Our Vacation Rental Homes in Sablet, Provence

Sablet Village, Vaucluse, Provence, France
Maison des Pelerins and La Baume des Pelerins, or "les Pelerins" as we affectionately refer to our dream come true, of owning our own homes in Provence, are located in the heart of the Vaucluse. We thoroughly enjoy hearing from our guests to "les Pelerins" that they feel they are spending time in their own home in Provence. To be a part of village life, Sablet is the perfect place. "Les Pelerins" dates back to the time when the Popes administered the Catholic Church from Avignon, with a Papal Vice-Legat having a residence right here in Sablet. Our neighbor's home was the Vice-Legat's residence. Ours was one of the buildings that housed visitors and pilgrims and was connected to it, as we can see from the internal portals, and the front door of Maison des Pelerins. Hence the name - Pelerins is French for pilgrims. I hope this Blog will help you get to know Provence and live your Provencal Dream.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Elvis Still Rocks in Provence!

... And I do believe that "rocks" are what's it's all about here.  Doing the "accidental tourist" thing, we found ourselves in the Baronnies - outside the Vaucluse (the "Departement" where our village of Sablet is located) - in the Drome. The trip up into the rocky range and valleys of the Baronnies started as a trip to the Bricomarche (Hardware Store) in Vaison la Romaine to pick up a few supplies.  What had slipped our attention was that it was "Toussaint" Nov 1 - All Saint's Day - a public holiday - so the Bricomarche wasn't open!

Elvis still rocks in Provence!
We could have gone back "a la Maison", but on the way to the Brico I had commented that there was still some snow (after an October snowfall) on a hill ... way over there ... so ... we decided to go find this hill!

From Vaison la Romaine we took the Route de Nyons, past the town of Nyons along  the two lane D94 - a road that runs along the valley floor beside the Eygues River, up into the rocky terrain of the Baronnies where olives grow so well and and rock climbers find no end of new adventures.

A drive on the D94 beside the River Euyges in the rocky Baronnies

The ship shaped rock with a cross at its bow - St May looks out across the valley of the River Euyges 
About 20 km out of Nyons,  we noticed an interesting rock shaped protruding out at right angles to the rest of the hills, looking somewhat like a narrow ship with a saddle in the middle, but a definite bow that protruded out with a large cross on its point. The point reached almost to the river. As we got closer, we noticed that the "ship" had some houses built on it - too good a chance to visit an interesting place.

Along the road, the Cafe Rocher - turn left here, cross the bridge and climb
 the hill to get to St May
Once you turn left at the Cafe Rocher, this is the bridge you cross to take the road up the hill to St May.  Note the rock stratification that you see on the other side of the river under the bridge.  The rock strata throughout this Eygues River Gorge are dramatically folded and contorted varying considerably along the route  in color and pattern.
The name of this village we soon learned is St. May and access to it is from a bridge across the Eygues River (at the Cafe Rocher on the main road) and up a very curly road.  On the way up we noted that it was a little past lunchtime and we should probably stop at the Cafe Rocher (Rock Cafe!?) for lunch and decided to do it on the way back.

The rustic church occupies a central place in the perched village of St May

One of a few streets in St May with the backdrop of a towering rock so typical of this area 
St May was indeed a very interesting little village of a few hundred inhabitants who lived in houses built into the side of the ship shaped hill.  Apart from a couple of streets, and a church in the "square" entry to all other houses were from a street or streets of steps - the main one climbing up to the "bow" where we saw the cross.

Many of the houses in this village are accessed from "streets of steps"
that lead to the "bow" of this ship shaped hill
Climbing... and more steps through the arch ...
Still climbing .. but look down the steps that branch off to the  left...
 and there's the door to a house
.... and another down its own branch of steps
More climbing until ....
you are at the gates ...
That street of steps was quiet a climb, and when we did reach the "bow" we found that the cross is a marker for village cemetery which given the day, was filled with large bouquets of Chrysanthemums.

Inside the gates and it's Nov 1st - All Saint's Day 
While we were there, many family members came by to leave more flowers at the graves of their loved ones. As I recall I did comment quietly, (while stopping to catch my breath on one of the steps),  that it was so nice the villagers wanted their loved ones to go to heaven - but I never would have thought of carrying them up there!

