If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this latest blog post figures to come in at over 50,000. So many interesting things to see that I am going to let the places we visited pretty much speak for themselves. But before all of that, a few comments on our latest rental – which I do not have pictures of. (It was lovely, just not something that cried to be photographed.) We stayed in Châteaurenard, basically a farming community less than 15 minutes from Avignon. It turned out to be the perfect lily pad, allowing us to leap frog from place to place for day trips and adventures. Our VRBO hosts were most gracious; they spoke very little English but wanted to communicate with us so they kept their iPad handy and wrote us messages which were electronically translated. It was so heart warming to see them coming up the steps to our flat with another bit of helpful information. They also treated us to a very nice bottle of locally produced red wine. In terms of lodging, the rental unit was our least expensive yet most spacious: eat-in kitchen with a complete set of appliances, great room with a dining area for 6 people (including a sideboard filled with china), two nice sized bedrooms, a big bathroom, a shaded patio, and even a laundry room. We were minutes from the town center, though the setting felt rural. To add to our pleasure there was an extroverted cat who liked to push the door open to visit us indoors, a hard-of hearing/not very well seeing dog that had to almost bump into us before he knew we were there (he made up for it by making regular rounds of the patio just to check on our whereabouts) and a bunch of chickens that felt no need to move out of the way when we were driving into the parking area. Like I said – rural.
Avignon: our specific destination was Palais de Papes (the papal palace). There are actually two palaces. A large Gothic edifice and this smaller one. When we got to the square we found ourselves in a sea of tourists. We took one look at all of those groups swarming behind the hand-held flags of their tour guides and decided we would skip the interior of the palace and people watch instead. We found a convenient coffee spot and snapped a couple of photos. Factoid: When Clement V was elected Pope in 1305, he decided to transfer papal power to Avignon to avoid political unrest in Rome. Avignon was the site of papal power for seven decades.
Close up of the stone carvings.
The Carmangue: A natural wetlands reserve that has fairly recently been designated a national park. (France has 10 national parks, the first one designated in 1963.) Sign on truck was too good to pass up. On our list for things to look for in the park: 1. bulls – raised here and used during agility competitions where the bulls run through city streets as people try to steal flowers or tokens that have been placed between the bull’s horns. Really. I’m not making this stuff up (check!) 2. Camarguais – a horse breed specific to the area; the horses are born grey and become totally white when they are five. These horses are used by cowboys to herd the aforementioned bulls. (check!) and…
3. FLAMINGOES!! Thousands of them. (check!)
Open air classroom at the park. Focus on that chalkboard in preparation for the next photo.
A whole new look when the sun was overhead and the roofing cast intriguing shadows within.
Aigue Morte: Tower of Constance. We had hoped to climb up the tower and walk the ramparts (which I had enjoyed doing on a prior visit) but we happened to be in town during the 15-day Votive Festival and the tower was closed. A carnival completely circled the outside of the walled city and within there was lots going on – including a number of beer gardens with live music. We totally understood why they wouldn’t want revelers walking about on stone ledges. As we walked about the city we noted the metal barricades on various street corners. Bet you guessed…they were there to set a course for the bull competitions.
We watched a bocce tournament. There was large court with many sets of players. Lots of loud conversations as well.
We indulged in some nougat – which was delicious and (happy surprise) not too sweet.
We window shopped.
Aix-en-Provence: regulated access to the city center. Walkers only unless you have a special pass for a work vehicle. Note the metal barricades, but this time not for bulls. They are doing major street improvements throughout the historic zone. Figure that means we have to come back in about 2-3 years to see how it looks.
The Aix Cathedral.
Cezanne’s Atelier. We walked up the hill from town – just as the artist would have done, and we found it to be a healthy climb – even without the painting materials that Cézanne would have likely carried. Apparently Cézanne was know for being quite physically fit, and I can see why. For you art buffs – can you spot items that Cézanne included in some of his still lifes? Confession – I got a few, but certainly not all, and I had the advantage of getting hints from the docents.
The floor to ceiling windows he had put into his workroom so he could take advantage of his beloved northern light.
The tall door opens onto to a sliding floor platform. Cézanne had it installed so that he could put large canvases on the platform and then push it outdoors so he could see his painting in full natural light.
The door, close up. Or as close as I was allowed to get.
