441 Photos - Aug 21, 2012
Photo: It’s a mid-September Friday afternoon, and we have been greeted by quite the thunderstorm [un orage] as we make our way from the Marseille airport to our B&B in the small town of Venasque in the Vaucluse – one of the 6 regions generally considered to make up Provence. Here is the Mas du Kaïros, with Madame Saulnier as proprietor.Photo: We’ll occupy two rooms during our stay; here is the view out of the first.Photo: The weather has cleared up a bit (and will stay that way, as conditions will be very pleasant for the reminder of our time here), and we do a little exploring. Just down a small road from us is a borie, a small dry stone structure which in various forms was used for both dwelling (including livestock) and storage. There are believed to be about 3000 of these in Provence, most dating from the 18th century, although structures of this type were being built before Roman times. The name is derived from the Provençal language term for hut [lou bori].Photo: We’re on high ground here (Venasque sits at 1050 feet above sea level), typical of Provence villages for defensive purposes, with many interesting views of the surrounding countryside.Photo: Here the remains of the fortifications on the upper side of town, including one of the Saracen towers.Photo: This high ground from the surrounding valley has been occupied since 5000 BC, including a 500 year stay by the Romans. There were then centuries of unsettled times, including 500 years of Papal rule (as the Comtat Venaissin, from which the village takes its name), until the area became part of France in 1792.Photo: Photo: Venasque door.Photo: What passes for Main Street (often called La Grande Rue) in small villages can seem quite modest, as here.Photo: Venasque window.Photo: Venasque door.Photo: Venasque gate.Photo: The central village square often includes a fountain, as here.Photo: The Carpentras plain in the surrounding area is agriculturally rich, with many vineyards and orchards – especially cherries, known here as the red diamond of Provence. Judging by Madame Saulnier’s delicious cherry preserves, we would agree!Photo: Our first dinner in Provence is at Les Remparts, the local restaurant in town, with typical high quality French food. We have a cat keeping us company right outside the window for the entire meal! This turned out in fact to be our only restaurant dinner during our stay. With Madame Saulnier’s fine breakfast (beyond croissants and baguettes with juice and coffee, to include fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, and local cheeses), we got into a rhythm of having a late lunch at 2 or so, then just a light snack in the evening. This was a different style of eating for us in France, but it suited us very well.Photo: Saturday brings us to our first Provence market day, in Uzès. We’re not even at the town square, with the surrounding area already crowded by merchants. The town goes back to Roman times (as Ucetia), and is the source of the Eure river, which supplied water to Nimes via the famous aqueduct we would visit shortly. Uzès became quite prosperous in the 17th and 18th century as a manufacturer of linen, serge, and silk.Photo: Now in the square, this jester mime attracts a good deal of attention, especially with free candy for the children.Photo: And the square itself is packed with stalls and buyers! We now understand much better the suggestion that if you go on market day, go for the market – but to see the town, consider going on a different day. In any case, we do buy our supplies here (bread, cheese, fruit) for a picnic at our next stop.Photo: The historic old town [la vielle ville] in Uzès is away from the market bustle. Here we see the 12th century clock tower [La Tour de l’Horloge], topped by a wrought iron cage.Photo: The 12th century Tour Fenestrelle on the present cathedral’s south wall is the only remnant of the former Romanesque cathedral. This round bell tower in unique in France, with six stepped round stories rising up to 140 feet.Photo: Here the 17th century Saint-Théodorit cathedral. Now used as a parish church, the  building was gutted during the French Revolution, and later repaired, adding a 19th century Neo-classical façade.Photo: Uzès gate.Photo: Uzès contains 3 large towers: the clock tower (which was the bishop’s), and these two which belong to the duke and the king – the three powers which shared authority in the town at the time.Photo: Uzès door.Photo: A reminder here that just as interesting as the towns and villages themselves is the scenic countryside throughout Provence.Photo: Our first view of the Pont du Gard, an impressive surviving portion over the Gardon valley of the aqueduct from Uzès to Nimes, which carried 44 million gallons a day at its peak in the 1st to 3rd centuries CE.Photo: Wherever the Romans went, so did olive tress (with suitable weather). We’re sure that this specimen does not date from then – but we later learned that one of the world’s oldest olives trees is in fact located here. It’s about 1000 years old, and from pictures on the Internet, we’re pretty sure that we have in fact stumbled on it here!Photo: The aqueduct was built of carefully dressed stones – some over 6-1/2 tons – and without mortar, with only iron clamps used to hold the structure together.Photo: Here, the view down the Gardon river from the aqueduct.Photo: The protruding blocks were used for scaffolding supports during construction. and maintenance afterwards. The aqueduct is believed to have taken about three years to build, requiring about 1,000 workers.Photo: Here, at high zoom, is what we think is the nearest town, Vers-Pont-du-Gard.Photo: And finally, a view of the full three-level structure. The lower level is 465 feet in length, with 6 arches, and 20 feet in width and 72 feet high. Note the triangular added faces on the supports, which served like the bow of a ship to reduce the force of the river on the bridge when at high flow. The middle level is 790 feet in length, with 11 arches, and 13 feet in width and 65 feet high. The top level is 900 feet in length, with 35 arches, and 10 feet in width and 23 feet high.Photo: The day’s final stop is at the Gorges de l’Ardèche, sometimes called the Grand Canyon of France.Photo: The views in the area called La Haute Corniche are especially spectacular, with limestone cliffs up to 1000 feet high.Photo: Hiking and canoeing are popular in the area, although there are rapids requiring considerable expertise in the latter. The day’s travels are obviously over at this early evening time, as we pass a number of vans, each toting 20 large orange rental canoes, stacked in two columns of 10 in a special carrier behind.Photo: Here’s the deceptively peaceful (at this height) Ardèche river, a tributary of the Rhône, and the source of the canyons.Photo: A rainbow appears on the drive back, along the D290 road which follows the Gorges, and is considered quite an engineering feat in itself.Photo: There are a number of French towns with attractive rows of plane (sycamore) trees on the entrance roads, as here in Pont-St-Esprit.Photo: Your average drive home, with 11th century fortresses on sheer 450 foot cliffs, just like in the US …Photo: The Mornas Fortress was built by the Earl of Toulouse, and is now in 30 years of slow but steady restoration by the Friends of Mornas.Photo: Sunday starts