One summer I took advantage of my daughter’s six month stay as an au pair with a family in Marseille, France to visit that lovely part of the world for myself. After a few days seeing the sights around Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Les Baux with my daughter, I left to do some solo exploring of the countryside east of Avignon. I took the train to Orange, which went through the rather depressing industrial districts of Cavaillon and Avignon. Then, after visiting the Roman ruins at Orange, I caught an afternoon bus to the village of Séguret, the location of a youth hostel highly recommended in my trusty Let’s Go handbook.
The country between Orange and Séguret was a lush, spring-time green, agricultural landscape backed by the dramatic jagged peaks of the Dentilles mountain chain.
Henri, from the “youth” (no age restrictions) hostel, came down to meet the bus and welcome travelers. The term “charming ambience” is often misused these days, but it could be applied to this place with no exaggeration whatsoever. An old stone building, its blue front door wreathed in roses, the hostel looks onto an enclosed courtyard, with tables and benches offering rest to the weary traveler until such time as the hostel opens and dinner is served. This set-up lends itself to easy conversation with fellow travelers, half of whom seemed to be American, half French, with myself as the sole Canadian.
It was the kind of place you never want to leave. Other hostellers had tales to tell of muggings and attempted muggings they’d experienced in the large cities of Europe, of noisy and impersonal hostels overrun with school parties, all of which made Séguret seem an oasis where new friends were made and conversation sparkled. The interior of the hostel was as attractive as the outside, decorated with huge Provençal ceramic plots, oil paintings and bouquets of fresh flowers. Dinner was served at a long wooden table where we all – Henri, his wife and family, hosts and guests, French and North Americans – sat together, ate, drank, and enjoyed ourselves. The food was the best I enjoyed in France, and all for the amazing price of about $11. Lodging and breakfast was another $10.
I stayed at Séguret for three nights, enjoying every minute of it. During the days, I explored, on foot, the Provençal countryside. One morning I set out on foot, bright and early, to walk to Vaison to see the weekly market. The country roads were not busy until I approached Vaison. Once I had to do some fancy side-stepping to avoid an on-coming semi-truck with its horn blaring to the one side of me, and a vicious sounding guard-dog growling at the end of his chain on the other. But for that heart-thumping incident, I revelled in the sunlit air as I walked past vineyards. Fresh greenery was just beginning to dress winter-blackened vine stumps, and large signs invited visitors in to taste (and buy) some special “Côtes du Rhône” wine.
I even managed to find my way to the home of a Madame Gasparoux in Vaison La Romaine. I had met her on the bus ride from Orange, and she, an ardent traveler herself, had graciously invited me for tea. In her kitchen I was delighted to spot a large, panoramic poster of Vancouver. We shared tea, biscuits, and traveler tales.
One evening, as I planned the next leg of my journey, Christophe a young French hosteller, told me about Regain, a hostel, in the Lubéron National Park, built by François Morenas, one of the founders of the youth hostel movement in France. To get there I’d have to go by bus via Avignon to the town of Apt. Christophe assured me that Regain was only 5 km away from Apt. It was late afternoon when I picked up a map at the tourist office in Apt and getting towards dark before I negotiated a steep track to the pretty medieval village of Saignon and emerged to face several forks in the road. By now, having climbed steadily, I was on a high plateau. There was almost no traffic and, worried I had chosen the wrong path, I began to fear the unattractive prospect of having to sleep outdoors. Christophe’s 5 km turned into more like 7 or 8 before—blessed relief!—an ancient stone building loomed into view.
It is hard to describe Regain. Built on many levels, it nestles against a protective hill-side overlooking a valley. Trees, shrubs and flowers surround it so that it seems like something organic that has grown there over the centuries. People I met there—French, Dutch and German— were fanatical devotees who returned again and again to Regain. Supper there was prepared communally. Everyone shared in preparing the salad, setting the tables, putting out bottles of wine and in washing up afterwards. I was the only Anglophone and was glad I knew enough French to converse a little with the others.
The next morning, a symphony of bird song greeted me as I wandered down the slope. Flowers grew everywhere, and I thought this was the closest I could get to a non-travel-agency-poster-paradise. As I paid my hostel bill, the assistant patron said to me in French: “May the sun of Provence shine in your heart when you return to your home in Canada.” It has.
>> From Anne. Update 2013: The youth hostel in Seguret is now operated as a hotel/restaurant. Still a beautiful place...just not in some people's budget! Website
>> From Christine Mathias. I stayed at this same hostel in 1993. I've been trying to find photos of it...my search led me here. While there are no photos, it's nice to see how another describes the beautiful place I remember from 20 years ago!
>> From Samantha Veater: The author, Valerie Spentzos, mentions a hostel in Séguret, and I wanted to visit this place but cannot find out anything else about it online. Could you send me her email address so I can contact her?
Editor: CSTN has lost touch with the author of this solo travel report, and it is now hard to say which hostel she was writing about. May I suggest that you check out websites such as TripAdvisor.com and read what recommendations other travelers have made for this region.