FRANCE

FROM BURGUNDY TO THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST

September-October 1993

An Illustrated Guide and Diary

Google-Earth kmz-Map of the trip (You need to have Google-Earth on your computer)

The excuse for breaking with my usual format is that this five-week trip, celebrating my retirement, was cursed with the worst weather we ever traveled in — and that as a consequence the pictures we brought back were very poor. This was confounded by the fact that the developing baths at RGB in Hollywood, which processed the films and slides, were so depleted that most images were irretrievably damaged. In short, these pictures are at best illustrations to a guide to Southern France. The blue portions are my diary of 1984-85, the architectural commentaries in black are from various Michelin guides.

Because of our continuing flight south from clouds and rain we kept on moving, so that this diary has become a guide to some very remote parts of Southeastern France, including descriptions of roads which only a madman would take. You need a set of 1:200 000 Michelin maps to find those roads. To help you find the appropriate regional map I attached a map with our route and the Michelin numbers: MAP.

 

10 September 1993

We flew on my birthday, the date of my final separation from Aerospace. I have since returned there but once and never touched physics again.

11. September

Arrived in Frankfurt, Rented Hertz car (Opel Astra) drove to Bad Godesberg to visit Irmgard Gernand. Dinner and overnight in Bad Godesberg.

12. September

Left Bad Godesberg late after breakfast. On autobahn to MARIA-LAACH. Continued in afternoon up the Mosel-valley in sunshine: overnight in a Gasthaus in the vineyards high above and opposite of Trittenheim (?). Cold at night and rainy. Had dinner at our hotel and drank beautiful clear, green Riesling.

13. September

Drove to Trier in the rain. Found a cheap and dingy hotel outside the town and then walked through the city.

TRIER*** : Diocesan Museum** collection of archeological finds: ceiling of the "Villa of Helena"* probably a villa built by the Byzantine Empress Helena (St. Helena) wife of Constantine Chlorus, the father of Constantine-the-Great, founder of Constantinople. But Helena was also the "mother, lover, and later wife" of Constantine-the-Great. (This conundrum is circling in Greek Orthodox lands — and mark you, both Constantine-the-Great and Helena are revered Saints of the Greek Orthodox Church. Try to resolve this puzzle!..... The solution is that Helena was Constantine-the-Great's stepmother, and maybe his lover and later wife.... Byzantium was a wild place in the 8th century.) Anyway Helena gave the property to build Trier cathedral on.

Large number of antique Christian and pre-Christian grave stones. Tympanum of the old cathedral with Ecclesia and Synagogue. "Constantine Basilica"* a reconstruction of the foundations of the Dom*

Karl Marx House: The house in which Marx was born, refurbished by the Socialist Party of Germany unfortunately including a collection of historical propaganda posters describing the development of the socialist movement and (more interesting) biographical material on the ancestors and life of sweet, romantic Karl and his two wives.

14. September

Overcast and occasional rain. Autobahn to Luxembourg, continued on autoroute south by-passing Metz, Nancy, and Toul to reach LANGRES at noon

LANGRES* : Site**, Ramparts especially on E , Cathedral of St-Mammes* (1196, facade replaced 18.cent), Interior* of "majestic proportions", Tapestries dedicated to the life of St Mammes, Choir*(1150), salle de Chapitre, Sacristy (inquire with sacristan) Tresor*: ivories, emails, silver utensils ( not seen ).

In afternoon continued to DIJON. After a long search through the overcrowded hotels of Dijon, we finally found a room in a decaying Grand Hotel Central (300 ffr) opposite the RR station. At nigh we ate an excellent three course repast for 95 ffr (= $20 per person) at the restaurant "Ralley", which had just been bought by a new chef, M. Minot. (Best lucky dinner on our trip!)

15. September

We spent an entire day in Dijon, most of the time in the Palais de Ducs de Bourgogne. Especially attractive the newly and imaginatively renovated attic (under the old rafters). The Musee des Beaux Arts was occupied by an exhibition of impressionist paintings from the Leningrad Hermitage, which we did not look at (too crowded, too expensive, seen several times in St. Petersburg). Took many photos of the windows and the gargoyles in the facade of Notre Dame. Bought beautiful goat cheeses in the rue des Forges and fruit in the market. Changed to Hotel Climat across the street (320 ffr/night) (anonymous, but clean, warm, modern, and not as depressing as the Grand Hotel). Dijon is worth another visit.

DIJON*** : Capital of the Grand-Dukes of Burgundy: Philippe le Hardi (1364-1404), Jean sans Peur(1404-1419), Philipp le Bon (1419-1467), Charles le Temeraine (1476-1477), Philipp le Beau, Palais de Ducs de Bourgogne* : Musee des Beaux-Arts**(9-12; 14-16 h, partially closed Tu) , Rue des Forges*: typical street of the old Dijon: #34 (15.cent)interior court, stair case; #38, 40, 52, 54, 56 (courtyard)

Notre-Dame de Dijon, facade

Notre-Dame* : Belle example de 13.cent: tres original facade with several dozens of gargoyles and a Flemish clock stolen by Philipp de Hardi from Courtrai in 1382 after his victory over the Flemish revolt. Interior: statue of "Black Virgin" (11. cent),

 Dijon, Notre-Dame, the nave

Tres beaux VITREAUX** de 13.siecle!

 These are a montage of 8 individual pictures of the windows on both sides of the nave.

 

 

 

 Other churches: Cathedral St Benigne* : (14.cent gothic), portal roman (12.cent), interior, CRYPTE (7-12, 14-19 h) last vestige of the 10.cent church and at the eastern extreme a chapel of the 6.cent; St. Michel* : (15.cent, towers 17.cent), most interesting facade: freeze tympanon by a Flemish sculptor

16. September

Drove east on autoroute A 6 for 26 kilometers, then turned north on D 905 to Vitreaux and west on D 70/D 26 through pleasant country to St. Thibault. The simple village church's most remarkable feature is the almost incongruous, high-gothic choir and some figures on the altar pedestal and above the northern portal.

ST. THIBAULT* Village church St-Thibault*: Portals* (13.cent), disproportionately large gothic Choir*, Crucifix (14.cent)

From there we drove on D 970 to SEMUR-EN-AUXEOIS where we bought three most memorable slices of pate in a fancy charcuterie with the help of a 90-year-old lady originally from Santa Monica! Walked around town and down to the bridge across the Armancon. Beautiful and very active town.

SEMUR-EN-AUXOIS* Beautiful site* and partially walled city , view from bridge. Church of N. Dame* (11., 13.-14.cent), elegant architecture, several painted altar pieces, small garden in rear

 Semur-en-Auxois, city gate

 

 Semur-en-Auxois, The chacuterie

 

Semur-en-Auxois, View of the town from the bridge

On through slowly rolling country to Montbard where after three tries circling the town we found the lovely country road to the ABBAYE DE FONTENAY located in a most beautiful tranquil valley surrounded by trees and meadows where we had lunch on the bank of the old mill race.

Abbaye-de-Fontenay

ABBAYE DE FONTENAY** (5.5 km NE of Montbard), (8-18:30 h) Especially beautiful, tranquil location, very Cisterciensian. Second foundation of St. Bernard (1115), one of the oldest Cistercensian monasteries in France. Entire complex well preserved or carefully restored (1906), fountains, cloister, gardens. Can only be visited on a guided tour (expensive).

The very typically Cistercensian complex has been immaculately restored by private interests. It could only be seen in guided tours which were overcrowded by foreign visitors (German and English buses). So I slept an hour under the trees and Barbara climbed a small hill to look at the monastery from above. In the afternoon light we continued from Montbard on D 905 along the pretty Canal de Brenne to Rougemont where we crossed it and followed D 957 to Avallon. Because it had become late in the afternoon we did not explore the town and continued along N 6 and D 951 through beautifully rolling hills, farms, and woods to the hill site of VEZELAY. Despite the late season many tourists (mostly English) were still milling around the town. But eventually we found a room in the simple Relay de Morvan (220 ffr) and in the last light walked up to the cathedral for the first time. Beautiful light on the western portal.

At first we were shocked, the interior smelled for hot Bakelite and was crowded with dozens of keel lights partially hidden behind the columns: A BBC-TV team had arrived before us and was entrenched in the cathedral with all their gear. They had cleared out all chairs from the nave, it was as empty as in the times of the great pilgrimages. On inquiry we found out that they were filming the preliminaries that would accompany a state visit of Carlos of Spain and Mitterand - in the spring of 1994! Later we had another sumptuous three-course dinner in the beamed dining room of the Hotel Morvan together with the exceptionally lively and intelligent looking British TV crew.

 17. September

We woke up in deep fog. Fortunately the hotel had turned on the heat. Slowly the huge "ship" of the cathedral emerged from the clouds. The TV people had already been working since 6 am, and had then agreed to leave their lights on! The entire interior, every column and capital, the sculptures of the internal entry gate, all were perfectly illuminated with "daylight" flood lamps. I almost went out of my (photographic) mind. Barbara went back down to the car to get the tripod, and subsequently I spent maybe 4 hours photographing as much of the magnificent detail of the place as was possible. (Unfortunately the numerous black-and-white photos were nearly a complete loss, the fabulous lighting had destroyed all contrast! and the color film was ruined by RGB, the Hollywood shop who developed it...)

