Monday, October 8, 2012

Provence Vacation - Part I

Back in September, Muschi and Paschi took us on vacation to the Luberon region of Provence.  Here are some pictures and my notes on our time there.


We arrive at La Grand Bastide at sunset. The housekeeper and her daughter are there to show us our quarters. I can hardly contain my glee over the beauty of the place.  La Grande Bastide is a large, four-century-old farmhouse.  Our apartment, "Le Rosier" was named for the rose bushes that flourish in the courtyard outside.  The apartment is big--the size of a four bedroom house. And there's a pool!  More importantly, there's a dishwasher!  But despite its modern comforts, "Le Rosier" still has French farmhouse charm in form of tiled floors, thick plaster walls,* age-darkened ceiling beams and functional wooden shutters.   From the second story, there are views of the tree-covered ridges and neighboring vineyards.

After unloading the car, we go to dinner in the nearby village of Rustrel.  We eat outdoors at a restaurant on the town square.  Maria plays at the nearby playground while we wait for our food.  It's a memorable meal--ravioli with pistou (pesto), fish cassoulet, and steak with frites, washed down with a friendly red table wine.  The relaxed dress of our fellow restaurant goers and the easy manner of the waiter herald the pleasures of country living.  It has a very different feel from the Paris metro area.


Muschi walks to Rustrel in the morning to pick up croissants and a lovely sourdough baguette.  After breakfast, Muschi and Maria head out to the Vide Grenier ("empty basement"- French for garage sale) in Rustrel.  Paschi, Donnie, Louisa and I go to Apt for Mass at the Cathedral of St. Anne. The Cathedral is a baroque beauty, but rather dark and in need of restoration.

In the cathedral, there is a fine image of the Annunciation.  Mary wears an expression not often seen  depictions of the Annuciation--a look of avid interest.

Following mass, the alter servers produce ropes that had been tucked out of sight during the service.  It seems the Cathedral bells are hung directly over the alter.  The children ring the bells, catching onto the ropes allowing themselves to be lifted off the ground.   
Statue of St. Anne, atop the cathedral in Apt.

A gate tower near the Apt Cathedral, with Provencal style bell cage.

Succulents on the window sills.

Look at the leopard print top Muschi brought me!  She assures me that leopard is "in."  I like it very much.

We reunite with Muschi and Maria in Rustrel and lunch at the Auberge de Rustrel, another restaurant on the village square.  The Auberge contains an old well (caged over for safety, but dramatically lit from inside.)  The well captures Maria's imagination, and keeps her distracted while we wait for bread to be brought to the table.  There's another wonderful table wine---unfortunately, we don't ask what it is.  Aside from the wine, the most memorable part of the meal is the dessert--orange-flavored creme brullee, topped with two slivers of candied orange peel.

Muschi's vide grenier finds.


Rain.  Muchi and Paschi go grocery shopping in Apt while the Sheehys stay at home.  Louisa takes her morning nap.  After several hours, Muschi and Paschi return home and the rain stops.  We stow the groceries and head out under heavy clouds to the Pont Julien, a Roman Bridge from 3 BC.  We chose a rock in the riverbed with a good view of the bridge and unpack our lunch.  We drink tea and eat sandwiches, slices of Chausse de Moins cheese and pears.   The sky clears.  Maria plays in the sand. 
Look, no mortar!

Paschi bring the thunderheads in his wake!  Bwahhhhhhahahaha!

View from on top of the bridge.

Hoping to take advantage of the blue skies, we pile back in the car and head toward the hilltop town of Gordes.   The girls and Donnie sleep in the parked car while Muschi, Pashci, and I go in search of a photo op.  We find one.

We rejoin Donnie and the kids and walk uphill into the city.  Maria and the men stake out a sunny spot next to the chateau while Muschi and I visit boutiques.  The shops sell olive wood, honey, soap, lavender sachets, grinders full of herbs de Provence, and colorful traditional fabrics.  There are all manner of ceramic items decorated with Provencal motifs--olive branches, lavender, and cicadas.  After Muschi and I break free from the thrall of the shops, we walk down a few more cobblestone alleys, finding more great views.

Look who's awake!


The next stop is Rousillon.   A sign at the entrance of the town declares that it is "One of France's Most Beautiful Villages"--a distinction is shares with Gordes.  Rousillon owes its unique appearance to it's ochre tinted buildings.  These building serve as a kind of swatch catalog for all the colors that can be found in the ochre clay deposits surrounding the town.  (Until the early 20th century, ochre mining was one of the area's main industries.  The ochre was used to make pigments that found their way into all sorts of things--from sausages to artists' paints.)  I'm glad that Muschi is wearing her bright blue sweatshirt--it's the perfect compliment to the town's parade of oranges. 

We eventually find our way to the cemetery.  It's a walled plot, with above-ground mausoleums.  It overlooks the town, a benevolent reminder of past generations.  

Finally, we descend the ruddy heights and ride back to La Grande Bastide.  On the way home, I think about the steep, winding alleys and scenic heights of Gordes and Rousillon, and wonder if they'll reappear in my dreams.

We end our busy day with a homemade dinner of fried mashed potatoes, sausages and salad.

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