Sunday, October 02, 2011

The France & Spain Tour 2011 - Day 5

The great thing about touring Provence is that you only need to drive a few miles to see wonderful scenery and picturesque towns. As another plus, in the space of these few miles the scenery can change from lush sweeping valleys to majestic gorges and the towns change from chocolate box quaintness to hill side medieval fortresses.

We experienced all these and more on our 2nd day of touring from our b&b base near Pernes-les-Fontaines. The 37 mile circular route started with us again driving east along the D28 through Saint-Didier and then the D4 past Venasque (see previous post). In the space of a few minutes we watched soaring cliffs give way to tree lined avenues as we made our way to our first stop at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque.

The 12th century Cistercian abbey has an unusual history as its community of monks peeked in numbers in the 13th and 14th centuries and by the 16th century, only 12 remained. The abbey was then ransacked by the Huguenots and finally when the last monk was expelled, Senanque was sold to a private individual. In 1854, the abbey was repurchased by another community of Cistercian monks and nowadays they exist by producing and selling lavender and honey.

Sadly we didn't visit when the lavender fields were in season but the by-products were on sale in the gift/book shop which also contributed towards the running of the abbey. It was just as well that I love the smell of lavender as with all the soap, perfume and the like, the shop was lavender heaven.

In the small foyer area was a cute sign informing dogs that they had to remain outside.

As the abbey is open for retreats, the main building was off limits to us and so without much else to see, we only spent an hour there before driving the 7 miles to the classic Provencal hill village of Gordes.

High above the Calavon valley, Gordes is another of the 'beautiful villages of France' and even after only two days in Provence, we were starting to realise that just about every village there was on the shortlist.

As recently as WWII, the village was a resistance centre and as with a town we were to visit in a week's time, it was punished in reprisal for local resistance fighters killing a German soldier.

The village is a typical mix of narrow streets with speciality shops and open squares with cafes, fountains and, in this case, even a castle....or castel.

We liked it. We liked it a lot.

After a morning of walking and climbing steep streets, by 1pm we were starving and found a lovely restaurant and had a leisurely lunch. After that we wandered around the village, went into a church for some reflection and then headed back to the car park. On the way, Daphne was looking at a shop when she realised an air grill under her was helping to set up a Marilyn Munroe parody. I took a photo but the slightly earlier view when her skirt was almost over her head will have to remain only in my mind. Probably best !

Nearby was a space between buildings with a view down over the valley. We also noticed a home having both a swimming pool and a lap pool which seemed a bit incongruous in an otherwise oldy worldy village. Having said that, we saw several swimming pools around Gordes.

After having had our fill of Gordes, we drove on the 12 miles to L'isle sur la Sorgue, a much larger and very different place. It is on the plain and is often referred to as the "Venice of Provence". But just as we left Gordes, we noticed a few cars parked up across the road at a viewing point and so we turned around and joined them.

And what a view it was. This shot really shows what a hill village looks like and although we visited many on our tour, we were never able to get such a clear view of any of them like we had here.

L'isle sur la Sorgue is an 'island city' lying at the foot of the Vaucluse plateau on the plains of Comtat Venaissin. The river Sorgue surrounds the city and canals run alongside the streets with picturesque bridges adding to the impression you've come upon a Venice lookalike. I guess it was too obvious for the city fathers to twin with Venice but it would've been a good match.

Back in the day, the inhabitants lived off crayfishing and the silk and paper industries used great waterwheels in their manufacturing processes. These moss covered wheels still turn and add another dimension to the views around the city.

The city is also known for its antique shops and we saw plenty of them with prices to match. Again away from the open squares, we really loved the narrow streets where we could enjoy the sights and sounds of the traders and cafes. And even some dogs.

We also went into the local 17th century church, Notre-Dame des Anges (Our Lady of the Angels) which was very ornate and as usual, a lovely oasis of peace and tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of the streets around it.

We all took photos !

By the time we'd walked back to the car, it was almost 5pm and time to close the circle by going back to the b&b to freshen up and then go off for supper. With the Pernes-les-Fortaines street fair now over and the roads around it open for traffic again, we had more places to chose from and ended up in a lovely restaurant not far from the Chinese where we'd eaten the previous night.

Again the meal lasted for almost 2 hrs and by the time we returned to the b&b, we were almost ready for bed. It had been another fabulous day in our part of Provence and we planned on hitting new heights the next day.

And we did.


Daphne said...

I enjoyed my Monroe moment as you may see from my expression - - a shame the rest of me looks like the Michelin Woman! Thank you so much for the great photos and also all the research you've done which adds to my lovely memories! What a great day it was.

Jennyta said...

Interesting how the abbaye has come full circle and is now back in the hands of the Cistercians. And what a lovely sign for the dogs; they are obviously a lot more intelligent than the dogs over here! ;)

rhymeswithplague said...

I hope you meant the Cistercian monks peaked in numbers around the 13th and 14th centuries. If not, no wonder the local Huguenots became so upset....

In that photo above the dogs, is the gentleman in white getting ready to drop his trousers or had he just finished pulling them up?

Silverback said...

As ever, thank you Bob for reminding me that I'm human after all.

As for the gent in the photo, well I'll leave it up to you. Whichever gets you more excited.

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