Thursday, October 26th, 2000 Off to see more of Provence....
On the road by 9 am, we took the back roads throughout Provence. But first we made a stop in Isle Sur La Sorgue at the Intermarche for some supplies. Scissors and comb to cut Jim’s hair with; socks for me; slippers for Jim in the car for his heel; and cans of Cassoulet Soup to take home for our French party. Took about 45 minutes, but was fun and we always enjoy a stop in European Stores.
Our first stop was Le Vieux Oppede; a medieval town on the hill that has not really been discovered by the chic bouquets. After parking we walked through a lovely park made from a former vineyard….paths up the terraces landscape to the small newer “old” town and then on to the ruins that have yet to be restored. They were working on the upper church while we were there. May become a tourist mecca in the future, but is still in an unspoiled state.
By noon we were in Menerbes, a semi discovered town due to the fact that Peter Mayles lives in this town and wrote “A Year In Provence”. Could be a fun place to spend several hours. But as it was lunch time, most everything was closed so we walked around, took some photos and were on our way within the hour. Then we stopped at Lacoste which was has the dubious claim to fame as the home the Marquis de Sade. We walked about his former castle, which is just a ruin today. Took some photos and went on our way again. Other than an art school, this town definitely has not made the chic map!
Next we went to Bonnieux whose claim to fame is fantastic views of the valley and the infamous Chateau de Lacoste (because of the Marquis de Sade) which we’d already seen. It’s other claim to fame was the fact that it was a Catholic stronghold favored by the Bishops who all had mansions in town. Because of this there was a battle between the Catholics and the Protestants and 3,000 of the 4,000 people were killed. The village never recovered and today the population is still only about 1500 people. The view of the village is great from a distance. We’ve learned that all great looking hill towns from a distance do not always offer much when we get into them!
By now it was 2 pm and we headed for the larger town of Apt. Didn’t see anything special there except for lots of traffic. We were also desperately looking for a bathroom. No luck so we headed up the road for Saignon. On the way we stopped along the road for a primitive bathroom. But when in the countryside, one must be creative! Arrive in Saignon and found a bathroom! Wouldn’t you know it!! But enjoyed the views, as this was high on the hill. Also visited the cemetery and found beautiful gravestones with lots of ceramic flowers and also silk flowers. There were many individual plaques sitting on top of the slabs; some had photos of the individuals. The graves seem well cared for which was nice to see. The old men in town were playing Boca ball in the Town Square. We watched for a while and they were very accurate when they threw their ball.
On the road again we headed towards Roussillon. There we found some beautiful homes behind locked gates! The ground there is very red clay, known as “red ochre”. It was very valuable and sold since the Roman times all over the world. There are seventeen different shades. William Wylie lived there for a year and wrote the story “A Village in the Vaucluse” about life in a simple village on a day to day basis.
From there we went to Gordes and arrived about 4 pm. It is a wonderful hill town that has lots of tourist life but also great places to visit, restaurants, etc. Would be a great place to spend a few days as a base for seeing Provence. Has a Chateau, churches and most importantly the Village des Bories just outside of town which is made up of restored pre-historic stone huts. The all have vaulted ceilings and no mortar. Almost like large beehives! The style was actually built until the late 1800’s. There are similar style homes in Ireland, Italy and many other countries. It was very interesting to visit. Had to drive down a very narrow road…so happy we didn’t meet any other cars as there was absolutely no way to pass another car! During the high season, you must park and walk a long way to the “village”. We were able to drive almost up to the entry.
It was now after 5 and time to head home. We took the back road and I mean the real back road to Venasque. One area was almost impassable! We came in from the back way and found that there are many newer homes in the town that we’d not seen before. Lots of people must live here full time. Many more than we’d suspected. Up till now we’d thought that the town was nearly deserted! Cleaned up, cut Jim’s hair and took our postcards to dinner with us so we could get them written and ready to mail. Another wonderful five star dinner at the hotel! Took a sample of the flowers used for garnishing the plates…hope to find out what it is when we get home!
Weather has been holding. The sun came out today and we had another wonderful sunny day for our meandering around the back roads of Provence.