Family holidays...

Back from family holidays. This year we didn’t go abroad, but found a house in the south of France, in Provence, not far from Avignon. We stayed in a small village, named Althen-les-Paluds. The house and pool were very nice., Maybe not so much to tell about the village, except that it’s named after an agronomist, Jean Althen (1709-74), born in Persia, who after 15 years in slavery, managed to escape… and he’s finally especially known for having developed the cultivation of madder in France. “Paluds” is an old French word for marsh. I show one picture of a cicada, so typical for the region, and one picture of a red, blood moon. July 27 was the date for the longest lunar eclipse of the century.

We spent most of our time doing “nothing”, but there is so much to see in a short distance within the region, so…

I have already talked about Arles several times (see here)…, about its Roman arena, theatre, aqueduct… about its link to van Gogh… and some other personalities like Frédéric Mistral, Christian Lacroix, Jeanne Calment (the oldest – documented - human being, who died in 1997, 122 years old), the photographer Lucien Clergue… who leads us to the fact that Arles has become some kind of a world capital of photography with the French national school of photography and, since 1970, three yearly months of photo exhibitions, “Les rencontres de la photographie”. Some abandoned railway warehouses and repair shops are under the name of “LUMA Arles” transformed to an Arts Resource Centre (workshops, seminar rooms, exhibition space…) with Frank Gehry as an architect, to open in 2020.

Avignon is of course known as a papal city (14th century), for its 12th century (half) bridge on the Rhone River (and the famous song – “Sur le pont…”), for its festival…     

The beautiful village Les-Baux-de-Provence has some 20 residents – and some 1.5 million visitors per year. The place has been inhabited for some 6.000 years. The fortress was built starting in the 11th century and was the home of the princes of Baux, who controlled the whole of Provence. It became part of France during the Middle Ages – and was in 1642 offered to the Grimaldi family – The Prince of Monaco is still also Marquis of Baux. Bauxite got its name from Baux and was for a long time intensively mined until exhaustion. The “Carrières de Lumières” offers a giant multimedia show, using the walls, floors and ceilings of a giant abandoned quarry, run by the same organisation which now offers a similar show in Paris (see here). At present the show is dedicated to Picasso and some preceding Spanish masters.

Below the village is a valley, referred to as the “Val d’Enfer”, the hell valley… and, without any proof, it has been said, that Dante Alighieri referred to this place in his Divine Comedy.

The regional department Vaucluse got its name from this little village. “Vallis Clausa” in Latin, the closed valley, became Vaucluse, and the village is now called La-Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. La Fontaine, the fountain, because the water of the River Sorgue comes out of an underground spring, with an important flood especially during March-April. The place was the preferred residence of the poet Petrarch during the 14th century … and he has now his museum here.    

Gordes counts among the most beautiful French villages, situated in the Regional Nature Park of Luberon. It has attracted artists like Marc Chagall, Serge Poliakoff, Vasarely… The fountain, which we can see on the little square on the top picture, is referred to already in 1342 and was for long the village’s only water source. This is where we had our lunch … and had not only water to drink.

The Sorgue River, which thus has its source in La-Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, is passing through this charming little town, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The river is divided in a number of branches and the city has a number of small islands, which gave it its name, originally “Insula”. The riverside is full of bars and restaurants, the town hosts galleries and antique shops.

Visiting Pernes-les-Fontaines you can admire the 15th-16th century fortifications, a number of fountains and enjoy some nice eating places.

We did not spend much time in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence this time (have been there before), just a short stop for some refreshments. So, we did not visit the old Roman city of Glanum, nor the Saint-Paul asylum where van Gogh spent a year and produced many of his most famous paintings. We just briefly saw the house where Nostradamus was born, the Hôtel de Sade….  

We had our pool, but there was a wish to try the real sea. So we made it a day at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The place is of course known for the three Marys. In the 15th century one discovered the relics of Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome, who were said to have arrived here from Alexandria, together with Mary Magdalene – the three women supposed to have been the first witnesses to the empty tomb. The town is a pilgrimage destination for the Gypsies, who gather annually for a festival of the dark-skinned Saint Sarah, possibly the servant of the three Marys. The church which holds the relics and the statues of the Marys was built from the 9th to the 12th century. (Well, let’s here forget the versions of Mary Magdalene as married to Jesus, carrying his child… )

A last place… Vaison-la-Romaine, full of Roman ruins, including the two thousand year old bridge, still in use for local traffic between the upper and lower parts of the town. The town became famous in 1992, when a sudden flood reached higher than the bridge we can see on the photo. The upper part of the town is just beautiful… and in the background you can see the 1.912 m (6.300 ft) high Mont Ventoux. Actually, we could see it also from the house we rented.

This was a long post … I will have to take a few days off.    


Maria Russell said...

Le photographe sans pareil est revenu à Paris?

Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888, Vincent van Gogh.

Mystica said...

Thank you for the beautiful photographs and the explanations which are very much appreciated.

claude said...

Ben dis moi que de belles visites !
Je suis allée à Arles où j'y ai rencontré Manitas de Plata qui était un pote à mon ex beauf.Ai visité le Palais des Papes à Avignon et aux Baux de Provence avant l'illumination des carrières. Nous pique niquions côté carrières avec vu sur le village éclairé, car c'était le soir. Nathalie a souvent parlé de Gordes et de L'Isles sur Sorgue.
Je vois qu'on a encore pas mal d'endroits à visiter.
Merci pour ce beaux reportage.

Jeanie said...

I always think that when you are "doing nothing" with your family, you are doing the most important thing -- being with them, relaxed and comfortable, where conversations flow easily and there is little pressure. I've yet to visit the South of France but how I want to. Your photos make me want it all the more!