Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gordes, A Jewel In The Luberon

Gordes is a beautiful old village in the Luberon region of Provence about 1 hour southeast of our home in Sablet. The houses of Gordes rise majestically from the Luberon Valley in tiers which curve around the hill to the top where the château dating from the Renaissance was built on the site of a medieval fortress.

The village's setting is striking and lots of tourists come to visit in the summer. Gordes is classified as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, literally translated, one of the most beautiful villages of France; Gordes is one of 156 French villages with that classification. It is said to be the #1 tourist attraction in the Luberon.

Cubist painter André Lhote discoverd Gordes in 1938 followed by Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely and other modern artist who visited and summered in Gordes. More recently the village gained exposure as one of the locations for a movie filmed in the Luberon, "A Good Year" directed by Ridley Scott and 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, all Max wants to do is sell it quickly and get back to his regular life being a successful London securities trader and miserable loner.

Instead, stuff intervenes to keep him hanging around the lovely old château and before he knows it he's forgetting how to be lonely and falls for beautiful café owner Fanny Chenal played by the très belle Marion Cotillard. OK guys, I know its not a great movie but I love the setting in the Luberon.

A scene like this picture of Gordes perched on its hill which follows is shown at the beginning of the "A Good Year" movie as Max's plane is on approach to land nearby in the Luberon it seems.

The Renaissance château stands on the highest point in Gordes. It is home to Gordes' town hall and the Pol Mara Museum where the works of contemporary Flemish painter Pol Mara (1920 - 1998) and a citizen of Gordes are on display.

The weekly market in Gordes is held every Tuesday morning at Place du Château.

The main square and memorial to the children of Gordes who died in wars for France which Max Skinner circles several times in his little yellow smart car looking for the notaire in "A Good Year".

Cafés and shops near the main square in Gordes.

A pretty shop located on the main square of Gordes.

The fountain in the square by Hôtel la Renaissance where Max waits for Fanny Chenal to get off work. Hôtel la Renaissance is Fanny Chenal's bistro in the movie, a location seen several times and where Max famously tells an obnoxious American couple dining at the Bistro that "MacDonalds is in Avignon, fish and chips in Marseille. Allez".

This past October, we went with our friends Rick, Deb, Mary and Steve to visit Gordes on a perfect Provencal day and they paused with wife Shirley for a picture at the fountain.

A Gordes shop with a pretty display of colorful market bags.

We enjoy strolling along the maze of narrow street which crisscross Gordes over calades - small paved, sometimes stepped alleyways lined with gutters marked by two rows of stones.

The interior of the Romanesque St.-Firmin Church which was constructed in the 18th century. The church is named after a Bishop of Uzès.

One of the numerous art galleries which can be found throughout Gordes.

Entrance to the church.

An alcove with a statue of a saint over the entrance to the church.

One of the tall stone houses which can be found throughout Gordes.

An excellent example of a street with calades.

An artist studio and gallery.

A pretty window we found as we strolled through Gordes.

A section of the ramparts.

Another one of the many small shops which sells typical Provencal souvenirs.

Another view of Gordes from the Luberon Valley. The strategic defensive possibilities of the location are clearly evident. The town 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.

It is definitely worthwhile to visit Gordes. Make sure you also leave yourself time to go and visit nearby Sénanque Abbey, a 12th century Cistercian abbey, that is surrounded by lavender fields. We have been quite a few times and I will tell you about our last visit in a future post.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bastille Day at La Metairie Neuve

As I told you here, there was nothing planned in Sablet to celebrate Bastille Day, July 14, also known as the French Fête Nationale, so we decided to go to La Metairie Neuve, the small family farm near Viane in the Tarn region in Southern France to say bonjour to the aunts, uncles and cousins.

I love going to La Metairie Neuve; I have such good memories especially from my childhood but from more recent return visits like here and here; we would make the trip more often if it was not three and one-half hours each way from Sablet. The same is true about the memories for niece Leslie who was visiting and had not been back to La Metairie Neuve for many years.

So off we went. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we took off under brilliant blue skies early enough so we would arrive at La Metairie Neuve in time for lunch. Our route took us within sight of the Millau Viaduct, the tallest bridge in the world and past the tiny village of Roquefort where the famous sheep's milk blue cheese is created in local caves.

