17.07.2010 - 21.07.2010 38 °C
Using the France Passion guide again, we made our way to Chateau Gleon, in the Corbieres wine region of Aude, for an overnight stop on the way to Provence.
The proprietor, a kindly old Frenchman, allowed us to pick our fill of ripe figs and brought us ice - a welcome essential in the high heat. After petting his dogs, big black Diablo, and an ankle-nipping little 'un, we stepped into his cool "cave" for a wine-tasting. We sampled most of his delicious wines, and bought a couple of bottles for our continued journey, plus one to savour with our dinner. While chatting to him it emerged that there is an estate nearby called Comte Durban, and he had some specially etched tasting glasses depicting a recent celebration there, which he insisted we accept as a gift each. What a sweetie! David's is no more, but Sandi's glass has so far survived the rigours of campervan living. As the shadows grew longer we had our supper and spent the night overlooking the river and the old bridge. The next morning we returned his ice-bucket, together with a gift of Sandi's soap, which seemed to surprise, yet delight him, and bid him a fond au revoir.
David discovered what he thought were giant thistles growing next to the bridge and came back to report the find to Sandi, who informed him that they are actually artichokes! Guess who gets teased whenever thistles appear?
The next afternoon we arrived at our pre-booked campsite in the village of Aubignan, Vaucluse. In the near distance we could see the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux, which looks as if it is permanently capped with snow. It is actually an exposed outcrop of limestone.
The campsite was quiet and unsophisticated, and hot, hot, hot - but sadly had no swimming pool. It is perfectly situated for exploring the surrounding area that makes up southern Provence. We befriended several campers from the UK and Cyprus, who return to this same site every year for the summer, year after year.
On Sunday we visited Avignon, the regional capital.
The old city is still enclosed by the original city wall, and access is gained by walking or driving through one of the original city gates. It was an important city during the Middle Ages as it was the seat of the Papacy for many years, before it returned to Rome. Seven successive Popes ensured that the area became commercially successful, and the county only became part of France after the French Revolution. The Jewish community thrived here under the protection of the Papacy.
The famous bridge of St Bénezet, better known as the Pont d’Avignon, stretches part-way across the mighty Rhône river. David can still hear his mother singing to him as a baby:
"Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse. Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, tous en rond..."
The centre of the old city was pulsating with visitors, buskers and students - a festival atmosphere of note - rather like the Grahamstown Fest. The students were passionately enacting parts of their stage-acts, trying to entice one to book for the whole show.
We wandered around, enthralled by the sights and sounds, until midday when suddenly the streets emptied and everyone settled down for lunch in one of the many street restaurants. After perusing all the menus on display, we chose the most appealing one that suited our budget, and joined the crowd for a leisurely lunch.
The festival bustle and vibe was a good solace to our post-Granada emotions, as we could focus on something other than the robbery and our recent losses. The next two days were spent exploring some of the quaint villages in the region. Beaumes-de-Venise had a little street market with some interesting ceramics on sale. It took extreme self-control not to buy some, and if weight, size, and budget was not a consideration the van and our kitchen back home would have boasted a few choice pieces.
The olive oil mill was unfortunately closing for lunch when we arrived, so we had a drink on the café terrace next door.
By this time our St Paddy's Day emblem - a silicone gel shamrock on the inside of the windscreen had melted in the 50C heat!
Many of the old villages are perched high up against the rocky outcrops as a means of defence in times gone by.
On the farmland, the typical farmhouse is called a mas. It is of a rectangular construction, usually around a courtyard, with a sloping tiled roof, and faces south to protect from the biting Mistral wind in winter.
Many of the country lanes in France are lined with trees like this.
All the farmstalls and orchards along the roads were full of the bounty of summer; cherries, nectarines, melons, apricots and figs. Sandi indulged her cherry passion to the full, gobbling them daily in Fantastic-Mr-Fox style! [Singi and other Roald Dahl aficionados will relate to this reference.]
We came across cheerful ceramics in almost every village. These were in the old Roman town of Vaison-la-Romaine to the north.
The old Roman bridge and a narrow alleyway in the same town.
On Wednesday we travelled down to just north of Aix-en-Provence for lunch with our buddy, Paddy, and her friend Hilary with whom she was staying. Hilary lives in Scotland, but rents a top-floor apartment in a grand chateau in the countryside. We spent a wonderful day with them, and enjoyed a delicious Provençale lunch.