at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where the branches of the Sorgue river powered 10 water wheels for silk, paper, grain, and olive oil mills.Photo: L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue windows.Photo: The Sunday attraction is the market, with all sorts of antiques and bric-a-brac.Photo: A typical display at one of the stands.Photo: But food is far from ignored at the market, with the ever-present roasting chickens, with the dripping juices falling into a pan where potatoes and onions are cooking – yum! These chickens are very popular, and all of these here may or may not be already spoken for.Photo: And here, the whole spice dealer, with dozens of cloth bags full of wonderful things, with many discerning shoppers checking the selection.Photo: It’s hard to remember how we made such trips without our trusty GPS (Madame La Carte), but she does often lead us into the most interesting situations, as here on our way to Gordes. We’re hoping that this is a one-way road, but in rural France, one can never be sure!Photo: Our first view of Gordes, one of the hillside towns [les villages perchés] of Provence. It is a stunning scene on a lovely day, and would have to be the greatest single “wow!” moment of our trip.Photo: Now in Gordes, and looking down into the valley, where a number of luxurious vacation homes can be found.Photo: If you’re looking for a quaint red-checked tablecloth restaurant, we think this will do.Photo: One of the obvious advantages of such “perched villages” was defense, as enemies could not well approach from the valley.Photo: Another less-obvious benefit was sanitation: true to the saying of what rolls downhill, refuse of all sorts could simply be dropped down to the ravine below, far from the town and its water supply.Photo: It is possible to meander down the hillside a bit, which we decide to do.Photo: We never learned what the recessed area of the stone hillside were – do they go back to very early inhabitants here?Photo: Do they go back to very early inhabitants here?Photo: The originally Romanesque St. Firmin’s church was rebuilt in the 18th century.Photo: This side chapel shows the evidence of work in progress, as in so many centuries-old structures in France.Photo: A town fountain.Photo: The Renaissance castle is on the site of an older 12th century fortress.Photo: Gordes’ war memorial, an ever-present scene in most every French town, no matter how small. As usual, it was built to honor the WWI fallen, with names later added for WWII, and often the Algerian War (1954-1962) as well.Photo: Gordes windows.Photo: Gordes buildings are all stone with terra cotta roofs; no fences are allowed in the town – only stone walls.Photo: Bories turn up all over, as here in our parking lot just outside the town center.Photo: We move along to Roussillon, located high on a hill between the Coulon valley and the Vaucluse plateau. The ocher rock in the region gives its colors to the village buildings.Photo: Evidence of the 15 mile vein of natural ocher on the Vaucluse plateau is everywhere.Photo: A view down into the valley on another beautiful Provence afternoon.Photo: We have lunch today on a restaurant terrace in this picturesque square.Photo: With this panoramic view as we munch on Provençal cuisine.Photo: Roussillon does not have much of historic interest in ancient structures; rather, it is the quaint, multi-hued streets which give the town its character.Photo: Roussillon door.Photo: The reds, browns, and yellows of ocher are all evident here; the mineral has been mined here for centuries, although there was of course a decline with the advent of synthetic dyes.Photo: We make only a quick drive-by of the small hillside village of Joucas, which is very quiet on a Sunday afternoon.Photo: We also make only a brief stop in Apt, also very quiet on a Sunday afternoon, as here on La Place de la Republique.Photo: Apt doors & windows.Photo: Now back in Venasque, for a little more touring of our home village, here at the 11th century Romanesque Church of Notre Dame.Photo: Photo: This processional cross dates from the 15th century. The order for the fabrication is reprinted on the left, as follows: “January 2, 1498. Said cross is stipulated for delivery by Palm Sunday. Order for the fabrication of a silver cross for the church and community of Venasque, in the Carpentras diocese. Master Bonet Berard, goldsmith, a resident of Avignon, has promised to said community to fabricate a beautiful cross of pure silver. It will weigh four pounds, and measure two hands in length and about two hands in width. There will be three fleurs de lys on the upper part, and two on the lower part, with a sphere below. There will be on one side, Christ, at the center of the silver cross, with the four evangelists at the extremities of the crucifix. On the other side, the Virgin Mary will be at the center of the cross. Below, the bishop Saint Siffrein will be shown; on the right, there will be a representation of Saint John the Baptist; on the left, a representation of Saint John the Evangelist; below, a representation of Saint Antoine (abbot); these images will be in fine silver. The fabrication price is estimated at 40 florins.” (This appears to be the Italian florin, the dominant coin for trading in Western Europe at this time, which contained about an eighth of an ounce of gold.)Photo: This crucifixion painting in a side chapel has quite an interesting history. It was commissioned in 1498 by the Chevalier de Thezan (who appears here as a kneeling Carthusian monk), on his marriage to Siffreine, the last descendant of a  prominent Venasque family. It is believed to have been a joint project by three artists (Flemish, German, and Italian) of the School of Avignon. It remained in the church for almost two centuries, but by the time of Louis XIV, it was judged unfashionable and placed in storage. It was rediscovered there in 1932, in poor condition, and so sent to the Louvre for restoration. It was then given a place of honor at a 1937 Louvre exhibition on Crucifixion art. Afterwards, the Louvre refused to return it, despite protests from many in the French art world. It was finally returned in 1937, following a petition by 700 art notables.Photo: In the Church yard is the Venasque war memorial.Photo: Behind the Church is the Baptistry, one of the oldest religious sites in France. It dates from the 6th century, and used as its foundation an older Roman temple. The hollow on the floor marks the location of the baptismal font.Photo: The evening light offers especially good views out on the Carpentras plain.Photo: More distant views are somewhat obscured by autumn haze.Photo: Madame Saulnier tells us that this haze [la brume] is a good sign at this time of year, as it indicates excellent conditions for the grape harvest about to begin.Photo: Monday brings us to our first day on the Mediterranean coast, here a bit east of Marseille. This rest stop gives us our first view of the Mediterranean – but as often seems to be the case, the combination of autumn haze and bright Provençal sun gives a camera result which does not do justice to what we see ourselves.Photo: La Ciotat has been a port since ancient times, and has large shipbuilding yards – but which have been hit hard by a global downturn in this industry.Photo: So, the town has been trying to rejuvenate itself with