Sunday, May 28, 2017

An extraordinary program of art and music at Carrières de Lumières and a walk-around Les Baux de Provence

Les Baux de Provence is a picturesque village about 75 km southwest of Sablet. The village sits in a spectacular site on a rocky outcrop with ancient houses and a ruined castle perched on top of the village overlooking the plains to the south.

Within walking distance of Les Baux de Provence, is Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell): the site of old quarries. There you will find an original permanent exhibition entitled "Carrières de Lumières" (formerly "Cathédrale d’Images"). Opened originally in 1977, the show is located in an abandoned limestone quarry.

To the right of the entrance, a large gallery leads you under the mountain, towards a gigantic hall divided by huge pillars left by the quarry-workers to hold up the “roof”. The 7000 square meters (75,000 square feet) of walls and ceilings are used as natural screens to project beautiful, 14 meter-high (45 feet) images.

Entrance to the Carrières de Lumières

Following a program of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael, "The Giants of the Renaissance" in 2015, Marc Chagall, "Midsummer Night's Dreams", in 2016, the Carrières de Lumières in 2017 is presenting a multimedia event devoted to Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo, "The Fantastic and Wonderful world of Bosch, Brueghel, Arcimboldo". The program runs from March 4 until January 7, 2018.

Carrières de Lumières image

There are no seats, per se. Audience members walk around, viewing the changing images from different vantage points as their own shadows are eerily cast on the paintings. Sitting on a few concrete slabs around the perimeter, some people huddle together for warmth. Others sit atop a carpet of landscapes and seascapes projected on the ground, with their children dancing beside them.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1515 by Hieronymus Bosch

The Carrières de Lumières is open every day. January, March, November, December: 10 AM-6 PM. April, May, June, September, October: 9:30 AM-7 PM. July and August: 9:30 AM-7:30 PM. The last admission is 1 hour before the Carrières closes.

Carrières de Lumières image

Tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the Carrières de Lumières or on their website.

Carrières de Lumières image

The pictures that show the artwork which follow are photographs I took as the program ensued.

The Crucifixion of St Julia, 1497 by Hieronymus Bosch

I should mention that Giuseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books.

Carrières de Lumières image

Hieronymus Bosch was a Dutch/Netherlandish draftsman and painter from Brabant. He is widely considered one of the most notable representatives of Early Netherlandish painting school. His work is known for its fantastic imagery, detailed landscapes, and illustrations of religious concepts and narratives.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1515 by Hieronymus Bosch

Pieter Brueghel was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance paintings, a painter and printmaker from Brabant, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes.

Village festivals by Brueghel

Carrières de Lumières imaged

Carrières de Lumières image

Don't forget the show takes place inside a huge quarry, and even on the hottest day it is chilly inside, so bring a warm top.

Portrait of Adam, 1578 by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

After watching the program at Les Carrières de Lumières, we went to the village to take a walk around Les Baux.

You will have to pay to park your car near the village. If you don't mind walking, you can park for free along the road leading up to the village.

Near the entrance to Les Baux de Provence

The village is officially classified as one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France - one of the most beautiful villages of France. The beauty of the village and surrounding Alpilles, a small range of mountains, makes Les Baux de Provence a very popular place for visitors all year long.

A Les Baux de Provence cookie and candy shop

The name Les Baux refers to its site - in Provençal, a baou is a rocky spur. Aluminum ore bauxite was first discovered near Les Baux in 1822 and named after the village of Les Baux de Provence. Bauxite was mined extensively in the area but by the end of the 20th century, the bauxite had been completely removed.

The France tri-color flag flies at the entrance to Les Baux de Provence

Just inside the village, is the Maison du Roy (King's House), built in 1499. The King's House now houses the Office de Tourisme (Tourist Office).

Maison du Roy which houses the Tourist Office

A Les Baux de Provence pottery shop

The Musée des Santons (Santons Museum), santons are plaster-molded, kiln-fired nativity figurines dressed in traditional Provençal costumes, contains a large number of exhibits including some figurines made in Naples, scenes illustrating the traditions of Provence and Les Baux linked to the Nativity and a documentary film on the manufacture of these figurines.

Santons Museum

A courtyard with shops in Les Baux de Provence

Opposite the Manville residence, there was once a large mansion dating from 1571 (the "Brisson-Peyre" Residence). All that remains of it today is a mullioned window with an entablature bearing a Calvinist inscription, "Post Tenebras Lux 1571" (After the Darkness, Light). This declaration of Protestant faith suggests that there may have been a Reformed Religion house of worship here.

