Sunday, February 16, 2020

We live on Grande Rue in Sablet in the Provence Region of France

I have always found it very amusing that the street where our house in Sablet is located is called "Grande Rue". Read on to find out why this is so perplexing to me.

For those of you who don't know, Sablet is a small village (population 1284) located at the base of the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail west of Mont Ventoux in the Vaucluse region of Provence, France. The village sits on a hill near the Ouvèze River.

Sign at entrance to Sablet

Sablet is known for the Côtes du Rhône Villages wines produced by village winemakers. The vineyards were first cultivated by the Counts of Toulouse, to whom the area then belonged. During the 14th century, the vineyards became papal possessions when the papacy moved to Avignon. Sablet was awarded AOC of "Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet" in 1974.

Sablet

Although the first fortifications of the village were most likely built in the 9th century to ward off attacks by the Saracens, construction on the walls didn't start until the 15th century. These ramparts have recently been restored by the Association des Compagnons des Barrys.

Sablet ramparts and tower

Sablet is filled with charming and picturesque shaded streets adorned with flowers, passageways with exposed beams, and fountains. Stone houses line narrow streets that curl in concentric circles around a beehive shaped hill up to St. Nazaire Church (12th century). St. Nazaire’s bell tower is the highest point in the village.

Our house at intersection of Rue d'Eglise and Grande Rue

Streets were named to reflect the activities of the village residents over the centuries such as climbing the "Escaliers de l'Eglise" to St. Nazaire Church or visiting the shoemaker on "Rue du Cordonnier". Not sure what they were thinking, when they named our street "Grande Rue". In French, "Grande" normally refers to something big, which Grande Rue where our house is located, is definitely not.

Me driving on Grande Rue

One of our favorite pastimes is to watch drivers, usually tourists, struggle to make the left turn from Grande Rue onto Rue d'Église just before our house to go up the hill to Saint Nazaire Church. You can't do it without a partial turn, then back up, then proceed forward up the hill. Only locals make the turn on the first attempt. We also chat with passersby, especially when we hear English being spoken.

Shirley hanging out the kitchen window overlooking the intersection of Grande Rue and Rue de l'Eglise

An interesting thing we have learned is the wine cave under our house was connected to caves under neighboring homes through a network of tunnels that ran under the streets. The locals would travel to their neighbors through the tunnels rather than on the street. The entrance to the network of tunnels was near the fountain and lavoir at Place Yvan Audouard.

Covered passageway on Grande Rue

Shirley stands in "Grande Rue" and stretches her arms between our house and the house across the street. You don't have to worry about traffic as not too many vehicles pass our front door besides the one belonging to the post office.

Shirley can almost touch both sides of Grande Rue

If you have come to visit us in Sablet, you have figured out that one of my favorite places for taking pictures of people in Sablet, is around the pretty fountain at Place Yvan Audouard, just a few steps from our house on Grande Rue.

A favorite place to take pictures is the fountain a few steps from our house

If you have comments or questions about Sablet, or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. We still have some weeks open in April, June, last part of July and August. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to chcmichel@aol.com.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Roussillon, Most Colorful Village in Provence

Friends and others headed to Provence often ask where they should go during their once in a life time visit to Provence. This is a hard question as most visitors have only 6 days since they usually arrive on Saturday afternoon and depart the following Saturday morning; there are so many wonderful things to see.

There is something for everyone in Provence; there are amazing Roman ruins and medieval villages for history buffs, lavender, sunflowers and coquelicots (poppies) for artists, open-air markets with tantalizing displays of fruits and vegetables and great restaurants for foodies, and world famous vineyards for wine lovers.

There are perched villages, summer music and theater festivals, bull fights and Transhumance for lovers of spectacles, brocantes and vide-greniers for antique hunters, Mont Ventoux for amateurs cyclists who want to test their skills on the most famous ascent on the Tour de France, the Dentelles de Montmirail for hikers and picturesque villages with beaches along the Mediterranean Sea.

We usually suggest visitors include a trip to the vibrant red-ocher colored town of Roussillon, one of five villages nestled in the Luberon hills which are classified as Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most beautiful villages of France). Roussillon is one of our favorite villages and just one hour from Sablet.

