Saturday, September 24, 2011

The France & Spain Tour 2011 - Day 4

As I said in the previous post, we were loving Mas Pichony, our b&b in Provence. After a restful night's sleep, we were all up early and once again, after Daphne had been for a swim, I left her to change for the day ahead and went out taking early morning photos around the grounds.

Here is one of swimming pool, showing the shaded cooking and eating area at the far end.

By 8:30 we were sitting with the other guests at the large breakfast table outside the house and a short time later, we were on our way to continue our tour of this part of Provence with a very short 4 mile drive.

We went east again, back through the town of Saint-Didier where we'd had supper the previous evening and on along the D28 to join the D4 to the pretty medieval hill village of Venasque. With a population of only 1,151 people and uncrowded, flower festooned narrow streets, Venasque truly lived up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Driving up the steep road to the parking area, the view was dominated by the beautiful 12th century Church of Notre Dame with its high bell tower and overhanging gargoyles.

Arriving relatively early, we got a very favourable parking spot right up against a low stone wall with a stunning view over the surrounding countryside and of course this necessitated a portrait.

What a nice young couple !

We were in no rush and given the size of the village, it didn't take long to explore it thoroughly. On one street corner there was a cute cat doing a spot of people watching and begging to be photographed.

I obliged.

There was a lovely Provencal version of a village square with an 18th century fountain as its focal point. A short distance away were, to all intents and purposes, the ruins of a castle but it seems were really the ruins of a chateau......les remparts du chateau de Venasque to be precise.

It still looked like a castle to me !

Here is the fountain and a view down a typical narrow street in the village. In fact this view shows where we were parked, just behind that white vehicle at the end.

At noon we left Venasque for the 17 mile drive to Roussillon and what an experience that was. It's hard to do justice to the unique splendour of Roussillon. You can say that there are 17 shades of ochre daubed across the houses of the village, drawn from the palette of the old ochre quarry next door. But that doesn't do justice to the flamboyant, technicolor glory of Roussillon, the reds, yellows, oranges and pinks that merge one into the other as you wander around the spiralling streets. Or the stunning contrast of the green of the pine trees or the blue sky against the red cliffs.

As we approached the town, we saw that parking would be a problem so we went back down the road, parked along the side and made our way back up on foot. It was a long hot walk and by the time we got into the town proper, we were ready to combine a rest with lunch !

As eating takes a while in France, we were well rested by the time the bill was paid.

And ready again to explore.

Roussillon is a "two part village" and although it would be hard to visit it and leave without knowing about the ochre quarry, it could happen. Once in its centre, it's a typical Provencal hill village with the narrow streets, flower filled window boxes and stunning views down over the valley. The one feature that sets it apart is the colour..all the buildings are red, thanks to that nearby ochre quarry !

The village is on a ridge of steep red cliff, as if everything around but the village has been clawed away over the years. If you walk up to the top, you get some wonderful panoramic views across the valley to the Grand Luberon, the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.

Here are a few photos showing the buildings, the flowers, the main square where we ate and finally 2 sweeping panoramas showing the views over the valley.

As usual, you can click on any photo to enlarge it and this is especially important for the panorama shots.

Walking up and down the steep streets was very tiring even after, or maybe despite having, our lunch. When my body is trying to process a meal, it sure doesn't like to have to deal with walking up and down steep streets ! Even in Provence !!

But with the village explored, it was time to move on to the ochre quarry which was just a walk over a short bridge and still part of the village environs. And what a place it was.

First up, there is a photo of a sign explaining what we were about to experience but if you want a fuller explanation, I'm sure Google will help. Then comes the first view you get of the quarry as you cross the village bridge. Shops and restaurants on the right and the quarry on the left. The visitors give some idea of scale.

The ochre this land is made of is a natural pigment that was used in paints. Roussillon's ochre quarry was one of the most significant ochre deposits in the world. But times move on and real ochre is no longer in use. This means you can explore the disused quarry which is best described as other-worldly....perhaps like Mars if it had cliffs and caverns, steeples and ridges. Certainly something very different and a place I will never forget.......and neither will my shoes !

To walk around the quarry meant walking on various surfaces - wooden steps, gravel paths and of course, as can be seen in the above photos, the ochre 'soil' itself. The paths were very steep in places and the steps were so wide apart that it would've been better not to have had them. My white tennis shoes were red by the end of the walk and my legs and feet were screaming for a break.

A rest and an ice cream by the bridge wall helped my legs and feet and a good wash in the b&b sink later that afternoon sorted the shoes. The red dust brushed off fairly easily and thankfully left no lasting stains.

Did we love Roussillon ? Yes we did. Town AND quarry.

We drove back to Mas Pichony and had a rest for a hour or so. Then we went back into Pernes-les-Fontaines, the main town nearest to the b&b, for supper. There was a funfair set up near the town centre so the road was closed and we had to park some distance away. We wandered around the various stalls and rides but it was just like any small fair anywhere in the world and not that impressive.

We settled on a Chinese restaurant for the meal and very good it was too. Just before we got there, we saw something that reminded me that even with modern 'green' fuelled cars, there is always a down side and in this case, it was all too obvious !

After a 90 minute meal, fast by French standards, it was 9pm and after another walk around the funfair which was only slightly more interesting in the dark, we headed back to the car. This meant us walking along another street bordered by trees and this one in particular looked like it had an interesting story to tell.

And that was it. A long but fascinating day and if nothing else, it had given us a small taste of things to come over the next few days in Provence. So far it was rivalling Tuscany in my personal list of beautiful places to visit and I was excited about what we'd see over the next few days.


Daphne said...

The reds, yellows and oranges of the ochre quarry together with the brilliant blue of the sky and the dark green of the trees - - well, it was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen. What a fantastic day it was - thank you so much for all the information which will help me to remember every detail.

rhymeswithplague said...

There you are, trying to decide which is more beautiful, Provence or Tuscany, while I sit here trying to decide whether that big white cloud above me looks more like a ducky or a horsey.

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