A Travellerspoint blog

France

Last of the Summer Wine

sunny 23 °C

Summer lingers longer on the Cotes d'azure in the South of France and we were lucky to enjoy the warm seas, spectacular vistas and sunny skies that this part of the world is renowned for...
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The palm-treed beachfront promenades of Cannes are packed with visitors from around the world in summer, but most have gone now and the locals get to enjoy a leisurely afternoon stroll...
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The real heat of the Mediterranean sun has gone. along with the mega-rich owners of the many super-yachts and fancy villas that litter the hillsides along the coast. Some of the hotels and restaurants have already shut up shop for the winter but temperatures in the mid-20s have brought out the sunbeds and filled the remaining beach bars and restaurants, (although it took us a couple of hours to get lunch in one place). A modern five-masted cruise liner sits off the coast while people still enjoy a dip...
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However, the coastal roads that can be a total nightmare in summer are at least navigable once the masses have gone...
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Although the road traffic may have lessened, the Port of Cannes is still full of the yachts of the rich and famous...
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And the castle that has been a beacon to sailors for centuries still stands sentinel over the ancient harbour that was just a haven for a few sardine fishing boats before it was transformed into one of the world's most fashionable haunts of the glitterati...
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We are now refreshed and relaxed after a family holiday and are briefly back in England to enjoy a typical autumn day – maybe the rain will stop later! Tomorrow we head back south to the sunny Aegean island of Rhodes. We hope you can join us there in a day or so.
Au revoir from France.

Posted by Hawkson 05:41 Archived in France Comments (3)

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)

The Villages of the Luberon.

sunny 21 °C

To walk the narrow cobblestone streets of the Luberon's many medieval villages is to stroll though history. It is a living, breathing museum where everyday life carries on in surroundings that have changed little for many hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of years. Worshipers have struggled up the steep pathway to the church in Bonnieux for more than a thousand years and this castle in Fontaine de Vaucluse has stood sentinel above the town since the Middle Ages...
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In the village of Les Beaumettes, troglodytes still live in the caves that have protected the inhabitants from time immemorial...
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There is a picture around every corner and through every archway in the villages of the Luberon...
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Just as the image drags our focus through this entrance so we are lured to explore beyond; to yet another picturesque scene...
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and yet another archway...
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On and on we go, spiralling ever upward and ever deeper into the heart of ancient village after ancient village until we arrive at the core – in this case the 12th century chateau at the heart of the village of Gordes...
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This chateau has had many incarnations over the past thousand years and only the main turret is completely original. In addition to being the home of several noblemen it has been a prison, a silkworm farm, a school and the town hall. The chateau, its fountain and its adjacent restaurants, are a natural setting for parts of the Russell Crowe movie “A Good Year”, based on the book by Peter Mayle...
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The nearby fortified chateau at Lacoste has perhaps a more sinister past.
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Little remains of a once great castle that was the home of the Marquis de Sade. It was he, through his perverted sexual predilections, who added the words 'sadist' and 'sadism' to the English lexicon after he tortured and sodomised his victims here in 1777.
However, not all the houses in the Luberon are castles and chateaux with a past. Many are just humble stone cottages that were once occupied by the serfs and peasants who worked the land and served the aristocracy in a manner to which they had become accustomed.
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Many of these properties are now the holiday haunts of the nouveau aristocracy and this once forgotten corner of France is thriving because of the decades of neglect that left it devoid of modern development.

Posted by Hawkson 14:09 Archived in France Comments (4)

The Colours of the Luberon

sunny 20 °C

Fall is a colourful time of the year in most parts of the Northern hemisphere but there is something special about the colours of the Luberon in Provence. Artists and photographers from around the world extol the luminescence that seemingly make the natural hues of Provence at once more vibrant and more subtle...
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The variegated greens of the olives, oaks, cypress and plane trees silhouetted against the perfectly clear azure sky provide the backdrop to a world of natural colour and these photos need no explanation...
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But there is one special place in the Luberon where all the colours meet in a glorious symphony of luminescence – a place of such intense natural beauty that it is difficult to accept that this is not a painting by an exuberant artist ..
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These are the ochre rich cliffs upon which the village of Roussillion was built, both physically and financially. Until the advent of chemical dyes a hundred years ago the natural ochre from Roussillion was prized worldwide and was used extensively to paint the Creole Quarter in New Orleans. Today it is only used to paint the houses in Roussillion – but what a sight ,
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This corner of southern France was also renowned for its silk and for its olives...
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Synthetic fibres devastated the silk industry after WWII and an exceptionally cold winter in 1956 killed all of the olive trees. The Luberon region was already suffering from the aftermath of two World Wars. Many of the young men had left the farms to fight and never returned, leaving only the old and destitute. By the 1970s it wasn't possible to give away derelict houses and land. But then a miracle occurred in the form of mass international travel. Artists, photographers and writers discovered the beauty of this land and as the images and word spread so did its cache. There is nothing cheap here anymore, apart from the cheese and the wine, but with landscapes likes this around every bend who would expect cheap?...
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Posted by Hawkson 10:07 Archived in France Comments (6)

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