Thursday, October 25, 2012

Joucas, a Village of Sculptors in the Luberon

I told you that we think everyone should go visit the Luberon villages of Roussillon and Gordes. They are not far apart and both are classified as Most Beautiful Villages in France. During the summer, you will encounter many tourists, but don't worry, we always find parking not far from the "Centre du Village" (center of the village).

A few months back, we followed that advice and took friends John and Lorelei who were visiting from Santa Rosa, California to Roussillon and Gordes. After a morning walk through Roussillon and hike on the Sentier des Ocres, we headed towards Gordes.

A short distance outside of Roussillon, I saw a sign pointing the way to Joucas. We had never been to Joucas but I knew that Rick Steves includes Joucas on his list of Top 10 Provençal Towns and Villages in his ubiquitous blue guide to Provence and the French Riviera.

I am a planner and generally have a pretty good idea of what we are going to do every day we are in Provence. I confess that when we have groups of people visiting, I sometimes type an itinerary with morning and afternoon activities and restaurants specified and give a copy to everyone. I don't want to waste a minute of their time.

When we first came to Provence, our day trips were planned based on what I read in Rick Steves' book, the Michelin Green Guide to Provence, National Geographic's book "Provence and the Côte d'Azur" and other guides like Fodor's and The Rough Guide.

More recently, I am guided by posts written by expat bloggers like Tuula at Belle Provence Travels, Aidan at Conjugating Irregular Verbs, Barbara at Cuisine de Provence, Heather at Lost in Arles, Mary at Provence Food and Wine, and Sara at Sara in Le Petit Village.

We figured that if Rick Steves thinks Joucas is a special village, we should go visit since we were close by. Joucas is a small village perched on a hillside in the Monts de Vaucluse between two of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, Gordes and Roussillon.

This small village, population 316, is quiet and largely overlooked by the throngs of tourists who visit the Luberon. Of course there is not much to do or see except walk up the tiny step-streets to the top of the village or hike one of several trails that leave from Joucas.

As we walked around the village we came upon some unusual wood and stone sculptures by local sculptors Mieke Heybroek and Ulysse Plaud.

One of the refurbished homes we passed as as we walked around the village.

The cobblestone step-streets climbs to the top of the village.

This looks like it might have been part of the old city walls.

A few of Mieke Heybroek and Ulysse Plaud sculptures stand in front of this gallery.

A close up of some of the sculptures by Mieke Heybroek and Ulysse Plaud.

A pretty home in Joucas.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church topped with its pretty bell tower dates from the end of the 18th century.

The pretty interior of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church.

The war memorial to the children of Joucas that died for France during WWI and WWII.

The Mairie or Town Hall with its bright blue shutters.

This stone step-street passes under a stone archway and continues up to the top of the village.

A beautiful gated home at the top of the village.

From the top of the village you can see the ochre colored hills of Roussillon and the wide plain below with the petit and grand Luberon mountains in the background. Like most of the perched villages in this area, the location for Joucas was chosen because they would see their enemies approaching from far off.

We enjoyed our walk around Joucas and up the stone step-street to the top of the village. To be honest, I thought it was a pretty village but I would not include it on my list of top ten villages in Provence. But if you happen to be driving in the area and see a sign pointing to Joucas, go, it will be worth your while.

Before I started to write this post, I checked the books I mentioned above to see what I could find about the history of Joucas and the two sculptors who live and work there. Guess what; none of the books besides Rick's Steves even mentions Joucas. So either the village is really undiscovered or other writers are not as impressed with Joucas as Rick Steve's is.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great weekend.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Silvacane Abbey, one of the Three Sisters of Provence

Do you remember that I detoured to visit Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt on the way to cousin Annick's house near Aix-en-Provence? On the road again after my visit, I drove through Apt, passed near Bonnieux and the pretty village of Lourmarin before I reached the Durance River just past Cadenet where I saw the sign for Silvacane Abbey.

I have never been to Silvacane Abbey but I know that Silvacane Abbey is one of the three Cistercian abbeys in Provence known as the "three sisters of Provence," the other two being Sénanque Abbey near Gordes and Le Thoronet Abbey in the Var.

Sénanque Abbey is one of the most beautiful spots in Provence and certainly one of the most frequently photographed sites judging by books, posters, and postcards we see. We drive past Sénanque Abbey on the way to and from Gordes and Roussillon or other villages in the Luberon and are struck by the beauty of the place every time.

We love to visit Sénanque Abbey in July when the lavender is in bloom like the picture below.