tourism – but we use it primarily as a starting point for the scenic Route des Crêtes (which actually is a general term used in a number of places in France for a scenic roadway with multiple overlook points).Photo: La Ciotat door.Photo: La Ciotat window.Photo: And up we go on the Route des Crêtes from La Ciotat to Cassis – it’s less than 12 miles, but with the rise and fall (including some pretty sheer drops right off what passes for a two-lane road), and twists and turns, it makes for quite a scenic one-hour journey. Here, we look back to La Ciotat on the way up.Photo: Here we are at a typical overlook, and the limestone range in this area.Photo: The road rises to over 1300 feet above sea level in its short stretch.Photo: And on the descent, the town of Cassis  begins to spread out in front of us.Photo: Now back at sea level, with the tourist harbor of Cassis starting to appear. Cassis is said to be packed in the summer, reverting to a quieter fishing village off-season, and at this time we have caught it a bit between the two.Photo: We have a delightful lunch on a terrace here, an area full of shops and restaurants.Photo: And you never quite know what unexpected items from home may pop up in the shops!Photo: Above the harbor is this fortress, the Chateau de Cassis, which has stood here since the Saracen invasions in the 7th century.Photo: The Chateau has been further fortified over the centuries, but today is private property.Photo: And there are of course the ever present boules games – but here, it is more precisely pétanque. In boules, one may take a step (or even run) before throwing the ball. However, in pétanque, this is not permitted, and the game takes its name from the old Provençal phrase “pès tancats,” meaning “feet anchored.”Photo: And here’s our tour boat, just backing into its mooring in the colorful harbor.Photo: And we’re off on our tour, here along the White Rocks coastal area just outside of the town center.Photo: Our first calanque is Port-Miou, which is Provençal for “well sheltered from the wind.” It is the longest (about a mile) inlet in the area, and about 500 boats moor here year round.Photo: The second calanque is Port Pin, named for these pine trees that seem to grow right out of the rocks – they need very little soil to survive.Photo: Along the way, we get a full  view of Cap Canaille, which we were near earlier on the Route des Crêtes drive. At 1290 feet high, it is the third highest seaside cliff in Europe.Photo: Stone was quarried in this area until about 30 years ago, and its destinations include the base of the Statue of Liberty.Photo: The third calanque we visit is En Vau (“in the valley”). The cliffs up to 430 feet high are popular with rock climbers worldwide.Photo: More of the aleppo pines, which are native to the Mediterranean region, and can be found from Morocco to Greece.Photo: The cliffs at the small inlet of L’Oule, meaning “cauldron,” since in stormy weather, the water appear to boil here.Photo: A grotto in the cliff face.Photo: The cliffs at the Devenson calanque are up to 490 feet high, and are said to challenge the best rock climbers.Photo: Not hard to see why!Photo: This opening is called the bell tower [le clocher].Photo: Not far from here are underwater grottos discovered about 25 years ago. Human handprints there have been dated to 27,000 BCE, and animal drawings to 17,000 BCE.Photo: A cliffside home that we’re sure fits the description: if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.Photo: Cassis door.Photo: And a final look up a Cassis hillside, to complete a very pleasant coastal day.Photo: Here’s the view from the window in our new room at the Mas du Kaïros, out into the front yard of the property. The name is not at all French, and we asked Madame Saulnier if Kaïros had anything to do with the Egyptian city of Cairo. Well, it does not, and we got to learn a new bit of Greek mythology, where there were two gods of time, the brothers Chronos and Kairos. The former relates to the passing of time, while the latter pertains to the present moment of time. Thus, this is a place not be concerned with what was before, or what will be after, as time passes, but simply to be here in the present moment. It’s a very Provençal way of looking at things (slow down!) – and very Buddhist, for that matter.Photo: And Tuesday brings us to our second day on the Mediterranean coast, in the Camargue (the vast 360 square mile delta of the Rhône as it enters the Mediterranean). Here we are in the seaside resort of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where there is a lively flea market on the square here as we enter the town. I have a chance to test my middling French at one of the stands, which proceeds in a very French way: the usual greetings; then, my comment that my son in the US collects cut glass bottles such as she has, and inquiring the price; she responds, and I say that it’s a little too expensive, and she tells me that she will give me her best price; it’s 30% less than the original, and I recall reading somewhere that if one were to offer less than that in France, it might be considered insulting; so, I accept, and the deal is completed, with my purchase carefully bubble-wrapped; finally, there is the usual thanks and leave taking. Did I get the best price – who knows? But for those few minutes, I was not a tourist in Provence, but I was of Provence, and such an experience is truly priceless.Photo: An enduring image of this region is the Camargue cowboy [le guardian], with the traditional felt hat and long pole with a small 3 prong metal piece on the end, used for controlling the herds, often of local bulls [les taureaux].Photo: And they’re real, as we are delighted to see here. A group of about a dozen in a circle completely encloses 3 bulls (note the black legs, contrasting with the white of the horses) that they are moving through town, in this traditional manner. It’s quite a romantic image, only slightly tarnished as they saunter back into town afterwards, talking on their cell phones while on horseback …Photo: The streets in the commercial center are crowded with visitors even on a mid-September weekday. We’re glad not to be here in the summer, when the crowds must be overwhelming!Photo: We’re now up on what amounts to the ramparts of the Église des Stes-Maries, as the church was fortified during various invasions, as a protective building for the townspeople.Photo: The church bells all still ring, but now by the electronic external clappers which can be seen here.Photo: One striking characteristic of the town is the whiteness of all the buildings.Photo: Photo: The church plaque gives a hint of the history here. The legend is that around 45 CE, a boat full of early Christians was set adrift at sea. The boat washed ashore here, and the survivors built a chapel in thanks. They included Mary Salome (mother of apostles James and John) and Mary Jacoby (sister of the Virgin Mary), and their black servant, Sarah. They remained here for the rest of their lives, and were said to be buried together. The 15th century discovery of a stone memorial and female bodies under the chapel enhanced the legend, and pilgrims to the area grew. The pilgrims came to include European gypsies, who adopted Sarah as their patron saint, and who converge here in large numbers on May 24 to celebrate her.Photo: The church interior