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Friday, April 29, 2016

Lourmarin, Bonnieux and Lacoste

We are continuing to have a wonderful time exploring the Luberon, travelling the narrow roads that wind past field of grapes, lavender and other wonderful crops. Several times we have passed fields filled with wild red poppies, unfortunately there has never been the opportunity to stop for a photo.  But I live in hope.


This is the view of Apt, where we are staying as the sun goes down. It's a reasonable size town with plenty of restaurants and supermarkets. Yesterday we visited Super U which was a bit like the old super Kmart, it had the variety and supermarket all in one. I scored a new silicone Madeliene tray . . . 

Lourmarin 

On Tuesday we drove over the mountain range again to the lovely little town of Lourmarin. We arrived a little early so decided we would wander a little through the narrow little streets,some of  these streets are purely pedestrian, or at most they would have a scooter or motor bike,  and on each turn are a joy, I could snap so many photos of the cute little gardens in the corner or the lovely shutters, doors or curtains in the Windows they just make such great use of the available space.  Gadget always get a little worried that we will get lost wandering the back streets but somehow we never really do.... I think I would enjoy staying in one of these villages for a week or so and just wandering with my camera in hand.


The narrow streets of Lourmarin


This is the chateau of Lourmarin, parts of it were built during the medieval period other parts during the Renaissance, it had a gorgeous staircase and several very charming rooms. It is used throughout the year as a retreat for artists.  It was open to the public and had some very lovely decorated rooms.

Bonniuex


Bonniuex is the sweetest little honey coloured village which just seems to tumble down the edge of the hill a bit like Gordes. As we were driving in I was frantically looking for a place we could pull over for a photo but there really wasn't anywhere safe.  We headed here for many reasons, but I was really hoping to go to the bakery museum, sadly it was closed.  We wandered the streets a little and ended up at a little cafe for lunch.  Unfortunately being the total ditz that I am , I left my reading glasses at the cafe, we returned for them but the owner , whom didn't understand English very well, looked and couldn't find them.  Fortunately the owner of our apartment made a phone call and Viola I have my glasses back, plus a spare pair cheap ones from a local optometrist.

I just love these streets... 

From Lourmarin, you can see the village of Lacoste perched on the side of the hill across the valley.

Lacoste



Lacoste was a quiet little town, that was not very touristy at all, which is nice. I made gadget tag along up the steep narrow streets until we reached the top where the castle stands. The castle which is owned by Pierre Cardin, sadly is in a state of semi disrepair after being almost totally destroyed during the French Revolution and wasn't open to the public, however the view was spectacular . . . And the streets on the way up were very cute.


I think this justifies the climb.  You can just make out Bonniuex on the right hand side of the image.

Pont Julien 


This gorgeous little bridge was built in the 2nd or 3rd century AD and was named after the family of Julius Cesar and was part of the Via Domitia the road used to travel from the south of Gaul ( France) to northern Italy and into Rome.  Up until about 2002 this bridge was still used for traffic, however it is quite narrow and a new bridge now stands nearby which allows traffic to flow both ways. The narrow openings you can see are to allow water to pass through in times of flood, the Romans really thought of everything.  This is the cutest little bridge and is still used for cyclists and pedestrians. We weren't even looking for this we just were driving past and there it was.

Au Revoir

Googy Girl

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fontaine de Vaucluse, Gordes and Rousillon

The plan for the south of France was to slow down and just enjoy the experience.  So despite having an extensive list of things to see, some of which involved driving one or two hours to see,  we have decided we just want to amble slowly and take it in . . . . 
this post actually covers two days.
We discovered that Monday is a quiet day in Provence with many shops not opening, well everyday shops anyway, souvenir shops always seem to be open . . . . Lol

We used Monday to explore Apt ( where we are staying) and take a drive to one of the lovely little villages. The Luberon ( an area in Provence) is known for its lovely villages. Each similar but unique in its own way. 

Fontaine de Vaucluse 




This lovely village is centred around a river.  As you walk along the banks of the river you reach a point where there are rocks but no longer any water and eventually an immense cliff face, for a very long time people were perplexed as to the source of the water.  They now know that the source off water comes from an immense underground network of waters that are the  result of rainfall and melted snow from one of the local mountains and this network network of water only reaches the surface at Fontaine de Vaucluse. The water is crystal clear, the green you can see in the image is the plant life under the water.  This looks like a quiet flow of water, but just 3 meters higher there are Rapids and a slalom kayaking course, which looked very challenging.  We had a lovely lunch here and enjoyed looking through some lovely little shops.

