|Subject: Two and a half weeks in Provence--Part 2|
On we go, still staying in Chateaurenard, near Avignon.
Day 6 It was cloudy and quite cool when we started out for the market at St.Rémy. Lots of variety but we didn't buy anything today. Then we drove a little south to Glanum and just arrived as a 1-hr. tour was starting. Glanum is a Greco-Roman town that is still in the process of being uncovered. The tour was all in French but the guide spoke very clearly and I understood some. Susan filled me in with the rest. It was cold and windy but very interesting. Very near Glanum is the monastery of St. Paul de Mausole. It was a mental hospital where Van Gogh lived for a couple of years and painted many of his famous paintings. The old church and beautiful cloister were open to the public.
Chantal had told us about Mas des Tourelles west of the Rhône, where they made wine the Roman way, so we crossed the Rhône again. It was a very interesting place. One day a year, in September, they crush the grapes by foot and then by the press they have built according to Roman specifications, and they make 3 kinds of wine according to Roman recipes some with honey or spices. Of course there was a tasting, and I enjoyed them all. We bought some for ourselves and a bottle for Chantal, who said she liked it. They also have a regular winery and make wine the modern way the rest of the time. We heard about the Via Domitia passing near here, so we set out to find it. It was a Roman military road that went from Rome to Spain. When the Roman Empire was so far-flung, Rome could only control these areas by being able to move their armies and supplies quickly. There were milestones along these roads, to tell travellers how far they had to go. Many of them have been taken and incorporated into buildings, but some are still in place. This is the only spot where there are 3 markers still in place, put there by different emperors.
On the way back we decided to take a detour down the road to Les Baux de Provence, where we were going the next day. Chantal had told us that the scenery was spectacular, and it was. We stopped at the sign of a winery and stayed for about an hour there, waiting for the sun to go down and light up the city from the side, for a photograph. The winery was underground, in an old Roman quarry and was very impressive. The wine wasn't very good but the ambience was awesome. Les Baux in the distance was quite a sight. While we waited, a group on horseback stopped and Susan found out that they were doing a 5-day vacation trek at 700-1000 euros, from the Luberon. There was a small van with their luggage and they were staying at B&Bs at night. They unsaddled their horses and led them into a big truck, which took them somewhere--probably a Mas (a farm). At the end of the trek the horses would be trucked back to the Luberon. They were nice-looking horses.
Day 7 We went back to Les Baux for the complete tour this time. As Chantal had advised, we parked free in front of La Cathédrale d'Images and walked up to Les Baux, and then up the steep street to the château. On the way up we stopped in just about every store and we finally bought a tablecloth and napkins each. We had been admiring the beautiful Provencal tablecloths for days. It was a big mistake to buy them on the way up though, because I had to carry the shopping bag up, around the windy château, and down again. No matter when we decided on patterns, we knew we would see others that we liked more, or were a better price, so we just did it.
It was a cool day and up at the château the wind made it bitterly cold. Susan's cape wasn't much protection and even I was pretty cold. There were fantastic views all around and the audioguide was full of interesting information, but we were frozen. On the way down I think we hit every store that we had missed on the way up.
Back to the car and to the Cathédrale d'Images. It was in a huge underground Roman quarry and it was incredible. Every year they present a different subject and this year it was about Alexandria, Egypt. The huge chamber was filled with music and all the walls, ceiling, and floor showed a gigantic slide show of the history of Alexandria. No explanation could do it justice though--even after reading about it I was unprepared for what I saw. This turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.
On the way to Arles we looked for the village of Paradou and the Santons Museum. The santons for sale were the best collection I had seen so far, but the handmade and hand-painted ones were very expensive. The less expensive ones were made in a factory. The whole idea is so interesting that I bought a little book about it, but no santons.
We drove to Arles and had a croissant Béchamel from a patisserie for lunch. I bought a Mont Blanc for dessert and wished I had bought two. We parked right beside the Rhône, inside the old ramparts, and hoped that the car would be there when we got back. People seem to park wherever they can fit. Over the next 3 days there was going to be a Feria in Arles and everywhere they were getting ready. The arena had a stage in the middle and extra scaffolding for seating. The theatre had the same. Tents were being erected all over and there were marks on the sidewalk where stalls were going to be set up. Near our car there were many amusement rides set up and running. We went into the arena and climbed up to the top for the view. We spent a few hours walking around the town, which has a lot of Roman remains.
When Chantal came home she let us use her computer for messages home. Internet cafes seem to be few and far between, and we really appreciated being able to use her computer to check our e-mail and communicate with our husbands. Chantal gave us 2 boxes of Jose Durand chocolates and a bottle of wine as going-away gifts. What a generous thing to do! We gave her what we brought her from home and Susan composed a nice message in French for the guest book.