The Luberon stretches 35 miles along a ridge of rugged hills from Cavaillon in the west to Manosque in the east and from the town of Apt south to the Durance River. Much of the area including Roussillon lies within the borders of the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon, a protected area with outstanding natural beauty.

Roussillon sits on the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse above one of the world's largest known ocher deposits where 17 shades of ocher--violet, blood red, orange, yellow, and everything in between were once mined.

Roussillon

Roussillon's primary attraction is its location and red coloring which tints every surface in the village and gave the village its Latin name of Viscus Russulus (the red hill). Arched alleys, eighteenth century portals and ruined masonry around the castle provides further appeal for visitors.

Ocher cliff outside the village

Roussillon has been inhabited since Neolithic time, then later by the Romans who also left their traces. The village is where Irish novelist Samuel Beckett took refuge during Second World War.

Roussillon sits on an elevation slightly off the road that connects the cities of Apt and Avignon, and near where, in Roman times, the ancient Via Domitia linking Spain to Italy. Roussillon is the second most visited village in the Luberon, after Gordes.

Belfry overlooks Town Hall Square

The Librairie (bookstore) in La Maison Tacchella to the left and the Hotel de Ville (town hall) to the right in Town Hall Square, the main hub of activity along with the place du Pasquier on Thursday mornings when there's a weekly market and traffic gets even more congested than usual.

Town Hall Square

The belfry was the ancient entrance into the fortified part of Roussillon called the Castrum. The belfry was renovated in the 19th century as a bell tower adjoining the church. The street takes you along the former watchman’s walkway, which ran between the two towers on the rampart wall. There are great views of the village and surrounding area.

Passage through Belfry into fortified area of Roussillon

Another view of the belfry and clock tower

Saint Michel Church whose origins go back to the 11th century, originally faced the castle, inside the fortified walls. The church has undergone countless renovations over time, necessitated in part by its location by the cliff.

Saint Michel Church

Above the church there is a little square with a viewing area and orientation table where you can find a great view of the Luberon, Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.

Roussillon tourist shop

The streets of Roussillon are home to many art galleries, with works by talented artists which will appeal to art lovers, collectors and passers-by as they visit the village.

View back toward Town Hall Square and shops and cafés along the street

Just a few minutes walk from the village near the cemetery is the beginning of the Sentier des Ocres (Ocher trail). Ocher is a natural pigment in the sandy soil which form the cliffs around Roussillon. Iron oxides color the sands into shades ranging from yellow to violet. The mineral landscape shows the effects of erosion and mining work done by man.

Two different trails, one short, one long take you through the ocher lands on a 30-minute or 60-minute walk. You can stay as long as you like. Information signs along the way describe the geology, flora and history of the ocher deposits in the Luberon. The trails takes you past multi-colored ocher formations set against a backdrop of pine trees. There is a small admission fee.

View of Roussillon from village cemetery

If you have comments or questions about Roussillon, or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to chcmichel@aol.com.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Gordes, A "Most Beautiful Villages of France" and location for many scenes in the "A Good Year" Movie

Every time we come to our home in Sablet, in the Provence region of France, we head toward the Luberon mountain to visit one or more of the small hill top villages in that area. Many times, Gordes is one of the villages we visit, especially if we are touring first time visitors around Provence.

Gordes is a beautiful old village about 1 hour southeast of our home in Sablet. The small village (pop. 1773) sits on a rocky outcrop of the Vaucluse Mountains and dominates the plain and Calavon River Valley, offering a view of the Luberon mountain across the way.

Cubist painter André Lhote discovered Gordes in 1938 followed by Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely and other artists who visited and summered in Gordes. More recently Gordes gained fame as one of the locations for a movie filmed in the region, "A Good Year" starring Russell Crowe.

If you have not seen the movie, it is based on a novel by Peter Mayle and tells the story of Max Skinner (Russell Crowe), who, when he inherits a château and vineyard in Provence from dear Uncle Henry, he just wants to sell it quickly and get back to his life being a successful London securities trader and miserable loner.

Instead, stuff intervenes to keep him hanging around and before he knows it, he's forgotten how to be lonely and falls for beautiful café owner Fanny Chenal played by Marion Cotillard. OK guys, I know its not an Oscar, great movie as film making goes, but I love the setting in the Luberon and I am a sucker for a love story.