is unusual for its dimness (only a few windows) and simplicity. (As usual, in these interiors, we prefer not to intrude by using a flash, and so use natural light, accepting any loss of clarity which results.)Photo: However, the side walls are crowded with tokens of gratitude and devotion for fulfillment of a prayer request (and so called ex-votos, from a Latin expression meaning “from the vow made”).Photo: And here, in a lower chamber, is the statue of Sarah. On May 24, the gypsies carry the statue in procession through the town, and then down to the sea, where it is washed.Photo: The town has nice sand beaches along the Mediterranean, serenely quiet in the off-season.Photo: There is also a large pleasure boat port in town.Photo: I go hunting for a rest room along the beach, and pass three of these doggie WCs without finding a human one – the French do indeed love their canines!Photo: Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer windows.Photo: A reminder in a small yard near our parking lot that this is indeed a working fishing village.Photo: As we leave town, an example of the dual signage we see throughout the region: names in both French and the Provençal dialect.Photo: There are generally considered to be three population centers in the Camargue: the smaller town of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the larger town of Aigues-Mortes, and the city of Arles. We’ll see the first two today, and the third one later. Here, we enter the walled medieval center of Aigues-Mortes at the Porte de la Gardette.Photo: Aigues-Mortes window.Photo: There are chapels for two orders in the walled town – this one for the Pénitents Blancs. The Pénitents are Roman Catholic confraternities, dating from the 13th century, with their own regulations, churches, and sometimes even cemeteries, Their numbers became so large that they began to be referred to by the color of the clothing worn (here, white) for devotional events.Photo: Aigues-Mortes windows.Photo: And here is the second chapel, for the Penitents Gris [gray].Photo: Here is the Gothic Église Notre-Dame-des-Sablons, which since its construction in the 13th century has served a number of purposes, including a salt warehouse.Photo: The church has simple interior, with a wood-framed nave, and modern stained-glass windows by local artist Claude Viallat.Photo: The Tour de Constance dominates the north corner of the walled town. It was built in the mid-13th century as the town’s stronghold. It is 72 feet across and 213 feet high, with walls 20 feet thick.Photo: It is an impressive fortification.Photo: Now up on the ramparts, and looking in the distance at the white mounds of one of the town’s modern industries: salt.Photo: While there are still canals for smaller boats, the shifting Rhône delta in the mid-14th century left the town too far from the sea to continue as an important port.Photo: The walled town was established by Louis IX in the mid-13th century as a launching point for his Crusades (as the city of Marseille was unsuitably “foreign,” being ruled by the Provence counts). However, these campaigns went badly, and Louis succumbed to typhus while in Tunis.Photo: The interior medieval buildings are considered exceptionally well preserved, as the high ramparts protect them from the salty winds.Photo: But the ramparts don’t take care of themselves, of course, and renovations are a constant fact of life.Photo: Here past the camper parking is the other main industry of the town: vineyards for wine making cover 75% of the municipality. It is the Rhône river that dominates the area here, giving rise to (of course) the many Côtes du Rhône vintages.Photo: The enclosed town is 1800 feet long by 980 feet wide. Here, looking down the length to the Tour de Constance.Photo: A typical archer’s window on the ramparts: The archer had a wide field of view, but an attacker only a narrow opening.Photo: Here a view of the town in the shorter direction. The interior streets are laid out in a grid pattern.Photo: The view of the town from the Ramparts includes backyard gardens such as this one.Photo: Church bells in the distance from the ramparts.Photo: The main square of the town is the Place St-Louis, with the statue from 1849.Photo: “The city of Aigues-Mortes, wishing to perpetuate the most glorious event in its annals, has raised this statue in the place of embarkation of its Christian heroes for the 6th and 8th Crusades.”Photo: It’s always a bit daunting when our GPS advises us of the next turn “to unpaved road.” We don’t always oblige, preferring to stay on the pavement, but when we do, we can get close-ups of the unexpected, such as the grape harvest about to begin here.Photo: And we return to home in Venasque, here with the same first view of the village that we had on our arrival.Photo: Wednesday brings us to Avignon, and our first view of the Palais des Papes, which we would tour shortly.Photo: Madame Saulnier recommended that we begin our visit with the tourist train, as Avignon touring involves both some walking and elevation, and this is an easy way to get an overview. So, up we go on the Rocher des Doms.Photo: The Rock of the Domes is indeed a lovely setting, with sculpture gardens and Mediterranean pines.Photo: And at the top, this view across the Rhône to Villeneuve-les-Avignon, which we would tour later in the day, and the famous half-bridge in the foreground.Photo: The Pont St-Bénézet dates from the 12th century. According to legend, an angel appeared to the young shepherd Bénézet in 1177, instructing him to build a bridge on this spot, and giving him strength to lift a huge stone block to begin the work. The bridge was completed in eight years, rebuilt in 1234-1237, and restored in the 1400s. It finally collapsed in a Rhône flood in the mid-1600s, and as the cities on either side (Papal here, French on the other) could not agree on repairs, they were never made. Thus today, only a portion of the original 950 foot length and 22 arches remain.Photo: Still on the train, we get a view of the cupola of one of the smaller churches in the city.Photo: A not uncommon site in medieval towns were these small indentations in buildings, typically holding a statue of Mary, as a prayer for deliverance from war, plague, and other manners of suffering of the times. Sometimes the statue remains, and sometimes not.Photo: Looking up to the Rocher from ground level, and some of the formidable ramparts.Photo: The 2-1/2 miles of ramparts were built by the 14th century Popes, primarily to keep out robbers and mercenaries drawn by stories of great Papal wealth. Their exceptional preservation is based on the work of architect Viollet-le-Duc, who restored portions in the 19th century.Photo: Still on tour, and passing the main city playhouse.Photo: Avignon trompe-l’oeil windows (of well-known area actors).Photo: Now back at the Popes’ Palace, and looking up at the large statue of Mary atop the Cathédral Notre-Dame-des-Doms next door. It’s a 19th century addition to this 12th century church, and can be seen for miles when illuminated after dark.Photo: We enter the palace here, whose history began in 1309, when Pope Clement V moved the Papal court to France, where 9 Popes were to reign in that century. Their presence brought great prominence, wealth, and a good bit of intrigue of various sorts to the city.Photo: We begin in the Salle de