Page 1

CYCLING GUIDE

Provence and Camargue Sights, history, wining and dining tips, useful information

I O L B E

· · · · ·

G

· · · · ·

O

GI

R

R

R E E N S


Provence and Camargue


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Fabio Perselli is an Anglo-Italian travel writer and guide. A fluent French speaker since childhood, he has lived and worked in France, where his appetite for history and culture soon led to a love of all things Provençal – from the local passion for rugby to the gitan spirit of the Camargue. A firm believer in slow travel, Fabio has led cycling tours for many years for Girolibero and guided in far-flung lands, including Greece and the Middle East. He has written about tribal Mexico, Turkey’s Lycian Coast, the Veneto and Mauritius, among other destinations. Fabio also works as a professional translator, specialising in theatre, classical music and travel. He is currently co-writing The Bike & Boat Cookbook with chef, Giuliano Zarantonello, for Girolibero. Editorial Team Susan Bigmore, Paula Kennedy, Marco Quaglio, Elena Riatti, Anthony Short, Amerio Tronca

Photography: Anita Andriolo, Simona Bastianelli, Susanna Bertazzoli, Ilaria Bicego, Joan Cainan, Diego Caldieraro, James Albert Larocque, Fabio Perselli, Caterina Romio, Angela Scarpari, Veenendaal Tamara, Wikipedia. All other photos by Girolibero and no.parking. Girolibero, Vicenza 2016 Concept and design: www.noparking.it Maps: www.noemastudio.it Printed in Italy www.girolibero.com


FABIO PERSELLI

Provence and Camargue

I O L B E

· · · · ·

G

· · · · ·

O

GI

R

R

R E E N S

This guide is designed to accompany the Bike-and-Boat and the Bike-and-Hotel Provence and Camargue tour. As well as focusing on the classic highlights of Provence, it explores off the beaten track and delves into its artistic heritage, natural treasures and cultural quirks, revealing many of the region’s lesser known aspects. Along the way, the guide provides practical tips aimed at making your experience as authentic, enjoyable and safe as possible. It also covers food and drink, picking through the dishes and wines of Provence, and recommending some favourite stopovers along the trail, whether you are after a meal or a light snack.


Index Bienvenue! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Introducing Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Placing Provence on the map . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 The history of Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Provence timeline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Provence today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 The natural history of Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 The Arts Provence and the Visual Arts. Arts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 Provençal Literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Musical Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 Provençal Architecture. Architecture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 Provence Life La Cuisine du Soleil: the Provençal Kitchen . . . . . . . . . . 75 Wines of Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 Shops and Markets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 Events: Fêtes, Férias and Festivals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 Avignon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98 A potted history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 The best in brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 Eating and drinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104 Events. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Surroundings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 Orange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 A potted history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 The best in brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112


THE HEART OF THE GARD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 Nîmes.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A potted history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The best in brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eating and drinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Events.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Surroundings.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pont du Gard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Aramon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Uzès . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A potted history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The best in brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eating and drinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Events.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

117 118 119 122 124 125 125 129 131 132 133 135 135

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 Arles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A potted history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The best in brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eating and drinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Events. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Les Alpilles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Les-Baux-de-Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Saint-Rémy-de-Provence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Glanum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tarascon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Beaucaire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Vallabrègues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . La Montagnette . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

140 138 141 147 148 149 153 156 161 162 164 165 167


THE DELTA OF THE RHÔNE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Petite Camargue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Saint-Gilles-du-Gard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Aigues-Mortes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A potted history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The best in brief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eating and drinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Events.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

171 177 182 182 192 193 194 197 195

Useful information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198

MAPS

OVERVIEW OF THE TOUR . . .12 CITY MAPS

AREAS

Avignon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 Nîmes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 Uzès . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 Arles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 Aigues-Mortes . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190

The Upper Reaches of the Rhône . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 The Heart of the Gard . . . . . . . 126 Into the Bouches-du-Rhône . . 150 The Delta of the Rhône . . . . . . 172


8

Provence– Camargue BIENVENUE!

A very warm welcome to this glorious corner of Latin Europe and to our Provence Green. We hope that this tailormade companion will help you with your discovery of a region that we have all fallen in love with, but can also be quite daunting. Provence has a huge heart and reams of history; it covers a mighty expanse of territory (by our humble European standards); it dazzles with a rainbow of cultures; and, while proud of its striking character and beauty, this is also a region that is not afraid to look to the future.


9

So while we focus here on the timeless features of “your” Provence, we would always recommend that you visit the local tourist info offices along your trail to find out all the latest. Your tour leader too (if you have one with your chosen holiday), will always assist you with specific queries; while the internet can provide all the up-to-the-minute details you need – especially timetables, the weather and transport. But first things first: whatever your tour and interests, and however long you plan to stay in Provence, we hope that our guide will offer you plenty to chew and enjoy. Bon appétit!


10

Introducing Provence The Coveted Province Tucked away in the south-eastern corner of the country, Provence was largely considered a parochial backwater by the French until a few decades ago – the poor cousin from the sunny south. The Romans, we know, had better ideas from the start and had no hesitation in naming the colony Provincia Nostra (“Our Province”, their very first beyond the Alps), with a sobriquet that would endure into its present name. Similarly, an uninterrupted cavalcade of other settlers – from monarchs and mercenaries to popes, poets and painters – were quick to recognise the character of this Provincia, Provincia so strategically placed and so generously fertile. Between them, through the ages, the people of Provence would weave a patchwork of historic towns, fortified villages perchés and sleepy rural retreats, all threaded into a backcloth of lavender fields, olive groves and nature havens, and coloured by the “Light” that artists have celebrated for centuries. Fast-forward to the present day, and Provence – more than any other region in the country – is actually where most French citoyens would now choose to live and work.

Transition vs. Tradition Although it is now economically the third most important region in France, Provence in reality has changed little more than anywhere else in the country: it largely remains the same rural,


11

traditional region of yore that beats with a Latin heart. Marseille may have been regenerated, communications brought up to date, nature reserves and new trails established; but the Provençal in the street will still speak the local dialect rather than the French taught at school. Locking up the family shop with time-honoured punctuality and rushing off to join them at lunch is nothing but the norm. Village markets groan with cuisine du soleil produce and cater largely for local tastes, blissfully oblivious to foreign food fads. Local crafts are a matter of practical requirement and generational pride, not merely a quaint revival for the tourists (Picasso himself learned the art of the potter in the region). Likewise, in the early 21st century, religious beliefs in Provence reflect as ever the Catholic backbone of a corner of Europe that was once at the heart of the Crusades (Aigues Mortes) and then provided a home to the papacy itself (Avignon). But here too, old habits die hard and beliefs are still infused with a mystic sense that speaks of pagan, Protestant and Romany cultures, among other exposures through the ages: Easter is more significant in Provence than in much of Europe; Christmas starts on St. Barb’s day (4 December) with the planting of wheat and grain; the pilgrim church of Les Saintes Maries is alive with the folk art of the Camargue gitans, rather than dominated by the high baroque of Rome. Plus ça change...


La

La

Lozère Lozère

èz

C

C

èz

e

e

BagnolsBagnolssur-Cèze sur-Cèze

e

Alès Alès

UzèsUzès G

GardGard

G ar ar do do n n A9

NÎMES NÎMES

Hérault Hérault

4

4

Frontignan Frontignan

Vallabrègues Vallabrègue

Le Pe Le Pe

SaintSaintVauvert Vauvert e hône Gilles tit Rhôtint R Gilles Lunel Lunel Arles Arle

Mauguio Mauguio Montpellier Montpellier Méditerranée Méditerranée Airport Airport A9 A9

A

A5

A5

MONTPELLIER MONTPELLIER

A9

V lè

Camargue Camargue Gardoise Gardoise

AiguesAiguesMortes Mortes

ParcParc Naturel Naturel Régional Régional de Camargue de Camargue

Saintes-MariesSaintes-Mariesde-la-Mer de-la-Mer

M eMe d i te d rrane i te rrane an an Se aSea


es

es

A7

A7

e

Mont Mont Ventoux Ventoux

gu gu L’E y L’E y

Orange Orange

Le

e e

R R ChâteauneufChâteauneufh ô h ôdu-Pape n n du-Pape

Carpentras Carpentras

Monteux Monteux

VilleneuveVilleneuveès-Avignon lès-Avignon

Vaucluse Vaucluse

L’Isle-surL’Isle-sur-

AVIGNON AVIGNON la-Sorgue la-Sorgue

Aramon Aramon

Châteaurenard Châteaurenard A7

Saint-RémySaint-Rémyde-Provence de-Provence

Cavaillon Cavaillon

Les BauxLes Bauxde-Provence de-Provence

La D La D ura ura nc nc e e

ParcParc Naturel Naturel Régional Régional des des Alpilles Alpilles

Saint-MartinSaint-Martinde-Crau de-Crau

Miramas Miramas

A7

Bouches-du-Rhône Bouches-du-Rhône

A7

ô ne Rh e ôn Rh

A8

A8

Aix-enAix-enProvence Provence

Istres Istres

Gare Gare ÉtangÉtang de de de Vitrolles BerreBerre de Vitrolles

Martigues Martigues Marseille Marseille

A 51

Le Le

Pertuis Pertuis

Salon-deSalon-deProvence Provence

A 51

es

-

Apt Apt

A7

es

e

Drôme Drôme

Gardanne Gardanne

Provence Provence Airport Airport

A 55 A 55

Gare de Gare Marseille de Marseille Saint Saint Charles Charles

A 50 A 50

MARSEILLE MARSEILLE

N N 0

0

20 km 20 km


PLACING PROVENCE ON THE MAP

14

Provence and Camargue

Placing Provence on the map As a geographical and historical region, Provence broadly stretches from the Italian border on the east to the lower Rhône on the west. It corresponds with the administrative région (one of 22 in France) of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – Marseille being its largest city and capital (or préfecture). The région includes six départements,, to which we add – for our own purposes – a seventh (the Gard, to the west of Provence) since it provides some of the highlights of our travels, including the remarkable Pont du Gard.

The Départements of Provence Anti-clockwise these are: VAUCLUSE

Named after its famous karst spring, Fontaine de Vaucluse, this département offers “Classic Provence” on a plate, including the picture-postcard Lubéron villages of Peter Mayle’s 1989 bestseller. Avignon enthrals with its theatre festival and papal majesty; Orange is equal with its near-intact Roman theatre and triumphal arch, a brash reminder of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. The Côtes du Rhône wines beckon with their AOC labels, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 15 other crus. Mont Ventoux – at a wind-swept 1,912 m, every Tour de France rider’s nightmare – is no shrinking violet and enters the viticultural fray with its Côtes du Ventoux. Vaucluse also enjoys a sizeable enclave within the neighbouring Drôme département, the Enclave des Papes. GARD

Located in the neighbouring région of Languedoc-Roussillon, it is named after the River Gardon, which flows under the Pont du Gard aqueduct, a marvel of Roman engineering. In classical times, crossed by the Via Domitia, the département was also home to the prosperous Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes) and the Gallo-Roman oppidum of Ucetia (Uzès). On the Gard’s eastern fringes, washed by the Rhône, we also find the market town of Beaucaire and the “Cardinals’ city” of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon,


15

both just across the water from Provence itself; Saint-Gilles lies a few kilometres away from the river, along the St James of Compostela pilgrim route. BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

Home to the Camargue wetlands, the “Mouths of the Rhône” are where the river fans out into its delta. Imbued with Provençal spirit, this département offers many of our own highlights, among them Roman Arles, Saint-Rémy (with its strong association with Van Gogh), Tarascon (mentioned in the same breath as St Martha’s dragon) and the Camargue itself – down to the bulls, horses and flamingoes. Further natural wonders are offered by the Alpilles mountain range (which shelters the impregnable fortress of Les Baux-de-Provence) and La Montagnette, the “Little Mountain” atop which stands the Abbey of Frigolet. The regional capital, Marseille, also lies within the Bouches-du-Rhône, as does Cézanne’s Aix-en-Provence, an animated university town with a rich cultural scene. VAR

Named after its main river, this maritime département includes within its boundaries the main port of the French navy, Toulon. Its other main river, the Verdon, is popular on account of the


PLACING PROVENCE ON THE MAP

16

Provence and Camargue

spectacular canyons, the Gorges du Verdon, which it shares with the neighbouring Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. The Var is also renowned for the Bandol AOC wines and its villages perchés – among them Gassin, for many a more affordable proposition than jet-setting Saint-Tropez, a few kilometres down below. ALPES-MARITIMES

Marking the extreme south-eastern corner of France, the AlpesMaritimes include within their boundaries Cannes, Nice, Antibes and other Côte d’Azur destinations, including the Principality of Monaco. Turning to the Alps, Cime du Gélas towers at a respectable 3,143 m. With tourism providing most of the revenue, agriculture and industry play a relatively minor role here compared with the rest of Provence. The glitz and glamour of the Cannes Film Festival are counterpoised by a diversity of cultural attractions, from dance and jazz festivals to art museums: Chagall and Matisse are at home in Nice, for instance; Picasso in Antibes and Fernand Léger in Biot. ALPES-DE-HAUTE-PROVENCE

The département of contrasts par excellence excellence, with its lofty plains and mountains, ski trails and broad swathes of protected natural sites. The mountains to the north form the Valley of Ubaye near Barcelonnette. To the south, the Gorges du Verdon offer views across lakes, cliffs and the fertile plains of Valensole. The “French Colorado”, Val d’Allos, lies west of Haut Verdon. Other attractions include the town of Forcalquier, more Provençal in spirit with its milder climate and rolling landscape; Manosque, the point of the Luberon; and the Durance Valley with its lush fields and orchards. HAUTES ALPES

With an average elevation of over 1,000 m and reaching a maximum of 4,101 m, the Hautes Alpes include the third highest commune in Europe: the village of Saint-Véran. One of its six rivers, the Durance, has been dammed and feeds the large artificial lake of Serre-Ponçon. The Queyras valley, with its Parc naturel régional, is renowned as an area of outstanding natural beauty; being one of the most recent to be opened to tourism, the Queyras mountain range (among the oldest in the Alps) remains relatively untouched.


Provence and Camargue

17

Pre-History AT THE CROSSROADS

Washed by waves of settlers through the ages and occupying one of the natural intersections of the Mediterranean, Provence has been forged by a diverse history. From nomads and hunter gatherers to seafarers and invaders, the lands between the Rhône, the Alps and the sea have been populated by settlers as dissimilar as the Bronze-Age Ligurians from the Italian mainland, the Iron-Age Celts from the north, and the Phoenicians and Greeks (credited with introducing the vine) from the eastern Mediterranean, right up to the Romanies of the Camargue.

Roman Provence PROVINCIA NOSTRA

The Romans, notoriously, claimed it as their Provincia towards the end of the 2nd century BC, generally fostering good relations with the local populace. Few regions within Rome’s vast empire have retained to this day such a well preserved heritage from the capital’s colonial tenure: the gladiatorial amphitheatres at Arles and Nîmes still stage bullfights; the Théâtre antique d’Orange, its towering backdrop wall intact, entertains audiences from its pulpitum pulpitum; and the Pont du Gard aqueduct, among other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, survives tall, proud and magnificently designed.

T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

The history of Provence


18

Provence and Camargue

Dark Ages BARBARIANS, FIEFS AND INFIDELS

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century, countless more twists and turns would mould the course of Provençal history as the region evolved from a Graeco-Roman civilisation into a new, increasingly fragmented, society. From the marauding Visigoth, Ostrogoth and Burgundian tribes (originating from as far afield as Scandinavia), to the Arabs (who held the Iberian Peninsula and swathes of France before being driven back in the 8th century), the historical landscape had shifted from the predominantly urban map of Roman Provence to a more rural grid of medieval seigneuries and fiefdoms. Many of the feuding warlords created their strongholds within strategically located and fortified hilltop villages, notably in the massifs of Sainte-Baume, the Lubéron and Monts de Vaucluse.

Late Middle Ages BY BLADE AND QUILL

In the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, however, the civilising light of the Provençal bards gradually filtered through the blackness of territorial strife to establish the region’s language, Occitan, as the literary tongue of France. Pen and paper defied sword and fire, as Troubadours romanticised courtly love and chivalry in verse and melody, and cast their spell from northern


19

Spain as far as the shores of Sicily. As well as laying the foundations of Provençal culture for centuries to come, the local troubadours would influence the course of poetry and music well beyond their borders and draw into their fold some of the finest composers and poets. Among these Petrarch stands out: one of the earliest humanists, the Tuscan is known to have studied at the University of Montpellier.

13th Century HOUSE OF ANJOU

Already part of the Holy Roman Empire, in the 13th century Provence became even more closely associated with Rome through the Crusades, with the French king Louis IX (Saint Louis) launching the Seventh Crusade from Aigues Mortes in 1248, a spectacular occasion. It was also at this time that Provence (an enclave within the Kingdom of France) became interlaced with the House of Anjou: in 1246, Charles of Anjou (Louis IX’s younger brother) married Beatrice, Countess of Provence (and heiress to the Comtat), ), thus seizing control. Charles’s years of government – and those of his successors, Charles II and Robert I – widely re-established political order, honest administration and prosperity to the region, with Aix elevated to administative capital (as it had been in Roman times). The path was paved for Avignon’s next move.

14th Century AVIGNON PAPACY

In 1309, the Church moved its headquarters from war-torn Rome to Avignon and the presence of the papacy in Provence dominated the 14th century with a succession of seven French-born popes. By the time that Gregory XI, after 67 years of uprooted papacy, finally abandoned Avignon in 1376 to restore the pontiffs’ court in Rome, the shockwaves of rebellion had already rippled through the continent. The Second Schism, which saw three French “anti-popes” cling on to the ideal of the Holy See in Avignon, only lasted till 1403; but the scene had been set for the events that led up to the Wars of Religion in Provence a century later – and, further afield, to the full-blown Protestantism that was to follow.

T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

Provence and Camargue


T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

20

Provence and Camargue

Despite the second half of the 14th century ushering in a period of poverty, plague and political uncertainty, the arts and learning proliferated in Avignon. They were perhaps at their most resplendent at the papal residence itself, the Palais des Papes: imposingly set on the cliffs above the Rhône (and a work of art in its own right), western Christianity’s new seat of government attracted many of Europe’s great artists.

15th Century GOOD KING RENÉ AND ANNEXATION TO FRANCE

The reign of Louis II, another Anjou (and nephew to the King of France), restored stability to Provence in the late 14th century, though not without obstacles: among the feuding factions terrorising the region, the Viscount de Turenne (whose lairs included Les-Baux-de-Provence) was particularly feared for his pillaging and kidnapping. Louis II’s youngest son, René, eventually inherited the throne in 1434. Although René initially had other territorial priorities in mind (Naples in particular) and only lived in Provence for the last 10 years of his life (1470-80), his successful administration led to the golden age of Aix along with economic expansion and population growth for the region – both much needed after the ravages of the previous century. But history will remember “Good King René” in particular as a generous patron of the arts, sponsoring painters such as Nicolas Froment and Louis Bréa. The


21

Avignon School flourished, fusing the Italian tradition (recently established here under the French popes) with the Flemish influence already prevalent in northern France. An accomplished poet himself, with a learned mind, René also oversaw the completion of Tarascon Castle, on the Rhône, one of the finest in Provence. After René’s death, the title soon passed to Louis XI of France, and Provence was legally incorporated into the Kingdom of France in 1486.

16th Century CHARLES V

By losing its independence, Provence became more embroiled with the affairs of France, including its continual conflict with Charles I of Spain and cross-border clashes. Charles, who was also Holy Roman Emperor (as Charles V), ruled over extensive domains throughout Europe and beyond; but a notable exception was France: a kingdom encircled by Charles’s empire. The personal rivalry between the seemingly unstoppable Charles and the less impressive Francis I of France (who had also aspired to the crown of Holy Roman Emperor) determined the course of many events in the 16th century, including the unfolding of the Italian Wars (1494–1559). Provence’s position towards its own king was ambivalent, not least because the region remained largely Latin in spirit and staunchly Catholic, as was Charles himself: while he ardently opposed the Protestant Reformation (at a time when it was spreading in Provence), Francis had allied himself with the Ottomans (1536) – an act viewed by many here as an act of desperation and betrayal of the Faith. THE WARS OF RELIGION

Against this backdrop, the principles of the Vaudois Church, among other “heresies”, were being propagated in Provence, especially through the Rhône and Durance Valleys, and in 1530 the Inquisition was ready to step in. It acted with relatively restrained oppression at first (as it had with the Jews of the Comtat Venassain in 1524, forcing them to wear yellow hats); then with rabble-rousing ruthlessness: after the heretics had pillaged Sénanque Abbey in 1544, the punitive riposte in April

T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

Provence and Camargue


T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

22

Provence and Camargue

1545 saw the streets of Lubéron villages run with their blood. Some 3,000 were slaughtered and 600 sent to the galleys. Retaliation was no less brutal, with Huguenots adding to the violence and desecrating churches. Protestantism nevertheless continued to spread, notably west of the Rhône (Cévennes, Uzès, Nîmes and the Vivarais); to the east, Orange – a Nassau House principality – became a stronghold of the Reformation. While Provence generally leaned towards Catholicism, Languedoc-Cévennes became the heartland of Protestantism, its bedrock in Nîmes. The Wars of Religion were officially brought to an end with the Edict of Nantes in 1598, under the first king of the Bourbon dynasty, Henry IV. But more was to follow.

17th Century LOUIS XIV, THE SUN KING

The 17th century witnessed the House of Bourbon consolidate its sovereignty over Provence, despite the region’s autonomous instincts and two major uprisings under the flamboyant and profligate Louis XIV. In the course of his reign (1643-1715), the Roi Soleil turned France into the dominant power in Europe, in spite of its weak economy; and although the reforms of his Finance Minister, Colbert, failed to generate an industrial revo-


23

lution, Provence responded with a rise in national awareness and a certain commercial expansion. Marseille grew as a major port and Toulon became the dockyard and arsenal for a new French Mediterranean fleet; work also began on the Canal du Midi in 1666 – all innovations that opened new opportunities for merchants. Towns grew, and boulevards, châteaux and town houses (hôtels) proliferated. The countryside, however, remained poor and Louis’s interventionist policies also crushed the thriving Protestant population of Provence with an iron fist. With his Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, severe financial strain and abuse were inflicted on Protestants: up to 400,000 Huguenots converted to Catholicism and some 200,000 fled to other states.

18th Century THE PLAGUE AND LOUIS XV

By 1709, successive wars and famine had pushed France to the verge of collapse. In Provence, the misery would culminate in the Great Plague of 1720, brought by a cargo ship from Syria: in Marseille alone it killed 40,000 people and spread as far as Arles, Aix and Toulon. When Louis XIV died in 1715, he was succeeded by his great-grandson, Louis XV, aged only five, during whose childhood France was run by a regent. Despite some peaceful and prosperous periods during Louis XV’s long reign (1715–1774), further wars brought more poverty to the masses. Some questionable alliances and the humiliating loss of France’s North American colonies – along with Louis XV’s debauchery and overall weakness – further discredited the monarchy. Upon Louis XV’s death, his grandson Louis XVI became king and Marie Antoinette queen. With the country deeply in debt and the ideas of the Enlightenment permeating the educated classes of society, the new king pushed for radical, if often crippling, reforms. In Provence, many artisanal industries began to flourish: perfumes (Grasse), textiles (Orange, Avignon and Tarascon), olive oil (Aix and the Alpilles) and faïence pottery in Aubagne, Apt, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and Marseille – which by the end of the 18th century was the third largest city in France, with a population of 120,000. But the harsh winter of 1788 led to widespread famine: France was a powder keg ready to explode.

T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

Provence and Camargue


REVOLUTION

The Revolution was no less bloody in Provence than in other parts of France. One of the darkest episodes was the massacre of royalists and religious figures in the ice storage rooms ((glacière) of the Palais des Papes in Avignon in 1791. The region contributed some memorable figures to the insurrection, among them Riqueti, who tried to moderate the Revolution and turn France into a constitutional monarchy like England; the libertine Marquis de Sade from the LubÊron, a far-left deputy in the National Assembly; and, on the barricades, the volunteers from Marseille, who popularised a song they had picked up from a young Montpellier fighter: the Marseillaise, later to become the national anthem of France. NAPOLEON

Many in Provence, however, took a different stance: while Marseille, Aix and Avignon supported the Revolution, rural districts remained conservative and largely royalist, to the point that in August 1793 a counter-revolution in Toulon handed the city to a British and Spanish fleet. After a four-month siege, the Revolutionary Army drove out the British, thanks to the brilliance of a young commander of artillery: Napoleon Bonaparte.


Provence and Camargue

25

19th Century LA BELLE ÉPOQUE

The Terreur of the Revolution abated with Napoleon’s rise to power in 1795. Initially hailed as a revolutionary genius, he proclaimed himself Emperor in 1805 and ruled, at his apex, over an empire of 70 million people across Europe – the largest since Roman times. Although he restored the belongings and status to the Ancien Régime families in Provence, he was deeply resented here. Provence nevertheless enjoyed prosperity in the 19th century and the Côte d’Azur flourished: the ports of Marseille and Toulon connected the region with the expanding French empire to the south; the railroads with Paris to the north. The mild winters made Nice, Antibes and Hyères popular resorts for European royalty; the Monte Carlo casino opened in 1856; artists and writers came in droves to revel in the freedom and light, including Van Gogh (1888). The Belle Époque also saw a revival of the Provençal language and culture, driven by a movement of writers and poets: the Félibrige,, led by the Nobel Prize winner Frédéric Mistral. The “Third Republic”, originally set up in 1870 as a transitional government after the collapse of the Empire, endured through to the German invasion of 1940. It sharply polarised French politics: the Reformists on the left, heirs to the Revolution; and the Traditionalists on the right, rooted in the peasantry, the Church and the army.

20th Century WORLD WAR I

During the Great War France was one of the Triple Entente powers. The conflict was fought in large part on French soil and cost the country over 1.4 million lives, including civilians. But France grew quickly from 1924 onwards and, with the Great Depression hitting its economy relatively late (1931), Provence continued to thrive as a playground for the rich and famous, the vogue for sea-bathing drawing ever larger crowds. Names such as Coco Chanel and Wallis Simpson became synonymous with St-Tropez and Cannes, where the film festival was launched in 1939.


26

Provence and Camargue

T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

WORLD WAR II

The German invasion in 1940 divided France into a northern occupied zone and a southern “Free” zone – which included Provence – administered by Marshal Pétain and his collaborationist Vichy Government. Living conditions soon became repressive and Jews and dissenters were systematically transported to death camps. As the tide of war turned in 1942, the resistance grew, organised by General De Gaulle’s Free France movement in exile; his deputy, Jean Moulin, was parachuted into the Bouches-du-Rhône, near St-Rémy, to unite the diverse cells of the maquis.. Provence too was eventually occupied by the Germans as the war spread to North Africa, and was finally liberated in summer 1944. POST-WAR PROVENCE

The task of reconstruction was huge for the region, particularly with many railways and ports destroyed during the war; but it also provided an opportunity for modernist Provençal architecture to evolve with some acclaimed designs such as Le Corbusier’s residential Unité d’habitation in Marseille and the Fondation Maeght museum near Nice. The nation’s recovery was slow, however, and the Indochinese and Algerian wars (1946-54 and 1954-62) cost further loss of life and resources. DECOLONISATION

But decolonisation still moved on apace in the 1960s, with Provence at the forefront of the mass immigration that came in its wake; beyond the turbulence that followed, the region would also enjoy the much-needed baby boom that reversed its low birth rate. Marseille, Mediterranean in spirit and naturally positioned as the first port of call, provided a home for thousands of French Pieds-Noirs from north Africa, as well as ethnic Maghrébins. The city also has a population of 80,000 Jews (many of them north African refugees), making it the third largest urban Jewish community in Europe. THE ARTS

Provence also enjoyed a strong cultural renewal after the war, with the founding of the Avignon Theatre Festival (1947) and the Aix-en-Provence Opera Festival (1948); the Cannes Film Festival was starting to cut a dash, Picasso graced the visual


27

arts scene, and the Roman theatres at Arles, Nîmes and Orange were soon hosting regular events. Over the years, the arts and literary scene was further enriched by a myriad of initiatives and personalities, and a thriving crafts revival. THE “FIFTH REPUBLIC”

In 1959, De Gaulle became the first President of the fifth (and current) republican constitution of France, which gave greatly increased powers to the head of state – compared with the previous “Republics”, in which the President’s role was largely a ceremonial one. One of the original founder states of the European Economic Community, France is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council and NATO. As the 20th century drew to an end, Provence became an increasingly popular tourist destination, with the TGV high-speed trains bringing it within even easier reach. Many Europeans, particularly from Britain, bought summer houses or settled permanently here, fulfilling many a dream of the perfect rural retreat in the sun. Agriculture and the high-tech industry have grown apace. Despite the economic downturn of the early 21st century and its difficulties with global and domestic terrorism, France remains a strong economic, cultural and military power.

T H E H I S TO RY O F P ROV E N C E

Provence and Camargue


28

Provence timeline Ancient Provence Earliest humans linked to southern African tribes. Greeks settle. Nomadic tribes include Celts and Ligurians. 1,000,000 BC Earliest presence (Monaco, Grotte de L’Observatoire):

bone tools 60,000 Neanderthal hunters on Riviera 30,000 Homo Sapiens (Grotte Cosquer) 3,500 Bories drystone villages 600 Greek traders settle. Captain Protis marries chief’s daughter. Founding of Marseille. 380 Celtic invasion 218 Hannibal passes through

Gallo-Roman Provence Romans settle at end of 2nd century BC and create wealthy province including Nîmes and Arles. Christianity spreads from 40 AD. 125 BC Romans defend Marseille against Celts and Ligurians – later Germans 118 Foundation of Provincia (first Entremont, later Aix, Glanum, Vaison) 49 Julius Caesar lays siege to Marseille. Glanum rebuilt. 14 Augustus defeats Ligurians


29

40 AD “Boat of Bethany” from the Holy Land lands at Les-Saintes-

Maries 300 Arles at its most prestigious 413 Visigoths seize Languedoc 476 Fall of Western Roman Empire

Medieval Provence Provence loses stability following fall of Roman Empire. While part of new Holy Roman Empire, local counts retain autonomy. Creation of many villages perchés for safety. Provence becomes major base for Crusades. 536 Provence ceded to Franks 730s Anti-Frankish rebellions 800 First Saracen invasions 855 Charles the Bald (grandson of Charlemagne) creates Kingdom

of Provence 924 Hungarians sack Nîmes 949 Provence divided into four Comtats (counties) 1032 Annexed to Holy Roman Empire 1125 Provence shared between Barcelona and Toulouse 1186 Aix declared capital of Provence 1187 Remains of St Martha of Bethany discovered at Tarascon 1248 Louis IX (St Louis) launches 7th Crusade from Aigues Mortes (1,500 ships) 1274 Papacy acquires Comtat Venaissin 1187 Remains of Mary Magdalene discovered at St-Maximin 1300 c. Troubadours and their Lyrical Poetry


30

Provence and Camargue

PROVENCE TIMELINE

Papal Avignon Papacy temporarily abandons Rome and settles here 1309-77. Seven French popes, then major schism. Wealthy centre of learning and arts. Petrarch. 1309 Papacy moves to Provence, driven by turmoil 1327 Petrarch – Tuscan poet, humanist, climber – living in

Provence 1348 Clement VI buys Avignon and builds Palais Neuf (part of Palais des Papes) 1349 Jews take refuge in Comtat Venaissin, part of Papal lands 1377-8 Papacy returns to Rome with election of new Italian Pope, Urban VI 1378 Election of French anti-Pope, Clement VII, leads to schism with Rome 1403 Anti-Pope Benedict XIII flees Avignon

Good King René & the Wars of Religion 1400s Golden age of Aix, the capital, under René, patron of arts and culture. Flemish-influenced Avignon School. Provence annexed by France. 1500s Spanish King Charles V invades. Protestant/Catholic Wars of Religion. 1434-80 Reign of Good King René 1481 Provence ceded to France by René’s nephew, Count Charles du Maine


Provence and Camargue

31

1524 Invasion of Charles V (Carlos I of Spain), Holy Roman 1520S-40s Oppression of Jews 1562-98 Wars of Religion (ended by Edict of Nantes, 1598)

Classical Provence, Revolution 1600S AND 1700S: increased national awareness, growth of towns

and infrastructure, proliferation of large houses and châteaux. But also economic hardship, political instability, social unrest, 1720 plague, 1789 Revolution. 1622 Louis XIII visits Provence 1646 Jews confined to ghettos 1660 Louis XIV (“Sun King”) visits Marseille 1660s-70s Work begins on Canal du Midi and port of Toulon,

towns fortified 1691-96 France and Savoy fight over Nice (reclaimed by Savoy in 1696) 1707 Toulon besieged by English then invaded by Eugène of Savoy 1718 Nice becomes part of new Kingdom of Sardinia 1720 Great Plague of Marseille spreads 1787 Provençal silk harvest fails 1789-92 Storming of Bastille, Revolution, peasants revolt, Marseillaise adopted 1793 English siege of Toulon repelled by Napoleon, who is catapulted to fame

Belle Époque 1800s Napoleon ushers in La Belle Époque. Artists arrive in

droves. Côte d’Azur becomes playground for rich and famous. Expansion of railways, grand hotels, gardens. 1814 Napoleon escapes from exile in Elba and lands at Golfe-

Juan 1830 Beginnings of tourism around Nice 1839-69 Increased trade through Marseille-Sète railway, opening

of Suez Canal 1888-90 Van Gogh in Provence

PROVENCE TIMELINE

Emperor


32

Provence and Camargue

P R O V E N C E T O DAY

Provence Today Economy Accommodated within three of France’s 22 administrative régions, Provence continues in its quest to balance 21st-century economic growth with a determination to preserve its unique identity. With a population of some 4.5 million and counting 55,000 births per year, Provence has both expanded and transformed its economy over the last five decades, with rapid industrialisation keeping apace with the increase in tourism and urbanisation, especially along the coast. The agricultural sector is still very much a driving force, however, and with a population so rooted in tradition – and enjoying a life expectancy higher than in the rest of France – it is unlikely that the region will lose its Occitan character in a hurry. Firmly established institutions such as the férias and other festivals, the daily meander through the market, or putting the world to rights over an unrushed apéritif or game of pétanque – all give substance to a lifestyle and sense of identity that will not be easily eroded by the winds of change. For the time being at least, 21st-century Provence remains Provence.

Education French education is free and compulsory until the age of 16. As in most countries the education system is composed of three stages: primary, secondary and higher. Primary and secondary education are predominantly public and centrally run by the Ministry of National Education. Higher education is divided between public universities, the prestigious and selective Grandes Écoles (such as SupAgro Montpellier) and Écoles Spécialisées (such as the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie, in Arles). Among the most popular universities within the three régions occupied by Provence are Avignon, Montpellier, Nice, Grenoble, Nîmes and Perpignan; Aix-en-Provence and Marseille have fused into Aix-Marseille, the largest. Higher education is largely funded by the state and the fees are


33

generally accessible, varying from €150 to €700 per year depending on the university and level of study. A Master’s Degree (over a period of 5 years), for example, may cost in the range of €7503,500. Public engineering school fees are a little higher (around €700), while private engineering schools and business schools charge up to €15,000 a year and are often sponsored. Health insurance for students is free until the age of 20. Napoleon is credited with establishing the lycée system in 1802, one of the reforms he introduced in his heyday in the wake of the French Revolution.

Politics France is currently in its Fifth Republic, a constitution approved by referendum in 1958, which supports a semi-presidential system. At executive level there are two leaders: the President of the Republic, who is head of state and elected directly for a 5-year term; and the Prime Minister, appointed by the President to lead the Government. The parliament has two chambers: the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) and the Senate. The National Assembly deputies represent local constituencies and are directly elected for a 5-year term. Since an Assemblée majority has the power to dismiss the government, it also determines the choice of government, which in turn has a strong influence in shaping the Parliament’s agenda. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for a 6-year term and although the Senate is influential,


P R O V E N C E T O DAY

34

Provence and Camargue

its legislative powers are limited; in the event of disagreement between the two chambers, the Assemblée has the final say. The political map of France is composed of two opposed groupings: the left, focused on the French Socialist Party, and the right. The right previously came in the shape of the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR); then its successor, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), now renamed Les Républicains. Much of their support has been usurped by the Le Pen dynasty’s Front National: considerably more right-wing than the Républicains, Républicains the FN is never short of controversy and populist initiatives; the municipal elections of 2015, a year marked by a worldwide refugee crisis, saw the FN make considerable gains in Provence.