Day 8 Even though this was Good Friday, most places were open. We headed up the Autoroute toward Vaison-la-Romaine, which was highly recommended by Chantal. It was very interesting but it turned out to be too much to see in the time we had. The town represented several different eras of habitation, and the remains of several huge wealthy Roman peoples' homes were extensive. The museum was excellent. I would definitely go back and spend more time here.
As we drove south the scenery was spectacular. We were on the north side of the Luberon. The 'Dentelles of Monmaril' were a well-known mountain range and I thought they got their name from 'dent' meaning 'tooth', but it seems that the word means 'lace'. We walked around Venasque, a little town with a beautiful view of the countryside. We stopped at the Abbaye de Senanque but it was closed because it was Good Friday. There were long rows of lavender in front but of course they weren't in bloom. Our next stop was Gordes and we walked around for quite a while, but it was very cold and windy as it had been all day. On our walk we saw a man who made miniature "bories" out of stones, and he was talking to a group of school children about them. His house and grounds were very interesting, with even the dog house built like a borie. It wasn't until we left the town that we got the full impact of the 'village perchée'. It was spectacular to see it from across a little valley. The road had been very winding and precipitous, and continued that way through Bonnieux. We stayed in a chambre d'hôte in Cucuron for a couple of nights but we could have seen this area from Chateaurenard. I didn't realize that when I was planning--you just don't know how far you can go comfortably in a day trip.
Day 9 After a breakfast of bread and jam, we headed out through Bonnieux and Lacoste to Menerbes. That is the town that Peter Mayle writes about. We walked around for a while and the views were beautiful. We then headed to the Lavender Museum--very expensive (5 euros each) but interesting. Then we went north towards Gordes and off to Roussillon. It was a lovely ochre town and we spent some time there walking around the town and the Sentiers d'Ocre. This trail was beautiful with the different colours and I could see limitless photo opportunities. We bought a panini for lunch and moved on Apt, where we found toilets that smelled like horse urine, and finally an Internet cafe. They are few and far between. We wrote home.
Down the road from Apt we drove over Pont Julien (bridge) , which was on the Via Domitia and is still in use after 2000 years. Through Bonnieux to Loumarin and we stopped there. The château was closed soon but we walked around the town for a while and then bought tapenade and bread for supper. We had supper at a roadside stop on the way to Cucuron, accompanied by the bottle of wine that Chantal gave us.
Day 10 We read about a potters' exhibition in Bonnieux so we headed up that winding mountain road once more. For it being Easter Sunday there was very little activity, although when we went into a little restaurant to ask directions, we were surprised to see how many people were there. It looked so quiet from outside. At the market many potters were just setting up but we walked around and saw some interesting work.
Back through the mountains and south to Aix-en-Provence. On telephone poles we noticed some posters about artists on Cours Mirabeau, and I remembered reading that that was in the centre of the city, so we drove around until we found a parking garage with spaces. Street parking was completely filled up. We had no idea where we were and we were too far out for the streets to show on our map, but I made notes of street names and landmarks so that we could find our car again. We asked people where Cours Mirabeau was and soon came to an area that was on the map so we marked an X. As usual, distances were shorter than we thought, so we were soon on the street with the craft sellers. We spent quite a while walking among them. The streets were filled with people walking around, visiting with each other, and sitting at outdoor cafes. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday.
We headed east from Aix and at St. Maximin we looked around for the Basilique (basilica). It was on a side street but well worth the search. It was huge for the size of the town. They think that Mary Magdalen's skull and bones are there. It was an amazing church and we were so glad we had been told about it. It was well hidden and wasn't even in my Lonely Planet guidebook, although it is considered one of the 3 most important basilicas in the world.
Then we drove on more winding roads to La Garde Freinet, where we stayed for 5 nights. In spite of all I had read about Provence, it was much more mountainous than I expected, and the roads were very winding. This made for some beautiful scenery and beautiful views, when you could find a place to pull off.
Day 11 A lot of stores are closed on Mondays anyway, and Easter Monday is a holiday so we thought that this would be a good day to see the Gorges du Verdon. We set off early, because it was a long drive. The sky wasn't as blue as usual and rain was in the forecast. Susan enjoyed driving on the winding mountain roads, and we made quite a few detours and stops on the way. The gorge route was fantastic for scenery and the water in the gorge and Lac St. Croix was the same colour of turquoise as the Bow River in Alberta. It must be the minerals. It was hard to get a good angle for photos, although we tried hard. I would have liked to walk down into the gorge, but there was no place to park because so many other people had the same idea. Before we knew it we were out of the gorge again. It would have been nicer if the weather had cooperated but it was dull all day.
We tried to stop at Moustiers Ste.Marie but we drove up and down and there was no place to park. This was the first town that completely beat us as far as finding a place to park. We circled the lake and headed back.
to be continued...
Regards, Nancy Bowmanville, ON