Day 18 Manarola

After a long day yesterday, this was deemed a restful day looking around Manarola. It started with a welcome sleep in, followed by coffee on our private balcony- luxury. We then strolled down the hill and steps to a resteraunt overlooking the small harbour for a bacon and eggs breakfast, and another coffee. Yup- this is turning out pretty well.

Our Apartment View

Uptown Manarola -

Down town Manarola-Happily - Quiet Streets with few Tourists

After that is was a brief respite back to the apartment ( a Carol break) before a walk around tour of Manarola.

Looking Down onto the Train Station

The walking trail to Corniglia- still closed

Manarola is living up to all expectations, high cliffs rising out of the water, villages built procariously into the hillsides surrounded by terraced vegetable gardens and vineyards. The fishing boats at Manarola are “launched” by being winched vertically 15m down to the sea.

View from the walking trail back to Manarola

Now showing off my spy camera zoom, shot above is from the walkway, shot below is a zoom into our apartment (showing Carol looking for me).

Lots of tiny winding (seldom flat) village paths

Carol's immediately into Seafood dish No 1, Cinque Terra Style,

Cinque Terre Sunset

Yup, all in all a pretty good day..

 

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Day 17 Puyvert to Cinque Terre

This was never going to be an easy day. I certainly wasn't looking forward to the drive to Marseille, finding out where the Avis depot was, and then relying on 3 trains to be on time to get us to Manarola.

After an early breakfast, we headed off a 8am for Marseille. In a journey that involved getting lost on numerous occasions, seeking instructions from some locals having a coffee in a village and resulting in them escorting us in their car probably 5km to the turn off we needed, abandoning the Avis car (OK it was at least in their car park) and running to the train, having French trains run 30 minutes late and missing connections, having Italian trains wait for oncoming trains to pass as only one line was in operation…. we finally arrived in Manarola at 11pm…. enough said.

Our bed and apartment in Manarola even if we missed having tea, was a welcome sight.

Day 16 Saignon

Our last day in the Luberon (and France) deserved something special, so we gamefully took to the car and headed back through the narrow mountain pass to the hill top village of Saignon. It's a small village that overlooks the principal town of Apt in the region. Again it didn't dissappoint.

Learning from earlier experiences, we started at the top for the mountain and worked our way down through the village (oldest to youngest).

The hilltop was dominated by the ruins of an old church which gave rise to incredible views across the valley and some nervous moments getting up the old steps adjacent to the cliff face (which wasn't made any better by knowing that most of the steps and castle watch tower- had already fallen down the cliff).

The village again showed all of the regional characteristics, narrow cobbled streets, tightly woven with dry stone dwellings, partly held together with vines.It was a quiet day so we were able to spend a lot of tiime going over the history of the village with a young couple who had just re-established the local resteraunt. He was a trained chef, so did the cooking, she did the waitressing, while they both worked the vegetable garden which provided much of the fresh produce for the menu (even to the point where he went to the garden for some fresh leaves for Carol's herbal tea).

Le Village- Just in case you got lost

It Must Be France

….and so ended our days in the Luberon.

Day 15 The Walking Tour – Puyvert to Loumarin

With weather too good to miss, today we followed the recommended walking train through the back roads of Puyvert to Loumarin (noticing that all of the roads in Puyvert are back roads). The trail took us through vinyards where grapes we being harvested, over old bridges and hidden Chateaus.

Just to Prove a town called Puyvert does exist

Grape Harvesting, no longer done by Families -baskets and clippers

One of the Three Vehicles we encountered

Loumarin

Loumarin Village Center

Loumarin is a really pretty village, off the main track, but still full of interest. While some gardens were well manicured the majority of houses are almost camoflaged entirely by vines.

Loumarin itself was founded by the Benedictines in the 12th century, however proof exists the it was inhabited during the Gallo-Roman period and as far back as the Neolithic age (probably due to its location at the mountain pass).

One of the main points of interest is the 15th century Medieval castle, which we were able to see before lunch. The castle was the main defense for the town during the wars of religion where many villages were burned to the ground. The semi authentic furnishings throughout the castle gave the appearance that the castle had been deserted and left in a time capsule.

Loumarin Castle

Inside the Castle Walls

This of course lead to Lunch in the Village square.

After lunch we trecked off to the local cemetry to see the resting places of two famous writers Henri Bossco and Albert Camus, neither of whom I'd heard of (should have paid more atention in English), but they were well known to Carol.