Industry MODERN

Provence witnessed rapid industrial growth in the 20th century, especially in the 1930s, as France emerged from the Depression. Power generation, aeronautics, petroleum and other modern industries quickly muscled in alongside traditional sectors such as shipbuilding, foodstuffs and soap-making. Oil refineries, metal works and chemical works were established at the Bassins de Fos complex in Marseille in the 1960s; hydroelectric power stations were constructed by the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (established 1933), including the dam at Beaucaire/Tarascon; also along the Rhône, north of Avignon, rises the nuclear power station of Marcoule. Among the lighter industries we have packaging at Tarascon and Valréas, and electronics between Aix and Marseille, as well as confectionery.


Provence and Camargue

35

But rampant progress has certainly not supplanted the longestablished industries and crafts of Provence and many benefit from more efficient methods of manufacturing, for instance, or from improved distribution and lower carbon footprints. Soapmaking (Marseille), salt production (Aigues Mortes) and foodstuffs all hold on to their niche markets, often protected by an appellation. The interlocking clay rooftile of Marseille was exported as far as New Zealand over a century ago and is still highly regarded. The process for creating pigment from ochre (iron oxide) was invented by a scientist from Roussillon in the 1780s and the Vaucluse became a major producer. Most of the mines were shut down during the Second World War, but some production continues to this day. The pigment is used mainly in paints, as well as a protective wash on external walls; to this day, the ochre-stained houses of Roussillon (roux meaning red or russet) and the surrounding cliffs of red and yellow give the area its distinctive character.

Agriculture DIVERSITY AND THE SMALL FAMILY BUSINESS

The agriculture of Provence is as diversified as its terrain and climate, in part because in spite of the threat from intensive cultivation it remains largely the domain of small farmers. While the plateaux are broadly committed to the cultivation of grains, and the highlands and foothills to cattle raising, much of the arable land in between is devoted to the polyculture of vines, fruit, vegetables and flowers. Provence stands out for this traditional and diverse approach to agriculture, which supplies not only the ubiquitous weekly markets, but also the increasingly popular farmers’ markets where small cultivateurs sell directly to the public. Land is either privately owned, rented, or sharecropped – whereby the sharecropper generally keeps two thirds of the revenue (and supplies the equipment and labour), while the landowner reaps one third. The average size of the Provençal farm is in the region of 11.5 hectares, half the national average, and most agricultural households tend to mix farm work with some form of waged work.

P R O V E N C E T O DAY

TRADITIONAL


36

Provence and Camargue

P R O V E N C E T O DAY

FRUIT AND VEGETABLES

The Mediterranean climate, rich soil of the Rhône plain and the plentiful irrigation all provide the ideal conditions to yield several crops a year, especially in the Comtat Venaissin and Petite Crau. A common villain is the Mistral, and many of the smaller fields are shielded from this fierce north-westerly by screens of reeds and cypress trees. Peaches, strawberries, apricots, tomatoes, figs, melons and asparagus are often picked early in the morning – then sorted, packed and dispatched by high-speed train up the Rhône Valley to Paris and beyond. Cherries in particular need to travel from tree to table within 48 hours, and cooperatives are highly organised in the logistics of fruit and vegetable transportation – among them the collectives of St-Rémy, Barbentane and StAndiol (Cavaillon). The garlic of Piolenc and potatoes of Pertuis are also popular in the kitchens of France. CEREAL, WINE AND OLIVE PRODUCTION

The three historic centrepieces of Provençal agriculture still hold their own: wheat, vine and olive. The romantic windmills that once thrived on the energy of the Mistral have now been replaced by modern mills; but the area between Tarascon and Arles remains a breadbasket and now produces – along with the traditional wheat – rape seed, maize, sorghum, barley, oats and rice. In viticulture, a large swathe of the southern Rhône wine region lies within Provence, with the Côtes du Rhône labels steadily in demand; Châteauneuf-du-Pape reigns supreme among the crus, but several other appellations are also rising in stature. Olive groves flourish in many parts of Provence, notably in the Alpilles, and the quality of the region’s olive-based products is internationally renowned – from extra-virgin oil to the tapenade paste. SCENTS OF THE CUISINE DU SOLEIL

Quintessentially Provençal – and a happy marriage of agriculture and crafts – is lavender. Perfectly at home in these chalky soils


37

and balmy temperatures, it is harvested between July and September, often by hand. A hundred kilos of authentic Genus lavandula produce one litre of essence, while the same amount of Lavandin (a less fragrant hybrid) produces ten times as much. Equally characteristic of the region is the range of aromatic herbs, with the blended Herbes de Provence adding bouquet to barbecues worldwide. Another favourite dried plant is the lime tree flower (tilleul), often brewed as a tisane. Fresh herbs, however, are increasingly popular and many market gardens offer a remarkable variety of the most common types. Aniseed (the basis of pastis), ), star anise, fennel and liquorice all hold their ground in the herbaceous gardens of the region and are also found wild in the scented scrublands called garrigues and the maquis (similar but denser). Though almonds are not indigenous to Provence (they were imported from Asia in the 1500s), their presence throughout the Mediterranean basin and the development of a late-blossoming variety have nevertheless led to their popularity here, not least in confectionery: the soft, almond-shaped calisson pastry (ground almonds, candied fruit and purÊed melon) is a very good excuse for visiting Aix. Well and truly at home in the soil of Provence is the truffle. The eye-wateringly precious fungus grows symbiotically with the roots of, usually, the green oak – particularly in the Vaucluse, where 80% of the country’s truffles are foraged. Specially-trained dogs are used to root them out, with some old-school trufficulteurs sticking to their tried and tested pigs. The thinnest sliver is enough to perfume the classic (and otherwise humble) Omelette aux truffes.

P R O V E N C E T O DAY

Provence and Camargue


38

Provence and Camargue

ANIMAL RAISING

With wool no longer profitable, sheep farming remains an essential part of the rural economy, but principally for meat. The Merino variety is the most common in the Bouches-du-Rhône. The transhumance of a flock is a magical sight to stumble across, especially in the early morning light, when the sheep are led from the lower pastures to the higher, greener hillsides (in late spring) or back down the slopes (mid-October). The iconic black bulls and white horses of the Camargue are generally raised in semi-feral herds ((manades). The bulls take centre-stage at the local Course camarguaise bull-baiting events as well as at the corridas – in both France and Spain, where they are considered particularly frisky and therefore exciting to watch as they fight for their lives. The horses are often used for leisurely horse trekking but also feature in bull-running festivals (encierros (encierros), where the manades are ushered at speed through fenced-off streets by their cowboys and cowgirls. The business of boucherie chevaline speaks for itself, while bull-meat saucisson is on sale at most markets. Provence, like the rest of France, imports much of the milk required for the cheese industry, but nevertheless has substantial cow herds of its own as well. FISHING AND SALT PRODUCTION

Several thousand tonnes of anchovies, sardines, mackerel, red mullet and eel are caught annually off the shores of Provence, especially Marseille, where the fishing industry has thrived for


39

centuries. Local varieties include rascasse rouge (the poisonspined, red scorpion fish), used in the Bouillabaisse marseillaise stew; and rouget grondin (mullet gurnard), often barbecued or served in a tagine. Cassis and Martigues enjoy a strong fishing tradition too, while the little port of L’Estaque, just north-west of Marseille (and beloved by artists), provides shelter to almost 200 trawlers. Fishmongers all along the coast are supplied by a fleet of smaller fishing boats, while the freshwater fish from the many rivers and canals of Provence often find their way from the humble fishing line straight into the pot. Salt, a precious commodity for every seafaring community, has long been farmed on the flats of Provence as well, notably in the Camargue. There are two salt marshes here: Salin-de-Giraud and one south of Aigues-Mortes. Production was at its peak in the mid-19th century; in our health-conscious times, the Fleur de sel de Camargue has become the more marketable form of salt: these “flowers” consist of the hand-harvested crystals that form on the salt pans under certain conditions, and are considered a delicacy.

Religion Provence paints an interesting picture on the religious landscape of France. Simply put, the majority of French are Christian – predominantly Catholic – along with significant minorities practising Islam, Judaism and other faiths. Laïcité, the separation of state and religion, is sacrosanct. With its proud Latin fibre, Provence may appear, on the surface at least, staunchly Catholic. But with the breakaway Avignon Papacy and the Wars of Religion playing such a defining role in the region’s history, it is not unusual to come across Provençal Catholics who insist that their creed is quite different, and Protestants who enthusiastically trace their lineage back to the Huguenots. Further back still (42 AD), legend has it that the Egyptian St Sarah (“the Black”) landed on the shores of the Camargue at Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, as a humble servant: she is now the patron saint of Romanies, right across their diaspora. The annual celebration of St Sarah is a feast of colour and sound, infusing Christian tradition with gitan culture and pagan elements.

P R O V E N C E T O DAY

Provence and Camargue


P R O V E N C E T O DAY

40

Provence and Camargue

Marseille’s own map of faiths is equally fascinating: while Catholics still form the majority (405,000), there are 200,000 Muslims, 80,000 Jews, 80,000 Armenian Apostolic Christians and 20,000 Protestants – a tribute to the town’s inclusiveness and spirit of acceptance through times of peace and persecution.

Sport The French are notoriously passionate about sport (if, by stereotype, not necessarily happy to lose), and the Provençal temperament will often add Latin spice to Gallic zest. Two local footballing legends who have left their mark under international floodlights in recent years are Éric Cantona and Zinédine Zidane: both born and bred in Marseille, and both notorious for their flare-ups as much as for their flair. Rugby, however, is more closely associated with the south of France – while football is with the north – and among the nation’s top clubs we find Montpellier, Béziers, Toulon and Aix. Swimming and, needless to say, cycling are also very popular. Mont Ventoux in Provence has featured many times in the Tour de France (including 2016), and for many this stage poses the most gruelling challenge of the whole race. The stage has finished at the summit, 1,912 m, nine times. Quintessentially Provençal is the Course camarguaise, a (usually) bloodless variety of bullfighting, and the ubiquitous pétanque: provençal, as the latter was originally called, matches of the jeu provençal are recorded from the early 20th century onwards. The name derives from the dialectal pès tancats, meaning “feet stuck” (to the ground), which some cynics claim applies to much of French sport.


41

The natural history of Provence Birdlife and Fauna Shielded by the Alps and washed by its many waterways and sea, Provence holds a wealth of diverse habitats for the naturalist to enjoy. From the wetlands of the Camargue to the dense and evergreen shrubland of the maquis;; from the deep gorges of the Verdon to the vast and flat alluvial fan of the Crau, where the Rhône meets the Durance; from the Mediterranean scrub of the garrigue to the forests; from the Southern Alps’ raised plateaux to the woodland, a whole patchwork of biomes offers a healthy array of animals, flowers, birds and insects. Provence also basks in the mildest weather in France, its winters temperate near the coast, the summers mainly dry and hot; early spring is when the flora puts on its most spectacular shows, while late spring is ideal for the rarer birdlife. The Camargue is one of the prime nature reserves of Europe and home to many wading birds within the brackish shallows of its flats. Besides the greater flamingo, which thrives in gregarious communities, we find: curlew, pied avocet, black-winged stilt, grey heron, little egret, redshank and Kentish plover; the less common purple, night and Squacco herons; the bittern and little bittern. The great white heron is a relatively recent arrival at the Camargue National Nature Reserve – preceded by a few years by the cattle egret, which can be spotted doing its job on the back on many a grazing bull. The herring gull and black-headed gull live off the sea, as do the Sandwich tern,

T H E N AT U R A L H I S T O RY O F P R O V E N C E

Provence and Camargue


T H E N AT U R A L H I S T O RY O F P R O V E N C E

42

Provence and Camargue

common tern and little tern. The sizeable ocellated lizard flies the flag for the Camargue’s reptilia. Southeast of Arles, the Plaine de la Crau with its grasslands and stony plains provides an ideal habitat for the rare pin-tailed sandgrouse, the wallcreeper and the hoopoe – a creature that is theatrical by virtue of its head-dress as much as the call it is named after. The limestone ridge of the Alpilles is perfect for spotting birds of prey such as the Egyptian vulture, Bonelli’s eagle and eagle owl. Within the Vaucluse, the Lubéron range is equally rich in raptors. Denser woodland, such as the Massif des Maures in southeastern Provence, accommodates the woodchat shrike, hoopoe and the bright blue bee-eater, as well as the rare Hermann’s tortoise. Asterix and Obelix’s favourite barbecue, the wild boar, is a common sight in the woods – but generally considered a destructive pest on farmland and unpredictable in its behaviour. Pushing up into the Alpine départements,, we find an abundance of migratory birdlife (swallow, black redstart, Eurasian wryneck, rock bunting and collared pratincole among others), alongside the local residents: Alpine chough (a member of the crow family), Alpine swift, nightingale, nightjar, scops owl, crag martin and, again, the hoopoe. The golden eagle, black kite and peregrine falcon never fail to impress when spotted. Nature lovers can also appreciate a range of mammals here: chamois, ibex and mouflon (wild sheep) among the caprinae; marmot and beaver rodentia. among the rodentia

Flora The flora of Provence has inspired countless artists – most notably perhaps Van Gogh and Monet – and the generally mild climate ensures a fine show of wild flowers and herbs almost year round. The palette is further enriched by the region’s diversity, and the loftier Alps, Alpilles or Mont Ventoux, for example, will differ considerably from the plains, woodlands or wetlands. The Camargue with its saline environment is the place for sea wormwood, stock, spurge and holly, as well as sand stock; flowering from July onwards, the white sea daffodil holds a subtle scent of lily. The Sansouire area is renowned for glasswort, sea purslane and seablite.


43

A number of wild orchids also thrive against the odds in the chalky soils of the dunes, among them: the pyramidal, lizard, lax-flowered giant and long-lipped tongue orchids, along with the marsh helleborine. Further inland, where the grasslands are richer in flowering plants, the sea lavender carpets field after field in a haze of mauve. The classic lavenders of Provence are of the English and French varieties (angustifolia and stoechas), the former growing as high as two metres. Both bloom from late spring to early summer. Also proud of their deep purple livery stand two varieties of hyacinth: neglectum (known as grape hyacinth) and comosum. comosum They are a common sight in vineyards and olive groves; the grape variety is popular at flower markets and usually sold cut. To best appreciate the flora of Provence, choosing the appropriate time of year is as important as an awareness of its diverse environments.

THE SUNFLOWER The most common sunflower in Provence is the Helianthus annuus, annuus which arrived from the Americas in the 16th century and soon became popular for its edible oil. A favourite with visitors (and artists too), the sunflower is also a marvel of evolutionary science: each floret is generally oriented towards the next by an angle of 137.5° (known as the “Golden Angle�). This produces a pattern of interconnect-

ing spirals, where the number of left and right spirals creates successive Fibonacci numbers: while there are typically 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other, in a large sunflower head these numbers could be 89 and 144. This pattern produces the most efficient encasing of seeds mathematically possible within the flower head. Sadly, it is also quite an invasive species.

T H E N AT U R A L H I S T O RY O F P R O V E N C E

Provence and Camargue


44

Provence and Camargue

If the sunflower is readily associated with Van Gogh, the poppy prevails with Monet. During World War I, the extent of ground disturbance on the Western Front favoured the proliferation of poppies on the stretches of no man’s land in between the opposing trench lines, making it a universal symbol of Remembrance. Its deep red is also associated with love and sacrifice in some cultures. Spring is when Provençal poppies are at their best, along with fruit tree blossoms – apple petals radiating their pale pink, peach their warm blushes of rose and cherry their white. Peonies range from white to yellow and pink; wisteria tumbles in its shades of purple; French broom ((genista monspessulana) is fragrant with the sweet scent of honeysuckle; thyme blossoms in soft purple from springtime onwards. Summer delivers the iconic spectacle of fields awash with sunflowers and rolling with rows of lavender. Clusters of hyacinth embellish olive groves and vineyards in a range of colours, and the spiranthes aestivalis (summer-blossoming ladies’-tresses orchid) dots the dunes. Autumn comes alive with its own show of reds and yellows, as trees and grapevines turn for the season. Dormant in the summer, the autumn variety of ladies’-tresses orchid (spiranthes spiralis) now pushes through soils rich in limestone and sand; here on Mediterranean shores it grows as high as 40 cm.


45

Winter brings purple irises, yellow mimosas and a further palette of tree blossoms: the pinks of the plum tree; the white and pink of the almond tree; and the pale pink of the apricot tree. Rosemary blooms in light purple from winter through to spring.

Garrigue and Maquis Garrigue is the scrubland typically found in the limestone coastal areas of Provence, where the climate is moderate but at times dry through drought. These landscapes are often composed of low soft-leaved vegetation, notably aromatic shrubs such as lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme and artemisia. Garrigues are also home to dense thickets of the bushy scrub oak and to a few isolated trees such as juniper and stunted holm oaks. Though broadly similar and equally typical of the Mediterranean, maquis is denser than the garrigue (which is discontinuous); it is also associated with acidic (siliceous) soils rather than chalky ones, and prevalently composed of heather, erica and other plants that do not tolerate alkaline conditions. Being quite impenetrable, maquis provides excellent shelter to wildlife, which is how it came to be the nickname of the French Resistance.

Trees The Mediterranean zones, with their scrubland garrigues and maquis,, provide the natural habitat for olive trees and holm oak; as they give way to moors, hills and mountains, the scenery becomes increasingly marked by cypress, almond, pine, beech and downy oak trees. The olive tree thrives equally well in limestone and sandy soils and the settlers of Magna Graecia introduced it to Provence some 2,500 years ago. The “immortal tree� also has the ability to renew itself continually, one specimen at the Pont du Gard (with a trunk circumference of 15 m) is famously reputed to date back to 908 AD. In coastal regions, olive trees can grow as high as 20 m and their silver evergreen foliage has long been cherished for the shade and shelter they provide. Since they thrive up to an altitude of approximately 600 m, their presence also marks the natural frontier of the Mediterranean climate. The holm oak too prefers chalky, arid soil and grows up to altitudes of 100 m. It has quite a short trunk with a thick base,

T H E N AT U R A L H I S T O RY O F P R O V E N C E

Provence and Camargue


T H E N AT U R A L H I S T O RY O F P R O V E N C E

46

Provence and Camargue

evergreen foliage and is a common feature of the garrigue. The scrub oak, or kermes, is more of a shrub than a tree and rarely exceeds a metre in height. It prefers fertile soil to arid conditions, and its thick dome of prickly leaves is the favourite home of the kermes insect; the latter is the natural source of the bright red crimson dye, which derives its name from it. The downy oak is deciduous and requires more water than the evergreen varieties above. Its ideal habitat is found in the valleys and more humid mountain slopes; its undergrowth hosts the much-prized truffle, as well as a variety of flowers, including orchids. The three classic species of Mediterranean pine are all present in Provence: umbrella, maritime and Aleppo – all easily distinguishable. The characteristic umbrella pine of the Mediterranean speaks for itself; also known as the Italian stone pine, it is renowned for its edible kernels. The maritime variety is also tall and has an orange bark and dark blue-green needles; it is popular for its timber but can be quite invasive. The Aleppo pine is more graceful with its thin, long needles; it also packs plenty of personality with its twisted trunk, which makes it a popular decorative tree. The almond tree is a spectacular sight when it blossoms in its pale pink in early spring; it is often farmed for its nuts, since wild almond nuts are toxic. The poplar, which grows quickly and is easily managed, commonly appears in plantations along the waterways of Provence; its absorbent properties make it a favourite in floodplains and its high canopy helps to shield fields and orchards from the wind. The cypress is not dissimilar in shape though more pointed at the top; this dense evergreen conifer is even more popular as a windbreak. The plane tree is commonly found in towns and villages, its bark smooth in texture and light in colour, its foliage cherished for the ample shade it provides. The European beech is a majestic tree, capable of reaching 50 m in height and living up to 300 years. It can be identified by its toothed leaves, smooth and light grey bark, as well as by its nuts: the small three-angled beechnut is edible, though bitter, and contained in a fibrous husk.


47

Provence and the Visual Arts Many of the most fascinating painters of the 19th and 20th centuries were inspired by Provence, fired by the quality of its “Light” (a phenomenon linked to the Mistral) and revelling in the region’s culture and character – none more so, perhaps, than Van Gogh and Cézanne, who are instinctively associated with Arles and Aix. The Impressionists Renoir and Monet came early, followed by Signac, Bonnard and Dufy; Picasso spent many a summer on the Côte d’Azur, before settling there permanently, as did the “northener” Matisse. But a sweep through Provençal history soon shows that artists have consistently thrived here for centuries. Many gravitated towards Avignon, its 15th-century School proving enormously influential in French painting with its fusion of Italian and Flemish traditions; Marseille-born sculptor Puget became known as the “Provençal Michelangelo” in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Fragonard became synonymous with Rococo, the flamboyant flowers of his native Grasse often adorning his bucolic visions.

Avignon School of Painting The Avignon School flourished through the papacy’s tenure in Avignon (1309–77), when many artists – Italians especially – were attracted to the new papal court. The most prominent were Simone Martini (from Siena) and Matteo di Giovanetti (from


THE ARTS

48

Provence and Camargue

Viterbo). Under their direction, the Palais des Papes and a number of secular buildings in Avignon and nearby towns were decorated with frescoes that ushered in the established traditions of Italian painting. Accustomed as French painting was to a highly linear elegance and focused on miniature forms of painting such as stained glass and manuscript illumination, the new approach struck quite a contrast: born of classicism and often monumental, the Italian vision added an effortless and instinctive handling of crowds – the figures graceful and solidly modelled – as well as an eye for elegance and detail. All of this was a revelation in Avignon. In the early 15th century, after the departure of the popes, the Flemish influences already established in northern France also began to reach Avignon. To the Italian techniques, the Flemish added pin-point realism, attention to detail, crisp angularity and sensitivity of colour, further enriching the local palettes. Such imported influences are present in varying degrees in the painters of the Avignon School, the most prominent being Enguerrand Charonton, Simon de Châlons and Nicolas Froment. These and other masters of the Avignon School would in turn influence the mainstream of French painting in the late 15th and 16th centuries.


49

In the 16th century, Louis Bréa (of the Bréa dynasty, also originally from the Italian mainland), was active along the coast of Provence and Liguria. He is credited with the development of the School of Nice (his birthplace) and introducing the Renaissance into French painting. He also worked for Good King René, one the greatest patrons of his time, and is particularly valued for his altarpieces.

17th-18th Centuries During the Baroque Period, architecture swept to the fore in the wake of building and engineering expansion in Provence and the arts were largely dictated by this phenomenon. Sculpture came into its own, along with other crafts, which led to the development, for example, of the Jesuit Style in the churches of the Comtat Venaissin – typified by ornate altarpieces, panelling and carving. Religious buildings were restored in the aftermath of the Wars of Religion (1562–98); civic edifices proliferated under Louis XIV (ruled 1643–1715); townhouses of the nobility mushroomed in the avenues in Aix, Avignon and Nîmes. Countless sculptors, wood carvers, metal craftsmen and garden designers plied their trade, some of the most prominent being Bernus, Toro, Rambot and Mareschal – all contemporaries of the great sculptor, Puget. Flying the flag for the Provençal painters of the time are: Vernet, with his celebrated land- and seascapes; C A Van Loo (the most rated of the Van Loo dynasty) renowned for his “purity” of style and design; and Fragonard himself.

19th century While architecture and civil engineering in Provence continued to shape the visual arts into the 1800s, the balance of power was beginning to shift in favour of painting well before Van Gogh, the Impressionists and other acclaimed masters established themselves here. Constantin and Granet, for example, are ranked among the precursors of Provençal landscape painting; Loubon,

THE ARTS

Provence and Camargue


THE ARTS

50

Provence and Camargue

Monticelli and Guigou (a forerunner of Impressionism) were all inspired by the vivid light of Provence and initiated the Landscape School. The latter were supplanted by the Naturalists: Brun and Sain in Avignon; Ravaisou and Emperaire in Aix; Mouette (famed for his tableaux of fishermen), J Garibaldi and Olive in Marseille.

Cézanne and Van Gogh Cézanne, a Provençal thoroughbred, effectively spanned three major French movements: Romanticism, studying Delacroix; Impressionism, through his contact and work with Renoir and Monet at the seaside village of L’Estaque; and Cubism, the early 20th century’s new technique of pictorial exploration. From his native Aix, he often visited the nearby Bibémus quarries – with their geometric landscapes – and the Montagne Ste-Victoire, which he could observe from his study. Cézanne painted the mountain some 60 times, typically with simple geometric forms and large licks of colour. Van Gogh settled in Provence in 1888, and his creativity was at its most prolific during the two years he spent in Arles, Les Baux, the Camargue and, most notably, as a patient at the St-Paulde-Mausole asylum near St-Rémy. The intensity of his landscapes, still lifes and portraits are often animated by the “Light” and character of Provence.

20th Century and the Present The fascination with light became even more of a lure in the ensuing decades, particularly for the painters who, in the footsteps of Cézanne, flocked to the tiny fishing community of L’Estaque near Marseille. Innovative techniques, reaching beyond the power of colour, were pioneered in an effort to capture la lumiére provençale: Signac led the way for the Pointillists, with their square touches; Matisse, Derain and Dufy were among the founders of the Fauves – “the Beasts”. The latter turned their backs on the representational methods of the Impressionists by resorting to wilder brushwork; they included in their ranks the Provençal artists Lombard, Chabaud, Camoin and Verdihan. L’Estaque also became synonymous with the Cubists, who continued where Cézanne had led the way; among them, Picasso and Braque worked closely together in Sorgues, straying further


51

and further into the realms of abstraction. Expressionism and Surrealism also flourished in the first decades of the 1900s, Masson championing spontaneous drawing. Vasarely, founder of Op Art, espoused the possibilities of optics and kinetics from the 1930s onwards. Today, Provence remains a magnet to both established and aspiring artists, many of them passing through the doors of the École d’Art de Lumigny in Marseille. Contemporary art museums abound, among the most prestigious: Marseille’s own Musée d’Art Contemporain, the Musée Réattu in Arles, a short walk from the hospital where Van Gogh was treated after he had mutilated his ear; the Collection Lambert in Avignon; and the Maison Renée-Char in the riverine village of L’Îsle-sur-la-Sorgue. Besides their permanent galleries, these venues also offer temporary exhibitions of modern art.

Provence and its Artists – an Overview PREHISTORIC WALL PAINTINGS (27,000–19,000 BC): Cosquer Cave,

near Marseille, images of seals, bisons, horses and auks AVIGNON SCHOOL OF PAINTING has its beginnings during the papacy’s period of “Babylonian Captivity” (exile from Rome, 1309–77) SIMONE MARTINI (1284–1344): Sienese, in the service of the Papal court at Avignon in 1344. With other Italian (and later Flemish) painters influenced the Avignon School

THE ARTS

Provence and Camargue


52

Provence and Camargue

THE ARTS

MATTEO DI GIOVANETTI (1322–1368): from Viterbo, belonged to

the Simone Martini school and was a friend of Petrarch. Summoned to decorate the Palais des Papes RENÉ OF ANJOU (“Good King René”, 1409–1480): amateur painter and illuminator, celebrated patron of the arts, Aix and Tarascon NICOLAS FROMENT (1435–1486): most prominent 15th-century Provençal painter of the Avignon School – Triptych of the Burning Bush (c. 1476), commissioned by King René ENGUERRAND CHARONTON (1410 – 1466): credited with the 1457 masterpiece of the School, the Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (Louvre) LOUIS BRÉA (1450–1523): most prominent of the Bréas from Liguria, founder of the School of Nice. Altarpieces include Pietà of Monaco Cathedral. Worked for King René SIMON DE CHÂLONS (1506-1568): originally from Champagne, encapsulates the marriage of northern and Italian influences PIERRE PUGET (1620–1694): the “Provençal Michelangelo” – Hercule Gaulois and Perseus and Andromeda a (Louvre). A mountain is named after him near his native Marseille JEAN-CLAUDE RAMBOT (1621–1694): sculptor and architect. Famous for his Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins in Aix Aix, where the Parc Rambot is named in his honour


Provence and Camargue

53

Venaissin. Epitomised the Baroque style of many Provençal religious buildings BERNARD TORO (1661–1731): sculptor and designer, pupil of Puget. Worked on royal ships in Toulon, then in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Aix JACQUES PHILIPPE MARESCHAL (1689–1778): royal engineer and garden designer. Created Jardins de la Fontaine gardens in Nîmes CHARLES-ANDRÉ VAN LOO (1705–1765): member of a dynasty of Dutch origin. Eclectic and renowned for simplicity of style and precision of design CLAUDE-JOSEPH VERNET (1714–1789): born in Avignon, master of seascape painting. A Storm on a Mediterranean Coast, Seaport by Moonlight JEAN-HONORÉ FRAGONARD (1732–1806): doyen of the late Rococo, famous for his exuberance, hedonism and the flowers of his native Grasse. The Happy Accidents of the Swing JEAN-ANTOINE CONSTANTIN (1756–1844): landscape painter famed also for his drawings. Principal of the École de dessin (drawing school) in Aix FRANÇOIS MARIUS GRANET (1775–1849): themes of historical, romantic and architectural interest ((Stella en prison, Chœur des Capucins à Rome) C J É LOUBON (1809–1863): born in Aix, where he attended the École de dessin.. Pastoral and animal paintings ADOLPHE MONTICELLI (1824–1886): Romantic but with freedom of style – richly coloured, textured and glazed. Greatly admired by Van Gogh and worked with a young Cézanne. PAUL GUIGOU (1834–1871): belonged to the Landscape School along with Monticelli and Loubon, with whom he studied NATURALISM (mid-19th century onwards): came into being as a breakaway sub-movement of Realism, which aimed to represent the subject without artificiality or artistic convention. Naturalism attempted to distinguish itself by its avoidance of politics, religion and social issues, which Realism had embraced in painting as in other forms of art – notably literature. (Zola, one should note, considered himself a Naturalist despite his strongly held political views.) The Naturalists preferred to see themselves as followers of Natural History. Among their main exponents in Provence: Paul Sain (1853–1908, landscape and naval painter); Joseph Ravaisou (1865–1925, who was also a musician); Achille

THE ARTS

JACQUES BERNUS 1650–1728: religious sculptor from the Comtat


54

Provence and Camargue

Empéraire (1829–98, born a dwarf); Joseph Garibaldi (1863–1941, one of the Marseille “Peintres de Rive-Neuve” group); JeanBaptiste Olive (1848–1936, beloved by the people of Marseille). PAUL CÉZANNE (1839–1906, see above) AUGUSTE RENOIR (1841–1919): often visited Provence, before finally settling in Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1907, where he continued to paint until his death VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853–90, see above) HENRI MATISSE (1869–1954): settled in Provence in 1917 (mainly Nice). Celebrated for his use of colour, he was also a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor. Cofounder of Fauvism PABLO PICASSO (1881–1973): moved permanently to the Côte d’Azur in 1946. “Everything you can imagine is real.” PIERRE BONNARD (1867–1947): founding member of the PostImpressionists known as Les Nabis. Retired to Le Cannet LES NABIS (1890s): Post-Impressionist avant-garde group who paved the way for fine arts and graphic arts in France. They regarded themselves as initiates or “prophets” of modern art, along the lines of the ancient oracles of the Old Testament who had rejuvenated Israel – hence the name drawn from nebiim (prophets) in Hebrew. They even used a private vocabulary and code of acronyms. L’ESTAQUE (1906 onwards): the fishing village near Marseille became the hub of the artists who later became known as the Cubists GEORGES BRAQUE (1882–1963): Fauvist and developer of Cubism. Closely associated with Picasso and a frequent visitor at L’Estaque between 1907 and 1910 HENRI-EDMOND CROSS (1856–1910): acclaimed as a master of Neo-Impressionism and instrumental in the development of Fauvism. Discovered the Côte d’Azur in 1883 MAURICE DENIS (1870–1943): Symbolist and member of the Nabis, to which he contributed Hommage à Cézanne. Instrumental in the foundation of Fauvism and Cubism ANDRÉ DERAIN (1880–1954): painter and sculptor, founder member of Fauvism. Painted at L’Estaque and Martigues


RAOUL DUFY (1877–1953): eclectic visual artist and stage de-

signer. Embraced Fauvism, Impressionism, Modernism and Cubism. Painted in Provence (and his wife was from Nice) CLAUDE MONET (1840–1927): the most prolific and consistent practitioner of Impressionist philosophy visited and worked in Provence countless times EDVARD MUNCH (1863–1944): Norwegian painter and printmaker. Intense treatment of psychological themes (The Scream). In ( Provence in 1891. ALBERT MARQUET (1873–1947): Fauvist and lifelong friend of Matisse. Painted at Marseille, St. Tropez and L’Estaque. PAUL SIGNAC (1863–1935): Neo-Impressionist, friend of Matisse, helped develop the Pointillist style with Georges Seurat. Produced numerous paintings along the coast PIERRE DEVAL (1897–1993): Modernist and Figurist. His house at La Valette-du-Var became a gathering place for artists who worked along the Côte d’Azur NICOLAS DE STAËL (1914–1955): of Russian origin, known for his use of thick impasto, abstract landscapes, collages, illustrations and textiles. Lived in Nice and Antibes YVES KLEIN (1928–1962): a native of Nice. Exponent of Nouveau Réalisme painting and pioneer of Performance Art. Forerunner of Minimalism and Pop Art SACHA SOSNO (b. 1937): born in Marseille and currently working in Nice. Internationally recognised for his monumental outdoor sculptures on Côte d’Azur. Also a New Realist


56

Provençal Literature Scores of writers are associated with Provence – local, French and foreign – among them two home-grown Nobel Laureates: Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914), who championed the cause of the Provençal language (Occitan); and J.M.G. Le Clézio (b.1940), arguably the most prominent figure in contemporary French literature. Local authors who have captured the spirit of Provence include Alphonse Daudet (1840-97), beloved for the pastoral letters written from his windmill; Émile Zola (1840-1902), synonymous with the literary School of Naturalism and a boyhood friend of Cézanne; Jean Giono (1895-1907), considered a precursor of the ecological movement; and Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974), whose Jean de Florette and Manon des sources have been popularised in film by a dashing Depardieu. French writers such as Victor Hugo (in his Misérables) and the swashbuckling Alexandre Dumas used Provençal backdrops for their fiction; and countless foreign wordsmiths also found inspiration in the region – most famously perhaps, in recent years, Peter Mayle in his autobiographical A Year in Provence. Yet the two literary currents that Provence can claim as its very own – one of them a cornerstone of western poetry – remain relatively unknown beyond the borders: the genre associated with the 12th-century troubadours; and the pure-blooded, quintessentially Provençal movement of the 19th century called Félibrige. Some 700 years separate them, but they share the same ancestry and spirit.


Troubadours and the Language of Courtly Love When Romance languages evolved out of Vulgar Latin after the fall of the Roman Empire, they put down roots in France in the form of two distinct languages: the langue d’oil in the north and the langue d’oc in the south. The difference between oil and oc – the words for “yes” in the north and south respectively – was sharp enough in the late Middle Ages for the two languages to develop separately, each with its individual literature. It was through the art of the troubadours, which flourished in the 12th-century feudal courts of Occitania – from Bordeaux to Nice – that Occitan subsequently became the universal language of refined expression on French soil. The craft of these serenading minstrels transcended political divisions and their language came to be appreciated by many European courts beyond the frontiers of Occitania: love, in its gentlest form, was the guiding muse for the airs and verses that sang of immortal adoration, unblemished virtue and tormented dreams – all tenderly expressed in the hope that the lady might relent and finally requite the anguished troubadour’s sentiments. Three main styles of lyric poetry have been identified: the trobar leu (light), trobar ric (rich), and trobar clus (closed, hermetic) – the first being the most common. As the genre dwindled in the 13th century, so too did the prominence of Occitan in literature – in part due to the rising influence of French in Europe. Nevertheless, the language of Oc held


THE ARTS

58

Provence and Camargue

its own as a spoken tongue and was used at the papal court in Avignon well into the 14th century, to be gradually replaced there by French. Its popularity in literature did endure elsewhere, however, notably in Italy: Dante (c.1265-1321), it is believed, almost used Occitan to write the Divina Commedia; while Petrarch (1304-74), who spent much of his life in Provence and became a European celebrity, is credited with breathing new life into Occitan as a language of letters.

