A New Year in Provence
31.12.2011 - 01.01.2012 14 °C
This little town is known for its antique markets although these were not on during this holiday weekend. Our accommodation for the following four nights was a well appointed and comfortable two bedroom apartment above a shop in the centre of town. The shop (a boutique clothing store) and flats above are owned by a Danish / Swedish couple and both the interior design and technological sophistication of the kitchen and bathroom appliances were of a high standard. The layout was a very Scandinavian take on the Provençal style in that, as well as looking good, it all actually worked. I felt sure that I could probably communicate with the oven from my iPad given a little more time but we had to get ready for a New Year's Eve dinner booking that the owner had made for us at a nearby restaurant.
The Saint Sylvestre's Day dinner was a seven course arrangement that went from about 8:30 until after the "dix, neuf, huit, ..." countdown. We started with champagne and feuilletés (pastry encrusted small things) and worked our way through courses based on foie gras, fish and guinea fowl. Each of these was beautiful and we were getting fairly full but a fifth course based on a large piece of brie flavoured with truffles just about drove us over the edge. I was beginning to feel like the exploding man from that old Monty Python skit but we also managed a dramatic chocolate based dessert, some champagne for the countdown and some coffee with mignardises (small sweet things). Accompanied by a couple of bottles of red wine, this was all quite a project for the three of us. It was, however, a very civilized way to see in 2012 and we engaged in a solid round of "bonne années" and noise making with nearby diners (including a small white dog) after midnight.
After a late start on New Year's Day, we drove to Fontaine de Vaucluse which is the underground system of springs that feeds the Vaucluse River that joins the Rhône at Avignon. The limestone dominated landscape was very spectacular and the waters and village were both very pretty. We walked up to the Fontaine itself which is a 300 metre deep hole that is the source of the water. After exploring this for a while, we headed in another direction where we met a French farmer who showed us a pathway to some castle ruins at the top of the cliff. He ended up having quite a chat to us and walks this area when he feels the need. He said that it had been dry and that the level of the springs was the lowest he had seen after many years of visits. He also told us about the Mistral, the geology of the area, the impact of Australian lamb imports on local shepherds, the archbishop who lived in the castle in the 14th century, climate change, and a few other things. He was a very knowledgeable and helpful chap who then went on his way up another path.
Retrieving the Renault from the tightly packed car park was an entertaining experience after which we drove to the Abbaye de Sénanque which is a working Cistercian monastery in a very picturesque setting in fields of lavender. The inside was interesting but very cold and I do hope the monks wear decent thermals when doing their contemplative activity through these winter months. Although Frances was getting a bit sick of our "obsession with religious places", we enjoyed the visit and drove on to the pretty hilltop village of Gordes to have a walk around it before nightfall. The colours of the skies and general landscape here are very pretty and the sunset as we drove home did not disappoint. It is easy to see why "the masters" came to this area for inspiration with their painting.
Planning for the next day's drive involved mapping out a bit of a "Roman ruins" trail. Fran felt that this would be better than "more church things" and as this was to be her last full day with us for this trip, she was choosing the destinations.