Vezelay in the early morning

VEZELAY*** Most beautiful of all Bourgogne Cathedrals: Basilica Ste-Madelaine*** Orig. building Carolingian 1096-1104, reconstructed 1150-1215 to accommodate pilgrims on their way to Compostela. Partially destroyed by the Huguenots (1569). Razed by the revolution. Rebuilt by Violette-le-Duc 1859: outside including one tower and three portals mainly a 19th- cent. reconstruction. Interor**: Tympanon of central Portal*** (1150, happily preserved), Capitals*** (1125) most beautiful, Crypt: 1160

 Vezelay, the great pilgrims door

 

 

 

Vezelay, The tympanon with the Second Coming of Christ

We decided to stay another night, had lunch under the trees behind the church, and then went for a drive through the country. We drove on a tiny route forrestiere through the woods, went for a short hike on a hill across the valley from Vezelay, and returned through Fontenay-pres-Vezelay and St. Pere. In ST-PERE we examined the church, which would appear even more beautiful if it were not so close to the great cathedral. In Fontenay we bought more goat cheese fresh at a half decayed ferme. We did not find the famous *** restaurant there - but we would not have had the money to eat there anyway!

ST.PERE* Village below Vezelay: Church of Notre-Dame* (1240-1455), Interior of great purity

To see Vezelay in the beginning of a tour of the Burgundy is a mistake. There is nothing quite comparable to this cathedral elsewhere. One should see it last, as the crowning experience of a trip, or even better to return to it at the end. - By that time the BBC people would have left!

 

18. September

On a beautiful morning we drove along the VALLÉE DU COUSIN below Avallon to reach N 6 south. This stretch of the Cousin is exceptionally lovely and especially at this time of the year with colorful trees and quiet waters, and a string of beautiful and expensive inns in old mills and fermes.

 Vallée du Cousin

We had a brief look at Saulieu reaching AUTUN around noon.

AUTUN** Cathedral of St-Lazare* (1120-1146) outside (15. cent), Tympanon** (Gislebertus, 1130), Tower* view of sculptures and surroundings, Museum Rolin*: (10-12, 14-16 h, closed Tu): Roman statuary*, tableau de Nativite*, polychrome stone Vierge d'Autun** (15.cent) Vitreaux!

Autun, St-Lazar, Tree Jesse, 1515

After Vezelay Autun turned into a disappointment. The Last Judgement-tympanon over the main door was much less exciting then remembered, the inside dark and over-stuffed.

Autun, St.-Lazar, Last-Judgement tympanon over the entrance.

To make up for the missing pictures of some of the famous Burgundian sculptures of Autun I stole some from the internet.

Flight to Egypt

The Dream of the Three Magi.

The Musee Rolin, too, had only insignificant local finds and the famous Madonna was inaccessible. So we drove on along D 973 towards Beaune and to avoid the high price of staying in Beaune found a room in Nolay. In the evening we drove on a tiny country road along the upper edge of the limestone cliff east of Nolay through La Rocheport with its castle and a string of famous vineyards to Pommard, returning by way of Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Blagney, and Gamay to Nolay. Everywhere the harvest of the grapes was beginning: beautiful country. That night we ate for the first time Aiguillettes (strips), sausages filled with tripe highly peppered in the Burgundy style and liked it very much.

19. September

We arrived in BEAUNE in the morning and immediately headed for the Hotel de Dieu. It was already crowded but no less interesting. This former hospital for the poor, founded by Philip le Bon and his wife and operational until twenty years ago, has now been converted into a most enchanting museum complete with the original alcove beds for the sick (draped in royal purple) pewter bedpans, all sorts of enormous enema apparatus, pharmacy, and "nurses" (carefully rigged nun's habits without stuffing!). There is a fully equipped kitchen and a number of vitrines with historical information - including the famous annual auction of the wine from the Hospice de Beaune (which provided the income of the foundation) - and some beautiful tapestries and paintings. The most striking is the large polyptych by Roger van der Weyden showing the resurrection and the last judgment in brilliant colors and detail. For brilliance and execution it competes with, but does not reach the ecstatic vision of the altar piece - painted for the same purpose to inspire the sick and dying - of Grünewald in Colmar.

BEAUNE*** Hotel de Dieu*** museum: ( 9-11:15 and 14-16:15 h) (founded 1443) magnificently preserved medieval decor, Polyptych of Roger van der Weyden*** "The Last Judgment", tapestries, paintings, "boiseries" etc.

 Beaune, Courtyard of the Hotel-de-Dieu

 

 Beaune, Beds in the Hotel-de-Dieu

 

Beaune, Hotel-de-Dieu, Diorama: A nun at the bedside

Beaune, stained-glass window in the Hotel-de-Dieu

Beaune, Hotel de Dieu, Roger van der Weyden, Last Judgement (from Web Gallery) Click on image to enlarge

After the visit we bought a bottle of Aloxe-Corton 1986 at the shop of Moillard in memory of our first great wine experience at Richard Meyer's house, who had served us a slightly over-the-hill but still fabulous bottle of Aloxe-Corton 1953 in Cambridge in 1958. After having a less than intriguing sip of it at lunch it continued to improve for the next 5 days in the trunk of the car!

 Beaune, the wine store

 

 Self-portrait-a-deux

Using the auto route and bypassing Chalon-sur-Saone we reached TOURNUS at noon.

TOURNUS*** Church of St Philibert*** (10.-11.cent) stark and exceptionally beautiful, Vitreaux, Crypt, (10.cent) archaic frescoes (12.cent) in poor condition, remnants of 11th-cent. Cloisters, magnificent Refectory and cellars (12.cent.)

Tournus, entrance hall under the 10th-century tower

From the guides you can never tell how beautiful a church will be until you get there. Whilst famous Autun was a disappointment, much less acclaimed Tournus turned out to be magnificent. Alone the low hall through which one enters the cathedral proper takes one's breath away. The warm red and yellow coloration of the stone, the incredibly high round columns, the proportions of the main nave, and the vaulting of the side naves are all equally beautiful. A steep spiral staircase leads to a chapel above the entry hall with exposed roof beams and a splendid view of the naves from above.

 Tournus, the nave

 

 Tournus, Cathedral, cross-nave and organ(!)

 

 Tournus, the nave from the gallery

 

There is also part of a lovely cloisters attached to the church.

Later we drove east on D 19 through increasingly hilly country to BRANCION a well preserved medieval village below a ruined castle. Because it was Sunday the place was crowded with French and German tourists. We walked up to the castle and Barbara climbed the castle's tower - where she was driven off by a flight of flying ants!

BRANCION* Site*, well restored village, Chateau* (10-14 cent) rebuilt in the 14 cent. by Philip le Hardi ruined by the League in 1594. Eglise de St-Pierre (12. cent)

Brancion, village and church from the castle

Later in the afternoon, in Cormatin, we found a room at a "chambres d'hote" for the first time. (180 ffr for two!) A simple but clean room with bedspreads smelling for lavender. At night our charming landlady sent us to eat at the "Restaurant de Lys" which after much erring around on foot. On our walk we met Bruce Fiene from Aerospace and his son of all people. eventually we found the restaurant about 5 km east in the tiniest hamlet we had earlier passed through. (I knew I had seen the sign somewhere before.) Meanwhile it had become 9:30 and we were the only guests there. Still the "chef" prepared an excellent if somewhat heavy meal. Shortly before 11:00 we left the relieved hostess to return to our lavender beds. We slept very well. Maybe, after all, three beautiful churches a day are a little much to see in one day!

20. September

A foggy morning slowly cleared to turn into another sunny day. After a magnificent breakfast provided by our kind hosts, we drove south and up to much heralded (Jutta was there and Jürgen Grosskreutz) TAIZE. The place looked like a scene from Dante: Hundreds of young and not so young people milling in the fog, sitting along the roads guiltily puffing at forbidden cigarettes . . . Too many obvious neurotics. I was overcome by a strong adverse reaction, and we left as quickly as we had come.

TAIZE "Centre de communauté oecumenique" Franciscan Catholics, Protestants and orthodox (1940), Church of Reconciliation (1962)

Country road to Taizé in the morning fog

Continued along the empty road through fields and meadows, where cows grazed and hunters shot at innocent birds and rabbits to CLUNY.

CLUNY* Definitely on the Grand Tour Circuit: overcrowded, poor parking Former Abbey Museum* computer reconstruction of the historical cathedral, interesting documentation of the excavations by CONANT (later US commissioner of Germany and president of Harvard)! otherwise unexciting. (tours every hour, 10-11, 14-16 h, Tue closed), Church (11.-12.cent) once huge now mostly in ruins, Chapel of St Martial (14.cent), Gardens, Horse stables.

