Our week in Provence Part II

Midway through our week in Provence and we’re off to Les Baux in the Bouches-du-Rhone department primarily to see the Carriéres de Lumiéres – more about this unique spectacle later.

Perched on a rock, Les Baux dates back to the Middle Ages and is steeped in history. Even the rock itself has a legend attached to it. Balthazar (great name), one of the three wise men, is said to have continued his journey following the star of Bethlehem as far as Les Baux-de-Provence. Where he went after that the website doesn’t say!

The 13th century castle dominates the village and was a key stronghold during rebellions. Les Baux has gone through turbulent times like many Provencal villages but there was a turn of good fortune by the 20th century when it became a major gastronomic destination. We had a pretty good lunch here I have to say although being a popular tourist destination, prices are ramped up.

There’s no doubt about it …Les Baux is an interesting place. We picked up a map from the tourist information office in ‘La Maison du Roy’ which was completed in 1499. We made a good attempt at spotting and visiting some of the major places of interest listed there. I’ll mention just a few:- The 17th century chapel of the Brothers of the White Penitents, the 12th century church built half into the rock, The chapel of weavers and carders built at the same time and the renaissance mansion, Hotel de Manville, built in 1571. However as you walk round this medieval village there’s interesting architecture everywhere. It’s not surprising it’s listed as a world heritage site.

I like taking pictures of details which maybe get missed. Hard not to spot the remains of a 16th century mansion though as you enter the village (picture top left). There’s just one remaining wall supporting a heavily carved mullion window.

Having spent the morning walking round the village we had lunch then headed off to, what is basically a disused quarry but houses a beautiful multi-media show. It’s one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, Carriéres de Lumiéres

Basically it’s the location of a giant quarry which first opened in the 19th century. The stone is white limestone and was used to build local houses until new affordable materials such as concrete and steel took over. The quarry closed in 1935 and would have remained so if it wasn’t for the French film maker Jean Cocteau. He saw potential in the great stone slabs and filmed there. Then forty years later a guy called Joseph Svoboda saw that the whole area (7,000 sq metres) would be perfect for a sound and light show and Carriéres de Lumiéres was born.

Since that time, every year there’s a brand new show. The 2019 show which was the one we saw featured the paintings of Van Gogh projected on to the giant stone walls. My pictures don’t give the true impression of how it feels to be there, watching these moving images. Someone said it’s rather like being on the deck of a ship and that’s fairly accurate as you do feel as though the sandy floor is moving too. If you click onto the link in this paragraph it’ll take you to the website which features videos of this exhibition. It really is something else and I’m sure the 2020 exhibition which focuses on the work of Dali and Gaudi will be just as fantastic.

Carriéres de Lumiéres , Les Baux-de-Provence
Carriéres de Lumiéres Les Baux Provence

With just two days left before leaving Provence we spent the morning in L’Isle sur la Sorgue and the afternoon exploring the area around where we were staying. I wouldn’t say we got lost but our intended circular walk didn’t quite work out that way and we ended up walking through what was clearly private orchards of fruit trees. It’s the perfect fruit-growing area and the apples on the trees look so good. Did we pinch a couple of apples as we walked along …no – they weren’t ready!

Field of poppies in Provence.
A stunning field full of poppies just down from where we stay. Alongside that is a field of lavender.

For our last full day we were going to treat ourselves to a very special lunch and there was only one place we were going to for that …Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the restaurant at the top of the village, Le Verger des Papes.

On the way there we stopped near to the village of Saint Saturnin lés Avignon so I could take a few pictures of an intact Lavoir – a village wash place. We’d driven passed the building and water mill lots of times and because it looks interesting I wanted to see more. As you’d expect it’s not in use anymore but it was a shame to see the water wheel which had moved the water through the building in a poor state and beyond repair. A sadly neglected site.

Lavoir Saint-Saturnin-lés-Avignon

So on we continued to Chateauneuf-du-Pape. If you google the place, the first thing it mentions is the famous full-bodied red wines produced from the southern Rhône, and is the main reason tourists flock there. As soon as you arrive you see wine-tasting cellars everywhere. Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a small medieval village about 12 kilometres from Avignon and has around 2200 inhabitants. The ruins of the ancient chateau dominate the skyline and this is where the tourist trail starts as conveniently there’s a large car park by the chateau and its free. Apart from the winter months this village bustles with tourists.

