Our last day in Provence, then homeward bound

Our time in France was quickly coming to a close, only another day before we took the train back to Paris. So far, we had been blessed with beautiful weather and no sign of the dreaded Mistral which could arrive without warning. Today’s tour had been as much about the country and culture of Provence as tasting wines as you can’t have one without the other.

Amazing tree in the restaurant garden

After a leisurely lunch in the garden of  the chateau restaurant, and a brief stop at the small farm winery, we were headed to the vineyards of a most famous marque.

Our final winery stop  In Provence would be the world renowned Chateau Neuf de Pape, perhaps the best known appellation in France, as so many wines are made in its image. As we drew close to the village, the road wound through acres of

According to Gilles these limestone pebbles contribute to the excellent flavor of the Chateauneuf de Pape wines.

grapevines growing out of pebbly soil. To our eyes, it was amazingly pebbly and unlike any vineyard the Ramblers had ever seen. Gilles assured us the limestone pebbles were prized and an important factor in producing the distinctive taste of the wines of the area. He stopped so I could look at the vines close-up. Was tempted to taste a grape but didn’t.

Chateauneuf de Pape is both an historic site and a winery. The castle which overlooks the village, now an imposing ruin was declared a French Historical Monument in 1892.  The original structure was ordered built by the second Avignon Pope, John XXII in 1317.

A sketch showing the castle and village around 1650. No plans of the building remain.

Unfortunately Pope John did not get much benefit from his new castle because he died only a year after it was completed. None of the 5 following French popes was ever known to have stayed at the castle although the Avignon Anti pope Clement VII, frequently sought refuge there.  After the schism of the Catholic Church was settled, Rome again became the center of Catholicism and the castle of Chateauneuf de Pape gradually fell into decay. It was just too big and expensive for the archbishop of Avignon to maintain.

The donjon from the parking lot at the top of the hill.


Through the centuries it lost some of its stones to villagers for their own building projects, was pillaged during the Wars of Religion in 1563,  and suffered again during the French Revolution. As it had not been inhabited for some time, in 1797  it was bought by a local farmer who divided it into 33 equal parts. By 1848 much of the castle had been destroyed by its purchasers but the mayor of Chateauneuf finally forbade further destruction and the castle finally got some respect. Unfortunately then the Germans used the donjon as an observation post and tried unsuccessfully to destroy it before they left in 1944.

A closer look at the massive construction ot the castle walls

Luckily the castle’s fortunes have taken an upturn in recent years as the ruin has been stabilized  and draws a number of visitors every year. In the sixties, the municipality developed the the ancient cellar into a meeting hall. I believe it is beneath the concrete in the above photo.

After admiring the still impressive ruin, the Ramblers carefully walked down the steep hill to the winery at the edge of the village at the bottom. Gilles told us he would move the car after the tasting  to the edge of the village at the bottom of the hill.

We had to walk down from the castle to the edge of the village after our wine tasting. The village is pedestrians only.

That way  the Ramblers would have a downhill walk instead of a steep climb back to the top from the winery.  Although I had been looking forward to  tasting the wine at Chateauneuf de Pape, I was somewhat disappointed by the experience. Of course, if I had thought about it, I would have realized it would be crowded and it was. The location in a cellar hewn from local limestone was somewhat oppressive because of its low ceiling and dim lighting. The tastes were tiny,  and we had little time in between the different varieties to discuss them and  I actually was  glad when the tasting ended. It is definitely not for the claustrophobic.

After I met the Senior Rambler outside the winery, Gilles  hurried to get the car and promised to meet us at a brasserie in the village.

The brasserie at the edge of the pedestrian friendly area.

He felt we would be able to find our meeting place easily.  As it turned out, there was just one problem. The narrow, sloping medieval streets twisted and turned  like a maze. Without a map it was difficult to determine which way we needed to go. The Ramblers were beginning to wonder if we would ever find Gilles when our view opened up and we spotted him patiently waiting at a table in the shade.

We made one more stop on our way back to Le Limas, which I enjoyed.  I had asked Gilles if he would stop at a store  on the way back to Le Limas. I wanted to pick up a few munchies and some bottled water as we weren’t planning on going out later on. He chose a small LIDL market and I got a chance to check out an  Avignon quick mart. Call me weird but grocery shopping in a strange place is something I enjoy. I was amazed by the prices at the LIDL, much cheaper than they would be at a similar store in Georgia. I understand LIDL( a German chain) is now building stores in the US and I am looking forward to shopping at one someday. Snacks in hand, we headed for our room to relax and enjoy a lazy evening

The famous Avignon Bridge or the St. Benezet bridge. Tho it is hard to tell in my photo, the bridge only spans half the river.