Cluny was empty. We visited stables full of heavy "Belgian" horses in one of the former monastery buildings and the museum. The surprise was an exhibition of photographs documenting Conant's work in Cluny long before he became high commissioner to Germany and president of Harvard. I had not known that it was he who essentially recreated the Cluny devastated by the Revolution and completely neglected thereafter. Besides a movie with a computer reconstruction of the old church, we found preciously little of the former glory of Cluny. How thoroughly the Revolution destroyed so much of the great Christian heritage in France!

Beyond Cluny we made a loop east to BERZE-LA-VILLE to look at the murals in the choir of the "chapel of the monks" there after a beautiful lunch al fresco and a snooze on a wall near the church. The murals, Christ in the mandorla saints and evangelists on a blue ground are rare and famous but not as beautiful or exciting as, for instance, Khintsvisi in Georgia.

BERZE-LA-VILLE** (12 km SE of Cluny) Chapelle de Moines:(11.-12. cent) Romanesque-Byzantine murals (secco)** on blue ground in the apse of a small chapel. Rare surviving murals (restored by English Friends of B.-la-V.!) (entry fee)

After a coffee in a charming restaurant in the village, we drove straight west on N 79 to PARAY-LE-MONIAL where in the middle of town one finds the monumental basilica of Sacre-Coeur. - Tournus is more beautiful. . . .

PARAY-LE-MONIAL** Basilica des Sacre-Coeur**(8-19:30h), originally an early cluniacensian foundation (1109), historically important, very sparsely decorated, huge. Site dominated by modern buildings and other paraphernalia connected with the pilgrimage to sister Marguerite-Marie (18.-19. cent) (Sacre Coeur)

Paray-le-Monial

The windows at Paray-Le-Monial are very colorful, alas they are, like so much else in that church additions of the 19th-century (compare them with those of Notre Dame in Dijon).

We found and bought a pair of reading glasses for Barbara to replace a pair that broke. Then, in the late afternoon, we headed south along another empty road D 34 through rolling country and little hamlets: Poisson, Bornat to reach ANZY-LE-DUC, which became the surprise of the day! The former monastery church in the tiny hamlet is built from a deeply honey colored stone that glowed in the afternoon light. Exceptionally well preserved sculptures - the village must have been far from the revolutionary hordes - and a most pleasing interior made us want to stay in this place - alas the village inn was temporarily closed and was adamant in renting us a room.

ANZY-LE-DUC** Exceptionally beautiful village church (11.cent) in beautiful surroundings. Well preserved portals, tympanons, capitals, murals in poor condition.

Ancy-le-Duc, church in late light

Anzy-le-Duc, entrance tympanon

Rather late we made our way to Marcigny where we scared up a real French room in a real French "hotel": dark, creaky, poorly kept - but the sheets were clean and it was cheap. We had a pretentious repast in the provincially pretentious dining room of the hotel served by a crazy hostess . . .

21. September

Somehow we got off to a late start next morning, and it was already 10:30 when we reached CHARLIEU. Two rather capricious fairies, alternately conducted us through the ruins of the former Benedictine abbey. It must have been a grand ensemble at one time, but all that is left is the portal to the former church and a reconstructed cloisters. There are a few splendid, excavated architectural pieces stored in the former refectory (?) (Only one of the fairies can let you into the room!) The "oriental" flavor of some of the ornaments that is promised by the Guide Verte is no stronger than elsewhere in the early gothic buildings in southern France. But at least Michelin saw it in this case. . .

I liked the sober emptiness of the typically Cluniacensian CLOISTERS DES CORDELLIERS at the western end of town better. The "repurchased" cloisters there has beautiful early-gothic ornaments, reminiscent of the ruins of Hirsau in the Black Forest.

CHARLIEU** Former Benedictine Abbey** (9-12; 14-19 h, closed Mo) Church (9.-11.cent) primitive sanctuary, Narthex Grand Portal** flower and geometric elements imported from the "orient" during the crusades, Tympanon, Archives above the narthex (1150), Cloister (11.+15. cent). CLOISTERS DES CORDELIERS* (9-12; 14-19 h closed Mo) Gothic cloisters in separate (down the road beyond railroad) convent was sold to the Americans but in 1913(!) the French State bought back. (14.-15.cent), beautiful galleries and capitals with floral motives. Church (14.cent) unique. Old houses in the village.

Charlieu, capital in the Cloisters-des-Cordelieres

After crossing the Loire valley on D 4, we quickly found ourselves on a narrow, winding back-road climbing through dense forests into the mountains of the Bourbonnaise. After a while the woods opened up and we arrived in CHATEL-MONTAGNE, deserted because of the noon hour. There is nothing special to the small hamlet - all four streets are named after heroes of the resistance - except for the mighty church. We had lunch on a bench in front of it waiting for the next rain. But the church turned out to be a very special place, built entirely from rough granite, very narrow and high inside. A real surprise.

CHATEL-MONTAGNE** Surprisingly beautiful Church** (12. cent) formerly a part of a Benedictine monastery: Constructed of very rough gray granite not of limestone: "tres beau specimen de style roman Auvergnac."

 Chatel-Montagne, the nave of the church

From here we cut south on smaller and smaller roads (D 49 then D 122 and later D201) via le-Mayet-de-Montangne, Ferriers-sur-Sichon, la Guilermie, all villages of a few poor houses, across the Col-de-la-Plantade, woods, fields, lonely mountains. In a series of wild curves we went down towards St-Remy-sur-Duroll.

Shortly behind PARADUC Barbara espied a little hotel by the road bedecked with flowers. There we found a romantic room stuffed with sheep skins everywhere. I went to sleep while Barbara sat in the window overlooking the valley and a vacation village on a lake, all now empty. The dinner was unexpectedly rich, the hostess less than friendly.

22 September

It rained buckets when we left next morning, too wet to get out of the car in THIERS.

THIERS* Site* Ramparts panorama**, Old Fachwerk Houses (15.-17. cent), Church of St-Genes* (Romanesque), wooden sculpture, Interior: Mosaics* (11.cent), Town famous for cutlery: Visit the shop of a cutlery smith (Syndicate d'Initiative, Place de la Mutualite); Cutlery Museum (14-17h, closed Mo, Th) 8 rue de Barante, sonner le gardien.

The rain lessened a little as we circled Clermont-Ferrand through the plain of La Limage in the north on D 224 through Maringes, Ennezat, and Riom to MOZAC and MARSAT.

Lunch above Clermont-Ferrand. Our German Opel.

MOZAC** (3 km from Riom) Church* (12.cent) Romanesque Auvergnac, Capitals**, Tresor** magnificent emailles, chasse Limoges de Saint Calmin**(1168), chasse de Saint Austremoine, both are miserably exhibited in caged viewing boxes, lighted by putting coins into a collection box.

MARSAT : Church (11.-12. cent): treasures some remarkable Auvergnac religious sculpture: Vierge Noire** (12.cent), and (adresser a M.le Cure:) Reliquary Cross de Saint-Epine** silver gilded (Louis XIII)

Both churches are more venerable than beautiful and the treasures are once again housed in dingy peep-boxes behind heavy bars for fear that they could be stolen.

CHATEAU-DE-TOURNOEL** (7 km W of Riom) Site**, Romantic ruined castle (12.-15.cent) (9-12, 14-16 h) La Circe de Tournoel: Francoise de Talaru (1500), "Circe, seductress, Melusine, magicienne, sorciere" 21-years old is the center of a brilliant society. In 1594 the chateau is pillaged, burned, and ruined... Rejuvenated by Charles de Montvalle and "sa femme le battait".

We pass below the mysteriously romantic CHATEAU-DE-TOURNOEL, barely visible in the clouds, as was Clermont-Ferrand which we only saw through holes in the clouds from tiny D 90 high following the edge of the hills in the west of C.-F. From Orcines we drove a while along N 89 and finally turned south to ORCIVAL.

ORCIVAL** Church** (12.cent),superb example of Auvergnac Romanesque architecture, capitals, Statue of the Virgin*** (12.cent), large Crypt, in the sacristy another charming, wooden Virgin and Child (14.cent) (s'adresser au presbytere)

Orcival, village and church

It was once again the dead hour of noon and we took refuge in a small café from the rain. But the celebrated Madonna on her throne was as precious and magic as in 1968 when we visited Orcival with the children on our return from the Dordogne. We now had reached the core land of the Auvergne, and I found that I liked the wild castle-churches in the rough mountains even more than the splendid, rich cathedrals of the Burgundy. Memories of the churches of Georgia pursued both of us for the next two days.

 Orcival, the Madonna

 

Orcival, the 12th-century Madonna

From Orcival we climbed in the rain across the bare mountain passes of the Col de Guery to le Mont-Dore - a 19th century watering hole - and across another pass among the volcanic hills to ST-NECTAIRE-LE-HAUTE, where we found a simple room - with heating - in a simple hotel and a meal of Aiguillettes albeit not as good as those in Burgundy - in a very simple village restaurant. The famous church is very dark but impressive and very well preserved, the treasures hidden behind bars.

ST-NECTAIRE-LE-HAUT** Church** (12.cent) superb example of Auvergnac Romanesque architecture, Interior: magnificent Capitals**, Tresor**: Bust of Saint Baudime**, Limoge enamels, reliquaries, sacred gold objects.