Shortly before arriving at La Metairie Neuve, we drove through Lacaune, famous for its superb charcuterie especially Jambon de Lacaune, ham of Lacaune; the village climate is reportedly perfect for curing ham. We arrived at La Metairie Neuve, the table was set and the aunts and uncles were gathering and cousin Jean Marc was grilling lamb chops on the BBQ grill.

Niece Leslie was happy to be back at La Metairie Neuve and reconnecting with family she had not seen for many years.

After lunch, we went to move some very large rolls of hay into a barn for the horses.

Me resting on the job.

Tonton René wearing his ever present beret hat .

Tonton René and his dog.

At one time, there were 80 - 100 sheep, they were one of the many local farms that supplied sheep's milk for making Roquefort cheese, 12 - 20 cows, a work horse and they raised chickens, ducks and pigeons and grew all their produce. The only live stock which remain are two horses, some chickens, ducks and pigeons. They have a large garden and lots of apple trees, from which they bottle fresh juice each fall.

Cousin Jean Marc with one of his horses.

Tonton René looks out over his garden, actually I should say that its Tata Ida's garden as it is she who plants and takes care of the garden.

Tonton René and tata Ida sit in front of their house; tata Ida is always full of stories. Don't you love the hand made lawn chairs.

One of the barns on the farm with a pretty hydrangea plant.

The family has a long history at La Metairie Neuve. I found out from the aunts that day that they sheltered a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis and their collaborators for several years during WW II, one of several local families who provided shelter and supported the resistance. I hope to find out more about this history and write about it in the future.

Since we were there on the 14th of July, one of the uncles has recently passed away. The other aunts and uncles are aging and La Metairie Neuve will be very different when they are all gone. The future for La Metairie Neuve is uncertain because of French inheritance laws so the cousins are all very anxious. We will be visiting every chance we can.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dentelles de Montmirail, a Hikers and Rock Climbers Paradise

The first thing we do in the morning, many times before the bells of the nearby St Nazaire church ring at 7:00 is open the bedroom door and the mint green shutters that lead to the balcony and walk out to check the weather and see if the Mistral is blowing.

Besides getting the scoop on the weather, we are treated to magnificent views over the Sablet rooftops towards the Dentelles de Montmirail in the distance. The Dentelles de Montmirail are short, steep mountains with a distinctive rocky ridge extending west geologically from Mont Ventoux which is located just to the east.

The name Dentelles, the French word for lace, refers to the jagged, rocky tops obtained by erosion, while Montmirail is derived from the Latin mons mirabilis meaning "admirable mountain" though the alternative connection with teeth, "dents" in French is equally good in my opinion.

The Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range is about 8 kms (5 miles) long and runs from Vaison-la-Romaine on the north end to Beaumes-de-Venise on the south. The tallest peak of the Dentelles de Montmirail range is St-Amand, at 734 m (2,400 ft).

After walking around Gigondas and enjoying a wonderful lunch at Oustalet restaurant with wife Shirley and niece Leslie, details to follow in a future post, we decided to take the unsurfaced road up to Col de Cayron to get a closer look at the peaks and see the views of the vineyard covered Rhone valley.

One of the great views from Col de Cayron.

A splendid view of the Rhone valley with Sablet in the foreground on the left and Séguret on the right against the hill. Séguret is classified as a Most Beautiful Village in France.

The Col de Cayron is 396 m (1300 ft) high and in the center of the Dentelles de Montmirail principle peaks.

We hiked up a trail, one of approximately 600 hiking trails in the Dentelles de Montmirail range, to a peak with great views. Leslie hiked up a little farther for a photo shot.

A close up view of the limestone peaks. These peaks have faces that rise 100 m (328 ft) and are favorites of rock climbers.

Vineyards at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Some of the famous Gigondas vineyards at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

There are a many trails to hike up to and around the Dentelles de Montmirail. If you do, you will be rewarded with close up views of the peaks and magnificent views out over the Rhone valley. We will return many times I am sure.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reserved Parking for Mommies to Be

We do most of our shopping at the weekly markets that take place in Vaison-la-Romaine and Carpentras or at one of the boulangeries, the boucherie or épicerie Vival owned by our friends Alain and Mimi in Sablet.

