Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A week in Provence

Living in L'Isle sur la Sorgue

The house here in L’Isle sur la Sorgue is just delightful and the owners have been really thoughtful, leaving books, lovely tablecloths and platters as well as provisions such as oil and vinegar, salt, sugar, coffee, tea, several bottles of wine, olives and so on. It is entered through a gate and arch, up a set of stairs to a terrasse where there are table and chairs, deck chairs and a day bed, a pergola with vines and roses and lights for the evening. In off the terrasse there is a lovely kitchen with all we could need including a dishwasher. There is a dining room and a salon in distressed chic, with beautiful couches, a TV, Gameboy, video player and videos (all in French), connection to the internet and lots of lovely books including some in English. Tres jolie!

Dining room and stairs

Upstairs are two double bedrooms, one with its own modern shower and basin, another bathroom, a single bedroom and a toilet. Lovely shuttered windows and literally two minutes from the main area of town on foot. It is like the owners have just left us their own house to live in for a while. Serge was most hospitable and eager that we should like his place. We do. What a find!

The first night we sat beside the water in a little restaurant as the sun was going down and drank rose wine from the area and ate coquilles St Jacques. The next day we went to the weekly market and bought food for a few days. I also wanted to buy French tablecloths and the beautiful quilted throws that they use on beds but they won’t fit in the suitcase. The local knives, too, are a work of art and are world famous. Hand made in Laguiole in Averyon, they are the wooden handled ones with a bee on the back where handle and blade meet. I may still get some but depending on the handle, they can cost up to E50 each so I am thinking about it. We came back for lunch on the terrasse, ham and bread and olives and tomato and peaches, with a jazz band playing outside the gateway. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Street musicians

Cafe de France

This little town is on the Sorgue river and used to have a lot of mills driven by the rushing water which comes gushing out of the earth a few miles away at Fontaine de Vacluse. The water divides into channels all over town, so everywhere you get the sound of water. There are still some mill wheels turning but these days they are pretty rather than functional. All the mills got turned into houses or into antique shops so the area is famous for its antiques.

Water past the cafes

Today at the antique market we found a piece of silverware that we had not seen before. It had a handle like a large silver knife, very ornamental, and a funnel like piece where the blade would be, two half cylinders as it were, which could be screwed closed. What on earth???? So I asked. It is to screw onto the bone end of the lamb leg roast to hold while you carve it. What a great idea and why did it go out of fashion? Do they make modern ones? A new thing to track down info about.

Dried artichoke flowers for sale

So after the market on Sunday, which was great fun, we went to Glanum, which is an old site, first local Gauls, then Greeks then Romans, sacred springs and temples to Jupiter and so on. Really cute to see tiny French kids visiting in togas and Roman or Greek clothes while their teachers taught them about their patrimony, which is really big here.

Sacred Spring, Glanum

Later we went to Les Baux which was so high we decided against climbing up, but we did go to the Cathedral d’Images which projects images on the caverns created by the old bauxite mines (Les Baux, hence Bauxite) These are huge caves looking rather like Egyptian temples and inside they show a different projection, with music, each year. This year it was Van Gogh, images of his towns and writing, and of his drawings and paintings. It was really quite an experience but difficult to capture on film. The caverns are really very large and the camera could only focus on a part, so you miss the hugeness and being surrounded that you have when you are there.

Cathedral d'Images

We also climbed all over the abbey of Montmajour, a ruin now for the most part, but originally Carmelite and quite moving with its old cloister and deep crypt and burial places chipped out of solid rock (not very deep).

St Croix chapel near Montmajour

We are finding that the cooler weather allows us to do walking and climbing we would not do in the hot sun. So on Tuesday we visited the old town of Oppede. The town was high up a hill, necessary to be fortified against invaders, but as that need declined, people declined to climb so high each day. They made a new village on the flat and the old one rotted and fell. During and after WWII people decided to revitalise the village and now there is one section which has a hotel and lovely houses,

Renewed Oppede village

a later section which is ruined stone and a high section where a lovely church has been/is being restored, courtesy of the French Patrimony again. We walked to the church and I feel quite proud of myself, though getting down on slippery cobbles is not as easy as going up. Lovely views of the Luberon countryside as well.

Oppede church

I had wanted to revisit Fontaine de Vacluse, the site where the Sorgue river comes out of a massive spring, as last time we had not reached the source (think hot summer weather, droopy Lynn) Today we got there early in the day and walked to the top. The level of the river is higher than four years ago. Then we saw the river bursting out under rocks in the sides of the stream. Today those sources were mainly under the foaming, roaring waters that began in a “peaceful” pool whose force was only revealed by the rush of water over the rocks and down into the river. Not a chance if you fell in close to the edge, but in typically French fashion, a warning sign was all the protection you got. Anyway, I love it. Amazing stuff for the start of the river that runs through our little town in a myriad of energetic streams.

The deceptively still pool of the spring

Massive water flows from the spring

We revisited Senanque Abbey which is always like a serene ship in a valley of lavender. The lavender not quite in bloom yet, and the sunflowers only just beginning in crops around.


Ended up in Roussillon which has many ochre pigments in the soil and all the houses coloured in shades or red and pink and yellow. Spent a great deal of time on a very nice terrasse consuming salad, ices and coffee and feeling like we had no particular place to go. Very addictive.


A revisit to Pont du Gard was certainly in order. I marvel at this structure, built to carry water to Avignon. It was the equivalent of the Millau Viaduct of its day. Now people walk over it and play in the waters under it. Groups of children were having kayak lessons, floating down the currents and over gentle rapids.

Pont du Gard

Colourful kayaks

The seaside area of Sts Maries de la Mer also deserved a revisit as we were determined to see the flamingos that the area is noted for. There were many horses being ridden across the beaches and marshy areas and it turned out that a festival was on in town. This area is noted for its horses, horsemanship and cattle. We saw a few flamingos at a distance but not the flocks we had hoped for, alas! I did photograph the lovely set of lights along the beach boardwalk and a warning sign that tickled my sense of humour.

Boardwalk lights

How to end a wonderful week? Good food seemed to be the answer so we took ourselves to a restaurant recommended by our host, the Restaurant sur la Quai. Located in a pretty garden at the back of an antiques shop, with some eclectic decoration such as grazing fibreglass cows, fountains and pergolas, we found to our surprise that there was a set menu, no choices. We were first served a cucumber gazpacho in cones of ice, standing in a glass, then pretty rouget adorned with tomatoes, herbs and purple potato crisps. The main course was a white fish fillet with rocket, adorned with truffle shavings and a buttery sauce, on mushrooms. To complete a pristine creme fraiche on a crumble base with peach sorbet and raspberries. Very good. I wonder how well patronised it would be in Australia?

The garden

Next stop is Moustiers St Marie so Nick can drive yet another gorge. Help!!


Joyce said...

hello i am making a trip to avignon in march. May I getthe contact of the apartment you stayed in? please email me. thank you!

Lynn and Nick Booth said...

I am sorry but that house is no longer available for rent. We found it on this rental site so there may be others to suit.