Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oppède-le-Vieux, a peaceful escape in the Luberon

Just before we leave for a séjour in Sablet, we start to plan our time so we can see and experience what we think are the best parts of our beautiful corner of Provence. Its hard to whittle down our list of places we want to go to make everything fit let alone get to new places where we have not been before.

So it was a little unusual a few months back when friend Kari was visiting that we decided to go to Oppède-le-Vieux where Shirley and Kari had not been before. Oppède-le-Vieux is generally not very well known, little is written about the village in the various guide books about Provence but I thought they would enjoy hiking up to the castle ruins.

Oppède-le-Vieux is a partially abandoned village near Ménerbes. Perched on the northern flank of the Petit Luberon, Oppede-Le-Vieux is a mix of buildings on a mountainside. The buildings range from grand houses decorated with elaborate stone carvings, to ivy-clad, skeletal remains of others that open onto the street, which winds its way up toward the castle ruins.


When we got to Oppède-le-Vieux, we had to leave our car in the parking lot at the base of the village; from there, we followed the path up the hill. There is a small fee for the parking lot. The village is not accessible by car


An old house in Oppède-le-Vieux

The Iron Cross below gives its name to Place de la Croix where you enter into the old perched village.

Iron Cross

We entered the walled upper village through the massive stone arched passageway with an iron belfry on top.

Arched passageway into upper village

Defensive wall

A restored home

Blooming shrubs

Cobblestone pathway

The shaded, cobblestone street (called calade) weaves up the hill past the ruins of old houses. Here old doorways open onto spaces that were once someone’s home, but are now wild rooms filled with figs, flowers and brambles.

Cobblestone pathway to church and castle ruins

White Penitents Chapel

A 15 to 20 minute walk up hill on a cobblestone path through the trees past ruins of ancient dwellings brought us to the summit and the 16th century Notre Dame d'Alidon Church.

Ahead is Notre Dame d'Alidon Church

Notre Dame d'Alidon Church is a pretty Romanesque church. It has a gargoyled, hexagonal bell-tower, and was started in the 13th century, and rebuilt in the 16th. Inside there are some lovely though faded frescoes and it is a venue for classical music recitals in the summer.

Notre Dame d'Alidon Church

Just above the church are the ruins of the castle which is more tumbled down than standing, and thoroughly gutted. Turrets are open to the sky, massive stones scattered like dice, but there are enough details remaining to fire up the imagination about how life was lived here. The castle is precariously balanced, soaring into the sky, with vertical drops straight down from some walls into the forested gorge far below.

Castle ruins

There are many magnificent views from the hill villages in the Luberon, but this is one of the best. Sitting on the warm stone wall the whole of the valley is laid out before you, with its ever changing colors and shifting shadows. Immediately below are the tumbled ruins of the old village, then your gaze moves across the bright terracotta roofs of the renovated houses just beyond, before the view drifts away into the patchwork of fields that decorate the wide valley floor.

Shirley and I pause for a picture

Ruins we pass on our walk about the village

A doorway into a village house

There are cobblestone pathways throughout the village

The arched passageway out of the old village

Stone ruins

An old village house

A terrace café

A village shop

Another view of Oppède-le-Vieux

Towards the end of the 19th century, a post office and school were opened down in the valley in Poulivets and the residents of the old village slowly moved out of Oppède-le-Vieux. In 1909, the city hall officially moved to Oppède-les-Poulivets and consequently the old village became deserted.

After World War II, attracted by Oppède's beauty and history, some people returned and refurbished some of the houses beyond the ramparts and little by little the old village has come back to life.

Sheep grazing outside the village

I have been to Oppède-le-Vieux several times and suggest that you go, especially if you are fan of ruins (any time of the year) or flowering shrubs and trees (spring). Have a great week!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Market Day in Bédoin and Lunch at Hotel Crillon-le-Brave

We are devoted to the local village markets in Provence. Since we didn't get to Sablet for our fall sojourn until late Saturday afternoon, we missed the morning market in Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes and we passed on driving to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for the market on Sunday because we were too tired.

Since we didn't have any food in the house and we prefer to buy our fresh fruits and vegetables at the weekly markets, we headed for Bédoin on Monday morning where a market is held on that day throughout the year. Bédoin is about a 40 minute drive around the Dentelles de Montmirail from our house in Sablet.

Located at the base of Mont Ventoux, Bédoin is the starting point for one of the three routes to the summit of the mountain. The route from Bédoin will take you up 5,305 feet over 13.5 miles to the summit. This is the most famous and difficult ascent. The road to the summit has an average gradient of 7.43%. The other routes start in Malaucène and Sault.

Mont Ventoux is well known as one of the most grueling climbs on the Tour de France. A climb up Mont Ventoux has been a stage on the Tour fifteen times since 1951; the peloton has raced to finish at the summit nine times and crossed over the summit to a finish in a town below six times.

Except for the first ascent in 1951 when the approach to the summit was from Malaucène in all other years the approach to the summit has been from Bédoin. So it is very fitting that the roundabout at the entrance to Bédoin depicts a cyclist riding up hill with the sign Bédoin Mont Ventoux.

Roundabout at the entrance to Bédoin

The first thing you'll notice when you get close to Bédoin is a large, imposing, Spanish-looking church, quite different from most others in Provence. In fact, Saint-Pierre Church is Jesuit, built in 1702 and restored in the 19th century. In spite of the different style, the church does have a wrought-iron belfry so typical of the region.

From a distance the houses of this compact, old village look small compared to the church, and are clustered up against the hill. Inside the old village it's looks typically Medieval, with long, narrow streets between tall old buildings, many with ancient stone doorways and some colorful Provencal facades.