Jésus (which, as usual, sounds so much better in French than the English “Jesus Room”!), named for the letters IHS prominently displayed on the walls. It’s the room where church officials and dignitaries waited for Papal audiences, and which now provides visitors an overview of the massive (over 2-1/2 acres under roof) structure built over 30 years.Photo: The lower Treasury Hall contained a number of secret floor compartments for protection of valuables, as here.Photo: The structure today is quite austere, having been stripped during the French Revolution. Some remnants of the interior wall art are on display.Photo: Here in the main Courtyard, looking up at one of the towers of the fortified palace.Photo: An interior courtyard view.Photo: And another.Photo: Here is the Grand Tinel (taken from the Italian word for barrel, for the ceiling structure), one of the largest rooms in the palace, at 157 feet long and 33 feet wide, and used as the main banquet hall.Photo: Banquets were prepared in the upper kitchen, a large open room which was covered with grates for meat cooking. The octagonal chimney still shows the signs of cooking in its sooty interior.Photo: More of the wall art – a painted sculpture – which survived the Revolution, where the rich interior furnishings did not.Photo: Presumably, a memorial to the passing of one of the Avignon popes.Photo: After a while, it’s hard to recall exactly where we were! We think this is the Great Chapel, where the Conclave of Cardinals met to elect a new Pope.Photo: There are several very elaborately painted (and restored, I’m sure) rooms where photography is forbidden – too many tourists who don’t know how to turn off the flash on their digital cameras, we suspect. A bit of this is evident in the Cardinals’ vestiary, which also contains casts of 4 of the Popes who reigned here.Photo: A uniform of the Swiss Guard of the period.Photo: Our use of natural light does not do justice to the portraits of the nine Popes of Avignon.Photo: Now up on the ramparts, looking over to the Cathédral Notre-Dame-des-Doms.Photo: Some sense of scale here of the ramparts and associated buildings.Photo: And a walk down the Grand Staircase, showing some of the pointed arch vaulting – quite innovative for the time.Photo: A reminder at a nearby building that the area has a very long history indeed.Photo: More Avignon trompe-l’oeil windows.Photo: We move across the Rhône to Villeneuve-les-Avignon, with Madame Saulnier’s approval; she tells us that this interesting town is all to often ignored by tourists in favor of its more famous neighbor. We start here at the tourist office.Photo: A small side garden on the office grounds.Photo: And into the town we go, passing interesting shops along the way.Photo: We come soon in the lower town to the Église Notre-Dame, founded in 1333. This tower was originally a separate belfry, but was later connected to the main structure.Photo: Villeneuve-les-Avignon windows.Photo: Villeneuve-les-Avignon doors.Photo: We pass by the Chartreuse du Val du Bénédiction (the Charterhouse of the Valley of Blessings) of the Carthusian Order, founded by an Avignon Pope in recognition of the humility of the Order’s head, who refused his election to the Papacy.Photo: We now make our way to Fort St-André, ostensibly built in the late 14th century for protection of the town from atop Mount Andaon.Photo: However, it was more of a show of power by the kingdom of France to nearby Papal Avignon.Photo: The main gate is considered one of the finest examples of medieval fortifications anywhere.Photo: We make our way to the Italian-style gardens of the 10th century Abbaye St-André, which are in fact most of what remains of the abbey complex. The abbey has interesting history, which we’ll retell as we wander through the gardens.Photo: Saint Cassaire died on Mount Andaon in 586, and is buried on the hillside.Photo: A shrine and cemetery began in this location as the start of religious buildings.Photo: In 982, a Benedictine order here was recognized by the bishop of Avignon.Photo: The order was further recognized in 999 by Pope Gregory V, and then grew rapidly.Photo: Churches were constructed in the abbey in 1024 and 1118.Photo: In 1266, the abbey entered into an agreement with Louis VIII, and later Phillipe le Bel, who formally recognized the abbots, and constructed the fort.Photo: The abbey prospered in the 14th century, with over 90 monks in residence.Photo: However, the abbey fell into decline in the 15th and 16th centuries.Photo: And here, an intermission in the story, to look across at Avignon at high zoom.Photo: In 1637, the Maurists arrived, and the abbey was revitalized in a period of reconstruction.Photo: The reconstructions continued well into the second half of the 18th century, with new chapels and an entrance court and pavilion.Photo: The Benedictine monks were dispersed during the French Revolution, and the abbey then became a military hospital.Photo: It was later sold to a trader, who unfortunately decided to demolish it.Photo: However, the gardens, the entrance pavilion, and the main terrace were fortunately preserved from what was one of the most important monasteries in the south of France.Photo: Here is the view at high zoom over to the Tour Phillipe-le-Bel, a key defensive structure on the French side of the Pont St-Bénézet.Photo: Here, looking again at the tower from the abbey gardens, with the town below.Photo: The old section of town has certainly retained its traditional character.Photo: Villeneuve-les-Avignon door.Photo: We return to Venasque in time to see a bit of evening color from the ramparts.Photo: And the sun sets on another lovely Provence early Fall day.Photo: Madame Saulnier said that for history, the city to see in Provence besides Avignon would be Arles, and off we go. We arrive first at the Église St-Trophime, with this renowned carved doorway from the late 12th century, in late Provençal Romanesque style.Photo: The church sits on the Place de la République, with this obelisk of Turkish marble at the center.Photo: We arrive at the  first century BCE Amphitheatre, evidence of the prosperous Roman city here.Photo: It once held 20,000 spectators, but now only one row of arches remains. A good bit of the stone structure was dismantled for use in local early Christian churches.Photo: Now at the Arena from the first century CE.Photo: And it is still in active use, as shown here in this notice for an upcoming bullfight [corrida]. Madame Saulnier confirms that these are in the French style, with handkerchiefs plucked off the bulls as the evidence of the matadors’ skill. However, there is a special dispensation for the bullfights at Nimes, where the bull may be killed in the Spanish/Mexican form.Photo: The arena still holds 20,000 spectators.Photo: These towers were added in medieval times, when the structure was used as a defensive fortification, sacrificing the uppermost set of arches.Photo: Photo: And here, the view to the seemingly ever-present Rhône river.Photo: The full structure measures 450 feet by 350 feet, with the interior floor 225 feet by 130 feet.Photo: Here, some of the stonework detail on the arches.Photo: Arles windows.Photo: There are lovely streets in the old town.Photo: Arles door.Photo: Arles window.Photo: Here, at high zoom, looking towards what we think is Tarascon (which we would not see on this visit).Photo: Arles window.Photo: Here, city hall [L’Hôtel de Ville].Photo: Now in the St-Trophime cloisters, famous for its detailed stonework.Photo: The curving vaults are characteristic of the Romanesque style.Photo: There are interior rooms devoted to contemporary art exhibits, as here – neckties?Photo: Even more ties!Photo: Fleece and cotton art – hmm …Photo: The cloisters is particularly renowned for the highly decorated corner pillars.Photo: The simple square belfry.Photo: The view down from the upper level.Photo: We move on now to Les-Baux-de-Provence, where the aluminum ore first discovered in the surrounding hills came to have the name bauxite, and gave rise to quite a profitable industry here in the 19th century.Photo: The old town with its 16th century stone houses is one of the most visited in France, but not too crowded on this September weekday.Photo: The delightful view from our restaurant terrace during lunch.Photo: Which includes this seafood and chorizo sausage skewer, on grilled pineapple, with frites – yum!Photo: During the 11th and 12th centuries, Les Baux ruled over a fiefdom of 80 towns and villages, giving rise to a rich culture in the area. However, the area later fell into decline, and on the high ground are only the remains of the fortress and castle ordered destroyed by Richelieu in 1632.Photo: This 17th century chapel’s interior was painted in 1974 by artist Yves Brayer.Photo: Here, he recreates the shepherds at the Nativity, but with a Provençal landscape and theme.Photo: Looking down from the elevated village into the valley below.Photo: The simple interior of the 12th century Église St-Vincent, with contemporary stained glass by Max Ingrand.Photo: A quiet corner of town.Photo: Les-Baux-de-Provence door.Photo: Along the way to our next stop, we drive in Alpilles country, the unexpectedly-bare limestone hills (up to 1300 feet) in this region.Photo: We find ourselves in St-Remy-de-Provence, and its delightfully picturesque Old Town and maze of narrow streets.Photo: St-Remy-de-Provence window.Photo: City Hall is very quiet today.Photo: Photo: St-Remy-de-Provence windows.Photo: St-Remy-de-Provence windows.Photo: Hey, after a full week of delightful and wide-ranging touring in Provence, we know just how you feel!Photo: There are also a number of small squares in the Old Town, and fountains such as this.Photo: The wry French sense of humor reveals itself here, referencing both one of the town’s most famous residents, and the penchant for historical plaques on many buildings: “Victor Hugo was not born in this house. He didn’t die here either.”Photo: St-Remy-de-Provence door & window.Photo: Friday brings us to four towns and villages in the Dentelles de Montmirail region, starting in the Côtes-du-Rhône wine village of Gigondas, which gives its name to a Grenache-based red wine produced at more than 5 million bottles annually.Photo: Here, we look up to the false-front Baroque church and medieval ramparts at the village’s summit.Photo: Gigondas window.Photo: And up we go to this small church, the Romanesque chapel of St Côme & St Damien, we think.Photo: There are lovely views of the surrounding countryside from the church square.Photo: A closer look at the medieval ramparts.Photo: Gigondas door & windows.Photo: The narrow streets of the village hold less than 700 inhabitants.Photo: The village in Roman times was named Jocunditas, meaning joy or delight.Photo: Photo: And here’s where it all starts, with this reminder of the grape harvest underway, and being carted right through town.Photo: We approach our next destination, the hillside village of Séguret, with remains of the medieval castle at the top.Photo: We enter the town through this stone arch.Photo: The 17th century Mascarons fountain is still being used by the town’s workmen doing restoration projects.Photo: A typical village lane.Photo: A view through the autumn haze to the Dentelles de Montmirail, the Mont Ventoux foothills whose lacy outline gives them their name (“dentelle” being the French word for “lace”).Photo: And once again, there are very picturesque views of the surrounding countryside.Photo: Looking back in the distance at center right to our first stop of the day, Gigondas.Photo: There are a number of historical plaques in the village, such as this one (loosely translated) describing the Christmas dinner and its 13 desserts. On the table are three white cloths and three candles, signifying the Holy Trinity, decorated with pine branches and holly, as well as saucers of Sainte-Barbe wheat. The dinner is a meatless meal of what the earth produces the best: soaked bread crust (we think), a gratin of spinach and cod, chard sauce, fried cod, a salad of celery and anchovies, and cheese. The dinner is always concluded by the 13 desserts: The four mendicant orders (raisins, almonds, nuts, and dried figs), hazelnuts,, dates, apples, pears, oranges occasionally replaced by mandarins, black nougat and white nougat, quince paste, then an apple tart, a local specialty.Photo: Séguret windows.Photo: Séguret door.Photo: Another historical plaque by the fountain: water, the source of life. The fountain is in a typical style for the Comtat Venaissin. Most of its contents goes for watering the gardens below the village. Formerly, that was called the “fleeing water.” The two tanks situated at the rear served as a watering place for animals. Water use was always highly regulated: in the 17th century, washing of linen or vegetables in the fountain was forbidden. Such housework could be done in the flow at “six or seven paces” below the basin.Photo: Séguret door – and our first view of the Provençal curtain door [rideau du porte], which was the solution of how to ventilate a home in the hot Provence summer while keeping out flying insects. They are most traditionally made from short lengths of wood strung closely spaced on thin wires.Photo: However, they may also be made of cloth fibers, which do not produce much of the soft click-clack of the wooden ones announcing the coming and goings of visitors and inhabitants (of all sizes!).Photo: The fortified Provençal village. Séguret comes from the Latin word “securitas” which gave in Provençal “Ségur.” This is thus a place where one can be in safety. The defensive rampart of the 14th century is still quite visible in front of the village. In Provençal it is called “le Barri” and one finds again this etymology in “barrière.” The defensive walls and gates of the village kept a permanent guard, while the watchmen on the castle hill surveyed the plain.Photo: We move on next to Vaison-la-Romaine, and its bustling lower center below the medieval Upper Town [Haute Ville].Photo: The Roman Bridge [Pont Romain] is exceptionally well preserved for its 2000 years, and still in active use. When a devastating flood of the river Ouvêze struck the area in September, 1992 (with considerable loss of life and property), the bridge survived intact.Photo: The town’s war memorial is in a rocky face nearby.Photo: We make our way up to the Upper Town, with the belfry peeking over the formidable 14th century ramparts.Photo: Some of the stones used in the medieval town came from the lower Roman town, whose remains we will see shortly.Photo: The view down to the more modern lower part of the town.Photo: The Upper Town church from 1464 was built on the site of an ancient chapel. It was modified