|Subject: French Travelogue 7|
Day 14: Moustiers-Ste-Marie - Gordes
Day was bright and sunny, set off at 8.00am. By 8.30am we were in heavy
fog and it was still with us when we hit the town of Lourmarin. Quite
by accident we parked adjacent to the Chateau-du-Lourmarin. The time was
9.30am and we noticed that there was a tour of the castle at 10.00am.
Being ahead of schedule and the fog still surrounded the countryside we
decided to take the tour through the castle. The Chateau was built in
three stages: 1.A fortress was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. Very
little remains of this today. 2. The part called the Chateau Vieux(old
castle) was built in the 15th century. 3. The Renaissance wing called
Chateau Neuf(new castle) was built in the 16th century.
Although the commentary was in French, each room had an explanation board
in English. The tour commenced with the group being shown through the
most ancient part of the castle - the 15th century wooden galleries which
look down into the courtyard and where two large vaulted rooms can be
seen. They are the kitchen and the bakery. We also saw a large door with
iron bars, this was the entrance to the old prison. The rooms leading
off the gallery, house the library containing some 28,000 books, some
of them extremely rare. We were then ushered into the Renaissance wing
and enter the kitchen with its dazzling brass utensils and glazed earthenware
crockery. A huge fireplace tends to dominate the kitchen. We then enter
a large dining room with Spanish table and two Italian paintings, one
done in the 16th century and the other, 18th century. There is also a
very large fireplace in the dining room. From the dining room we climb
the main staircase, which only can be described as an architectural masterpiece,
and enter the great room, named la Sallestre. In this room there are many
beautiful pieces of furniture, mainly Spanish I believe. We then climbed
to the second floor where one door leads to the guest room and the other
to the music room. The music room had some very fine furniture, as well
as some unusual Chinese instruments.
The period and style of the furniture in all rooms were included in the
explanation boards. Both of us found the tour very worth while. The stone
stairs that we used, when leaving, were from the original fortress and
showed the centuries of use.
The village of Lourmarin is listed as One of the most beautiful villages
of France and is surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and orchards. Today
the streets were fairly deserted but with the amount of cafes, restaurants
and boutiques that are here, I would imagine that this place is very popular
in the summer months. We may be wrong, but to us the architecture here
in Lourmarin, definitely has the Mediterranean feel about it and along
with the narrow winding lanes and marvellous restored houses, shaded public
squares, it was a joy to spend some time here wandering around. By this
stage the sun had broken through and it was time for us to be on our way.
We passed the villages of Bonnieux and Goult en route to our next stop,
the village of Roussillon. We parked the car and proceeded to the area
where the red soft ochre had been shaped by the elements. All around us
were these weird shaped mountains of this red rock. They used to mine
this rock, crush it up, and make red bricks. The mining activity left
big caves in the hillside but because of the danger of cave-ins they were
off limits. Needles to say we took many photographs. I took some video
footage of a young couple taking their cat for a walk on a lead. I have
never seen this done before. We went back to the village and had a bite
to eat. The village of Roussillon, although quite attractive, is very
similar to many other villages we visited.
We headed to Gordes which was to be our base for the next two days. Found
the hotel without any trouble at all. Parked our car. We found out later,
that the carpark was patrolled by a security firm. The receptionist spoke
perfect English and was very interested in learning about New Zealand.
Although her mother is French, she was educated in the UK, and has resided
in this area for the past seven years. We promised to send a newspaper
from home when we return. This is a three star establishment. The hotel
room is bright and airy with comfortable beds. There is a pool, the gardens
are lovely plus each room has its own private balcony. All the staff are
very friendly and helpful and all can speak English. The cost is of the
room is 570ff per night. A good choice of hotel.
Hotel Le Gordos,
Route de Cavaillon,
Phone: 0033 4 90720075
Fax: 0033 4 90720700
Decided to go for a drive into the village. We were rewarded with a fabulous
view of the village as the sun was setting. The beige coloured stonework
of the buildings, almost glowed orange, in the setting sun. We stopped
the car, where we probably shouldn't have, and took photos and video footage.
Fantastic. Continued onto the village and found a park. While we wandering
around, Rachel was lamenting that she had finished reading her two books.
She liked to read at night, before going to sleep. We entered a stationery/book
shop to purchase some masking tape and at the rear of the shop there quite
a few books, in English, for sale. Rachel was delighted, she bought two.
Before going to sleep Rachel said What a great day, not once did we get lost
Day 15: Gordes.
In the morning headed we back to Gordes. As we passed the location where
we took photos the day before, we noticed how the 11th century castle
and the church dominate the skyline. This time finding a park proved to
be a little more difficult, but eventually we found one. We were lucky
to park the car right beneath the walls of the castle. I didn't realise
how big this castle was, it was huge. Both of us wanted to see the interior,
so we paid 25ff each and entered. What a disappointment, the whole of
the interior was taken up with a display of some painters work. To make
matters worse we didn't even like his work. Never mind it was a lovely
day. We continued wandering through the village and noticed that the buildings,
away from the hustle and bustle of the village centre were much more natural
looking. Took many photos here. Rachel found a very nice shop. They had
an outside area covered by vines and their crafts were displayed in the
shade. Very picturesque. Rachel purchased a clock which was decorated
with lilacs and garden tools. She thought it would go well with the dining
room and kitchen which she plans to re-decorate in the Provence theme.
