there and then that I would definitly come back some day…
I knew now that I had fallen in love with this town. It felt inviting, homely and peaceful, and there were obviously very interesting things to see and do. It was my very first evening in Cavaillon, and I knew already that I simply couldn’t leave the next day. I had to stay at least one more night, so I could see more of what this town had to offer, before heading off to explore more of Provence.
In my next blog post – which will be Part Two of this article about Cavaillon and released in a few days – I will give you 10 More Good Reasons Why I Fell In Love With Cavaillon And Why You Might, Too.
I hope you’ll come back for more!
Stay tuned, and I’ll see you soon!
I'm Else Kosberg, author, life designer and passionate globetrotter. I want to share with you my travel tips & experiences and hope-fully inspire you to travel more and maybe also start exploring the roads less travelled.