A Week In Provence: Part II
The first half of my week in Provence was wonderful and the new experiences, tastes and sights just kept on coming!
A lazy morning chez nous led into a brasserie lunch at Avignon. Our menu Provençal was not in the same league as the opulent meals that would have been taken by the French Popes, who lived in the nearby Palais des Papes during the Middle Ages’ schism with the Roman Catholic Church.
The palatial rooms evoked an era of pomp, luxury, war and politics.
The Pont d’Avignon, actually named Le Pont de St Bénézet is in proximity and harmony with the papal palace and the enduring medieval wall surrounding Avignon.
The mini train that takes you round the town is touristy (touristique), for sure, but if you’re pushed for time, complements and contextualises some of the city’s key attractions. We took it. And we had some laughs as it rattled along the paving stones!
Wednesday: Exploring St-Rémy
St-Rémy’s Wednesday market is really a total take-over of the town’s back streets, lanes and car parks! Like Saturday’s market, it is still a food market, but with ancient books, prints, bags, berets, clothes, olive trees and paintings. Ambiance – full marks!
St-Rémy’s old town is mainly contained within an oval area surrounded by a wide one way street, with a labyrinth of houses, shops and museums, and a trail you can follow showing reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings of the area.
For any visit to Provence, St-Rémy is central, comfortable and colourful.
Thursday: A day trip to Fontaine de Vaucluse
A day trip around Provence lets you visit a number of places, In a single day we made a round trip from St Rémy via L’Isle sur la Sorgue, a market and antique destination, en route to Fontaine de Vaucluse, the source of the Sorgue River. And we returned via Rousillon.
I’d been to Fontaine de Vaucluse one Spring, when torrents of water had spilled through the town, but it was much tamer in Autumn. My Michelin Guide reports that the flow of the Sorgue river slows from 150 cubic metres per second to a mere 4.5 cubic metres per second at its lowest. So I think I’ve seen it at both extremes. But the flow was still enough to drive numerous water wheels in Fontaine de Vaucluse and Isle de la Sorgue.
We pursued our established routine and had a brasserie lunch by the Sorgue, having fun with the menu’s description of our apple and goat cheese dessert. According the menu this sometime upside-down cake was the “opposite of apples in the goat, wrapped in caramel and almonds.”
We returned via the ochre cliffs and similarly orange housing of Roussillon, rusticana at its best, and a location for French Resistance hideouts during World War 2.
An ‘at home’ evening was in order. We had ordered a complete paella pan full for dinner.
Friday: St Paul de Mausole and a return to Les Baux
You experience a little of the atmosphere of Van Gogh when you take a walk through St Paul de Mausole, since the psychiatric hospital and gardens that he lived in and painted, are still there.
The empathetic treatment afforded Van Gogh by the Roman Catholic order whose chapels and cloisters also remain, is reinforced by the reproductions of his paintings in the gardens and surrounding countryside. Each reproduction is in close proximity to the location where he set up his easel and painted.
I returned to Les Baux that afternoon and visited the former limestone quarry where a stupendous light show projected the works of Gaugin and Van Gogh on to its fourteen metre high walls.
The uneven surfaces caused by the carving out of large blocks of limestone, add something uncanny to the larger-than-life reproductions of the original works. Surrounded by the works, it was like being inside the scenes and landscapes depicted in the paintings. When animations allowed blossoms to blow out of the frame from Van Gogh’s cherry tree, the paintings became even more alive.
Our grand finale for our last night together as old and new friends, was a private-chef cooked meal on our large outdoor table, which we adorned with myriad of candles, glasses, plates, platters, and local orange and green berries. The dishes of greens, fish, cheese, cake and brandy snaps were served with flair and flavour.
As I leave on the train from Avignon to Montpellier, I reflect on the week that has just passed. While the time was short and seemed to fly by, I can see just how much we fitted into our week.
There are so many reasons to return, to have some of the same experiences, and some new ones.
A la prochaine Provence! – Till next time Provence!