I was not convinced, thinking about all the blues and yellows that are
the main colours of Provence. I would be the first to admit, however,
that Rachel has always had a good eye for the matching of colours.
We decided to drive two Km's up the road and visit the Borie village.
The village is made up of numerous stone bories. The building of these
dwellings were built from the stones that littered the ground, thereby
clearing the land ready for the planting of crops etc. The bories are
constructed using the dry stone method, i.e. no cement was used to bind
the stones together. Some of these bories lasted for centuries.
It was lunch time and so Rachel purchased some sliced bread, tomatoes,
ham and cheese, to make sandwiches. It was followed with yoghurt and peach
juice for dessert.
After lunch we toured the Senanque Abbey.
The abbey was founded in 1148, by Cistercian monks. The construction of
this abbey took approx. one hundred years. The Cistercian order flourished
until the 16th century, when in 1544, during the Religious Wars, many
of the buildings were destroyed and the monks were hanged. For the next
three hundred years the ownership of the abbey changed hands many times.
In 1854 a new order of Cistercian monks arrived, but this only lasted
until 1903 when new laws were passed on religious congregations and the
monks were expelled from the monastery. By 1988 the abbey was again an
active monastery, thus renewing centuries-old Cistercian tradition.
The entrance fee and the sale of items like lavender oil and honey help
maintain the abbey. Outside there are acres and acres of lavender bushes
which are harvested from July to September.
There is no organised tour but you wander around by yourselves. We began
the tour in the monks' dormitory.(Cells) The monks sleep fully clothed
on straw mattresses. The dormitory is approx. thirty meters in length.
The monks first service of the day is at 2.00am and in the evening they
return to their cells straight after the last prayers. We left the dormitory
and proceeded downstairs into the church. The church is laid out in the
shape of a cross. At the base of the staircase and to the left of the
main apse there are two Romanesque chapels, side by side. At the far end
of the church there is an unusual opening, decorated like a wheel. On
leaving the church we enter a passageway(Cloister) which links the various
parts of the monastery. From the southern end, we saw the church bell
tower which I understand is Romanesque in style. We also saw the remains
of a fountain which was largely destroyed during the Wars of Religion.
The next area we visited was named the Warming Room or Calefactory. As
the name suggests this is the only room in the whole abbey that is heated.
This small vaulted room was used by the monks to copy manuscripts. There
is large conical chimney,built in such a way, that whole tree trunks could
be burnt. The last area that we visited was the Chapter House This room
is where the Abbot would speak to the monks. This room is the only area
in the abbey, where the spoken word was allowed. The acoustics in this
room are marvellous, and we were told that this is due to the six ribbed
We left the abbey in mid-afternoon and travelled to a the medieval town
of Le Thor. It wasn't the town that we came to visit but the caves, Grottes
de Thouzon. We arrived at the grotto and as luck would have it, there
was a tour just about to start.
The opening that we passed through was not natural but was caused by a
mine blast in 1902, revealing a 230 meters long underground gallery. We
followed the course of an old subterranean river. The temperature is a
constant 13 degrees, all year round. The first interesting feature that
we were shown was a root of an oak tree which has found its way through
approx. ten meters of limestone rock searching for water. Apparently the
tree is still alive. As we wandered through the cavern the guide explained
the different types of formations that we were seeing. For example there
are the fistulous stalactites, so called because they are simple &tube-shaped,
and the macaronis because they are hollow. She went on to explain that
drops of water come from within the stalactite and falls to the floor,
creating stalagmites. Occasionally these two meet forming a column. We
saw many examples of columns during our visit. We also sighted curtain-shaped
concretions called draperies These were normally transparent and quite
often glowed orange, due to the iron oxide in the limestone. We were showed
one fistulous stalactite that was 6,500 hundred years old and 1300mm in
length. One of the group asked How does the stalactite get so large in
diameter? She explained that the stalactite keeps it's diameter until
an impurity blocks uo the internal canal. From then on, the run-off is
external, causing the stalactite to grow thicker into a massive conical
shaft. The tour director pointed out a huge hole in the cave ceiling which
is called, funnily enough, a chimney. The cave used to be flooded and
water coming from the opposite area which we were proceeding, reached
a bend causing a sort of whirl pool effect. This effect forced the water
upwards and gradually hollowed out this part of roof. We reached, what
is called the Macaronis Room which is probably the most visually striking
area of the whole cave. The colours are all natural, the orange due to
iron oxide in the limestone, the grey shade is due to manganese oxide
and where there is no oxide present, the limestone is pure white. The
tour finished shortly after.
The Grottes de Thouzon is well worth a visit if anyone is in the area.
We arrived back at the hotel around 7.00pm.
Richard (New Zealand)