2. Crillon-le-Brave

Such bliss to arrive after thirty-six hours of travel!

Thank goodness for the TGV from Paris which travelled at its usual grande vitesse (the countryside was almost just a blur) to deliver us to Avignon on Monday afternoon just after 5pm. I've never been happier to see a driver with a sign with our names on it! We sank into the seats of the car with a sigh of relief.

At about 6pm we arrived at our hotel in the tiny village of Crillon-Le-Brave.

So here we are in this tiny little hill-top village in Provence, forty kilometres north-east of Avignon.

It's named after Le Brave Crillon (1541-1615), one of Henri IV’s fiercest generals during the wars of religion that ravaged France in the late 16th century. L'Hôtel de Crillon in Paris is named after the family as well. This village was once a Roman town, and its fortune varied over the centuries. A lack of water forced its inhabitants to abandon it, and by the end of WWII it was just a ruin, almost deserted. Lately there's been a resurgence of visitors buying houses and doing them up. There are strict building codes and power lines have been put underground.

Hôtel Crillon-le-Brave is very impressive. It opened in 1989 and is made up of several stone houses with pale blue shutters. The oldest houses date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We're in Maison Décor. The hotel joined the Relais and Châteaux group in 1995. Most of the interior design has been done by English hotelier Judy Hutson and later by designer Penny Lydon of Chalkhouse Design. This is the hotel map so you don't get lost. We're still getting lost!

It isn't dark here until around 9pm. Although we were exhausted, after check-in we buzzed around the village with our cameras like crazy people, gripped by a sort of post-trip frenzy. The Mistral, a strong wind which blows at any time of the year in Provence, was whipping our clothes. It was surprisingly chilly.

Not all houses have been renovated - this had a sign warning trespassers. But by this time we were making no sense at all to ourselves or each other, and we fell into the deepest sleep on a bed made of fairy clouds. Deep enough to be up full of energy at dawn.

This is the view from our window as the first rays of sunlight touched the vineyards.

The view of dawn just outside our bedroom door. The old church is on the right.

The hotel gardens are very pretty with healthy roses, virginia creeper-covered walls.

Elderberry is flowering profusely.

Valerian grows wild everywhere here, from pale to darkest pink and white.

This is part of the hotel garden.

Its terraces flow down the steep hillside.

And everywhere, the buzzing of bees on blossoms..

The church bell rings automatically on the hour. It gave us an awful fright when we were just about to go into our room after breakfast!

Our suite overlooks the little town of Bédoin and Mt Ventoux, a mountain in the alps which separate France from Italy. It's famous as the site of a very gruelling stage of the Tour de France. The summit is covered with cloud.

The colour scheme is neutral with touches of apple green - very restful. The floors are terracotta.

The desk where I've set up my computer.

There's a very large bathroom, with separate walk-in shower, and claw foot bathtub.

I could spend a day or two reading here, glancing out of the window now and then..... Sipping a rosé...

We have pretty views in all directions.

These are the beautiful flowers which greeted us in our room.

We were at breakfast on the dot of 7.30am.

We had very little dinner last night so breakfast tasted just fabulous. Isn't it wonderful to eat when you are truly hungry? I had hard butter, cheese and local salami (délicieux!) on baguette. Then I had fruit. All back to front. And orange juice. And coffee. And more coffee. John's cooked breakfast looked great too.

We opted to do the country walk to Bédoin today. There's a hotel leaflet with excellent directions.

It was the most beautiful walk on tiny country roads and tracks through woods.

It took us past a quarry, very similar in colour to the cliffs of Roussillon nearby.

... through vineyards.

Self-sown poppies here and there...

We were so excited to see clumps of them in bloom that we took literally a hundred photos of them. I have no idea what we might do if we see a whole field.

The lilacs are flowering.

The iris are nearly finished.

And so many wildflowers like this pretty blue clumping plant.

Are these dwarf gladioli, do you think?

And daisies.

And these pretty bulbs I used to grow but whose names I forget.

Can you imagine our excitement when we heard a flock of sheep and goats coming? The shepherd was walking in the lead, his white Maremma sheep dogs were rounding up the tail.

The village of Bédoin is dominated by the massive church on top of the hill. It's a much larger town than Crillon le Brave.

Huge ramparts from below, and the rounded back of the church.

This roofline took my eye.... You'd think it might have succumbed to strong winds by this...

We had so enjoyed the walk that we didn't even mind when the last few hundred metres were on the main road.

Dinner tonight was at Le Vieux Four, down a long flight of shallow stone stairs.

Olive tapenade with toast, and semi-dried olives to begin.

John had the aubergine entrée.

I can never resist foie gras de canard! We both had the filet mignon de porc which was very yummy. You know what a (non-)foodie I am. After one glass of a very fresh and light côte du rhone, I totally forgot to take any more photos.

I'll leave you with this pretty bucket of flowers in the dining room. Until tomorrow travelling buddies....