The following few days saw us heading off to the perched village of Gordes (with a ‘Perched’ rating of 8 out of 10) and Roussillon (7 out of 10). Both extremely picturesque but, as Heather described, they looked so manicured and gentrified that the real people who would’ve lived there years ago wouldn’t be able to afford it now. Sort of ‘Tidy Town’ gone over the top.
We did manage to intersperse the visits to the Tidy Towns above with a genuinely intriguing visit to the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. We accidently stumbled upon it after we left Gordes, meandering around the nearby countryside. It is tucked away in a little valley but is also probably one of the most recognisable places in Provence or even France. You’d have seen pictures of it on cards, in calendars or books, the simple old stone building nestled in behind the rows of lavender.
Neil, choirmaster of Christchurch St Laurence, and respected musical scholar had recommended it as one of the only places left where Gregorian chant and the offices of the day are still practiced by Cistercian monks (of the Benedictine order). Dating from 1148, the Abbaye reached its zenith through the 13thand 14th centuries then went into decline through the wars of religion and later the French Revolution. It actually closed at a couple of points, even going into private ownership for a time. It now again has a very small number of brothers, still following the Rule of St Benedict.
When we visited, the only tour was in French, by a young woman (the men in the bookshop spoke English!) We gathered snippets here and there – one word in fifteen?… We wish we could have heard the chants or attended a service – but few are open to the public, although you can go on retreat there.
Roussillon, has its ochre-red , orange and yellow earth and cliffs, the deposits of ochre in the clay being mined and exploited for artists’ palettes for at least a couple of hundred years. But someone obviously put a stop to that, though pigments are still made much of in the tourist shops. And the houses and buildings being painted in the pinks and reds of the ochre give Roussillon its rosy glow. Gordes, Roussillon and their surrounds are today regarded as the Palm Beach or Toorak areas, in Aussie terms, of this region.
The Baronesses may have been able to blend in here but chose to head off for the town of Apt to have a picnic which unfortunately ended up, out of necessity and due to Baroness Butler’s sudden drop in blood sugar, in a vacant lot staring at a pile of rubble and a construction site. However, looking across the little road in the opposite direction was a little house with a nice garden and lots of irises, so we stood at the back of the car and munched our dinner looking at that…
Tina and Heather