Top picture shows the ruins of the Papal Castle built in the 14th century. Only a stretch of wall remains.

Having wandered around the castle ruins it was time to head to Le Verger des Papes for lunch where once again the food was superb. We would have sat out on the terrace but the weather wasn’t good that day and the view over to the Rhône was pretty murky. Nevertheless we had a great lunch followed by a wander round the village to walk it off a little.

That evening was spent in the company of our lovely friends whom we’ve know for years and are always so welcoming. It’s amazing how my French improves after a couple of glasses of wine! We were sorry to have to say goodbye to them and of course to Provence. There were more goodbyes the next day too as not only were we leaving but our hosts at Le Mas de Mijour are leaving after running the Mas for several years. Thank you Fred and Emma for your kindness, your warmth and your hospitality, you’re going to be a hard act to follow.

Saturday morning and it was time to return our rather smart Mercedes to the car rental in Avignon and catch the TGV to Paris. By sheer good luck we had time in Paris to enjoy a glass of wine outside a cafe near Le Gare de Lyon before getting the Metro to Le Gare de Nord and Eurostar. It was great just to sit and relax in the sunshine and talk about our two weeks away and all the things we’d done. Menton had been great but Provence as always takes some beating. Roll-on next summer when I’m sure we’ll be back again.

And it’s on to Provence!

My previous Blog ended with my man and I leaving Menton by train and heading for Avignon for the second half of our holiday. We left on a Saturday morning, caught the local train to Nice, then another train to Marseille and the TGV for the rest of our journey. We had to wait a little while to pick up the hire car at Avignon and although it was no hassle the hire company decided to upgrade our car to a rather splendid Merc. It was so whizzy we had to ask where the ignition was!

Having more or less got to grips with this rather splendid car we drove towards the town of Le Thor which is about twenty minutes from Avignon to ‘our’ cabin at Le Mas de Miejour We’ve stayed here for the last five years. It suits us being tucked away at the rear of the owners’ house. No-one bothers you, it’s adjacent to the superb pool there, the garden is private and it’s a perfect place to enjoy a glass of rosé.

Mas de Miejour
‘Our’ cabin (Le cabanon), at Le Mas de Miejour, near Le Thor

We first came to this area about thirty-five years ago, then had a break exploring more of France when the lure of Provence brought us back again. It is our favourite area, we know it very well and it’s never lost it’s charm or appeal. There’s so many places to visit including the delightful medieval villages in the Petit Luberon and the pretty towns of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Les Baux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and many more. You’re spoilt for choice.

There is a famous market every Sunday in L’Isle sur la Sorgue. It’s a typical lively French market with an array of local fruit and veg. If you’re interested in Bric-a-Brac this Sunday market is the place to go. Unfortunately though its become very touristy and in the last few years very crowded, you can spend ages just trying to park. We now prefer to visit the town in the week so we can have a leisurely walk round.

So on this Sunday we decided to drive just a few miles away to the large village of Monteux (This is a link to a Blog. The actual website for the town doesn’t mention the wonderful painted buildings everywhere). The whole of the medieval centre is like an artist’s canvas.

Monteux, Vaucluse
The town of Monteux with its many murals. All is not what it seems!

Murals in Monteux, France
A selection of some of the interesting murals in Monteux

As I’ve just mentioned, it’s very peaceful where we stay so we tend to go out in the mornings and then chill out by the pool in the afternoon. Sometimes we’ll have a bbq in the garden in the evening or a meal out, it’s not a week when we plan too far ahead or do lots of things.

The pictures below were taken in the medieval village of Venasque, famous for amongst other things, cherries. We weren’t there this time for the cherry festival but that’s quite something – the producers take their cherries very seriously. If you’re feeling fit you can always walk up to the village which we have done. It’s perched on a steep cliff so the walk is not for the faint-hearted! The 13th century church is well worth a visit and you get a terrific view of Mont Ventoux from the castle. As you can see from one of the pictures below there’s a handy fountain where you can sit and enjoy your wine and free nibbles if there are no seats left outside the cafe. The baguette at the nearby Boulangerie was excellent too.

