Monday 25 June 2017
Last night we received an email from our friend, Karen, suggesting a couple more places to visit in the area. Karen, her husband Steve and their three kids had spent eighteen months living in Aix en Provence. After dropping Sylvia off I took a bit of morning exercise, up to the top of Pic Saint-loup and back, avoiding the chateau after a thoughtful Stuart translated the sign I put in last week’s blog -basically it said “keep out!”
I headed out to the west of the Pic into some very arid and scrubby land, spotted with vineyards. This area is renown for having some of the best wine in the area. Passing through many small and old villages I eventually arrived at St-Jean-de Fos.On a hill above the end of a steep rocky gorge with a large swimming lake, it is another really old town. Being a Monday, apart from a bar that didn’t seem to sell wine, everything was closed.
From there I headed down the valley to Aniane another old town. In both these towns the streets were being re sealed making the narrow streets even harder to negotiate than usual. These are very much lived in towns. As one walks the narrow streets many voices can be heard coming from the shuttered windows of these very old buildings. I have the urge to knock on a door and ask to look around but refrain as my one French word is probably not going to help negotiate the way in.
I made my way back, via lots of back roads, wondering how people sustain a living around here.
Tuesday 21 June 2017
I headed north up the 300 odd kms to Lyon. It’s an easy drive, most of it at 130kph – or a bit faster as they don’t seem to police the speed on these fantastic roads. If you are in the fast lane people generally pull over and let you through. Arriving around noon my primary reason for being here is to meet with Qedric, the second son of my late brother Gareth. Qedric met Lison, a girl from Lyon, fell madly in love and followed her home.
Qedric and I met outside the opera theatre opposite the Hotel de Ville, which around here is what they call the town hall.
We strolled down the road to cafe 203 where we enjoyed a great lunch and a good catch up. Qedric also gave me a bit of a rundown on the town and the places to see. After lunch he headed back to work and I took a stroll up some steps then dropped down past a park to the river which almost encircles this part of town.
Across the river I found some steps leading up a hill with both a castle and a miniature Eiffel Tower on it. Eventually I found my way around to an old Roman ampitheater which is still in use – not bad for a few rock seats over 2000 years old.
A bit further around was the castle, which turned out to be Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere. Yes it turned out to be a church and a bloody big one at that.
The views across the city from the hilltop were fantastic.
An easy winding track and some steps lead back down to the river. Close to the river was another huge church. Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon was completed in the 1400’s.
Back across the river I headed up a wide pedestrian boulevard. The people here are generally slim and dressed with style. The city has an elegance about it with many old buildings, with the new ones blending in.
Wednesday 22 June 2017
At the top of Pic Saint-loup I was surprised to see a group of thirty plus arrive shortly after me at the top. Back at the car I headed southeast to explore a town I had spotted a few days ago.
Castries, with its large castle on the top of the hill in the middle of the town, dates back to the 11th century. There is an old aqueduct 1.8 km long that was built in the sixteen hundreds to bring water a total of 7kms to the castle’s gardens. I parked the car and took a stroll around.
In places people had built their houses into the arches of the aqueduct, the new stone standing out from the old.
As I walked past the castle gate it opened. A nice lady with good English explained that I could not go in as they were just there preparing for a fair being held in the weekend. It doesn’t appear to be open to the public very often and we are off to Rome for the weekend. Shame as I would love to take a look around the inside.
After picking Sylvia up from work we headed to Saint-Guilhem-Le-Desert, another place young Karen had recommended we visit. On the way a stack of angry looking clouds formed in front of us. Soon we were being pelted by rain and hail with strong winds buffeting the car around. Lots of cars pulled off the road as visibility dropped to almost zero. The weather eased and we made it up the valley to the village. Established originally as a monastery in 806, this town of around 300 people, a hotel and a couple of restaurants is well worth a visit.
Thursday 29 June 2017
Qedric had told me the Resistance Museum near Grenoble was well worth a visit. About 280kms to the northeast it was an easy drive, mainly on the A7 motorway. From Grenoble I headed into the foothills in the Royans area discovering a couple of outstanding towns along the way. Saint-Nazareth-en-Royans is stunning, with its ancient aqueduct straddling the ravine as though hiding the town.
A little further up the valley I found Pont-en-Royans tucked under the towering cliffs that surrounded green and tranquil river valley.
After a very quiet chat with a lady at the information office here, “shsh – they are having a meeting in the back”, she tossed me some brochures in French and ushered me out the door. With my best “bonjour” and some sign language I managed to get a good coffee at the cafe across the road and study the map.
Heading back down the valley, then south on route D76, aI passed through a few more villages then the road began to climb up through forest country. Then quite by surprise, I was suddenly on a spectacular road which had been chiseled into the cliffs between 1861 and 1898 in order to get timber from the forests on plateau.
I found a little siding, stopped and walked back along the road. In places the little stone wall was the only protection from a vertical drop of several hundred meters. With no diggers or rock breakers back in those days this is certainly an amazing feat of both engineering and determination.
A short tunnel took me from the cliffs to the plateau with its huge forests on its rolling land. Eventually I arrived at the Resistance Museum, which is dug into the side of a hill above the plains of Vercors.
The museum is a memorial to those of the resistance who fought hard to disrupt the German forces throughout WW2. There are few exhibits but some excellent movie footage in two theatre spaces in the complex. The English audio cue is synchronised with the movies. It showed footage of the Resistance blowing up parts of the cliff road I had just driven.
I headed down onto the plains then back through a tunnel under the mountains and linked eventually with the A9 for the journey home.