The Félibrige Movement The fortunes of the Occitan language – in literature as in the street – ebbed and flowed for some seven centuries until the emergence, in 1854, of the Félibrige society. Occitan had survived in poetry, theatre, short stories, chronicles and dictionaries; church services were still commonly held in the language and even the small élite who spoke French would have been bilingual. The 17th century, in fact, witnessed the birth of another Provençal genre: the Noël.. Developed by the reverend Nicolas chapelle, Noëls Saboly (1614-75), poet, composer and maître de chapelle were pious and naïf canticles centring on the world of the newly born Baby Jesus. Despite such peaks, however, the language naturally used by the Provençal in the street suffered a gradual decline, particularly in the wake of the Revolution in 1789 and the establishment of a centralised state. The tide turned in the 1840s when a very young Frédéric Mistral, inspired by the Occitan verses of a teacher in Avignon, developed a passion for the culture and language of his Provence. Barely in his twenties, Mistral began writing the epic Mirèio in 1851, in turn galvanising the ideals of several other young writers: the following year, in Arles, the first convention of the future Félibres poets was held, paving the way for the Félibrige movement, which was founded in 1854. The root of the name is disputed – not least because it was concocted around a dinner table in a castle which was probably endowed with a formidable wine cellar. But what is certain is that through their writing and determination, the movement’s seven pioneers (Aubanel, Brunet, Giéra, Roumanille, Mathieu, Mistral and Tavan) restored the Provençal language into the mainstream of literature. They standardised the spelling, transcribed a wealth of Occitan works (including the songs of the troubadours) and published a periodical, Armana


59

Provençau, which spread the movement’s ideals. Mistral’s Mirèio,, an epic poem of 12 cantos, was finally published in 1859; it became immensely popular and even inspired the Parisian Charles Gounod (acclaimed for his Ave Maria and Faust) to turn it into an opera. Mistral was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904 and was celebrated for his work as a philologist as well as for his art; his monumental dictionary, Lou Trésor du Félibrige,, still serves as a reference book. The Félibrige brought together a plethora of Occitanian writers, from Alphonse Daudet to Charles Maurras, a political theorist. During the same period, a number of Provençal authors who wrote in French also came to the fore, among them Émile Zola, who had spent his childhood in Aix, and Edmond Rostand, who was born in Marseille and wrote Cyrano de Bergerac.

The Provençal Language Today Local dialectal varieties of Provençal remain popular, albeit mostly in rural areas rather than urban settings, where mainstream French would be more common in its own varieties of, for instance, business-speak or ghetto-patois. As a literary tongue, however – and thanks largely to the work of the Félibres – the Oc language is not only valued, but also recognised in official teaching programmes. The Institut des Études Occitanes (Institute of Occitanian Studies) actively promotes the use of Occitan in everyday speech and writing, and aims to restore its status throughout Occitania, from the Mediterranean right across to the Atlantic.


60

Provence and Camargue

THE ARTS

Provence in Pen and Paper – an Overview 1100 Troubadour tradition – Marcabrunian School identified as one of the earliest 1327 Petrarch – Il canzoniere, sonnets of unrequited love for Laura de Noves in Avignon 1555 Nostradamus, from St-Rémy – The Centuries book of prophecies 1668 Nicolas Saboly publishes the first of his Noëls, Noëls, Nativitythemed canticles in Occitan 1766 Tobias Smollett, Scottish poet and author – Travels through France and Italy 1791 Marquis de Sade, the original sadist – Justine,, written while imprisoned in the Bastille 1844 Alexandre Dumas – The Count of Monte Cristo, set in Marseille’s Château d’If 1847 Joseph Roumanille, “Father of the Félibrige” Félibrige” and Mistral’s mentor – Li Marbarideto 1854 Frédéric Mistral and six other poets meet at Château de Font-Ségugne – birth of Félibrige movement 1859 Mistral publishes epic poem – Mirèio, Mirèio standard bearer of the Félibrige 1862 Victor Hugo – Les Misérables, Misérables its early chapters set in Digneles-Bains 1868 Edmond Rostand born in Marseille – Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) 1869 Alphonse Daudet – Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from My Windmill), set near Fontvieille 1875 Georges Bizet – Carmen, opera drawn from Prosper Merimée’s novela (1845) 1885 Émile Zola – Germinal, set partly around Aix, published as part of his 20-novel cycle, The Fortunes of the Rouge (1871-93) 1892 Friedrich Nietsche – Thus Spake Zarathustra, devised after the German had traversed the path in Èze, later named after him 1897 Stéphen Liégeard, journalist, coins the name Côte d’Azur 1904 Frédéric Mistral wins the Nobel Prize 1907 René Char, Provençal poet, born in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue 1915 Edith Wharton, American author, visits Hyères with André Gide – The Age of Innocence


Provence and Camargue

61

valesces in Menton – Miss Bull, Passion 1926 Ernest Hemingway – The Garden of Eden, set in La Napoule 1926 F Scot Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda stay in Juan-les-Pins – Tender is the Night (1934), based in southern France 1926 W Somerset Maugham settles in Cap Ferrat – Cakes and Ale (1930) 1932 Aldous Huxley – Brave New World, written in Sanary-surMer, the setting for Eyeless in Gaza 1933 Thomas Mann and brother Heinrich flee Germany for Sanary 1944 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, aviator and author, goes missing – Vol de nuit (1931) and Le Petit Prince (1943). His last flight passes his sister’s house at Agay 1954 Françoise Sagan, aged 18 – Bonjour tristesse,, about the Esterel coast. 1957 Albert Camus settles in Lourmarin – writes autobiography not published until 1994 1974 Marcel Pagnol dies – Marseille Trilogy (1931-36), Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (both 1964) 1978 Sébastien Japrisot – award-winning L’Été meurtrier, set in a Provençal village 1981 Dirk Bogarde moves to Provence – A Gentle Occupation, his first novel 1982 Graham Greene – J’Accuse – The Dark Side of Nice 1985 Lawrence Durrell – Avignon Quintet final volume is published 1985 Patrick Siskind – Perfume, much of it set in Grasse 1989 Peter Mayle – A Year in Provence 2008 Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (born 1940 in Nice) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

THE ARTS

1920 Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand short story writer, con-


62

Musical Provence If the visual arts enjoy the lion’s share of the cultural landscape in Provence with their unusually strong presence, the region’s musical heritage is every bit as diverse and fascinating. From the troubadours – whose craft was so influential in the courts of medieval Europe – to the gitan tradition, the music of Provence covers a remarkable range of genres. The Alba (sung by a lover as dawn approaches, often with a watchman in attendance lest the lady’s husband should appear) and the Estampida (a dance-like song) are but two varieties of lyric poems popularised by the Provençal minstrels, in a tradition that became a cornerstone of European early music. Sacred music too flourished in the wake of the courtly love genre, under the wings of the Avignon papacy and other patrons, notably Good King René. In more recent times, Avignon-born Messiaen became a pillar of 20th-century classical music, his compositions often steeped in faith; and the Czech Martinu° was among several composers who settled and thrived in Provence. Countless are the works set in or inspired by the region, so strong is its aura of natural beauty, rural idyll and Latin ebullience. Jazz enthusiasts the world over flock to Antibes and Nice, while the Aix Opera Festival is ranked among the most prestigious in the world. Hugely popular, even before the folk revival of the 1970s, is the music of the Camargue gitans – gloriously gutsy, intense and often unwritten. It is a fusion of eastern European Roma expression, Iberian flamenco and Corsican-Sardinian folk, and many music lovers will have come across it in the commercial guise of the Gipsy Kings. An iconic image that speaks volumes for the importance of music in gitan culture can be found in the pilgrim church of Les-Saintes-Maries: hanging among the ex-voto offerings to St. Sarah, the patron saint of gypsies, is a candle-black-


63

ened violin. The sizeable communities of black Africans, Maghrébins and Jews – notably in Marseille – have all contributed to this musical melting pot. And it goes without saying that no Course camarguaise at the local arenas would ever be delivered without a few blasts of “Toréador” from Bizet’s Carmen (which is actually set in Seville, but who can resist?).

The Musical Landscape of Provence – an Overview Classical TROUBADOUR TRADITION (1100-1350): subsequently spread into

Italy and Spain and inspired similar movements throughout Europe, with female troubadours (trobairitz)) also playing their part: the trouvères in northern France, trovadorismo in Galicia and Portugal, Minnesang in Germany. Chivalry and courtly love were the central themes, although many songs were humorous, satirical and often vulgar. The three prevailing styles were: the trobar leu (light), trobar ric (rich) and trobar cluss (closed). Some 300 melodies attributed to troubadours survive out of an estimated 2,500. The art declined and died out around the time of the Black Death (1348) JOSQUIN DES PRÉZ (c. 1450-1521): a singer at the chapel of King René in 1477, Josquin became the most prominent European composer between Dufay and Palestrina. He is generally considered the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School and the first master of polyphonic vocal music during the High Renaissance, a genre which emerged in the course of his lifetime THE NOËLS OF NICOLAS SABOLY (1614-1675): born into a family of shepherds near Avignon, Saboly took holy orders and served as Maître de chapelle at a number of cathedrals in Provence. A prolific composer and researcher, Saboly wrote over 200 Noëls in Provençal. Centred on the Nativity and drawing on a wide cast of characters, the Noël became an established form in its own right and popular across the countryside as much as in town CHARLES GOUNOD (1818-93): composed the five-act opera Mireille in 1864, after Mistral’s epic poem Miréio. Gounod spent much time in Provence familiarising himself with the setting and met Mistral on several occasions

THE ARTS

Provence and Camargue


64

Provence and Camargue

THE ARTS

GEORGES BIZET (1838-75): initially commissioned by a Parisian

impresario to write some incidental music for Alphonse Daudet’s play L’Arlésienne (The Girl from Arles), Bizet subsequently rearranged it into a suite in four movements – a composition that proved very successful. This was followed three years later by Carmen (1875), which was poorly received by both critics and audience, not least on account of its scandalous content. Bizet died three months after the première, little suspecting that Carmen would one day become the most popular work in the entire operatic repertoire. Although Bizet was born in Paris (and Carmen set in Spain), the opera has been widely adopted in Provence as a standard bearer for its bull-breeding tradition. “Toréador” gets aired at every taurine event in the region ° (1890-1959): the eclectic Czech composer BOHUSLAV MARTINU lived in Nice from 1953 to 1955, having previously spent time in Aix during the war as a refugee. While in Provence he wrote several works inspired by southern European culture, including the opera Mirandolina and the orchestral Frescoes of Piero della Francesca;; he also mingled with a plethora of artists here, from the novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (an encounter that later gave rise to his opera The Greek Passion) Passion) to the group of innovative composers known as Les Six DARIUS MILHAUD (1892-1974) a member of Les Six and an exponent of polytonality, Marseille-born Milhaud was one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. He was also influenced by jazz and counted among his students Burt Bacharach and the jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, who named his own son after the Provençal master. Milhaud’s 443 works include


65

La Cueuillette des citrons (Lemon Picking), intermède provençal MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937): had a strong affinity with Iberian music (Boléro, Rhapsodie espagnole, L’Heure espagnole, Alborada del gracioso), and with the sound of the gitans. A performer himself, Ravel was also fascinated by their instinctive technique, freedom from convention and effortless showmanship. His rhapsodic Tzigane is popular with many a violin virtuoso OLIVIER MESSIAEN (1908-1992): Avignon-born, the composer, organist and ornithologist was a thoroughbred Provençal. Messiaen’s deeply Catholic faith inspired much of his music

Folk and Other Genres GIPSY KINGS (1978-present): rumba catalana and rumba flamenca

meet international funk-pop. Originally Los Reyes, the band started out in Arles – although their ancestry leads them back to Catalonia, which many gypsy families fled during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s PROVENÇAL FOLK MUSIC: a classic formation is the fife and drum (galoubet-tambourin), ), its sound heavily influenced by a range of Italian folk traditions (as performed by André Gabriel, Patrice Conte and Yves Rousguisto, who creates his own instruments); the hurdy gurdy of Savoie is played by bands such as La Kinkerne; the choral tradition of the Alpes Maritimes is alive with La Compagnie Vocale and Corous de Berra, among others; the fiddle takes centre stage in the north of the region. Among the dances: the bacchu-ber is a sword dance performed in Briançon; the rigaudon a baroque dance similar to a bourrée

THE ARTS

Provence and Camargue


66

Provence and Camargue

THE ARTS

SARDANA: originally a Catalan circle dance, its music is a feature

of Perpignan’s folk scene. It is usually played by a 10-piece wind band called a cobla. La Cobla de Joglars, La Cobla els Montgrins, Cobla Mil-Lenaria and Els Ministrels del Rossellano are among the most popular MIREILLE MATHIEU (b. 1946): a queen among French chanteuses, also born in Avignon

EVENTS , Aix-en-Provence Festival: one of the finest international opera festivals, particularly renowned for its productions of Mozart. Performances are staged at a number of historic venues – both indoors and in the open air – in addition to the state-of-the-art Grand Théâtre de Provence, which opened in 2007. The programme also includes classical and jazz concerts, ballet and other events , Chorégies d’Orange Festival: summer programme of concerts and opera at the magnificently preserved Roman theatre of Orange , La Roque d’Anthéron Piano Festival: features international artists in a variety of open-air venues in July and August , Antibes Jazz Festival (Juan-les-Pins): inaugurated in 1960 and, for many enthusiasts, second only to Newport , Nice Jazz Festival: Louis Armstrong and his All Stars headlined its first outing in 1948, followed by a breathtaking galaxy of artists through the years. Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Helen Humes and Ella Fitzgerald have all graced its stages. It is set in the monumental Jardins de Cimiez (home to a Roman amphitheatre), and presents a balanced menu of modern and traditional jazz , Charlie Jazz Festival (Aix): established in 1998 under the umbrella of a non-profit jazz organisation, the Association Free Charlie (which includes Le Moulin à Jazz, a cult venue). The festival is hosted every summer in the gardens of Le Domaine de Fontblanche, in Vitrolles (Aix). While featuring established artists, this jazzfest also gives space to emerging talent


67

Provençal Architecture From the imperial grandeur of Roman structures to the planning principles of Le Corbusier, Provence holds a magnificent array of architectural styles. As Provence embraced Christianity in the Middle Ages, churches and abbeys flourished in the region establishing a model that would dominate for eight centuries: the Romanesque. Hilltop villages became a familiar sight, with communities seeking shelter from invaders and warlords staking their dominions from eagle-nest forts. Prosperity increased from the 16th century onwards, paving the way for châteaux and town houses; and with Provence’s annexation to France, public buildings and gardens proliferated in towns, notably under Louis XIV. The Côte d’Azur glittered with the dreams of the Belle Époque until the Great War – after which, facing the realities of the 20th century, Provence confronted the challenge of industrial progress and a fast-growing population.

Provence and its Architecture – an Overview Roman Architecture (20 BC– 400 AD) Provence offers some of the best-preserved Roman architecture across the Empire, from gladiatorial arenas and theatres to triumphal arches, thermal baths and city walls. PONT DU GARD AQUEDUCT (1st century AD): the jewel in the crown

of Gallo-Roman design and one of the most impressive examples of Roman civil engineering to be found. Built with large blocks of limestone, like most other Roman constructions in the region


THE ARTS

68

Provence and Camargue

TRIUMPHAL ARCH, ORANGE (20 BC): built to honour the veterans of the 11th Legion and glorify Roman power in the Provincia TRIUMPHAL ARCH, GLANUM (St-Rémy, 10-25 AD): also a show of imperial strength ROMAN THEATRE, ORANGE (early 1st century BC): exceptionally preserved, its backdrop wall still intact. The theatre is in use to this day ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE, ARLES (1st and 2nd centuries AD): famed for its gladiatorial spectacles, with a capacity of 12,000 spectators MAISON CARRÉE, NÎMES (16-19 BC): one of the best-preserved temples of the Roman Empire. Built according to the principles of Vitruvius, prominent Roman architect ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE, NÎMES (70 AD): with a capacity of 16,300 spectators, now remodelled for bullfighting and other large-scale events

Romanesque Architecture (5th-13th Centuries) As Christianity established itself across the Roman Empire in the 4th century, churches, cathedrals and monasteries were built throughout Provence. Many churches were erected on the sites of Roman temples (Nîmes) or fora (Aix and Arles), with existing structures, especially columns, being widely recycled. Romanesque architecture combined Gallo-Roman elements with a new style imported from the Italian mainland and particularly influenced by the new Byzantine churches of Ravenna. BAPTISTRY OF ST-LÉONCE CATHEDRAL, FRÉJUS (406-9 AD): one of the oldest churches, built shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. Octagonal building with adult-sized baptismal pool MONTMAJOUR ABBEY (10th–13th centuries): fortified Benedictine monastery, its graves carved in the rock. Important medieval pilgrimage site SÉNANQUE ABBEY (1148–78): earliest Cistercian monastery in Provence. A breakaway Benedictine Order, the Cistercians adhered strictly to the rules of St. Benedict. Their monasteries are often located in remote riverside locations. Surrounded by lavender fields, Sénanque is one of the most scenic LE THORONET ABBEY, DRAGUIGNAN (1160): Cistercian, studied by Le Corbusier (for its play of light and shadow) and John Pawson


Provence and Camargue

69

Cistercian monasteries known as the Three Sisters of Provence. Now a prestigious classical music festival venue CHURCH OF ST-TROPHIME, ARLES (12th–15th centuries): former cathedral. Its portal (Last Judgement) and cloister columns are among the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture AIX CATHEDRAL (12th–19th centuries): built on the site of the 1st-century Roman forum, encapsulates the transition from Romanesque to Gothic (through to Neo-Gothic)

Gothic Architecture (12th-14th Centuries) In the mid-12th century, the Basilica of St-Denis in Paris, with its ornate façade, spearheaded a new style: the Gothic. Characterised by the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress, the Opus Francigenum (“French handiwork”) rapidly spread to Germany, England, Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Slow to reach Provence, the design was embraced with enthusiasm for the creation of a Basilica that was to enshrine a sarcophagus discovered in a crypt 1279 and believed to contain the remains of Mary Magdalen. Many Romanesque churches were subsequently transformed into Gothic ones. BASILICA OF ST. MARY MAGDALENE, STE-BAUME (13th century):

built at intervals, due to the plague, until 1532 and then left unfinished AIX CATHEDRAL (Romanesque): two new wings of the transept added in the Gothic style (1285-90), reflecting the trend of other parts of Provence PALAIS DES PAPES, AVIGNON (1334-64): with a surface area of 10 acres and heavily fortified, the largest gothic structure in Europe THE PONT D’AVIGNON (Roman era–17th century): one of the wonders of the medieval world, located on one of the main pilgrimage routes. Collapsed and rebuilt several times

THE ARTS

SILVACANE ABBEY (1175): on the Durance River, the third of the


70

Hilltop Villages (2nd-17th Centuries) Provence was flooded with invaders after the collapse of Roman authority, and early medieval architecture was dictated by a need to withstand repeated attacks. It was at this time that hilltop castles shielded within walled towns became a characteristic feature of the Provençal landscape. The proliferation of villages perchés and fortified palaces and monasteries continued for some 1,500 years, until after the end of the Wars of Religion (1598) and the promise of safety from outside attack. LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE (2nd century onwards): first a Celtic fort,

then the powerbase of the Lords of Baux, who ruled over a vast domain during the Middle Ages ROUSSILLON, VAUCLUSE (10th century): remnants of a hilltop château GORDES (Roman era–15th century): also originally Celtic, then a Roman fort. The 9th century castle controlled the valley until 1481, when Gordes became French

Castles and Fortresses (15th-16th Centuries) 1481 marked a significant turning point when, after the death of “Good King René”, Provence was annexed by France under François I. A number of châteaux were subsequently fortified or built to strengthen the new southern borders of France. CHÂTEAU DE TARASCON (1401-49): associated with King René,

celebrated patron of the arts. On the Rhône, which once marked the border with France. Later served as a prison


71

CHÂTEAU D’IF (1527–29): built on one of the islands in the Bay of Marseille. During the Wars of Religion (1562–98) it became the prison of some 3,500 Huguenots CITADEL OF SISTERON (1590–97): strategically perched on a spur overlooking the Durance and a major route to the Mediterranean. Originally a Roman fort and then a feudal castle, Sisteron was later redesigned by Henry IV’s military architect with the advent of gunpowder: it was defended by walls with sawtooth pattern of salients and recesses; trenches and terraces to thwart attack; fortified gates and interior walls. Many of these features were adopted in the 18th century by the military architect Vauban

The Age of Louis XIV (17th Century) The long reign of the “Sun King” (1643-1715) generally brought prosperity to Provence – now integrated into the Kingdom of France – and was marked by an increase in building projects, both civic and military. HÔTEL DE VILLE, ARLES (1667-76): the new town hall was commissioned to assert the prestige of the bourgeoisie and elevate civic architecture on a par with the design of religious, royal and military edifices. The project was executed by the architects Peytret and Hardouin-Mansart and is notable for the immense and perfectly smooth vaulted ceiling of the lobby – its complex structure considered a chef-d’oeuvre of French constructive techniques

The 19th Century and the Belle Époque In spite of the turmoil of the Revolution and Napoleon’s demise, the growth of Provence continued apace in the 19th century. The Côte d’Azur flourished with the arrival of visitors in their droves, both French and foreign. Spanning royalty, merchant princes, artists and courtesans, the visitors spawned the creation of villas, grand hotels, casinos and theatres. The Belle Époque had arrived. TOULON OPÉRA (1860–62): the flamboyant style of the Second

Empire at work with Léon Feuchéres, plus exceptional acoustics and a capacity of 1,800. Toulon was the second-largest opera

THE ARTS

Provence and Camargue


THE ARTS

72

Provence and Camargue

house in France after the Opéra de Paris, designed by Garnier at around the same time; Garnier also created the Monte-Carlo Opera House MONTE-CARLO CASINO (1858-63): designed by de la Bretonnerie, along with the neighbouring Hôtel de Paris BASILICA OF NOTRE-DAME-DE-LA-GARDE (1853–64): designed in the Neo-Byzantine style by Espérandieu. Preceded its famous Parisian sister, the Sacré-Coeur NEGRESCO, NICE (1912): palatial hotel on the Promenade des Anglais. The fabled Baccarat 16,309-crystal chandelier in the Royal Lounge was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL, NICE (1912): also commissioned by Nicholas II, it is the largest of its kind in Western Europe VILLA EPHRUSSI DE ROTHSCHILD, CAP-FERRAT (1905-12): designed by Aaron Messiah and furnished with precious objets d’art d’art. Includes nine gardens, each on a different theme

Modern Architecture (1914–Present Day) The magnificence of the Belle Époque in Provence was destined to fold and give way to more utilitarian housing and public buildings after the Great War. But the creations of a Swiss-French architect – also an urban planner, writer, designer and painter – forged him as one of the pioneers of Modern Architecture: Le Corbusier. LE CORBUSIER’S UNITÉ D’HABITATION, D’HABITATION MARSEILLE (1946-1952): also

known as the Cité Radieuse, Radieuse it became one of the most influential buildings of the 20th century. The Unité consisted of 330 apartments of 20 different designs across 19 floors, plus shops, an outdoor auditorium, a clinic, sports facilities and, among


73

other amenities, a kindergarten. Le Corbusier replicated his Unité “Living Machine” elsewhere in France, and in the 1950s it became the blueprint for countless public housing projects worldwide. If Le Corbusier’s brutalist architecture remains controversial, his dedication to providing better living conditions in crowded cities is beyond dispute. ÉGLISE STE-JEANNE-D’ARC, NICE, (1922–1933), by Droz, with echoes of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia ROTONDE DES LOCOMOTIVES, AVIGNON (1946): train depot by Peirani/Lafaille MUSÉE D’ARLES ANTIQUE (1995): the main archaeological museum of Roman Arles – angular blue-glass edifice by Ciriani, on the Rhône ARCHIVES NATIONALES D’OUTRE MER, Aix (1996): by Lacoste/Robain CÔTE D’AZUR VILLAS: the Greek-style Villa Kerylos, Beaulieu (1903–08), by Pontremoli, commissioned by archaeologist Reinach; Villa de Noailles, Hyères (1923), by Mallet-Stevens, now an arts centre; Villa E 1027, Roquebrune (1926–29) by Gray/ Badovici; the classic 20s curved Villa Vent d’Aval, Grimaud (1928–50), by Chareau; the perched Villa Bloc, Antibes (1961), by Bloc/Parent MARINAS AND WATERSIDE DEVELOPMENTS: Port-Grimaud (1963–72) by Spoerry, created on marshland as a Venetian canal system; Port-la-Galère (1968–79) marina complex LE CORBUSIER-INSPIRED HIGH-RISE COMPLEXES: La Tourette, Marseille (1948–53) by Pouillon/Egger, dominating the old port; the whitewashed La Brasília, Marseille (1957–67) by Boukobza ARTS AND HERITAGE BUILDINGS: Fondation Maeght art museum, Vence (1960–64) by Sert; École de Danse, Marseille (1992) by Simounet, low and soft-lined; Théâtre des Salins (1995), by Speller/Fabre/Narpozzi on the Martigues seafront; Espace Clodius, Orange (1997), by Seban/Douillet; Musée des Arts Asiatiques, Nice (1998), by Tange TGV STATION, AVIGNON (2001, Duthilleul/Blassel): its Gothic arches echo the Palais des Papes

Rural Architecture LIVING WITH THE ELEMENTS

Dealing with the ferocity of the Mistral and a relentless midsummer sun is a reality taken for granted by the Provençal

THE ARTS

Provence and Camargue


THE ARTS

74

Provence and Camargue

country dweller, and the thick stone walls, reinforced doors and shuttered windows are all indicative of this challenge. Plane and lotus trees for shade and cypress trees for wind-breakers are common sights around homesteads; but rural architecture too has evolved through the centuries to help live with the elements: not only are traditional farmhouses built entirely from stone, wood, clay and soil – all locally sourced and excellent insulators – but features such as windowless walls to the north are also characteristic of the region. There are two distinctive types of farmhouse in Provence (mas and bastide)) and a number of other typically local structures commonly seen in the region’s backwaters. MAS, BASTIDE AND OTHER TYPES OF RURAL BUILDING

The mas is a low, compact farmhouse made of stone blocks, with small windows and a thick reinforced door. To minimise the impact of the wind, it is often built facing south-east, while on the north side – in order to shield the living quarters and any annexed buildings downwind of the mas – its roof gently slopes over a windowless wall and drops low to the ground. These buildings are normally designed with two floors and as a narrow rectangle; along with the bedrooms, the first floor would often have a room for farming silkworms. The homestead frequently includes a stable, wine cellar, outdoor oven, dovecote and a stone ice house. The bastide was the house of the wealthier landowner, usually in the shape of a square and with an interior courtyard. Many bastides became the second homes of silk-stockinged towndwellers and it is not unusual for them to be flaunted as a status symbol. Bories are drystone huts used as granaries or stables and built using ancient techniques. They are sometimes kept as temporary dwellings in remote locations. The gardian’s cabin was the original home-from-home of the bull herdsman or horse breeder of the Camargue. It is a simplyfurnished, compact structure, with a living room and bedroom divided by a reed screen. The windows are small and reinforced, and its north wall rounded to break the force of the Mistral.


75

La Cuisine du Soleil: the Provençal Kitchen Bon appétit! A cornucopia of sun-ripe fruit, vegetables and herbs, Provençal cookery fully deserves its sobriquet of “Cuisine of the sun”. No kitchen in the region will be out of olive oil, garlic or herbes de Provence for very long, and the fish and produce are likely to have just come through the door from the daily marché – a scented splash of tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes – along with freshly picked cherries, lemons, melons and figs. The bread does not stay fresh for long here because there is no need: the boulangerie is traditionally the last port of call on the way back, when the crust of your baguette (or half, if that is all you need) is still oven-warm. Beyond the sheer pleasure of Provençal food, its ingredients are also among the healthiest: the olive oil is of the thick green variety; the fruit and vegetables are seasonal; the seafood is almost invariably fresh and from local shores. The meat is lean (bull, mountain sheep, game, wild boar and poultry); and the cheese usually made from goats’ milk, which is naturally lower in cholesterol and allergens. The wines of Provence, like its food, are on the whole unfussy and honest, yet available in an enticing range of quality appellations, with the focus on rosé.


76

FISH AND SEAFOOD

While the bouillabaisse fish stew of Marseille is probably the most famous of all Provençal dishes, most of the local fish is best enjoyed simply grilled with herbs and lemon, sprinkled with fleur de sel. Menus will generally include classic Mediterranean species such as red mullet (rouget, rouget, cooked whole), sea bass (loup,, stuffed with fennel or vine shoots and grilled), rockfish (perche), sea bream (dorade), dorade), john dory ((saint-pierre), dorade), monkfish (lotte), octopus (poulpe, poulpe,, fried Provençal style with white wine, tomatoes and herbs) and squid ((calamar, also fried). The first-time visitor may be intrigued by the inclusion of scorpion fish (rascasse): ): it is a highly prized essential ingredient of bouillabaisse. Seafood includes mussels ((moules), tiny crabs, spider crabs (araignées de mer), mer), giant prawns ((gambas), sea urchins (oursins), clams (clovisses) clovisses) and sea-squirts ((violets). A speciality of the Camargue, the humble freshwater eel is also on the menu in St-Rémy, where Rhône eel is served in sauce, grilled or smoked, in a fricassée called catigau. The Alpine streams north of Nice are the place for trout, while Nîmes is famous for brandade de morue, a purée of salt cod, cream, potatoes and olive oil. MEAT AND GAME

Surprisingly, perhaps, for a region so steeped in cattle-breeding tradition, the most popular meat in Provence is lamb, notably the agneau grazed on high mountain pastures. Beef is most often served as a daube, slow-cooked and served in the classic pot-bellied terracotta dish (daubiére). Another popular stew is boeuf gardian, the bull’s-meat dish of the Camargue, invariably


Provence and Camargue

77

Leaving Provence without at least once sampling a bouillabaisse would be quite a cultural faux pas and require a very convincing excuse. Although Marseille, as the fishing hub of Provence, claims the original recipe, the ingredients of this fish stew vary from place to place, depending on the season and the local availability of ingredients. Irrespective of what food writers may protest (even, sometimes, that this is not a stew), no leatherskinned Marseillais would touch a bouillabaisse if it lacked its fundamental components: the Provençal soup base — tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic, fennel, saffron, bay, thyme, and a scraping of dried orange peel — and the proper “three fish”. These are grondin (gurnet), congre (conger eel)

and the essential rascasse (the scorpion fish of the rocky calanques and reefs). The combination of fish should also ideally consist of soft-fleshed, firm-fleshed, lean and gelatinous catch, plus shellfish; it can include lotte (monkfish), loup (sea bass), rouget (red mullet), turbot, sole, and crustaceans. Although the preparation is quite laborious (and only worth it for several diners), the fish is cooked in the bouillon quite rapidly; a glass of white wine or cognac is often added. Bouillabaisse is usually served with some rouille, a thick garlicky mayonnaise with a pinch of cayenne pepper, and toast. The rouille can be stirred straight into the sauce, spread onto the toast or lined around the bowl. It is advisable to order it in advance.

accompanied by the red, nutty ris de Camargue. Game from the woods and mountains feature deer, rabbit, hare and wild boar. Provençal charcuterie includes the pork saucissons of Arles and caillettes (cakes of chopped pork and liver with spinach and juniper berries). OLIVES

The Provençal table would seem incomplete without olives, whether mashed up in a tapenade on toast, bobbing in an apéritif, marinated, cooked, in a Niçoise salad or pressed into oil. Cultivated here in ideal conditions by the ancient Greeks and Romans, they are available in dozens of varieties, whether cured in brine, naturally bitter, green and early-harvested or black and fully ripened. VEGETABLES, FRUIT AND HONEY

It comes as no surprise that Provençal cuisine is practical, unpretentious and strongly seasonal: the fruit and vegetables here

PROVENCE LIFE

BOUILLABAISSE


PROVENCE LIFE

78

Provence and Camargue

are so intense in taste and diverse, that most local cooks see little point in the over-elaborate practices of cordon-bleu. Summer brings tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, courgettes and garlic in the pot; melons, peaches, apricots and figs on the table. Autumn offers the vendange and its different varieties of grape and citrus fruits; with winter come chestnuts, fennel, turnips and the harvested olives; spring yields strawberries, cherries, salad leaves, onions and a whole hillside of herbs. The fruit or vegetable in season is often celebrated with a local festival, such as the Fête du citron in Menton and Fête du melon in Cavaillon. Vegetables feature au gratin (baked in the tians earthen-ware dishes); in stews, soups and salads; and as fritters or stuffed. When not eaten raw, fruit often appears in tarts, preserved, candied with honey, crystallised (in Apt), in a gratin or a crumble; a classic Provençal touch is to sprinkle the dessert with lavender petals or verbena leaves. Honey also features highly in Provence – not least in cooking and drinks – the favourite aromas being lavender, rosemary and acacia; chestnut honey is particularly prized and comes at a price. The quality of the honey ensures that Provençal nougat too is highly rated. Sweet stalls at markets and fairs are likely to offer calissons (Aix’s famous almond paste sweets with sugar icing) and berlingots berlingots,, the sweets (or candies, to the US tooth) from Carpentras. CHEESE

Most Provençal high streets will have a fromagerie selling an often daunting range of dairy produce – local, “artisan”, national and foreign – and markets invariably include at least one cheese stall. Since Provence is renowned for its sheep- and goats’-milk cheeses (brebis and chèvre, respectively), focusing on these might make sense here, especially when buying directly from the local dairy farmer: this, after all, can make for a memorable experience. Commonly spiced with wild herbs, cheeses are often shaped into small discs and categorised into: frais (fresh), crèmeux (creamy and slightly more mature) and sec (hard and quite mature). Given half the opportunity, the farmershepherd will be happy to wax lyrical about the herd or flock and the aromatic grasses of their pasture, and pour scorn on the mass producers.


Provençal Kitchen Classics Bouillabaisse – the famous fish stew of Provence Bourride – a garlicky fish soup, essentially a simpler version of bouillabaisse Rouille – a thick mayonnaise dressing with garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper Aïoli – also a type of garlic mayonnaise, frequently served with hors-d’oeuvres, asparagus and other vegetables; it often appears as a sauce alongside fish stews Aïoli – also the name of a complete dish consisting of salted cod, boiled eggs and steamed vegetables, served with Aïoli mayonnaise Brandade de morue – salted cod pounded into a thick and creamy mash with potatoes, crushed garlic, olive oil and milk Loup au fenouil – sea bass stuffed with fennel leaves and grilled or baked with white wine Catigau de St-Rémy – a fricassée of Rhône eel, grilled or smoked, served in sauce Tellines de la Camargue – tiny clams served with a pungent sauce Boeuf en daube – beef marinated in red wine and stewed in a clay pot with onions, garlic, lime and orange peel. The daube’s main ingredient can also be tuna or squid Gardianne de taureau – bull stew from the Camargue


Pieds-et-paquets – Marseillais lamb tripe and feet (not for the faint-hearted) Ratatouille – classic stew of aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes and peppers Artichauts à la barigoule – small violet artichokes stuffed with bacon lardons and vegetables, and cooked in wine Beignets de fleurs de courgette – courgette flower fritters Salade Niçoise – lettuce with hard-boiled egg, olives, green beans, tomatoes and anchovies (or tuna) Tourte des blettes – pie of chard, raisins and pine kernels (a vegetarian favourite) Socca – chickpea pancakes, a speciality of Nice Salade de chèvre chaud – salad greens topped with toasted slices of baguette, and covered in melted goats’ cheese, herbs and a drizzle of olive oil Fougasse – Provençal variation on the Italian focaccia (but do not tell the locals): a flat olive oil bread often flavoured with olives Tarte Tropezienne – St-Tropez’s sponge cake filled with rich crème pâtissière


81

Wines of Provence Santé The ancient settlers of Magna Graecia are credited with the earliest cultivation of vines in Provence, a tradition that was passed on via the Romans to the present day. Methods have been refined over the centuries – thanks in no mean measure to the appetites of the Avignon Popes – and long gone are the days when pine resin was added to make the brew more palatable. If Provençal wine once had a reputation for not “travelling” well, it fully deserves its current stature among the French élite: the rosés rank among the most popular worldwide, and the intense and spicy Châteauneuf-du-Pape heads an enticing list of quality appellations. Equally interesting is the history of Provençal wine production, with local vignerons learning the hard way and devising ingenious solutions to overcome adversity: the round stones covering the soil of Côtes du Rhône vineyards, for instance, act as storage heaters gently releasing a constant temperature; they also shield the soil from wind erosion. The seaside vineyards of the vins des sables (“sand wines”) plunge their roots deep into the “sables de l’océan” sub-soil, the heat and filtration of the sands accelerating the ripening process. In the late 19th century, the hardy sand vineyards also proved resistant against the phylloxera that was ravaging the hillsides.


PROVENCE LIFE

82

Provence and Camargue

One peculiarity newcomers would do well to grasp early is that Vin provençal generally refers to the coastal wines of the region’s south-east; while Vallée du Rhône Sud indicates the ones further inland in Provence, broadly along the river valley. The maritime areas produce a range of lighter, fresh and fruity whites and rosés, along with the reds. In the south-east near Marseille, vineyards are huddled on the rocky côtes (hillsides), with the flower-scented dry whites of Cassis and the reds and rosés of Bandol fully deserving their fame. ROSÉ

Provençal rosé now accounts for over half of the region’s wine production: as ever a favourite apéritif,, it frequently accompanies meals, especially with grape varieties such as Syrah intensifying both body and flavour. A classic example is the dry Tavel, which is robust enough to complement the strong flavours of Provençal dishes. Bandol’s vin gris is also very popular. The grapes used for rosés are normally the same as those of the reds. RED

Full-blooded and spicy, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is ideal with rich and flavoursome meat dishes. Bandol’s red is also highly regarded. For a less dense body, a Côtes-du-Rhône or “Provençal” red would provide a sound alternative. A named Rhône village – Les-Baux-de-Provence or Côtes du Lubéron, for instance – generally vouches for a bottle of superior quality. WHITE

The crisp, dry and brightly-flavoured whites make for a perfect accompaniment to the region’s seafood, with Grenache blanc grapes often blended with Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne or Marsanne. FORTIFIED WINES

Vins doux naturels (naturally sweet wines) are created by interrupting the fermentation before all the sugar has turned to alcohol; the wine is then fortified with spirit to give it more body. Vins doux are popular as an apéritif (chilled), a dessert wine or as a digéstif. Most are produced from the plump and fragrant Muscat grape, others from the Grenache rouge.