Our  last day at Le Limas was again bright and sunny. I had penciled in a day to relax after two 8 hour plus days days of touring. This gave us time to gear up for our trip home. After breakfast, we headed towards the Rhone River just a few blocks away. There we strolled towards the St. Benezet Bridge, made famous by the song Sur le pont de Avignon which has been around for centuries.

Unfortunately, you can not just walk up onto the bridge. You enter through the gatehouse which has a video and other information about the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entrance fee is 5 EU or 4 for seniors. We thought about going up but although we found out later that it was handicap accessible, at this stage of our trip we were toured out! The bridge does have an interesting history. Archaeologists believe that there has been a bridge over the Rhone in this spot since Roman times. If you recall, in the previous post, the photo of Pont Julien, this bridge was built in the Roman style only much larger. The bridge you see today was probably built in 1345, after an earlier 12th century bridge was destroyed. Unfortunately, the Rhone is prone to flooding which weakened the arches so much that the citizens gave up on the bridge  in the 17th century.

An excellent photo of the chapel from e European travel magazine. It clearly shows how the chapel’s two levels extend above and below and even into the bridge deck.

The chapel of St Nicholas, constructed in the 12th century but much restored over time, still stands on the second pier of the bridge.  For several centuries,  Rhone boatmen attended devotions in the chapel as St. Nicholas is their patron. The body of St. Benezet was also interred inside, however as the bridge became more dilapidated, the boatmen’s confraternity build a chapel on dry land, and St. Benezet’s remains also were moved to a place inside the walls. Ironically, the new chapel was destroyed by a major flood in 1856! Although the interior has been stripped to the stone walls, its construction is worth seeing as it is has two floors, each with a nave and and apse. The upper floor is level with the bridge deck and narrows the walkway to less than 6 ft., while it is necessary to descend a set of stone steps to enter the lower floor.

The 14th century Gatehouse next to the walls of Avignon also remains as a reminder of medieval times when the bridge and gatehouse had great strategic importance as the only bridge crossing the Rhone between Lyon and the Mediterranean sea. The Gatehouse restricted entrance and exit from the city.

The Gatehouse, connected to the Avignon walls, with drawbridge visible. It isn’t used today.

One of the things we did during a lazy afternoon  was watch a man practice his petanque skills in a courtyard across the street from le Limas. Having tried it, I could appreciate his skill and determination. Two weeks ago, on the reality show, Amazing Race, teams had to compete against each other at petanque and found it wasn’t as easy as it looked.

Marion Wagner, our hostess, took care of calling a taxi for our trip to the train station. We were going to attempt the TGV back to Paris on our own. We had come to Lyon to board our cruise on the TGV as part of an escorted group from Paris. This time we would be on our own.  When our taxi arrived, we were surprised to find that the driver was a woman, and was she good at her job. Not only did she move our luggage very quickly into the taxi, but when we got to the train station, she carried it inside and showed us where to go to wait for the train. Needless to say, we really appreciated her help and cheerful attitude. Wish I had taken her photo as the people you meet on these trips are among the most interesting. We found all the French natives we met on this trip to be very friendly and helpful except for the mystery woman on the first tour.

Boarding the TGV in Avignon. You wait for the train on the second level, benches are behind the glass.

Boarding the TGV was a little more difficult than we expected as we now had all our luggage with us. On our trip to Lyon, our larger cases had traveled by bus and we only had our carry-on’s to worry about. This time, we had both and modern trains, except maybe for the posh Orient Express, don’t have porters ready to help you and your luggage aboard. Plus, there isn’t alot of time to get on board and usually you are with a crowd of people. We did manage to get everything on board and a pleasant young man traveling with his young son helped us stow them. He also alerted us when it was time to get off, as there are several stops in Paris.

The TGV at CDG is crowded and busy and reading signs is important though sometimes confusing.

Luckily we got off at the right stop for CDG as Paris has 3 large train stations, (the TGV runs right through the airport). We had to scout around for our shuttle to the hotel where we would spend the night. Our luck was in as the Marriott shuttle was the first to arrive. There are at least four hotel shuttle busses that run from  Charles de Gaulle  to the hotels near the airport, and we surely didn’t want to get on the wrong one. Soon our bus dropped us at the entrance to the Marriott in the small village of Roissypol which over time had almost been encircled by the encroaching airport. Today there are six or seven hotels built along the road that runs past Roissypol which suit a variety of budgets, I chose the Marriott because of its 24 hour shuttle.

The atmosphere is more like a village in the country than one right next to a huge airport. Highly recommended.

