November 2 – 7
Our last day in Provence would again focus on the countryside and small hill towns that dot the area. Our first stop was the hilltop town of Gordes, the Luberon’s most impressively situated hill town. In the 1960s this was a virtual ghost town of derelict buildings where locals led simple lives and had few ambitions.
We parked in the town and walked around; as it was no longer the high season, our search for some food proved fruitless as nothing appeared to be open. Undaunted, we drove on to our next stop, the Village des Bories along a twisting stone-bordered, road but didn’t get far as a delivery truck completely blocked our path.
So, we doubled back and parked in a dirt lot that appeared to be free (it was) and then walked the rest of the one mile to this entertaining open-air museum of stone huts (bories). The village is made up of dry-laid stone structures; stone villages like this predated the Romans and this one was inhabited for 200 years (from about 1600 to 1800).
Bories can still be seen in fields throughout the Luberon; most are now used to store tools or hay. The Village des Bories is composed of five groupings of structures. We started with a short film with English subtitles that gave us the background we needed to appreciate the site, then walked around for about an hour, checking out several homes, animal pens, a community oven, and a cistern.
The “beehive” stone-laying method took much time to construct and the villagers had no scaffolds or support arches— just hammers and patience.
We walked back to the car, drove down the hill, and worked our way south until we came upon the Julien Bridge (Pont Julien). This delicate, three-arched bridge, named for Julius Caesar, survives as a testimony to Roman engineers— and to the importance of this rural area 2,000 years ago. It’s the only surviving bridge on what was the main road from northern Italy to Provence— the primary route used by Roman armies.
This 215-foot-long Roman bridge was under construction from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. Mortar had not yet been invented, so (as with Pont du Gard) the stones were carefully set in place. Amazingly, the bridge survives today, having outlived Roman marches, hundreds of floods, and decades of automobile traffic. A new bridge finally rerouted traffic from this beautiful structure in 2005.
Back in the car and by now pretty hungry, we made tracks for the town of Bonnieux as Trip Advisor listed a couple of good eating options there. After parking it took us awhile to locate one of them, Cafe Le Terrail, but it was worth the effort. Too cold to eat outside on its patio overlooking the valley below, we snagged the last vacant table inside during what was their normal lunch time rush.
The menu was limited with the only two entrees being a nice-looking hamburger and a black angus steak. Since I’d had a big dose of beef the night before we each opted for a salad, Joanna selecting Salade Paysanne featuring duck,
and I the Salade de Croustillant with a ham like type of bacon and goat cheese, a quarter liter of wine, and a coffee. Along with the always good French baguette to accompany, we ate heartily enough to hold both of us over for the rest of the day for 31 euros.
We returned to the car and made the scenic drive over a small range of mountains and through some narrow canyons to the town of Lourmarin to tour Château de Lourmarin Originally a 12th-century fortress, it was transformed in the 15th century by Foulques d’Agoult, chamberlain of King Rene I. of Anjou into a castle. After 1526 a new annex made it the first Renaissance building in the Provence Region.
After the French Revolution, the castle slowly descended into ruins until 1920 when Robert Laurent-Vibert, a producer of cosmetics bought it and employed the architect Henri Pacon to restore it.
In 1925, Laurent-Vibert died in a car accident and the castle was donated to the Académie des Sciences, Agriculture, Arts et Belles Lettres under condition that it should be transformed into a trust, which would support young artists.
It was a nice self-guided tour of a minor property; it’s more impressive from outside than within which includes a few well-furnished rooms, an intriguing kitchen, exterior galleries, and a slick double spiral staircase in stone.
It had been a long full day and so we made the drive back to the hotel as the sun was beginning to sink in the west. Not needing to eat much, if anything that night, we set out in the early evening to check out a place we’d noticed earlier, Le Beer’s Chope, L’isle-sur-le Sorgue’s craft beer bar. Brews in Europe are consistently good but generally of one type, that is a five-percent lager similar to our Bud or Coors.
Belgian beers are an exception and over the course of the last few years we’ve found more of them in bars and markets as we travel on the continent. And increasingly, one can run into bars that feature some level of craft beers, particularly those that Francois tends to frequent in Montpelier.
Such was the case here; a cozy bar with a very nice selection of draft and bottled beers. I opted for a Belgian, the Cuvee des Trolls, and one strong beer from France, the Biere du Demon, weighing in at a tasty 11.5% ABV. It was a fine way to finish up our stay in Provence, which like the bulk of the trip, had been spent drinking lots of very reasonable priced wine. Knowing that we’d be home in a little over a week, it reminded us that our three-month odyssey was drawing to a close.
All trips must end and this one was no exception. But I think we both felt we could have spent a bit more time In Provence. Of all of the countries in Europe, the one we’ve not really spent a lot of time in is France. Our visit in 2014 to the Dordongne and Cognac, our time with Francois in Montpellier has changed our opinion of this country and convinced us that we need to spend more time here. Friendly people combined with great sites, wine, and food. What more could any traveler ask for?
Village des Bories: http://www.avignon-et-provence.com/en/monuments/bories-village
Julien Bridge (Pont Julien): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pont_Julien
Café Le Terrail: http://www.restaurant-bar-bonnieux.fr/decouvrez-le-terrail
Château de Lourmarin: http://www.chateau-de-lourmarin.com/home/
La Biere du Demon: https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/813/2525/