A bit of wine tasting along the way. Very different from the way it is done in the states. For most wineries you need to make appointments. If you are lucky to come upon one that is open you will be asked what you want to taste rather than being offered a menu of selections. You can ask to try whatever they have in stock, and sometimes the choices are fairly limited as their bottling numbers are not large and most bottles are snapped up by area individuals or local eating/drinking establishments.
Since we were in Rosé country we had a bit of fun with some small flights. Bottle on left was really good. Bottle on right was okay. Bottle in middle had just come home with us from a winery stop – but turned out to be our favorite. A short defense of Rosé: what we enjoyed in France is nothing like the pink drink we have experienced in the USA. We were pleased with the dry, crisp taste and the under tones of minerality. The fruit is there but not in your face and is offset with a bit of citrus. New summer deck favorite – if I can just get my hands on the good stuff.
Luberon Mountain Towns: First up was Oppède. This was the lowest lying and most modern town on our route. No photo as we didn’t see much photo-worthy uniqueness – though we both agreed it was a nice spot. We drove through at what was clearly morning yoga time. Lots of people with mats under their arms. Our next stop was Ménerbes (photo) – made famous by Peter Mayle, who wrote his ‘Year in Provence’ books while living there. This perched village is small and we walked the entire city center in about 30 minutes.
We stopped for coffee at a small shop that drew us in with the promise of panoramic views.
The city entrance.
A lovely vignette with some pretty steep stairs.
Next stop – Lacoste, which turned out to be our favorite mountain town in France.
We admitted that our decision was likely influenced by the presence of Savannah College of Art and Design. (SCAD) We have been fans of this institution since we learned of all they have done for historic restoration and preservation in Savannah.
A couple of streets have been entirely taken over by the college. (SCAD-ified I am calling it.) Their presence adds a fun and fanciful note.
The sign on the door says this is a professors meeting room/office. Bob agreed to stand alongside to help add persecutive regarding the height of the opening.
Spotted another sundial version. Didn’t appear to be totally accurate. But it says 1715, so maybe something has changed between then and now??? The sun still looks the same to me.
Loved the mishmash of pathways and buildings.
Some of the turns brought us to breathtaking overlooks.
By following a path up the mountain and through the narrow door…
across expanses of rock outcroppings…
we arrived high up on the top to find a large plateau (sculptures in center area courtesy of SCAD) which was in front of…
the ruins of the summer home of the Marquis de Sade. How’s that for an unexpected twist?
Directly across from Lacoste is our next mountain town – Bonnieux, viewed in center of photo.
We arrived mid-day and surprised a couple of felines taking a mid-street cat nap.
We were hoping the Boulangerie Museum would be open – but it was closed for the season. Next time. We settled for some street wandering and came upon this still-puzzling sign. A lover…for rent???
Just had to get a photo of the climb to the scenic overlook. And this was just one section.
But totally worth each step.
Final town for the day – Roussillon, the city of ochre cliffs. For those of you who have been to Sedona, it was similar, but the landforms were much less grand. Still worth a visit.
Nîmes. The Roman Coliseum. They brag that it is the best preserved one in Europe. Not sure what the folk in Rome would think of that boast.
When we were at Iowa State people would give us funny looks when we referred to the entrance ways to seating sections at Hilton Coliseum as vomitoires. Just sticking with history.
The incredible vaulted ceilings that lead into the galleries.
How many years of dripping does it take to see stalactite formations on stone steps? We know these steps have been around for about two centuries.
Next to the Coliseum is the Museum of Roman History. Looking through a opening highlights the contrast in architecture.
And while we were doing Roman architecture we drove to Pont du Gard, the aqueduct that is even older than the Coliseum.
We marveled at the stone work and the engineering that went into the construction.
And, ahhhh, the views from the walkway across.
Hard to believe this leg of our vagabond journey is almost over. We have our lists for future visits – but for now we are more interested in our list of what we are looking forward to when we return to the states. We both are eager to see family and friends. Bob wants a shower that will accommodate his tall frame and he would also like a really good washer and dryer. (In our experience, washers can take up to 3 hours to do one load and drying is done outdoors.) I want a cup of coffee that is bigger than a thimble and I want real cream. Pretty small wishes, overall. Another reminder that life is good.