Looking down on the rooftops of St May from the Cross
Having had as much aerobic exercise as we could handle for a day, we carefully trekked back to where the car was parked and made our way back down the hill, across the river.  Lunchtime!

Back at the Cafe Rocher - lunchtime!
Annex to the Cafe - across the road provides seating for guests during the
 busy summer season
Cafe Rocher looks very typical of many little Provencal cafes while out driving, and the Hostess was very welcoming when we entered.  She told us that they didn't have a full menu that day (it was quite far out of the "season"), but they would be glad to make us a Sandwich - ham and cheese - sounded great - especially with a cool glass of local Rose to go with it.

Elvis alert!
When we stepped into the dining room, I noticed a large picture of Elvis on the wall facing us and thought, "how nice - they're Elvis fans", then we noticed another larger dining area with more Elvis memorabilia ... a very large statue of Elvis, more pictures, etc etc.

It wasn't until we met the owner however, who brought us our drinks and sandwiches, that we realized just how much influence Elvis had on this little Cafe - first, we noticed he was wearing an "Elvis" T-shirt - then looked up and saw his Elvis hair! He seemed to be very pleased that we noticed how much like Elvis he looked, and after a short, pleasant conversation, left us to enjoy our sandwiches and wine ... all to the sound of Elvis's "You Aint Nothing But A Hound Dog".

That was a very pleasant although totally unexpected "find" way out in the hills of Provence - the little village was such a treasure - almost like it had been untouched by time.  The Cafe was fun - the Host and Hostess very welcoming and friendly and they served us a simple but very delicious lunch.

I guess there's more than one meaning to the name "Cafe Rocher"! If you find yourself out on the D94 near the area, I would definitely recommend a stop at the the Cafe that rocks!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Secret of the Fontiane - at the end of a Closed Valley!

Considering that we had been travelling to Provence for so many years, I couldn’t believe that we had never visited Fontaine de Vaucluse!  Particularly since it is soooo close to Isle sur la Sorgue, which we never miss on each visit... And double-especially, since a Belgian couple highly recommended it after spending a whole day there. They were also guests at Mas Pichony (where we stayed  a number of times in the days BMdeP – Before we purchased Maison des Pelerins).  But that was before our last Provence vacation, in October of last year.

The "Secret" of the Fontaine
As we drove into the village, it was clear why so many people speak so highly of it – after about a 10 km ride along the D25 through pretty farmland and orchards, until you cross the Sorgue River upstream and enter the deep valley where kayaking and canoeing is a popular activity. 

An elegant bridge over the D25, across the Sorgue as it flows from Fontaine de Vaucluse
A little further along the valley brings you into the shady, tree lined streets of this picturesque village.  As you would expect, there are lots of Cafés and Restaurants lining the riverbanks where visitors can take in the view while they enjoy a drink or a meal.  In all of this it is not very different from many beautiful little villages in Provence.  I was prepared for a beautiful village and lovely scenery.  

Looking towards the town's square from one of the riverside restaurants 
The Town Square is shaded with towering Plane trees and surrounded with interesting shops, restaurants and  the  Santon Museum
Always helpful - an information map of the town helps visitors get their bearings
What I wasn’t prepared for were the many different aspects of this village in a “closed valley”, or Vaucluse (which lends its name to this whole Department in Provence – the Vaucluse).  We were completely taken with the dramatic landscape of a 240 meter cliff that towers over the village and at the foot of which a “spring” – the biggest spring in France, and the fifth largest in the world (having an annual flow of 630 million cubic metres of water) bursts to life, creating the Sorgue River. 

As you walk along the banks of the river towards the source, you see the towering cliffs at the end of the valley, and  the Archbishop's Palace from varying angles - sometimes straight up towering cliffs, sometimes dotted with caves and sometimes covered by large trees.
This view of the cliffs shows the entrance to a large cave

An 800 meter walkway on the banks of the river allows visitors to walk all the way, past smaller springs and waterfalls all the way to “the source”. 
Along the river bank - tall trees shade visitors and stall holders who offer a variety of  souvenirs and refreshments 
Smaller springs pop up out of the rocks all the way along the river
Peace and serenity along this stretch of the river where you often see visitors sitting  down and just taking it all in
A small waterfall adds interest and beauty  to this river along the way
October was a very pleasant time to visit – the weather was sunny and warm, but we were there at the end of “the secheresse”  a very dry summer, and while the smaller springs were still gushing, the main “source” was not flowing, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to gauge the enormous opening in the cliffs where I can only imagine what it must look like on a day when up to 1.8 million cubic meters gushes through!  On the way, up there we passed a number of people enjoying the beautiful surroundings while fishing or simply sitting on one of the benches pondering this amazing and slightly mysterious place where so much water just comes gushing out of the ground.

