Though I missed the festival, I was able to visit farms where the melons are grown. Modernity hasn't crept into the process of harvesting the melons. They are picked each day, by hand, and only at the moment when they are juiciest and loaded with sugar. The farmers have been doing this for so long that they can just look at a melon and tell if it's ripe, but they were happy to share their tips for picking a good one in the market with a novices like me. First, it must be heavy. Second, the base of the stem (where it meets the melon) must be crack racked and separating from the fruit.
When I wasn't snooping around lavender and melon fields, I was discovering the charms of Cavaillon and the surrounding area. The Thursday evening Farmer's Market let me
sample more of the gastronomic delights of Provence, including artisan goat cheese, sweet cherries, apricots, and almonds. On Monday morning, a huge flea market took over the streets of the old town.
During a fascinating tour of an old synagogue I learned about the Jewish community that lived in Cavaillon during the Middle Ages. While Jews in other places around Europe were being killed, those in Cavaillon were allowed to stay, though they were forced to wear yellow hats and could not mingle with the community at large. Today there is no Jewish population in Cavaillon and the walls that once blocked off the street to keep them separate have long since disappeared. Fortunately, the synagogue, which includes one of the oldest Mikvahs (ritual baths) in Europe, has been preserved.
The Cavaillon Tourist Agency also pitched in to make sure I had a great stay, taking me to two of the most famous "perched villages" in France: Gordes and Oppéde le Vieux. Originally built atop hills to provide protection from invaders, both villages nearly disappeared after suffering major damage during World War II. But artists, seeing the potential, began purchasing the abandoned buildings in the 1950's and restoring them. Today, both are major tourist destinations.
The people of Cavaillon were so gracious and welcoming, and I left feeling that I experienced the authentic Provençal lifestyle. I will miss it, I think most of all for the food! Provence Guide Office de Tourisme Luberon Coeur de Provence