From time to time, we go to the Intermarché on the Route de Nyons on the north side of Vaison-la-Romaine to pick up staples, paper goods and cleaning supplies for the house. The Intermarché is also a good place to buy gasoline or diesel for our car.

On one of our visits to the Intermarché a few weeks ago, we noticed that there was special parking reserved for pregnant women right by the front door. Since I had my camera, I couldn't resist taking some pictures to share with you.

Now this reserved parking may have been there for a while but we don't remember seeing it before now. What struck me besides the fact I have never seen reserved parking for pregnant women is there is no reserved parking at this Intermarché for other handicapped drivers.

We don't see a lot of handicap parking in France at all. And since the French and us too now, I must admit, park anywhere we find a space including on sidewalks, I am not sure handicap parking would be respected by drivers searching for a spot to squeeze into.

Is there handicap parking designated in the South of France? Is it respected? Tell me what you think.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Orange, Gateway to Provence

Orange is located at the entrance to Provence for travelers coming down the A7 autoroute from the north; the A7 is also known appropriately, I think, as l'autoroute du Soleil - literally translated the motorway of the Sun.

At Orange, the A7 splits into the A9 autoroute which continues to western Provence and access to the Pont du Gard and Nîmes while the A7 autoroute continues toward Avignon, Marseille and the heart of Provence.

Orange is about 25 minutes from Sablet and best known to wife Shirley and me as the exit off the A7 and A9 to get home to Sablet. Orange is also where our insurance agency is located and the Tresor Public where we pay taxes for our house.

Orange is best known to most people for its Roman ruins, especially the Roman theater and the Triumphal Arch of Orange. Orange was a thriving city in ancient times - situated on the Via Agrippa - which linked the cities of Lyon and Arles.

Built in 20 BC to commemorate the campaigns of the Second Legion over the local tribes, the Arch stands on the north side of Orange on a roundabout on the busy N-7. It has three openings, flanked by columns and decorated with various reliefs of military themes, including naval battles, spoils of war and Romans battling Germanics and Gauls.

The Théâtre Antique d'Orange - literally translated as the Ancient Theatre of Orange is an old Roman theater built in the 1st century under the reign of Augustus in the heart of Orange. It is now owned by the town of Orange and is the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d'Orange.

The exterior facade of the Roman theater is a stone edifice 103 meters or 338 feet long and 36 meters or 118 feet high. Louis XIV is said to have described the facade as “The finest wall in my kingdom”.

The Roman theater of Orange is a wonderful remnant of the Roman Empire. It owes its fame in particular to its magnificent stage wall, amazingly well-preserved and unique in the Western world. It is the only Roman theater to have preserved its stage wall almost entirely in tact.

The Romans built the terraces for the theater seating against the existing Saint-Eutrope hill to make the construction easier and the completed theater more stable.

The theater's stage wall was very important as it helped to properly project sound and comprised the only architectural décor in the theater. The theater's original height of 36 m/118 feet has been entirely preserved. The wall was richly decorated with slabs of multicoloured marble, statues in niches, and columns.

The only remaining authentic statue is the 4 m/13 feet high statue of Augustus in the central niche, used to symbolize the universal presence of the emperor. You can see the new roof built to protect the stage wall.

The stage wall had three doors, each of which had a unique function. The royal door in the center was used by the principal actors for their entrances. The two smaller side doors were for the supporting actors.

A panoramic view out over the town of Orange from the top tier of the Roman theater.

Another view from the top tier of the Roman theater.

Arched walkways which encircle the terraced seating area.

The terrace seating was constructed in a half circle around the stage and could accommodate 8000 to 10000 spectators. Mime, pantomime, poetry readings and the "attelana" (a kind of farce) was the dominant form of entertainment, much of which lasted all day. The entertainment offered was open to all and free of charge.

As the Roman empire declined during the 4th century, the theater was officially closed and remained abandoned until it became a defensive post in the Middle Ages and then a refuge by townspeople during the 16th century wars of religion.

A nearby statue of the troubadour-prince Raimbaut d'Orange in Place de la République.

We drive past Orange frequently but we have not spent a lot of time exploring Orange except to visit the Roman theater and the Triumphal Arch. So we will have to return another day to more fully explore the rest of the town.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.