 St-Nectaire-le-Haut, church and village

 

 

23. September

ISSOIRE, next morning, was more interesting because most of its sculpture still carries its old colors, and they are a revelation: "garish" red, blues and greens. Unfortunately two old men arbitrarily switched the lights on and off, depending on how much money they were given. The church is very dark. My flashlight nearly excited the guards to do me physical violence - which of course spoiled my pleasure. . .

ISSOIRE** Church St-Austremoine** (12. cent) Interior: Capitals**, vast Crypte Reliquary of Saint Austremoine* decorated with Limoges emails.

Issoire, the apse of St-Austremoine

Barbara had meanwhile found and bought a slim little book on the Auvergnac churches, with which we set out into the remote hinterland (south on the auto route to St-Germain-Lembron then on D 141) looking for an exquisitely stark and abstract black-wood Madonna with child in the church of the tiny village of ST-GERVAZY.

 St-Gervazy, the replica of the stolen Madonna

We found the church and the key to it - but alas the Madonna had been stolen two years earlier and never returned again. A faithful plaster copy stands on the altar now.

St-Gervazy Village

We drove on through the Gorges-de-l'Alagnon in the rain to BLESLE, a lovely old bourg with a funny war memorial: four World-War-I grenades surround a realistic Tommy-figure. The church is dark and overbuilt.

The surprise of the day became BRIOUDE, perhaps the most beautiful cathedral since Tournus: colorful stones, some old coloration, lighter and freer than Issoire and St-Nectaire.

BRIOUDE** Basilica St-Julien** (12+16. cent) Interior: Capitals**, murals, several remarkable sculptures (14, 15, 17. cent), Modern stained-glass windows**

 Brioude, the nave from the gallery

 

Modern windows in Brioude

Brioude, Cathedral

Brioude the ceiling of the chapel in the galleries.

In cold rain along RN 122 across Col de Cere and the ski huts of Super-Lioran towards Aurillac. We drove this way also in 1968, it seems. It had become late, and we were on the look out for a cheap Chambres d'Hote which we found under the roof of a wonderful old farm house in the village of GIOU-DE-MAMOU, a few kilometers before Aurillac. The charming but overworked, young hostess even prepared a communal dinner for her six guests - a young couple from Strasbourg and an older retired couple from northern France - which we ate sitting on a wooden benches next to each other at a huge rough refectory table downstairs. The conversation in French and German became very lively. We realized how few people we meet and talk to these days.

 Our Gide at Giou-de-Mamou

24. September

Barbara, who does all the driving, has become fond of the small back roads, and so we travel along the smallest tracks I can find. This time we branch off into D 601 off D 920 south of Aurillac, heading directly towards CONQUES. We are rewarded with pretty country in the beginning and a truly magnificent ride along the walls of yet another limestone canyon, the Gorges du Dourdue, in the end near our destination. Despite the miserable cold and rain CONQUES is beautiful - largely because it is deserted at this time of the year.

CONQUES*** (58 km S of Aurillac, 38 km to Rodez) SITE** Church Ste-Foy**: magnificent roman. Architecture (12. cent), Tympanon*** over W-Portal: Last Judgement, Interior: austere very high, superb grilles, frescoes (15.cent), TRESOR***: Separate building behind church (10-12, 15-16 h) The richest collection of religious artifacts in France

Conques the village and Ste-Foy Cathedral

We decide to stay for the rest of the day in the only cheap hotel in town, in a pink and red decorated room with "chauffage", two beds, and a shower under the roof of an otherwise charming old house. The view is across slate covered roofs into the cloud shrouded hills. It continues to rain with few brief interludes. Below us I discover a boulangerie with a special pain de paysage that will survive longer than the usual baguette.

Conques our heated, pink room

Views from our three windows.

 

 

Conques, this is not Barbara with platform shoes

 Conques, entrance of Ste-Foy

 

The tympanon above the entrance, another Second Coming of Christ, shows rare remnants of the gay, old coloration

Hell...

and Those-Who-Go-To-Heaven.

Conques side-nave

Conques the transept

For once the museum, containing a tresor of precious treasures and relics, was truly worth a visit. Ste. Foy, the cathedral's name-saint - was a young Roman girl who according to local legend gave herself to be burned on the stake by her father, because she refused to marry the man he had promised her to - she was already married to Jesus the poor thing -- appears everywhere; last but not least as a stiff Carolingian gold reliquary (10th cent.) studded with precious stones sitting on a golden throne - looking like an old man. . . . Barbara had nightmares about the cruelties of the Christian Church and the oppressive stone walls that surround her wherever we go. . .

 Ste. Foy, the girl-saint

25. September

The ride from Conques to RODEZ and on to Severac-le-Chateau is not particularly exciting. In Rodez we get out and between rains walk around, visit the mightily fortified cathedral and have a coffee in a typical bistro, the center of the local bicycle club, trophies and all, and an old fashioned "hole-in-the-ground" toilet from which you have to run in order to not be drowned by the gushing waterfall.

RODEZ** Historically interesting bourg. Cathedral Notre-Dame** (13.-15. cent): spectacular fortified bastion, magnifique Clocher*** (14.cent), Equally grand and elegant gothic Interior** Numerous ancient houses, Musee Fenaille*: prehistoric, gallo-romaine through middle ages, beautiful annunciation (16.cent), pottery

Barbara at "lunch" in a bistro in Rodez

Behind Severac the road drops from one mountain plateau to the next and into the valley of the lower Tarn near Millau, with spectacular views across the Causses from each step.

Near Millau

We climb out of Millau on a wildly curving, narrow road (D 110) onto the CAUSSE NOIR with innumerable views of the town and valley below. The idea had been to visit the Chaos de Montpellier-le-Vieux, a "Chinese" collection of rock formations. Alas it pours again. The woods are pretty here with many yellow trees on the dry Karst of the Causse. We loose the road and find ourselves involuntarily in the forlorn and rundown village of la-Roque-Ste-Marguerite in the Canyon de la Dourbie instead of in Peyreleau on the Tarn. We climb up another precipitous road (D 124) back to the Causse Noir, pass the wild looking sheep village - they all look like that up on the Causses - of St-Andre-de-Vezines and finally descend in hair-pin turns into Peyrelau-Roziers on the confluence of the Jonte and the Tarn.

The town is closed by the police, because a group of Greens are marching from Millau to Peyrelau. . . We walk across the bridge and find a very reasonable, heated room in a hotel garni not mentioned by any of the hotel guides. . . Dinner time finds us in the restaurant of the "Grand Hotel". Despite the giggling service we solemnly "dance" through another grande affair de manger in three courses. How can the French survive this fare?

26. September

Sunshine greets us in the morning! Have we finally reached the South? Spontaneously we decide to stay another night in our hotel and go for a long ride exploring the Causse Mejean and the Gorges du Tarn.

Nobody looking at a map will ever understand the vagaries of our trip. The reason is that most often I make up the route on the spot, sometime it is changed by fate, simply because we have made a wrong turn and instead of going back we continue in the new direction. Barbara is driving and I have the map in my lap and make all the wild guesses.

We start along the Jonte which we leave in Le Truel along a narrow road sens nome marked "route dangereuse par 5 km" and in fact the track is about as wide as our car and on its right drops several hundred meters into the river. There is no railing and numerous hairpin turns - but the surface is asphalted all the way. Needless to say, the view of the canyon and the Causse Noir is breathtaking. Thank God, we meet nobody driving in the opposite direction! Occasionally there are turn-outs. In one such place we leave the car behind - with trepidation - a sign warns tourists of break ins! - and walk for a couple of hours along the edge of the canyon. In the end we reach a rocky promontory overlooking the canyon below. A sign requests "silence! reservation des vautours!" Several huge birds turn their circles in the updraft. Later we discover in our dictionary that vautours are vultures. The sun continues to shine with only a few pretty clouds and no rain in sight.

A few picturesque houses appear: St Pierre-des-Tripieres. They are built from rough limestone with hardly any mortar. The roofs are made from flat stacked stones like in Athos or in some parts of Brittany. Many are uninhabited and in ruins, in some live sheep. St Pierre is the prettiest and best preserved of the villages on the Causse Mejean that we find this day.

St Pierre-des-Tripieres, Causse Mejean

We pass through thin pine stands that have obviously been planted not long ago and eventually reach Huras-Parade, drive a few kilometers south on D 986 and turn north-east into D 63 towards Nivoliers.

Now the Causse takes on the shape I had hoped for: large open spaces on which grow only more junipers and low shrubs between stones bleached white. Off and on a straight row of poplars delineates a dark brown, plowed field - strewn with hardly any less stones. Above all an infinite sky: stark, minimal and beautiful., like parts of Anatolia, Ladakh, and the Kyklades, my kind of country.

Poplars on the Causse-Mejean

After a while we reach D 16 and return west to met D 986 again which we follow north to Ste-Enimie in the Gorge du Tarn. We reach the edge of the canyon first at a spot above St-Chely-du-Tarn. A coffee shack occupies this beautiful place, but the people are kind and the coffee excellent - and of course the view of the river and its canyon is wildly romantic.