The Marriott turned out to be an excellent choice as it was the closest to the village and we later walked there to get a light meal for dinner. We ate outside at a little cafe enjoying our last meal in France even though it was pretty basic. The next morning we headed back to the village as we had spotted the village patisserie the night before.

Friendly service and tasty pastries, who could ask for more?

We had excellent fresh pastries for breakfast with coffee to go which we ate in a bench on the square and then headed back to our room for our luggage.  The Ramblers heartily recommend staying in one of the Roissypol hotels before or after a flight that ends at Charles de Gaulle.

Another Marriott  shuttle ride brought us back to CDG where we had a relatively short walk to Departures and went through security. Unfortunately security took my wonderful Avignon lavender honey which I had packed in my carry on. Didn’t realize that honey was considered a liquid…sigh. An uneventful flight brought us home to Hartsfield and as always, “good to go and good to get back!”


More amazing history and then tantalizing samples of Provencal wines

We were by no means done learning about Provencal history after our stop for lunch, there was quite a bit more to the day’s tour.  We had become accustomed to the silent Frenchwoman in the front seat who only spoke to JB in French. Unfortunately, as the day went on, we heard more in French and less in English. However, this did not prevent us from enjoying our afternoon.

The alpillies are a region of rugged beauty,

Not only did we visit The Maison de St. Paul de Mausole,the hospital where Van Gogh had himself committed but we stopped at the site of the Roman village of Glanum a short distance away. Both are close to the village of St. Remy de Provence, set in the Alpilles, a series of small limestone hills and mountains, none more than 1,500 ft high. The Alpilles have a rugged beauty that makes them a destination on their own.

The entrance to the grounds of the monastery/hospital.

Our next stop was the site of the Monastery of St. Paul de Mausole. Although it is no longer a monastery, since 1000 AD, various Catholic congregations treated the sick on this spot, particularly those who suffered from madness. although the convent at St Paul in 1789 was nationalized during the French Revolution, the building is still used to heal the victims of mental illness. It was here that Vincent Van Gogh committed himself for treatment from May 8, 1889 to May 16,1890. He was not confined to his room but was allowed to stroll around the extensive grounds and paint. In fact, he produced 142 paintings during his stay including the Cypresses and Starry Night.  Mausole has a museum with information about Van Gogh’s stay but we did not go inside but instead wandered the paths where he might have set up his easel.

One of Van Gogh’s painting spots

Only a short distance away were the ruins of the Roman village of Glanum. Archaeologists have found evidence that people have lived in this area since 2500 BC, but it wasn’t until ca. 600 BC that a wandering tribe settled in the area because of its spring, soon considered sacred and healing. First the Phoenicians and then the Romans were attracted to the area and it was they who named the town Glanum, after an ancient god. It was the Romans who built a variety of structures there, including a forum, temples, baths, and theaters. The town prospered until a series of barbarian invasions resulted in its destruction ca. 260 AD.

Still an amazing structure, over 2,000 years later.

Excavation of Glanum started in 1921 and today much of the city has been uncovered. Because it was nearing the end of our day, we didn’t enter the city itself but did admire its two outstanding structures just outside the gates. The most eye-catching is the Triumphal Arch built ca. 20 AD. Although its roof was rebuilt in the 18th century, the exterior still has many beautiful bas-reliefs which illustrated the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar.  The other structure which stood outside the entrance was the Jules

The two structures that remained from the town of Glanum before excavation. the local residents called them the antiques!

Mausoleum which dates from perhaps 30 BC. It and the arch were the only evidence of Roman occupation visible until excavation started in 1921. It looks like a small round temple but is actually a mausoleum dedicated to a prominent local family who were given the Roman name Julius, a mark of honor at the time, and if you know Roman history, accomplished quite a lot during several centuries.

Our day would end with a stop at the Pont De Gard, a huge aqueduct, and yet another amazing reminder of Roman times turned into a popular  recreational spot.

The amazing Pont du Gard is the highest of all the elevated aqueducts constructed by the Romans in Europe at 160 ft. high. It is also one of the best preserved as 35 of its original 47 spans still survive.

Strolling along the banks of the Gardon River towards the Pont du Gard in late afternoon.

It was constructed ca. 40 – 60 AD and carried an amazing 8,800,000 imperial gallons of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the residents of Nimes. The Romans loved using water and bathing. Historians speculate that it might have been operational as long as the 6th century AD, but after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was no longer maintained and silted up. However, it survived because of its secondary function, as a toll bridge over the Gardon river. In the 18th century the aqueduct became increasingly popular as a tourist attraction and shops and restaurants of all kinds soon  cluttered the area.