It was only on the way home that we realised that Loumarin is down hill from Puyvert.

Day 14 Bonnieux

The view of Bonnieux we saw from Lacoste prompted a further visit. The town is similar in many respects to Gordes. The village started to grow by the church at the top of the mountain, gradually following the slopes winding its way down the promontory. The majority of the buildings stil had the original dry stone construction, remarkably intact.

Similar to Gordes the views to the surrounding valleys was breathtaking.

Bonnieux

The New (16th Century) Church

From there, we headed off to the Julien Bridge, a Gallo-Roman bridge, which is said to be one of the best preserved. Unfortunately when we were there a local gardening crew had decided to park their car directly on the bridge removing some of the ambience of the ancient structure, but showing they were still confident in its construction. Today the bridge is used as a pedestrian access and bike path, not bad after over 2000 years.

Pont Julien - Built Around 27 BC - and still in use. (Mainly Pedestrians and Bikes)

Pont Julian (without the car)

Next on the agenda was the Cedar Forest, mainly as an attempt to walk off the huge Bonnieux lunch. Carol was keen for the walk, I was keen to see the timber that went into my guitars. We followed a well marked path to a scenic look out, from which on a clear day you could see all the way to the Mediterranean.

From there it was a straight forward trip back to Loumarin for tea and then a welcoming B&B. The only downside being that we drove past (unknowingly) the Chateau used in A Good Year. The guide book said it was closed to visitors, whereas it has since been opened.

 

Day 13 Gordes -Lacoste

Gordes is probably the most famous of the Luberon villages, with its mountain top medieval castle overlooking a vast valley with panoramic views in all directions. It was also the main town the movie was set in. The weather was looking overcast, but it was market day…so off we went.

Carol in search of another scarf and me looking for the restaurant and roundabout which featured in the movie. Max in the movie circled the roundabout three times in his smart car looking for the right road, something that also worked for us. As it turned out – all of there were co-located in the center of the village.

The drive there was an easy one, and despite the weather, the village didn't disappoint.

The Classic Gordes Postcard Picture

A Very Touristy Market with a Medieval Castle Backdrop

For those who thought I was kidding re the Scarf

The market also provided lunch, it smelt so good we couldn't resist- Rissoto and roast potatoes.

Every street was a picture with cobbles and dry stone walls

Gordes Cathedral -spectacular

From Gordes it was a short trip to one of the most photographed abbeys in France, the Romanesque Senanque Abbey. The postcard pictures are full of rows of lavender in full bloom (June to end August), unfortunately when we were there they were looking a little sad.

Senanque Abbey

Not staying long at the Abbey we made our way back to Purvet stopping on the way at Lacoste, which was also famous for its narrow streets lines with stone houses. It also provided a stunning view across the valley to Bonnieux. The town is also known for the chateau du Marquis de Sade (now owned by Pier Cardan).

View across the valley to Bonnieux

The Chateau du Marquis de Sade

The chateau was more impressive the closer you got, it looked as though the interior had all been modernised.

 

Day 12 Avignon to L’Isle- Sur-La-Sorgue to Puyvert

After an early breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed off to the train station to pick up the car. Avis had interpreted that when we said train station, we actually meant their depot on the eastern side of town – somewhat near the train station. Having established that, we were of again via taxi to pick up the car.

I'm still not sure what kind of car it was, suffice to say- I never want to drive one like that again – far too many non-intuitive quirks in finding the hand break, reverse gear and petrol cap lock. Anyway we were off to stop number one L'Isle- Sur-La-Sorgue.

This is where I'll probably have to confess to being a Russell Crowe fan. This whole leg of the trek coming from my many viewings of his character in “A Good Year” where he escapes the corporate life in London to sit back and watch grapes grow in the Luberon.

Anyway, we escaped the traffic of Avignon and before long were wandering the streets of L'Isle- Sur-La-Sorgue using the waterwheel map as a guide to take us through the city. Because of its waterways, L'Isle- Sur-La-Sorgue has been described as the Venice of France. It lies on the Sorgue river at the point where the river parts into two. Mainly in the early 1800's, but going back to the 1500's, wheels driven by the water were used as the main energy source for the wool and silk industry with the town becoming a major supplier of carpets and blankets.

It was't long before we found a great spot for lunch- none other than the 'Grand Cafe de la Sorgue”, where we sat by the river, enjoying both the food and the view.

Town Center

Built in 1530, this was initially used to support tool grinding, then wool and silk spinning and finally as a plaster mill.

