Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Avignon and St Remy

Van Gogh's Olive Trees and Les Alpilles
Final breakfast at Malataverne
Avignon Papal Palace
Golden statue of Virgin Mary on top of Palais des Papes
Mt Gaussier
Our annual visit to Le Garn was over and although we had not seen much of the sun this year, the people, the food and the seductive limestone scenery on the plateaux south of the Ardeche had allowed us to relax and enjoy this exquisite location. The final breakfast at Malataverne is always a treat to be savoured until the next visit and we spend a lot of time talking to our host, Evelyn, who has become a good friend over the past 7 years.

We left at 11am on a dull day and drove down the Ceze valley to Bagnols sur Ceze before deciding how to optimise the the day. The trip to the airport at Marseilles is about 100 miles and gives the opportunity to go round or through the historic city of Avignon and 20 miles further to pass through the Alpilles by the town of St Remy en Provence. It is famous as the place where Van Gogh spent his last year in the asylum and produced some of his most inspired paintings. The Alpilles are one of my favourite haunts that provide superb walks and views. As we had a full day to make the journey, we decided to take in Avignon, St Remy and the Alpilles.

Parking at Avignon is always a challenge but today was Sunday and we managed to find a spot on the Boulevard St Michel, that circles the historic walled centre. It was an interesting one kilometre walk to the centre of this remarkable Roman city. The Avignon Papacy refers to a period in the history of the Roman Catholic Church from 1309 to 1378 when the seat of the Pope was moved from Rome to Avignon. The period has been called the "Babylonian Captivity"of the Popes and is why the city is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

We had a lazy Sunday lunch in one of the Place de L' Horloge close to Les Halles, the fruit and vegetable market. We enjoyed the company of an Australian couple who were taking a sabbatical year in France but seemed to have acquired little of French language or customs. Even my limited French proved useful for once. We spent a couple of hours enjoying a tour of the Palais des Papes. The multi media guides were excellent and we left the Palais saturated with knowledge of the history of this remarkable and massive medieval building. It was late afternoon and we resisted the temptation to spend more time in the city centre, which was relatively quiet for a Sunday in late June.

The journey to St Remy de Provence does not take long and we made for the former asylum near the Roman ruins of Glanum where Aileen proceeded to visit the monastery of Saint Paul Mausole Van Gogh, whilst I made my fifth climb up Mt Gaussier, the limestone pinnacle with quite spectacular views over St Remy and as far as Mt. Ventoux 60 kilometres away. The paintings of an Gogh capture the area with a lens that captivates, unfortunately there was less clarity of the area than on previous visits but this remains one of my favourite short walks or morning runs when staying in St Remy de Provence.

It was another hour's drive to Marseilles airport where we had booked into a hotel before a morning flight home. The landscapes of the Rhone estuary with its salt flats and the famous Etang de Berre have a strange haunting quality in the Camargue to the west of the Rhone but to the east it has been despoiled by industrial and commercial developments. The petroleum refineries and random commercial developments are a glowing testament to the French ability to create modern ugliness in stark contrast to the sympathetic built environment of villages and small towns. Any attempt at planning seems to have been annihilated by the relentless unsympathetic commercialisation that envelop major airports. The only attraction during the journey was the strongly coloured drying salt lakes as you approach the airport at Marignane.

The airport hotels are dotted around the spaghetti of roads and flyovers that cocoon the airport and finding our hotel in the complex was an exercise in find the thimble. The meal was international cuisine in all its tastelessness and such a contrast to the past couple of weeks when we had become accustomed to locally produced and cooked french food. Airports have become the symbolic epicentres for my abhorrence of global franchised capitalism.

Salt Workings on Etang de Berre

No comments:

Post a Comment