I'm writing from Chateauneuf de Mazenc, a small residential enclave of about 40 residences in Drome Provence - about 20 minutes east of Montelimar, an hour south of the TGV station at Valence, an hour north of Vaison-la-Romaine, and a couple of minutes up a steep hill from the village of La Begude de Mazenc.
Sunday morning here. I have access to the internet at our most gracious landlord's home - but this is the first time I've logged on since we've arrived. My brother & the owners took off yesterday to watch the French Grand Prix about 4 hours away. I was invited - but attending a GP race is very low on my list of priorites - somewhere between dental surgery and an attack of malaria.
Four of us arrived here eight days ago - on Saturday June 14 - meeting up with and sharing a house with one of my brothers and his wife. We have done a lot of typical ST activities - day trips, market visits, back-road wanderings, a GTG and indulging, if not wisely then too well, in good food and wine. Following is a thumbnail of our daily activities:
Saturday June 14 - Chateauneuf-de-Mazenc
We arrived at Chateauneuf de Mazenc at 5:15pm - exactly on my estimate after a flight to Paris, the TGV to Valence & our rental car pickup & drive to the village. Our accommodations are excellent - 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 terraces with excellent views, a very well-equipped kitchen. individual heating/AC units in each room, laundry facilities, and an unlimited supply of toilet paper. Phone calls to North America and internet access are included from the owner's den a minute away.
The views from the terraces are excellent, but it is very evident that this is not the Provence of the Luberon with which we are more familiar. Instead of rolling hills of rows of grape vines and olive groves we look out onto flat fields of wheat and grain and corn and other crops familiar to us from out home surrounded by a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario. There is a row of windmills on the hills in the distance on the left and steam from 2 nuclear power generators along the Rhone River on the right. In the evening, the lights of Montelimar and smaller communites glow in the distance.
Sunday June 15 - Dieulefit/Montelimar/Orange
A quick visit to the nearby town of Dieulefit ("God Made It") for some shopping at a supermarket before the noon closure, then over to Montelimar to confirm train schedules for our travelling companions on Friday. Montelimar doesn't get much respect from most guidebooks as a tourist spot, but it appears to be a prosperous, very pleasant town with at least one attractive plane-tree-lined street with several restaurants on one side and a large community park on the other. We stopped for a pleasant lunch after which we decided that it was too late to start on a driving tour of the area - so we drove, via the A7, down to Orange to introduce our friends to the extensive evidence of Roman settlement in the south of France. We re-visited the impressive Arch de Triomphe and the Theatre - returning to our home in the early evening for a barbeque on the terrace.
Monday June 16 - Vaison-la-Romaine GTG / Chateauneuf du Pape
The morning started cool but as we drove south towards Vaison-la-Romaine over the hills through or by Grignan, Valreas & Nyons the temperature rose as the clouds rolled in. We arrived in Vaison-la-Romaine early enough to climb up the hill to visit the ruins and visit an artist's workshop (ouch!) in the medieval part of the village before heading back to the Roman bridge for our noon meeting with Pamie Jo. As the other five members of our group took some photos and milled around, I noticed a woman standing on the opposite side at one end of the bridge. After eyeing each other for a couple of minutes, I called out "Pamie Jo?". She replied "It's Pam - I didn't realize you were bringing a tour bus." The eight of us had a long enjoyable lunch at a very popular cafe near the centre-ville before going our separate ways.
My original plan was to drive up Mont Ventoux in the afternoon, but it started to rain. After saying goodby, my brother and his wife left for a 2-day excursion down around Marseilles, while the 4 of us drove south and visited several caves in the area around Gigondas, Vacqueras and Chateauneuf du Pape. In the evening, and on a recommendation of our landlord, we drove over to Dieulefit and had a pleasant dinner at L'Escargot d'Or restaurant.
Tuesday June 17 - into the Vercors.
With overcast and threatening skies, we decided to follow Linda Jones' driving route north into the Vercors region. Off by 9:00am along the D538 up a series of hills to Bourdeaux, stopping for a brief walk around the quiet village streets before continuing up the D156 over the Col de la Chaudiere and down into Saillans where we stopped for coffee. We started talking to a young local man at the next table and he suggested, instead of our out-and-back route, that we do a long loop by driving west over to Mirabel et Blacon, almost to Crest ("Cree") and turning up into the Vercors. We took his adivce and drove up the winding D70 past Beaufort-sur-Gervanne, Plan de Baix, over the Col de Bacchus, up past La Vacherie and over the Col de la Battaille, Col de la Portelle, Col de Rama, Col de Lachau and into Vassieux-en-Vercors where we stopped for lunch. Just outside Vassieux-en-Vercors there is a Memorial museum to the Resistance built onto the mountainside. The Vercors was a region of extensive Resistance activity and savage German reprisals in the months and year after D-Day. After lunch and filling up our vehicle with much-needed diesel fuel, we continued on over the Col St. Alexis and the spectaular Col de Rousset and down into to town of Die ("Dee") where we stopped and purchased 2 bottles of the distinctive local dry sparkling wine Clairette de Die which we plan to open at the christening of our grandchild on June 6. The drive back to our house in Chateauneuf de Mazenc was uneventful and anticlimatic when compared to the spectacular views and experiences of the rest of the day.