View of the Gorges-du-Tarn from the Causse-Mejean

Finally a long descent along the canyon wall with spectacular views of the river brings us to the bridge at Ste-Enimie.

Violet shadows over the Gorge-du-Tarn

STE-ENIMIE* Pretty village named after a 7-cent Merovingian princess who founded a convent there

Ste-Enimie

The place looks pretty enough but is so crowded with busses and tourists that we drive on, following the river back to le Roziers in the beautiful late afternoon light. For the nightly eating ritual we go back to the Grand Hotel after discovering that all other restaurants have closed for the season.

27. September

During the morning the weather is again getting worse - we have not found the sunny south yet. We drive along the Jonte, through Meyureis, which would be worth another visit, and then wind our way up to the top of Mount Aigoual. The view across the Causses and into the Herault to the south is spectacular. Huge rain clouds drift at high speed across the landscape, with bright sun spots here and there. But it is too cold to sit outside and have lunch there.

View from Mt Aigoual

Approaching sheets of rain finally drove us down the north-eastern face (D 18) of the Massif de l'Aigoual. Originally I had had in mind to go to St-Jean-du-Gard by way of the Corniches des Cevennes, but a small sign at the turn-off of D 19 says "route dangereuse a St-Andre-de-Valborgne" which is too much of a temptation for Barbara to pass up. So we drive down this diminutive track into the Gardon de St Jean: meadows, woods of chestnut trees completely forgotten and neglected villages - with protestant temples! We are in the famous and unhappy villages of the Huegenottes and the Camisards. I had not known that their descendents still live there and are still protestants.

We pass l'Estrechure and in St Jean find another winding back road (D 50) to Mialet

and LE MAS DE SOUBEYRAN, where is the museum of the Huegenottes. It turns out to be more of a "shrine to the holocaust of the Protestants" in France filled with romantic horror paintings and copies of all the terrible edicts and broken treaties between the French crown and the unhappy religious revolutionaries.

LE-MAS-DE-SOUBEYRAN* "Quelque pauvres maisons, serrees en silence, couvrent le petit plateau entoure de montagnes deboisees... apre et severe, elles sont un lieu sacre du protestantisme..." Musee du Desert (1 hr) 9:30-12, 14:30-18 h, closed Su morning,

We retrace our steps to a small country inn in Trabuc that we had passed. We are greeted by a framed copy of the infamous treaty of Nantes - a Protestant house! The room is clean and adequate but ice-cold. Our request for some heat (electric heater) the landlady rejected out of hand. Later after dinner we find that the heat is on - alas an hour later she turned it off again. . . The good Protestants are decidedly of the Calvinist persuasion. . .

Besides us there is only another younger English couple staying at the hotel. Over dinner - one of the poorest dinners we had in France - I involved them in a conversation. It is nice to be able to express one's thoughts in a language one really speaks well. . . They turn out to be very spirited and know France well from many visits. One day I would like to meet them again in England.

 

28. September

Sunshine in the morning! We decide to explore the region around Lasalle just south-west over the hill. In examining the maps closely I had noticed that there are literally dozens of "chateaux" in the hills around LASALLE. I wanted to find out why so many and why there, somehow I imagined that they had a connection with the Protestant movement.

The Valley of Lasalle

We drive on tiny D 133 out of Anduze - the French capital of bamboo! - through several little hamlets in lushly wooded country. Later we turn into D21 and in ST-BONNET-DE-SALENDRINQUE encounter our first "mystery" chateau. A beautiful plane-tree allee leads to the house, a fountain, more trees. I sneak around it on tiptoes. It is beautifully restored, large but all shutters are closed and not a soul is in sight. There is absolutely nothing mysterious about it, it is just a beautifully restored small chateau, maybe a manor hall in English terms. We fall in love with it, and fantasize for a day of buying it and living there. Why not? Barbara, however, is not persuaded, she wants no part of it.

The allée to "our" castle in St-Bonnet-de-Salendrinque

We decide to look for the smallest roads around and climb out of Lasalle to a place called St-Croix-de-Montvaillant-de-Cadere where we have lunch on the wall of a tiny cemetery overlooking the valley and the hills. One can see the many chateaux in the hills from there. The area is beautiful, covered with chestnut woods, and I can see easily why one should like to own a private castle in these hills, but how they got there in the first place we never found out.

Behind St-Croix the road gets even smaller and more beautiful. After many fanciful curves we arrive in St-Jean-du-Gard in the middle of a busy market day. The beautiful things they sell on the open markets, cheeses of every variety and smell, vegetables, apples now in season, fish, but here also large amounts of dry goods. We sit down for a coffee to watch the people: before us is a table with a dozen of young people, a couple of beautiful black women and their mixed children, a few Algerians, the men are mostly white. They look like university dropouts, a commune out of the seventies? Barbara talks to a single woman on the next table - she turns out to be German who lives since two years with her invalid husband and two children in a village nearby. Live is not easy, she complains - but there is no snow, the climate is so much better than in Germany!

We retrace yesterday's path to l'Entrechure and then climb along D 152 to the Col de l'Ascier and on to the Col de la Triballe and then down (D 420) into the valley of the Herault to PONT D'HERAULT. A wonderful road with views in all directions - if you do not drive through a tunnel of chestnut trees hung with hundreds of prickly fruit.

Now we are on the main road again (D 999) and soon reach GANGES, where we chose the more expensive of two cheap evils as a room for the night.

On recommendation of the hotel manager we eat in a tiny local bistro very well and very reasonably. Behind our table a noisy crowd, two young local couples who eat a really fancy dinner. We strike up a conversation which becomes very animated when I inquire after the fate of the Communist party - which once was very strong in this area. They vow that they were all totally disinterested in politics now. One young man insists to meet me next day to present me with a copy of a book he is reading, he writes down the title: "Is Communism Soluble in Alcohol?" by some M. Reiser who he insists is French. The answer to the question is of course positive - which he thinks is wonderfully funny! I receive great applause with the observation that the only monuments to the past socialist era were the public pissoirs in the villages. . .

While Barbara is shopping for lunch, I investigate the window of a real estate broker - and find our CHATEAU DE-ST-BONNET FOR SALE! I cannot believe it! The girl in the shop cannot find the file, but guesses the price to be around 2 Million Francs - the whole of $400 000!! - So I spend another day dreaming of becoming a Burgherr in France - Barbara is not amused and finally proposes to offer it to Arlene and Bud. . .

29. September

The sun still rises! We are so close to the coast now that we vow to make it there by noon. Still we stop in SAUVE, where I had spent a few days in 1955. Then the upper town had been an empty ghost town, the entire - protestant I realize now - population having emigrated to the United States. Now most houses have been renovated - bought up by city people? It has become quite a beautiful small town.

Sauve, Place de la Republique

Sauve, a narrow lane (the only saturated image of the entire lot!)

We drive through Quissac, pass by Sommieres, Boisseron, and Lunel and arrive in AIGUES-MORTES just before noon. Hotel prices are very high, nowhere is there any seasonal reduction in hotel prices, they would rather close the place. We inspect several of the cheapest and find them intolerable and dirty. Finally we find a room with two beds for just under 300 ffr ($ 60). Barbara vanishes into the shower and I sit down on the bed - which promptly collapses. I put the slats back in again and try to recline very carefully - it collapses a second time. I go down and complain. The management appears two men strong. Barbara is still hiding in the shower. She calls that she wants to stay in this room, so I induce the two characters to take both beds out, and I put the mattresses on the floor. The management is incredulous, but next day I gain a reduction in price. . . We walk through town and then drive south to the beach.

AIGUES-MORTES** Best approach on D979 at sunset and seen from TOUR CARBONNIERE** Tour-Constance** another fabulous view of the entire town and the marches, Ramparts** (10-12, 14-17 h) (1272) start from NW tower (3/4 hr) Church of St Louis (King Louis IX of France, leader of the last two unhappy 6th and 7th Crusades in 1248 and 1270): restored well, beautiful modern windows.

Aigues-Mortes, Church of Saintly King Louis

 

We found a dirt-road to the Point-de-l'Espigette east of le Grau-du-Roi where a very shallow beach extends for miles. I went to snooze in the dunes and Barbara disappeared on a walk for some two hours. The day was slowly sinking into the sea.

That night we found a wonderful traditional Provençal restaurant and ate a great fish soup and ordered a bouillebaisse for tomorrow night.

30. September

It poured again in the morning. Barbara had called Anne Pixley, a painter friend from Los Angeles, who lives part of the time in Bellegarde north of Arles, and we agreed to visit her there in the afternoon after seeing Arles.

Despite the rain, the visit to Arles turned out well. We spent a couple of hours in the Musee Reattu (mildly interesting), in St-Trophime (very dark, the cloisters crowded and expensive, so that Barbara did not want to go), and walking through the old streets of town, which we both enjoyed. We left out the Roman ruins for reasons of price and the inclement weather, and after all we have seen so many Roman theaters.