Ruins at the end of the bridge

Cars were even allowed to drive on the bridge until the 1990’s. This all changed when it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. All the buildings were torn down, driving on the bridge was forbidden and a new visitor center was built nearby. As the Pont du Gard was our last stop before heading back to Avignon and it was late, we merely walked along the banks of the Gardon and marveled at the amazing structure build so solidly several thousand years ago. It is still a popular place to visit but now you see campers on the bank and kayakers in the river. The Ramblers were ready to get back to Le Limas so we were glad a stroll on the aqueduct wasn’t in the plan.  We were not eager to climb the steps to the top but we were glad we had a chance to see it, truly amazing structure.

Enjoying the river on a warm August day; the aqueduct is to the left.

Back at Le Limas, we had a light snack and a relaxing evening watching  the sun set over the Papal Palace as its lights slowly flickered on. The next morning we had another enjoyable breakfast while waiting for our second tour guide. We feared it might be JB again, because he had mentioned how much he knew about wines yesterday, however… We were relieved to find that our guide for the second day was Gilles, not JB, and that we were the only people on the tour this day. We would have enjoyed meeting fellow tourists but not if they totally ignored us all day. I guess it would have been worse if we had been snubbed by English speaking tourists. LOL

Gilles explained that he would be taking us to a variety of wineries, a chateau turned restaurant for lunch and then we would finish up at Chateauneuf de Pape. This all sounded very good to me, and the senior Rambler was resigned to having plenty of time to enjoy the fresh air of Provence on a beautiful sunny day.

The entrance to Mas de Tourelles, flanked by olive trees.

Our first stop was at Mas des Tourelles, a winery  on a Roman site which had been producing wine for several thousand years. Indeed, the current proprietors now made several wines in the Roman style which I later tasted (and didn’t much care for.) The tasting room was part of a restored complex that dated to the time when France was Gaul and a province of Rome.

Grapes ripening on vines growing in the limestone rich soil of Provence.

We arrived slightly early and Gilles gave me a tour of the vineyard and explained that the limestone pebbles in the soil were an important part of the wine culture and imparted some of the terroir of the region which produced delightful wines that varied with the mineral and rock content of the soil.

Mas de Tourelles produces three wines that they say are made just as the Romans did. The first, mulsum, was mentioned by Pliny the Elder and is a blend of wine, honey and a variety of herbs and spices including pepper and cinnamon. According to ancient accounts, Mulsum was often served as an aperitif or with spicy dishes. Too sweet for the Rambler.

Mulsum. Turriculae and Carenum

The second, Turriculae, was a Roman attempt at a dry wine, again not a Rambler favorite. They evidently added a concentrate of seawater and fenugreek  during vinification. A French wine review called it “rich and supple with a round prune flavored finish.” Finally, the last Roman style wine was Carenum, a sweet amber colored wine which the wine review recommended as an aperitif, While it was interesting as was the winery structure itself, there were not wine I would care to drink in any quantity besides a tasting portion.

Our next stop, Chateau de Manissy, produces wines that were much more to the Rambler’s taste and a bottle of rose was purchase for drinking that evening.

Tasting pleasant wines at the Chateau de Manissy.

The Chateau is owned by the Holy Family Missionaries and today is used as a residence for retired priests of the order. The Holy Family Missionaries have been producing rose wines here since the early 1900’s but today the winery is run by winemaker Florian Andre.  The Chateau now produces organic wines both rose and red in the style of Chateauneuf de Pape. Since it was still early, I was the only one in the tasting room and it was an enjoyable experience.

Our next stop was lunch. Gilles drove us to an 18th century chateau which is now a restaurant. I am not sure we ever learned its name because it had all been arranged as part of the tour, Because it was a beautiful day, we ate in the garden and again, we were the only customers. The food was excellent and Gilles was a pleasant companion.

Our stop for lunch, we never went inside, but dining al fresco was wonderful.

After lunch  we would visit two more wineries, the first, a small, family operation, and the last the very famous Chateauneuf de Pape. At the family vineyard, the winemaker, a friend of Gilles, showed us through his operation. It was not fancy or slick but his family obviously took pride in its operation. His wines were simple but tasty, as we would say, a daily drinker,  and it turned out that  Gilles was a regular customer. We enjoyed talking about politics the EU and the US  with the winemaker. Certainly EU regulations do not make his job easier.

I thought I would be able to finish blogging about our adventures in Provence today, but there is just too much to include yet, so I will add one more blog entry on this trip before we travel somewhere else.

Small but welcoming tasting room of the farm winery. Boxes of wine for sale at a great price.