Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Encore Provence

L'Isle sur la Sorgue to Moustiers St Marie to Menton

The route from L'Isle took us close to Silvacane Abbey, another Cistercian Abbey. It was most peaceful with a simplicity that invokes reverence.

Silvacane Abbey

Well in the cloister garden

We came to Moustiers St Marie in the mountainous area of the Haute Provence. Our little B&B there was below the town, hosted by a fairly eccentric gentleman who nevertheless has a lovely house and served a great breakfast (and dinner, had we but known!)

La Bastide de Paradou

We walked up a steep road on a hot afternoon to get to the squares and shops. The town is set between two high, rocky crags split by a tumbling stream and between the crags,in the middle ages, someone slung a chain and star . They replace it about twice a century. It hangs above the gorge and a little chapel (which we did NOT climb to).

The chapel and star up high

A pretty place, full of tourist shops selling the local china called faience, cafes selling ice cream and artists selling their paintings. Always, there is the sound of running water and quite a few springs with clear, cold water with which to splash oneself in the heat.

We had a lovely meal at Les Sablons while a percussion band played in the church square as part of a music festival. We sat looking over the stream, watching the parapenters descend, sometimes so close, as the sky turned purple.

The meal was imaginative, a terrine of chicken liver, a magret of duck with pumpkin tart and honey glaze and a dessert called feuillete of apple which was made from thin slices of apple, slightly dried so as to be flexible, arranged like a rose and served with good vanilla icecream and a shot glass of caramel sauce. There seemed to be no reason to leave this peaceful spot and we sat listening to the music and sipping our wine.

On Sunday we drove the Verdon Gorges. If my white knuckles were anything from the last gorges of Tarn and de la Jonte, this time my fingernails left crescents in my palms. This is so sheer and so deep that it is impossible to capture on film and of course the roads are narrow, right on the edge and often unfenced in any way.

I kept thinking that there are four postcard sized pieces of rubber in contact with the road that keep us on the road and not over the edge. Not relaxing! The motorbikes were out in force too, going very fast and seeming to love the danger of it all. We saw one accident as we came down a hill, with lots of bikies in attendance and the sounds of an ambulance approaching.

One of the roads

There are warnings all along the gorges about not venturing down as water levels can change quickly. We remembered that some people had died here just a few weeks ago because of this. These are dangerous and unpredictable river valleys.

Coming out of the gorges

Lake St Croix

At the end we came into Lake St Croix, an artificial lake caused by damming further down. This lake is the most unbelievable blue. The photo is unretouched. It really is this colour, from glacial melt apparently.

On our way again, we stopped at Thoronet Abbey. The cloisters were pretty with a lovely lavabo fountain in one corner, though the gardens could have been kept better. We have now visited the three Cistercian abbeys in Provence, Senaque, Silvacane and Thoronet. They all have a purity of line and simplicity of building that is specifically Cistercian.

Lavabo at Thoronet

Virgin and child, the only image

They didn’t decorate or use stained glass or statues, apart from a veneration of the Virgin, according to the rule of St Benedict, whose original town we visited in Norcia in Italy, so things are rather pure and austere. Lovely! Only Senaque is still used by monks but all are preserved as part of the national heritage. France takes this seriously.

Our trip along the Cote d’Azur was interesting. We took the coast road through places like Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Antibes. I had no idea the places were so built up and, apart from a few places for the very rich, so much like Surfers Paradise on a bad day.

Huge apartment complex

We saw a lot of shops and light industry. I guess the rich and famous keep away from the through roads. Changes in colour of the rocks were interesting, with one section becoming quite red from the hillsides right out into the ocean. The water was a clean, clear blue/green and looked most inviting early on, but the smog of Nice hung in the distance. The road ran for miles between the fenced in railway line and a row of cars parked for the beach. I guess there were shops and things below the narrow boardwalk but it didn't look appealing to us.

Beach road!!!

Our little hotel is on the waterfront at Menton, one of many. If you cross the busy road you can walk on a boardwalk, under which are shops and restaurants which then lead to the pebbly beach. Most of the beach area has to be hired and you get a lounge and umbrella set up in neat rows for your money. You choose which one to go to and pay your money. Most of them are attached to airy restaurants with bars and lounge chairs. I can think of worse ways to spend the day! There are small public beaches too for which you do not have to pay.

A Menton private beach

The next morning was very hot and very bright. We had wandered through Menton, found the cathedral at the top of the hill closed, seen the usual tourist shops and cafes and eaten ices at a glacier where you could assemble your own favourite ices and toppings and pay by weight. What a temptation! We had thought to visit other towns nearby but it was just too hot and the parking was impossible, so we stayed in Menton. The houses on the hills nearby are obviously old money, quite palatial. At the waterfront road it is all hotels and apartments and restaurants. Everyone, except us and the English tourists, was tanned and everyone was sunbaking. I feel like saying “Slip, slop, slap”. The only warnings you see are for sunglasses and those are ads. Older people look like leather and still wear bikinis or go topless on the beach.

Pretty town of old Menton

We wandered to the beachfront restaurants for a meal where I again indulged in mussels. Here they come in a big covered casserole and you turn the lid over to use for all the detritus. Always more than I can eat. The restaurant had a large sliding roof to open to the skies and a terrace edging the sands with pretty lamposts for light. It was lovely just to sit in the evening light. This doing nothing and having no particular place to go is growing on me, as are siestas.

It was odd to leave all this sun and heat to head off into the Alps the next day on our way to Briancon. Farewell, Provence!


tennisjazz said...

"The restaurant had a large sliding roof to open to the skies and a terrace edging the sands with pretty lamposts for light." -- lovely! we are going back for our third stay in Menton in three months ... could you let us know the name of the restaurant please?
bill b from victoria

Lynn and Nick Booth said...

I wish I could remember but I am pretty sure it was one of the two buildings to the left of the mole here on the Googlemap. Of course it may have changed hands by now as that was several years ago. But I recall the roof could be retracted.