Today we headed to 

Gordes 


Gordes was on my bucket list, mainly because one of my favourite films was filmed here. "A good 
year " starring Russel Crowe, based on a book written by Peter Mayle. But also obviously it's pretty 
picturesque and I do like a good phot opportunity.  
We arrived at Gordes in time for their local markets, the markets were really interesting and had all sorts of homewares, clothes and food available.  


We went for a little wander around the winding steep narrow little streets, and found some lovely spots to take some gorgeous photos.  The above street was really very steep and was used by vehicles as well. I m not sure I would want to drive anything much bigger than a mini around these streets. The houses were just  charming.


I loved this window isn't she just gorgeous. 

Abbaye de Sénaque


Abbaye de Sénaque is an active Cistercian abbey with monks in residence. This beautiful abbey welcomes visitors, however guided tours are only available in French.  The rows in front of the abbey ( in the image) are lavender and in mid June are a perfusion of purple, if you google the Abbaye you are sure to see images, despite the lack of lavender flowers it was a very picturesque site and very very peaceful. We did a little shopping here and picked up a lovely lavender flavoured honey and spice cake. Oh this holiday is not good for my waist line.


Roussillon 


This stunning village perched on top of a hill is in the midst of the largest Ochre deposit in the world.
Roussillon is famous for its magnificent red cliffs and ochre quarries.

The red, yellow and brown shades of the village and the surrounding land form a striking contrast with the lush green surrounding landscape made Roussillon for me , Magical. Gadget and I had a lovely time wandering through the lovely shops and narrow streets, we had our first true Provençal inspired meal in a lovely restaurant and returned to the car we a few too many bags in our hands.




The Ochre cliffs 
that are used to derive ochre which is used to colour the mortar for local housing and as pigments for art.
Just a gorgeous village that we both really enjoyed.



This gentleman was selling typical Provençal food at the market at Gordes. Gadget always intrigued by different food purchased some ( cold) to bring back for our dinner this evening.





And Viola 
a Provençal meal is served, it was absolutely amazing and was accompanied by a bottle of Rose wine which was produced on the estate of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. 

I m liking this Provençal life

Au Revoir

Googy Girl

Monaco, Eze and Nice

On Sunday we headed off to Monarco, Eze and Nice as a tour, with a guide.
This was one of the last minute tours we organised and at 6:30 am on Sunday it was freezing as the "mistral" blew I was wondering what on earth we were thinking


Our apartment was warm and snug

Anyway we jumped in our hire car and headed over the Luberon mountains to Aix en Provence where we were meeting our tour.
We arrived with time to spare, Gadget is always early, as we waited outside the Apple shop for our bus the wind was howling and it was could enough to freeze . . . . Well it was pretty darn cold.
Anyway we found a very cute little brasserie, and after a hot chocolate and a croissant we were both feeling a lot warmer.
We got the tour bus to our selves and we headed off for the two hour drive to Monaco, with the aim to arrive in time for the changing of the guard.  Our driver / guide told us all about the area as we drove along, but we worked out pretty quickly whilst he could speak English, but he really didn't understand a lot, however we were fortunate to have a second tour guide who was learning about that tour and he had lived in Australia, so all was good.

Monaco


The changing of the guard outside Monarco's royal palace. It was pretty interesting. I just loved the bells from their bell tower that toll every 15 minutes.


Just a few toys moored in the harbour, gadget and I thought we could probably afford two or three . . . 


Monte Carlo casino, I took this photo from the wrong angle, all the other boys toys were on the other side of the road.  A few Porsches, Lamborghini s and Mercedes.
After we left Monte Carlo we visited the quant little village  of Eze, it really is just tiny little dwellings built onto the side of a rock, lots of super cute little shops and restaurants. With absolutely amazing views.

Back on the mini bus and we set off for 

Nice


Nice was huge, there was building' s as far as we could see and so many people.
The water was the most beautiful shades of blue and as it was Sunday Everyone was out strolling on the Promenade, and sunbaking on the beach.


