A Travellerspoint blog

November 2016

A Year in Provence

sunny 21 °C

Crisp, starlit nights melt into misty dawns. A chorus of song birds awakes us to another glorious day. The clocks have lost an hour and Halloween is upon us, but we still bask every day under the warm Mediterranean sun. Our 'home' for the week is an ancient country cottage, with low beams and a log fire, surrounded by vineyards and oak trees, and it is easy to see why people would want to live here...
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Medieval villages of mellow sandstone flow down the hillsides and land gently in the verdant valleys below...
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Vine covered cottages grow out of the rocks and clamber slowly up the cobblestone road to the centuries old church...
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And everywhere is tinted rouge by the grapevines as they blush from yet another successful vendage...
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When Peter Mayle wrote his bestseller about life as an expat in the nearby village of Menerbes in the Luberon he could not have anticipated the effects, both positive and negative, that his autobiographical tale would have. Ancient stone farm buildings that were once just abandoned shells are now ritzy holiday villas for the well-healed business folk of London and Paris...
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Pierre Cardin, the billionaire fashion designer, owns the Marquis de Sade's ruined castle and half of the village of Lacoste and is reportedly trying to buy the other half...
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Restaurants that once fed the workers for a few sous now charge the earth for a plate of fancy lettuce, and the village shops that at one time catered solely to the daily needs of the locals are now filled with tiny jars of truffled foie gras and large tins of caviar. Fortunately the supermarket prices in the nearby towns of Coustelet and Cavaillon are generally comparable with those at home. However, it has been a long time since we could buy a baguette for one dollar, a Camembert for two dollars and a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for five dollars in Canada...
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Tourism is a double-edged sword in any community and in the summer months these deserted village streets in the 'ochre' village of Roussillion are jammed with visitors from around the world...
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Luckily for us we are able to enjoy the wonderful sights, scents and sounds of the Luberon much as its inhabitants do – in peace and harmony with nature and with the vines...
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The Luberon is surely one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of France but, despite the timelessness of the landscape and its ancient villages, time moves on. The vignerons have picked their grapes for another year and the newly fermented wine is headed for the bottling plants; truffle hunters are training their pigs and dogs ready for the harvest of black gold in December; and the lemons and oranges are ripening ready for Christmas. Life in the Luberon truly is 'La vie en rose', and after a week under the warm Provencal sun it is tempting to stay. But we still have many places to explore on this trip so now we must say “Au revoir” to France and “Ciao” to Italy.

Posted by Hawkson 10:03 Archived in France Comments (7)

The Markets of the Luberon

sunny 21 °C

We thought that we had written enough about French markets over the years, but that was before we came to the Luberon. There is at least one market every day, except Mondays, in the villages of this region and many are small affairs with just a handful of stalls selling expensive 'local' products to tourists. However, there is one market every Sunday that rivals the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul for its size and range of products. It is the market that sprawls along the banks of the river in the town of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue...
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Many thousands of people flock to the town each weekend to buy their groceries and to haggle over a piece of bric-a-brac in the brocante section where old industrial bobbins seem to be a staple...
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The colourful market snakes through every street and alleyway and fills every plaza and square. There is a festive atmosphere as the crowds wend their way though stalls selling everything from women's lingerie to fresh fish from the nearby port of Marseille...
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Garlic, onions, shallots and lemons grow in abundance under the hot Mediterranean sun and now is the time to stock up for the winter...
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Provence is world renowned for its herbs and lavender. Herbes de Provence are sold in the market by the kilo...
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We missed the lavender harvest, when the fields of Provence are a photogenic purple and the air is heavy with its sweet perfume, but now the crop has been cut the market stalls are laden with all manner of scented toiletries...
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Despite the disastrous frost of 1956 there is still an olive harvest in the Luberon and it is amazing to see so many varieties so beautifully displayed...
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Olive oil is still made here on a small scale, and this is one of the stone mill wheels that once lubricated the economy of this region...
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The river Sorgue begins life as a mountain spring in nearby Fontaine du Vaucluse and the power of the gushing water has been used to make paper there for centuries. With the wind driving the olive mills, the river turning the waterwheels and the sun ripening all of the crops, the Luberon has been at the forefront of renewable energy for thousands of years.
Now It is Sunday, the market closes at 1pm and our week in sunny Provence is coming to an end. Just one more day and another bottle of the delicious local wine before we have to leave.

Posted by Hawkson 10:32 Archived in France Comments (3)

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