Subject: French Travelogue 6
Day 12: Nice - Moustiers-Ste-Marie. Planned to leave Nice early, round 7.00am but a mix up with the hotel account took time to settle. They tried to charge us for drinks at poolside. They eventually accepted, that this charge was not done by us. Finally left at around 8.00am. By this time the traffic had already built up to a point that we were only crawling along the seafront. After getting lost a couple of times we finally went inland on the road leading to Grasse. Morning tea was had at a very nice and peaceful picnic area. We decided to bypass Grasse and travel on a loop which would have us travelling through the small village of Gourdon. We travelled along the Gorges-du-Loup road where great contrast can be seen with the soaring rock formations and the green vistas. Before getting to Gourdon we passed through a huge forest and once through the forest a very impressive view of the town can be had. Gourdon is a small medieval village with approx. 300 inhabitants. When we arrived many of the small shops were just opening. Rachel bought a nice little ornament with artificial flowers. She also purchased some perfume and was told by the shopkeeper that the perfumes sold in Gourdon are cheaper than in Grasse.(Well known for its perfume production) . Rachel also purchased some coloured liquorice sticks. Very nice they were too. On the western side of the village is the huge 12th century Chateau de Gourdon, built on the foundations of a 9th century fortress. We visited the chateau and were taken on a tour, but unfortunately the commentary was in French. Very interesting all the same. We were shown the chapel, guardroom, salon, and the arms room. The gardens are beautiful, all the shrubs and hedges are immaculately trimmed. Left Gourdon and travelled on Route Napoleon, supposedly the same route that he took. We stopped at a small roadside cafe and purchased two country ham sandwiches to eat later. After a few more Km's we came to Point Sublime. We had to walk some distance to get to the lookouts, but once there, the views looking down the Verdon Gorge were awe inspiring. I do not know how far it was to the bottom of the gorge, but I am picking it would be in excess of 500 meters. There is only a metal barrier between us and a sheer drop and vertigo was affecting me quite badly. I shot some video footage but my head was spinning, and I had a queer feeling in the pit of my stomach; I had to move away from the edge. We left Point Sublime and carried on to the small town of Castellane. Unfortunately we did not have much time to spend in this town but we did come across a shop, Modes, that sells hats. All the hats are designed made on the premises. I can hear you saying What is so special about a hat shop? Well nothing really except that the owner is well over 100 years old and the help is 90. They both serve in the shop. We also took photos of the chapel, Notre Dame, which is perched high up overlooking the town. We carried on and after turning a bend in the road, there was lake St. Croix, way off in the distance. St. Croix is a huge artificial lake created when part of the Verdon River was damned in the seventies. The tiny village of Les Salles-sur-Verdon was drowned in the process and a new one was built on higher ground. We took some photos using the telephoto lens. Even at this great distance we could make out people canoeing and generally enjoying themselves. We carried on and headed towards Moustiers-Ste-Marie, which was to be our base for the next two nights. We easily found our hotel which is situated 1.5 Km's north of Moustiers. The room was a reasonable size, neat and clean with a balcony overlooking a large lawn area. There were a table and two chairs on the balcony. Between the room and the balcony there was a roller door which could be lowered up or down. We struck this in quite a few of the hotels, whether it was for security reasons or just to keep the light out, I do not know. The cost of the room was 370ff per night. There were cheaper rooms available without the balcony. Staff were friendly enough but little English was spoken. All the other hotels in the area were a lot more expensive. No meals except breakfast, were catered for. Hotel le Colombier, Quartier St. Michel, Moustiers Ste. Marie. Phone: 0033 4 92746602 Fax: 0033 4 92746670 At this point we decided to eat the country ham sandwiches that we had purchased earlier. Rachel added cheese and tomato. What a disappointment, I had conjured up in my mind that the ham was similar to that off the bone, but the ham was almost inedible, almost like cardboard, chewy and very salty. Ah! well you live and learn. We would have to buy something in the village. After our wonderful lunch we took a trip up into the village. We took the car even though it was only a short distance. We came around a corner and there in front of us, perched high up on a hill was Moustiers-Ste.