Intoxicated by the most beautiful villages in Provence

Find life in the French countryside…

Beyond the artistic allure of Paris and the ritzy glamour of the Riviera, lies an offbeat France. Where old-world romance lives in the maze of cobbled medieval streets of centuries-old hilltop stone villages. Where the pace of life is slow and simple pleasures still count. Where the aroma of fresh baguettes wafts from age-old bakeries, locals linger at tiny home-run cafes on warm afternoons, fountains tinkle away in sleepy corners, and crumbling manors silent spell aristocracy of their owners.

Its the quintessential French rural landscape, overflowing with the best of produce including veggies, fruits, herbs, wines, olives and truffle. With scenic roads winding through rocky outcrops under eternal blue skies. And endless lavender fields to make you go weak at the knees. So, surrender to the rustic charms of the Luberon valley. Pick three of the 160 villages rated as ‘the most beautiful’ by the Plus Beaux Villages de France Association.

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Menerbes: Life is beautiful 

The dreamy view gets clearly as you roll closer along that enchanting Provencal path to paradise. A sun-bathed cluster of stone dwellings perched high up on a grassy hill, surrounded by magnificent unbroken views of the Luberon mountain and miles of vineyards and open countryside. Park in the square below and walk up the streets leading to the village of Menerbes. The large brass alphabets embossed on a stone wall of a little shop, “La Vie Est Belle” (life is beautiful) say it all. Could it be a more gorgeous day? Wander through the empty narrow streets with small cafés and hand-painted shop-signs, carefully restored medieval houses and quiet corners.

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Explore the clock tower in the small open square, the miniature 16th century Citadelle, cemetery and the Chateau du Castellet. Practice time telling with the ancient sundial. Ogle at the impossibly perfect views and drown with envy. Or float on clouds…because you’re part of the scenery now. Poke your nose into the prettiest of stone houses. But be careful, trespasser…as you sneak into the enclosed garden of a large, exclusive looking private villa. Whoa! Instead of shooing you away, the owner graciously invites you inside, right to the exotic back garden complete with its sky-view swimming pool! That’s Lady Luck with one of her broadest smiles.

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Roussillon: Red is the colour of love

The winding hill roads of the National Park du Luberon are drenched in an ochre-infused landscape. Any wonder its called the French Colorado? Destination next: the red village of Roussillon, situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world. All around is a blaze of red cliffs and quarries, perfectly set against the blue Provencal sky and the lush green pine trees. A picturesque maze of streets and squares, with houses showing off their technicolor glory…yellow, peachy pinks, bright orange to darkest red. Flamboyant, cheerful facades highlighted even more with brightly painted shutters and doors. A photo opportunity at every step, every doorway.

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With the fragrance and flavour of lavender flavoured gelato to transport you into heaven, debate upon this old legend of the region. A young girl was married to the lord of Roussillon fell in love with a local musician, who was killed by the husband in a fit of jealousy. The ill-fated romance turned immortal as she jumped into the valley. They say that the earth went red with her blood, and that’s how it is till today. Believe it or not, it does add to the drama of the scene.   

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Gordes: Save the best for last

The most photographed and the most visited of all the villages in the region is built out of a high rock. Gordes with its narrow, steep cobbled streets flanked by tall, ancient purple ivy-covered houses, shuttered windows, church and 12th century castle will win your heart. Despite the sprinkle of luxury shops and restaurants around the village square, it appears medieval and untouched. You half expect a horse carriage to emerge out of some corner, and a lady in a flowing gown stepping out, clutching her billowing skirts, high coiffure and even higher hat announcing her lineage. But its just wide-eyed you for now. In the time-weathered stone streets, quiet squares, peeping inside the traditional workshops of the artisans.