ARLES*** Roman theaters, Constantine's palace, St-Trophime, Museums (9-12:30, 14-19h, all-inclusive ticket 12F) Amphitheater** (1.cent AD) Roman Theater**(1.cent BC): Augustan Odeon St-Trophime* (9.-15.cent), Door** rivaling St-Gilles(!), Cloisters** accessible through the adjoining bishops palace (tourist center), Museum of Christian Art**, sarcophagi, underground gallery Alyscamps* "avenue of sarcophagi" leading to Church of St-Honorat: remains of a necropolis Constantine's Palace*: Roman baths Musee Reattu*: on the banks of the Rhone in a priory of the Knights of St-John of Jerusalem: small museum of the Arts of the Middle Ages in a beautiful setting, also 70 drawing by Picasso, Tapestry by Lurcat, sculptures by Zadkin and Bourdelle, Flemish Tapestries.

We arrived at Anne's studio in Bellegarde thoroughly drenched from looking all over the village for her. She takes us to her little garden-house where we have a glass of wine (Barbara) and cheese (I).

On the way back we follow a small road (D38) behind the dikes of the Sete-Rhone-Canal to St.Gilles. The famous facade of the cathedral is in repair and half shrouded by a scaffold. Astonishing is the mixture of Roman and medieval Christian beast-sculptures, equally strange is the canon of the depicted stories. I must find some further information somewhere. The rest of the church is uninteresting, having been partially and poorly rebuilt in the 17-19th century after the destruction of the war of religions. The crypt was closed and it started raining again.

ST-GILLES* Abbey once object of a pilgrimage equal in importance to Compostela it was destroyed during the Wars of Religion, Church** Western Facade: magnificently sculpted three doors** (1180-1220), Upper Church: 17-19. cent, Lower church: Crypt* (9-13 h apply to keeper, 14-17 h at Presbytery, 13 rue Hoche) (12. cent) earliest barrel vault in France, Burgundian influences. Spiral Staircase: perfect example of masonry (apply at tourist center)

We returned to Aigues Mortes along a tiny road (D 179) through rice fields and vineyards that Anne had recommended. At night we solemnly attend to the digestion of the bouillabaisse we had ordered. It could have easily fed four people.

1. October

Barbara went to get the car while I negotiated the price of our room "sans lits" When I saw her come back on foot, I thought I knew what had happened. Well, it was worse. As expected some one had smashed the window and cleaned out the radio and what had been in the tun - but to top that off, they had waited for Barbara, and as a bedraggled Barbara stood before the mess, one guy grabbed her handbag, jumped into a car in which his two accomplices waited, and off they went. Barbara was too dazed to offer resistance or memorize the car's license plate.

The most valuable item in the trunk was my old Cannon camera with two zoom lenses. Thanks God I had a second camera. The old suitcase had contained few valuables, two beakers from Beaune for Henry Helvajian's wedding, a clay milk pot for us from Vezelay, maps and books borrowed from Irmgard Gernand. They also took Barbara's beautiful winter boots and her cheap sunglasses but were not interested in the Michelin maps and guides in the glove compartment, or a bag of wonderful apples on the rear seat.

The real loss was the contents of Barbara's handbag: both of our air tickets, credit cards, her German passport and American alien registration card, driver's license, some German money, and $40 in traveler's checks. . . Not much in real money but the nuisance was only to come!

We went to the police, who made us wait for over an hour, dutifully registered our case - and two other car break-ins - but was otherwise totally disinterested in the "crime", "happens all the time. . . ." And then Barbara tried to call the Visa people in the USA from a telephone booth. . I finally convinced her to do that from a hotel at night and to first have the window replaced before the rain started again. So she drove with great concentration to Nimes - where we arrived at the Opel place at noon. We waited two hours - only to find that they did not have the proper "vitre". So we continued our search through a most beautiful afternoon past Beaucaire across the bridge to Tarascon (now sadly inundated by petro-chemical smog!) to Avignon where we got the thing replaced on the spot ($100).

To ease our nerves and after two nights sleeping on the floor we took a room in a nearby Hotel Climat. Barbara got on the phone - and stayed there for the next two or three hours, after which we were promised a new Visa card, to be picked up in three days at a bank in Avignon, a reimbursement of all damages to the car, replacement of the lost traveler's checks, and a new set of air tickets. . .

2. October

There was still no rain next morning. We wandered all over AVIGNON. First to the Rocher-des-Domes to look at the river, the bridge, and at Ville-Neuf on the other side. There we watched for some time a man with two women, an older one and her daughter, playing the old guessing game of where they might be from. Barbara thought that the women could be Hungarians, but the man was very much southern French. Finally the puzzle was resolved when the mother tried to look through one of the telescopes, and the man told her in Russian that that required "bolshoi dinky" - much money. I had to laugh so hard that the three came over and struck up a very animated conversation with us. The women were from Minsk. The "old communist from Marseilles"- as he introduced himself - had picked them up there with his car and was taking them for their first visit to the West. We laughed a great deal and parted Russian style, with hugs and kisses on all sides.

AVIGNON*** Le-Palais-des-Papes***: (1hr, guided tours only, 15F) Le-Petit-Palais:*** (9-12, 14-18:15 h closed Tu) (1317): Unique Museum of medieval painting and sculpture: some 200 paintings: Italian 13-16.cent, Avignon 14-15.cent, gothic sculpture Rocher-des-Domes: Site** overlooking the Rhone Streets, Houses, Chapels and Churches The Bridge of St-Benezet** and Chapel of St-Nicolas

Avignon, the Palais-des-Papes in October

I was not particularly inclined to be herded by a guide with innumerable other foreigners through the Grand Palais des Papes, but I had been looking forward to the Petit-Palais for some time. We were not disappointed, its collection of early Italian and Provençal paintings was a true pleasure. There are no great and famous painters among the 200 quattro- and cinque-cento "primitives", they are all second and third rate, but who cares, the gold-ground behind the Madonnas and the minute details of the hagiographic stories of the various saints in the margins are just as beautiful as in any other Florentine or Sienese altar piece of that time. And not even the Uffici have as many Madonnas as here: sweet and simple peasant girls from the villages and stern ladies from the best society hold anything from dumb little urchins to old, already half-dead Christ-men in their laps and to their breasts.

Avignon, rain clouds over Le-Petit-Palais (not our car)

Being somewhat tired of the "sophisticated" French dinners, I persuaded Barbara to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant that night. The young maitre d' was a Vietnamese student alright, but the restaurant was owned and cooked for by his Chinese father-in-law - as I had suspected. . . It was not great oriental food, but I slept much better on a bowl of rice.

 

3. October

We decide to move our tents south nearer Le Beaux, but last not least to beat the expense of the hotel in Avignon (330 ffr/night). Michelin lists only one reasonable Hotel Mistral (under 300 ffr) in the triangle between Avignon, Arles, and Salon-de-Provence, it is in le-Mas-Blanc-des-Alpilles some 4 km west of St-Remy. Barbara drives us there on some pretty roads through the hinterland. The place is comfortable, clean and light, and the owner is friendly enough, so we leave all our possessions there and drive to Les Beaux on D 27.

Just across the pass I rediscover the fantastic, surrealist quarries where the stones for the houses of Le Beaux were cut from. The light-gray "bauxite" is very soft here. so that it can be cut with simple cable saws leaving huge cubist caves behind. I had explored them in 1954, and in fact they were the strongest impression from Le Beaux. Now one cave has been converted into a kind of movie theater, the other into a "cave de gustation" where they sell local wine to the tourists, "entree libre!" Filled with barrels, the smell of wine and a "oinothek" in one side arm it reminded me of Piranesi's "Carceri."

Les Beaux is even more impressive than I had remembered. We spend the entire morning exploring the village and the castle, and I discover many things that I had not seen before, like the modern windows in the shepherd's chapel, donated by Prince Rainer of Monaco, "owner" and mecene of Le Beaux, the cemetery, and that pigeons were raised in the strange honeycomb structure of square holes in the castle which I had photographed in 55. The sky was covered with scattered drifting clouds, and the sun was shining most of the time, but I missed the heat that I remembered. The distance was not clear enough to make out the sea, but the towers and the smoke trails of the refineries in Lavera and Port-de-Fos were clearly visible.

LES-BEAUX*** Best approach on D27 from the N. Site***, Calvinist stronghold in 16. cent., Destroyed by Richelieu/Louis XIII in 1632. VIEW POINT*** on D27 S of Tour du Cardinal and N of Les Beaux, turn-off D27 on paved road: Panorama*** of Les Beaux, the hills, and the Bouches du Rhone

Les Beaux, the shepherds' chapel

 

 

Les Beaux, an abstraction created by erosion and the late light

Les Beaux, Barbara in one of the cubist quarries

In the late afternoon we drove down through the well remembered olive groves on the southern side of Les Beaux to Malisanes-des-Alpilles and on a tiny road (D78 E) through an idyllic landscape of cypresses, fermes, vineyards, and plastic "hothouses" to the "Aqueducts de Barbegal." Cornelius had discovered this spot on his explorations in the summer of 1985.

