Saturday, September 17, 2016

Friday in Cassis

If you have been to Cassis, you won't be surprised to know that it's one of our favorite towns in Provence. Happily, it only takes 1 hour and half to drive from Sablet to Cassis. The picturesque town is tucked into a stunning location along the Mediterranean Sea between the calanques (little coastal fjords with tall cliffs), about 20 km east of Marseille.

In case you don't know, Cassis is a small fishing port on a steep hillside with vineyards and pastel-colored houses which tumble down to a seaside port lined with more pastel-colored houses and shops with 8,000 inhabitants. The port is filled with little fishing boats, yachts and a collection of charter boats that take visitors out to the calanques.

When you visit Sablet, we will take a day trip to Cassis. We like to go on Friday mornings since that is one of the days (Wednesday is the other) that the Marché Provençal takes place. That is exactly what we did one Friday this summer, when daughter Tricia and family were visiting Sablet.

Cassis Marché Provençal

We try to get to Cassis early in the morning since parking is often a challenge. From time to time, we have to park in a remote lot (Relais des Gourgettes) and hike or ride the navette (shuttle bus) to the port. This time we are lucky, and found parking very close to the port.

Musicians on market day near Place Gilbert Savon

There are more shops and restaurants on the narrow streets of Cassis away from the port.

Cassis street

The port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet in the center of Cassis.

Port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

Another view of the port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

There are four public beach areas in Cassis. The Grand Mer beach is the main beach near the center of town and consists of sand and pebbles.

Grand Mer Beach

The Romanesque style Saint Michel Church was built near the port a short distance from the center of town between 1859 and 1867.

The bell tower of Saint Michel Church is visible from the port

Pastel colored houses and shops line Quai des Baux

Fishing boats tied up along Quai des Baux

We love the flowers that adorn the light poles in Cassis

The port is lined with tourist shops, terrace cafés and restaurants which offer a variety of food and prices. As you can imagine, it's great fun to watch people stroll down Quai (dock) des Baux and Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy while you soak up the sun in front of one of the eateries that line the port. Unfortunately, the view is much better than the food so we usually just order drinks.

Tourists walk down Quai des Baux

Pretty house along Quai des Baux

Pretty house over shop along Quai des Baux

Another view of Quai des Baux

Le Bonaparte Restaurant is our favorite restaurant in Cassis. The restaurant is located on a side street several blocks off the port. There is a small dining room and seating on the street. Le Bonaparte Restaurant is owned by the chef Jean-Marie who has been in business 23 years. That's where we headed for lunch that Friday.

Daughter Tricia and grandson Caedon at Le Bonaparte Restaurant

Yes, it was a very warm day.

Me with son-in-law Alvin

Alvin with granddaughter Avery

Shirley and Caedon

On Fridays there is a meatless tradition in Provence called Aioli. So we were not surprised that the special being served that Friday by chef Jean-Marie was Aioli. So that is what we all ordered.

Platter of Grand Aioli

Aioli, which comes from the French "ail" (garlic) and "oli" (the old langue d'oc word for olive oil) has two meanings: First, it's a thick, aromatic garlic mayonnaise that accompanies various foods including cold roasts, poached fish and boiled vegetables, and even serves as a tasty thickener for fish soup.

Second, the word refers to "le grand aioli," an abundant Provençal meal traditionally consisting of a cornucopia of boiled vegetables, salt cod and some seafood accompanied by copious amounts of aioli sauce. Generally, all of the food is served at room temperature

Plate with selection of items from the Grand Aioli platter

This is what you do after spending the morning under a hot Provencal sun, eating a delicious Grand Aioli and drinking chilled white wine from Cassis.

Siesta time

More musicians in Cassis

Evidence suggests that Cassis was settled as early as 600 BC around the same time as Marseille. Ligures, Greeks and Romans all passed through there, thriving on an economy based on fishing, trade with North Africa and the Middle East and the limestone in the nearby calanques.

During successive waves of barbarian invasions, the population took refuge in the Castrum de Carsisis, a mighty rectangular castle of 52,200 square feet perched high on a cliff overlooking the port.

The Castle seen below was built in 1381 by the counts of Les Baux and refurbished last century by Mr. Michelin, the boss of the company that makes tires and publishes the famous Green Guides. Today it is privately owned and partially converted to a luxury B and B.

Maison des Baux Castle

You often see locals playing intense games of the Provençal sport known as Boule near the port at Place Gilbert Savon. Not today, it was hot and they were probably taking a siesta at home or laying out beachside.

Place Gilbert Savon

The water teems with fish

Nature lovers have been attracted to the Massif des Calanque's solid limestone, whiteness and weather-worn peaks for a long time.

But the unique charm and beauty of the Massif des Calanques stem from the deep walled, narrow inlets --the famous calanques, chiseled out along the coastline creating a beautiful trilogy of sea, sky and rocks.

Boat tours operate from the Cassis port, the tourism office there sells tickets for trips that take you to 3, 7 or 13 calangues. We opted for a 45-minute boat tour of 3 calanques.

The following are pictures of Cassis from the Regali--our 47.6 foot boat for the trip, and tour along the coast out to the calanques and back.

Tricia and family stand in front of Regali

View of Quai des Baux from the Regali

View from Regali down Quai des Baux

View from the Regali towards port area near center of town

The port area in front of the shops and restaurants which line Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy

The calanque of Port-Miou seen below is the calanque closest to Cassis.