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As you exit the town, consider the unending rows of stone boundary walls hiding luxurious villas…unthinkably high price-tagged real estate where celebrities, artists and wealthy jet setters keep exclusive residences. A few minutes down the craggy hills of Luberon is the 12th-century L’Abbey of Senanque, founded by Cistercian monks, their home and place of worship till today. Imagine the fragrance everywhere, when lavender is in season! That most famous lavender shot of Provence is shot here, so take back one of your own. Besides lavender oils, essences, perfumes, soaps, lotions which the monks make and sell on the abbey grounds. Tough competition, L’Occitaine! A lifetime of monkhood, a lifetime of lavender, maybe not such a bad bargain after all…

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As your head hits the pillow that night, you’re thinking…they have glorious weather. Plus unmatched natural beauty. Plus unspoilt villages. Why don’t more people come to Provence? Maybe its for the best 🙂

 

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A breathtaking hike in the Bohemian Switzerland to amaze you

Spectacular bounties of nature in Czech Republic…

There are travellers who thrive on hiking and trekking. Me…I’m not in that league. Yet, a trip to Bohemian Switzerland National Park was topping the ‘this-we-have-to-do’ list, while we drew up our Czech Republic itinerary. Just what was I thinking? I don’t know. A comfy coach that conveniently drops us off to ridiculously high vantage points for insta-worthy photo-opps, maybe. I’m aerially-challenged. And vertigo-prone. And exercise-averse. And plain lazy. (Nose wrinkle). But obsessively fascinated by that Youtube clipping on my laptop.

Continue reading “A breathtaking hike in the Bohemian Switzerland to amaze you”

How to score big on the dry jungle photography challenge

Photo blog of Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu…

Wildlife adventure on our mind. Destination: Masinagudi. One of the five forest reserves of the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, 250 kilometres from Bangalore, Karnataka. Nestled between the three states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Enveloped by the lush Nilgiri forests. A resort buried in the deep of the jungle, with patchy mobile connectivity. The promise of exciting jeep safaris and treks. The prospect of encountering dangerous, wild animals and exotic birds. Just one downside…the weather.

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How to have a perfect (rainy) day at Lake Como

Loving Bellagio and Varenna, despite the rain…

Early morning, last day of Italy trip. Bed stumble, groggy walk, window peek, cringe. Wet roads…not on Lake Como day! But if you travel shoulder season to Europe, like us, a frequent drizzle will be a constant companion, so its best to make your peace with the clouds. You can’t change the weather, but you can certainly change the shape of your facial muscles. Brave the rains with a smile!

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One of the most spectacular drives hidden in Montenegro

Head to Mount Lovcen now…

A route so spectacular, it will extract involuntary Confucianist soundbites, celebrating undying love for roads. Because its paradise found, sprawled before your eyes for miles and miles, as you ascend 1000 meters above sea level up Mount Lovcen from Montenegro’s bay-facing capital Kotor. Yeah, you’re probably juggling reflexive philosophical mutterings with overwhelming emotions of gratitude. But concentrate on keeping those blinkers glued to the window pane. Panorama after panorama unfolds.

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Pretend to be a noble at a French châteaux in the Loire Valley

France will have you fantasizing…

Just two hours southwest of Paris, lies the Loire Valley, an enchanting countryside ablaze with colours of green and gold, filled with vineyards, farmlands, hunting forests and ancient towns. Christened Loire after France’s longest river, which was a highway for transporting food and building materials in flat boats during the Greco-Roman age. An exceptionally fertile land that enticed 15th-century French royals and nobles to hire Italian architects and artists to build hundreds of palatial Renaissance-style chateaux.

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Why Rothenburg is the epitome of German romanticism?

Dollhouse town in Germany…

Factoid: Germany’s second largest city in the middle ages, with 6,000 residents (mammoth for those times) was reduced to poverty during the 30 years war, and virtually faded into oblivion. But life comes full circle. Today it has regained its glory as Germany’s best preserved medieval walled town. Rothenburg ob der Tauber seems like the perfect name for this fairytale place until you translate it into English…red fort on the River Tauber). Mmmm…something less practical, maybe?

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