Driving Provence in a French classic

Could there be anything more stereotypically French than jaunting along the quiet back roads of Provence in a classic Citroen 2CV on a perfect summer day?

Citroen 2CV. The name mightn’t click with anyone other than a car buff, but chances are you would have seen this quaint little jigger in many a French movie or advertisement. It’s the home-grown Gallic equivalent of Italy’s original Fiat 500, Germany’s VW Beetle and Britain’s Morris Mini.

With a roll-back canvas roof, the 1983 model at our disposal provided the perfect wheels to experience the Provencal countryside and its heady aroma of lavender fields alongside, brilliant blue skies and winding strips of grey bitumen unravelling beneath the skinny wheels.

We’re off to Lourmarin, listed among the most beautiful villages in not just Provence, but all of France. This is where tourists the world over flock in droves.

It’s also home to British author Peter Mayle, who wrote the best-seller A Year in Provence. The film adapted from another of his titles, A Good Year, was shot in the area. French writer, journalist, philosopher and Nobel Prize in Literature recipient Albert Camus also lived here and is buried in the local cemetery.

Our drive takes us from Berre L’Etang in the south of Provence north, passing through a succession of pretty villages with romantic names: Coudoux, Lambesc, Charleval, La Roque- d’Antheron and Cadenet. We’re deliberately avoiding the motorway, instead using route instructions and signposts to show us the real Provence. We’re in no hurry, which is just as well, what with the 2CV’s tiny 600cc engine putting out a mere 22kW of power.

We motor serenely through a valley that stretches between the stunningly scenic Grand and Petit Luberon mountains. Then over a medieval stone bridge spanning the Aigue Brun, a babbling brook that flows on among olive and almond groves and lush vineyards.

In Lourmarin, we park the 2CV and swap to Shanks’s Pony for a leisurely stroll through the winding streets with their picture-perfect grey stone, centuries-old buildings. There’s no shortage of open-air cafes and restaurants serving the best of local produce at which to wine and dine, or artisan shops to browse at leisure. We did a bit of both.

However, it’s the Chateau de Lourmarin, part of which harks back to origins as a 12th century fortress, that is the must-see. A medieval wing, called the Château-vieux or old castle, boasts Italian-style loggias (translation: a gallery or arcade open to the air on at least one side) while a regally-furnished Renaissance wing gives an insight to the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the privileged from the 16th to 19th century. Just as impressive are the superb views across the village, able to be enjoyed from the beautifully-presented grounds. 

At the risk of understatement, Provence should be on the absolute short list of any European-bound Australian. The longer the visit, the better, but if you must distil it down to just one day, a drive in a classic Citroen 2CV to Lourmarin is strongly recommended. C’est magnifique.

The writer was a paying customer of Vintage Road Trips.