The Post Tenebras Lux Window

The 12th-century Saint Vincent Church is typical of the constructions in Les Baux with its southern section built half into the rock. The nave, which has ribbed barrel vaulting, was extended eastwards in 1609 without breaking the Romanesque harmony of the building as a whole. Inside are some modern stained-glass windows by Max Ingrand (1960), a gift from Prince Rainier III of Monaco. There is also the funeral chapel of the Manville family

Saint Vincent Church Belltower

St. Blaise's Chapel, once used by the wool combers and weavers guild as a meeting place, is now a theater where visitors can watch a free film entitled "A Bird's-Eye View of Provence" which runs non-stop.

The Saint-Blaise Chapel

The plateau on which the castle of Les Baux de Provence sits covers 17.3 acres. The castle contains an exhibition of siege machines including a trebuchet, a couillard (a form of trebuchet with split counterweights and a rotating beam), a bricole (a rotating-beam stone-throwing device), and a battering ram.

The machines are full-sized replicas and the catapults can fire to distances in excess of 200 meters or 650 feet. Firing demonstrations of the siege machines take place daily from April to September.

A Siege Weapon known as a Trebuchet

A windmill was a feudal privilege, built and maintained by the Lords of Les Baux, it was accessible to all. In return for a small payment, farmers would come with their donkeys loaded with wheat, chat with the local folks and leave with their freshly ground flour.

The present day windmill was built on this windy hillside after the Maréchal de Vitry pulled down every windmill in the castle and village in 1632 and faithfully mirrors the image of Provence in the writings of Frédéric Mistral and Alphonse Daudet.

The windmill on Les Baux de Provence plateau

Charloun Rieu was a farmer from Paradou, a Provençal poet nicknamed "Charloun dou Paradou". He is considered one of Provence's most authentic popular poetic voices, he did much to revive Provençal language and culture.

His best known collection is the Chants du Terroir - Songs of the Land, published in 1897.

This monument by the Marseillais sculptor Botinelly was erected in 1930 to commemorate the man who immortalized Les Baux de Provence in verse.

The Charloun Rieu monument on Les Baux de Provence plateau

The ballista seen below could have fired rocks, rotting carcasses or Greek fire. Greek fire was a mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, resin and other fusible materials that would stick to objects and burn them, and was much feared in the Middle Ages.

The Ballista

The battering ram was recently restored. 26 feet long, it was used to break down the gates of towns and fortresses, whilst protecting the assailants under its heavy wheeled framework from projectiles, even if they were on fire. Its framework was covered with flame-resistant materials: manure, earth, long grass, etc.

The Battering Ram

The first part of the ruined castle of Les Baux you come across coming from the desolate plateau is the Saracen Tower (Tour Sarrasine) with a battering ram at its foot. Its name derives from the threat faced by Les Baux from an invasion of the Saracens. The tower was then part of an ingenious system of defense conceived to mislead the invaders were they to enter the citadel.

The Saracen Tower

The first lower courtyard provided access to the feudal lord's dwellings. Here were people dressed in armor and fine dresses, and also the servants who brought the bread for baking in the Maison du Four (Oven House) and collected water from the cistern. The guards also lived in this part of the castle.

The atmosphere was completely different in the second lower courtyard, in which the artisans and peasants lived and worked. Separated from the first lower courtyard by a ditch, the houses formed a veritable village within the castle’s protective walls.

The Lower Courtyard

The Paravelle Tower is situated at the north-west corner of the outer walls. It was erected in a hewn rock and then built up to provide crenellations and arrow slits. This tower watched over the Fontaine valley, the Val d’Enfer (valley of hell) and in particular the Vayède pass, whose high elevation made it an especially suitable place from which to lay siege. From the pass, the entire Castle would have been within shot of siege engines.

The Paravelle Tower

Les Baux Chateau

Gwen was the only one who was adventuresome enough to climb to the top of Les Baux

The Paravelle Tower with the entrance to the former chapel in the chateau visible to the left

The Paravelle Tower to the left

Les Baux de Provence

Built at the same time as the keep, the dovecotes have been singularly carved on the rock wall. More than 2,000 pigeonholes were carved out and the birds’ eggs were collected using a ladder.

Castle of Les Baux

The best remnant of the military architecture of Les Baux Castle, the keep was built at the highest point of the plateau, overlooking the whole citadel.

The lower level houses one room while the second has three, all shaped out from the rock.

If you venture up to explore the castle, you will be able to see traces of structures that used to make it an impregnable fortress: arches, doors and windows, holes (where beams were previously fixed), sculpted corbels.
The keep is accessible by a giddy and difficult stairway and the view from its top is one of the most impressive in all of Provence.

The Baux de Provence Castle Keep

Les Baux de Provence Chateau

The town's finest Renaissance mansion was built in 1571 for a rich protestant family headed by Claude de Manville. The irregular frontage following the line of the main street contains many wide mullioned windows, ensuring plenty of light for the interior. The inner courtyard with its porticos repeats the same ordered layout as the Renaissance mullions. The mansion has been restored and is now the Town Hall.

