Chapter Six: Looping The Lovely Luberon

Chapter Six: Looping The Lovely Luberon

p1090390Day Six – Mr. Belvedere, Wine Sale, Seeing Red, Frankenstein Goes Hiking, Another Sleepy Town, Take My Restaurant Recommendation With A Grain Of Salt, Going Cucu, Do We Need To Buy Them a Gift, Chateau Diversion, Finally A Busy Town, Chasing Camus, Sunset To Remember, Hail Cesar, Trump’s Detective Cousin and An Impromptu Meeting Of The United Nations

Promptly at 9 a.m. we sat down for a quick breakfast of croissants, jam, cheese, ham, bread and coffee (starting to have a familiar ring, eh?) at Les Terrasses du Luberon. Then, donning my “Squirrel Whisperer” t-shirt, we were off to a gorgeous village where we might be afforded the opportunity to take a hike (something Tracy tells me to do daily…guess she thinks I need the exercise).

p1090368Only about a half-hour drive from Bonnieux is Roussillon, a town that puts the “Provençal” in Provençal.  If you like red, pink and yellow, this is your spot.  We had made a quick stop here in 1998  (long enough for Tracy to purchase a rooster picture for our kitchen…because really, who doesn’t have a rooster picture in their kitchen?), so we decided to further explore Roussillon again.

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Arriving at 10:15, Roussillon was filling up with tourists, and we barely got the last space in the parking lot (and to that guy who thought he’d sneak in before me…sorry buddy, I’m from L.A.). As we strolled a narrow street, I looked skyward and saw a large tower with a clock and a cross on top. Using my powers of observation, I surmised this must be something religious.

img_5888This belfry was renovated in the 19th century as a bell tower to the adjoining church. We climbed another street to the Quartier de la Bistourle (Two Towers). I guess I missed the second one. From here there were lovely views. By the end of the trip, we had visited so many of these structures with sweeping vistas that they started calling me Mr. Belvedere.

img_5892Next we made our way to the 17th-century L’église Saint-Michel, which I assume is the adjoining church (sorry, but I probably should have had a second cup of coffee).

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We stepped inside and took a few pictures.

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Not satisfied with spending half our budget on tablecloths in Beaune, Tracy spied a store opening its doors for the day. Inside were colorful linens. I tried to tackle her, but, alas, my elusive wife escaped my grip and stepped inside.  Fortunately, the tablecloth she really liked was the wrong size.

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We continued our Roussillon stroll.

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Inside a nearby store stood a display of Miraval wine, an estate wine from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Due to their split, the wine was half price. I told Tracy we should adopt a bottle. We moved on.

img_5901Roussillon does have a number of charming buildings…

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…meaning Tracy could use her iPhone photo skills while I searched for coffee.  She had more success.

img_5893Our next stop was a graveyard (as you can tell I’m a sucker for a tomb).

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The resting places of these graves had a nice view back toward Roussillon, although its inhabitants don’t get to enjoy it.

p1090375Then it was time to check out something above town.

p1090370Perhaps the main reason to visit Roussillon is to hike the Sentier des Ocres…

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…a hiking trail that meanders through a former ochre quarry with some fairly fantastic views.

sentier-des-ocres-roussillon-france2When it comes to lots of ochre, not many places have it over Roussillon.

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This trail is also called Chaussée des Géants (Giants’ Causeway).

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There are markers for the hikes (a short one takes about 35 minutes, while the longer one is still under an hour).

img_5919We paid the €2.50 fee, and away we walked. Once again, there were stunning views of the valley and ochre rocks.

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Soon, we came upon a staircase to walk down, and my beloved wife decided to wait at the top and take a photo of me descending. There’s always a method to her madness, and when I heard her laughing, I knew that did not bode well for moi.  Sure enough, the photo of me walking down looked like Frankenstein (I was a little stiff). I hope I didn’t scare the children.

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The pretty trail was lined with various types of trees.

img_5929We hiked down for about another 10 – 15 minutes, but I realized this might not be the best day for a hike (my knees were not doing too well). I was now officially old. It really is an easy hike for most people under 100, so you should take it.  At least I witnessed some beautiful scenery, but sadly did not see any badgers that we were told we might see along the route (guess I’ll need to go to Wisconsin for that).

img_5932I had brought hiking shoes because all reports said you would get the red dust all over your clothes and shoes, and I didn’t want to spread red dust over the rest of France. I don’t know if we didn’t walk long enough, but there was no red dust anywhere on our person. If you pick up a handful of the ochre, it is more sand-like.  Or you can just take our word for it.

