|Subject: Languedoc - final log|
Ziners, This is the final installment of our Languedoc
visit. More food - that's why I love France.
Day 11 Travel fatigue again, so we took the short drive to Nimes for lunch with a stop in Le Castillon du Gard, a beautiful and prosperous town. There is a Chateau et Relais (Le Vieux Castillon) here which consists of at least four houses that have been connected to become a hotel with a pool that overlooks the valley. Rates start at $179 Euros /night.
Nimes: site of the most famous bullfights in Southern France in a beautifully preserved arena. There are Roman artefacts scattered throughout the old city and the 12th century St. Castor Cathedral is a lovely stop. For the reader, it's possible to buy English language books in Nimes.
Nimes has an interesting history. Its mascot - a crocodile and a palm tree - dates back to the celebration of the victory of Augustus Caesar over Egypt and the symbol can be seen throughout the city today. The town was a textile centre and is said to be the origin of denim (cloth from Nimes "de Nimes"). As with many other towns in this part of France, there are streets radiating off of squares and they are for pedestrian use only. This makes them very comfortable for walking around and sitting in cafes watching people go by.
We settled in for a lunch of raw shellfish, steak frites, salade nicoise and moules frites. Despite this constant eating, we were hungry so prepared a bouillabaisse for dinner.
Of interest today: hunting season had started and we saw hunters along the roadside with their dogs chomping at the bit. The vendange and hunting season start at approximately the same time of year. So a word of warning to joggers, walkers and cyclists when travelling in the area in early September # beware of gunshots.
Day 12 Today we drove down the Rhone toward Tarascon (for the market) and Beaucaire (for the castle). We had hoped for a scenic route but the southern Rhone is a busy industrial area and not very attractive. At least it prepared us for these two towns # another disappointment of our trip. Neither town has much to appeal to the eye.
The Tarascon market is more like a flea market and is quite small. The Church of St. Martha in Tarascon dates to the 5th century and is supposed to hold her bones. It's a lovely church, but of course we all wondered where her bones were for four centuries! Martha's story is interesting. She is said to have arrived in France with the two Marys, Lazarus and a few others. Everything religious in the area from Les Saintes de Maries in the Camargue north for about 100 miles is related to this story. The area around Tarascon has been settled for about 2 millennia. Like most churches, especially in the South, the original church is beneath the newer (c. 11th century) church. It is large, dark and cool and has less ornamentation than those in the north and particularly in contrast to Italian churches. Tarascon's castle was closed for repairs so we couldn't visit.
Over the bridge to Beaucaire and its famous castle where, in the 13th century, Simon de Montfort, with his Crusaders, attempted to rescue the castle that was under siege by the Count of Toulouse (unlike Carcassonne, something really did happen here). The castle was destroyed so there's not much to see and what is left standing is blocked off to the public.
We were astounded to find no restaurants in Beaucaire # two small cafes and a brasserie that wasn't open. So we moved on to Remoulins for lunch. It was not a memorable meal but we discovered a nice cave and made our wine purchase for the day.
We continued on to Pont du Gard. This is a very special place and I would recommend that anyone visiting the Southwestern part of France make a point of stopping by for a few hours. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The aquaduct was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus as a favour to the local people who supported him, to carry water from the mythical fountain of Uzes to Nimes. A three storey structure, standing at 50 metres, it is simply magnificent. The grounds are being upgraded with shops, restaurants and a film depicting aspects of the aquaduct. On the grounds there is an olive tree, given as a gift from the Spanish Government to France in the 1980's. It apparently dates to 964. If the weather is warm, there are opportunities for swimming and kayaking in the Gard River. The hotel on the riverbank is being renovated.
Tonight we dined in Conniaux at the Le Bernon. The new dish was pigeonier (baby pigeon). The wine was local # 4 Chemins de Bernon. There's a trout farm nearby, where we supposed our fish dish originated. We drove home through roads that cut through vineyards and were able to see our hillside village in the distance.
Day 13 Today we decided to let the car sit and spend the day walking. The vendange had started and the field tractors were busy journeying up and down the main road of the village so we decided to really explore St. Victor La Coste. Houses are built on houses, fields of vines are everywhere in and around the village and dogs, cats, chickens, roosters, goats and horses seemed to outnumber the human population. We explored the Mairie to find out more about the history of this place.
St. Victor's castle was built by the Sabran family and is said to have been visited by French Kings. The local wine, Tavel, was a favourite of the Bourbons. The town has had mayors since 1794 and they are all listed in the Town Hall, many from the same four or five families. The castle is slowly being reconstructed by archaeologists, students and international volunteers who come to the village for a 2-3 week working vacation. We did see progress from our previous visit. The chapel has been completely rebuilt. The castle is lit up each night.
A local winerie, Domaine Pelaquie has a long pedigree having been in production since the 16th century. http://www.domaine-pelaquie.com/home.htm
Dinner was coquille St. Jacques accompanied by freshly purchased vegetables.
Day 14 We headed to Bagnols sur Ceze for a walk about town and lunch. Bagnols is a small but busy town and one of the few where we saw people dressed in business attire. There is a nuclear reactor nearby so there is a lot of office employment.
From Bagnols, we drove toward la Rocque sur Ceze, stopping at Pont Saint Esprit to have a look at the bridge. The town dates to the 5th century but most of what we see today is from the mediaeval period and many of the old houses, still inhabited, have steel struts to anchor the failing walls. The bridge (pont) is over 900 metres long, has 25 arches (19 can be seen) and is best seen from a distance. The Rhone was particularly dangerous here so the bridge had to be high, strong and long.
The town of Rocque sur Ceze is only approached on foot. It is particularly beautiful and peaceful, however most visitors come here to sit by, or swim in, the Ceze River. Technically, swimming, kayaking and diving are prohibited but this is generally ignored. It was very hot on the day we visited and there is no shade, so visitors need to be prepared. We lingered for an hour and then headed back home to ready for dinner. We thought we'd head to Conniaux again but once there found our restaurant of choice was closed so we headed to St. Laurent des Arbres. St. Laurent is a small, quiet town and we dined al fresco at Le Papet, a local favourite. Here we are in France, and we find curry on the menu! It was delicious # mild in the true French fashion. Added to the taste of the food was the magnificent presentation. This chef knows his business.
Day 15 This was our last day at the house so we stayed close to home to languish in the atmosphere. We took another long walk around the village, stopping in at the grocery store, the tabac and the bar/restaurant to say our preliminary goodbyes to everyone. We dined chez nous with a chicken/vegetable pasta dish and melon with ice cream for dessert. We were melancholy and sad, knowing that we were leaving.
Day 16 We said adieu to our home away from home, had a café crème in the village square and drove to Aix-en-Provence for our final market day. Aix is a busy town, a charm to walk around and eat in. After a few hours, we drove to a bed and breakfast outside of Avignon. We stayed at le Mas de Grand Jonquier, operated by a Swiss couple. We had a treat # Thomas is a chef. Dinner on the terrace was terrific and breakfast the next morning the same. Here's the site. We recommend it. http://www.grandjonquier.com/
It rained # the only time we had bad weather # which made our leaving tolerable.