I figured that since I already detoured once today, I would take another detour and visit Silvacane Abbey. The Abbey was founded around 1144 as a daughter house of Morimond Abbey. In 1358 the Abbey was plundered by the army of Aubignan, and from then on its financial problems grew, until in 1443 the monks were forced to leave the Abbey.

The Abbey buildings fell into disrepair during the 17th and 18th centuries and were auctioned off during the French Revolution and became a farm. After the property had passed through a number of private hands, the Abbey was bought by the French government in 1846 and declared a historical monument, and restoration work initiated.

The Abbey church was constructed in predominantly Romanesque style with some Gothic elements on the highest part of the property between 1175 and 1230. The building, a basilica with transepts, has a pointed barrel vault, with a plain ribbed vault at the crossing, on substantial cruciform columns.

A view of the Abbey church from the rear of the property.

The Abbey church and other buildings are no longer used for religious purposes. They are open to the public and are sometimes used for cultural events, including the Piano Festival of La Roque-d'Anthéron, the Silvacane Festival of Vocal Music at Silvacane, and the Festival International de Quatuors à Cordes du Luberon.

Finished with my visit to Silvacane Abbey, I drove the last few kilometers to Annick's house. Someday when we are in the Var region, I hope we can visit Le Thoronet Abbey, the third abbey that comprises the "three sisters of Provence." It would be nice to see all three.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great week.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Farewell Roger and RIP

We arrived back in Sablet a few weeks ago followed by Liz, Yvette and Jennifer, three of Shirley's nurse friends from 2 East unit at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital where Shirley works when we are in California. In case you are interested, 2 East is a neurology unit.

We have gotten to know and become friends with quite a few Sabletains (men who live in Sablet) and Sabletaines (women who live in Sablet) in the village, especially the last two years.

This includes Roger who lives with his Maman and Papa near the bakery. He is a jolly guy who does handyman work for people around the area. We run into him frequently as we walk around the village; whenever he sees me he greets me with a loud "bonjour Michel".

Roger's Maman is a very sweet woman with a head of white hair who always flashes a big smile and without fail, asks about "votre dame", your lady, if Shirley is not with me.

When it is time for us to leave Sablet, we usually have a full refrigerator; some leftover cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, butter, olives, crème fraîche and other things we didn't use. It is really hard not to buy too much at the weekly markets. Wait till you see the pictures of the mushrooms at the Vaison-la-Romaine market this past Tuesday.

Anyway, rather than throwing out all this food, we give it to Roger to give to his Maman and they can save "monnaie" for other things.

Last March, I made a comment to Roger about the baseball style hat he was wearing. He told me loves "casquettes" and would love to have a baseball hat with California on the front of the hat.

As soon as we got back to California, I began to search on line and in tourist shops as I walked through the Los Angeles, San Francisco and John Wayne airports. To my great surprise, they don't make a lot of hats with California on them.

There are lots of baseball style hats with California sports teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. There are hats with California Bears for the University of California at Berkeley but I couldn't find any with just California till I found two of them at Oakland airport just before I was supposed to return to Sablet.

After parking my car upon my arrival in Sablet, I saw Roger across the street. He was happily surprised with the hats and he put them on so I could take pictures to show Shirley which I included with this post. He was wearing one or the other of the hats and would point to his head every time I saw him that week.

By the time we got our car unloaded a few weeks ago, it was late afternoon and time for aperitifs and I went out to go to the Café des Sports. Walking down the street, I saw Roger's Maman and Papa sitting in front of their house as they often do at the end of the day.

I went over to say "bonjour". She flashed me one of her big smiles and then reminded her husband that it was me who brought Roger the "casquettes". She then said "Roger is not here." I asked her what she meant and she told me Roger had passed away in August.

I was obviously and visibly shocked and she went on to tell me that she had come downstairs one morning and Roger was lying on the floor and he was gone. I was so happy I had brought Roger his hats last June. This was a harsh reminder that life is short and you never know what the future holds.

The evening before we left Sablet to go visit friends Dominic and Diane near Como Italy, I took a big bag of our refrigerator leftovers plus some things I bought specifically to give her to Roger's Maman. I told her we were leaving the next morning and would miss her.

Now we almost never see her in the morning. But the next morning when we were to leave, there she was standing by our car waiting to tell us goodbye and give Shirley la bise (face kiss).

She gave me la bise too. Roger's Maman has become a special part of our life in Sablet and we hope she will be there when we return in 2013 and for many years to come. I will miss seeing Roger and hearing his "bonjour Michel" as I walk down the street. RIP Roger.

Have a great week! Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.