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, Gordes. 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 vaults. 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. more later..........

Richard (New Zealand)