We sat on the limestone bluff where the aqueduct split and watched the changing afternoon colors of the fields and the landscape. The sun was slowly sinking behind the Abbey de Montmajour in the west inviting us to explore other old memories there. Alas, the monastery was just closing when we got there.

AQUEDUCTS DE BARBEGAL South of Fontvielle, Two Roman aqueducts, one piped water to Arles, the other to a mill.

Landscape near Fontvielle

We drove home through Fontvielle, St. Gabriel, and St-Etienne-du-Gres. At night we had a sumptuous and very rich dinner prepared by the cook of the Hotel Mistral.

4. October

Barbara wants so badly to go for a long walk on the beach, and the sun is shining. So we drive south to the Eastern Camarque.

On the way we spend two hours at MONTMAJOUR. The rock graves, in which I had slept a full-moon night in 1955, are still there though filled with rain water. The monastery has been cleaned up and the farmer with his fierce dog and chickens, who lived there in 55, has been evicted. In exchange you now pay a healthy entry fee. But the space of the huge upper church and the vaulting of the ancient lower church are clear and beautiful. Barbara climbs the tower, while I inspect the cloisters.

ABBEY-DE-MONTMAJOUR** (9-12, 14-17 h, closed TU+WE, 8F), Benedictine (10.cent, graves), Cloister* (12.cent), Upper church of Notre-Dame (12.cent) huge but unfinished , Lower church of St-Pierre* (10.cent), A rare (12.cent.) cruciform Church of Ste-Croix lies 200 m north on road to Fontvielle, near the little cemetery, (ask for key at the office at Montmajour)

Montmajour

Montmajour, the Cloisters

Later I got the key and we visited St-Pierre down the road. Here the farmer and his fierce dog were still very much in evidence, so were all kinds of water birds on a shallow lake in the remaining swamps behind the church. St-Pierre is a circular-to-cruciform building of the "Dzhvari" type - although architecturally simpler than the Georgian cross-churches - and 400 years younger (later). Do they have common relations in Syria? This type of building is not exactly common in the West.

We circumnavigate Arles, cross the Rhone, and after a few kilometers turn off D 570 into the rushes of the Camarque (D 36B). We drive along the eastern shore of the Etang-de-Vaccares. In two places the road reaches the water's edge. The sun is shining and the clouds are reflected perfectly in the mirror of water. There are some water birds but no flamingoes, those we see in small groups standing in shallow water a little later when we drive along the dike towards the Phare-de-la-Gacholle. The long tele-lens is gone, so I cannot catch them with the camera.

Eventually the path along the dike becomes a dirt road and about two kilometers from the light house it is blocked completely. We get out to have some lunch and befriend two Swiss girls coming on foot from the lighthouse packed with huge backpacks and a guitar. They have walked along the dike from Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer and beg for some water. Later we take them along to Salin-de-Giraud.

SALIN-DE-GIRAUD is a peculiar place, a company town apparently intended as a kind of socialist "workers paradise" showcase built by an enlightened Solvay management maybe in the thirties. Hundreds of brick row houses with gardens and a planned "center." Behind the village tower ridge upon ridge of salt Himalayas collected from shallow evaporation lakes.

We drive along the dike of the Grand Rhone to the PLAGE-DE-PIEMANSON. Miles of wide sandy beach, nicer than the one on the other side of the Camarque, with low dunes separating the beach from the salt pans. I sleep for an hour in a hollow in the dunes while Barbara disappears for three hours on her so much longed for walk.

We drive back to le-Mas-Blanc on D 36 behind the dike, a couple of kilometers behind Salin-de-Giraud we overtake the two young girls again. I offer them another ride, but they are too proud to accept. When I get back into the car, I am followed by two dozen of very hungry mosquitoes. Those poor two romantics wanting to sleep outside in this swamp. From Arles we take the same way as yesterday.

Why does the cook of the Mistral prepare every of his phenomenal dishes with another incredibly rich cream sauce? They are hard to sleep with! Barbara eats only an appetizer.

 

5. October

Our nice host - who by the way spends his vacations each winter on a Bauernhof, on a farm in the Black Forrest - recommends a hike along the hills above Les Beaux, west of route D 27. We park the car together with another vehicle near the four-corners on the pass and go on a nice hike for some two hours. When we come back at about 2 PM the car has been broken in a second time - on the opposite side. . . The stone lies among the glass pieces on the back seat. The backrest has been ripped open - alas the trunk was empty this time, and nothing is missing.

So, once again we spend the rest of the day at the police station in St-Remy and with the surprised Opel dealer in Avignon. Thank God he had another widow. . .

While waiting in the square in St-Remy I watch several groups of English and American ex-patriats living there and in the surrounding villages. They meet among themselves, speak atrocious French and do not blend in at all. I swear never to become an ex-patriat German or English in Southern France or in Nepal or anywhere else. . .

We never got to see the architectural sights of St.-Remy.

ST-REMY, LES ANTIQUES-GLANUM** (2.cent BC), remnants of a Roman town, Mausoleum**, Arch, Excavations

ST-PAUL-DE-MAUSOLE MONASTERY (12-13. cent), now convalescent home, delightful small cloister*, Van Gogh died here (1889-90).

 

6. October

Neither have we really seen Arles yet. We decide to spend the day in Arles - and it promptly rains buckets all day. . . We visit St-Trophime staying much longer than warranted because it is dry in there. I pay and have a dispirited look at the cloisters, because Barbara prefers to look at the postcards instead. We have a coffee and drive back to le-Mas-Blanc at least it is dry and warm there. On the way back we quickly stop to see the unusually primitive tympanon of St-Gabriel (at the carre-fours to Tarascon).

7. October

Mount Ventoux, at the foot of which lived and wrote Petrarch (the first "romantic" description of nature per se), has attracted me since Paulchen Fragstein's German classes at the Oberschule in Wunstorf - another "head-trip" - and now we are so close. Since days we watch from the distance, - and I guess, Mount Ventoux was one day visible without clouds. . . Notwithstanding we take off in its general direction in the morning: we drive first around Cavaillon then to GORDES.

I have now run out of my notes and for days we contemplate buying a new Michelin "Guide Verte," but find them to expensive every time. So I decide to "wing" it, and GORDES had just appeared somewhere in the recesses of my memory.

It's site is spectacular when you come from the south. We climb its steep lanes, look into the cathedral, find an open-air stage overhanging the precipice just below it, admire the castle, but do not feel like visiting the Vazarély Museum inside it and instead have coffee with an incredible, still warm tart des pommes in a very inviting restaurant. Tart des pommes and des poivres have become Barbara's passion.

Gordes, a warm fire and the best pear tart in France

Somewhere on the map, looking once again for the smallest, most curvaceous road, I discover the ABBAYE DE SENANQUE in the hills above Gordes. We drive there on a road "hanging" on a steep cliff side, and coming around a bend there is indeed a Cisterciensian monastery (1184, burned by the Revolution and rebuilt in the 19th cent.) in the valley below. It is surrounded by fields with strange, low round hedges in long rows. At first they look like the tea plantations in Georgia, but the climate here certainly does not allow for growing tea. Eventually the shrubs turn out to be lavender, alas, of course, without flowers at this time of the year. The whole misery of this off-season experience of the Provence is brought home by this discovery: imagine the sensuous smell of summer in this valley. . .

From there we climb through low shrubs and pine woods to MURS, a nicely restored village. To avoid another break-in - unfortunately we have become very paranoid - we park in front of the school yard full of children. Behind it we discover a very romantic, privately owned chateau in a classical French garden.

Later we made a detour high up to pretty VENASQUES to have our lunch "pique-nique" on a wall overlooking the valley below. No rain!

Lunch at Venasque

In the afternoon of October 7 we drove around CARPENTRAS and its old synagogue

CARPENTRAS* Small agricultural town, Market Friday Old Cathedral St-Siffrein* (1404), Vitreaux, Porte Juives Treasury* (ask at Inguimbertine Library on the old Wall-Blvd.): 14-16. cent statues, Limoge-enameled cross, Oldest synagogue in France (10-12, 15-17 h closed Sa, Su) (15. cent, restored 20.cent)

and found a hotel in MALAUCÉNE. At night we went for a walk through the decaying circular center of town (not much) and ate at Chez . . . , where the only other guests was a nice middle-aged couple from Hamburg. As it turned out I knew the brother of the man, a physicist in Kaiserslautern. We had an animated talk till late - they own a house not far from Malaucéne.

8. October

MT. VENTOUX was very close now - but the weather was again overcast and cold. So we made a compromise, we drove on pretty D 19 east through BENOIT to ST-ESTEPHE and then on D 974 up the mountain to Le Chalet Reynard. By that time we were completely surrounded by the clouds - and beautiful fall-colored trees. So we drove down again on D 164 to SAULT and on D 943 south to ST-SATURNIN-LES-APT in the search for sunnier weather on the coast. Continuing on D 943 through pretty country we reached APT, eventually passed through the LUBERON and on to CADENET. On D 543 we drove into crowded AIX-EN-PROVENCE - where the sun was shining all right, but all hotels were either lousy or sinfully expensive !

