Category Archives: Provence

Wild and wonderful…

They may only rate a passing mention in some guidebooks, but Moustiers Sainte-Marie and Gorges du Verdon will leave you speechless. That said, I have to bang on about it for a bit…

The road to Gorges du Verdon leads us through stone villages, olive groves and fields of lavender, towards a hazy mountain range.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Lavender fields of Provence – imagine these in flower. Phew.

The plan is to drop into the tourism office in Moustiers Sainte-Marie to pick up a map for the gorge walks.

But we are about to be stunned. We round a sweeping bend, see the ancient village of Moustiers nestled into the mountains, and experience the first of many Oh.My.God-moments we’ll have today.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Moustiers Sainte-Marie. Sigh.

For me, one of those moments is catching sight of the church high in the ravine above the village and the endless stairs leading up to it. I just know what EB is thinking…

But first, we walk into absolutely the most beautiful village we’ve seen in France so far – and that’s saying something.

Words and photos can’t adequately capture this place – it’s something you must take in with your eyes and heart…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Magical Moustiers

 

Okay, that’s enough Zen for now. There’s that ‘hill’ above the church to get up.

EB is gleeful to discover there is a way. Weaving ever upwards, we follow yellow way-finding markers to leave the village far below us.

When we finally reach the top, we are breathless (in more ways than one). But others have taken the OMG moment to the next level, soaring above us in paragliders.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Eventually, we follow the path down to meet an ancient Roman roadway carved into the mountainside.

It leads us down to the village, where we join locals and tourists kicking back, sharing gossip and wine.

We soak up the sun before it dips behind the mountains and the village slips into shadows. It’s time to find the Gorges du Verdon… and be smitten yet again.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Gorges du Verdon

The road winds precariously around the mountains, with narrow gravel stopping-places, where you can fight vertigo to peer thousands of metres into the gorge below, and gasp over the emerald river snaking along it.

The kayaking businesses are closed for the season, but we’ve already vowed we’ll be back. Who could resist this?

So put this one on your must-see list. You may wear out your camera – and possibly your legs – but, like us, you won’t be in a hurry to leave.

Copyright: Louise Ralph


Totally wild in the Camargue. Perhaps.

Imagine… wild white horses galloping through the wetlands, pink flamingos taking flight at sunset, slender black bulls with upright horns lifting their heads to snort and observe you, against a backdrop of deep blue.

October 3: Of course the Camargue was at the top of my list for places to see in France. I love wetlands and wildlife, and this promised to be 40,000 hectares of lakes and marshes teeming with life.

But Sylvia the GPS refused to cooperate. Je ne sais pas où c’est, désolé (she speaks French now), i.e. haven’t heard of it or words to that effect.

Y’know, there are times when you should see the signs and not just look for them.

The Camargue is a big place and there are two sides. Clearly, we chose the wrong one.

First we saw the saltworks that have been operating since ancient times. Between March and September each year, 15,000 tons of crystals are gathered each day, and washed and stored in salt mountains called camelles.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Camargue’s salt pans…

Then we saw random beach camping that, along with burnt-out caravans and other debris, would scare away anything wild (except the locals).

Copyright: Louise Ralph

One of France’s natural wonders: random camping

So, wildlife. Um. You couldn’t stop to look and you couldn’t really walk through it. What you can do, apparently, is park up and go au-naturel.

Apart from wild pig footprints, we saw a few birds and one horse…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Gotta love that zoom lens…

A helpful parcs officer told us we could drive around to the other side of the wetlands and we might see some bulls and horses.

Frankly darling, by that stage, we didn’t give a damn.

Instead, we headed off to the Arenes de Nimes, an impressive Roman arena that was the original (and harsh) reality entertainment complete with hunter-beast and beast-eats-prisoner warmups, followed by gladiator battles to the death.

These days, the humane version of bull-fighting is on the agenda, along with bull running. This is a bit of fun for the lads – unless they miss their footing when leaping out of the way of a feisty Camargue bull with those brutal horns…

And so the sun set on a challenging day in Provence. The only way is up, baby.


A week in Provence

And so it begins…

We were on a wine tour in Provence today, and EB had just bought some wine. Mid-chat with someone, he’d walked away leaving (I thought) €14 change behind.

Our lovely English-speaking French guide was standing nearby and, to be sure I wasn’t taking someone’s money by mistake, I asked him:

“Is that Frank’s or yours?”

Say that out loud, with a bit of a French accent, and you’ll know what’s coming next…

“It’s euros. We don’t have francs here anymore,” he replied.

I smiled. “Oh, no,” I said. “I mean, is that Frank’s change?”

Bien sur, we change many years ago.”

“Ah, oui,” I said, shrugging in that very-French way I’m learning.

But behind us, one of the other Australian ladies on our tour was looking confused. “Who’s Frank? Are you Frank?” she said to him.

“No, he’s Jacques,” I said.

“Then who’s Frank?”

But some things you just can’t explain…

So, apart from practicing French with the tour guide, I learnt that France is very prescriptive when it comes to viticulture.

Appellations mean that each region can only use certain grapes in their wine making and often at particular percentages. 

This is pretty handy to know, and explains why the labels clearly identify the region, but often don’t mention the grape variety.

It also explains why a waiter looked at me oddly the other day when I asked for un verre du vin blanc, s’il vous plait. Sauvignon?

“Sauvignon? Non. Bergerac.” he said, which I had a vague idea was a region…

Oui très bien seemed the appropriate answer.  At €2.50 a glass, I wasn’t about to argue.

At least I know what I’m ordering when I see a wine from Provence… I think. We may have worked out the whole wine thing by the time we leave, but I doubt it.

Oh well…When it comes to French wines, ignorance still ends up being bliss. Bonne journée!


Squeezing into Avignon

Copyright: Louise Ralph

French-kiss parking in Avignon

After an overnight pit stop in the rain-drenched Carcassonne, we arrived in Avignon.

First, Sylvia the GPS tried to take us down a one-way street into the city, then she tried to have us jump bollards and go the wrong way on the main road.

It was time to shut down Sylvia until we’ve found our own way into the city… Eventually, we let her off the leash and she leads us to our apartment.

Of course I’d been completely distracted, so hadn’t organised a key pickup.

Without a phone card or functioning mobile phone, we went in search of the Office de Tourisme. Which is when the adventure started.

One right turn was all we needed to lead us into the rabbit-warren of impossibly-narrow back alleys.

But we’ve been around long enough to know that very little is impossible in France when it comes to cars.

So we sucked in our breath and wove our way around until we finally came out at a main road – no closer to the Tourism place. C’est la vie.

Time to stop at the nearest hotel, not for a drink, although we definitely needed that. Instead, EB soon had them calling our apartment owners and arranging for us to meet.

Talk about opening doors (and leaping language barriers) with just a smile…

And who said blokes didn’t like asking for directions?