It’s amazing to witness how the landscape changes while traveling. In Australia, there are loads of varying landscapes ranging from the tropics in the north, the dry and flat deserts of the outback and to the green, cooler climates of Tasmania. The thing is, you have to travel a long way to get there. Australia benefits from varying landscapes simply because of it’s size and extents.
By contrast, France is much smaller. The state of South Australia alone is almost twice as large as the entire country of France and it’s fair to say that in South Australia the countryside does not vary very much.
France’s does. And in not much distance.
Take a train from Paris to the second largest town of Lyon and you will notice a small difference but nothing too notable. Hills become more common and distinct. Continue further south for around one hundred kilometers and you will enter the department of Drôme within the Rhône-Alpes province.
Here, the hills remain frequent but have become much larger. Small mountains are visible and it is these that form the beginning of the Alps. This is countryside that wasn’t really expected to be encountered until much further east, along the border of Switzerland or Italy and while the region is certainly close, it still remains somewhat inland.
The rolling hills of the region provide many valleys which produce land ideal for vineyards. These vineyards compose the Rhône wine making region which produces predominately reds.
The vineyards provide a gorgeous foreground to the stunning background of the mountains behind and above and shine a bright, light green when the sun shines, contrasting with the darker forestation of the mountains.
The land here is so renowned and valuable that often the vineyards will be built within the mountains themselves. Any potential cultivatable land is used.
The vineyards mean that there is a lot of tourism in the area for country seekers and wine lovers alike. They are lured to the region by the various “caves” (equivalent to the cellar door in Australia) that sit beside the long, winding roads of the valleys.
The wines here are more than affordable, either in the supermarkets or purchased in the caves themselves. A bottle will generally be expected to set you back no more than five or six euro, and even a three euro bottle doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality. Other varieties can be poured into large containers and purchased for around one euro fifty per litre.
These caves are about the most modern thing about the region, assumedly as a result of renovations to attract tourists. Elsewhere, history is inescapable as a drive through the region leads you through tiny ancient villages one after the other, no more than six or seven kilometers apart.
Usually comprising of no more than five hundred or so inhabitants, these villages were built around the twelfth century and in a style such that all the buildings were packed tightly together, creating a circular or spiral pattern to be easily fortified and provide protection in times of battle.
Because each village is so tiny, it became possible that at some stage through history everybody had moved and nobody remained in the town, creating a ghost town where only ruins remain. These can be found throughout as well, although are not that common and generally the villages have remained.
The weather here varies greatly. In the winter, snow falls and covers the region. In the summer, blue skies warm the region to a mild mid twenties into thirties. The mountains shaping the valleys provide the well known mistral, a strong breeze that occupies the region providing a cooler environment.
Coming directly from Paris, the air is noticeably fresher here and there is a sense of relaxation. The people of the region are relaxed and not rushed to do anything. They work to live and not live to work.
And they know how to live.
The houses are large and well furnished. Swimming pools are a common sight accompanying the large backyard comprising of vegetation and a stunning view of the region and the mountains. The villages are typically built on the top of a hill to provide protection from flooding but it also provides each house a magnificent view of below.
The food here is almost always locally produced and consumed.
All of this makes for the kind of scenery that you notice when watching the helicopter camera film fly-by footage of the Tour de France and wish you could visit.
Please do. It’s as good on the ground as it looks in the air.