a good bit over time before its final use for religious purposes in 1897.Photo: Vaison-la-Romaine doors.Photo: A concise summary of the Upper Town’s history.Photo: The Roman remains are found in the Quartier de Puymin – here, the Messii House, a large (3200 square feet) Roman home from the second century CE.Photo: The home would have an enclosed garden, cooled by a bower-shaded pool. Nearby, there would be a double staircase leading up to living quarters and reception rooms. On the ground floor, servants quarters and work rooms would be by a yard leading to the street for deliveries.Photo: This gathering area includes the town’s communal ovens.Photo: Now passing through the ancient tunnel to the amphitheater.Photo: The first century CE amphitheater’s main entrance; the structure was later restored in the third century.Photo: The 6000 people in the stands saw entertainment of a variety of sorts, but an important part was educational: plays emphasized Roman history and proper Roman morals and behavior – important information for citizens in outlying provinces.Photo: The view from the top of the theater into the countryside.Photo: Now back at ground level, in an area of rental apartments for visitors.Photo: The museum has a fine collection of Roman items, including this explanation of a restored mosaic.Photo: And here’s the almost-2000-year-old mosaic itself.Photo: The museum contains some fine Roman statuary.Photo: The days’ final stop is Crestet, another picturesque hillside village.Photo: This picture through the autumn haze does not do justice to the panoramic view, which is the finest we have seen.Photo: And, as usual, up we go into the village.Photo: The 14th century village church.Photo: Crestet “window.”Photo: Crestet window.Photo: At Monsieur Saulnier’s suggestion, we return to Venasque by a route through Malaucene, Lafar, and Beaumes-de-Venise, which includes this view of the Dentelles.Photo: The scenery along this route is varied and attractive.Photo: Along the way, we stop at an olive grove, where Madame “borrows” a single green olive from a tree. Now we know why they are cured, as this fresh one is hard and bitter.Photo: Back in Venasque, for some more evening color.Photo: And the sun sets on another lovely Provence early Fall day.Photo: Saturday brings us to the Luberon heart of Peter Mayle (“ A Year in Provence,” among other books) country, beginning here in Bonnieux.Photo: Bonnieux window.Photo: The medieval ramparts are still evident in the village.Photo: Photo: Bonnieux window.Photo: Bonnieux door and window.Photo: There are fine views down into the Calavon valley.Photo: Looking over to our next stop, the nearby hillside village of Lacoste.Photo: This winding stone path takes us to another viewpoint.Photo: The view here is to the north face of the Luberon range, and its oak forests.Photo: The village church tower, at 1400 feet above sea level, is a prominent landmark of the area.Photo: The panoramic view from the church square towards the Luberon range and the valley below.Photo: Bonnieux door.Photo: This narrow road (but in rural France, it’s rarely narrow enough to forbid two-way traffic!) leads us to our next stop of Lacoste.Photo: Along the road, a very close view of grapes ready for harvest.Photo: We stop at a Lacoste café for refreshments and, of course, the view.Photo: Lacoste’s houses are in various states of restoration.Photo: The stone paths are frequently set in calade style – that is, the stones are placed vertically.Photo: Lacoste door.Photo: The village belfry is from the 17th century.Photo: Lacoste door.Photo: The upper part of the village is dominated by the remains of the 42 room chateau owned by the Sade family. The Marquis de Sade spent 30 years here, much of it hiding from those seeking his imprisonment for his scandalous writings.Photo: The chateau was destroyed during the French revolution, and is now being restored.Photo: Now in sight is the hilltop village of Ménerbes.Photo: The town is sometimes overrun by foreign tourists seeking a glimpse of Peter Mayle’s house (although he now lives on the other side of the Luberon), but is thankfully quiet today.Photo: Ménerbes gate.Photo: The town, like so many, retains some of its medieval fortifications, including a 15th century fortress and a 13th century citadel.Photo: Ménerbes door.Photo: Ménerbes door.Photo: Lunch was at this pleasant outdoor terrace, with its high stone wall at the rear.Photo: Rabbit in mustard sauce [lapin à la moutarde] – yum !Photo: The town hall sits on La Place de l’Horloge and its belfry.Photo: Ménerbes gate.Photo: Ménerbes gate.Photo: More of the medieval fortifications.Photo: Ménerbes’ strategic location and defenses made it an important town during the Wars of Religion, and it was a Protestant stronghold for a time.Photo: We stop briefly in the small village of Goult.Photo: There are picturesque gardens in the village.Photo: Goult door.Photo: Goult door.Photo: The commercial center of the village is compact and quaint.Photo: Our final stop in the Luberon is the restoration-in-progress village of Oppède-le-Vieux.Photo: As in many village high points, there is this plaque – la table d’orientation – which provides information on the surrounding countryside.Photo: According to Madame Saulnier, the hilltop village was abandoned after medieval times (a quite common occurrence), when the defensive fortifications were no longer required, and the population took up residence in lower areas more convenient to agriculture and other labor.Photo: The old village was “rediscovered” by artists and performers fleeing the occupied northern part of France during WW II, who began the restoration efforts. Well-known performers continue to do benefits during the summer to fund the work underway.Photo: This chapel has not yet seen the beginning of restoration.Photo: Some old structures are beginning to be lost in the underbrush.Photo: On a side path is this unexpected interior of a stone structure. I’m guessing that this is a sort of break area for the volunteer workers in the old village.Photo: Near the top, and looking down to the lower village.Photo: At the top is 13th century Notre-Dame d’Alydon church, with a hexagonal bell tower with a gargoyle at each edge.Photo: There are a number of interesting views from the church square, including this one into the fir forests of the Luberon’s north face.Photo: The ruins of the 13th century castle and fortifications are at a bit higher elevation.Photo: Here, the view out to the Coulon Valley and the Vaucluse plateau.Photo: Inside the church, and a sense of what has been done, and the work remaining.Photo: The main sanctuary.Photo: Oppède-le-Vieux gate.Photo: On the way home, we drive on the overlook road of the Abbaye de Sènanque, a monastery in the Cistercian tradition which was founded here in 1148. It has had many ups and downs over the centuries, including the hanging of monks in the 1544 Vaudois revolt. The abbey was spared total destruction, and in later centuries had caring owners who preserved it. It resumed its place as an active monastery in 1989.Photo: The abbey subsists in part by honey production and its lavender fields, which are widely photographed – including being on the cover of our Provence Michelin Green Guide.Photo: Our evening snack was generally some combination of bread and fruit. More than once, it included a