A Travellerspoint blog

France

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)

Food Glorious Food

Nothing quite like it in Lyon

sunny 22 °C

We are back in France for the umpteenth time and you would think that by now we would have got used to all the fabulous food. But Sunday mornings mean only one thing to most French people and it is not religion...
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This is the beautiful Basilica on the hill overlooking the city of Lyon, but it has been a long time since you would find many people praying on the Lord's Day. For the locals, and visitors, the main attraction on Sunday mornings, both here and throughout the country, is the market...
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Here on the banks of La Saône river in Lyon the locals attend to a culinary mass every Sunday. Although the calendar suggests it is autumn, the temperatures are still in the twenties and the fruits and vegetables are still being carted in from the farms that carpet the adjacent Rhône valley...
Because it is autumn the stalls are laden with fresh mushrooms of every kind, some enigmatically called, “Trumpets of death.”
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Every kind of cheese imaginable can be bought in the market, and with such an array of local produce who needs anything imported...
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However, some 'foreign' foods have crept in. This Spanish paella looked particularly enticing..
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And the handiwork of the artisanal baker is a joy to behold...
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In order to try some of Lyon's famous cuisine we dined at Brasserie George in Perrache.
The terrine of piglet with foie gras was delicious...
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This famous restaurant has been in business since 1836 and it is as busy today as it has ever been. The restaurant averages 1,200 patrons every day of the year so come early or you might have a long wait.

Lyon is an interesting big city with a wealth of historic buildings dating back 600 years and more. Its pedestrian friendly flagstone streets and miles of steep steps wind up the hillsides to vantage points overlooking the city...
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And a labyrinth of secret passages snake through its ancient core...
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Now we are heading further south to the gentle hills of the Luberon; the land of wine and truffles made famous by Peter Mayle in his books about life as an ex-pat in Provence. We don't have a year to spend in Provence, just one week, but the sun is shining, the grapes are ripe and the locals are friendly. Please excuse us for a week as we explore this beautiful area of France. Our blog will return once the wine, the cheese and the truffles have run out.

Posted by Hawkson 08:39 Archived in France Comments (7)

Les Marchés de Paris

semi-overcast 16 °C

History, culture and necessity coalesce in the more than ninety markets dotted throughout the city of Paris. Some marketplaces can be traced back a thousand years or more while others inhabit historically significant sites like the one on the Blvd. Richard Lenoir at Bastille where these songsters perform with an ancient barrel organ…
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The wide tree-lined boulevard leading to the place where the Bastille prison stood (until it was stormed on July 14th 1789) is transformed every Sunday morning into a bustling outdoor bazaar bursting with produce from all over France. The arrangements of fruits and vegetables are particularly appealing…
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And what about these incredible mushrooms?
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The extravagant Queen Marie Antoinette would have known these streets well from the comfort and privacy of her gilded carriages. She was guillotined just a few blocks away in 1793. Perhaps she would be pleased to see that there is no shortage of bread here today…
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Bread, the most staple of staples in France, may currently be vilified as the cause of corpulence in many countries, but it doesn’t seem to have done Parisians’ waistlines any harm. Ditto for cheese and wine…
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While many Canadians are still grappling with the seemingly perilous notion of letting people buy alcohol in supermarkets – (Mon Dieu - quelle horreur!) – the French happily flog plonk at every opportunity (often cheaper than Evian or Perrier). Here in Le Marché Richard Lenoir you can buy your Sunday lunch of bread, cheese and a bottle of wine for the price of a grande Starbucks cappucino.

Church attendance in France may have hit an all time low, but the tradition of shopping for food in the market on Sunday morning is as strong as ever. However, there is much more on offer than the poultry, fish and fruits. Numerous artisans of Paris proudly display their creations in the Marché Edgar Quinet. This is Régis d’Audeville with his botanical works of art…
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And this is Sylvie, a delightful Parisian artist who has turned her creative talents to making millinery objets d’art…
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We only managed three of the ninety markets before we were spent, but we felt quite justified in rewarding ourselves with some of these fabulous custard tarts at the Marché Alesia on our way home…
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Marie Antoinette was right – it is better to eat cake.

Posted by Hawkson 09:54 Archived in France Comments (5)

The Streets of Paris

semi-overcast 16 °C

We’ve been doing the sights of Paris for the past few days - the Eiffel Tower, Notre- Dame, the Arc de Triomphe etc. and even Disneyland with the grandchildren– but decided not to bore you with images of such well documented tourist attractions
Instead we thought we should focus on the more prosaic side of Paris – the everyday street scenes like the modern automatic toilettes that replaced the iconic, (though always smelly) pissoirs…
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Then there are the newspaper kiosks that seem to do a roaring trade despite the internet…
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And the fleuristes whose season-defying flowers overflow onto the sidewalks…
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Not long ago the banks of the Seine were lined with many hundreds of booths selling rare and secondhand books. Few remain today and those that do primarily sell tourist trinkets and cheap prints...
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Almost every corner of major intersections is home to a brasserie where snippy waiters make you pay through the nose for sitting on a squeaky rattan chair while inhaling the fumes of a thousand cars…
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But being in Paris, (for some) is all about being seen in Paris. The City of Lights still has allure for the rich and trendy and there is no shortage of establishments catering to the well-heeled of the world. We, on the other hand, are quite content NOT staying on the Champs Elysees or shopping in the chic establishments of the Avenue Montaigne. The boulangerie at the end of the street has everything we want…
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Just as Bruges is a haven of chocalatiers, Paris is home to a thousand boulangers, (bakers) and patissiers. Their breads and pastries tempt us every few metres. The most iconic name – now franchised worldwide – is that of Paul…
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Food is a primary pre-occupation of the French. It is not cheap, (and not always good), but it is certainly plentiful. Restaurants of every type and nationality abound in Paris and the quality and variety of fresh food available in stores is staggering. This is a fish stall in Montparnasse…
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….while this is just a local greengrocers…
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In a move that should be copied worldwide it has been illegal in France for supermarkets to throw away unsold food since May of this year. All products that have expired must be given to charity or used as animal feed.

Paris is a truly multicultural city and the shops and supermarkets reflect this diversity with products from around the world. In an inexplicable moment of madness we skipped past the local boulangerie to slip into Marks & Spencer's for a packet of their delicious English crumpets – now if only we could find a Tim Hortons coffee shop.

Posted by Hawkson 08:50 Archived in France Comments (4)

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