Gordes

The original Romanesque church in Gordes was dedicated to Notre Dame. Rebuilt in 1704, it has a colorful interior and was dedicated to its patron Saint Firmin, a former Bishop of Uzès, the bell tower of which can be seen in the photograph below.

Gordes castle and St Firmin church bell tower in background

The fountain in the square by Hôtel Renaissance seen below, is where Max waits for Fanny Chenal, the character played by Marion Cotillard in a memorable scene from the "A Good Year" movie to get off work.

Fountain near Hôtel Renaissance in Center of Gordes

Some streets in the village are paved with stones called calades - small paved, sometimes stepped alleyways lined with gutters defined by two rows of stone as seen in the photograph below.

White stone house and typical Gordes' street with calades.

Hôtel Renaissance was transformed into Fanny Chenal's bistro for the movie, a location seen several times, and where Max famously tells an obnoxious American couple that "MacDonalds is in Avignon, fish and chips in Marseille. Allez".

Hôtel Renaissance in Gordes

In the picture below, Shirley stands on the steps going down from Fanny Chenal's bistro where a wonderful encounter occurs between Max and Fanny in the "A Good Year" movie.

Shirley doing her best imitation of Marion Cotillard

Around the center of the village near the castle, you will find various cafés, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops. Every Tuesday morning is market day. Merchants from around the area set up stalls on Place du Château and sell their wares; fresh fruits and vegetables, Provençale pottery and linens, art work and clothing.

Tourist shop in Gordes

The memorial to the children of Gordes who died in wars for France is in the main square and where Russell Crowe's character, Max Skinner circles several times in his little yellow smart car looking for the notaire, a self-employed legal specialist with public authority to draw up real estate contracts for clients, in the "A Good Year" movie.

War Memorial in center of Gordes

The Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, translated into English as the "white penitents chapel" is located near the castle. Dating from the 17th century, the chapel is an art gallery today.

White Penitents Chapel

At the top of Gordes and in the center of the village sits the castle which dominates the village. Built in 1031, reinforced in 1123, the castle was rebuilt in 1525. Today the castle is home to the Pol Mara museum, a contemporary Flemish painter who lived in Gordes, and the Gordes tourist information office. In summer there are concerts and plays in the castle's courtyard.

Gordes castle

Another view of Gordes from the Luberon Valley can be seen in the photograph below. The strategic defensive possibilities of Gordes' location are clearly evident. The village was never taken even during the brutal Wars of Religion.

During World War II, Gordes was an active resistance village and was later awarded a medal, the Croix de Guerre 1939 - 1945. On the 21st of August 1944, just 6 days after the start of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, a German patrol was attacked by members of the Gordes resistance and the day after, the village was subjected to violent reprisals and much of Gordes was destroyed.

Gordes

It is definitely worthwhile to visit Gordes. If you are lucky enough to be in Provence between late June through the middle of July, make sure you take time to visit nearby Sénanque Abbey.

It is a beautiful Cistercian abbey located in a deep valley a short distance north of Gordes and well worth a visit anytime you are in the area.

You can drive to the Abbey from Gordes on the narrow D177 road or if you are in the mood for a hike, you can walk there on the GR6 hiking trail. Don't forget, you will have a hike back up.

Along the way, you will come upon an "aerial" view of the Abbey down in the deep Senancole valley where Sénanque Abbey is located.

"Aerial" view of Sénanque Abbey

The Sénanque Abbey is an active community with a handful of elderly monks that I told you about here. The monks grow the lavender and tend to honey bees to earn income for living and upkeep of the Abbey. The Sénanque Abbey along with two other early Cistercian abbeys in Provence, Silvacane Abbey and Le Thoronet Abbey, are sometimes referred to as the "Three Sisters of Provence"

Sénanque Abbey

If you have comments or questions about Gordes, Sénanque Abbey, or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to chcmichel@aol.com.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Lunch under the Castle at Bistro du'O in Vaison-la-Romaine

We go often to Vaison-la-Romaine, sometimes it seems almost every day. We go for Tuesday morning market, buy basic household supplies at "Brando Vaison Ménager", pick up cheese at an amazing shop called "Lou Canesteou", visit friends, or simply pass through on the way to Nyons and other destinations in the Drôme Provençale.

Vaison-la-Romaine is a short (6 mile) drive from Sablet along a winding road. As we near Vaison-la-Romaine, we see the castle built by the Counts of Toulouse in the 12th century sitting on a cliff above the town.

