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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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!”