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There was another reason I wanted to cut the hike a little shorter (this is my story and I’m sticking to it)…our plan was to drive to a nearby town for lunch, and the last thing I wanted to do was miss another lunch window.

So over the mountains and through the woods we drove on beautiful, twisting and narrow roads on our away to our appointed lunch destination, Ansouis, one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (which loosely translates to “felony cute town”).

The Ansouis Castle was the home of a couple of key French religious figures, Elzear de Sabran and his wife Dephine. Married as teenagers, it seems their daily life “consisted of flagellation with chains and being tied up to chairs with especially uncomfortable ropes.”  They also washed the feet of 12 lepers every morning. Suddenly taking out the garbage did not seem like such a bad marital chore.  Unfortunately, the privately-owned castle did not open until later in the afternoon, so Tracy and I would have to wait to get back to the U.S. to tie each other up.

p1090362We walked the stairs from the parking lot (knees were feeling better by now) and came upon an open restaurant with a patio.  Remembering Ménerbes and our new motto, we kept on going.  Ansouis was sleepy at 12:30 p.m., but as we made our way through this pretty little village there were no restaurants in sight.

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Once again, we enjoyed the colors of the buildings…

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….and other things as we walked through town.  To squash those rumors, no, we didn’t take any.

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We did come upon the 900-year-old church of St. Martin located near the castle.

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The dark interior was livened up by astounding colors that our photos do not do justice. We couldn’t stay long, because we needed to find a restaurant for lunch.

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Fortunately, at the top of a hill, Tracy spied a sign for Le Grain de Sel, a restaurant overlooking another valley (Mr. Belvedere strikes again). We scored the last remaining outside table on a fairly warm afternoon.

img_5955The vine-covered terrace with a spectacular view of the valley along with the all foreign speaking patrons (I guess technically we were the foreign speaking patrons) and servers made for that “authentic” French experience many travelers yearn to seek out. I was just happy to eat.

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Gorgonzola gnocchi with pancetta and a cold beer more than hit the spot, and we had a delightful and relaxing lunch. With its name, you can take this restaurant recommendation with a grain of salt (it was very good).

img_5954Back in the car, our next stop was Cucuron, a village situated in the heart of the Luberon Nature Park. Once again, there were no badgers (Badgers, we don’t need no stinkin’ badgers!).

If Ansouis was sleepy, Cucuron, as we entered, was on life support (at least for the moment). It was few blocks before we saw a living soul, but once again the buildings were charming.

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We did pass by a feline resident who looked bushed.

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As we turned the corner humanity appeared in the form of a bride, groom and wedding party dressed to the nines. Turning another corner we saw a church, which we assumed might be the scene of the upcoming nuptials. We were correct.  We scurried down the street into the Église Notre-Dame de Beaulieu.

img_5961The inside was quite beautiful, ready for the soon-to-be wedding.

p1090424I believe the church dates from the 13th century. I don’t know how long the soon-to-be married couple dated.  We might have stayed longer, but the guests started arriving, and we hadn’t brought a gift…

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…so it was time to leave Cucuron, although this home’s patio looked quite inviting.

p1090427It was a very short drive to our next Provence town, Lourmarin. In 1348 the Black Death nearly decimated this town, but thanks to the powerful D’Agoult family, Lourmarin made a comeback in the 15th century.  Through the years, Château Loumarin has passed through many hands. Robert Laurent Vibert, an historian and industrialist, bought the château, saving it from demolition in 1920.

Vibert was killed in a car crash in 1925 (fatal accident foreshadowing…don’t worry, not me), but he donated the château, his art and furniture collections, and his libraries to the French Academy for Art and Science in Aix-en-Provence on the condition that they play host every summer to young writers, painters, sculptors and musicians in the château.

p1090460We parked very near the chateau…

p1090431…and found the exterior pond to be quite unusual..and colorful.

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It was €6.50 to enter, and the self-guided tour was adequate.

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It certainly doesn’t measure up to many of the chateaus we have seen in the past, though the room on the right was instrumental to its popularity.

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However, if you have 20-30 minutes it’s not a bad diversion.

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The views toward Lourmarin and the nearby church were worth the climb.