After finding all of the main 14 water wheels we were off again to Puyvert, not realizing it was on the southern side of the Luberon Mountains (Montage du Luberon), so we had some narrow roads and mountain passes to navigate before arriving at Puyvert- which was a welcome sight.

Puyvert B&B - where we had the entire top floor.

Puyvert - View From Our Window

While it didn't have the history of Loches, it certainly had the outlook and creature comforts.

Carol was pretty happy with the size of the room, the bed and the bath.

 

 

 

Day 11 Avignon

Seeing Avignon in one day was never going to do the city justice, but it was really just a stopover on the was to Provence. Not really fitting for a city with over 5000 years of history going from the ancient Cavere tribe, the Phoenicians, the Romans, and then of course being at one point the centre of the Cristian world.

As it turned out we were fortunate to see Avignon on a Sunday as the city came to life with activities on the river. First stop was of course breakfast….

This was followed by a stroll through the town center to the Palace of the Popes, whom I'd never thought left Rome- but history has it that they did and set up shop there in the 14th century, in the process putting their stamp on the city for centuries to come.

Walled City Gates

Rue De La Republic

Near the Entrance to our Hotel

Palace of the Popes

Walls inside the Palace of the Popes

Just One of the Many Huge Rooms in the Palace

?14th Century Pizza Oven

We then went on to see the Doms gardens and the Saint-Benezet bridge, known all over the world thanks to its famous song, which I would have known if I'd learnt French. In its hayday though it joined two very distinct groups across the Rhone river, who from what I gather, didn't really want to be joined but it was a huge factor in creating a trade route which made Avignon very important in the 12th century (I still can't believe the age of the bridge).

Doms Gardens

…and finally to the bridge.

All in One Shot Before Lunch

And then back to the Palace for tea under lights, where Carol again got the best of the meals after my poor two local choices.

 

Day 10 Loches to Avignon

This was always going to be a big traveling day to get from the relatively quiet Loches back through Paris and then south to the city of Avignon. It was made worse by having to say goodbye to John, Donna and our hosts at Loches which had been so special. The thoughts of reliving the car trip from Tours to Loches also didn't help.

Carol's Last Chance to Appreciate Balzac's Library

Anyway after fond farewells we were off to Tours, the drive was uneventful apart from the final stages into Tours. Carol, despite my concerns at getting us onto the freeway at the last minute, nailed it and we returned the car with time to spare. At that point I thought the hardest part was over.

The train trip back to Paris went fine. We took the easy way out in Paris by getting a taxi from one train station to another. This would have involved 2 subway changes, not easy with luggage, on a relatively tight schedule to the next train to Avignon. As it turned out the taxi fare wasn't that much more expensive.

The real trouble started in Paris, where, after waiting nearly an hour on the train, we were told the train we were on had been canceled due to an accident on the tracks. We got onto the next train and finally left after a 2 hour delay. Unfortunately this meant we'd lost our prime seats and much of the daylight I was hoping to see central France with. The TVG was still pretty impressive when it did finally leave traveling at speeds up to 300km/ h.

Central Hotel Avignon

Our Room in Avignon

 

Day 9 Château de Montpoupon and Montessor

The Château de Montpoupon was a chance to see a working estate lived in by the Comte Amaury de Louvencourt. The lifestyle there was dominated by an appreciation of the animals of the estate through their study, drawing and hunting. Hunting season was in full swing during our visit and we were fortunate to see the current owner return from the hunt with the not so fortunate pheasants.

We were able to see not only the chateau, but also the servants quarters, the saddlery, stables and main gate. The other half of the chateau was in use.

Château de Montpoupon

Study

Sitting Room with Current Family Photos

 

Saddlery


After that we headed off to a small village, Montesor, where we caught up with John and Donna for lunch, followed by a walk around the village.

Couldn't Help taking the Photo, John looked the part

 

Montessor

 

 

Carol, John & Donna

Driving back had its moments, we turned off at a sign called Loches, only to find it was “another Loches”, taking us on a small but scenic detour. This made me all the more determined to nail the entry to the right Loches and get to the B&B (which would have been a first). After thinking I'd nailed the turn at the railway line, and the one after that – the town went missing???

Moving on- I finally got it right when we actually got to Loches (reminding me again that a few French lessons wouldn't go astray).

After that it was back to the favourite restaurant and safe ground. The favourite restaurant was a one man band who cooked different a 3-course meal every night. The first one was so good we kept going back, not knowing what would be on the menu.