Provence and Camargue

83

France has one of the oldest systems for certifying and safeguarding the origin of wines. Its model has been endorsed by the EU and adopted by several other countries. Wines are effectively divided into four categories, two falling under the EU’s Table Wine category and two under the Quality Wine category (or VQPRD). The letters of the latter designation stand for Vin de qualité produit dans une région déterminée (Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region): VIN DE TABLE (approx. 12%) – certifies the producer and the fact that the wine is from France VIN DE PAYS (34%) – certifies a specific region within France (for example Vin de Pays du Vaucluse). These wines also appear with the recent designation of Indication géographique protégée (IGP). They have to be made from certain varieties of grape (and declare so, to distinguish it from Vins de Table), ), but are not subject to AOC regulations APPELLATION D’ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE (AOC, 53%) – certifies a particular area and a number of other restrictions, including grape varieties and production methods VIN DÉLIMITÉ DE QUALITÉ SUPÉRIEURE (VDQS, 1%) – less restrictive than AOC, this designation was typically used as a stepping stone to AOC status or for smaller areas. The category was abolished in 2011 but many VDQS bottles remain in circulation. According to the hierarchy of the Côtes du Rhône region, the top wines are entitled to state the name of the village on the label; on the next tier we find the various Côtes du Rhône-Villages; and propping them all up are the plain Côtes du Rhône labels.

Some Classic Provençal Wines Côtes du Rhône – at the heart of the broad expanse known as the Southern Rhône. Red wine producers par excellence (90% of their yield is rouge), these vignerons favour the Grenache grape, often blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and other varieties Châteauneuf-du-Pape – the king of the Côtes du Rhône (tout simple)

PROVENCE LIFE

Quality Levels and Appellations


84

Tavel (Avignon) – classic rosé, more powerful and darker than most Les-Baux-de-Provence – an appellation renowned for its organically cultivated grapes and high-born reds, rosés and whites Sables-de-Camargue – the hardy vines of the sands produce an excellent gris rosé Beaumes-de-Venise, Gigondas, Cairanne, Vacqueyras – also from the Côtes du Rhône Ventoux and Lubéron – both slightly off the map but nonetheless considered “satellites” of the Côtes du Rhône. Some up-andcoming producers here and increasingly good quality at a reasonable price Côtes de Provence and Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence – both synonymous worldwide with the rosé wines of Provence. Also appreciated for their dry whites and smooth reds Palette (Aix) – a small appellation, home of the famous Château Simone Cassis (Marseille) – mineral-edged, crisp, dry whites with a fruity scent Bandol (Marseille) – internationally recognised AOC wine district. Silicon- and limestone-rich soils, warm coastal climate and a late-ripening Mourvèdre grape Rasteau (Orange) – a dessert Côtes du Rhône, typically red or amber Beaumes-de-Venise (Carpentras) – also a Vin doux naturel made with Muscat grape


Provence and Camargue

85

Shopping in Provence can be great fun on a biking holiday. Sooner or later you will almost certainly freewheel to a halt at a local market; wineries beckon along the trail for a dégustation (tasting); and even the most unassuming hamlet or river bank may be home to a craftsman or painter. The asparagus, artichokes and cherries picked at sunrise will be on sale by breakfast; the potter living on her bohemian barge will be happy to show you the latest creation; the larger town’s high street will spoil you for choice with famous brands. The only issues you are likely to face are how to cycle to your destination with that wheel-thrown ceramic centrepiece; how to look glamourous in cycling lycras when trying on that must-have wedding hat; and whether the boar saucisson is going to raise any eyebrows at the airport. But then, Quand on veut, on peut:: Where there’s a will...

Markets If France is famous for its marchés, marchés, the Provençal ones are arguably the most colourful (as celebrated by Gilbert Bécaud in Les Marchés de Provence). ). As in most countries, markets are a morning ritual and every local family will have bought their daily fruit, vegetables and cheese by noon, saving just enough time to drop by at the baker’s for a last gossip and a length of ficelle. Cheese and charcuterie stalls are often happy to create a crusty sandwich for your picnic. Prices are displayed by law and the origin of all produce declared (du pays means local). There is never any harm in asking what the price is if you were to buy two items. Market aficionados need no reminding that pickpockets adore markets too. Keen photographers should note that while the marché is a great place for observing all things local, people do not necessarily like to be immortalised by tourists: always ask first – which is also a great way to strike up a conversation.

PROVENCE LIFE

Shops and Markets


86

Provence and Camargue

PROVENCE LIFE

Specialist Shops Despite the undeniably cheaper hypermarchés, Provence remains a staunch believer in its specialist shops. The bread shop (boulangerie) often bakes pâtisserie too (and may even brew a coffee). The cheesemonger’s (fromagerie) may also function as a laiterie and sell dairy produce from the same farm – and happily fill a baguette for you. The boucherie (butcher’s) may sell game saucisson too – normally the domain of the charcuterie, or delicatessen. A traiteur sells pre-cooked dishes, the épicerie general groceries. The droguerie specialises in household goods and cleaning products; the quincaillerie in hardware, should you wish to fly home with a French mop. Librairies,, first-timers should note, are where you buy your books; the bibliothèques where you borrow them. Many booksellers stock English language books. There is still a lot to be said for the hypermarché,, where the staff can be every bit as chatty as in the shops, and the very same tub of Fleur de sel is probably cheaper; but you would miss out, of course, on the gift-wrapping, which is an art in itself here in Provence.

A Shopping List Cycling and shopping do not always go hand-in-hand, and pedalling with a delicate set of nativity santons could easily result in both the figurines and one’s heart being broken. But since most visitors plan to spend an extra few days in Provence (and many retailers can arrange shipping), the following wish list covers a fairly broad range.


Provence and Camargue

87

All things olive – in a jar (infinite variety); in a bottle (extravirgin oil); mashed (tapenade) Saucisson de taurreau – bull meat salami Saucisson de sanglier – boar meat salami Brandade de morue – puréed salted cod Bouillabaisse – the queen of fish stews, available in glass jars or tins Fleur de sel de Camargue – crystallised “flowers” of salt, handharvested on the salt pans Calissons – almond sweetmeats, the speciality of Aix Berlingots – the famous fruit bonbons (sweets, or candies) from Carpentras Marrons glacés – crystallised chestnuts Almond and orange conserve Preserved fruits Lavender honey and hazelnut confit Fromage de chèvre – goats’ milk cheese, wrapped in chestnut leaves Artisanal tuna – in quality olive oil Les vins – a dégustation or three is a very good reason for visiting Provence. Most wineries have a shop SCENTS OF PROVENCE

Pot-pourri – with lavender, packed in sachets of Indienne fabric: it does not come more Provençal than this Sels de bain – bath salts Savon de Marseille – the celebrated soap goes back some 600 years, mixing sea water, olive oil and other ingredients. Lasts an eternity Bain à bulles de tilleul – linden-scented bubble bath Bain à bulles de mauve – mallow-scented bubble bath Eau de bigarade (Vallauris) – bitter orange water from Picasso’s own seaside village Parfums de Grasse – Eau de Tulippe, perhaps? Jasmin de Grasse? Fragonard? (Little wonder that Süskind set his bestseller in Grasse.)

PROVENCE LIFE

FLAVOURS OF PROVENCE


88

Provence and Camargue

PROVENCE LIFE

ARTS AND CRAFTS

Olive wood – crafted and sculpted (richly veined, variegated and silky to the touch) Croix occitane – the historic cross of Occitania, once used by the Cathars, an original item of jewellery Croix camarguaise – equally original, whether as jewellery or as an ornament: a Latin cross with the three-pronged fork of the gardians (Faith), an anchor (Hope) and a heart (Charity) penknives – for the perfect picnic; and all things gypsy, especially in Les-Stes–Maries-de-la-Mer, heartland of the gitans Textiles de Mistral and Souleïado – the celebrated Indiennes fabrics, from soft furnishings to gardian cowboy shirts and other clothes Santons – or “little saints”: traditional figurines depicting the Nativity and a vast array of characters, both sacred and prophane. The tradition dates back to the Revolution, when religion was banned and families (especially in rural areas) created their own shrines Vallebrègues – for baskets Cogolin – for handmade pipes and carpets Salernes – for hexagonal terracotta tiles (tomettes) Barjols – for folk pipes and tambourines Terre rouge – or “red earth” products: tiles, cookware and storage pots Faïence de Moustiers – formal china Grès stoneware – renowned for its toughness, has been known to withstand bike travel Pottery of Vallauris – if the village craftspeople owe their revival to Picasso, this is in fact where the Spanish master cut his teeth as a potter Biot glassware – once a famous pottery centre, now renowned for its glassblowers and bubble glassware


89

Events: Fêtes, Férias and Festivals Provence knows how to celebrate, whether it is time to honour a patron saint or slaughter a biblical monster, stage an arts festival or parade the produce of the land. And nobody holds back when it comes to a taurine féria. Spring ushers in a landscape warmed with cherry, plum, pear and apricot blossom, welcoming gitans in their thousands on their pilgrimage to the Camargue where they commemorate their patron saint, Sarah “The Black”. These are also the days of the transhumance, when shepherds lead their flocks to the loftier pastures, now soft and green after the winter frosts. In summer Provence turns into a rainbow of festivals, from Avignon’s dramafest to the world-famous jazz jamborees on the Côte d’Azur. Away from the madding crowd, we can enjoy a countryside rolling in lavender and lined with hedgerows of jasmine, the village fêtes heady with their scents. Autumn is the time of the vendange but also, away from the vineyards, for the harvesting of rice and walnuts, while the woods yield chestnuts, champignons and the prized truffle. “Winter has no hours,” goes a Provençal saying ((L’hiver a ges d’ouro): ): as we take a break from our cycling tours, it is time to batton down our hatches and feast on the jams, confits and saucissons bought in the village squares earlier in the year; time to sit by the fire with a wild fruit liqueur, now matured and settled. But it is also the season when the santons figurines come to life at every Christmas fair and find a new home.

PROVENCE LIFE

Provence and Camargue


90

Provence and Camargue

PROVENCE LIFE

A Year in Provence March EXPOFLEURS (Cagnes-sur-Mer, end Mar-Apr): floral festival cel-

ebrating spring FESTIN DES COURGOURDONS (Nice, last Sun): the gourd takes

centre stage in a feast of folklore

April PROCESSION AUX LIMACES (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Good

Friday): recreates the entombment of Christ FÉRIA DE PÂQUES (Arles, Easter Weekend): bullfighting in the Roman arena (feriaarles.com) FÊTE DE ST-MARC (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, end Apr): the labels from last year’s vintage go head-to-head in the annual wine competition. (There is also the blessing of the vintage, which (chateauneuf.com) takes place on the first weekend of August.) (chateauneuf.com chateauneuf.com FÊTE DES GARDIANS (Arles, last Sun): the cowboys and cowgirls of the Camargue, the gardians,, storm into town with their herds (arlestourisme.com) FÉRIA PASCALE (Arles, Easter): Arletans turn out in traditional costume for the Easter féria (taurine festival). The farandole is danced to the accompaniment of the tambourin and galoubet flute to mark the start of the bullfighting season ((arlestourisme. com)


Provence and Camargue

91

May donkeys of the district are blessed at the church in a feast of colour and music. The priest traditionally chastises two-legged animals for their stupidity CANNES FILM FESTIVAL (Cannes, two weeks in May): the glitziest of all filmfests awards the Palme d’Or (festival-cannes.fr) FÊTE DE LA TRANSHUMANCE (St-Rémy, mid-late May): honouring the timeless custom of leading the sheep to higher pastures for the summer (saintremy-de-provence.com) FÉRIA (Nîmes, Pentecost): the first major bullfighting event of the year at the Roman Arena (nimes.fr) LA BRAVADE (St-Tropez, 16-18 May): patron saint celebration in a show of bravado, with much dressing up and an army of blunderbuss-brandishing grown-ups (bravade-saint-tropez.fr) bravade-saint-tropez.fr FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX (Monaco, weekend after Ascension): the only GP raced on public roads (monaco-grand-prix.com) monaco-grand-prix.com monaco-grand-prix.com) PÈLERINAGE DES GITANS AVEC LA PROCESSION À LA MER DE SAINTE SARA (Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 24-25 May): gypsies from all over

Europe (and beyond) gather in their thousands to celebrate their patron saint, Sarah “The Black” (saintesmaries.com ((saintesmaries.com) saintesmaries.com

June FÊTE DE LA TARASQUE (Tarascon, last weekend): commemorating

St. Martha, the monster-whisperer who famously tamed the man-eating Tarasque ((tarascon.org) AIX OPERA FESTIVAL (June and July): once staged exclusively in the courtyard theatre of the Archbishop’s Palace, now hosted in a range of historic venues as well as the state-of-the-art Grand Théâtre de Provence (festival-aix.com) FÊTE DE LA ST-PIERRE (Le Grau-du-Roi, third week in June): the fishing folk of Le Grau celebrate their patron saint, Peter. Waterjousting, stalls and prodigious quantities of fish and seafood to be devoured (ville-legrauduroi.fr) FOIRE DE LA ST-JEAN (June 24, Valreas/nationwide): fireworks and bonfires light the skies (ot-valreas.fr) PEGOULADO (Arles, last Fri in June): Over a thousand arlésiens parade in costume at this night-time procession (arlestourisme. com)

PROVENCE LIFE

FÊTE DES ÂNES (Marsillargues, Aigues Mortes, early May): the


92

Provence and Camargue

July PROVENCE LIFE

COCARDE D’OR (Arles, first Mon in July): course camarguaise bull-

fighting (tourisme.ville-arles.fr) VENETIAN FESTIVAL (Martigues, first Sat in July): a flotilla of decorated boats, fireworks and fun for all around the canals of the “Venice of Provence” (martigues-tourisme.com) FESTIVAL OF ST. ELIGIUS (Châteaurenard, Arles, first Sun of July): the statue of the patron saint of horses rides on a decorated cart, drawn by 40 steeds in Saracen harness (ot.chateaurenard. ot.chateaurenard. com) LA TOUR-D’AIGUES (Luberon): a feast of music and wine in the southern Luberon (chateaulatourdaigues.com) LUBERON INTERNATIONAL STRING QUARTET FESTIVAL: some of the finest chamber artists in an idyllic setting (quatuors-luberon.org) quatuors-luberon.org FESTIVAL DE LA SORGUE (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse & Isle-sur-laSorgue, weekends): concerts, shows, boat races and floating markets on the River Sorgue (paysdesorgues.fr/festivites) paysdesorgues.fr/festivites paysdesorgues.fr/festivites) FESTIVAL DU CHEVAL (Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, mid-July): competitive horsemanship, games and gitan music (festivalducheval. ( camargue.fr) CORSO NOCTURNE FLEURI (Carpentras, mid-July): evening procession with garlanded floats (carpentras-ventoux.com ((carpentras-ventoux.com) carpentras-ventoux.com AVIGNON THEATRE FESTIVAL (mid-late July): All the world’s a stage... (festival-avignon.com) festival-avignon.com festival-avignon.com) FESTIVAL MIMI (Îles-du-Frioul, Marseille, mid-July): jazz, folk and rock, rolled into one (amicentre.biz ((amicentre.biz) INTERNATIONAL FOLKLORE FESTIVAL (Marseille, Château-Gombert, early July): hosted by the local Roudelet Felibren arts association in a spectacular setting ((roudelet-felibren.com) CHORÉGIES D’ORANGE (Orange, all month): this long-established opera season is held in the acoustically perfect Roman theatre (choregies.asso.fr) L’ÉTÉ DE VAISON (Vaison-la-Romaine): music, theatre and dance, against a backdrop of vineyards (musiquedanslevignes.com) NICE JAZZ FESTIVAL (mid-month): one of the finest (nicejazzfestival.fr) JAZZ À JUAN (Juan-les-Pins, mid-late July): also one of the top jazz festivals (jazzajuan.com) JAZZ À TOULON (mid-month): prides itself on being the only free jazzfest on the Mediterranean circuit (jazzatoulon.com) JAZZ À SALON (mid-month, salon-de-provence.org)


Provence and Camargue

93

Sep): in partnership with the National School of Photography, which was set up in Arles in 1982 as a result of this festival (rencontres-arles.com) MONDIAL LA MARSEILLAISE À PÉTANQUE (Parc Borély, early July): be afraid, as the gloves come off for the Pétanque World Cup FÊTE DE ST-ÉLOI (Graveson, last week of July): St. Eligius gets another outing with horse- and bull-running amid the clacking of pétanque (graveson.com) FESTIVAL DES NUITS DE L’ENCLAVE (Valréas, mid-July to mid-Aug): music, markets and processions within the historic papal enclave (lesnuitsdelenclave.com) FESTIVAL DE MARTIGUES (mid-July to mid-Aug): folkfest with music, dance and voices of the world (festival-martigues.fr) festival-martigues.fr) LA ROQUE D’ANTHÉRON PIANO FESTIVAL (mid-July to late-Aug): high-calibre international artists in a variety of open-air venues (festival-piano.com)

August CORSO DE LA LAVANDE (Digne-les-Bains, first weekend): all things

lavender (dignelesbains.fr) dignelesbains.fr dignelesbains.fr) LES JOURNÉES MÉDIÉVALES (Entrevaux, biennial, weekend before

Assumption): the quiet streets come to life with a 16th- and 17th-century music fête ((entrevaux.info) FÊTE DU JASMIN (Grasse, first weekend): floats, music and dancing in the Provençal capital of perfume ((tourisme.grasse.fr) PROCESSION DE LA PASSION (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, 5 August): the Passion of Christ has been re-enacted here since 1467, when the Virgin Mary was credited with saving the town from the plague. Soupe au pistou (Provençal pesto) is traditionally served FÉRIA DE ST-RÉMY (mid-Aug): abrivados (bull-running) and courses camarguaises (Provençal bullfighting) come to town (saintremy-de-provence.com) FESTIVITÉS DE LA ST-JEAN (Monteux, around 20 Aug): a week of music and sundry events, plus spectacular pyrotechnics to mark the patron saint (monteux.fr) MENTON MUSIC FESTIVAL (all month): Chamber music in the square (festival-musique-menton.fr)

PROVENCE LIFE

RENCONTRES INTERNATIONALES DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE (Arles, July-


94

Provence and Camargue

September BLESSING OF THE CALISSONS (Aix, first Sun of Sep): for the holi-

est of pastries (benediction-calisson.com) FÊTE DE PRÉMICES DU RIZ (Arles, early Sep): this festival of the

rice harvest is celebrated with the last Spanish-style bullfights of the year (arlestourisme.com) FÉRIA DES VENDANGES (Nîmes, 2nd week): a cocktail of wine, dance and bullfighting to mark the grape harvest ((nimes.fr) CANNES YACHTING FESTIVAL (Cannes, mid-Sep): bring a bottle and boat (cannesyachtingfestival.com) cannesyachtingfestival.com cannesyachtingfestival.com) FÊTE DU VENT (Marseille, mid-Sep): kites from all over the world sweep into the skies of the Plages du Prado ((marseille.fr) ST-MAXIMIN-LA-STE-BAUNE ORGAN FESTIVAL (third week in Sep): in the medieval Basilica of Mary Magdalen ((orgue-saintmaximin. com)

October FÊTE DE SAINTE-MARIE-SALOMÉ (Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Sun near-

est 22 Oct): similar to the Gypsy Pilgrimage festival held in May. The boat carrying the statue of the saint is paraded through the village and lowered into the sea, which is then blessed (saintesmaries.com) FOIRE INTERNATIONALE DE MARSEILLE (end of Sep-early Oct): music, sports, crafts and folklore entertain the crowds in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world (foiredemarseille. com) FIESTA DES SUDS (Marseille, mid-Oct): top-notch world music and indie sounds (dock-des-suds.org)


Provence and Camargue

95

Our tours take a break in winter, but should you decide to return to Provence for more while our bikes are hibernating, these are some of the highlights:

November INTERNATIONAL DANCE FESTIVAL (Cannes, biennial, late Nov to

early Dec): contemporary dance and ballet with an impressive international programme (festivaldedanse-cannes.com) festivaldedanse-cannes.com)

December FOIRE AUX SANTONS (Marseille, all month): the largest fair ded-

icated to the clay figurines that are an integral part of Christmas in Provence FÊTE DU VIN (Bandol, early Dec): free wine tasting as the town’s producers present their latest. The festival carries a different (vinsdebandol.com) theme every year, with events and fun for all (vinsdebandol.com vinsdebandol.com NOËL AND MIDNIGHT MASS (Les Baux-de-Provence): with the local shepherds traditionally in attendance

January MONTE-CARLO RALLY (late Jan): a classic for car enthusiasts

(acm.mc) FESTIVAL DU CIRQUE (Monaco, end of month): circus shows from

around the globe (montecarlofestival.mc ((montecarlofestival.mc) FÊTE DU CITRON (Menton, late Feb-early-Mar): more lemons than you could squeeze in a lifetime, plus floats, music and merri(fete-du-citron.com) ment ((fete-du-citron.com FÊTE DU MIMOSA (Bormes-les-Mimosas, third Sun): the annual festival in celebration of the favourite flower in this perched village (bormeslesmimosas.com) NICE CARNIVAL (all month, nicecarnaval.com) It is also worth noting that the following holidays are celebrated across the nation in addition to the obvious ones: Whit Monday (second Monday after Ascension), Fête de St-Jean (June 24), Bastille Day (July 14) and Assumption Day (August 15). Public transport is often affected around these dates. Please check locally for up-to-date information.

PROVENCE LIFE

Winter


VilleneuveVilleneuvelès-Avignon lès-Avignon

eG

ab

rie l ab

nôen e D 228 D 228 ô h h R R lon lon Chem Chem e in d in d L L e Route dReolu’Itse de l’Is e la e la Tra Tra

nu

eG

nu e

Av

D 980 D 980

e

se

nd

mi

D 228 D 228 Che Pon Pon t du t du Roy Roy aum aum De228a D 228a e D2

ille

rth

Ba

d

2

2

e

Pla P

du

du

Rh

Pon Pon t É. D t É. D alad alad ier ier

ôn

ôn

N 580 N 580

Rh

e

Porte Porte du du RhôneRhône

Rue

Porte Porte de de l’Oullel’Oulle

Rue Jose ph Vern et

B Ru oule e R va em rd d B par e l’ Ru oule t de Oulle e R va l’Ou em rd d ille pa rt d e l’Ou ll e l’ O ui e lle Rue Jose ph Vern et

Boulevard Boule vard ilRaspail Raspa

Aven ue Eise nhowe r Aven ue Eise nhowe r

rti ne

u u lle ulle Co Co au a e G de G in de in de d s s m m rle arle Ch e Ch e ha h e C te C t u u Ro Ro

Rue de la République

ini u qu e e

ini qu e

Rue Rempart Sa int-D om

e rn e rn et et

Porte Porte St.-Roch St.-Roch

10 10

hV

hV

Rue Rempart Sa int-D om

R

se p R u e Jo

R

se p R u e Jo

Le Le Rhô Boulevard Sain t-Do Rh ne mi niq Boulevard Sain ôn ue t-Do mi e niq

Hugo Hugo Victor Victor

Rue Velouterie

Rue Velouterie

Po P nt ont de d l’Eu e l’Eu rop rop e e

P l’H

Rue SainRtu-eA Saint-A gricol gric

Porte PorteRue Ruenanellenanelle ’An ’An St.-Dominique St.-Dominique ue d ue d

N 100 N 100

Rue Racine

7

Rue Racine

7

Î le dÎel e d e Pio tPi o t

rti ne

Rue

in

em

Ch

a el

Î l e dÎel el ad e l a B a r tBhe a rl tahe s s lea s s e

9

d’Ar amo n d’Ar amo n

D2

rth

Ba

ille

se

s ela

Bd

9

a el

s ela

Bd

Av

Péri

Mo

Mo

n naie n naie

rs rs asto asto des Cin des C in m m Che Che

rie l

la To u r

La Colline La Colline des Mourgues des Mourgues Ru ed ed e la e la

Montée de

Ru

PM éroi ntée de la u r To

D 980 D 980

13 13

Porte Porte St.-Charles St.-Charles

N 570 N 570 BoulevBaordulSeaviard Sai

GareGare TGV TGV

nt-Rocnht-Roch


Avignon 7 Koté Kour

Tourist Office

8 Maison Ripert

Monuments and historical sites

Hotels

1 Palais des Papes

9 O’Cub Hotel

2 Pont St-Bénézet

10 Hotel Ibis Avignon Centre Pont de L’Europe

3 Rue des Teinturiers / Chapelle des Pénitents Gris d’Avignon

11 Hotel Ibis Avignon Centre Gare 12 Hôtel Le Magnan

Museums

13 Hotel Bristol

4 Musée du Petit Palais 5 Musée Angladon

Barges 14 Boat Soleo

Restaurants

15 Boat Estello

6 Restaurant des Teinturiers

14,15 14,15

s s Porte Porte on on Dr Pdu Dr P Porte Porte St.-Joseph u St.-Joseph d uristiquueristique de la Ligne de la Ligne Bou Bou Rou te RToou te To leva leva rd rd

vard devalard de la Boule Boule Ligne Ligne

Rocher Rocher des des Doms 4 Doms

Sain Sain t-Laz t-Laz are are

Porte Porte Saint-Lazare Saint-Lazare

ot ot Rue CaRrnue Carn

rd L imb

ert

ffon

ert

ffon

Rue Bu

Rue Bu

rd L imb

Rout Rout e de e de Mo Mo n n t ve tfa t ve tfa

l’Ar

l’Ar

rr e Pie ue en re Av ier eP

e Av d

e Av d

re sai rou re sai rou

N 570 N 570

Porte Porte ThiersThiers

u en Av

hel

S S vard vard

Avenu Avenu e de e de la Fo la Fo l ie l ie

Bou leva

Ru

Ru

hel

ic St.-M Rue

Porte Porte Porte Porte Limbert l Magnanen Magnanen ichel icheLimbert M M aint- aint-

le le Porte Porte Bou Bou St.-Michel St.-Michel

11 11

3

Rue Guillame Puy

6

es es Lic s Lic es e e d ue d Ru R 3 3 Rue desRLuiecedses Lices ed e 3 u P du P ort o Place Place ail M rtail M des Corps des Corps ag ag Saints Saints na na ne ne n n 12 12

ic St.-M Rue

h

6

5

Rue Guillame Puy

5

e

Place Place Saint-Didier Saint-Didier

Rue Rue T Rue T hiers hiers d la B e la B o nn o nn ete ete ri ri

Bou leva

R

8ue de

8

e

Rue de la République

Place Rue VieuRxueSeVxieux SePlace tier xPie tier Pie

ert

ert mb Bou

col

Lyon Lyon Route Rdoeute de

rd L i

Place de Place de Horologe l’Horologe

ire ire ete ete arr Carr C e la e la e d ue d Ru R Rue LoRuuisePLaosuteisuPr asteur

leva

1

mb

Rue deRsuInefidrems iIènrfiersm i è res

1

leva

ace du Place du Palais Palais

rd L i

u 4

Bou

e

Se Se m m ard ard

0

N N 0

200 m 200 m


98

Avignon Avignon occupies centre stage in Provence, both geographically and culturally, and few cities anywhere are as instantly striking. Towering majestically over the banks of the Rhône and Durance, Avignon sits rooted to its medieval foundations and guarded by more than 4 km of walls. Within the ramparts, towers and gates, the colossal Palace of the Popes soars above the rooftops – its bright limestone structure visible over land and water. A natural backdrop to this 700-year-old mise-en-scène, the papal playground of Châteauneuf-du-Pape looms in the distance, flaunting its hilltop castle, fabled vineyards and former hunting grounds. To the west, across the river: the cardinals’ quarters, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, a busy stage set in its own right. Villeneuve and Avignon were once connected by a bridge that

AVIGNON IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 64.78 square kilometres POPULATION: 92,230


99

now juts into the Rhône, broken but dignified, like a cherished piece of ancient scenery: the Pont Saint-Bénézet, built by a shepherd boy (so the legend goes) and still remembered with a song that is familiar to many schoolchildren worldwide. From the Place de l’Horloge, animated with street performers during the theatre festival, a short walk leads into a web of quieter side-streets, each with its own story to tell – from the cobbled rue des Teinturiers, once swarming with dyers and textile-makers, to the rue du-Roi-René. Here, the theatrical fantasy continues with the trompe l’oeil windows of the house that once belonged to the most celebrated patron of the arts in Provençal history: Good King René. Marseille may rightly stand proud as the region’s bustling capital, and Aix as the buzzing university town; but Avignon is where the heart of Provence beats.

A potted history COPPER TO EARLY BRONZE AGES – earliest traces of settlement

6th century BC – trading post for Greek colonists from Phocaea 120 BC – arrival of Roman legions 43 BC – acquired status of Roman Colony, thanks to its strategic location EARLY MIDDLE AGES – Christianisation. Contended between Goths, Franks and Saracens 9TH CENTURY – annexed to Kingdom of Arles 11TH-13TH CENTURIES – sporadic periods of self-rule as a republic 1309-77 – Avignon Papacy (seven successive popes) EARLY 15TH CENTURY – after short period of Anti-Papacy, Avignon survives as Papal Enclave 15TH CENTURY ONWARDS – ruled as part of the Kingdom of France 1791 – annexed to the rest of France in the wake of the Revolution 19TH CENTURY – despite losing some of its strategic standing, the city expands EARLY 20TH CENTURY – population boom POST-WW2 – Avignon gains cultural prestige

TOURIST OFFICE OF AVIGNON Located at 41 cours Jean- Jaurès. Tel. 04 32 74 32 74, www.avignon-tourisme.com (also in English). Opening times vary.

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

Provence and Camargue


100

Provence and Camargue

The best in brief

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

1 PALAIS DES PAPES

The sheer scale of this fortified palace, the largest Gothic edifice of the Middle Ages, gives an idea of the magnificence that greeted the sovereigns, ambassadors, clergymen, magistrates and artists who once thronged its halls. Even to the humble pilgrims gathered outside to receive the papal blessing from its balcony, the palace was a dazzling sight – and quite literally so: Avignon is nicknamed “the Windy City” and when the Mistral clears the air, the sunlight bouncing off the limestone walls can be blinding to the naked eye. Such were the numbers being catered for under the tenure of the seven French popes who ruled here from 1309 to 1377 – and such was their power – that the maze of chambers, galleries and passages included a mint, a bakery, an arsenal and dungeons. Built in the course of three decades, the palace consists of two adjoining buildings: the Palais Vieux to the north and the Palais Neuf to the south. The older (1334-42), in appearance an austere citadel, was built by Benedict XII who, as a Cistercian, was raised to turn his back on opulence: this was to be a place of prayer, but nonetheless a fortress that could be defended. The newer (1342-52) was commissioned by Clement VI, who was much more flamboyant and a great patron of the arts. The courtyard of the Palais Neuf (La Cour d’Honneur) has become, appropriately, the central venue for the Avignon summer festival. After the years of “Babylonian Captivity” (as the period of Avignon Papacy came to be known), the palace gradually fell into disrepair. In the throes of the French Revolution, one of its towers, the Glacière, became the scene of an infamous bloodbath, and the building itself was looted and subsequently used as a prison and army barracks. An audioguided visit deserves a good two hours and highlights include: La Chambre du Cerf (Stag Room, Clement VI’s study), with its deer-hunting frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti (master of the Avignon School); the finely tiled Chambre du Pape (Papal Bedchamber) in the Tour des Anges; Le Grand Tinel, the 45-m banqueting hall hung with 18th-century Gobelin tapestries; the adjacent Tour des Cuisines, with its colossal chimney; and La Salle du Consistoire, effectively the Parliament Chamber, frescoed by Simone Martini (another exponent of the Avignon School). La Terrasse des Grands Dignitaires on the upper floors


Provence and Camargue

101

offers panoramic views across the city’s palaces and sites, including the Pont St-Bénézet and Villeneuve. www.palais-des-papes.com Place du Palais, 04 90 27 50 00 Daily (times variable), combined ticket with Pont St-Bénézet available, €11/13.50

The legendary bridge was originally built in the 12th century. Supported by 22 arches, it was 900 m long and spanned the entire width of the Rhône (including the island), linking Avignon with Villeneuve, at the base of the Tour Philippe-le-Bel. It was subsequently rebuilt and restored, but ultimately destroyed by a flood in the 17th century. The bridge became indispensable during the years of “Babylonian Captivity”, when the cardinals were housed just across the river, in Villeneuve. www.palais-des-papes.com Rue Ferruce, accessed via ramparts, 04 90 27 51 16 Daily (times variable), combined ticket with Palais de Papes available, €5/13.50

PONT ST-BÉNÉZET The lyrics Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse tous en rond should pont...: the realistically be Sous le pont bridge was originally built as a rather narrow crossing for people on horseback or on foot, and was hardly the place to dance in safety, let alone in a circle. The structure does have a lower level, however, and it is plausible that the merry citizens of Avignon once trod a

measure here. According to the legend, in 1177 the shepherd boy Bénézet heard voices from heaven instructing him to build a bridge here. He was mocked by the local folk until he miraculously raised an enormous block of stone. Many volunteers joined Bénézet in his divine mission, forming a Brotherhood: the Frères Pontifes.

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

2 PONT ST-BÉNÉZET


102

Provence and Camargue

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

3 RUE DES TEINTURIERS / CHAPELLE DES PÉNITENTS GRIS D’AVIGNON

Attractive cobbled street, steeped in history and romance. The canal that flows alongside is in fact the Sorgue; its waters were used by the cloth-dyers (after whom the street is named) and the calico printers who worked alongside them. Several paddlewheels are still visible. The Franciscan bell tower is all that remains of a friary where Laura, Petrarch’s unrequited love, is said to be buried. Many different Brotherhoods existed in Avignon, administering charity, penitence and medical aid. They were identified by the colour of their sackcloth, such as Black, Red, Purple, Blue and White. The latter were the most aristocratic and even included some monarchs. Although the Brotherhoods were disbanded after the Revolution, several have survived to this day, including the Grey Pénitents,, whose chapel is accessible over a footbridge here. www.penitentsgris.fr 8 rue des Teinturiers

AVIGNON ON THE INTERNET WWW.AVIGNON.FR The official homepage of the town council with information about Avignon’s history, culture, museums and events. Some pages available in English.

WWW.AVIGNON-TOURISME.COM Avignon’s official tourism website, also in English, with information on where to visit, events, leisure facilities, guided tours, markets and where to eat.


Provence and Camargue

103

www.petit-palais.org Place du Palais, 04 90 86 44 58 Wed-Mon (times variable), €6

PETRARCH THE CLIMBER Francesco Petrarca (1304-74), the Tuscan poet and “Father of Humanism”, arrived at Avignon as a child with his father, a lawyer, who came to work at the papal court. Petrarch (to use the anglicised version of his name) is best remembered for his heart-rending poetry of unrequited love – in particular his Canzoniere sonnets, which sing of the unreachable Laura. But he was

also widely travelled and is considered by many one the earliest “tourists” in history. He is known to have climbed Mont Ventoux in 1336 purely for recreation – rather than out of necessity or as a pilgrimage – which would have been unheard of. The mountain is the highest in Provence (1,912 m) and considered the toughest stage of today’s Tour de France.

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

4 MUSÉE DU PETIT PALAIS

Built in 1318 and set around an arcaded courtyard, the Petit Palais was originally a cardinal’s residence before being bought by the papacy in 1335 to house the bishopric. After the period of papacy it became the residence of Cardinal della Rovere (later Pope Julius II, in Rome – and, famously, Michaelangelo’s patron), who had it redesigned in 1474. It now houses Avignon’s medieval and early Renaissance collection, showcasing the Avignon School and featuring an impressive range of Italian and French masters, including Botticelli and Carpaccio.