Now call me spoilt, but I can't imagine it is really comfortable sunbaking on pebbles, but the locals here were snoozing away quite happily.  It was nice to walk along the shore without taking my shoes off though.  At one point we seen there were sun lounges for hire, just a mere 10€ ($15 au) an hour. There were a few occupied, if you snoozed there you would need to set an alarm . . . .otherwise it 
could get a little expensive.
The French Riviera was stunning, however after only just over an hour strolling along the promenade and into a few back streets to look at some shops we had to get back on the road.
We returned to Aix en Provence at about 7pm, thank goodness it doesn't get dark here until about 9pm because we had to drive back across the mountains to get home. When we returned to the car , which was parked underground our GPS decided it was time to add some excitement to our day and she wouldn't locate the satellites, so here we are in a totally strange town, no internet for google maps , no real maps . . . The stress levels were a little high. Fortunately after about 20 mins the GPS got her act together and we were right to go, but lesson learned . . . One of us needs to have access to google maps.
So as soon as we get to a bigger town again, we will get one organised for Italy.
Anyway enough for one post.

Au Revoir

Googy Girl

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Saturday markets and the Pont du Gard

On Saturday we had to travel to Apt to our apartment for the next week.  We couldn't check in unto late so decided to visit a local market before we left Carcassonne.
This one was held in the town square, in the middle of the newer section of Carcassonne.


Mainly fruit and vegetables, but also fish, bakery items and flowers.


This guy was a very happy cheese seller, he sang the whole time he was serving people.


Strawberries are definitely in season here, and they are really really good, very sweet with no bitterness.  We have shared a punnet or two. 


Lots of beautiful flowers

After the market we headed off again, with the plan of seeing 

the Pont du Gard 

This structure is really cool, it was built almost 2000 years ago. The Pont du Gard was part of a 50km long aqueduct, built to carry water from the city of Uzes to Nimes.  The majority of it stands held together by friction without any mortar to hold it together. The only section where mortar was used was the very top, where the water was carried and that was to prevent the water from leaking out. It was apparently used for almost 100 years however the water source was high in calcium and calcium deposits continuously built up along the aqueduct , which was mainly underground, also plant matter grew into the duct as well, contaminating the water.



Fortunately for the Pont du Gard , not long after it ceased being useful for water, it was altered so that it could become a bridge, a toll bridge so it payed for its own maintenance.  It is now listed as a world heritage monument by UNESCO.
More to come

Au Revoir

Googy Girl

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Carcassonne

Today started off with a very brisk walk, we decided to start the day with a cruise along the canal midi. When we left our B & B we had to go back as I had left the city map behind. So by the time we really got underway it was a bit of a power walk to get to the first boat departure of the day.  Happily we made it, with time to spare.
Canal Midi 


The cruise up the canal was very quiet and relaxing, with only the local ducks to break the peace.
The canal midi is actually a part of the Canal de Dex Mers ( the canal of two seas) commenced in 1666 the canals were created to assist with wheat trade, the canals end at the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans. There are 65 locks and the canal de midi is 241 kms long and was all dug out by hand.  Today it is used predominantly for tourism and you can hire a boat and travel along the canals for a holiday.


The beautiful plane trees were planted to help keep the walls of the canal stable, you can see in the images that there is a small flat bit along the side of the midi, this was because early boats required a horse to drag them along the canal, so this was the horse path.  Now it's used by cyclists and and joggers.


One of the two locks we passed through.

The ancient walled city of Carcassonne 


The second part of our day was spent within the ancient walled city of Carcassonne.
The walled city of Carcassonne dates back to pre Roman times. It was strategically an important place and later became an important trading place.  As it stands today it is a double walled city and it was considered impregnable. It is definetly what you would imagine a medieval fortress would look like.  Initially it only had one wall (during Roman times) in 1067 the Viscount Trencaval decided to further fortify the city and added a second wall and within the city a castle with its own wall including a moat. 

  
Inside the walls the ancient city is alive and bustling, as a huge tourist attraction the city is filled with souvenir shops, restaurants and all manner of shops.  With children running down the streets brandishing wooden and plastic swords, it was very interesting. I m glad we visited now in "off peak" season as the streets were busy enough, it would be crazy during peak periods. We did manage to pick up some lovely hand made chocolate. 