A typical Provencal village, full of history.

Our friends who live near Le Thor suggested we take a trip over the next day to two villages in the Luberon which are not on the tourist trail but well worth a visit. They were right – we only saw two other tourists all morning. On the way to the first village of Joucas I made my man stop the car so I could take a picture of the famous hilltop village of Gordes. Now this is a touristy place, they even charge you to park and the price for a beer is just silly. It was featured in that lovely film ‘A Good Year’ about an investment broker who inherits a chateau and vineyard in Provence. That’s what dreams are made of!

Back to our tour of a few Provencal villages … We happily strolled around Joucas in the sunshine admiring the lovely old stone houses, winding pathways and great views over the plain towards the ochre cliffs of Roussillon. Then we drove to Goult, another village perched on a hill with a medieval castle and fabulous views. The steep walk up to the 17th century flour mill with its four sails was well worth it. It has been restored and apparently if you’re lucky it might be open – it wasn’t on the day we were there but you can still admire it from the outside.

Main picture is the hillside village of Gordes. Below is Joucas and Goult.

All this walking in the mid-day sun meant we were in need of refreshment so we headed into the Luberon to my favourite village, Lacoste. We usually manage to park just at the bottom of the village near to yet another favourite of ours, the Café de la France. The food is great and the views from the terrace are superb. Yes it’s touristy but with a location like this, you don’t mind. As I write this I’m back there now soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying one of their excellent salads washed down with a glass or two of provencal rosé …if only!

After lunch we walked up the steep cobbled street, through the 14th century Portal de la Garde gate and on up to the Chateau de Lacoste. This has had a chequered history to say the least, one of it’s occupants being the infamous Marquis de Sade. One can only guess what when on when he was in residence! Before the fashion designer Pierre Cardin bought it in 2001 the chateau was neglected and in a state of disrepair. We can remember when you could just walk in and look round the ruin, now its been renovated you have to pay to go in. Full price 12€. According to the village’s website Pierre Cardin not only spent a considerable amount of money on the chateau he also bought about thirty buildings which again he has restored. It sounds as though the jury is out regarding what the locals think of this. They’re already used to the many American students who come here every year to study art which has put Lacoste as the cultural, artistic centre of the Luberon.

There’s only so many hilltop villages you can visit in a day and with the temperature still around 25º mid-afternoon it was time to head back to ‘our’ pool. It’s rare for anyone else to be there.

Lacoste, Provence, France.
The beautiful, mediaeval village of Lacoste. My favourite Provencal village.

By mid-week we always pop over to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It’s known for its antiques stores and weekend markets, plus many waterwheels on the Sorgue river which winds its way around the town. In the centre is a very grand 12th century church which gleams in the sunshine having recently been cleaned. The Cafe de Paris opposite is a popular meeting place and good for people-watching as you sit outside to enjoy your beer. Alongside it is an excellent ice cream parlour. The town is very quaint and was once a very important centre for silk and paper-making. Nowadays some of the magnificent mansions have been converted into Art Galleries or antiques centres.

A hot day in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
A hot day in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Pictures down the r.h.s are of Partage des Eaux. A lovely peaceful spot outside the town.

After a leisurely walk around the town we drove just 2km east to the Partage des Eaux. This is where the crystal-clear river Sorgue divides into two. The water is a constant 13 degrees. Although I’ve never swam in it, we did go on a canoe trip once which was fun, especially the section where you have to wade through the cold water up to your waist without the canoe! It’s a popular spot for fishermen and great for a picnic if you want to brave walking across the weir to the opposite bank. We just enjoyed sitting on the seat by the waterwheel watching the river drift lazily along in two directions! We can recommend the local wine at the cafe Le Pescador alongside the river where you can sit in the courtyard escaping from the searing midday sun.

We’re halfway through our week in Provence and a perfect spot to pause this Blog. There’s plenty here including lots of pictures and I’ve still got more for the second half. Hope you’ve enjoyed this account so far. Please come back to read the rest.