104

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

5 MUSÉE ANGLADON

The Fondation Angladon-Dubrujeaud (to give it its proper name) offers a fusion of modern technology and the intimacy of a private home for its remarkable collection. The 18th-century mansion houses the works personally assembled by two Avignon painters: Jean Angladon-Dubrujeaud (1906-79) and his wife Paulette Martin (1905-88). Cézanne, Manet, Sisley, Picasso and Modigliani all feature, along with the only Van Gogh original to be found in Provence: Train Carriages (1888). The collection also includes a Renaissance dining room, a library and a Chinese salon famous for its porcelain, in addition to the couple’s own studio and works. www.angladon.com, 5 rue Laboureurs, 04 90 82 29 03 Tue or Wed-Sun (times variable), €6.50

EATING AND DRINKING

6 RESTAURANT DES TEINTURIERS 5, rue des Teinturiers Tel. 04 90 33 43 83, www.restaurantdesteinturiers.com Located in a the popular medieval street of the same name that is popular for pre- and post-dinner walks. Serves fish and meat dishes, and a “Plat du Jour” for those on a budget. 7 KOTÉ KOUR 7, rue Mazan, Tel. 04 90 82 45 22, www.inthewoods.fr, closed all day Sunday and Wednesday evenings This welcoming restaurant uses fresh, seasonal produce from the

market. The menu is in French only, but the staff can help you translate if needed. Serves a range of dishes at a reasonable price. 8 MAISON RIPERT 28, rue de la Bonneterie Tel. 04 90 27 37 97, open all week in July, closed Sunday and Monday the rest of the year Located in a former pastry shop (1900) with a historical pedigree, this bistro style restaurant serves traditional food freshly bought from the local market. Also holds jazz concerts, photo exhibitions and wine tastings.


Provence and Camargue

105

A STROLL THROUGH AVIGNON Although the highlights of Avignon are scattered all around town, the Bridge (where else?) would make an ideal starting point for an essential hike ending in glory at the Papal Palace. From rue Ferruce at the ramparts, zig-zag up into rue de la Balance. This leads into place de l’Horloge: welcome to the heart of Avignon, with its cafés and grand theatre. The square is named after the Gothic clock tower above the town hall. Many of the windows in the neighbouring streets are painted with portraits of famous actors, a reminder of Avignon’s theatrical pedigree. Diagonally opposite the town hall is place du Change, which ushers you into a maze of shopping alleyways; rue Rouge eventually

becomes rue des Teinturiers, the cobbled medieval street of the textile dyers. Back at l’Horloge, as you face the town hall, the place du Palais des Papes is off to your right. Once in the square, if you take a right into rue Jean Vilar just before the Palace, a loop around the tight rue Peyrollerie and rue Vice-Légat will fly you back in time and prepare you for the Holy See itself. Beyond the Palace and Cathedral are the hillside gardens of Rocher des Doms. A tip: get a Bridge/ Palais ticket at the start and save queuing at the end.

EVENTS

, In the middle of February: Les Hivernales winter dance festival draws dancers from around the world who, as well as taking classes, perform for the public. From contemporary to modern jazz, hip-hop to tango, there is something for everyone. Tel. 0490 823312, www.hivernalesavignon.com (also in English) , Weekend of 25 March: the Avignon Motor Festival shows off every type of transport, from cars to planes and tractors, from every era. Tel. 04 90 83 27 29, www.avignon-motor-festival.com (also in English) , Throughout July to the end of July: the world-famous Festival d’Avignon entertains with between 30-50 shows by international companies. Tel. 04 90 27 66 50, www.festival-avignon.com , End of August or early September: the Ban des Vendanges (harvest proclamation) heralds the start of the grape harvest. Food, wine and dancing. Tel. 04 90 16 00 32, www.bandesvendanges.fr (in French only) , Weekend of 14 October: the Avignon Blues Festival provides visitors with powerful, emotional performances from a variety of artists, traditionally draws big names. Tel. 09 54 89 64 49, www.avignonbluesfestival. com (in French only)


Codolet

Aramon

Saze

La Baraquette

Domazan

Pujat

Jonquières

Avignon

Le Pontet

Althendes-Paluds

Caumontsur-Durance

Le Thor

Mazan

Bédoin

Mormoiron

Venasque

Gordes

Malemortdu-Comtat

Fontainede-Vaucluse

Pernes-lesFontaines

SaintPhilippe

L’Isle-surla-Sorgue

Crillonle-Brave

Les Garrigues

Carpentras

Serres

Caromb

Le Barroux

Velleron

Aubignan

Beaumesde-Venise

Monteux

Sarrians

Saint-Saturninlès-Avignon

Vedène

Sorgues

Bédarrides

Courthézon

Châteauneufdu-Pape

2

Orange

La Duran ce

1

Rochefort- Villeneuvedu-Gard lès-Avignon

A9

Tavel

Sauveterre

Roquemaure

3

Caderousse

h ône

Le R

Saint-Laurentdes-Arbres

Saint-Victorla-Coste

Laudonl’Ardoise

Bagnolssur-Cèze

A7

A7

0

N

Villessur-Auzon

5 km


Provence and Camargue

107

Surroundings VILLENEUVE-LÈS-AVIGNON

A visit to Villeneuve, however brief, goes hand in hand with one’s enjoyment of Avignon, if only for the exceptional views. The “City of the Cardinals” was once linked to the “City of the Popes” by means of the Pont St-Bénézet, which straddled both branches of the Rhône. Guarding the bridge to the west stands the strategically located Tour de Philippe-le-Bel, built in 1307 and still intact: a climb of 176 steps rewards the visitor with memorable vistas across Villeneuve and Avignon, as well as the Montagnette hills, the Alpilles and Mont Ventoux. Also dating from the 14th century, Fort St-André encloses an earlier Benedictine Abbey and the ruins of a village. Its gate, the portcullissed Porte Fortifiée, is flanked by two towers, which offer an even more impressive panorama from their terrace (85 steps). Between these two sites rises the collegiate Church of NotreDame. Founded in 1333, it houses some interesting works of art by Levieux, Mignard and other local masters. The Musée Pierrede-Luxembourg is where we find what is regarded as the finest work of the later Avignon School: The Coronation of the Virgin (1453) by Enguerrand Quarton. The painting was commissioned by the abbot of the Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction. This charterhouse was founded by Innocent VI to commemorate the humility of a General of the Carthusian Order, who had been elected Pope at the 1352 conclave but turned down the papal throne out of meekness. Now used as a cultural centre, the Chartreuse has three cloisters and a chapel with frescoes by Giovanetti. www.villeneuvelesavignon.fr Tour Philippe-le-Bel, Av. Gabriel Péri, Tue-Sun (times variable), €2.30 Fort et Abbaye St-André, Montée du Fort St-André, daily (times variable), €6 Église de Notre-Dame, Pl. Gabriel Péri, daily (times variable), free Musée Pierre-de-Luxembourg, 2 rue de la République, Tue-Sun (times variable), €3.60 Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction, 60 rue de la République, daily (times variable), €8

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

1


108

Provence and Camargue

CITY OF THE CARDINALS When the cardinals arrived at the new papal court in the 1300s, they found no suitable accommodation in Avignon and began to build their residences across the water. Eventually, 15 livrées, as they were called, were built in Villeneuve, along with churches and ecclesiastical houses – generating

2

considerable prosperity and patronage in their wake. The affluence continued unabated beyond the years of the papacy, with aristocratic and ecclesiastical figures contributing to the fortunes of Villeneuve; but the opulent lifestyle was soon smothered by the Revolution

CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE

The unassuming hilltown of Châteauneuf was once the popes’ summer residence – a rural retreat at arm’s length from the Holy See, where one could enjoy the cooler air, some light relief stag hunting and a good bottle of wine. The castle was built by John XXII, who planted the first vineyards; it now lies ruined, after its destruction during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. Châteauneuf came to give its name to the best-known Côtes-du-Rhône label, and a visit to one of the museums traces the wine’s tortuous history. Much of this small town is now given over to cellars and restaurants specialising in wine tasting, and over 300 vineyards in the surrounding countryside produce bottles that are entitled to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation contrôlée. The hilltop castle is no more than a 10/15-minute walk from the high street and rewards with sobering views of the Rhône Valley and Avignon with its distinctive skyline. Further afield: the Alpilles, Luberon, Vaucluse plateau and the Giant of Provence, Mont Ventoux. www.brotte.com Musée du Vin – Maison Brotte, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Av. Pierre de Luxembourg, 04 90 83 59 44 Daily


Provence and Camargue

109

For many years Châteauneuf-duPape wines were sent in barrels to Burgundy for refinement, and it took four centuries for the label to reach its current reputation. Production came to a complete stop in the 1880s, when the vines were decimated by the phylloxera pest. The vineyards were replanted

3

with more resistant stock (a preventative measure still in use), and strict rules were laid down in 1923 to define the 13 approved varieties of grape, the area, harvest dates and labelling, among other directives. There are now 350 domaines. Châteauneuf-du-Pape domaines

ROQUEMAURE

The commune of “Blackrock” near Châteauneuf may appear unassuming, but it has one or two stories of its own to tell. Hannibal is believed to have crossed the Rhône here in 218 BC in the course of his trek to Rome (2nd Punic War) and pitched camp with his elephants. Roquemaure’s second claim to fame is that in 1929 its wine producers were the very first in the country to benefit from an AOC appellation (as Côtes du Rhone); sadly, this is also where the phylloxera pest first struck in the 1860s, decimating the entire region’s vineyards. On a happier note, the Collegiate Church holds some relics of St Valentine, and the Fête des Amoureux brings a costumed celebration of all things local, with much cooing and kissing. www.ot-roquemaure.com

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

AN UNDULATING ROAD


110

Orange In antiquity, Orange was strategically placed as one of the gateways to the north along the Via Agrippa, the network of roads built by the Romans in Gaul. While two superb structures at Arausio (to use its Roman name) have withstood the test of time, this city’s history offers a fascinating twist: Orange was a Dutch enclave from 1544 until 1713, under the rule of the House of Orange-Nassau. Even so, the jewel in the crown is the Théâtre Antique, the only Roman theatre with its stage wall still virtually intact. This is all the more remarkable since almost every other block of Roman stone in town was later plundered by the Orange-Nassau rulers to build their castle and fortify the principality. The Triumphal Arch has also survived: a fort had already been built around the structure before the arrival of the Dutch.

ORANGE IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 74.20 square kilometres POPULATION: 29,887


Provence and Camargue

111

Little is left now of their 17th-century castle on the hill behind the theatre, the Colline St-Eutrope, but the views are spectacular. The Chorégies, one of the most prestigious classical music festivals, is hosted every August at the Théâtre Antique, drawing international artists and sell-out crowds.

A potted history 105 BC – Celtic Gauls halt Roman advance near Orange with

the slaughter of over 100,000 legionnaires 58-51 BC – Caesar completes the conquest with his Gallic Wars 35 BC – Arausio welcomes veterans of the Second Legion offer-

ing incentives to settle; the town prospers for the next four centuries and gradually becomes Christianised 412 AD – Visigoths plunder Orange 8TH CENTURY – Orange governed by Carolingian (Frankish) Counts MID-12TH CENTURY – the city becomes a principality of the Comtat Venaissin, ruled by Raimbaut of Orange, a renowned troubadour 12TH-16TH CENTURIES – passes to the lords of Les Baux as a minor principality of the Holy Roman Empire 1544 – William the Silent, Count of Nassau, inherits Orange (via Les Baux) and unites it with his territories in Holland to found the House of Orange-Nassau 1562–98 – Wars of Religion, with Orange supporting the Protestants EARLY 1600S – the enclave remains under Orange-Nassau control 1622 – Maurice of Nassau fortifies Orange plundering Roman structures 1672–1678 – Franco-Dutch War: Louis XIV captures Orange, which is eventually ceded to France in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht 1981 – Orange declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site

TOURIST OFFICE OF ORANGE 5, cours Aristide Briand. Tel. 04 90 34 70 88, www.otorange.fr (also in English).

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

Combined ticket for Théâtre Antique and Musée d’Orange, €9.50


112

Provence and Camargue

The best in brief THÉÂTRE ANTIQUE

Built in the early 1st century AD, it is the only Roman theatre with its back wall almost intact: “The greatest wall in my kingdom” (Louis XIV). Up to 9,000 spectators once attended the plays, pantomimes, poetry readings and Atellan farces. They were seated according to their social status; and from a niche high up in the Great Wall, a 3.5-m statue of Augustus looked down on the citizens, a reminder of the Empire’s absolute dominance. The facilities included: a flexible awning (velum)) to shield from the elements; abundant backstage space (for people and machinery); a drop-scene into which the curtain ((aulaeum) aulaeum)) was lowered. Considerable inventiveness went into the acoustic design: extra surfaces on the Great Wall broke up the echo; the stage doorways were hollow, amplifying the voices of actors standing in them; the sloping roof above the stage and the actors’ masks also aided amplification. The theatre was shut down by the Church in 391 and fell into disrepair; it served as a defensive fort in the Middle Ages and later to shelter war refugees. Renovation started in 1825, and the Théâtre Antique is now the prestigious venue of the Chorégies Classical Music Festival. www.theatre-antique.com Théâtre Antique, 04 90 51 17 60 Daily (times variable), combined ticket with Musée d’Orange, €9.50


Provence and Camargue

113

THÉÂTRE ANTIQUE IN FIGURES

ARC DE TRIOMPHE

Built in 20 BC, the monument depicts dramatic scenes commemorating the glorious achievements of the Second Legion. It also stands as an act of defiance at the place where the Roman war machine had been humiliated by the Celtic “barbarians” almost a century earlier, with the loss of 100,000 men. Augustus’ naval victory over Antony and Cleopatra is also immortalised on the exuberant structure, which stands at 22 m high and 21 m wide; it was once surmounted by a bronze quadriga (chariot). Arc de Triomphe, northern side of town Free access

THE OLD TOWN AND COLLINE ST-EUTROPE

Old Orange buzzes with pavement cafés, restaurants and small shops, mostly centred around the 17th-century Hôtel de Ville and the Ancienne Cathédrale. The statue of the troubadourprince Raimbaut d’Orange stands in Place de la République. THE TITLE OF ORANGE-NASSAU The local Princes of Orange gave the Dutch royal family its title, House of Orange, through marriage. The connection runs deep: Maurice of Nassau (who became Prince of Orange in 1618) helped to consolidate the independence of the Dutch Republic; the United Provinces later survived the Franco-Dutch war to become the Netherlands, which to this day are ruled by the House of Orange-Nassau. Beyond Holland, William, Prince of Orange,

ruled as William III in Britain from 1689. The Provençal town also gave its name to many territories colonised or settled by Dutch communities, such as parts of New Jersey (USA), and the Orange Free State in South Africa. The name does not derive from the fruit or the colour, as many people believe (but don’t tell the Dutch national football team): the Romans named their settlement Arausio after a Celtic water god

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

CROWD CAPACITY IN ANTIQUITY: 8-9,000 SEATING: semicircular, 37 tiers divided into 3 sections HEIGHT / WIDTH OF GREAT WALL: 36 m / 103 m LENGTH / WIDTH OF STAGE: 61 m / 9 m


114

Provence and Camargue

A brief bike ride or walk through the park of Colline St-Eutrope leads to the ruins of the Dutch castle. Head for the statue of the Virgin Mary (north end of the park): an outlook offers excellent views of the Rhône plain, beyond the theatre and rooftops of Orange.

THE UPPER REACHES OF THE RHÔNE

MUSÉE D’ORANGE

Accommodated in the town house of a 17th-century Dutch nobleman, the museum displays vestiges from Roman and Dutch times. They include three large tablets of etched marble, assembled from 400 fragments, which formed part of a Roman land survey. They are designed in a systematic grid pattern and provide archaeologists with priceless information about life in Roman Arausio,, including judicial and fiscal details. Dutch paintings and artefacts speak for the Orange-Nassau era, and there is also a collection of fabrics among other exhibits. www.theatre-antique.com Musée d’Orange, opposite Théâtre Antique, 04 90 51 17 60 Daily (times variable)

EATING AND DRINKING

L’ARAUSIO 9, rue du Mazeau Tel. 04 32 81 13 19, www.larausio.fr, closed Tues and Wed in winter Family-run restaurant located opposite the Roman amphitheatre. The menu varies according to what is in season and the chef’s passion. For very special occasions, the restaurant also has a truffle menu (by reservation only). AU SALON DE CHARLOTTE 4, place Clemençeau Tel. 09 52 69 58 52, closed Mon Tearoom near the Town Hall. Offers hot drinks, cakes, pastries, crêpes, food, cocktails and wine.

LA ROM’ANTIQUE 5, place Silvain Tel. 04 90 51 67 06 Opposite the Roman theatre. Serves typical Provençal cuisine, such as crespéou (omelettes, herbs and vegetables stacked in layers) and large salads.


CHORÉGIES D’ORANGE

The Théâtre Antique, with its remarkable setting and acoustics, was used as a festival venue as early as the 1860s, with the launch of a “Roman Festival” aimed at celebrating the glory of Rome. The event was relaunched in 1902 as the annual Chorégies d’Orange and drew the biggest stars of its time – among them Sarah Bernhardt, who famously appeared here in Racine’s Phèdre. The name derives from the Greek khorêgós, or choir leader, and the festival presented mainly drama, alternating with

ballet, opera and other musical performances. After 1969, with the establishment of the Avignon Theatre Festival, the Chorégies turned its focus to classical music, especially opera. Barbara Hendricks, Montserrat Caballé, Roberto Alagna and countless other top artists have performed here, with Plácido Domingo returning in the 2016 production of La Traviata. www.choregies.fr, 04 90 34 24 24 Late July and August


5 Musée Archéologique and Musée d’Histoire Naturelle

Museums

4 Castellum

3 Jardin de la Fontaine and Tour Magne

2 Maison Carrée

1 Les Arènes (Amphitheatre)

Monuments and historical sites

Tourist Office

Nîmes

er

oiss i

12 Hotel Novotel Atria Nimes Centre

11 Hôtel Kyriad Nimes Centre

10 Hôtel Marquis de la Baume

Hotels

9 Jardin d’Hadrien

8 Bistrot des Arènes

7 Patisserie Courtois

6 Carré d’Art

Restaurants

Rue Grétry

nB

6

énéral

Perrier

0

e ed Ru

N

Bi Rue

got

itié la P

8

200 m

ar

1

dd es A rèn es

Place des Arènes

Rue Ré

Place de l’Hôtel de Ville

5

Rue C uraterie

12

Square de la Couronne

11

Place Gabriel Péri

Av en u

Esplanade Charles de Gaulle

Place de la Libération

hè res

eF eu c

r die Pra

in ard onj

e Ru

M Rue

Rue

uier

Da re Not

Place de l’Ecluse

Rue Col ber t

Ség

me

Rue P i e rre Sem

Rue

Bd Etienne Saitenac

Rue Na tiona le

9

Place de la Salamandre

rée

re pit

Do Rue

ha uC ue d

x

ieu

Cre m

Place du Chapitre

Rue

10

ard des Arène lev s ou

Place du Marché

7

R

Place aux e rolog Place de Herbes e l’Ho ue d l’Horloge R Place de la Place de Maison Carrée la Calade

2

Rue Tedenat

asto

e du G Avenu

Rue Jean Rebou l

3

Rue Nationale

B

ntaine ine e la Fo Quai d i de la Fonta Q ua Rue ’Assas G Place d

Square Antonin

de

rd Amir al Courb et

Bouleva

4

a el ed

Bo u l e v

Ru

ue

go liq

Hu ub

la

n

u rat io

Bo

r to Vic d ar lev Bd

ue esq e Fr u R Lib é

c spi e la

eJ

l’A d Rue

Ru

de

le ga

Prague de

Ré p

e Ru Bd

ea

guste Rue Au

Rue

ssy

d’A rc

uizot

Gra n d

Rou

Rue

nn e

Rue G

Rue

ard

ot e Carn Avenu Rou ssy

Fo Cité ulc


Provence and Camargue

117

Nîmes is as proud of its Gallo-Roman past as it is to be the centre of French tauromachy – or bullfighting. The town also gave its name to one of the most popular textiles in history: denim (“de Nîmes”). Located along the Domitian Way, which linked Rome with Spanish Gaul, Nemausus was the administrative centre for 24 settlements scattered across a vast territory. Although the city may have been founded by Caesar in 44 BC, his successor Augustus is recognised as the creator of a metropolis that shone with the magnificent structures we can still admire today. The arènes is the best preserved amphitheatre in Gaul and continually in use for bullfighting and other large-scale events; the Castellum was the reservoir that gathered water arriving from Uzès (via the prodigious Pont du Gard); the Tour Magne, set at the highest point of the 16-km city walls, towers above Nîmes and its plains, providing a breathtaking panorama; the centrally located Maison Carrée is, simply put, the most intact Roman temple still standing. Just to the south: the Camargue, and the timeless traditions of its horse- and bull-breeders, which it shares with Nîmes.

NÎMES IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 161.85 square kilometres POPULATION: 146,709

THE HEART OF THE GARD

Nîmes


THE HEART OF THE GARD

Whitsun and harvest-time bring the most colourful férias of the year, when gardians and toreros converge on the town, and Provençal and Spanish are spoken in the street as much as French. But the amphitheatre’s calendar of events is busy right through the warm season: the Nîmois need no excuse to spill into the squares and boulevards, enjoy an open-air show and pick up a steaming brandade of salt cod from a stall. The cattle herders of the Camargue are also credited with popularising the tough cotton cloth that has long been adopted in every continent: serge. Once stitched as sails and woven into trousers and shirts, denim can be found in every other shop and market of Nîmes in its many incarnations. Nîmes’s history is also shaped by religious strife, starting with the persecution of Christians at the hands of the Goths and continuing with the suppression of Cathars and Jews, in addition to the sectarian violence between Huguenots and Catholics. Nîmes Romaine ticket covers Arènes, Maison Carrée and Tour Magne, €12

A potted history 44 BC – Julius Caesar arrives, gradually conquering Gaul 31 BC – Augustus settles here with Egyptian campaign veterans:

the crocodile chained to a palm tree becomes the symbol of Nemausus/Nîmes 5TH AND 6TH CENTURIES – Christians persecuted by Visigoths. Amphitheatre becomes a fortress 1213 – Cathars of Nîmes surrender to Simon de Monfort in the Albigensian Crusade


Provence and Camargue

119

14TH CENTURY – Jews of Nîmes persecuted and banished

with three quarters supporting the Reformation 1567 – slaughter of 200 Catholics, mainly priests, in the Michelade massacre 1598 – Edict of Nantes grants rights to the Huguenots 1700-04 – War of the Camisards: Huguenot uprising in response to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, with sectarian atrocities on both sides 1790S – Protestants largely side with Revolutionaries; churches looted 1814-30 – Restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, White Terror at the hands of the Catholics 1853 – first corrida held in the newly-restored amphitheatre, which had become a slum 8 OCTOBER 1988 – Nîmes struck by hurricane, with casualties and widespread destruction

The best in brief 1 LES ARÈNES (AMPHITHEATRE)

Built for gladiatorial combat in the 1st century AD, it is the best preserved of its kind in Gaul. It seats 24,000 and, measuring 133 m by 101 m, is slightly smaller than its twin in Arles. An innovative design of stairways, corridors, vomitoria (sloping passageways) and galleries made it easy for large crowds to enter and exit. Two large underground galleries served as backstage. After the collapse of Rome in 476, the amphitheatre became a Visigoth fortress, with the arcades blocked off and the addition of a moat and towers. The Viscounts of Nîmes subsequently built a castle on the eastern part and – as in Arles – the whole structure gradually became a cramped village for as many as 2,000 people. Audioguides and illustrated panels provide explanations. www.arenesdenimes.com Bd. Victor-Hugo, 04 66 21 82 56 Daily (times variable), included in Nîmes Romaine ticket, €12

TOURIST OFFICE OF NÎMES 6, rue Auguste - Pavillon de l’Esplanade – Esplanade Charles de Gaulle Tel. 04 66 58 36 00, www.ot-nimes.fr (also in English)

THE HEART OF THE GARD

16TH CENTURY – Nîmes becomes a Huguenot (Calvinist) city,


120

2 MAISON CARRÉE

The “square house” was built over two millennia ago, under Augustus, and survives virtually intact. Inspired by the Temple of Apollo in Rome, its purity of line, ornamentation and Corinthian columns all suggest Greek influence. In the cella (inner chamber), a 20-minute film tells the story. Just across the square is the Carré d’Art, a light and airy modern art complex created by Norman Foster in 1993. Entry is free and the rooftop restaurant is a favourite. www.arenesdenimes.com Bd. Victor-Hugo, 04 66 21 82 56 Daily (times variable), Maison Carrée included in Nîmes Romaine ticket, €12

3 JARDIN DE LA FONTAINE AND TOUR MAGNE

The ornamental 18th-century garden was landscaped by J.-P. Mareschal, a former army engineer renowned for his fountains. A spring feeds a system of pools and canals, set within a ballustraded promenade. The 2nd-century Temple of Diana was converted into a Benedictine complex in the Middle Ages, but now lies in ruins. The Jardin continues up the slopes of the forbiddingly-named Mont Cavalier (114 m high), but the pleasant amble rewards with the visit of the Tour Magne. Built above the perimeter walls in 15 BC, the tower is the earliest surviving Roman structure in


France. The views across Nîmes to the garrigues,, Alpilles and Mont Ventoux are well worth the extra 140 steps. www.arenesdenimes.com Jardin de la Fontaine, 04 66 21 82 56 Daily (times variable), included in Nîmes Romaine ticket, €12

4 CASTELLUM

The ruins of the water tower fed by the Pont du Gard’s aqueduct, with its distribution ducts to the city still clearly visible. On the hillock behind it stands Fort Vauban; it was built in 1687 after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, to deter any Protestant rebellion. Rue de la Lampèze, north of the Maison Carrée, free

DENIM Denim may be associated with America and jeans, but did you know that the word is derived from the serge de Nîmes? The durable fabric was popular with the Camargue cowboys long before being adopted in the Wild West, and it remains a staple item in every

gardian’s wardrobe today. The word “jeans” derives from the French name for Genoa, Gênes: the Italian city, just down the coast from Provence, is where blue cotton corduroy was being manufactured – the bleu de Gênes, which weavers of Nîmes were trying to replicate


THE HEART OF THE GARD

122

5 MUSÉE ARCHÉOLOGIQUE AND MUSÉE D’HISTOIRE NATURELLE

The collection of household utensils in particular creates a vivid picture of everyday life in Gallo-Roman times. The first floor of this former Jesuit college houses the natural history museum and temporary exhibitions. 13 bd Admiral Courbet Currently closed for refurbishment – please check locally

EATING AND DRINKING

6 CARRÉ D’ART 2, rue Gaston Boissier Tel. 04 66 67 52 40, www.restaurant-lecarredart.com, closed Sun and Mon The rooftop restaurant at the arts centre, just opposite the famous Roman temple. Popular and central. 7 PÂTISSERIE COURTOIS 8, place du Marché Tel. 04 66 67 20 09 This pâtisserie/tearoom dates back to 1850. Ideal for a light lunch or to fortify yourself with a slice of gâteau.

8 BISTROT DES ARÈNES 11, rue Bigot Tel. 04 66 21 40 18, closed Mon evening and all day Sun Tuck into traditional dishes in this restaurant close to the Roman arena. 9 JARDIN D’HADRIEN 11, Enclos Rey Tel. 04 66 21 86 65, closed Sun evening and Mon & Tues lunchtime Modern French cuisine made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. If the weather is good the garden is a haven of peace. The first and third Friday of the month, theatre companies perform.


RAYMOND GEOFFROY 28, avenue Franklin Roosevelt For local delicacy: Brandade de Morue (salt cod baked in the oven)

LES OLIVADES 4, place Maison Carrée For textiles.

A STROLL THROUGH NÎMES Nîmes is quite an open, stretched out town and the bike comes in handy for much of the sightseeing. From the Esplanade de Gaulle gardens (which also have an excellent info office) head west towards place des Arènes, home of the amphitheatre. From here, take bld Victor Hugo up to the Maison Carrée temple (right) and the Carré d’Art centre (left). Then cycle on till you reach quai de la Fontaine, the start of the monumental water park set on the hillside off to the left. Here, we would advise to continue on foot after parking the bike somewhere safe. After visiting the water complex, scramble up Mont Cavalier: atop stands the Roman

Tour Magne, with its exceptional views. Descend back to the canal along the stone-walled rue de la Tour-Magne/rue Agrippa. (Alternatively, from the Tour Magne you could detour eastwards to view the ruins of the Castellum, the Roman water distribution plant.) Retrace your bike tracks to the Carré, continue along bld Victor Hugo and turn left into rue de la Madeleine: this leads to the Cathedral and the adjacent Musée du Vieux Nîmes. Madeleine and nearby rue de l’Horloge are mainly pedestrianised and offer some of the best shops in town. Please note that cycling is not permitted in some alleyways.

THE HEART OF THE GARD

SHOPPING


124

Provence and Camargue

EVENTS , Férias for bull running and bullfights: Whitsun (7th Sunday after Easter) & Harvest (mid-Sep), but plenty in between. Town awash with all things Spanish and Camarguais

THE HEART OF THE GARD

BULLFIGHTING & THE COURSE CAMARGUAISE The Course Camarguaise, the Provençal form of bullfighting, dates back centuries. Now bloodless, it began with animals (such as dogs and bears) and farmhands baiting the bulls and fighting them. At the end of the 19th century, after widespread condemnation of the sport’s bloodiness, only the men were allowed to engage with the bull, by trying to remove the attributs (scarves, rosettes and sometimes even food) that had been attached to its horns. Also at this time, the “fighting” started to move from the farms, town squares and streets to arenas, and rosettes were used as the only attributs.. Nowadays, a combination of rosettes, strings and tassels are attached to the bulls’ horns, and the crochets (the picks used to snatch the attributs) are regulated. For all its innovations, the sport appears to have lost none of its chivalry, with fighters forever intent on conquering hearts – as well as rosettes and money. Six bulls compete for 15 minutes each, with a 15-minute break after the third bull. Before a course begins, the rasteurs (bullfighters) parade around the arena, often accompanied by local damsels in Provençal costume. A long peal of the trumpet (and yet another blast of “Toréador” from Bizet’s Carmen) heralds the bull’s arrival in the ring;

its name and manade (herd) are announced, along with the prizes to be awarded. A short peal of the trumpet then signals the game is to begin. Tourneurs try to attract the bull’s attention and lure it into a good position for the rasteur, who makes a dash for the bull and tries to swipe off the attributs. attributs To make his escape, the rasteur has to jump over the barriers, thus demonstrating his agility as well as his courage. When the 15 minutes are up, even if the beast has not been relieved of its decorations, a third peal of the trumpet announces it is time for it to return to its pen. As well as being (mostly) bloodless, the Course Camarguaise also differs from traditional Spanish bullfighting in that the bulls – not the bullfighters – are the stars of the show. On posters, the bulls’ names come before those of the rasteurs – a fitting tribute to a majestic animal. Famous bulls are sometimes honoured in towns and villages with a statue.


Provence and Camargue

125

1

PONT DU GARD

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pont du Gard is a masterpiece of engineering even by our modern standards, and magnificent to behold. It forms part of a Roman aqueduct that once transported water from its source at Uzès to Nîmes, straddling at this point the valley of the Gardon. No less remarkable than the structure itself – the highest in the Roman Empire – is the fact that along its 50 km of underground channels, tunnels, siphons and bridges, the total drop is no more than 17 m; endto-end across the bridge, it measures no more than 2.5 cm. The three-tiered bridge was begun around 20 BC and built with limestone blocks – some as heavy as six tonnes – without the use of mortar: the stone was lifted into position by a system of block and tackle (requiring two or more pulleys and ropes), which was operated by an enormous human treadmill. The blocks are held together by iron clamps. The aqueduct fell into disrepair from the 4th century onwards and finally ceased to operate by the 9th century. The adjacent roadbridge was added in the 1700s (as we can see from some of the original graffiti), and the whole structure was restored under Napoleon III. The water flowed along a conduit on the top tier, covered by stone slabs. The Pont du Gard site is well equipped with facilities along both banks of the river; there is also a small beach. The entire length of the aqueduct is within the département of the Gard, to the west of the Rhône, as is Aramon – a small commune which provides an ideal base for visiting the Pont du Gard.

THE HEART OF THE GARD

Surroundings


Dions La Calmette

Langlade

Saint-CômeCaveirac et-Maruéjols Clarensac

Parignargues

Saint-Marmertdu-Gard

Fons

SaintBauzély

Saint-Genièsde-Malgoirès

Milhaud

4

A5

Nîmes

SainteAnastaise

Blauzac

Uzès

Servierset-Labaume

GarriguesSainte-Eulalie

SaintChaptes

Moussac

Saint-Mauricede-Cazevieille

Foissac

Bouillargues

Manduel

Redessan

Marguerittes

A9

L

Boulbon

Tarascon Tarascon

Vallabrègues allabrègues

Beaucaire Beaucair Beaucai re

Comps

Montfrin

Jonquiè JonquièresSaint-Vincent incent

Meynes

Aramon 2

Saze Domazan

ôn

e

0

Maillane

N

Graveson

5 km

Châteaurenard

e

Avignon La Duran c

lès-Avignon

Pujat

Sauveterre

Roquemaure

Rochefortdu-Gard Villeneuve-

A9

Tavel

Lirac

La Baraquette

Théziers

Fournès

Remoulins

Saint-Hilaired’Olzilhan

Valliguières

Pouzilhac

Sernhac

1

Vers-Pontdu-Gard

Flaux

Lédenon

Cabrières es

Rodilhan

Poulx

Ga

Collias

n rdo

SanilhacSagriès

Sagriès

SaintMaximin

SaintSiffret

Saint-Quentinle-Poterie

Rh e


Provence and Camargue

127

A potted history 19 BC – construction begins under Augustus, founder of the

Roman empire 4TH CENTURY – bridge no longer maintained and clogged with limescale, debris and vegetation 9TH CENTURY – ceases to function as an aqueduct MIDDLE AGES – used as a toll point; some blocks removed and reused elsewhere 17TH CENTURY – damaged during the Wars of Religion by heavy cannon transport 1743-47 – construction of vehicular bridge alongside 1830S – at serious danger of collapse 1855-58 – restored under Napoleon III, who admired Roman architecture 1958, 1998, 2002 – damaged by floods, despite the cutwaters at the feet of the arches 1985 – Listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site

PONT DU GARD IN FIGURES HEIGHT ABOVE RIVER GARDON: 49 m LENGTH OF AQUEDUCT: 50 km WIDTH: 6.4 m max LOWER LEVEL: 142 m long, supported by 6 arches MIDDLE LEVEL: 242 m long, supported by 11 arches UPPER LEVEL WITH CHANNEL: 275 m long, supported by 35 arches WATER FLOW WHEN OPERATIONAL: 200,000 m3 per day GRADIENT ACROSS THE BRIDGE: 2.5 cm FLOW TIME REQUIRED FROM SOURCE TO DESTINATION: 27 hrs ESTIMATED CONSTRUCTION TIME: 10-15 yrs (plus interruptions) MANPOWER: 800-1,000 workers

PONT DU GARD TOURIST OFFICE AND FACILITIES Tel. 08 20 90 33 30, www.pontdugard.fr (also in English) Right river bank: reception centre with multi-media exhibition about the construction of the bridge, and gift shop Left river bank: cafeteria, cinema room, museum with displays on the region and the outlying garrigues scrublands Access, €3.50-7 (variable)

THE HEART OF THE GARD

MID-1ST CENTURY AD – completion


128

Provence and Camargue

THE HEART OF THE GARD

EATING AND DRINKING

RESTAURANT LES TERRACES Right bank 04 66 37 51 10 Former inn built in 1865 at the foot of the Pont du Gard. Uncomplicated and affordable food.

CAFÉ DU PONT DU GARD, SNACK BAR, CRÊPERIE, BISTRO LES CROISÉES Left bank To enjoy a break with a spectacular view.

BISTROT Right bank Ice cream and snacks, a short distance from Les Terraces.

PICNICS The site is huge and there is plenty of grass to spread out on and enjoy a picnic. There are also some benches and, of course, the beach.

CONOISSEURS OF WATER Water supply was immensely important to the Romans, and the water’s quality was valued as much as its availability. Spas and baths were a common feature in everyday life, and they often benefited from sophisticated heating systems. Mineral water was appreciated for its medicinal and digestive properties, as well as for its taste. The water tapped for an aqueducts was preferably sourced on a northern slope where it would be cooler and therefore healthier. Aqueduct conduits had openings to allow access for maintenance but also for ventilation; settling tanks were built along the water course to collect sediments and improve the water’s purity. Near the village of Vergéze, between Nîmes and Aigues Mortes, gurgle the waters of Source des Bouillens, which has been a spa since Roman times. In 1898, a local doctor bought the spring and opened a private spa; he also decided to sell its carbonated water to his guests. His name: Louis Perrier.

Graffiti As fascinating as the bridge itself are the old graffiti etched on the walls. They are mostly from men who worked on the building site of the new bridge in the 1760s, or on its restoration in the 1850s. Many include a rough outline of the tool of their trade (hammer, shovel, chisel) and the name of their place of origin (Jean P. Uzès, for example). True to the spirit of graffiti culture, the Revolution too is immortalised in stone: one message dated 1789 reads, La liberté d’Aigues Mortes c’est nous la fait [sic] – which could be loosely translated as, “The freedom of Aigues Mortes is in our hands”.