The view over Carcassonne from the battlements of the walled city.

No post yesterday as we were travelling and it rained all day , so no photos taken.

Back on the road again tomorrow, Destination the Luberon . . . . 

Au Revoir

Googy Girl

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Gavarnie, Pont D'Espagne and Cauterets

Today started off pretty spectacularly with 90 % of our breakfast being made in the kitchen right here in our B &B. Jams made from blue berries grown locally wild in the mountains. Plums from the tree in their garden and home made bread and banana cake, it was just wonderful very delicious.

When we planned this holiday, as I said yesterday neither of us thought that we would be staying at the foot of the Pyrénées, we definetly didn't think we would go hiking up to the snow line.


A gorgeous little village nestled in the foot of the Pyrénées 

At our lovely hosts suggestions we headed to the mountains for the day, to a lovely little village called Gavarnie. Gavarnie is a winter sports village and in summer and in spring is a great spot to start any number of hikes into these beautiful mountains.

Our host suggested this short hike (1 1/2 hours up and an 1 hour back) we didn't have any other plans for the day, so thought why not and off we set . . . 


As you can see some areas were pretty pleasant just a nice stroll really, then some areas were a little steep.


We made it to our destination, these mountains were amazing up close and are some 800 metres higher than Mt Kosciusko. Sadly this hotel is now closed, because we really would have enjoyed a drink when we reached this point. It was definetly worth the hike, to see something we never even dreamed of seeing.

Pont Napolean


This bridge was built from 1859 -1863. The story goes that Emperess Eugenie ( Napolean III ' s wife) liked to visit the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, to visits it's spa. She noticed that many of the locals would need to trek the 63metres down to cross the water then trek 63 metres back up. Since this was one of her favourite spots to visit , she decided as a gift to the town she would get Napolean to construct a bridge across the ravine. Sadly none of the photos I took show the sheer drop, but it's very impressive. I look at thinks like this and wonder how they built a bridge across.  

Pont D'Espagnol


I am unsure when this bridge was built, but it used to be the road across the Pyrénées to Spain.  About 2-3 metres before this point 2 major streams converge to create this great gushing waterfall, and just think at the moment there is still a lot of snow on the mountains, imagine how full it will be when they melt. Stunning place, we didn't realise but a 1 1/2 hike would have taken us up to a lake above this point, and past a few other waterfalls, but at this point it was getting late and we were ready to head home.

Cauterets



This was an interesting town that has this river flowing straight through it.  Many decades ago this little villages was famous for its hot spring spa and as such all the nobles in France, Germany and England flocked here, this has resulted in a very eclectic looking village with buildings, showing influences by all these countries, in some street I could have swarn I was in Paris.  Caterers continues to be an important spa town , but is also an important winter sports resort town as well.

Well another super busy day

Au Revoir

Googy Girl

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lourdes and Eth Beyre Petit

Today we headed further south, I don't think either of us even remotely considered how close to the French Pyrénées we would be so when we rounded a bend in the road, and we seen what's in the image below, we both were like "wow" look at that. Snow is not something new to us, we lived in Cooma for a few years so were used to seeing snowcapped mountains, but these were as far as we could see on both sides.

As the kilometres clicked over we got closer and closer. 




Lourdes


We arrived at Lourdes around 1pm, Lourdes is so different than I expected, I think we both expected it to be out in the countryside and isolated, but in fact we walked down a very busy Main Street with catholic souvenirs shops everywhere on both sides.  Outside of Paris, Lourdes has the largest amount of accomodation per square metre. The actual Lourdes site houses about 5 churches in the image you can see two, one on top of the other, with a crypt in the middle, under the grass, there is another huge, underground church.


This is the older church, on the top in the previous image, there were thousands of people at the site, of all ages. There were volunteers attending to all the pilgrims needs. There are even specially designed wheelchairs that the volunteers use to transport the ill, aged and incapacitated around the site.  It was a very peaceful yet emotional place to be , just seeing the hope and belief in people eyes was just heart warming.


 Eth Beyre Petit


This is home for the next two nights, a gorgeous little B &  B in The Huate Pyrénées. The owners were so welcoming. Our room is delightful and the view from our balcony is spectacular. gadget found this gorgeous little place during his hours of Internet surfing and I am so glad he did.