Vaison-la-Romaine only got its current name in 1924 when excavations undertaken by Abbot Joseph Sautel in the early part of the 20th century uncovered ancient ruins and "la Romaine" (the Roman City) was added to its name. A substantial part of the original Gallo-Roman town, including the forum, lies under today's modern town and cannot be excavated.

Medieval Castle of the Counts of Toulouse that stands over Vaison-la-Romaine

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, topped by the aforementioned castle.

Vaison-la-Romaine Upper Town

One day last fall, we dined at Bistro du'O in the old upper town. The entry street is lined with a few tourist shops and cafes. If you are going to continue into the heart of the Medieval upper town, you must enter through a deep, fortified gateway at the base of the tower shown below. The base of the tower dates from the 14th century and the wrought-iron campanile was added in the 18th century.

Belfry Tower with its 18th Century Wrought-iron Bell Cage

There are quite a few eating establishments in Vaison-la-Romaine but not many that we think are great. One restaurant that we have frequented over the years that we think is very good, is Bistro du'O.

This restaurant is located in what is said to be a former stable belonging to Lords in the upper town near the Roman bridge. It has been under ownership of chef Philippe Zemour and his wife Gaëlle who selects the wines and attends to service in the dining room, since 2013.

Bistro du'O in Vaison-la-Romaine

Like most restaurants in the South of France, Bistro du'O offers a variety of fixed priced menus including a moderately priced, you might even say bargain price, 3-course menu with choice of starter, main course and dessert for 29 Euros, which is what I chose. Shirley went with two courses, starter and main course for 25 Euros. I should mention this menu is only served at dejeuner (lunch) during the week.

Hot Towels and Mushroom Broth

After refreshing ourselves with hot towels and mushroom broth and made our choices from the Menu du Marché, we nibbled on the selection of amuse-bouche brought to the table. Amuse-bouche is a single, bite-sized hors d'œuvre. They are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu but are served free and according to the chef's choice. Amuse-bouche can be as simple as a glass of olives or small bowel of olive tapenade to more elaborate selections as served by Bistro du'O.

Spoons of Chèvre Cheese, Samosa of Veal, and Croustillant of Fennel and Aioli

Velouté (creamy soup) of Cèpes and Poached Egg

Nage of Gambas (Prawns)

Fillet of Lieu Noir and Puree of Celeri and Spinach

Faux (Sirloin) Fillet of Beef with Celeri Puree and Cèpes

Shirley Relaxing and Waiting for Lunch to be Served

Pain Perdue (French Toast) with Caramel Sauce and Ice Cream

To complete our meal, the chef sent out a complimentary platter of mignardises, bite sized desserts served at the end of a meal in some more high-end restaurants.

Mignardises (sweets) of Lemon Meringue Tart, Pistachio Cake with Cherry Jam, and Chocolate Malt Balls

In early 2019, the couple opened Maisons Du’O, a small, 3 bedroom bed and breakfast and O'Grill, a more casual restaurant, that offers a variety of grilled plats (main courses) across the street from Bistro du'O.

O'Grill across the Street from Bistro du'O

If you head back to the lower modern town on the other side of the Roman Bridge, you will pass the very large war memorial in the photograph below.

Vaison-la-Romaine War Memorial to those who died in wars for France near the Roman Bridge

The bridge in the photograph below was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and is the oldest surviving Roman bridge. It may even be the oldest stone bridge in existence in the world. It was built with a single arch, spanning 56 feet of large course masonry, resting directly upon the rock. It is classified as a historical monument and links the lower modern town and the upper medieval old town.

Vaison-la-Romaine Roman Bridge

If you have comments or questions about Vaison-la-Romaine or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to chcmichel@aol.com.

Bistro du'O Restaurant
37 Rue Gaston Gévaudan
84110 Vaison-la-Romaine
France
website: www.bistroduo.fr
Tel: 04 90 41 72 90


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Avignon, City of Popes and Summer Festivals...Definitely Worth a Visit!

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. I can spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored.