2

ARAMON

Aramon is a commune on the Rhône’s western bank, built around a perched château. The settlement offered a safe haven to vessels from Roman times onwards and enjoyed its golden age in the 17th century, when salt, oil, cereals and wine were shipped from here to northern France. The Rhône’s relentless silting gradually reduced Aramon’s ability to handle traffic, with the river bursting its banks with increasing frequency. A major dredging programme in 1968 restored Aramon’s potential as a port. Along with agriculture and pharmaceuticals, the Électricité de France thermal power station is now a main employer in the district. Facilities at the village include a tourist information office, a bullring and a modern leisure centre – not forgetting a fine selection of world beers in the village square (Cours Victor Hugo). A branch of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route passes through these lands; seven km out of Aramon we find St-Amandde-Théziers, a 12th-century chapel hidden away on a hillock, for the benefit of wayfares.


B o u l evard V

r i c to

Rue

2

R d du Duché uD r

Place

Place Dampmatin

ard nch Bla

ulie n

Rue de 6 l’Évêché Rue Saint-J

4

3

1

D 979 Bd Av d G

a ett

M. Ave Pa nue sc al

7

Rue Xavi er

n

Ru

de

Gisfort

be eA u R

3 Promenade Jean-Racine

2 Château du Duché

1 Place aux Herbes (Market Square)

Monuments and historical sites

Tourist Office

Uzès

Sigalo

D 979

up Lo

ybet nd Ro rdina e Fe

nd

du

r rB

em

ac Alteir i n de

Che m

in d e Gr

10

Geni ès

éz a

t

Saint -

le rou Pei u d in em Ch

Louis

D 979

6 Les Trois Saisons

Restaurants

5 Musée du Bonbon Haribo

Museums

4 Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit and Tour Fenestrelle

ue Aven

c

200 m

es

és Alli

cent

l Vin nera u Gé

i em Ch

as uP

C

on

rg ad e

l Fo ch

ou

idou

D 981

Jau rès

D 981

Chemin de

Mayac

10 Hôtel Saint Génies

9 Hotel Le Patio de Violette

8 Best Western Hotel Uzes Pont Du Gard

Hotels

7 Les 80 Jours

iès

L’ A l z

cha

aré

la G ra nd eB

Pom p

5

Rue du Stade

5

uM

rd d

lette Rue de l’Esca

lev a

Bou

pe

Rue d e

Avenue Geo rge s

om a Tr de l

b am

en

0

D 979

8

D 981

Avenue du 8 Mai 194

Rue

anne vez e Se der Cel lier

Alex an

d R ue

Avenue de la Libération

S

Rue d G. Brou Prof che

Roy

ur du

is

A v en ue Jea n

d Para

Ru e

Rue To

élites

Bd d

Rue des Carm

de

Bou Charlelesvard Gide

are yer

in du

in t-G ain

Ru

e la G

Provence and Camargue

9

e

Chem

m he eT r i nq ue lai gu

ed Avenu Ch

un

130

go Hu

N


131

Uzès, with its tangle of medieval streets, towers and market square, rests on a picturesque plateau of garrigues scrubland, overlooking the valley of the River Alzon. It was originally a minor Gallo-Roman settlement that would only gain prominence in later centuries, when it became a bishopric and a stronghold against the advancing Saracens; it later thrived as a centre of textile production. But even in Roman imperial times, Ucetia – as it was then known – played a key part in the daily life of the wider Provincia by supplying water to the colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). A nearby source fed an aqueduct, which, along its course, relied on a spectacular feat of engineering: the Pont du Gard. Three of the town’s ancient towers serve as a perfect illustration of how the political framework in Provence stood through the Middle Ages. The Bermonde Tower (part of the Château du Duché), the Bishop’s Tower (Tour de l’Horloge) and the Royal Tower (Tour du Roi) respectively symbolise the power of the feudal lords, the Church and the Crown. As well as prospering through its cloth manufacture – producing linen, silk and, notably, serge – Uzès stood out as early as

UZÈS IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 25.41 square kilometres POPULATION: 7,935

THE HEART OF THE GARD

Uzès


THE HEART OF THE GARD

132

Provence and Camargue

the 5th century for its culture and tolerance, against a background of Frankish warmongering further north: a shining example was Saint Ferréol, Bishop of Uzès, who was said to have admitted Jews to his table, at a time when they were being widely persecuted. Much of the town’s later history, however, was marred by religious strife, and its cathedral and churches were repeatedly destroyed or looted, especially during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century and the Revolution. Uzès nevertheless continued to thrive, and today offers the visitor an absorbing mix of medieval ruettes (little streets), Renaissance residences and churches, along with more recent mansions and the animated place aux Herbes.. It is a compact town, best explored on foot. And if the history is too much to chew all in one go, the Musée du Bonbon Haribo down the road reveals all you need to know about jelly babies.

A potted history GALLO-ROMAN TIMES – an oppidum (administrative settlement)

called Ucetia 5TH CENTURY – advent of Christianity EARLY 8TH CENTURY – a fortified civitas (small city-state) resisting

the Umayyad conquest 13TH CENTURY – communities include Jewish scholars and Cathars 1209-29 – cathedral destroyed during Albigensian Crusade, aimed at crushing Cathars 16TH CENTURY – like many cloth-manufacturing centres, Uzès becomes strongly Protestant 1563 – Rebuilt cathedral destroyed again (by Huguenots in Wars of Religion) 1632– French Crown executes Duke of Montmorency for treason; Duke of Uzès ushered in as First Duke and Peer of France 17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES – economic prosperity returns; many residences added to the city’s medieval layout FRENCH REVOLUTION (1789-99) – cathedral looted and stripped

TOURIST OFFICE OF UZÈS Place Albert-1er. Tel. 04 66 22 68 88, www.uzes-tourisme.com (also in English)


The best in brief

2 CHÂTEAU DU DUCHÉ

The residence of the Uzès ducal family for over a thousand years, as suggested by the different architectural styles of the various buildings. The courtyard gives access to two of the famous towers of Uzès: Tour de la Vicomté (14th century) and Tour Bermonde (11th century). The latter offers panoramic views (135 steps). The visit includes the cellars, Great Hall, library, dining room and chapel. www.uzes.com Château du Duché, Place du Duché, 04 66 22 18 96 Daily, €15 (Château), €10 (Tower only)

LONG LIVE THE KING! (AND HIS MOTHER) The title of Duke of Uzès, in the family line of Crussol d’Uzès, is the highest in the peerage of France and second only to the princes of the blood. The title of Seigneur d’Uzès is enshrined in a charter of 1088. If France were now a kingdom, it would be the job of the

Duc d’Uzès to declare, at royal funerals: Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi! (“The King is dead. Long live the King!”). More daunting still, it would be his responsibility to safeguard the honour of the Queen Mother

THE HEART OF THE GARD

1 PLACE AUX HERBES (MARKET SQUARE)

Classic medieval marketplace, asymmetrical and functional, surrounded by porticoes for shelter and shaded by plane trees. It retains its original name (Herbes intended as greens), although in more recent centuries it has become more famous for its textiles, particularly serge. Rappeneau’s film of Cyrano de Bergerac (1990, with Gérard Depardieu) was partly shot here.


134

Provence and Camargue

3 PROMENADE JEAN-RACINE

The avenue commemorates the country’s greatest Classical playwright, Jean Racine (1639-99) who came to live here aged 22. Having been educated at a religious institution, Racine’s parents had serious concerns about the young man’s artistic inclinations, and sent him to Uzès to calm down. The rest is history (mostly tragic and in verse). The Promenade overlooks the ducal park and the garrigues of the Alzon Valley.

THE HEART OF THE GARD

4 CATHÉDRALE ST-THÉODORIT AND TOUR FENESTRELLE

A 19th-century façade leads into a 17th-century cathedral that has been destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly through the history of Christianity. What remains of the Romanesque Tour Fenestrelle is the only vestige of the 12th-century cathedral, and its cylindrical design is unique in France for a bell tower. Cathédrale St-Théodorit and Tour Fenestrelle, rue de L’Évêché

TOWERS OF UZÈS While the three main towers of Uzès square up to each other in a political show of power involving Duchy, Church and Kingdom, the most attractive tower in town is actually a far less threatening edifice: the Tour

Fenestrelle. This cylindrical and spiralling steeple is the only surviving part of the 12th-century cathedral destroyed by Huguenots in 1563 during the Wars of Religion.


www.uzes.com Musée du Bonbon Haribo Pont-des-Charettes (Remoulins road), 04 66 22 74 39 Opening days variable, €7 (grown-ups), €5 (5-15 year-olds)

EATING AND DRINKING

6 LES TROIS SAISONS 18, rue du-Docteur-Blanchard Tel. 04 66 22 57 34, closed Sun and Mon Regional fare in the historical setting of a 1699 house. The “three seasons” refer to its three dining rooms. On the pricier side.

7 LES 80 JOURS Place Albert-1er Tel. 04 66 22 20 78, closed Sun Dedicated to Jules Vernes and his jaunt around the planet. Ethnic décor in a modern brasserie. Reasonable.

EVENTS , Late July: Nuits Musicales d’Uzès – early music (but not exclusively) in picturesque and historical settings. www.nuitsmusicalesuzes.org (French only)

THE HEART OF THE GARD

5 MUSÉE DU BONBON HARIBO

Everything you always wanted to know about sweets but were too embarrassed to ask, from the Strawberry Tagada and Chamallows to the Dragibus and Car en sac.


Arles Tourist Office

Hotels 15 Hôtel Le Rodin

Monuments and historical sites

16 Hôtel Arles Plaza 17 Best Western Hotel Atrium

1 Les Arènes (Amphitheatre)

18 Hotel Mireille

2 Théâtre Antique 3 Église and Cloître St-Trophime

Barges 19 Boat Soleo

4 Place du Forum

20 Boat Estello

5 Espace Van Gogh 6 Les Alycamps Cemetery 7 Pont de Langlois

e e s s err err ci n ci n spi spi apu Capu be obe C o s s R R e e e e e d ue d Ru Ru Ru R

Museums 8 Fondation Vincent Van Gogh – Arles

18 18

Place Place rre rre Pie Pie Saint-Pierre Saint-Pierre nt- ainti a ai S ai S Qu Qu

9 Musée de l’Arles Antique

e e ôhnô n h Re R e L L uai MaurxaiDMoramrxoDyormoy

10 Museon Arlanten 11 Musée Réattu Restaurants

Q

D 35a D 35a

12 L’Autruche 13 Le Criquet

Q

uer FdauntDornFanton Rue duRD

8

14 Jardin de Manon

Pru d

Pru d

ry

eF l eu

N 113 N 113

li to uin

li to uin

.G

7

.G

7

eL

eL

200 m 200 m

Ru

Ru

0

CheminChemin de B de B ch igo igo ue V. Buasech t tR R V. Bas

16 16

N N 0

clerc

9

clerc

Avenue Sadi Carnot

Qu

n

Avenue Sadi Carnot

eF l eu

ai d el aR Qu oq a ue i d Av e tte en la R u o qu ett Av en M e u on ne t M on ne t

Ru

l Le aréc ha Avenue du M

9

Rue MoRliuèreeMolière

l Le aréc ha Avenue du M

ea eJ

n ho

au au esenCcleemence rges Clregm Geo rd Geo tier tier d r ParmenParmen a a R ue R ue lev oulev u o B B D 35 D 35

ry

e

e

Ru

n ho

tta

eG

eG

en iv

Rue Gambe

Rue Gam

d ranau Rue J ean G betta

d use ranaurtro Rue J ean G Cha de Rue use rtro Cha de

Rue

Ru

Ru

en iv

n

R

Élie G Élie G tte Ruetete Rueirau d irau d ue u 4 4 oq Roq Place Place R la e la Antonelle Antonelle e d d Place Place ai ai 10 10 Ru R P. Doumer P. Doumer e d ue d Qu Qu e la e la e e 12 12 R t t épub Répub Pl t t ue ue lique liqRé ue oq Roq R la e la e 5 5 e d ue d Ru R

N 113 N 113

ea eJ

8

R


15 15 200 m200 m

mbes

P

P

elo t

Be

rth

elo t

Za me nho du ff Dr Za me nho ff

Dr

in

du

C

C

in

Avenue des A lyscam ps

Avenue des A lyscam ps

Ru R e P ue P Av Av ierre ierre en e ue nue Ren Ren au de d au La e La del del fay fa ett yett e e

Rue du Châteaubriand

s

s

rth

ime M in

m m he he Che Che min min de d s M es M ura u ille raille tte tte s s

ime M in

Be

des

des

la Emile Zo

la Emile Zo

M. M. BoulevBaordulevard

min C he

14 14

lle irei

lle irei

AvenueAvVic entor ue Hu Vicgo tor Hugo min C he

Boulevard

Boulevard

A.etDaudet ardulA. ardud evDa BoulevBo

Rue du Châteaubriand

e de ile Co

Boule

de l a

Boule

vard E m

mbes

vard E m

n

Rue

de l a

Rue

ile Co

Madeleine

Madeleinees

nes

e e l l e Pe l l e tan tan

e

R Emiul e Emil e Fa e Fa ssin ssin

. Rue M Bonnafoux

Rue Vo ltaire

Rue Vo ltaire

C l oître

eP

du

C l oître

ll

du

eille Mir

ll

Ru

eM Ru

Rue

Rue JeRue Je an Gio an Gio no no

Rue

i Cam

2 13 13

Mon Mon tée tée Vau Vau ban ban Bouleva Bordule devas rd Licde ess Lices

Rue

17 17

2

eille Mir

e

Rue Jean Jaurès

Rue Jean Jaurès

Ru

d

3

d

3

Rue

i Cam

la Major la Major

Po P i n o i nA A Rue deRluaeCdaelaldaeCalade t d e s t d e s

lace de Place la de la République eépublique

Rue

Roun

Roun

1 Place de Place de

eM Ru

es omb ile C Em es omb ile C Em

s se

s se

1

el gn ta or el eP gn ta

e

or rdieu ReuPe A. Ta

Ru

Ru

e

l’Am

erdie u RueRpAuhe.itTdhaéâtre

Ru

e Rueitdhéâtre h l’Amp

Ru

Rue deRsuAerèdnees sArèn e s

. Rue M Bonnafoux

Stal in e de

Ave nu

Ave nu

Ave nu gra d

l a b ot gra d

l a b ot

Paulin Ta Stal in

Aven ue

e de

tuné

Aven ue

e la For

rs plie

rs plie

i i Ro Ro du e du Chem Chem e n n in de in de Bress Bress u b i u b i y Ryo Ro

Place Place Voltaire Voltaire Rue CoRnudeoCrcoentdorcet

11 11

SagnieSragnier ue Marc Rue MaRrc

nson nson ncis Bencis Be Rue FraRue Fra e e rboussrbouss enri Baenri Ba Rue H Rue H

s Tem

s Tem

Ave nu

in d Chem

tuné

in de

in de

Place Place Lamartine Lamartine Bou Bou leva leva rd rd

re re mb mb pte epte e 4S 4S Rue Rue Ra Ra Rue deRsuSeudisessesSuisssepsail s prvaisidles Arrevnisodes ARreuneodu RRefuuegdeu Refuge i a a i

h

e la For

Chem

Chem

19,20 19,20

asnEdison omeas omiso ThEd Rue ThRu s MaurisnMaurin Rue Mar Ruiue Mariu

in d Chem

Paulin Ta

e de

Stal ing rad Stal ing rad

AvenueAvenue de Lattre de Lattre de Tassigny de Tassigny

ChemiCnhemin des Midnes Min ime ime s s

6

6


138

Arles Arles was no less than the capital of the “Three Gauls” in its Roman heyday, a Greek settlement which the new colonists gradually turned into a “Little Rome”. A forum, a theatre, an arena, a racetrack, thermal baths and shipyards were just some of the civic amenities to be found in Arelate, as it was known, along with a monumental cemetery outside the sacred boundary of the city. Many of these Gallo-Roman antiquities are wonderfully preserved – or still in use, in the case of the two theatres – and the Roman history buff is in for a treat here. Many of the sites are


139

within comfortable walking or cycling distance of each other and central, and an inclusive Pass ticket is recommended to cover the mini-marathon. For all its Roman glory, Arles was also a hearth of early Christianity, creating a rich legacy of Romanesque gems. A magnificently carved 12th-century church is dedicated to St Trophimus, who is said to have been the first bishop of Arles in 250 AD. It is recognised as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture anywhere, and to this day Arles is the most southerly departure point in France for the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Along with all the historical laurels, Arles is also synonymous with one of the most exciting figures in the visual arts: Vincent Van Gogh. The artist arrived here on 21 February 1888, attracted by the diverse culture, timeless countryside – a stone’s throw from the wilds of the Camargue – and by the legendary “Light” of Provence. His dream: to create a utopian artists’ colony in the town, starting with his friend Gauguin, who lived with him for a time. Van Gogh died a couple of years later, having experienced in Provence the most prolific 28 months of his creative output. Legions of artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers have since visited and worked in Arles, many settling here for good: Bizet, Picasso, Cocteau, Mistral (Provençal to the bone) and countless more. Needless to say, one of the joys of visiting Arles is to sit at a café in the place du Forum, in the shade of the plane trees, and watch the world go by. Arles is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. www.arlestourisme.com Pass Liberté (1 museum and 4 buildings), €12 Advantage Pass (any building, museum and monument), €16

ARLES IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 758.93 square kilometres POPULATION: 53,629

TOURIST OFFICE OF ARLES Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, Boulevard des Lices. Tel. 04 90 18 41 20, www.arlestourisme.com (also in English)

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

Provence and Camargue


140

Provence and Camargue

A potted history 8TH CENTURY BC – Celtic-Ligurian settlement 6TH CENTURY BC – colonised by Greeks from Marseille 120 BC – arrival of Roman legions 49 BC – Caesar defeats Marseille; Arles becomes Roman Colony

and crossroads 1ST CENTURY AD – construction of amphitheatre and shipyards 2ND AND 3RD CENTURIES – gradual Christianisation 4TH CENTURY – Emperor Constantine established in Arles 395 – Arles, capital of “Three Gauls” (Spain, France, Brittany) 4TH AND 5TH CENTURIES – Golden Age of Roman Arles 6-8TH CENTURIES – contended between Goths, Franks and

Saracens 9TH CENTURY – capital of the Kingdom of Arles

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

1178 – crowning of Frederick Barbarossa as King of Arles ushers

in prosperity 1239 – Arles submits to the Count of Provence, its prominence eclipsed by Marseille 1378 – Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, cedes Arles to Kingdom of France 14TH-19TH CENTURIES – Arles enjoys prosperity as a major port on the Rhône 19TH CENTURY – gradual decline of river trade with the advent of the railway LATE 19TH CENTURY – revival of Provençal culture centred in Arles

ARLES ON THE INTERNET WWW.AVIGNON.FR WWW.VILLE-ARLES.FR Official homepage of the town council including information about leisure facilities, museums and events. (French only) WWW.ARLES-INFO-FR Monthly online magazine published by the town council about what is happening in Arles. (French only)

WWW.ARLESTOURISME.COM Avignon’s official tourism website, also in English, with information on where to visit, events, guided tours and restaurants.


141

The best in brief

www.arenes-arles.com 08 91 70 03 70 Daily (times variable), combined ticket with Théâtre Antique, €6

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

1 LES ARÈNES (AMPHITHEATRE)

This arena was the largest Roman building in Gaul, and of the numerous Roman sites in Arles it is the best preserved. Dating from the end of the first century AD, it has served many purposes in the course of its life: a fortress (during the Middle Ages), a town within a town (with some 200 houses and two chapels) and currently – reverting to its original scope – a venue for entertaining the masses. The structure is slightly oval and measures 136 m by 107 m, with a capacity of 20,000; a protective wall separated the tiers from the ring, which measures 69 m by 40 m. Providing “Bread and circuses” for the populace in order to keep it happy was very much party policy in Rome, and the Empire did not disappoint in Arelate: gladiatorial clashes, executions, mock battles and a variety of animal entertainment were all on the menu; a stop was put to the more blood-curdling events in 404, when Christianity prevailed over paganism. The venue now hosts bullfighting (bloodless – though, on special occasions, “Spanish” too) and large-scale cultural events. Underground chambers held cages, weaponry, machinery and props; some rooms were decorated with mosaic floors, presumably to make it easier to clean up after curtain down. The upper tier provides commanding views through the open arches.


142

Provence and Camargue

GLADIATORS

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

The Roman Empire held a strong belief that “Bread and circuses” were an ideal way of keeping the populace entertained and off the streets (and of reminding them who was in charge too). Arles’ amphitheatre is thought to have been built at the end of the 1st century AD. The two-tiered arena was the venue for chariot races, executions, animal baiting (usually involving exotic beasts) and, of course, hand-tohand combat. Although it is

commonly believed that gladiators were destined for immediate butchery, in reality the fights did not always end in slaughter. Losers were usually shown mercy if they had fought valiantly, while the best fighters often became stars of the gladiatorial circuit, even sometimes enjoying the patronage of patrician women. Gladiators were expensive to replace and it was in the best interests of their lanista (manager) to look after them.

2 THÉÂTRE ANTIQUE

Just to the southwest of the arènes lies the Roman Théâtre Antique, built in 27-25 BC under Augustus with a capacity of 12,000. While the amphitheatre too had lost many of its stone blocks to the houses built within its arena, virtually all of the adjacent theatre was used as a quarry; in due course the ruins were reclaimed by nature. It was excavated in the early 19th century and, if not rebuilt to its former glory, the theatre now holds up to 2,000 spectators for its open air performances. The stage, orchestra, curtain slit and part of the tiers are still visible. www.arenes-arles.com 04 90 49 38 20 Daily (times variable), combined ticket with Les arènes, €6


Provence and Camargue

143

3 ÉGLISE AND CLOÎTRE ST-TROPHIME

Rated as one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture, it was built in the 11th and 12th centuries over the site of a 5th-century basilica. St Trophimus is thought to have been the first bishop of Arles (c.250) and was a much-loved local figure. The portal, designed as a triumphal arch and carved in the late Provençal Romanesque style, depicts the Last Judgement, the Apostles and symbols of the four Evangelists. Even more exquisitely decorated, the cloister is believed to have been sculpted with the help of the craftsmen of St-Gilles, a popular stopping stage along the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. The carvings tell a range of stories, both Biblical and local, such as St Martha’s taming of the Tarasque monster. There are also internal galleries, as well as a dormitory and refectory, where the famous Santons fair is held annually around Christmastime. Place de la République Église St-Trophime, 04 90 49 38 00, daily (times variable), free Cloître St-Trophime, 04 90 49 38 20, daily (times variable), €3.50

ARLES AND PHOTOGRAPHY Arles is synonymous with photography. Photographers have been drawn to the town over the years thanks to the historic backdrops, brilliant light and natural beauty. Since 1970, Arles has hosted an international photographic

exhibition, Les Rencontres de la Photographie, every year. Arles’ connection with the camera lens has brought about the only art school in France exclusively dedicated to photography, the National School of Photography, founded here in 1982.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

4 PLACE DU FORUM

The heart of town, given over to cafés, restaurants, hotels and glaceries.. The iconic café featured in Le Café la nuit still serves customers and stands out with its yellow wall and awning, and overlooked by the wrought-iron balcony. Aptly renamed Café Van Gogh, it divides local opinion, and there is plenty of choice in the rest of the square, in the shade of the plane trees. The Hôtel Nord-Pinus is firmly old-school and was much loved by Picasso and Hemingway. For the record: the Forum was further south, at place de la République.


144

Provence and Camargue

5 ESPACE VAN GOGH

The cloistered 16th-century Hôtel-Dieu was originally the hospital where Van Gogh was treated after his ear was severed in 1889. The flower beds have been faithfully recreated from the artist’s Garden of Arles Hospital painting and from a letter to his sister detailing its plants. It is now the Espace Van Gogh, a cultural centre with an exhibition space, médiathèque, cafés and craft shops. Espace Van Gogh Place du Docteur Félix-Rey, 04 90 49 39 39 Daily, free access to courtyard

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

VAN GOGH Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) arrived at Arles in early 1888, eager to leave behind the stifling milieu of Paris and to distance himself further from the restrictive atmosphere of his family in Holland. Here in Provence he sought and found the opportunity to develop artistically and even dreamed of founding a utopian artists’ colony. The painter was soon entranced by the warmth of the Arlésiens and the cultural richness he was surrounded by; but above all he was drawn to the countryside, its strong characters, the nature and the timeless pace of rural life. Here he also came to appreciate the unique quality of the light, particularly in the wake of the Mistral: the fierce and unpredictable wind, which vanishes as quickly as it appears, leaves behind a luminosity that enhances both colour and clarity. Many of Van Gogh’s followers were also gripped by this phenomenon and would experiment with the "Light" of Provence.

Van Gogh had found renewed vigour and the two years he spent in Provence were his most prolific: in his 15 months in Arles, he produced more than 300 canvases and drawings, including the harrowing Self-Portrait with Ear. Following the Bandaged Ear mysterious incident when his left ear was severed (whether as a result of self-mutilation or an altercation with his friend and housemate Gauguin), Van Gogh spent several months between hospital and home. In May 1889, he was finally persuaded to seek treatment for his mental illness and left Arles. The Dutchman was admitted to the asylum of St-Paul-de-Mausole at St Rémy, where he spent a year of relative peace and good health, and produced almost a work per day, often focusing on the hospital, his fellow patients and the beautiful gardens. Van Gogh then moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890, where he created around 70 works. He died just over two years later, after shooting himself.


Av. des Alycamps, 04 90 49 38 20 Daily, €3.50

ALYCAMPS AND ITS PILGRIMS Romans avoided this necropolis at night and it became a favourite gathering place for persecuted Christians. Many demanded to be buried near the tomb of their martyr, Genesius, a Roman civil servant beheaded for refusing to write an edict that would further oppress Christians; soon after this event, Trophimus became the first bishop of Arles. He too was buried at Alycamps and, according to the

legend, Christ appeared at his funeral and knelt on the coffin, leaving a mark. After the cemetery’s deconsecration, much of the stone was used to build churches and monasteries; sarcophagi were also removed and used as drinking troughs or fountains. To this day, Alyscamps is the traditional gathering place for pilgrims embarking on their journey to Compostela.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

6 LES ALYCAMPS CEMETERY

This necropolis was one of the biggest in the Western world. The Romans located their burial grounds outside a city’s sacred boundaries, and the traveller arriving to Arles along the Aurelian way would have been met by this impressive sight. But Alycamps saw its biggest expansion from the third century onwards, when it became holy ground to Christians. It was desecrated in Renaissance times and subsequently looted; but the surviving sarcophagi along the Allée des sarcophages – ranging from Greek to Late Medieval – give an idea of how important the necropolis has been through the millennia.


146

7 PONT DE LANGLOIS

Painted several times by Van Gogh, the original bridge was destroyed in the 1920s. The current one, across a nearby canal, is identical.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

8 FONDATION VINCENT VAN GOGH – ARLES

Not to be confused with the Espace Espace,, the Fondation is a permanent collection paying tribute to Van Gogh. Exhibits include works from writers, photographers and composers, as well as visual artists – among them Bacon, Hockney, Forester, Dutilleux and fashion designer Christian Lacroix. www.fondationvangogh-arles.org Fondation Vincent Van Gogh – Arles 24 bis, Rond-Point des Arènes, 04 90 49 94 04 Tue-Sun, €7

9 MUSÉE DE L’ARLES ANTIQUE

A magnificent example of contemporary Provençal architecture (by Henri Ciriani) on the banks of the Rhône, displaying a wealth of Romano-Christian artefacts. The Musée also traces the Romanisation of Arles, portraying the daily life of its people. www.arles-antique.cg13.fr Musée de l’Arles Antique 04 90 18 88 88 Tue-Sun, €5.50 (The Musée, Roman racetrack, Pont de Langlois and Alycamps can all be covered in a loop by bike)


Provence and Camargue

147

10 MUSEON ARLATEN

A treasure trove of costumes, artefacts and tableaux paint the fascinating story of Provençal daily life, traditions and superstitions. The Museon was created by Mistral in 1896 in the 16th-century Hôtel de Castellane-Laval, which he later bought with the money from his Nobel Prize. www.museonarlaten.fr Museon Arlaten Rue de la République, 04 90 93 58 11 Daily, €1

11 MUSÉE RÉATTU

www.museereattu.arles.fr Musée Réattu 10, rue du Grand-Prieuré, 04 90 49 37 58 Tue-Sun, €7

EATING AND DRINKING

12 L’AUTRUCHE 5, rue Dulau Tel. 04 90 49 73 63, closed Sun and Mon Located in the town centre, this restaurant prides itself on serving modern food made with fresh produce. The menu may be small but the service is big. 13 LE CRIQUET 21, rue Porte de Laure Tel. 04 90 96 80 51, closed Mon and Tues This family-run restaurant in the old

centre serves traditional food, specialising in fish/seafood and Provençal flavours. 14 JARDIN DE MANON 14, Avenues des Alyscamps Tel. 04 90 93 38 68, www.restaurant-jardin-manon.fr, closed Wed Serving hungry customers for 19 years, this restaurant is in a house that dates back to the 1300s. The menu changes with the seasons, giving you fresh traditional food all year round.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

From Jacques Réattu (1760-1833) to Dufy, covering the Italian, French, Dutch and Provençal Schools. The Picasso Donation shows how his technique developed over 57 drawings. A large photographic collection completes the collection.


148

Provence and Camargue

A STROLL THROUGH ARLES Central Arles is best explored on foot and the info office is an ideal place to start. Crossing the road at the church, head into the park and bear left. Exit at rue du Cloître, which skirts the Théâtre Antique. Turn right at the end and make for the Arènes, the jewel in the crown of Roman Arles. From here, rue des Arènes drops down past the École de Photographie and into place du Forum. Leaving the yellow Café La Nuit to your left, walk on into rue du Palais and turn left at the end. After a few metres on your right are the steps into the town hall. Here you can admire the perfectly vaulted ceiling of the lobby and gain access

to the cellars of the Forum, which once occupied place de la République (not place du Forum). This square is also where we find the church and cloister of St-Trophime and their magnificent Romanesque carvings. Across the square, turn right into rue de la République. After 100 m turn left into rue Wilson, and 50 m ahead on your right is the entrance to the former hospital where Van Gogh was recovered, its cloister and craft/souvenir shops. A short walk takes you back to your bike, which you would need to reach the Musée des Antiques, Van Gogh’s bridge and Alyscamps.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

EVENTS , Easter: La Féria de Pâques (Easter festival) signals the start of the bullfighting season with music and exhibitions. Tel. 04 90 93 61 01, www.feriaarles.com (French only) , Early to mid-May: The Festival Européen de la Photo de Nu (FEPN) showcases nude photography by different artists. Tel. 04 90 96 82 93, www.fepn-arles.com (also in English) , Mid-July: Les Suds in Arles brings you a week of music. The 200+ artists from around the globe perform a variety of music in Arles’ historic buildings and streets. As well as listening to the performances, you can also take part in singing, music and dance workshops. Tel. 04 90 96 06 27, www.sud-arles.com (also in English) , Late July: Les Escales du cargo is an open-air pop/rock festival held in the ancient theatre. Tel. 04 90 49 55 99, www.escales-cargo.com (French only) , July to September: the photographic equivalent of Cannes film festival, Les Rencontres de la Photographie comprises numerous photography exhibitions in Arles’ heritage sites. The exhibitions feature mainly unpublished studies, and open-air evening screenings showcase the work of a photographer accompanied by concerts and performances. Tel. 04 90 96 76 06, www.rencontres-arles.com (also in English) , In September: La Féria du Riz (rice festival) heralds the rice harvest and the end of the bullfighting season. Lasting 3 days, there are parades, concerts, horse show and food market as well as the bullfights. Tel. 04 90 93 61 01, www.feriaarles.com (French only)


Provence and Camargue

149

The “Little Alps” are a limestone massif rising between the Rhône and Durance rivers. Stretching for 24 km and reaching no more than 387 m, the Alpilles in truth have little to do with the Alps proper: they are a geological extension of the Luberon range, at the very heart of Provence, between Arles and Avignon. Their landscape, as if to acknowledge the Greek origins of Glanum (the archaeological site near St-Rémy), has more in common with the Peloponnese than with Provence: the higher slopes are arid, chalk-white and shaded by Mediterranean pines; the lower hillsides are cultivated with olive and almond groves, and carpeted with a maquis that only sheep and goats could ever graze on. As well as an attractive town in its own right, Saint-Rémy is an excellent base from which to explore a number of sites within the Alpilles. The nearby asylum where Van Gogh enjoyed the most productive spell of his creative life has been turned into a fascinating museum; and very close by is Glanum. Further out, settled on a spur, we find one of the most dramatic villages perchés the region has to offer: Les-Baux-de-Provence. 1

FONTVIELLE

Fontvieille is an ideal traveller’s rest either before or after exploring the Alpilles, which rise from the very doorstep of the village. It lies at the edge of the fertile Baux Valley, a flatland cultivated with fruit orchards and market garden plantations. For centuries, Fontvieille’s economy also thrived on the quarrying of Arles limestone. At each of the four corners of the village stands an oratory, built in 1721 to observe the end of the plague which had decimated the population of Provence.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

Les Alpilles


SaintGilles

4

A5

Garons

du al n Ca

Fourques

e ôn Rh

e èt àS

Beaucaire

9

Arles

12

11

1 2 3

4

Caphan

Paradou

7

5 6

Du

Cabannes

La

Mouriès

Aureille

Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles

Eygalières

Mollégès

Saint-Andiot

r

Caumontsur-Durance

Verquières

Noves

Saint-Rémyde-Provence

Maussaneles-Alpilles

Les Bauxde-Provence

Saint-Etiennedu-Grès

Maillane

Eyragues

Châteaurenard

Rognonas

Graveson

Barbentane

Saint-Michelde-Frigolet

Fontvieille

Tarascon Tarascon

8

13

Boulbon

Aramon

Vallabrègues Vallabrègues

10

Montfrin

Théziers

Comps

JonquièresSaint-Vincent

Meynes

Sernhac

Rhône etit

Bellagarde

Bouillargues

Manduel

Redessan

Marguerittes

Rodilhan

Nîmes

A9

Lédenon Cabrières

e

Poulx

Le P

Gardon 0

Cavaillon

L’Isle-surla-Sorgue

N 5 km

Eyguières

Orgon

c e A7

Le Rhô n

an


Provence and Camargue

151

The ascent into the “Little Alps” begins at the village square itself, and the clash of sceneries is immediate: from lush Provence to a Mediterranean rockscape in the space of a few metres. Fontvielle, www.fontvieille-provence.com 2

DAUDET’S MILL

First up is Daudet’s windmill, Moulin Saint-Pierre – the setting for Letters from my Windmill and one of the most famous literary landmarks in France. The mill can be visited and the views encompass the Alpilles, the Abbaye de Montmajour and the glorious expanse of the Rhône Valley, including the castle of Tarascon. Moulin Saint-Pierre, 04 90 54 60 78, €2.50

Alphonse Daudet (1840-97) was born in Nîmes, and although he contributed immensely to the revival of Provençal culture (he was a contemporary of Mistral), he wrote and made his mark in Paris. The windmill at Fontvieille is the setting for Letters from my Windmill,, a pastoral collection of stories about Provençal life.

Drawing on the region’s characters, mores and superstitions, they are all imaginatively woven by the miller. Daudet never actually lived at the mill, but often stayed at Fontvieille to flee from the madding crowd of the capital. He was usually a guest at the Château de Montauban.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

LETTERS FROM MY WINDMILL (OR WAS IT PARIS?)


152

Provence and Camargue

WINDMILLS OF PROVENCE AND THE MUD-EATING MISTRAL through the Rhône Valley and towards the sea. The name comes from the Occitan dialect for “masterly”. Cyclists caught in its sudden fury often rejoice at the thought that the Mistral brings some 2,700-2,900 hours of sunshine a year to Provence – while the rest of France is probably clouded over. The clarity it leaves in its trail makes mountains as distant as 150 km away visible to the naked eye. The Mistral is associated with good health as well, since it blow-dries stagnant swamps and mud – hence its local nickname: mange-fange (“mud-eater”).