"The Source" - during the Spring  and early Summer this large cave (Spring) in the rock gushes  millions of cubic  meters of water  pushing  it out all the way along the river
I guess they and we were not the first people to have been taken by the beauty and mystery of this closed valley – as far back as 1337, Francesco Petrarch – Italian Priest turned Poet settled in Fontaine de Vaucluse  close to his good friend Philippe de Cabassolle, Bishop of Cavaillon whose Medieval Palace is perched high on the cliff overlooking the village. 

The Archbishop's Palace as seen from the town's square
This "Panneau" gives visitors information about the Archbishop's Palace on the hill
The ruins of this Palace can still be seen from the village and if you like hiking, you can walk up there.  

Along the River walk, this Plaque pays tribute to Petrarch (notice that his name in French is Francois Petrarque)
Petrarch who, with his family, came to Avignon (when he was young),  following the Papal Court of Clement V during the Avignon Papacy,  left the priesthood after laying eyes on a woman who is known as “Laura” and who became the subject of many of his writings – even though they had no contact.  It is said that Laura was a married woman.  

Through the Iron Gates to the Petrarch Museum
The Petrarch Museum - once inside the Iron Gated courtyard
Much of his work was done in Fontaine de Vaucluse which he found to be an inspiring place.  As far back as the 16th Century, many literary scholars and well known personalities visited this village to pay tribute to Petrarch – so it has been a well visited site for a very long time.

The Old  Water Wheel marks the entrance to the Old Paper Mill
During the 15th Century, local entrepreneurs began to harness the power of the water rushing from the spring, building water wheels that powered  mills and, at that time Fontaine had a thriving paper mill and was quite an industrial force.  It continued to operate and provide the region with locally made paper until mills operated by electricity rendered this method of production obsolete.  

Here is the explanation of the reconstitution of the Old Paper Mill
Heavy wooden mallets worked the wood chips or other source materials into a pulp - the first stage in producing paper
A history of paper production and  the equipment used in the process
Today, visitors to Fontaine can take a walk back in time through the lovely Old Paper Mill and see just what went into the early production of paper in the early days of industrialism, as well as buying some of the fare of this mill.

Small and large caves in the cliffs above the town made an ideal place for the  Resistance fighters to take shelter
As time passed on and World War II brought occupation and great hardship to the citizens of France. Its location at the base of a steep cliff, made Fontaine an ideal spot for the operations of the local Resistance, known as the Maquis – where hiding in the inhospitable cliffs above the village made it less than likely that they would be discovered.  It’s difficult to comprehend the impact of the occupation on the lives of villagers (right throughout France), but we do get a glimpse into what their world was like.

The Musee d'Histoire  tells the story of another time when life was not so easy for the inhabitants of this area
The Musée d’Histoire, which  occupies one of the old Paper Mills was opened in 1990 – and is dedicated to the what they called “the Dark Years” of occupation - after the humiliation of defeat when the Resistance Movement became active.  I have just finished reading “The Citadel” by Kate Mosse which dealt with the same subject matter, although it was set in the Languedoc – an excellent book that reminds us that not so long ago, these villages and towns underwent and withstood extremely harsh times.

Just these three aspects of a very old town at the end of a closed valley in Provence are enough to stir interest and make you ponder Fontaine and its mysterious past – but there is a lot more to see and do here ..

Artisnal Glass Blowers turn out truly unique pieces
Colorful boats lined up at a boat rental company - Canoe Evasion (just outside the town on the D25),
Learn about the history of the Provencal tradition of Santon making decorating  with Santons
You're never short of charming riverside cafes to stop along the way for a cool drink or a meal
This area is very popular with Bicyclists
... kayaking and canoeing, a santon museum, great hiking and rock climbing, lots of wonderful picnic spots, the Petrarch Museum, a 12th Century Romanesque church…but if you are just looking for some quiet time..

Going with the flow ....
... buy a Gelato at one of the shops on the river bank, find a seat under  a Plane tree - enjoy your ice cream and let yourself go with the flow!