Manville Mansion (Town Hall)

Stone seal

Les Baux de Provence house

The Carrières de Lumières program was an extraordinary experience for Shirley and I. For a few days in July, August and September, the Carrières de Lumières will reprise Klimt and Vienna, A Century of Gold and Color (2014), Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, the giants of the Renaissance (2015), and Chagall: Midsummer Nights’ Dreams (2016). Don't hesitate to go. The Carrières de Lumières shows are well worth the time and modest admission fee.

A bientot folks. I will be back with another post soon. As I mentioned previously, we still have May 27-June 24 and September 1-9 and September 23-30 available for rent of our home in Sablet France if you are still looking for a house for this summer. Please contact me for special rental rates.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Roussillon, the most colorful village in the Luberon

I don't think we've ever gone to Provence without going to Roussillon, a village in the Luberon about 35 miles southeast of Sablet, and we certainly were going to make sure neighbors Bob, Darlene, Ed and Gwen got there. We love the colorful houses in Roussillon, tinted by ocher that used to be mined here; this makes Roussillon unique compared to other villages in the area.

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 is protected in the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon.

Roussillon is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (one of the most beautiful villages of France). Roussillon sits above one of the world's largest ocher deposits where 17 shades of ocher--violet, blood red, orange, yellow, and everything in between were once mined.


Just a few minutes walk from the village is the trailhead for the Sentier des Ocres (Ocher trail). Ocher is a natural pigment in the 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.

Ocher cliff

It's still not known exactly why geological changes caused these pigments precisely here and not elsewhere in the region.

Green forest on ocher hills

More of Roussillon

A rainbow like row of brightly colored houses in Roussillon.

Brightly colored buildings

Roussillon has been inhabited since Neolithic time, then later by the Romans who also left their traces. The village is also well known for being home to Samuel Beckett during Second World War.

La Maison Tacchella to the left and the Hotel de Ville to the right

Most likely thanks to its connection to pigments, plus its location and the natural light of the Luberon, Roussillon has been a destination for artists for many years. There are quite a few art galleries in the village and you can follow an art itinerary where you can visit participating galleries and artists workshops, specializing in paintings, sculpture, and ceramics.

Roussillon fountain

Roussillon must have more restaurants per head of population than any other Luberon village. Most are clustered around the square near the top of the village.

Town Hall Square

Roussillon belfry

As you stroll around the village, make sure you look for the 150 year old grape vine in front of Restaurant la Treille.

150 year old grape vine

The clock and 19th century belfry with a campanile overlooking the main village square. The archway at the bottom of the belfry was the ancient entrance into the fortified area called the Castrum

Roussillon street

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.

View over Town Hall Square

Follow the street up to the Castrum at the top of the village and you will find some wonderful panoramic views across the valley to the Grand Luberon, the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.

Passageway through the belfry

Neighbor Gwen pauses for a picture

Roussillon has been a protected village since 1943 and has benefited from a complete absence of modern development.

Archway view out over Luberon valley

Roussillon belfry

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

Ocher only became a widespread, industrial product in the late 18th century when Roussillon native son Jean-Etienne Astier came up with the idea of washing the ocher-laden sands to extract the pure pigment.

View over Roussillon with village cemetery in distance

There are colorful old buildings and narrow medieval streets everywhere you go in Roussillon.

Small stone house

Narrow passageway in Roussillon

Pretty entryway into private courtyard

Roussillon post box

Stone house in Roussillon painted over with ocher

Shirley pauses for picture

Unusual Roussillon house

Colorful houses in Roussillon

Shirley on steps

Roussillon statue near the defensive wall

The ocher facades of the houses in Roussillon are beautiful - the colors vary from light yellow to dark red, accented by brightly painted shutters and doors. Many date from the 17th and 18th century.

Colorful Roussillon street

As you can imagine, the beauty of Roussillon draws hordes of artists and visitors during tourist season. It is the most visited village in the Luberon after Gordes, a few miles to the west. Despite this, we have never had any problem finding parking close to the village.

Colorful Roussillon houses

We think it's best to visit in the morning when the first sunshine of the day strikes the village, to see the glowing colors at their most stunning. Roussillon is fairly small so it doesn't take very long to explore. So combine a visit to Roussillon with a visit to Gordes or other hill towns such as Lacoste, Menerbes or Lourmarin in the Luberon.

If you are considering a sojourn in the South of France this summer, we would be honored if you would consider our home. You can find everything you need to know at We still have May 27-June 24 and September 1-9 and September 23-30. We will give a 40% discount on a weekly rental or more during the May 27-June 24 period.