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The best part of the chateau is..oh wait, I’ll tell you shortly.  It was time to go to Lourmarin, a town we enjoyed very much, albeit for a short while.

We walked toward the nearby town and planned to visit Saint-André et Saint-Trophime Church. Sadly, this lovely looking church was closed.
Next, we passed the Fontaine aux Trois Masques. The fountain was constructed after the World War II, when sculptor Louis Didron (who also built the fountain at the castle), returned to Lourmarin.  If you are at a cocktail party and are asked, “What do the masks represent,” your answer should be, “The Rhone River, the Durance River and Luberon Mountains.”

p1090448We walked around Lourmarin for a while…

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…and finally we found a town in the area with people.

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I would think this wouldn’t be a bad place to lay down stakes for a few days to explore the region.

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Sorry, I forgot…the rest of the castle story. Just as we were about to get in the car, Tracy saw a sign for a wine shop at the bottom of the château (Les Caves Du Château). It had a nice selection, a knowledgeable wine guy and two bottles later we were on our way to find one last Lourmarin sight.

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The Lourmarin Village Cemetery is where native son and author Albert Camus calls home. Speaking of automobile fatalities, it is a fact that Camus hated driving, and he once stated that “he couldn’t imagine a death more meaningless than dying in a car crash”... so, of course, he died in a car accident on the way from Lourmarin to Paris in 1960. He was 46. An unused train ticket was found in his coat pocket. He had planned to travel by train with his wife and children, but at the last minute accepted his publisher’s proposal to travel with him. His publisher perished, too.

p1090459I wanted to find his grave, but after walking around the tiny cemetery for about ten minutes, we gave up.

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Plus it was time to get back to our lodging for a non-existent nap.

We did, however, find time to open one of our bottles of wine (I always love it when the photographer figures out how to get in the photo) as we enjoyed our Luberon view.

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Once again, we made the death-defying (major exaggeration) walk into town and past a gorgeous building.

img_5991Along the way we (aka Tracy)…

img_5993…took pretty sunset shots over Bonnieux.

bonnieuxAmazingly, we chose the correct path and were soon at our dinner destination for the evening, Restaurant Cesar at the Hotel Cesar, a spot that affords beautiful views over the Luberon (photo courtesy of seeprovence)…just happened to be the be the view our dining mates had at the table next to us).

cesar-bonnieux-interior-bonnieuxThis dinner also turned out to be memorable…for a few reasons.

First, I started with another new cocktail. Looking at the menu, I saw a drink named “Orange Colombo.” I told Tracy, “I didn’t know Donald Trump had a detective as a relative.”   Fortunately for her, there was a nice couple from San Francisco seated next to us with whom she could start up a conversation.

As the evening progressed, only two other parties arrived; a very nice couple from Toulouse and a young couple from Edmonton (they were nice, too), who were also staying at our B&B. Throughout the evening the four couples solved all the world’s problems while enjoying a terrific meal. Discussions ranged from travel to politics to medical care to global climate change.

After a delicious amuse bouche of roasted peppers…

img_5995I inhaled…I mean…enjoyed a steak…

img_6002…and a wonderful Honey Lavender Shortbread with Strawberries and Strawberry Sorbet for dessert.

img_6005And no, there was not a Caesar Salad at Restaurant Cesar.  Sorry, I had to take a stab at that one.

Tracy started with Pea Soup and also had the boeuf.

img_5997Our new Canadians friends joined us on our short walk home.  All of us were well-equipped with torches to light the way, however I did not want to scare our neighbors to the north with another rendition of the Blazing Saddles theme song.

img_6093The following day we would travel to a larger city in the morning (after detouring to a very old bridge) and then to a village that is best photographed from the road. We still found time to stop by a famed abbey and a couple of more hill towns. After dipping our toes in the pool, we enjoyed one last delightful dinner in Bonnieux.  Oh yeah, my afternoon health scare (have to have at least one per trip) made for a few anxious moments, also.

Next: Day Seven – Pont Diversion, Papes Goes The Palace, A Tour We Could Have Skipped, Stop All These Weddings, Solemn Ceremony, How Art Thou, A Bridge Too Far…and Too Short, Going Out Of My Gordes, Better From The Road, Lavender-less Abbey, Does The Gift Store Have a Defibrillator, Tracy Takes The Wheel, More Deserted Hill Towns and Dinner Is Not For Nil

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