For dinner we drove over to the nearby (5km) village of Charols and enjoyed an excellent meal at Les Voyageurs - a hotel/restaurant operated by a young man & woman in a newly refurbished setting. Highest recommendation!!! - review to follow.
Wednesday June 18 - the Luberon
Today we made a flying visit down to Provence to show our friends the area with which we are most familiar and also to conduct some personal business.
Off in the early morning under a warming sun and a cloudless sky, over to Montelimar where we drove down the A7 to Cavaillon - over to Lacoste, stopping for coffee before driving over to Bonnieux and a visit to some of its shops before continuing over to Lourmarin and lunch - over to Cucuron and Ansouis in the afternoon, before visitng both Roussillon and Gordes on the way back. Hardly a Slow Travel kind of day, but enjoyable for us to see our friends' reaction to a quite different landscape and bustling village life found in the Luberon.
A return visit, this time including my brother and sister-in-law back from their mini-holiday, to Les Voyageurs in Charol for dinner - another excellent experience!
Thursday June 19 - market day in Nyons/ Chateau de Grignan.
The weather in our first few days was unseasonably cool and damp; yesterday was very pleasant; today and for the rest of the week it remains HOT.
Over to Nyons for the weekly market, arriving shortly before 10:00am. Very good market, and quite similar in layout and size to the Saturday market in Apt. We bought supplies for our evening meal - including salmon fillets, and fresh fruits and vegetables for salads. A unique feature of the market at Nyons, compared to other markets I have visited, is a guy selling escargots in a variety of forms, including a tapenade-like spread. He has a photo album illustrating how the escargots are farmed. I bought a couple of jars of the spread - pretty sure I'll have them all to myself back home in Canada. The most entertaining feature of the market was the animated and vocal sales technique of a guy selling melons. I manged to get a 40 second video which I will post when I return home. We paused for a drink in Nyons before heading out in the early afternoon and driving over to Grignan for lunch.
Grignan is the most atractive and interesting village in our area, with the Chateau de Grignan its most interesting feature. Partly destroyed in the years after the Revolution it was restored in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, thanks in part to the U.S. robber baron Jay Gould's fortune - more details in my TR. Historically, the significance of the Chateau de Grignan is due to its connection to Madame de Sevigny, the prolific letter writer of 17th century France. Madame de Sevigny's daughter married the Count de Grignan and her correspondence with her daughter as well as letters she wrote during 3 lengthy visits to the Chateau provide an intimate view of life for a certain class of people at that time.
Back to Chateauneuf de Mazenc around 6:00pm for an enjoyable meal with the fresh produce for the Nyons market followed by a relaxing evening on the terrace.
Friday June 20 - return to Grignan/ lavender route from Valreas to Vinsorbes.
Our friends left early this morning. I drove them over to the train station in Montelimar where they caught a train to Lyon, then over to Neuchatel and another 8 days in Switzerland. My wife & I reutrned to Grignan - our visit yesterday had been mainly limited to lunch and a tour of the chateau.
After a couple of hours in Grignan we headed over to Valreas where we eventually found the D190 and drove along a hilly and winding route over to Vinsorbes. As in a lot of travel excursions, the journey & not the destination was the highlight of the trip. We drove past more lavender fields than I ever imagined existed and also past several fields of grapes with red rose bushes at one end of several rows. Spectaculary beautiful scenery! Highly recommended.
Lunch at Le Bistrot in Vinsorbes - the only business that appeared to be open in the village.
Friday evening we returned to Dieulefit and a visit to another restaurant recommended by our hostess. We had an excellent meal at Auberge des Brises. Our main course featured rouget (a fish) and pipardeau (guinea fowl). When we returned to our car in the parking lot across the road from the restaurant we noticed a vegetable garden and a fenced enclosure that included a pond, and several guinea fowl and ducks moving about (magret de canard was also on the menu).
Saturday June 21 - on my own.
Our original plan was for both of us to stay for two weeks, but before we made our final arrangments my wife realized that her work schedule would only allow for a one week stay. We got up in the early morning and drove over the to TGV station in Valence for her 6:50am train back to CDG and a flight back to Canada in the early afternoon. I dropped off our car and waited for my brother to pick me up after taking his wife to the airport in Lyon and her return to work after 3 weeks in the Drome.
In the late afternoon my brother left for the French Grand Prix. A few hours later, I was coming down the hill to start my blog when I met Kirk and Jackie from Brantford, another Canadian couple staying in Chateauneuf de Mazenc. They invited me in for a glass of rose wine - which turned into an inviation for dinner and an enjoyable evening on their terrace.
And that's why I didn't get around to blogging until this morning.