Calanque of Port-Miou

View from Regali

A few of the calanques are accessible on foot and rocks along the way provide perfect spots for sunbathing.

Another view from the Regali

Some areas are accessible by foot and provide great spots for sunbathing

The large calanque of Port-Pin seen below with its sandy beach surrounded by pine trees.

Calanque of Port-Pin

Limestone rock formation

More white limestone rock formations with the backdrop of the magnificent blue sky.

Cap Canaille which rises up between Cassis and La Ciotat, is one of the highest cliffs of Europe at 399 meters (1,309 feet) and the highest cliff in France.

Cap Canaille

Grande Mer Beach

The Cassis lighthouse sits at the mouth of the port. It is a great place to sit on the quay and watch the fishing boats, yachts, and calanque tour boats sail through the narrow passage way that leads from the port to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cassis Lighthouse

Back in Cassis.

The beautiful town of Cassis and its port

We had a great time with the family in Cassis. Hard not to, with the beautiful weather and vistas all around. Have a great week.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Vaison-la-Romaine, a Tale of Two Towns

You are probably not aware but this past July, we had the pleasure of a visit from daughter Tricia, her husband Alvin and two of our wonderful grandchildren; Avery and Caedon. We have talked and planned for this visit for a long time. We knew that we had to plan things to keep the little ones entertained. We had a visit to the castle in upper Vaison-la-Romaine on our list because we knew they would burn lots of energy getting there and they would enjoy seeing an old castle.

We go often to Vaison-la-Romaine, sometimes it seems almost every day. We go for Tuesday morning market, buy basic household supplies at Intermarché, pick up cheese at Lou Canesteou owned by Meilleur Ouvrier de France Josiane Deal, visit friends, or simply pass through on the way to Nyons and other destinations in the Drôme Provençale.

As we near Vaison-la-Romaine, we see the castle of the Counts of Toulouse sitting on a cliff above the town inviting passersbys to come and visit. Although we see the Castle all the time from the car, we have only walked through the upper town to see the Castle two times.

Belfry tower with its 18th century wrought-iron bell cage

Vaison-la-Romaine is a short (6 mile) drive from Sablet along a winding road and then across the Pont Neuf (new bridge) over the Ouvèze River; farther up the river, there is a bridge which dates from Roman times. Vaison la Romaine is divided into two parts by the Ouvèze River; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank on top of a rocky spur is the old medieval town.

Medieval upper town

One day after market, with our family in tow, we decided to visit the old upper town and walk up to the castle. The entry street is lined with a few tourist shops and cafes. As you continue on up into the heart of the old town, the shops disappear and there's a sense of quiet, and of entering into the Medieval past.

Street performer in Medieval upper town

The entrance into the upper, heart of the Medieval town is through a deep, fortified gateway through the base of the belfry tower seen below. The lower part of this tower was built in the 14th century. The upper part and the ornate wrought-iron campanile were added in the 18th century.

14th century belfry tower with the 18th century wrought-iron campanile

Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Vaison-la-Romaine

The Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Vaison-la-Romaine, also known as the Cathedral of the Upper Town sits on the site of a church built in the 12th century. A new church was started in 1464 and was modified over the years up into the 18th century.

Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-de-l'Assomption de Vaison-la-Romaine

Daughter Tricia pauses near an Iron Cross

Daughter Tricia hung back with me as I made my way through the village taking pictures along the way.

A tiny door in the upper Medieval town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Daughter Tricia sits on a pretty fountain in the Medieval upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Stone archway in garden in upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Stone archway over walkway through upper town

Around 1180, the men of the Count of Toulouse built a wooden tower strengthened by palissages (trellises) on the top of this hill to impose the image of the Count’s power on the citizenry. This was pulled down by order of Bishop Bérenger de Reilhane and replaced in 1195 by Raymond V, Count of Toulouse and Marquis of Provence. Later, two buildings were added. The castle has been modified along the centuries.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

View from the back side of the castle

The view from near the castle over the lower Roman town is worth all the energy you expended to get up there; trust me!

Lower Roman and modern town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Lower Roman and modern town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

Shirley stands by vaulted arch over path up to castle

Pretty house in upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Stone flower planters in Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Stone house in Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Vaison-la-Romaine upper town gift shop

Me taking a momentary pause on one of the upper town fountains

In the 18th century, most of the fountains were erected. They are composed of a central column from which water springs, their top is rounded and decorated with a sculptured pine cone.

Stone laundry basin in Medieval Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Random flower in Vaison-la-Romaine upper town

Fountain in old town

Grand old door in Vaison-la-Romaine

The bridge in the picture below was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, with a single arch spanning 56 feet. It was built of large course masonry, resting directly upon the rock. It is a classified historic monument and links the lower town center and the upper medieval old town. Until a footbridge was built in 1858, the Roman bridge was the only link between the two sides of the river.

Vaison-La-Romain had a disastrous flood in 1992 which swept away the new bridge and several houses and killed more than 30 people. Amazingly the Roman Bridge withstood the flood and is still in use today

Roman bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine

Happy to be able to post again "Our House in Provence" blog. Thank you for your patience. I will try to keep future posts coming more regularly. A bientot.