Gadget rarely sits still for any length of time,  but we both sat and gazed at this view for well over an hour, listening to the bells attached to the goats. I will post better photo's tomorrow. To say I m enchanted is an understatement.


Dinner tonight was literally just across the road where we had our first taste of Frogs legs. To be honest they really didn't have a strong taste, probably most like whiting fish.  They had to be eaten with your fingers I think the chief found it pretty funny when initially I picked up my knife and fork.  We've had some lovely meals in France and have both really tried to sample different foods. We both had snails in Paris. 

Anyway I am all snuggled up in my bed for the night so I will say 

Au Revoir

Until tomorrow

Googy Girl 



Royal Chateau Amboise, Clos Luce, Abbeye Fontravaud and St Emillion

This is a bit of a long post as I need to do a bit of a catch up so you might want to grab a cuppa.

We've Been a bit busy out dining and trying the local produce ( in a bottle) ..... Lol


Royal chateau Amboise



So this is the royal castle in Amboise, as it stands today, it's only 1/8th it's original size. This is where the Kings and queens of France actually lived , long before the lived in the louvre and Versailles. Those of you that know me well, know that I really like a bit of history, particularly Royal history. So Mary queen of Scots was sent to France as a young child, for her "education" and her safety.  Mary 
lived in this castle, she married a prince of France and lived here with him, until he died.



The other significant thing about this chateau is that Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the chapel here.  Leonardo in his late sixties became a friend of the King of France, and was invited to move to the south of France. 

This chateau was really quiet lovely, the rooms well decorated and cared for. The top two photos are from the main reception room, can't you just see ladies and gents in medieval dress milling around in this room, warming themselves near the fire.

Clos Luce


This very small Chateau was the home of Leonardo for the last 6 or so years of his life. It was gifted to him by the King of France, along with a pension. 


The bed, is apparently the bed Leonardo died in, when we arrived a cat was enjoying a good snooze curled up on its velvet bedspread. This Chateau was very quant and had some very interesting models, in the grounds and inside of Leonardo s inventions.  It was really interesting, he was an extremely clever man.  Whilst this was interesting to visit, it was a bit overpriced,  entry was more expensive than to any of the other chateau's. There were so many to see, hopefully one day I will return and see the others.


This is a typical house in Amboise, they were just everywhere, I love how the houses are built right onto the street. No room for parking your car though, most of these streets are very narrow, and it was a little nerve wracking driving down the street, definetly wouldn't want our big 4WD here.  Amboise looks like something out of a fairytale.


On Monday we packed up our things, and hit the road. On the way was a brief visit to the

Abbaye Fontevraud 
  

This is the last resting place of a couple of characters I have been interested in recent times

Eleanor of Aquitane, Henri II of England and their soon Richard the lion heart. This is the family that begun the Plantagenets, the English royal family before the Tudors.


These are the sarcophagus 's of Eleanor of Aquitane and Henri II, sadly their remains are no longer here, they were removed and destroyed during the French Revolution.


I just like love the cloisters, in the Abbayes.  It was really cold the day we were here, and reading the information they were saying that the nuns / sisters had certain activities they had to attend each day. If you were allocated to do sewing, you were very lucky, as the sewing room was the only room in the abbaye that was heated. So I d be keeping warm then. . . . . 

Sadly Fontevraud also had a not so peaceful history and from 1804 - 1963 it served as a prison.  It is undergoing a lot of work and has a motel, bar and restaurant on site.

After Fontevraud we headed on to St Emillion.

So the funny thing about this was, gadget decided to pick a small little quiet village halfway between  Amboise and Lourdes.  He picked St Emillion.

As we were driving in I was thinking, wow look at all the vineyards , I think I made a comment along the lines of, this makes pokolbin look small. Well St Emillion we discovered is like Mecca for wine connoisseurs, it is a tiny little village, with steep narrow streets and every second shop was a wine shop. So we decided when in Rome do what the Romans do, we found ourselves a lovely little bar and  had a very rustic meal. 



I would have loved to have stayed longer, to wander the winding narrow streets. But we are back on the road, heading for Lourdes.

Ciao

Googy Girl