Sunday, 3 August 2008

En Provence ....


I returned to Mormoiron after many years and it is was idyllic as I remembered. Red and ochre buildings contrasting yet in harmony with dark green columns of the cypress trees - ringed by hills, with Mont Ventoux, giant of Provence, standing sentinel over all.

Last time I was here it was spring - the cherry blossom was in bloom and Ventoux was capped with snow. This time it is July, the air is warm and scented with that special Provencale mix of lavender, wild thyme and rosemary. Indeed the terrace where I sit to write is fringed with lavender and pink roses, and an apricot tree proudly bears its fruit at one corner.

Today began warm and sunny but a late morning swim was cut a little short as a summer storm rolled in across the mountains. Rain is precious though and to be enjoyed - besides it was a good excuse for lunch and a nap!

From Vaucluse - Fr...

Early evening found me exploring the hillside behind the house. A rocky track leads up and away from the house and affords glorious views over the village and surrounding countryside. Ten minutes later I was at the top of the hill looking across the next valley, cork oak, pine, thyme and rosemary thronged the hillside, butterflies flitted lazily in the evening sunshine ... perfect.


French Hypermarkets never cease to amaze me - and traumatize me it has to be said. After the first twenty aisles of anything-you-could-ever-want which is not food and definitely not what you came in for, I can feel myself spiraling into a sense of confusion. Can I live without a pool skimmer, a sun shade for the car, two T-shirts for the price of one, a new frying pan, mobile phone, TV, clothes dryer, giant inflatable dolphin - probably - but where is the bread? Three aisles of yoghurt, four aisles of cheese - ah, this is more like it.


The jewel of the Vaucluse is the fortified riverside city of Avignon, home to the popes during their "Babylonian exile" from 1309 - 77, and now host to one of the great music and theatre festivals of France. The popes' castle at Chateauneuf-du-Pape is now a ruin, but well worth a visit for the stupendous wines it produces. The Cotes-du-Rhone region is justly re-knowned, and its vineyards spread as far northeast as the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

From Vaucluse - Fr...

The Roman legacy in Vaulcuse is also remarkable. It is glimpsed in the great theatre and triumphal arch in Orange, and in the ruins of Vaison-la-Romaine which, unusually, were not built over by successive civilisations. Carpentras, which is about 10miles from Mormoiron, was also a Roman town, but its claim to fame is its possession of France's oldest synagogue. The story of the Jews, who were given papal protection in Vaucluse, is one of many religious histories which can be traced through the region. Another is the Baron of Oppede's brutal crusade against the Vaudois heretics in 1545, when many villages were destroyed.

Near Oppede, at Lacoste, a poppy-lined path leads to the chateau of France's notorious deviant, the Marquis de Sade. A more elevated writer was Petrarch, who lived in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, where the Sorgue river emerges from a mysterious source.