Sun, beautiful roads and fine cuisine: an organised tour through the south of France in a historic Mercedes-Benz SL

Probably the best journeys are the ones where time passes and you are not aware of it. It makes no difference if you arrive at four or at five, or whether it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, May or June. There’s a pleasant smell of leather. The six-cylinder engine under the bonnet of the Mercedes-Benz 280 SL works calmly with a gentle, low purr. The chrome-plated instruments and the wooden trim on the dashboard sparkle in the Provençal sun.

Surrounded by scents and tastes

It’s late Saturday morning, the sun is high and the woods and lavender fields are glowing. We buy a baguette from the baker’s and a saucisson aux herbes de Provence from the butcher’s next door, a finger-thick, very tasty salami sausage. Fast food Provençal style. All we need now is a bottle of red wine and a hammock in the field in front of the village. That would make our trip perfect.

Classic SL on classic routes

Our Mercedes-Benz SL models stand there, their chrome bumpers shining, the paintwork perfectly polished, like sculptures in the sun, but hardly anyone here takes an interest. The locals give us a leisurely greeting as we go past: a friendly nod or a brief glance, no more than that. We are in a convoy of six cars: three Pagodas from the sixties and three SL vehicles of the following R 107 generation. An organised trip through Provence in historic open-top cars: everything has been arranged, from the flight to the hotel, the classic cars with road books, an escort and a spare vehicle on a trailer.

On the path of Peter Mayle

Outside the tourist season, the roads of Luberon are empty and we can drive comfortably on the D177 minor road through narrow ravines and past vast fields of lavender. The clear air and the scent of lavender increase the feeling of timelessness and the contemplative quality of the region.

This doubtless inspired the British author Peter Mayle, who settled in Provence thirty years ago and documented life in his new country in a book which became a worldwide best-seller and was made into a movie. Elegant country life. What could go better with that than the steering wheel of a classic SL?

Ascetic severity and natural sources of enjoyment

Fields of lavender and steep cliffs line the road to the mighty Cistercian abbey of Sénanque. The walk around the church and the dormitory provides us with some exercise and variety. In the abbey shop you can buy honey, liqueur and souvenirs.

Encounters with famous artists

A few dozen bends further south, we arrive at the picturesque castle of Gordes on the edge of the Monts de Vaucluse, with a spectacular view south. Many artists have derived inspiration from this Provençal beauty. Marc Chagall was here, and so were Victor Vasarely and Jean Deyrolle. As luck would have it, there’s a parking space in front of the Château de Gordes so we can go for a short walk and visit an art gallery.

A tinge of Grace Kelly and Gary Grant

Travelling in classic convertibles takes on a therapeutic quality. Some of the relaxed confidence that is the hallmark of the historic “SL” is passed on to its passengers. The stress of everyday life seems light years away. With every bend and every view of the nearby coast, we feel at one with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant on their legendary drive along the coastal road of the Corniche in Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”.

The taste of Provence

A few hours later, we stroll through the narrow streets of the historic centre of Mallemort and regain our strength with Provençal cuisine at the Auberge du Vieux Village run by Joel Toullier. Joel is famous for his excellent meat dishes, and at the beginning he proudly shows us unprepared fillets for hungry mouths. But we are not in a hurry, and we round off the day with crayfish in orange sauce and beef fillet in Béarnaise sauce.