Daudet’s windmill at Fontvieille may be the most celebrated, but in a region so rich in grain and so... blessed with the Mistral, windmills were an essential part of the Provençal fabric. They were mostly used to produce flour, but also to crush, grind and pulverise a range of raw materials; to stone or pulp fruit; crush olives for oil; and to power water pumps (either for irrigation and domestic use or for drainage). The earliest evidence of a windmill in Provence appears in an 1170 map of Arles. In Provence the Mistral usually blows from the north or northwest,

3

BARBEGAL AQUEDUCT

The ruins of the Barbegal aqueduct are easily missed as you cycle past them and a scramble to the heart of the complex reveals a well-hidden gem: yet another remarkable feat of Roman engineering – and some glorious views across the plain below. The aqueduct was constructed to supply Arles with water from the Alpilles and at this point two separate aqueducts converged to feed 16 water wheels. These powered a flourmill which produced 4.5 tons of flour per day, enough to provide bread for at least 10,000 people. A sluice enabled the operators to control the water supply. The site is overgrown and abandoned, but plans are afoot to restore it. Aqueducs de Barbegal, access to ruins free


4 The name Baux derives from the Occitan bauç, an escarpment, and although Les-Baux-de-Provence forms part of the Alpilles massif, its rocky spur is detached from the main chain. This total isolation made the location virtually impregnable and, throughout the Middle Ages, a highly desirable possession. Its military history is turbulent even by medieval standards, and the Lords of Baux’s motto could sum it up quite neatly: Au hasard, Balthazar – “At random, Balthazar” (they claimed a direct descendency from the Biblical magus). During the Baux family’s five centuries of rule, its foes and allies included the House of Barcelona and the German Emperor; the titles they notched up between them incorporated Count of Avellino, Prince of Orange and Viscount of Marseille among many others. Their stories are bountiful and blood-curdling – not least those of Raymond “the Scourge of Provence”, who would make prisoners jump off the side if their ransoms were not forthcoming. It is a fascinating site to include in one’s discovery of Provence, for its bird’s-eye views as much as the picturesque warren of medieval alleys, catapults and macabre legends. The climb to reach Les-Baux makes for a good workout and is rewarded with

LES BAUX IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 18.07 square kilometres POPULATION: 436

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

Les-Bauxde-Provence


154

Provence and Camargue

the exhilarating freewheel back down to the plain. Equally breathtaking is the visit to the Cathédrale d’Images: Les-Baux was mined for bauxite until a couple of decades ago, and the main quarry is now the venue for an imaginative audio-visual show. The quarry is colossal (hence Cathédrale) and swallows up its wandering audiences into a three-dimensional spectacle of projections across its ceiling, walls and floor. It is also known as Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light). At its peak Les-Baux had a population of over 4,000. Although today there are officially only 22 permanent residents, the village is extremely popular with visitors. www.lesbauxdeprovence.com Musée d’Histoire and Château, rue du Trencat 04 90 54 55 56, daily, €8 Cathédrale d’Images, 300 m from Les-Baux site www.carrieres-lumieres.com 04 90 54 48 68, daily, €11

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

BAUXITE AND THE QUARRIES OF BAUX The ore bauxite, which is the main source of aluminium, is so named because it was discovered near Les Baux in 1821. By the end of the 19th century, the process for extracting alumina from bauxite had been cracked. It was quarried until the late 20th century, when the local reserves had been exhausted. The legendary director Jean Cocteau was the first to use the quarries as a natural setting and

filmed Le Testament d’Orphée here in 1960; visitors to the sound and light show can enjoy a sideshow featuring some vintage footage of Cocteau’s filming, including an impromptu visit by his friend, Picasso. The Czech stage designer Joseph Svoboda first came up with the idea of a son-et-lumière here, and the experience is now called Les Carrières de Lumières.

EATING AND DRINKING

CAFÉ DES BAUX Rue du Trencat Tel. 04 90 54 52 69, www.caredesbaux.com At the foot of the castle: French dishes with a twist of the Mediterranean.

LA REINE JEANNE Rue Porte Mage Tel. 04 90 54 32 06, www.la-reinejeanne.com In the centre of town in an old, renovated building.


155

A potted history 6000 BC – evidence of settlement 2ND-1ST CENTURIES BC – Celtic oppidum,, extraction of limestone

feudal domain covers up to 79 towns and villages at its peak 12TH CENTURY – castle renowned as a centre of chivalry and troubadour tradition 15TH CENTURY – death of Princess Alix brings the Baux line to an end. Les-Baux becomes part of Provence as a barony. By marriage it passes to the Crown of France 1483 – barony of Les-Baux revolts against Louis XI, who has the fort demilitarised 1528 – De Montmercy, titular of Les-Baux, restores the town and ushers in a new golden age 17TH CENTURY – under the rule of the Manville family Les-Baux temporarily becomes a Protestant stronghold. Fortress pulled down in 1633 on the orders of Louis XIII 1822 – bauxite discovered in the area by geologist Pierre Berthier

TOURIST OFFICE OF LES-BAUX-DE-PROVENCE Near the Porte Mage, the main gate into town. Tel. 04 90 54 34 39, www.lesbauxdeprovence.com.fr (also in English)

EVENTS , Mid-July to Mid-September: Festival des Alpilles, from blues and tziganie to Baux Gospel

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

11TH CENTURY ONWARDS – stronghold of the Lords of Baux, whose


156

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

Saint-Rémyde-Provence 5 Despite its quirky reputation as a town of gardeners living at the feet of an arid massif, St-Rémy is very much the gateway to the Alpilles. The latter, of course, are anything but barren and although the Saint-Rémois – as they are known – tend to their plots on the fertile plains below, it is mostly from the maquis of the slopes that they glean the herbs for their traditional herboristeries.. The Musée des Arômes bears witness to centuries of tradition in this field. Also in town, the Musée des Alpilles houses a fine ethnographic collection; and the crooked alleyways of the town centre exude the same relaxed, bohemian ambience that artists, musicians and poets have enjoyed since time immemorial. Clinging to the town’s ramparts stands the tiny 16th-century house where a certain Michel de Nostredame was born: he too

ST-RÉMY IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 89.09 square kilometers POPULATION: 10,406

TOURIST OFFICE OF ST-RÉMY Place Jean-Jaurès. Tel. 04 90 92 05 22, www.saintremy-de-provence.com (also in English)


made a living concocting potions (as an apothecary), but became better known as Nostradamus and for forewarning us about our disasters in his Prophéties. Two names equally synonymous with St-Rémy are Glanum and Van Gogh. Glanum is a Greco-Roman settlement set against some breathtaking scenery. The nearby Clinique St-Paul is where Van Gogh chose to convalesce after the infamous incident that left him mutilated. The artist’s connection with St-Rémy is also the subject of an audio-visual display and a thematic exhibition at the Musée Estrine. The Estrine, an elegant 18th-century mansion, is in the centre of town; Glanum and St-Paul are both approximately two kilometres out of town, up a hill. www.saintremy-de-provence.com Musée des Arômes, bd Mirabeau, 04 90 92 48 70, Mon-Sat, €5.5 www.museedesaromes.com Musée des Alpilles, pl Favier, 04 90 92 68 24, Tue-Sat, €3 Musée Estrine, 8 rue Estrine, 04 90 92 34 72, Tue-Sun, €3.50 www.musee-estrine.fr

ST-RÉMY ON THE INTERNET WWW.SAINTREMY-DE-PROVENCE.COM St-Rémy’s official tourism website, also in English, with information on where to visit, events, guided tours, shops and restaurants. WWW.SAINT-REMY-DE-PROVENCE.COM An independent website with articles on what to do, where to eat and shops. (French only) WWW.MAIRIE-SAINTREMYDEPROVENCE.FR Official homepage of the town council including news on leisure facilities, museums, events and online magazine. (French only)

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

157


158

Provence and Camargue

EATING AND DRINKING À LA TABLE DE NICOLAS 8, boulevard Marceau Tel. 04 32 62 03 82, closed Mon The chef dishes up his grandmother’s recipes with his own twist. The menu changes with the seasons. CHEZ FANNY Place Mireille Moatti Tel. 04 90 92 90 89 Tucked away down a little side

street off the main ring road. A small menu, but big portions. L’ESTAGNOL 16, boulevard Victor Hugo Tel. 04 90 92 05 95, www.restaurant-lestagnol.com, closed Mon Housed in a former orangery, serves regional cuisine, including Camargue bull

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

EVENTS , Tue/Wed/Sat: market days in St-Rémy, including Grand Marché Provençal (Wed). , Mid to late May: Fête de la Transhumance – the annual custom of moving the sheep to higher pastures. Farmers and shepherds in traditional costume parade with their flocks. , End of July to Mid-September: Organa Festival – organists from around the globe perform at the Church of St-Martin, celebrated for its organ. , End of July: Terroir des Alpilles – for foodies. Savour the local products, such as candied fruits, honey and tapenade. , Mid-August: Féria de St-Rémy – the town celebrates its own taurine history. Bulls race, run and fight, while local bands entertain. The festival ends with the 100 Chevaux Chevaux, with fivescore Camargue horses parading through St-Rémy.

HERBES DE PROVENCE Herbes de Provence grace many a spice-rack worldwide: they blend savory (Satureja), rosemary, marjoram, thyme,

oregano and sometimes a pinch of lavender.


If you take a walk down rue Hoche in St Rémy, you will see the plaque marking the birthplace of Nostradamus (1503-56). Most people associate him with his eerie predictions of impending

6

cataclysm; but in the first instance he studied medicine and became a physician. He also treated plague victims in France and Italy, before publishing Les Prophéties in 1555.

CLINIQUE ST-PAUL-DE-MAUSOLE

The Ancien Monastère de St-Paul-de-Mausole had been a Franciscan friary before being “nationalisé” by the Revolution and sold for cash. A pioneering figure, Mercurin, is credited with converting it into a mental asylum in 1807, and his institution was gradually re-staffed with nuns from various religious orders. St-Paul-de-Mausole established itself as a sanctuary of peace and this is where Vincent Van Gogh chose to be admitted as a patient between May 1889 and May 1890. Though confined to the grounds, he enjoyed considerable freedom and was granted a workroom in addition to his small bedroom. Van Gogh’s year at St-Paul rewarded him with the most prolific period of his artistic life.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

NOSTRADAMUS


160

Provence and Camargue

The collection known as Van Gogh’s Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy includes many of his masterpieces, among them Bedroom in Arles, Starry Night over the Rhône, The Wheat Field and several portraits of fellow patients. The garden, 12th-century cloister and a number of rooms are open to visitors. St-Paul still functions as a mental health hospital (in a separate complex) and specialises in art therapy; the patients’ work is often exhibited at the museum shop. St-Paul-de-Mausole Asylum Av. Van Gogh (off the D5 to Glanum) www.saintpauldemausole.fr, 04 90 92 77 00 Daily, €4

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

BEDROOM IN ARLES BY VAN GOGH Van Gogh painted his room at St-Paul-de-Mausole in three versions, all entitled Bedroom in Arles, and his correspondence with his brother Theo sets out precisely how he intended the scene to look. In reality the walls were probably white-washed like the rest of the hospital, but in the artist’s mind they are lilac, the door purple, the bedspread red and the furniture yellow.

A recent study by an Italian conservation scientist in Chicago demonstrates that while the vivid pigment used by Van Gogh would have faded quite quickly, his original purples and yellows created a specific balance of complementary colours. This would suggest that his intention was to convey the sense of calm that he found here in mind, spirit and imagination.


161

Glanum A couple of hundred metres further up from St-Paul is the Greco-Roman settlement of Glanum. The site, excavated from 1921 onwards, is magnificently located at the head of a valley in the Alpilles. Next to the roadside as you approach stand two monuments known as Les Antiques:: a mausoleum built around 30 BC by three brothers to honour their deceased parents; and a triumphal arch from 10 BC celebrating Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. The trail around the site is well sign-posted and the illustrated boards (in English) shed light on the three phases of the town’s history (Glanum I, II and III). The ruins include a fortified gate with ramparts; several temples; the forum with mosaics; a covered canal which also served as Glanum’s main street; baths and a number of houses. The site also has a restaurant. To visit Glanum as well as the nearby Clinique St-Paul, you would realistically need two to three hours. Along the D5, www.glanum.monuments-nationaux.fr, 04 90 92 23 79 Daily, €7 (access to Les Antiques free)

A potted history 6TH CENTURY BC – originally a sanctuary venerated by the

Glanics, a Celtic-Ligurian people 3RD AND 2ND CENTURIES BC – Glanum I: Hellenistic period, with large carved blocks perfectly set in mortar. Abundance of public buildings LATE 2ND CENTURY BC – Glanum II: time of Roman conquest (Marius halts Teutonic army). Construction with smaller, irregular stones; public buildings disappear 49 BC ONWARDS – Glanum III: period of Caesar’s conquest. Old buildings razed; creation of esplanade with forum, temples, baths and other public buildings 3RD CENTURY AD – Barbarian invasion; Glanum abandoned. Foundation of St-Rémy

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

7


162

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

Tarascon 8 Tarascon owes its magnificent castle to the strategic position it once occupied as a border town, with France looming on the opposite bank of the Rhône. It is visible from afar over land and water, its muscular structure inspired by the military architecture of the Bastille in Paris. Once inside, however, the visitor is greeted by the elegant design and refined taste that became the hallmark of its principal tenant: Good King René, patron of the arts, learning and chivalry. René oversaw the completion of his father’s quest to rebuild the Château de Tarascon, and it soon became his favourite residence. After his death in 1480, the castle was rarely visited by his successors – let alone by the constellation of painters, poets and musicians who had thronged its salons. It later served as a prison until as recently as 1926. The castle is broadly divided into two areas: the Inner Courtyard to the north, and the Seigneurial Living Quarters to the south. The latter include the king’s bedroom; the council and audience chambers; and the chaplain’s room, complete with oven for baking the Hosts for religious services (René was also a devout man). In the dungeons the prisoners’ graffiti are still visible, among them images of their ships and a chessboard used to while the time away.

TARASCON IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 73.97 square kilometres POPULATION: 13,540


Provence and Camargue

163

Tarascon is also famous for the monster that gave the town its name: the Tarasque, which terrorised the locals until St Martha came to the rescue. The church dedicated to Martha of Bethany was built in the 11th and 12th centuries and upgraded by René in the 15th. Other highlights in Tarascon include the Musée Souleïado, showcasing the town’s traditional manufacture of hand-printed fabrics. Many of the original 18th-century woodblocks are still used by Souleïado, now a global brand. www.tarascon.com Château de Tarascon, 04 90 91 01 93, daily, €7 Musée Souleïado, 04 90 91 08 80, www.souleiado.com, daily, €7

A potted history of Tarascon Castle 13TH CENTURY – original castle defends the western boundary

of Provence and Queen of Naples 1367 – Louis I of Anjou attempts to take Tarascon in her absence but is repelled by Provençal troops 1383 – Tarascon briefly joins Union of Aix against the Anjou 1385 – at the death of Louis I, Tarascon is persuaded to switch to the Anjou, under Louis II 1400 – Louis II orders construction of new castle, based on Bastille model 1449 – construction completed by his son, Good King René. Tarascon becomes his favourite residence 1480 – death of René. Henceforth, the castle is only used by minor royalty and agents 1500S-1926 – Tarascon castle used a prison

TARASCON ON THE INTERNET WWW.TARASCON.FR Official homepage of the town council including news on leisure facilities, museums and events, plus an online magazine (some pages in English)

TOURIST OFFICE OF TARASCON La Panoramique, Avenue de la République. Tel. 04 90 91 03 52

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

14TH CENTURY – Tarascon ruled by Joanna I, Countess of Provence


164

Provence and Camargue

SAINT MARTHA AND THE TARASQUE The beast devouring the fishermen of Nerluc (today’s Tarascon) was no common dragon: it sported a lion’s head, the legs of a bear (six of them), an ox-like body covered with a turtle shell and a scaly tail with – for good measure – a scorpion’s sting. Knights and catapults made little impression on the Tarasque. Enter St Martha of Bethany: charmed by her song and prayer, the beast was happy to be led into the city. As the pair approached, the terrified people of Nerluc

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

9

attacked the monster, which offered no resistance, and slaughtered it. Martha rebuked them for their deed and many Nerluqois converted to Christianity. To atone for what they had done, the community changed the town’s name to Tarascon. The theme – a monster tamed by the gentleness of a woman and then killed by the brutality of man – is quite common in folk culture, even inspiring modern storylines such as King Kong and Beauty and the Beast.

BEAUCAIRE

Beaucaire (“Beautiful Stone”) stands where France once stood: facing Provence (Tarascon) on the opposite bank. In Roman times this was where the Via Domitia branched into roads linking Arles, Nîmes, Remoulins and Saint-Gilles; some Domitian milestones are still in situ on the plateau northwest of the town. The Canal du Rhône-à-Sète passes through Beaucaire, creating a popular marina for leisure-boats. Although the Château de Beaucaire pales into insignificance next to Tarascon’s edifice across the Rhône, its triangular keep makes it quite original and attractive in its own right. Bullfighting is taken rather seriously here, with many bars showing live corrida broadcasts from Spain. Notice the statue of “Goya” as you approach from the bridge – a prize bull from Beaucaire. www.beaucaire.fr


Provence and Camargue

165

FAIR OF BEAUCAIRE Beaucaire is famous for its fair, which first started in 1216. At its peak, in the 18th century, it lasted throughout the month of July and drew 300,000 people. The town is still famous for its fairs, as well as for its waterway, the Canal du

10

Rhône-à-Sète, and the marina in the town centre. Not to be outdone by its neighbour across the water, Beaucaire too celebrates its dragon, Le Drac (20–22 June). It is brought to life by the townsfolk amid a swarm of children carrying lanterns.

VALLABRÈGUES

Affectionately known as “the village of cats” (where do they all come from?), Vallabrègues is unique in being an enclave of the Gard département,, while firmly on the turf of the Bouches-duRhône – and as such not even in Provence. This is because the Rhône changed its course during a particularly bad spate of floods in the 18th century and has flowed to the west of Vallabrègues ever since, rather than to the east. A dam was built across the Rhône near the village in 1970, the last along the river’s course before it reaches the open sea. It forms part of a wider project that includes the hydro-electric power station of Beaucaire and its lock, a short distance downstream. Vallabrègues is now one of the major fruit producing districts in the region, but until the last century it was the largest manufacturer of baskets in France. A small museum in town showcases its basket-weaving tradition and other handicrafts: the Musée de la Vannerie et de l’Artisanat. Cyclists will notice that the streets of the older quarter are much too narrow for cars and twowheeled transport is particularly popular here (as are cats). Musée de la Vannerie et de l’Artisanat ot-terredargence.fr, Rue Carnot, 04 66 59 48 14


166

Provence and Camargue

EATING AND DRINKING

LE MISTRAL (TARASCON) 26, boulevard Itam, Tarascon Tel. 04 90 91 27 62, www.restaurant-mistral.com A traditional restaurant on the edge of the old town. Dishes include Provençal style lamb and bourride (fish stew with garlic mayonnaise). LE TERMINUS (TARASCON) 6, place du Colonel Berrurier, Tarascon, Tel. 04 90 96 53 01 As its name suggests, this restaurant is close to the train station. Enjoy simple, well-cooked Provençal food.

LE MAS DE DONAT (VALLABRÈGUES) 8 route de Mezoargues, Vallabrègues Tel. 04 66 59 43 10, www.lemasdedonat.com Just out of the village, this fruit and vegetable farm also welcomes visitors to its B&B/restaurant. It is run by Martine (who is also the cook), André and their children, and the food could not be fresher or more authentic. Not cheap but worth every morsel.

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

EVENTS , Whitsun Weekend: La Foire aux Fleurs (flower market) heralds the start of summer. Admire rare specimens displayed by the 80 or so exhibitors. Held in conjunction with the Marché Artisanal et Provençal, a crafts market. , 1 June: Procession des Bouteilles at Boulbon – bring a bottle to church and be forever blessed. , Last Weekend of June: the Fêtes de la Tarasque began in the 15th century. Locals celebrate Saint Martha saving Tarascon from the legendary monster with four days of celebrations. Enjoy pétanque, street theatre and a medieval market. , Second Weekend of August: Fête de la Vannerie celebrates Vallabrègues’ heritage as a district of master weavers. The village used to be the major producer of baskets in France, and the local craftsfolk exhibit their wares. A life-size bull made entirely of cane stands guard outside the bullfighting arena.


Provence and Camargue

167

The “Little Mountain” is a compact massif some 10 km northwest of the Alpilles, wedged into the confluence of the Rhône and Durance. This is a more Provençal affair altogether compared with the “Little Alps”: a lush landscape of softer hills and greener pastures, albeit with a generous covering of Aleppo pines on the upper hills. Set against the northern slope of La Montagnette – and just dipping into the Rhône below – we find medieval Barbentane with its lopsided squares and cobbled streets. Further up, crowning the peak of the “Little Mountain”: the abbey of St-Michelde-Frigolet, a welcoming haven of tranquillity. To the south, midway along the stretch of Rhône between Avignon and Arles, sits the town of Tarascon. Directly opposite, on the river’s right bank, is Beaucaire – the two effectively forming a city of 30,000. While Beaucaire has been popular since medieval times for its fair – and in more recent years for its marina – Tarascon stands proud in possessing one of the most celebrated landmarks of the Rhône: the Château of Good King René, a shimmering mass of white stone right at the water’s edge. 11

BARBENTANE

Barely 10 km from Avignon, Barbentane was popular among members of the papal court, many of whom chose to reside here rather than in the shadow of the Holy See: it was quietly tucked away on the lower slopes of the Montagnette, considerably cooler in the summer, surrounded by fertile land and within easy reach of the office. Barbentane benefitted considerably from this seal of approval, and much of its historic centre dates from this 14th-century flourishing. The Tour Anglica is the keep of the former castle built by Cardinal de Grimoar, brother of Pope Urban V. The Maison des Chevaliers (House of the Knights), which dates from the 12th century, has a striking Renaissance façade with an arcaded portico and an imposing turret. Opposite, the church of Notre-Dame-des-Grâces dates from the 13th-15th centuries. A short walk from the main square is the Château de Barbentane, also known as the Petit-Trianon-de-la-Provence on account of

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

La Montagnette


168

Provence and Camargue

its similarities with the Trianon in Versailles. This handsomely decorated mansion was built in 1674 and looks out over an Italianate garden; it belongs to the current Marquis de Barbentane. The information office (also off the square) offers free handouts in English. Equally important: the modest boulangerie (to the right of the police station) serves coffee along with the customary selection of warm pastries, as well as unusual local delicacies – such as candied quince. Just out of Barbentane, the 18th-century Moulin de Bretoul is one of the few surviving windmills in the region; it is on a hillock, left of the road that leads up to Frigolet. www.barbentane.fr Château de Barbentane, 04 90 95 51 07, times variable, ₏7

BARBENTANE Legend has it that Barbentane, which was a favourite residential town for members of the papal court, had an underground tunnel stretching from the Tour Anglica as far as the Palais des Papes.. This is unlikely, however, since it would

have to run under the Durance river. Nevertheless, the Germans excavated under the tower in 1943 and 1944 in a bid to find its entrance, since there were rumours that it also concealed a treasure.


Provence and Camargue

12

169

SAINT-MICHEL-DE-FRIGOLET

The Abbaye de St-Michel is perched atop the Montagnette, a spiritual haven (in more senses than one) surrounded by some of the most unspoilt countryside in Provence. It can be popular with local families as a picnic spot, especially on holidays, but its domain is so vast that it never feels crowded. Originally founded around 960, the abbey was initially occupied by Benedectine monks from the great Montmajour Abbey; the oldest surviving parts are the cloister and small church, from the 1100s. Its subsequent history reflects the turmoil of many other religious institutions in Provence. It was abandoned in the 1400s, reconsecrated, then suppressed and sold during the Revolution. After changing hands several times, StMichel was re-established in 1858 with an order of monks from northern France (Prémontré), and a new church was built. The latter is a strikingly decorated edifice, with a theatrical multitude of saints and sinners crowding every ceiling and pillar, all set against a deep blue, star-lit sky. In style there are strong parallels with art nouveau, a new genre yet to make its mark. St-Michel is now a thriving institution administered by 15 Premonstratensian monks. They run retreats and manage the teaching areas, accommodation and restaurant. The legendary Liqueur de Frigolet is on sale at the shop. www.frigolet.com

SPIRIT OF THE ABBEY Such is the reputation of St-Michel’s liqueur, that it became the subject of a film by Marcel Pagnol in 1954: L’Elixir du Révérend Père Gaucher (The Elixir of the Reverend Father

Gaucher). The cast included several monks from the Abbaye, among them Père Gérard Raymond, who later became Abbot of St-Michelde-Frigolet.


170

INTO THE BOUCHES-DU-RHÔNE

13

BOULBON

Boulbon offers an ideal break on the descent back down the valley. It is a charming medieval hamlet nestled in a lower fold of La Montagnette. The fortified château, which is privately owned, dominates from a hilltop. The 12th-century Chapelle de St-Marcellin hosts the somewhat bacchanalian Fête de SaintVinage and is located in the grounds of the cemetery, above the village. Place Gilles Leontin has a pleasant café with a spacious terrace (Commerce). Theatre buffs may be interested to know that the ancient quarry of Callet here has been an out-of-town venue for the Avignon Festival since 1985. This was the year when Peter Brook’s acclaimed Mahâbhârata (13) was staged in Boulbon.

PROCESSION DES BOUTEILLES The Procession of Bottles (or Fête de St-Vinage) is traditionally held on the 1st of June at Boulbon, just down the hill from Frigolet. Every man (sic) in the village is expected to turn up in church with a bottle of wine, which is then uncorked, blessed by the prêtre and shared around. The ritual apparently hails

from the monks of Montmajour, who prayed to St Marcellin for dry marshlands and an end to malarial fevers. To this day, the prayer (in Provençal) goes: Sant Marcellin bon per l’aigo, bon per lou vin – “Saint Marcellin, good for water, good for wine.”


171

The Delta of the Rhône

More than just a delta, the Camargue is a vast wetland created by coastal wash, continental subsidence, winds and the flow of freshwater from the Rhône – a diverse landscape in continual evolution. Its dunes, salt marshes, pastures and lagoons have provided a habitat for both wildlife and livestock since time immemorial; to the visitor, they offer a trove of natural wonders – all best enjoyed by bike. Though sparsely populated, the region is also the homeland of the gardians – the men and women who breed the black bulls and semi-feral white horses of the Camargue, and whose ways and traditions have changed little through the centuries. The thrill of the discovery is further enhanced by the strong presence of Romanies, to whom the Camargue is sacred and who converge on Les-Saintes-Maries to honour their patron saint, Sarah the Black.

The Territory The Camargue wetlands stretch upriver as far as Arles covering approximately 140,000 ha, and their geological evolution has

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue


M e di t e r ranean Sea

11

10

9

12 13

7

Saint- Marsillargues Just

8

6

AiguesMortes

5

Saint-Laurentd’Aigouze

Le Cailar

Aimargues

Camargue Gardoise

Gallician ète àS e n

Vauvert

2

SaintGilles

1

4

Étang de Vaccarès

Saintes-Mariesde-la-Mer

Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue

3

0

N

Rhô

Le

Le GrandeMotte Le Graudu-Roi

Étang de Mauguio

Mauguio

Candillargues

Valergues Baillargues Lansargues Mudaison

Lunel

C

A9

Rh ô

a n al du

n

Arles

172

e

5 km

Provence and Camargue


Provence and Camargue

173

been significantly shaped in recent centuries by the disappearance of the Rhône’s minor branches to the west. These have merged over time to create the Petit Rhône and, with it, the Petite Camargue. This sub-region, also known as the Camargue Gardoise, includes Aigues Mortes, Le Grau-du-Roi and outlying villages such as Saint-Gilles, Le Cailar, Marsillargues and StLaurent-d’Aigouze. Another intriguing example of this natural landscaping process lies just further upstream of the Camargue, at Vallabrègues: the village rose on the opposite bank of the Rhône as recently as the 18th century.

The Camargue is divided into three distinct habitats: the natural wetlands, the cultivated farmlands and the salt marshes. The wilder and more natural area lies to the south, and its pools, lagoons and channels ((graus) form the delta proper; within this largely untamed area there are also pockets of salt flats. With the exception of some islets on the land’s southern reaches, vegetation is relatively sparse in this region, with a prevalence of salt-resistant flora such as glasswort, sea lavender, sea chamomile, tamarisks and reeds. The southern Camargue is also where the wetland fauna and birdlife are at their most spectacular. The cultivated northern region stretches along the two branches of the Rhône and holds the Camargue’s most fertile sweeps of land. As well as benefitting from the river’s floodwaters, it has been tilled and drained ever since the Middle Ages – an ongoing battle against water, salt and wind. The drainage and irrigation projects of the 20th century especially have given rise to a thriving farming industry, renowned in particular for its rice production. Wheat, maize, forage grasses and rape are all

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

The Three Regions


174

Provence and Camargue

grown here, along with market garden produce, grapes and other fruit. These semi-tamed farmlands are also home to the manades (herds) of bulls and horses. The salt marshes too have evolved through human – rather than natural – intervention over the centuries. They form a largely barren, bright white landscape of salt pans studded with camelles – the efflorescent mounds of harvested salt, up to 15 m high. Salt was a precious commodity in antiquity, especially as a food preservative, and brought wealth to its farmers as far back as the Romans. Its production on an industrial scale was established in the 19th century, and the salt evaporation pans south of Aigues Mortes are now harvested by the second largest producer in Europe, Salins du Midi.

Wildlife While the European beaver, otter, racoon and ocellated lizard – among other mammals and reptiles – are all at home in this reserve, the Camargue is very much a feathered paradise. The bird population varies according to the season, as 350 migrating species join the resident fowl at different times: the teal arrives for the winter, for example, and the rare purple heron in autumn and spring. Commonly spotted year-round are the cormorant, cattle egret, lark, black-winged stilt, marsh harrier and collared pratincole, along with a range of gulls – including the slenderbilled, black-headed and herring varieties. But the Oscar, we all know, goes to the greater flamingo, present in the Camargue in some 10,000 pairs. The southern lagoons, which are saltier, provide them with their favourite breeding ground. Flamingoes filter-feed on brine shrimp and blue-green


Provence and Camargue

175

algae, with their bills immersed upside-down. The pink in their feathers is determined by the carotenoids in their diet, and the Camargue flamingoes are renowned for their deep colouring; they are also quite relaxed at a reasonable distance, which makes them a photographer’s dream. Keen birders should head for the Parc Ornithologique du Pont-de-Gau, not far out of LesSaintes.

The Bulls and Horses The black-coated taureau de Camargue (or Raço di bioù in Provençal) was raised in a semi-feral state until recent decades; this has kept the breed fairly pure for some 2,000 years. Its upturned, lyre-shaped horns, frisky temperament and imposing yet light physique make it ideal for Camarguais taurine events; the larger specimens are exported to Spain for corridas. Mostly, though, they are reared for beef. The average manade would number about 200 heads of cattle plus the gardians gardians’ horses. The cheval de Camargue is a direct descendant of its prehistoric ancestor, and although its precise origins are uncertain, it has clearly evolved to thrive on the Camargue. The horse is relatively small but packs a punch with its stamina, hardiness and agility. It has a compact body, short neck, deep chest, strong and well-jointed limbs, and a full mane and tail; its head bears many similarities with the Barb (or Berber) horse of North Africa. For all its feral qualities, the breed is calm of temperament and intelligent. The foal is born dark of coat and turns white between the ages of four and seven. This mount is every gardian’s favourite companion and ideally suited for horse treks across the region’s marshy habitats.


176

Provence and Camargue

The manades play a fundamental role in the ecological balance of the Camargue, and there are concerns that pastures are increasingly given over to farming and salt production.

Gardians and Gitans The gardians and gardiannes are the natural-born cowboys and -girls of the Camargue, and they embody its spirit and culture. They tend to their manades, organise abrivados (bull-running events) and corral their cattle as they canter down the streets; they also lead visitors on horse treks, and generally manage the horse- and bull-trading. Gardians are more likely to speak Provençal than French – often fused with Romany expressions and a Catalan cadence. Out on the pastures, their traditional working tool is the three-pronged spear; the large felt hat is de rigueur,, and no fashion fad or sand-blasting Mistral is ever likely to lure them away from their tough serge trousers and thick, brightly-patterned, cotton shirts. The gardian’s saddle is designed to offer maximum safety as well as comfort. A traditional Camargue anchor decorates every gardian’s home, whether they live in a low, whitewashed stone cottage or a large mas homestead. Many Camarguais are of gypsy origin: the region is considered by Romanies worldwide as one of their homelands and countless gitans have settled here. The marché of Les-Saintes is a feast of colour on market days; but it is at its most spectacular in the run-up to the Feast of St Sarah, which falls on 24 May. Romanies in their thousands converge from east and west, to commemorate the miraculous arrival of their patron saint at Les-Saintes. The rudderless vessel that brought the “Three Marys” to Europe from Palestine is believed to have made landfall at this very beach, and the event is re-enacted every year with a small boat bearing their statues. The crypt of the church enshrines the statue of Sarah the Black, the humble girl from Egypt who was the servant of the Marys. As well as a homeland, the Camargue is considered sacred by gitan pilgrims.


Provence and Camargue

177

1 THE VILLAGE of “The Three Marys of the Sea” can be spotted from afar across the flats, its fortified church and bullfighting arena dominating sea, dune and lagoon. This unassuming small town of mostly whitewashed houses is the main tourist centre of the Camargue, with its information office, restaurants, glaceries,, boutiques and souvenir shops all within a few yards of the church. The broad stretch of fine sandy beach is ideal for a picnic and a refreshing dip (there are free showers). From the seafront cyclists can catch the 7-km bikeway known as Diguesde-la-Mer (sea dyke). Les-Saintes is animated year-round, with pilgrims arriving daily at the church, and at its most colourful on market days (Monday and Friday). The shops do a roaring trade in patterned clothes (especially shirts, scarves and shirts), gardian hats, gypsy charms and the usual seaside paraphernalia. Beyond the kitsch, however, there are some unusual gifts to be found at Les-Saintes, such as hand-decorated pen-knives and tasteful gitan-inspired jewellery. This is the place to buy a delicate croix camarguaise, the striking cross of the Camargue.

LES-SAINTES-MARIES-DE-LA-MER IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 374.61 square kilometres POPULATION: 2,495

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

Les-SaintesMaries-de-la-Mer


178

Provence and Camargue

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

THE FORTIFIED NOTRE-DAME-DE-LA-MER

This crenellated church replaced an oratory as long ago as the 9th century, when it became part of the town’s ramparts in defence against Saracen incursions. Much of the church’s Romanesque heritage remains intact, including a freshwater well for use in the event of a siege. The ex-voto offerings left by pilgrims over the centuries tell some fascinating stories, from the violin hanging on the smoke-blackened wall, to the naïf folk art tablets along the Lombard nave. The themes run from shipwrecks and bull-goring, to fire, childbirth and flood. One intriguing ex-voto scene expresses gratitude to St Sarah for sparing everybody from injury on a particular occasion: a group of gitans was dancing with such élan to celebrate her saint’s day, that the floor gave way. All landed safely. The upper chapel houses some relics of the Marys. The rooftop is also worth a visit for its views.

TOURIST OFFICE OF LES-SAINTES-MARIES-DE-LA-MER 5, av Van Gogh. Tel. 04 90 97 82 55, www.saintesmaries.com (also in English)


Provence and Camargue

179

MUSÉE BARONCELLI

Barely 50 m from the church stands the old town hall, which houses the private collection bequeathed by Marquis Folco de Baroncelli-Javon (1869-1943). A famous manadier, Baroncelli passionately promoted the revival of Provençal culture – from bull-rearing to furniture and textiles. Some artefacts also pay tribute to Van Gogh, who painted several works here. rue Victor Hugo Opening days and times variable, €2

EATING AND DRINKING

LA CASA ROMANA 6, rue Joseph Roumanille Tel. 04 90 97 83 33, closed mid-day Mon and Tues This restaurant just behind the church offers regional dishes such as bull steak and bouillabaisse. LE JARDIN DES DÉLICES Rue Théodore Aubanel Tel. 06 24 72 36 38, www.lejardindesdelices.camargue.fr, closed Mon Enjoy seaviews while tucking into a selection of seafood and shellfish.

EVENTS , 24 May: Feast of St Sarah, patron saint of gypsies. The streets and market are awash with gitans from every corner of Europe (and beyond). , June: the Village Fair honours horses and bulls with various riding shows and parades. , Mid-July: each year horse aficionados come to the horse fair that has various events and shows over 3 days. , Mid-August: Féria de Bioú – the bullfighting gets serious (and bloody), with toreros from Spain and Portugal joining the local boys. Live gypsy music accompanies the events in the arena. , 11 November: the Abrivado Festival welcomes cowboys, cowgirls and their faithful steeds from across Provence. A parade of horses and their riders, as they corral bulls from the beach to the arena, demonstrating their herding skills.

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

LA FLEUR DE SEL 43, rue Frédéric Mistral Tel. 04 90 97 83 42, www.camargue-restaurantafleurdesel.com Classic Camarguaise and Provençale cuisine. The menu découverte (discovery menu) is changed each month and offers original dishes inspired by regional cuisines.