Bédoin and Saint-Pierre Church

As I said, we went to Bédoin this fall while the vendange, French for "grape harvest" was underway. The Bédoin vignerons have planted approximately 2021 acres of vineyards, classified AOC Côtes du Ventoux and Vin de Pays, around the village.

Grapes ready for harvest outside Bédoin

Market stalls are set up along the main street of Bédoin every Monday morning. This is the route followed by the Tour de France as the peloton passes through the village on its way to the summit of Mont Ventoux.

Market stalls

I know I am repeating myself but Bédoin has a lovely Medieval core with narrow streets, old fountains and ancient doorways. The main road has terrace cafés, shops and lots of activity.

Market stalls

Market stalls

Market stall with various types of peppers

Strands of red peppers for sale

Street musician playing harpiscord

White and red table grapes

Market stalls

Market stall with strands of garlic for sale

Bédoin village houses

After wandering through the market and buying fresh fruit and vegetables, we hiked up Saint Antonin Hill to Saint-Pierre Church. The façade of the church is inspired by the Jesuit church of Gesu in Rome erected by the architects Vignole and della Porta in 1568 to 1584.

From the top of Saint Antonin Hill, there are great views across the roofs of the village and the surrounding countryside. The village of Crillon-le-Brave is visible across the fields to the southwest, while Mont Ventoux towers above Bédoin to the northeast.

Saint-Pierre Church

Shirley stands at the entrance to the cemetery on Saint Antonin Hill

There are a lot of old stone fountains and lavoirs in Bédoin including the fountain and lavoir at Place de la Bourgade seen below.

Bédoin's Place de la Bourgade fountain and lavoir

We have driven through the perched village of Crillon-le-Brave several times on the way to and from Bédoin but never stopped to visit the village or dine at the Hotel Crillon-le-Brave Restaurant which several friends had recommended to us.


Crillon-le-Brave Town Hall

In the center of Crillon-le-Brave is a statue of "Brave Crillon". Louis de Balbe-Berton was born in March, 1541, in the village of Murs. He spent his youth in Avignon while the town was controlled by the Popes of Avignon. Louis apparently had a rather aggressive attitude; he killed one of his companions and had to flee Avignon for "France".

Louis joined the army and was quickly distinguished for his bravery. At the age of 15 he became an Aide de Camp of the Duc de Guise. In 1557, at the age of 16, he was the first to enter into Calais that was being held by the English. His exploits and his bravery continued, and Henri IV named him "the greatest captain in the world".

Brave Crillon died in Avignon in 1602. He was buried at the Église des Cordeliers, then moved to Avignon's Notre-Dame des Doms. A bronze statue of Crillon le Brave, created by Louis Veray, was installed at Avignon's Place de l'Horloge in 1858, and transferred to the Place du Palais des Papes in 1891.

Near the end of the 19th century, the village of Crillon changed its name to Crillon-le-Brave in honor of the heroic soldier. In May 1980, the bronze statue seen below was moved from Avignon to its current place in the heart of the village.

Statue of The Brave Crillon

We had come to Crillon-le-Brave to have lunch at the Hotel Crillon-le-Brave Restaurant, part of 32 room Hotel Crillon-le-Brave, a member of “Relais and Châteaux” association since 1995.

Hotel Crillon-le-Brave

Entrance to Hotel Crillon-le-Brave Restaurant

We arrived without a reservation but no matter we were warmly welcomed and immediately shown to a table on the terrace. We were in full Provence mode so we ordered a bottle of 2013 Château d'Astros, Côtes de Provence, Rosé to accompany lunch. The wine was a delicious and beautiful pale rosé blended of Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah.

One of the terraces at Hotel Crillon-le-Brave Restaurant

From our seat on the terrace, we had a beautiful view of Mont Ventoux. The top of the mountain is bare limestone without vegetation or trees, which makes the mountain's barren peak appear from a distance to be snow-capped all year round.

A view of Mont Ventoux from the terrace of Hotel Crillon-le-Brave Restaurant

In addition to two evening dining options at Hotel Crillon-le-Brave, Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, a gastronomic restaurant and the more casual Bistrot 40K, a moderately priced à la carte lunch menu is served from 12h30 – 15h30 at Bar La Grange and on the main terraces of the hotel.

Parsnip velouté with root vegetable chips

Tomato buffalo mozzarella salad with balsamic vinegar and pesto

Lentil salad with melted shallots, pork belly, and spinach parsley sauce

Shirley and I relaxing at Hotel Crillon-le-Brave Bar La Grange and Terrace

Spelt risotto with wild mushrooms and arugula

Fish bouillabaisse, potatoes, fennel and rouille with saffron

Mussels in papillote

Fries that accompanied the mussels


Sit yourself down in a French restaurant and you will not see a single French person using a fork. They all eat with the shells.

1. Find yourself a big empty shell that is not broken and is a good shape to hold onto (or use the technique to remove the meat from a perfect shell). This will be your eating implement.
2. Hold the empty shell between your thumb and forefinger so you can open and close it in a pincer motion.
3. Use the shell to grip onto and gently pull the orange meat out of another shell.
4. Eat the piece of mussel from the shell as you would if your eating shell was a fork.
5. Enjoy!

How to eat mussels like a French person

Chocolate club sandwich, pear compote and chocolate ice cream

Raspberry and lime sorbet

One of the Hotel Crillon-le-Brave dining rooms

Hotel Crillon-le-Brave was our culinary find of this last sejour in Sablet. The food and setting were wonderful, so good that we returned for a second meal. I am sure that during the summer, reservations at lunch or dinner are strongly recommended.

Hotel Crillon-le-Brave
Place de l'Église
84410 Crillon-le-Brave
Tel: 04 90 65 61 61