I had the mistaken idea that one would find something cheaper out-side of town. So we drove on tiny D 46 below MT-VICTOIRE into a very beautiful late afternoon. Well, there we only found palaces and very fancy resorts. . . Eventually we came upon a very French hotel in the tiny and colorful town of TRETS.

9. October

This became a day of many different impressions driving through most beautiful country. In the morning the weather was stable but in the end the clouds caught up with us and when we got to the coast it was raining again cats and dogs.

Very early we drove into ST-MAXIN-LA-STE-BAUME to visit the huge cathedral and walk through the old part of the city. Both are of historical but only of marginal visual interest, and neither is the road. Returning to Trets we then drove south on minuscule D 12 towards ST-ZACHARIE. An increasingly pretty drive through the woods and hills of the MONTAGNES-DE-REGANAS. We even climbed the highest hill and saw the snow-covered Alps in the great distance, - The sun was shining too! After a very short ride east from St-Zacharie we continued on equally curvaceous and narrow D 80 into the fantastic Karst of the MASSIF DE LA SAINTE BAUME. We made lunch and paid a visit to the Hospice at its highest point - looks like in Greece there. - and then dropped down to Gemenos - even a Greek name!? - with spectacular views of Marseilles - in increasingly denser fog along the coast. N 8 and D 3b brought us through dense pine forests to LA-CIOTAT-PLAGE - by the sea - which because of houses and roads and rain one could not see! - Stay away from the Côte d' Azur it's completely overrated, totally overbuilt, and ugly! ! -

Searching for a view or a stretch of sand and the sun we drove on through increasingly uglier towns until we found a hotel in SIX-FOURS-PLAGE - and a quite tolerable Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant!. - It was raining again.

10. October

Over breakfast we held a brain-storming session, something dramatic had to be done: Obviously the weather was not going to change substantially, and equally obviously there was no place on the coast to lie or walk on the beach. We then had the brilliant idea to go directly to ANTIBES - ST-JUAN-LES-PINES find a hotel there, and explore the museums in Antibes, Nice, and St-Paul-de-Vance, which would at least provide us with a roof over our heads and maybe even with some beautiful art. Barbara had long pined to see the paintings of all the artists that had lived there. - I was skeptical that there would be much left - because all their famous paintings were now in Paris and London and New York, not here.

I persuaded Barbara to take the fast A 8 and in less than two hours we were in Antibes. After some search we found a pensione at the edge of town almost in ST-JUAN run by an ex-patriat Austrian "Wandervogel-FKK" type. . .

In pouring rain we walked to the MUSÉE PICASSO, to which Picasso donated all the paintings he could not sell - they are all unsigned too, except for a few prints that were purchases by the museum later . . . But the place, once a castle that Picasso had owned, is beautiful with a great view of the - raging, gray sea! Most exciting are a set of sculptures on the plafond above the sea - they are not by Picasso except for the celebrated "basket-goat".

We ate at a reasonable but sumptuous sea-food restaurant close to our Pensione. Late at night the rain let up and we walked - a little apprehensive because of the strange types on the park benches - along the promenade au bord de la mer. The town of Antibes is medieval, pretty, and a tourist trap.

11. October

In the morning we drove to NICE - the sun appeared partially and it was oppressively hot and humid - to visit the MUSÉE HENRI MATISSE located in a park above town surrounded by the gray facades of intimidating, Victorian hotel palaces - where I expected seeing Nabakov and his wife looking down from one balcony. . . The museum is housed in a beautifully restored old mansion with a modern, underground extension. This time the visit was all worth it.

In the afternoon we drove into the hills to VANCE, which we found uninteresting - The Matisse chapel was closed - and on to ST-PAUL-DE-VANCE, which we really liked.

St.-Paul-de-Vance, Village square

Imagine a medieval town hanging on top of a mountain spur high above two crowded valleys. We spent a long time there and had coffee in an open-air café among mostly old English couples in thick sweaters. - It was not raining! This was when we discovered the museum of the FOUNDATION MAEGHT in the woods and decided to come back there on the following day.

Vines — and grapes— near St. Paul-de-Vance

We returned to our Pensione in Antibes that night.

 

12. October

We now had a plan, we would go back to St-Paul and see the Musée Maeght and in the afternoon drive as far as we would get through Grasse on the Route Napoléon toward Geneve.

Which is exactly what we did. The Foundation Maeght is an eclectic place, a set of low, modern glass building in a heavily wooded park. It was filled with equally eclectic people. What we had not known is, that it is mostly dedicated to Miró, who with so many pieces looks childish and empty, but there are also - fittingly - a number of Calder mobiles and the elongated sculptures of Giacometti whom Anik once finished off by saying: "He doesn't like women!" They and a few like paintings complemented each other in a most coherent and befitting way - needless to say all is most exquisitely and tastefully arranged. We bought some expensive original editions of hand printed books - Maeght was a printer-publisher - for Cornelius's birthday.

We also tried the Matisse chapel in Vance once more with its gilded "Orthodox" onion dome. We waited with many other tourist for an hour for the place to open after lunch, and then a bus load of Germans arrived and were let in before all of us. That was when my patience ran out and furious, I persuaded Barbara to leave.

On a beautiful narrow road through TOURETTE-SUR-LOUP and many gardens to GRASSE, the capital of the perfume industry. It was getting dark and we pushed on to reduce the driving distance of the next day. After the densely populated hills above the fabled coast the mountains north of Grass are bare, poor, and empty. The first place we found a hotel in was CASTELLANE.

13. October

In the morning Barbara, starving for some hiking exercise, climbed the steep rock above town on which Notre Dame du Roque sits. I, too lazy for such an exercise, wandered through the narrow streets of the old town and the farmers market.

The Route Napoleon (N 85), completely empty of traffic and in bad repair continued through stark and lonely mountains and impoverished villages. The first town of any size was DIGNE-LES-BAINS. Where, in driving through, out of my right eye I caught in passing a simple sign FOUNDATION ALEXANDRA DAVID-NEEL. Barbara made a hair-raising U-turn and we drove up to a small 19-th century villa. It was the place where Alexandra, my long pursued specter, had spent the last 20 years before she died at 102! A "young" woman - that is how she appeared to me, Barbara is still joking about this epithet - appeared and let us into this museum. She was the last secretary and the executioner of A.D.N.'s will and estate. We dutifully listened to a German tape she played for us - her French was too "rapide" for us - explaining the relics and trophies of Alexandra's remarkable wanderings in Tibet and China, including a complete gompa, and the two camp chairs between which sharp-tongued Alexandra had alternated sitting through the days and nights towards the end of her life - she did not like to lie down. Strewn around were the books she had last read - Stalin, Hitler, and Mao! We came away newly impressed by the revolutionary spirit of this formidable woman.

We pushed on along D 900 to Gap that day. Barbara drove as fast as possible, and I remember little along that stretch of road: mountains, woods, desolate villages. It was already dark when we reached GAP, which struck us as the first modern, bustling town we had seen in weeks: a lively theater, a modern museum which Barbara explored while I slept, clean streets, even a renovated quartier ancienne!

 14. October

Another long day on N 85 poorly remembered. Late in the afternoon we reached GRENOBLE, where we had to look for some time until we found a suitable hotel. Then we walked through town, across the bridge to a small park and chapel.

15. October

To save time we used the auto route as far as Chambery and from there drove on a beautiful small road (D 914) on the high, western side of LAC DU BOURGET, avoiding Aix-les-Bains. For Lunch we sat in an empty, closed garden restaurant above the ABBEY DE HAUTCOMBE with a beautiful view across the lake.

Continuing on the small roads (D 991) we drove along the Rhone Valley through the unimportant towns of Ruffieux and Seyssel, crossed the N 508 near Frangy, continued on minute D 792 through the spectacular defile of the Rhône in Defilé l'Ecluse , Collonges to the tiny hamlet of Challex hard on the Swiss border, where we stayed with a grand-cousin of Marga's.

16. October

We were quite worried that the Swiss customs would want to see Barbara's driver's license or her passport - which had both been stolen. So I drove for the first time on this trip, and nobody asked for Barbara's papers. We wasted an hour on the nearby GENEVE airport to buy an expensive ticket that would entitle us to use the Swiss Autobahn - a new rigmarole in Switzerland.

With that attached to our windshield we made straight for the auto route to Lausanne and on to VEVEY - with beautiful views of Lake Geneva and the snowed in Alps among the clouds. No rain! Somewhere we had lunch in a rest stop. BERN passed then ZÜRICH. In SCHAFFHAUSEN we crossed the border on a local highway in order to pick up the Autobahn to Stuttgart. We arrived at Marga's place in TÜBINGEN late at night.

Two days we ran around in Tübingen trying to get Barbara a new - German - passport, which turned out to be nearly impossible - they had to get permission from Los Angeles where her last one had been issued! Eventually Barbara took the train from Stuttgart to Frankfurt and flew home and I drove the rental car - less radio - to München, where I stayed with the Mays for another week. On my last day there it snowed heavily.

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