180

Provence and Camargue

SARAH, MARTHA AND THE THREE MARYS

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

Just as fascinating as their church in Les-Saintes-Maries is the legend of the Three Marys and their seafaring companions. The Marys in question are, in all probability: Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha and Lazarus, the resurrected leper), Mary Magdalen and Mary Salome (mother of James and John). Christians continued to be persecuted in Palestine after the death of Jesus, and the Marys, who had helped to embalm his body, were imprisoned. After some time, they were forced onto a boat that had neither sail nor rudder – along with fellow prisoners Martha and Lazarus – and towed out to sea. Mary Salome’s servant Sarah, a young Egyptian girl, was heard crying ashore; but after Mary had cast her cloak over the sea, Sarah too was able to join them across the rough waters. From Palestine they reached Provence (at Les-Saintes) at miraculous speed; and from here they all went their different ways to spread the Word. Lazarus, as bishop of Marseille, baptised many people.

Mary Magdalen retired to a cave in the mountains to serve a harsh penance. Sarah tirelessly collected alms in the streets and passed them to the poor. As for Martha, who had already been singled out in the Gospels for showing hospitality and friendship to Jesus in Bethany: a whole new life of adventure was waiting for her on these European shores – in Tarascon, to be precise. These stories and sub-plots became increasingly popular, crowded and elaborate, feeding the arts, folklore and a passionately held Christian faith – particularly in the Middle Ages, when Provence was under Saracen threat and at the heart of the Crusades. While no one can be sure about the precise identity of the “Three Marys” – since their name was quite common in its time – there are two facts that we can be certain about. With such a precious endorsement for her hospitality, Martha later became the patron saint of hoteliers and restaurateurs. Sarah became the patron of gypsies.


181

2

PARC ORNITHOLOGIQUE DU PONT-DE-GAU

The bird sanctuary of the Camargue is the prime place to observe many of the region’s species, both migratory and resident. Huge aviaries house – within their own habitat – the ones that are either endangered or hard to spot. Pont-de-Gau (3 km from Les-Saintes) Tel. 04 90 97 82 62, www.parcornithologique.com Open daily, €7

3

MUSÉE CAMARGUAIS

10 km south-west of Arles stands the main museum of the Camargue, a converted mas built in 1812. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the region, including the reshaping of its delta over the centuries and a part dedicated to Frédéric Mistral, who championed the revival of Provençal culture. There is also a pleasant 3.5-km circular nature trail.

CROIX CAMARGUAISE

The Camargue cross, popular as an item of jewellery, an ornament or as a tattoo, is an emblem formed with a Latin cross. The upper ends represent the three-pronged spear of the gardians; the lower end is a sea anchor; in between lies the heart. It stands for the Three Cardinal Virtues: the cross for Faith, anchor for Hope, heart for Charity.

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

RD 570, Mas du Pont-de-Rousty, Arles Tel. 04 90 97 10 82, www.museedelacamargue.com Open daily, €5


182

Provence and Camargue

Petite Camargue The slice of Camargue to the west of the Petit Rhône is known as the Petite Camargue, or Camargue Gardoise. It lies almost entirely within the département of the Gard, with a small area in the Hérault. In this chapter we focus on some of the sites within striking distance of Aigues Mortes. The latter and Graudu-Roi, which also form part of the Petite Camargue, are covered separately.

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

Saint-Gilles-du-Gard At its peak, in the early 1200s, St-Gilles was regarded as the gateway to the Camargue and its precious salt pans; more important still, the town’s waterway led to the Mediterranean itself. This was a popular departure point for pilgrims heading for the Holy Land, as well as for the Crusaders setting sail to protect them. The creation of Aigues Mortes in the second half of the 13th century, however, deprived St-Gilles of its monopoly as a strategic outpost; it continued nevertheless to serve as a holy site of pilgrimage in its own right, and remains to this day a favourite stop along the route to Santiago de Compostela. The legend of St Giles, the 8th-century hermit, gave rise to a magnificent and immense Benedictine abbey here; at its heart was the sanctuary with the saint’s tomb. Over the centuries, 4


183

religious strife, the downsizing of the complex and the “justice” meted out during the Revolution have all left their mark on the Abbaye de St-Gilles. In spite of this, the west façade, the chancel and the crypt with the tomb of St Giles still bear witness to its former glory, showcasing some of the finest Romanesque stonemasonry to be found anywhere. The belltower’s spiral staircase, La Vis (The Screw), offers some precious carvings; the façade includes the first sculpture of the Passion in Christendom. www.saint-gilles.fr

8TH CENTURY – legend of St Giles the hermit leads to foundation

of Benedictine abbey 11TH CENTURY – Sanctuary of St Giles becomes place of pilgrimage, along route of Santiago de Compostela 12TH CENTURY – town reaches its peak as a departure point for Crusades 13TH CENTURY – decline in prosperity as Aigues Mortes becomes the main port 1538 – abbey secularised and established as a collegiate church 1562 – monks massacred by Huguenots and abbey extensively damaged during Wars of Religion 17TH CENTURY – building reduced in size to make it more manageable REVOLUTION – abbey razed and plundered

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

A potted history


184

Provence and Camargue

SAINT GILES AND THE DOE Giles lived in the 8th century. According to the legend he was a rich Greek who, having “seen the Light”, gave away his wealth to the poor and was borne to Provence aboard a raft. He lived as a hermit and befriended a doe that brought

him food. In turn, Giles saved the doe from a hunter by grabbing the arrow in mid-flight. The chasseur, a nobleman, was so touched by the event that he had an abbey built to mark the miracle.

THE STONEMASONS OF ST-GILLES

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

The work of five distinct artists has been recognised at the Abbey: the Master “of St Thomas” (in the more linear and typically Romanesque carvings); the “Soft” Master (in the flowing drapery); the “Hard” Master (with his voluminous, enveloping folds); the Master “of St Michael” (the most expressive); and Brunus – the only one to have been identified (present with his early, heavy style). Some of the finest work at St-Trophime in Arles is

5

believed to have been sculpted by the masters of St-Gilles.

TOUR CARBONNIÈRE

This defensive tower rises out of the marshes surrounding Aigues Mortes. It stood midway along the road from St-Laurentd’Aigouze, the only approach over solid ground. It is referred to in a 1346 document as “the Kingdom’s key to this district” and was presumably built soon after the citadel itself; it also functioned as a toll house. It is well worth visiting for its views across the Petite Camargue; a nearby car park leads to a boardwalk over the marshes, with their abundant flora and waterfowl. The Petite Camargue is also renowned as one of the rice bowls of the region, and many of its long, flat roads are lined with rice paddies. 3 km north of Aigues Mortes Open daily, free


185

LE CAILAR

www.lecailar.fr 7

SAINT-LAURENT-D’AIGOUZE

This village prides itself on being the official capital of the Course camarguaise and is home to some 30 taurine organisations. The bullring could not be more central: adjacent to the main church. The sacristy is used both as a vestiary for the parish priest and a dressing room for the bullfighters. Not far from St-Laurent are the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey of Psalmody, which was

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

6

The ground on which this picturesque village now stands was once a lagoon, which has silted up over time. Le Cailar is still washed by the River Vistre; the waterway was navigable this far upstream (15 km) until the early 20th century, and allowed the community to prosper through its trade in fish and salt. The name Le Cailar derives from the Latin castellum, although little remains of its castle. The attraction of this Camarguais village lies in its unself-conscious charm (and a rather well-stocked boulangerie). ). To the back of the 12th-century Église Sainte-Étienne is a cosy and shady square with an unassuming café. The church has an attractively carved façade – as well as a slightly intriguing sign: “Dimanche fermé”... In the 1850s the cattle breeders of Le Cailar were the first in the Camargue to pioneer proper manades for bullfighting; the local herds are still reputed among the best and the village has its own arena.


186

Provence and Camargue

hugely influential during the Middle Ages; unfortunately the site is on private land and not open to the public. An interesting detail regarding this village is that the road south leads to Aigues Mortes; the road north leads to the hamlet of Aigues Vives – “live waters” (since it is located beyond the marshlands). www.ville-saint-laurent-daigouze.fr 8

MARSILLARGUES

Although it lies just beyond the borders of the Gard départment, Marsillargues is very much within the Camargue Gardoise in body and spirit. The taurine tradition here is as strong as anywhere else and the bullring is in the heart of town. But the Marsillarguais are equally fond of their donkeys, and the Fête des Ânes is an event nobody misses. Gardians,, farmers and musicians of all ages, dressed in their finest Camarguais costumes, congregate at the Église du Saint-Sauveur with their beloved Eeyores. Here, the parish priest blesses them all with holy water; traditionally, he also rebukes the donkeys that have been naughty over the past year, whether they have two legs or four. Marsillargues is also renowned as a major fruit producer. In contrast with the classic Camarguais landscape of pastures, rice paddies, dunes and salt flats, here the outlying farmland is awash with apple, peach and plum orchards – a spectacular tableau when in blossom. Look out for the local lavender plantations too, rolling in their bright purple livery. The Château de Nogaret was built in the 1570s over the ruins of an early 14th-century one. www.marsillargues.fr


Provence and Camargue

187

RICE OF THE CAMARGUE Rice has been growing in the Camargue for hundreds of years. Harvesting only began in earnest in the 19th century when it was decided to reduce the salt plains and take advantage of the favourable climate. Although red wild rice had grown naturally since

time immemorial, it is difficult to harvest, so short-grain rice was introduced in its place. However, in 1983 a cross between the wild and the short-grain varieties was discovered by chance, leading to the cultivation and production of Camargue red rice.

EVENTS , Third Weekend of September: Fêtes Médiévales de Saint-Gilles Saint-Gilles, with jousting and messy medieval merrymaking. , Early of August: Le Cailar’s Fête Votive Votive, with pétanque, Courses camarguaises at the bullring, abrivados through the streets and music. , Easter Weekend: Fête du Printemps in Saint-Laurent-d’Aigouze to celebrate the arrival of spring. , Second Sunday in May: Fête des Ânes in Marsillargues, accompanied by hymns, brass bands, gitan music and unbridled braying.


188

9

Provence and Camargue

MAISON DU GRAND SITE DE FRANCE DE LA CAMARGUE GARDOISE

Maison du Grand Site de France de la Camargue Gardoise is (as well as a mouthful!) a free exhibition housed within striking range of Aigues Mortes. It is part of a nationwide cultural and conservation programme and this display showcases its projects in the Camargue. It is located to the west of the Canal du Rhôneà-Sète, towards Le-Grau (enquire locally for directions). www.camarguegardoise.com 10

LE-GRAU-DU-ROI AND 11 L’ESPIGUETTE

From Aigues Mortes, as an alternative to the pastoral ride into the Petite Camargue, visitors could head for Le-Grau, its marina and the beach of l’Espiguette. The sea has drawn back some 5 km from Aigues Mortes, and at the end of the Rhône-à-Sète Canal lies its seaside resort. Restaurants, bars and gift shops line both banks of Le-Grau, which gets particularly animated on abrivado days, when the bulls come thundering through. The resort’s marina, Port-Camargue, makes for a pleasantly winding ride along the waterside promenade. About 6 km beyond the marina is the car park for L’Espiguette, with its beach. The Phare (lighthouse), which has become the symbol of Le-Grau, towers over a windswept landscape of dunes lapped by the sea.


Provence and Camargue

189

Although the route from Aigues Mortes to L’Espiguette and back includes cycleways and glimpses of Camarguaise lagoon, there are also uninspiring stretches of busy and dusty road. 5 km+ south of Aigues Mortes 12

WINE OF THE SANDS AND 13 SALT FLOWER

An expedition to Le-Grau could include a visit to the Listel winery and/or the salt farming centre of Les Salins-du-Midi. Although Listel are just one of many wine producers along this coast, their vineyards cover a massive expanse of territory; their vin gris (grey) rosé is a classic. The vines (mostly Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah) are cultivated in the sand – hence the name vin des sables. Fleur-de-sel is the delicacy produced from the harvested crystals of salt here. The Salins-du-Midi’s evaporation flats too cover a considerable area, and a full visit rigueur! can take some time. Mosquito repellent de rigueur www.visitesalinsdecamargue.com www.listel.com


Ca na

eed Rut Sè à e te ôn Sè Rh e à u n l d hô R u ld

ut ed

Ro

10,11 10,11

e ourl

e ourl

u Vid

u Vid

d Rue

d Rue

D 718 D 718

eN îm ut es ed eN îm e

s

re ist uV ed re Ru ist uV

R des ue des Lav Lav and and es es

Ro

na

il a Lil a sL s R u e d eR u e d e

s

Ca Rue

des A Chemin

Joie Joie Mont Mont denlaue de la e u n Ave Ave

té ernité la Frat la Frat de erni Rue deRue

AvenueAvdeenue d la L

2

ett a

Ga mb

Ga mb

l’Is

. de

l’Is

eR

B

Ru

. de

le

var d

ule

Bo

eR

Ru

d d G are G are

Rue

cheur s e s Pê

e s Pê

cheur s

V. H u

ett a

5

Bo ul le evard

5

G J. Jraand R urè ue s G J. Jraand R urè ue s

rO

7

go Ru Rue e V. H The ugo aul on Rue The aul on

rO rieu

Inté

Inté

lev ard

lev ard

Bou

Bou

2

Bo B ul oul Rue Reuvear evar E Ed Ru R e d ue d mile mileDi e la 3 e la 3 Zo Zd 1 1 6 6 Rép Rép la o ub ub l l i i Place Place qu qu B e e Saint-Louis Saint-Louis Rue Rue P a steuP a steu r r Rue Rue R E. J E. J Rue Rueamais amais Ma Ma Ru r r e Rue Rue ceau ceau Rue Rue J. R J. R R. ous ous Sal Bo B sea sea ule oule u u var var dI dI nté nté rie r ur ieur S S

7

rieu

uP ort

ed Ru

Ru

ed

uP ort

Chem Chem in de Tin de T rente Arente A ns ns

N N 0

0

Chen

Chen

al Ma ritime al Ma ritime

D 979 D 979

200 m 200 m

É t Éatnagn gd ed e l a l aV i Vl liel l e


Rue Alp ho ns Rue eD Alp au de ho t ns eD au de t

Rue

R Jea ue Jea nne nne Dem Dem essi essi eux eux

Ldieberlat Libert é é

Avenu Avenu e Fréd e Fréd éric M éric M istral istral

rd Di odlearo dero t t Bo B ule oule var var dI dI n nté Ru R té e B ue B rieu rieu rN au au r N d din R in e P ue P . . e R Bert Bert . S a len len gro gro

a

u M as d

’Avon u M as d

1 Place St-Louis and Église Notre-Dame-des-Sablons

Int éri eu rE Int éri eu rE

2 The Ramparts and Tour Constance Restaurants

va rd

e

ule

va rd

ule

Bo

Bo

Ca l

Chemin d

Monuments and historical sites

3 Bar Pub Tac-Tac Ch

na

Aigues-Mortes Tourist Office

em

Ca

Chemin d

Ru des e des Am Am and and iers iers

Chemin du Mas d’A von

de de inè inè la P e la P e e d ue d Ru R

Rue

Chemin du Mas d’A von

8

’Avon

e Pinè d

Pinè d

de l a Rue

Rue

de l a

n a Aven C a l Ad ue Po n a vuenR l d uehPôo u n R h e à ven ô n S ce e vèet e à nce Sè te

Ca

es

8

4

on ’Av sd Ma on du d’Av in s em Ma Ch du in em Ch

des Aires Chemin Aires

4

r o Pr o a9P a e l de l d nt nt

9

e

D 979 D 979

na

in

Ch

4 Boem

Ba

em

in

Ba s e P de P ec e ca cca is is

sd

5 Le Bistrot Paioù 6 Le Café du Commerce Hotels 7 Hôtel Saint-Louis 8 Hôtel Le Médiéval

l de

de

Pe

Pe

9 Hotel Canal

cc

cc

ais

ais

Barges 10 Boat Soleo 11 Boat Estello


192

Provence and Camargue

Aigues-Mortes This lone, fortified town rises out of the western marshes of the Petite Camargue, looking as much of an outcast as it must have done in the 1200s to the Crusader arriving at its gates. Its original Occitan name reveals all: Aigas Mortas, Mortas, or “dead waters” – so named because in the Dark Ages the festering swamps of the Rhône’s delta held little promise beyond the salt of its flats. Salt was certainly a precious commodity; but this was a place of quicksand and malaria – and isolation too, home to a few fishermen and the Benedictine Abbey of Psalmody.

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

THE CRUSADES OF LOUIS IX AND RELIGIOUS STRIFE

The creation of Aigues Mortes is synonymous with Louis IX (1214-70), monarch and saint. Louis wanted for France a port on the Mediterranean from which to wage war against the Infidel: the Venetians had monopolised the Crusades far too long for his liking; and Marseille did not belong to him. Aigas Mortas would be ideal for his Holy War and serve as a regional stronghold too. In 1240 Louis obtained a vast swathe of land from the monks of Psalmody, on which to build his port; a

AIGUES-MORTES IN FIGURES SURFACE AREA: 57.78 square kilometres POPULATION: 8,341


Provence and Camargue

193

royal charter was issued offering incentives for people to settle here, and Aigues Mortes rose on the shores of Provence. Despite the port’s strategic location and periods of prosperity in the following centuries, Aigues Mortes went into decline as the sea withdrew from its gates. Nevertheless, as a fortified citadel it played a central role in the Wars of Religion and in the sectarian strife they brought in their wake. The Tour Constance was used as a prison, first for Catholics and then Huguenots – famously holding Marie Durand captive for 38 years, until she was freed in 1738. Her graffito, “Register” (resist), is still visible. The chronic problem of silting led to the opening of the Graudu-Roi channel (grau,, in Occitan, could be translated as inlet). The seaside village that grew with it bears its name and is now linked to Aigues Mortes by the more permanent Canal du Rhôneà-Sète. Aigues Mortes makes for an ideal base and offers a number of options to the visitor: the town itself, the coast and the Petite Camargue. It is unrealistic to achieve them all in a single day, so we would recommend that you plan your excursions as best suits you.

102 BC – settlement possibly founded by Gaius Marius, Roman general 791 AD – Charlemagne erects lookout tower for fishermen on the swamps (on site of current Tour de Constance) 9TH CENTURY – earliest documented existence of Benedictine Abbey, Psalmody 13TH CENTURY – Aigues-Mortes, part of the Kingdom of France, chosen by Louis IX (later Saint Louis) as a launching base for Crusades. Creation of fortified city and erection of watchtower (Tour Carbonnière) along the access road through the marshes 1248 AND 1270 – Seventh and Eighth Crusades. Louis dies of dysentery in Tunis EARLY 14TH CENTURY – Philip the Fair uses Aigues Mortes towers to incarcerate Knights Templars TOURIST OFFICE OF AIGUES-MORTES Place Saint Louis. Tel. 04 66 53 65 94, www.ot-aiguesmortes.com (also in English)

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

A potted history


194

Provence and Camargue

14TH CENTURY ONWARDS – Aigues-Mortes no longer of strategic

importance for Crusades, but retains royal privileges. Although it prospers with a population of 15,000, the silting of its waterways initiates a gradual decline 1418 – Aigues Mortes contended between Gascony and Burgundy in the course of Hundred Years’ War. Slaughtered Burgundians are amassed in Tour des Bourguignons, their bodies stored under salt for lack of burial ground 1532 – François I reconnects Aigues-Mortes to the sea to facilitate exploitation of salt marshes 1562-98 – Wars of Religion: Aigues Mortes becomes a Protestant stronghold 1598 – Edict of Nantes: Aigues-Mortes declared one of eight safe havens granted to Protestants 17TH CENTURY – succession of Catholic and Protestant Governors EARLY 18TH CENTURY – Camisard War: Tour Constance used as a prison for Huguenots 1752 – opening of Grau-du-Roi channel temporarily eases silting problem 1806 – linking of Aigues Mortes to Canal du Rhône-à-Sète finally ends the town’s isolation 21ST CENTURY – local economy based on tourism, wine and salt production

The best in brief T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

1 PLACE ST-LOUIS AND ÉGLISE NOTRE-DAME-DES-SABLONS

Aigues Mortes is a compact, largely pedestrianised citadel, best enjoyed on foot. The central square, St-Louis, serves as its salon: cafés and restaurants abound in the shade of plane trees, and a public stage keeps the throngs entertained during the warmer season, under the watchful eye of the local paladin. Place St-Louis is also where the information office is located. At the square’s north-eastern corner stands the church dedicated to Our Lady of the Sands. This timber-framed Gothic building has been modified through the ages, from the addition of the ancient altar table of Psalmody Abbey to the contemporary stained-glass windows; at one time it also served as a salt warehouse. Another church well worth a visit is the Chapelle des Pénitents-Gris, which still belongs to the grey-hooded charitable order founded in 1400, also found in Avignon.


Provence and Camargue

195

Aigues Mortes thrives on tourism, and although it is a relaxed, romantic and welcoming town with many boutiques and gift shops, it might not be the best place for any serious shopping. A five-minute bike ride out of the walls (Route de Nîmes) leads to a well-stocked supermarket. Église Notre-Dame-des-Sablons Off the Place St-Louis Open daily, free

AIGUES-MORTES ON THE INTERNET WWW.VILLE-AIGUES-MORTES.FR Official homepage of the town council including news on leisure facilities, events and online magazine (French only)

WWW.OT-AIGUESMORTES.COM Aigues-Mortes’ official tourism website, with information on where to visit, events, guided tours and restaurants (also in English)

EVENTS , End of August: not many places have a patron saint who also reigned as a king, and the Feast of St Louis is when Aigues Mortes celebrates its all-round hero. Go back in time with medieval markets, knights and acrobats. Tel. 04 66 53 65 94, www.ot-aiguesmortes.com


196

Provence and Camargue

2 THE RAMPARTS AND TOUR CONSTANCE

The fortifications of Aigues Mortes are an excellent example of 13th-century military architecture and survive intact. The hike around the watch-path gives a fascinating insight into the town’s history and rewards with panoramic views. Access from place Anatole France 04 66 53 61 55 Daily, €7

THE FORTIFICATIONS IN FIGURES

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

DESIGN: rectangular grid plan, 5 x 5 streets DIMENSIONS: 550 m x 300 m (total: 1,634 m) DATE OF FORTIFIED CITY: 1240 onwards DATE OF RAMPARTS: built after 1272 with stone quarried at Beaucaire and LesBaux GATES: 10, of which 5 to the south, once giving access to the docks. They include: PORTE DE LA GARDETTE: today’s main gate (turn right for access to ramparts; straight ahead for place St-Louis) PORTE DE L’ORGANEAU: portside, organeau being a large mooring ring PORTE DES MOULINS: once housed the grain mills PORTE DES GALLIONS: portside PORTE DE LA MARINE: main portside gate PORTE DE LA REINE: named after Anne of Austria, who visited in 1622 TOWERS: 6, including TOUR DE CONSTANCE: a highly fortified circular keep, 40 m high with 6-m thick walls. Often held religious prisoners TOUR DES BOURGUIGNONS: infamously used for storing the salted bodies of Gascon troops in 1421 TOUR DE LA POUDRIÈRE: arsenal and powder magazine TOUR DE LA MÈCHE: or “wick tower”, once with a permanently lit flame on standby TOUR DES SELS: for salt storage


Provence and Camargue

197

EATING AND DRINKING

4 BOEM 253, avenue de Pont de Provence Tel. 04 34 28 42 30, www. restaurant-boem.fr, closed midday Sat For something a bit different, this restaurant serves a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian, such as aubergine tart with tomato and galangal. Not far from the Boem, a local collector of vintage cars (Albert) has opened a small

museum, which makes for an interesting diversion. 5 LE BISTROT PAIOÙ 1, rue du 4 Septembre Tel. 04 66 71 44 95, closed Tues evening and Weds low season Good quality bistro food using local, fresh ingredients. 6 LE CAFÉ DU COMMERCE 11, place St-Louis Tel. 04 66 53 71 71, www. cafeducommerce-aiguesmortes. com, opening times vary Originally founded in the 1870s as a café-hotel, this place became a family-run restaurant in 1973. Simple food made from fish, shellfish and meat delivered daily.

FLEUR-DE-SEL A precious commodity for every seafaring community, salt has been harvested in the flats of AiguesMortes since Greco-Roman times. From March to September sea water is pumped into the plains, and when a saturated solution forms it is poured into large crystallising pans to evaporate. When evaporation has

occurred the salt is washed, dried and crushed several times before being packaged; it is widely used in industry as well as in the kitchen. Fleur-de-sel (salt flower) is harvested by hand from the top layer of evaporation and considered a delicacy.

T H E D E LTA O F T H E R H Ô N E

3 BAR PUB TAC-TAC 19, rue de la République Tel. 04 66 53 60 29 Beers of the world, whiskeys and whiskies at this cult watering hole, which also serves food. The geckos parked around the lamp on the outside wall have seen it all before.


198

Provence and Camargue

USEFUL INFORMATION

EMERGENCY NUMBERS

USA

15 AMBULANCE (SAMU)

825 Third Avenue, 29th Floor

17 POLICE (Gendarmerie)

New York, New York 10022

18 FIRE (Sapeurs Pompiers)

Tel. (514) 288 1904 www.us.franceguide.com

When calling an emergency number, unless you can speak French we suggest

LOCAL TOURIST OFFICES

that you simply (and clearly) ask if they

Official information centres (Offices de

speak English: if the operator does

Tourisme) are locally highlighted in the

not, they will soon put you through to

guide, wherever relevant. They often

someone who does. They will never hang

supply free maps of the area and leaflets

up on you.

about sites and discovery trails. They would also have up-to-date details about local events, such as arts festivals, crafts markets and férias. Areas popular with mass tourism often have unofficial “info offices” eager to help you buy their services. They are usually thinly disguised and easily avoided. CONSULATES Australia 4 rue Jean Rey 75015 Paris Tel. + 33 (0)1 40 59 33 00 Canada Nice

FRENCH TOURIST OFFICES ABROAD

10 rue Lamartine, 1er étage

Australia

06000 Nice

25 Bligh St, Level 13 Sydney NSW 2000

Tel. +33 (0)4 93 92 93 22 United Kingdom

Tel. (2) 9231 5244

Marseille

www.au.franceguide.com

24 av du Prado

Canada 1800 av MacGill College, Suite 490

Tel. + 33 (0)4 91 15 72 10 USA

Montreal H3A 3J6

12 pl Varian Fry

Tel. (514) 288 2026

13286 Marseille

www.ca.franceguide.com

Tel. + 33 (0)4 91 55 56 95

United Kingdom 300 High Holborn

Much as we would like to, we cannot

London WC1V 7JH

list all countries recognised by France.

Tel. (09068) 244 123

Should you need consular support, your

www.uk.franceguide.com

own country’s government agencies can readily direct you to your nearest consulate.


Provence and Camargue

199

USEFUL INFORMATION

HEALTH

MONEY

Hospitals and Clinics in France

Currency Euro

charge for their services and travellers

ATMs Cash machines are ubiquitous in

are strongly advised to take out a

France and by far the easiest and most

comprehensive insurance with good

economical way of drawing out holiday

medical cover. Citizens of a European

money – day or night. Check first with

Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland

your own bank whether your cards

are advised to travel with a valid

are compatible abroad and what the

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC): this entitles them to reduced-

charges may be for using them. Banks Monday-Saturday 09am-noon

cost or sometimes free treatment.

and 2-4pm, but branches are closed

Non-EU citizens should check with

on either Monday or Saturday.

their insurance providers about any limitations to their cover.

INTERNET / WI-FI

The International Association for

Internet facilities are readily available

Medical Assistance to Travelers (USA)

at hotels and larger towns all have

provides useful information, including

internet cafés. Wi-fi connection can

details of English-speaking doctors

be an issue in remote areas, however,

(www.iamat.org).

such as the quieter docks along the waterways. While most travellers on cycling holidays welcome a break from intrusive technology, anybody requiring to stay connected at all times would do well to provide their own mobile wi-fi device. To state the obvious, consideration is always appreciated by fellow travellers – especially in peaceful areas, such as nature reserves.

Pharmacists French pharmacies will always have a pharmacist to hand who can provide practical advice for minor complaints and dispense (within their limitations) whatever may be required. Pharmacists are often experienced about conditions that are common locally, such as an allergic reaction or a particular sting. Doctors For a more serious condition, or something requiring a prescription drug, you should arrange for a consultation with a doctor. Emergencies Needless to say, you should not hesitate to dial 15.


200

Provence and Camargue

USEFUL INFORMATION

TRAINS Networks The French state railways

Bicycles on Trains A bonus for cyclists in France

(Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer

(especially in adverse weather

– SNCF) are well equipped, efficient

conditions) is that bikes can be

and fast. Avignon is easily reached by

transported on nearly every SNCF

Eurostar and many visitors make their

train. The train timetables show which

way to Provence by train.

trains will carry bikes. A post-tour

The TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, or

option popular with our clients is the

high-speed train) has been the SNCF’s

SNCF Train+Vélo scheme. This allows

jewel in the crown for some years now,

you to reserve a rental bike at the end

ferrying travellers at speeds of up to

of your train journey – a great way to

300 km/hr on purpose-built tracks. It

discover the destination town.

is relatively expensive, although many

Train tickets must be validated

TGV deals and discounts are available.

(compostés)) with one of the yellow

The Corail long-distance trains provide an express service, also with modern carriages. Motorail trains are designed to take cars and their passengers on overnight services. TER trains cover the regional networks,

time-stamping machines at the platform before boarding. Failure to do so could result in a fine. Coach and Bus Travel While bus travel is a cheap alternative, services can be infrequent. Buses tend

stopping at most stations; they are

to run in the rush hour and coincide

the most economical. There are also

with the school run; many locals prefer

private rail services running along the

to use the trains anyway. Buses will not

scenic routes of the Côte d’Azur, the

take bikes. Timetables are generally

Alps and into Italy (Chemins de Fer de

in French, though tourist offices can

Provence and Alpazur).

help with details, including information about any coach services available

www.ter-sncf.com

locally.

www.sncf.com

www.stdgard.fr (Gard)

www.eurostar.com

www.lepilote.com (Bouches-du-Rhône)

www.coraillunea.com

www.vaucluse.fr (Vaucluse)

www.corailteoz.com

Taxis are quite expensive.

www.raileurope.co.uk www.trainprovence.com

OPENING TIMES

www.trainstouristiques-ter.com

Pharmacies Monday-Saturday 9am8pm, with some shutting for lunch. French pharmacies generally display a notice stating which local ones are on duty out-of-hours (Service de garde). Post Offices Monday-Friday 8am-7pm, Saturday 9am-12pm Shops Monday-Saturday 8 or 9am-12pm and 2 or 3pm-6 or 7pm. Tourist offices remain open at lunchtime. It is worth remembering that most


Provence and Camargue

201

USEFUL INFORMATION

shops in France are independently run family businesses (not franchises), and often have longer opening hours – for instance on Sundays or during special events. Check locally. Supermarkets in larger towns are normally open all day MondaySaturday 9am-7pm. Restaurants often close one day a week – usually Monday. Sites and Museums Please refer to

sustainable agriculture and many

individual entries listed throughout the

markets include organic (bio) ((bio bio)) stalls.

guide and enquire locally. Opening

“Buying local” is both encouraged and

hours tend to be longer from May to September and many attractions have variable times which we cannot list in detail. We would advise checking ahead of your visit. National Holidays On national holidays

appreciated. Wildlife – birds especially – should never be stressed or even disturbed. Antiquities and works of art are there to be seen, not touched. Etiquette The French are fairly relaxed

shops are generally shut, although

about Dos and Don’ts, but it is worth

many businesses remain open to make

remembering that étiquette is a French

the best of the extra shoppers. Many

word. Familiarising oneself with the

shops, offices and restaurants are shut

basics of vous and tu, which are

for a week or two at some stage over

deeply ingrained in society, makes for a

the summer months.

healthy start. Greetings are all-important – including

TRAVELLING RESPONSIBLY /

au revoir or bonne journée as one

ETIQUETTE

leaves the shop – not just upon arrival.

Sustainable Tourism Environmental

Shaking hands with friends (or that

awareness is taken seriously

classic double-peck on the cheeks)

and sensibly in France, and the

is de rigueur – and if you fail to do so

communities of Provence routinely

with each member of a group (within

recycle and re-use. They will always

numerical reason...) it may be taken

appreciate the visitor who respects this and minimises wastage, such as

personally. Sitting down at a café and tucking

unnecessary laundry.

into your own sandwich is no more

At Girolibero, we are proud that such

welcome here than anywhere else

practices come as second nature to

(especially if the café clearly serves

both our staff and our clients.

food); but if you feel it might be OK to

Out on the trail, cyclists will notice an

ask, there is no harm in ordering your

abundance of rural gîtes and that

drinks and popping the question with

ecotourism is actively promoted by

a smile. Putting one’s feet up on chairs

tourist offices through local initiatives

(especially on a cushion) will raise eye-

and events. There are also incentives

brows in scorn – however tired

for farmers to practise low-impact,

our legs may feel.


202

Provence and Camargue

USEFUL INFORMATION

Speaking a word or two of French is a

TIPPING

great ice-breaker and will always make

Although a service charge is normally

locals warm to you – and encourage

included in the restaurant bill, a gratuity

them to meet you halfway with their

of 5-10% will always be appreciated in

broken English.

return for good service. Most restaurants

Cyclists should bear in mind that

will state whether there is a cover charge:

entering a place of worship in a state

this generally amounts to one or two

of négligé is frowned upon – however

euros per head. A tip of 10-15% is

expensive that tight lycra may be.

standard for taxi drivers and hairdressers. GAY AND LESBIAN TRAVELLERS Provence has a strong network of LGBT venues and info services, including bars, beaches and websites with listings of events. www.france.qrd.org (La France Gaie et Lesbienne) www.gayprovence.org (Gay Provence) www.igita.org (International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association) ELECTRICITY

Technology can be invasive and loud

The power supply in France is at 220-

phone conversations in a quiet

240 volts and all you should need for

environment are not welcome. Skyping

your accessories is an adaptor for your

in a public place can be even more

plugs. If you live in a country with a supply

irritating. Keen photographers will be

of 110 volts, then you will also need a

aware that taking pictures of people

transformer.

constitutes an invasion of their privacy, even in busy places like markets. The

MOBILE/CELL PHONES

rule of thumb is: always ask first.

Roaming Although this can prove costly,

www.echoway.org

many phone providers worldwide offer

www.accueil-paysan.com

contracts that include free or low-cost phone usage abroad, or advantageous

LA TOILETTE

phone roaming upgrades. Check with

Simply put, the done thing in France is

your provider before leaving home.

to stop at a bar for a cup of coffee or a

Pay-As-You-Go Alternatively, you may

bottle of water to take away, and visit

consider buying a French Pay-As-You-

its facilities. These can be quite basic.

Go Sim card. They can be bought

Public toilets as such are relatively rare

from any phone shop in the high

and usually charge (except at museums,

street, while top-ups are available at

galleries and sites). That said, cyclists are

newspaper kiosks and tobacconists.

blessed with countless opportunities to visit “green” toilets – where nature both calls and provides.


Provence and Camargue

203

USEFUL INFORMATION

INTERNATIONAL DIALING CODES

exchange and to feel that you have

France + 33

found a good bargain; so, if you feel it is

UK + 44

appropriate, there is no harm in asking

Ireland + 353

(for example) if you can have a special

USA/Canada + 1

price for buying two. Market stalls tend

Australia + 61

to be more flexible than shops. A sense

New Zealand+ 64

of humour and a shared joke go a long way. Just do not give your bike away: we

If you are dialling a French number using

charge.

your foreign Sim card (even just calling someone a few metres away) you will still

SUMMER TIME

need to treat it as an international call and

In France, Summer Time (or Daylight

precede it by the international code for

Saving Time – DST) runs from the last

France (+ 33). Local codes (e.g. 04 for

Sunday in March until the last Sunday

southeast France) start with an 0, which

in October, providing a longer period of

usually needs to be included – and

daylight in the afternoon.

sometimes not, depending on your provider.

BIKE SECURITY Although bike thefts are fortunately rare,

PRICING

we recommend that you lock your bikes

Prices are generally displayed and set

securely at all times: the best method is

in stone, and you are not expected to

to loop the chain through the front wheel,

haggle as you might in a souk. Half the

the frame and a post – or to a cycling

fun of shopping, however, is the human

partner’s bike.


O

L I B E

· · · · ·

G

· · · · ·

O

G I

R

R

R E E N S

GR EE N S were born from the need to provide cyclists with background information on the Girolibero tours in Italy and France. GR EE N S consist of 3 books: • a tailormade guidebook for cyclists • a complete set of maps for the tour • a roadbook Other G R E E NS are being prepared for: Tuscany, Loire Valley, ...

Further information at: greens@girolibero.com


This guide accompanies the Girolibero cycling tours and aims to whet your appetite for Provence and Camargue: , sights of cultural interest and natural beauty , historical information , practical information , tips on where to eat and drink

Provence and Camargue  
Provence and Camargue  
Advertisement