Driving in Provence is decidedly scary. The roads seem hardly wide enough for two cars to pass each other and they are full of blind corners as they go up and down the mountains. The locals drive at top speed regardless, which just adds to the scariness. We spend a lot of time slowing down and pulling over.
Apart from the driving conditions, today was a lovely day spent (mostly) driving and exploring a wide swathe north of where we’re staying.
Before our first stop, however, we decided to visit the local market at Goult as our hostess had told us this is where the market was today. We wanted to buy some food for dinner to have looking out over the grape vines from the back garden of the B&B. This was fine except the market was not at Goult today. I don’t know where it is on a Tuesday but today, at least, it wasn’t Goult.
That was fine though because we had a lovely wander around the village and discovered an amazing windmill that sits, ancient and now tied down, at the top of the village. And when I say top of the village I mean it. The roads to the top are almost vertical (and, of course, very narrow) and quite a slog…but well worth it.
After our long uphill slog, we stopped off at each of the shops on the way back down: charcuterie, fromagerie, fruiterie and an antique shop. We bought everything we’d need for dinner and then retired to a cafe/restaurant for a quick coffee. Not that we wanted it to be quick but the staff were a bit rush, rush. We had turned up right on the changeover from morning drinking to lunchtime eating.
This means that tables suddenly change their usage and woe betide someone who sits at a table that’s been made up with cutlery, glasses and a table cloth. You get moved pretty quick smart, as happened to a family of four while we were there. We just managed to scrape in an order so could stay but this family were shuffled around a bit.
There was also a French woman (with her partner) who couldn’t decide where to sit for lunch. She tried three different tables (her partner raised his eyebrows every time she wasn’t happy) before she actually settled down to order. Then she moved again.
We have moved on by this stage, returning to the car park to rescue Celine and head off for our second stop. This was the Villages des bories which lies at the end of the skinniest, scariest road of all. Still, we managed to reach the end without incident, parked up and headed for the village.
The bories are dry stone constructions started in the 17th century. Following a royal decree of 1761, a load of farmers were suddenly given the right to grab as much land as they could work and settle down. So a whole bunch of Ag-labs did just that.
They needed to dig up the rocky ground in order to find fertile soil and, using the rocks, they built the bories. Using the rocks they built enclosures which had living quarters for the farmer and their families, their livestock and storage. And they did it all without any mortar. The whole place is just rocks piled on rocks with more rocks piled onto them. It’s an amazing place.
Along with sheep, goats and pigs, they also reared silkworms…which seems odd but I don’t know why.
The bories don’t have windows. They all have doors that face south and avoid facing the Mistral which is the wind that blows pretty hard around these parts. I know, we’ve been buffeted by it for much of the last week. So, in effect, these stone huts, while weather proof, wind proof and generally cosy are all pretty gloomy. I reckon that the villagers spent more time outside only going in to sleep.
The village as we see it today was abandoned in the mid 19th century and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that restoration began to reach what we have today. While the bories themselves were all perfectly intact, the entire area was overgrown with trees and shrubs and brambles. It took eight years to clean it all up and make everything look as good as…well, new.
The restoration work received a medal from the Academy of Architecture. And well deserved I say. An amazing place.
Heading back to the car we then once more wrestled with the narrow twisty roads, heading for the Abbey of Notre-Dame at Senanque.
The abbey is still inhabited by monks who tend the grounds, remain silent most of the time and wear sandals. That’s about all I managed to understand when our guide took us around. I say ‘us’ but there was about 48 others and most of them were French so they understood our very pretty guide.
The walk down to the abbey along the tree lined path was lovely. The shade was very welcome. You then approach the abbey itself. It’s mighty impressive. The abbey was first established in 1148 following the successful Cistercian movement that began in Citeaux from where monks spread throughout Europe and the UK, establishing more and more abbeys (our own Waverley Abbey was one of them).
During the 13th to 14th centuries, the abbey was at its height when there were four mills, seven granges and lots of land throughout Provence. While the abbey celebrated its 850th birthday in 1998, it hasn’t been consistently operating as one. For instance, during the Wars of Religion the whole place was devastated and large parts of it destroyed. Then during the French Revolution, it was confiscated and sold off by the state.
Even in the 20th century things weren’t consistently good for the monks. In 1903 new French laws on religious congregations forced the monks to leave. Then, finally, just in time to celebrate the big 850th, they returned in 1988 and have been there ever since. Well, until the next change I guess.
Our guide (all tours have to be with a guide and all guides speak only French) took us from room to room and never stopped talking about the place, barely pausing for breath. She was very knowledgeable…I assume. I nodded and laughed at the right times but, apart from sandals, I was pretty clueless. Even so, it was a wonderful way to spend an hour and it all felt very peaceful and calm.
Unlike the shop which was anything but. It was a bit mad with about a million books all about Christian things. And a very funny pair of books called God and Comedy. Had they been in English I might have bought them. I can just imagine God taking a turn at stand-up.
“So, what about those Pharisees? Crazy guys or what? I mean as if I’d bother writing a whole bible and then going to the trouble of verbalising one for these fellas as well. Do they think I have nothing but time on my hands? I mean, come on guys! And I have to tell you. A funny thing happened on the way here tonight. I overheard a couple of teenage girls and one says ‘Oh My God!’ and snarled when I asked what she wanted. But what can you do? That’s kids for you. Mine were never that great. I once caught them stealing fruit! I mean what are you gonna do? Some people will do anything for an apple. Thank you, you’ve been great. I’m here all week.”
Bad comedy aside…at the abbey, there are quite a few signs warning against the use of drones. Interestingly all the signs are in English.
Having left our drone behind, we returned unmolested to the car and set off on a very scary drive along the mountain roads back to the B&B except we decided the time for the fruit pickers to go home was a bit close so went to Bonnieux for a drink. It’s the closest town to us but this was our first visit. It wasn’t very long.
After a bit of a rest up at the B&B where I made the acquaintance of a couple from Sussex who have been on a French holiday since April, we had a very romantic dinner perched atop a small platform overlooking the grapes. It was the perfect end to our Luberon stay.
Tomorrow we drive back to Nice and return Celine ahead of two nights in the city. We’re going to miss the quiet of the country but definitely not the thin roads and the ghastly dirt driveway!
Which reminds me…I almost forgot the wild boars. On the day we arrived Mark, our host, told us about the automatic gates and the code to unlock them. When asked why he needed gates when the house is in the middle of nowhere and at the end of such a scary drive, he lowered his voice and said “The wild boars. They come in and eat everything.”
Then I woke up last night and thought I heard snuffling. Naturally I figured it was a wild boar and was worried because our window was open. It didn’t keep me awake though. When I woke up this morning Mirinda asked me if I’d heard the annoying moth that decided to flap around half the night. I told her I’d heard it but thought it was a wild boar looking for truffles. Oh, how we laughed.
Here’s a borie video…as opposed to a boring video…