-Maries. To coin a phrase, It was pretty as a picture, no in fact it was better than that. High up, attached to a chain strung between two rock faces was a golden star, shimmering in the sunlight. The legend of the chain and star goes something like this: A knight who was held prisoner in the Holy Land vowed, Should he return to Moustiers he would lay a chain down. He must have returned because the chain was hung. Well that is the legend anyway. The star was fixed in 1957. We found a car park, with some difficulty, and proceeded to wander through the village. Although Moustiers is virtually dependant on the tourist for its livelihood, and believe me there were thousands when we were there, it is none the less a beautiful village to wander around. There is the spring which tumbles down from the mountainside, creating a small water fall, carrying on under a medieval bridge and eventually ends up in Lake St. Croix, some five Km's away. We did not have to buy any liquid to drink as the water pouring from the numerous medieval fountains was excellent to drink, cool and refreshing. The architecture and scenery was a photographers paradise.There were many shops selling the normal tourist souvenir items, but also a great many were there to sell pottery which Moustiers is world famous. I understand that all pottery is fired in the immediate area and also that this all started back in the 17th century. The pottery is beautifully done and unfortunately, for us, too expensive. But one can look. Also you cannot photograph any of the pieces, as I found out. High above the village is the Beauvoir chapel and I thought it would be a good place for some photos. Rachel was not really interested so I set off by myself. The path up was very similar to one at Entrevaux, but not as long. On the way up, I overheard a young Dutch couple, or maybe German, say in English, Look at that poor old man, struggling up her. Imagine how I felt, I did not think I was struggling. When I told my wife later, she laughed her head off. I must agree I saw the funny side of it also. My wife also queried, why did they spoke in English, maybe they thought you were French. Anyway they passed me and we just smiled at each other. I thought that the chapel would only be a ruin, but when I eventually reached the top I was pleasantly surprised. This Romanesque building was built on the remains of a 9th century chapel and was restored in both the 12th and 16th centuries. Except for the 16th century sculptured door the exterior is rather plain. The interior is another matter however, with the golden alter looking very impressive. There is a statute of Mary right in the centre. I believe this chapel is still used for services. The view outside alone, is worth the hike up here. The 12th century church, topped by a four level bell tower stands out at this level, as does the red roofs of many of the buildings. In the distance can be seen lake Sainte Croix. By the time I got down, I was spitting tacks, but there was my wife with a bottle of the cool refreshing water, taken from one of the fountains. It was starting to get dark so we bought some items for tea, from the small local supermarket, and headed back to the hotel. Day 13: Moustiers - Verdon Gorge - Moustiers The day dawned black and threatening. Of all the days of our trip, today was the one day that anything less than fine weather would upset our plans. We had planned a trip on both the north and south side of the gorge rims as well as a trip round Lake Ste. Croix. We set off round 9.15am and only a few Km's up the road, the rain started and the wind really started to blow. We skirted the north side of the lake and turned inland towards the small village of Aiguines. The weather was still atrocious, the wind was really howling and the rain was pelting down. We were really in two minds whether we should carry on, but the alternative was staying in the small hotel room, anyway the car seats were far more comfortable than the two hotel chairs. This small town was used as a base for a number of water sports on Lake Ste. Croix as well as a base for rock climbing. Managed to get a photo of the chateau de Aiguines. It was a neat square building with four towers, one at each corner. Along the Southern side of the rim there were quite a few lookouts and we stopped at all of them but although the wind had abated somewhat the rain still persisted. What we could see was tremendous and we could only imagine what it would be like on a nice sunny day. I still managed to get some video footage and some photos. About lunch time we were both in desperate need of a comfort stop and as luck would have it we across a restaurant in the middle of no where. We used their rest rooms and had a forgettable lunch. The weather started to improve as the afternoon wore on. We were starting to understand why this place was called the Grand Canyon of Europe. While it was certainly not as big as the Grand Canyon it certainly held your attention in the same way. The views looking across and down into the gorge, from various lookout points, were spectacular, to say the least. We travelled through the small medieval village of Trigance and as usual we drove through the middle of the town. At one end it was so narrow that I had to fold back both wing mirrors to allow us to get through. We were heading for a loop road called Route des Cretes. This road was very narrow and windy but the views was the best we had encountered thus far. If you come to the Verdon Gorge make sure, if at all possible that you allow a full day to travel both the north and south rims as well as the Route des Cretes. You will not be disappointed. Even with the weather conditions that we had to endure we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The weather aside, we had a really enjoyable day and we returned to the hotel.

More later......... Richard.(New Zealand)