fougasse, which in the slotted Provençal form would be baked with bits of olive, bacon, or other ingredients – yum!Photo: Sunday is our last day of touring the Provence countryside, and we head north to the Mont Ventoux region, starting in Malaucène. We enter the old town through the Porte Soubeyran, adjacent to the fortified church (from 1309) of St. Michel and St. Pierre, with its combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles.Photo: Malaucène window.Photo: Malaucène door and window.Photo: The old town belfry, and its wrought iron bell cage.Photo: We make our way up to the hill in the old town, looking back at the church.Photo: At the top we find the typical table d’orientation.Photo: Also on the hilltop are these simple stands for the Stations of the Cross.Photo: Malaucène window.Photo: We continue on the road to our next stop at Sault, finally realizing that we will get there via the Mont Ventoux summit! We are joined by a large number of cyclists, who seek to duplicate the route up the mountain frequently taken by the Tour de France. There are also a few joggers, and one roller blader.Photo: There are fine views on the ascent though the pine trees to the surrounding countryside.Photo: The summit is now in sight, dominated by the large television tower.Photo: At the top, the views are somewhat obscured by clouds and haze, which is not uncommon for this time of the year.Photo: Even at a bit under 6300 feet, commerce flourishes, and we buy nougat and other souvenirs here.Photo: The route down is strikingly different at this elevation from the trip up.Photo: And this is most certainly not our method of choice for the descent!Photo: Now in Sault, a center for honey and lavender products, although Madame finds this fabric store to her liking.Photo: Sault windows.Photo: The Église St-Sauveur dates from the 12th century.Photo: Here, a bit of Sault history in the old quarter.Photo: One of the town’s oldest streets was the center for artists and artisans.Photo: Sault windows.Photo: Lunch was on this scenic outdoor terrace.Photo: When they say Big Salad [la salade géante] in Provence, they really mean it, as our portions show – yum! (Have we mentioned that before?)Photo: And our drive continues through the rolling countryside.Photo: We make only a brief drive-by of Montbrun-les-Bains on a quiet Sunday afternoon.Photo: Our last stop is at the little hillside village of Brantes.Photo: The village is quite isolated, with rolling country all around.Photo: Brantes window.Photo: The village bell tower down a narrow lane.Photo: The remains of some of the medieval fortifications can be seen here.Photo: On the drive home, we get a final glimpse of Mont Ventoux, recognizable by the television tower on top.Photo: And so we finish ten days of touring the Provence countryside, with feet propped up on the Mas du Kaïros back terrace (and those hiking shoes have certainly earned their keep here!), with our home village of Venasque peeking over the trees. It’s not easy for it to get any better than this …Photo: Monday brings us back to where it all started at the Marseille airport, dropping off our trusty Skoda … Skoda? It turns out the Skoda is Czech made, and in the old Eastern Bloc days it took a good bit of ribbing for its quality ("How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill up the gas tank!"). However, it was acquired by Volkswagen in 1991 after the Velvet Revolution, and is now well regarded in Europe as a solid, good value brand.Photo: And our last day takes us to Marseille, France’s second largest city. Here is our first view from the main railway station [Gare St-Charles], looking over the city to the Notre-Dame de la Garde church.Photo: The station opened in 1848, and is well known for this massive staircase leading to the city center.Photo: We arrive near noon, and so the daily fish market at the Old Port is winding down.Photo: While waiting for the tourist train to take us up to the church, we do what the locals so: set up camp for about an hour in a portside café, with this view.Photo: This area has been inhabited, and used as a trading center, since the arrival of the Greeks 2600 years ago.Photo: The main road leading from the port into the city is la Canabière (“can o’ beer” to US sailors), which once was the dividing line between the well off and others in the city.Photo: Marseille windows.Photo: Now on the tourist train, heading up to the church, and looking back to the port area.Photo: This monument seems significant, but we were not able to confirm exactly what it was – perhaps the city’s war memorial?Photo: There are several large fortresses guarding the port on the four Îles du Frioul, including this one on Ratonneau.Photo: The best known of the islands is If, whose Chateau d’If was the site of the fictional imprisonment of Andre Dumas’ most famous character, the Count of Monte Cristo. He also placed here the Man in the Iron Mask – who was real, but was never here – and Abbé Faria, who was real, and held here in solitary confinement following his arrest in 1797. He was a pioneer in the scientific study of hypnotism, and after his release, was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of France at Nîmes.Photo: Still on our way up, and obviously passing thorough a more expensive part of the city.Photo: This impressive coastal home was built by Empress Eugénie for her husband Napoleon III, but he never occupied it.Photo: Now at the church, more than 530 feet above sea level, and looking down at the two forts, St-Nicolas (left) and St-Jean (right), guarding the Old Port entrance. Louis XIV had these built with guns pointing towards the city to keep the independent population under control – a fact that the feisty Marseillais are quite proud of!Photo: Here, the Basilique St-Victor, the last remnant of a famous 5th century abbey. The sanctuary was rebuilt in the mid-11th century after being destroyed in a Saracen attack, and the church heavily fortified in the process. In the background is the modern harbor, La Joliette, built in the mid-19th century as the city outgrew the old port.Photo: Some impressive statistics of the Notre-Dame de la Garde church, built by Espérandieu in the mid-19th century in Romano-Byzantine style.Photo: Just as impressive are the panoramic views of the city.Photo: Atop the 200 foot belfry is a massive (37 feet, 1.1 tons) statue of Madonna and Child.Photo: Here, a closer view.Photo: There was fierce fighting for the liberation of Marseille in WW II, and remembrances of the fallen are to be found.Photo: The small chapel is filled with ex voto plaques, especially from seafarers, as in common in port and fishing towns and cities.Photo: A final look down la Canabière, as we return to the station. It’s been only as brief introduction to the city, and perhaps because of our long days in smaller towns and villages, we do not feel as compelled to return, compared to what we feel is the lighter, more welcoming city of Nice.Photo: The view from our airport hotel room is in some ways pleasant enough, but it pales to our days in the Provence countryside. It’s only been a few weeks since our visit as these words are being written, but we already feel the pull of Provence, and our little home in Venasque, to return. There are both places yet to be seen, and places to be seen again, and a next visit most assuredly awaits us …