We come to Avignon to shop for kids clothes and recently to visit the Nespresso Boutique, near Place de l'Horloge, to buy espresso capsules to take back to California, and meet up with cousins for lunch at one of the town's many restaurants. On our last visit, Shirley headed off to shop, she prefers to shop by herself, so she can do so at her leisure, and I went off to visit and take pictures.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located next to the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. It is a Romanesque building, constructed primarily in the second half of the 12th century. The bell tower collapsed in 1405 and was rebuilt in 1425.

From 1670 to 1672, the apse (where the alter is located) was rebuilt and extended. The building was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate during the French revolution, but it was reconsecrated in 1822 and restored by Archbishop Célestin Dupont between 1835 and 1842. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary atop the bell tower which was erected in 1859

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and Palace of the Popes

The interior of the cathedral contains many works of art and the elaborate tombs of Pope John XXII and Benoît XII.

Interior of Notre Dame des Doms

The Popes' Palace is one of the largest medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal palace was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six conclaves were held in the Palace and 6 French popes were elected, Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and anti-pope Benedict XIII in 1394.

It all began in the 13th century from a conflict between the papacy and the French crown, culminating with Philip IV of France's killing Pope Boniface VIII, and after the death of Pope Benedict XI, forcing a deadlocked conclave to elect the French Clement V, as Pope in 1305. Clement V declined to move to Rome, remaining in France, and in 1309, he moved his court to Avignon, where it remained for the next 67 years.

Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace)

The park known as Jardin des Doms sits next to Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and can be reached via Palace Square. The park overlooks the Rhône river, the Pont d'Avignon (Avignon Bridge) and Avignon city streets. It’s a small climb but its worth it for the incredible views, manicured gardens, rock formations and sculptures.

The Monument aux Morts d'Avignon (War Memorial to Avignon) of World War 1 shown in the photograph below sits at the entrance to the walk-up to the Jardin des Doms. The monument was designed and sculpted by Louis Bottinelly from Carrara marble from Tuscany. It was completed in the fall of 1924 and inaugurated in November of that year.

War Memorial at Entrance to Jardin des Doms

View across Rhone River to Fort Saint-André in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon from Jardin des Doms

View across Rhone River to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon from Jardin des Doms

The Ramparts (defensive walls) were built by the popes in the 14th century and still encircle Avignon. They are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The walls are surmounted by machicolated battlements flanked at intervals by 39 massive towers (see picture below) and pierced by several gateways, three of which date from the 14th century.

A Defensive Tower that is part of the historical ramparts of Avignon

View down the Rhone River to Pont Saint Bénézet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon

View of Notre Dame des Doms from the Jardin des Doms

Place du Palais (Palace Square)

The Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) is located on Place de l'Horloge, a short distance from the Pope's Palace. Construction began in 1845 and was inaugurated by the Mayor and Napoleon III in September 1856.

Hotel de Ville, Avignon

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of dance, music and theater founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more Bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

Avignon Festival (photograph shot in July)

Avignon Street Musicians (photograph shot in July)

Saint John's Tower shown in the photograph below is the only vestige of the houses belonging to the Knights of Saint-John of Jerusalem. The other buildings were destroyed in 1898. It has 4 floors, but in the past had more. They restored the Tower and razed the houses which were massed for ages when the city fathers laid out Place Pie (Pie Square) in 1861.

St. John's Tower at Place Pie in Avignon

Saint Bénézet Bridge shown in the photograph below, better known as Pont d'Avignon, is a medieval bridge in Avignon over the Rhône River. A wooden bridge spanning the Rhône River between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon.

Beginning in 1234 the bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. It was abandoned in the mid-17th century as the arches tended to collapse each time the river flooded. Four arches and the gatehouse at the Avignon end of the bridge have survived. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas sits on the second pier of the bridge. It was constructed in the second half of 12th century but has since been substantially altered.

Pont Saint Bénézet, also known as the Pont d'Avignon

When we met up for lunch, Shirley mentioned to me, "I think they increased the prices on the Nespresso capsules. It cost me a lot more this time". I asked her what they cost per capsule and I said that doesn't sound more expensive, how many did you buy? She responded "900". I said wow, that explains it, you only bought 590 last time. I guess it really goes without saying that we really like Nespresso coffee. The capsules are recyclable and that makes them perfect.

Avignon is a little confusing to navigate through and around in a car. We suggest you park at the Mercure Hotel parking lot if there is availability. From there you can easily walk around the town. If you have comments or questions about Avignon or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to chcmichel@aol.com.