Last year we were touring high in the mountainous area of Provence exploring the countryside and hillside villages, some housing talented artists. France has a relocation scheme for artists wanting to return to villages to encourage tourism to those areas, some of which are extremely isolated.
We were very fortunate to arrive in one such picturesque mountaintop village a little before sunset. With the last of the sun's rays pouring through the clouds, we turned a corner into a narrow cobbled laneway and came across the most beautiful of petite churches. There was not a soul in sight, with more than one hundred candles lighting up the altar and around the church.
It was a magic moment that made us feel blessed to be in such a special place to witness such a sight.
One of our favourite ways to say hello to Paris is to visit the Hotel de Ville and nearby Notre Dame then off via the metro to the magnificent cathedral of Sacre Coeur and lunch with a view across the entire city.
Next off to the Arc de Triumph and a pastis (anise liqour served with water and ice) on the Champs Elysee. Then stroll to the Place de Concorde and through the gardens to the Louvre. With the sunset behind the Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysee, gardens and magnificent trees of Paris. Perfect!
At the time [circa 58 BC] that Caesar came, saw, and conquered Gaul [nothern France Britain and Belgium], France was divided in to two parts--the north and the south. The south or Provence, had long been a fashionable and favourite resort for political exiles of the Greco-Roman world, Hellenized [Greekified] by the intellectual Greeks who had first settled there. It was prized for its climate, its wines, its fish soup, and its olives and spices [not much has changed really].
In the rest of France the Gauls still dressed unstylishly in trousers instead of the more chic white toga, didn't shave their faces, and wore their hair much too long and shaggy to be socially acceptable. Some of the ancients derisively referred to the northern half of France as "the trouser-clad place."
We visit some striking examples of the Roman legacy in Provence in our Heart of Provence Tour.
Apparently a hotel in Alcase in the north east corner of France famous for wine, ancient buildings and a long standing German influence, is offering a rather special package deal. Couples wishing to get away for the purpose of conceiving the first baby of the new millenium on the 27th or 28th of March (the best time for such a deed according to the experts) can expect a lovely private room, friendly service and a special aphrodisiac menu.
According to the stories and legends of the Roquefort region in south central France--about 2000 year ago a young shepherd tending his sheep high in the Causses [high arid mesa's similar to those in Ariizon or Mexico], was concerned about the effect of the fiery sun on his lunch of rye bread, white sheep's milk cheese and apples. He noticed that along one side of this mesa there was a high mass of rock, known today as Mount Combalou, tunneled with many dark caves. The shepherd climbed up and left his lunch on a cool ledge in the deep shade of one of the caves, safe from the sun.
Sortly afterwards his flock was attacked by a wolf and he forgot about his lunch altogether until three months later he climbed back into the cave. He was not surprised to find his bread and apples moldy and inedible, but the white cheese was interestingly shot through with jagged blue/green veins. When he tried this strange cheese which had remained perfectly soft he found it had an interesting aroma and a faint nutty, definately tangy flavour. He took this cheese home. All his family enjoyed it as well. Roquefort was born.
The cheese gets its name from the fact that only Mount Combalou was found to have the power of creating the blue/green veins. Other caves some only a mile away had no effect. Since the cheeses came from a fortress like rock it was simply called "Roc Fort".
The veins are in fact caused by the "benign and noble" mold, Penicillium Roqueforti which is apparently found nowhere else in the world.
For many of you in the northern hemisphere, the idea of lavender fields ready for harvest right now must seem strange. Yes, we have quite a bit of lavender in Australia mainly in Tasmania (a separate island in the south east corner of Australia). Robbi and I make it a definite date to attend the lavender harvest at Daylesford near Melbourne, Victoria. It is always a wonderful day of festivity with maypole dancing, wandering minstrels and the heady scent of freshly picked lavender in the air.
Last year the harvest attracted about 7000 visitors with all the provisions for a hot summers day and picnic in hand. There are many stalls offering great local produce, including several wineries keen to have people sample their wares.
This year when Jim was in France he was spend some time with one of the largest lavender growers in France, at his 80 hectare property which is gradually being converted to organic production. It is a long process about 7 years before the new plants are ready for oil production.