Tuesday, 2 August 2016

(Not So Much) Cycling in Provence: Relaxing in Vaison-la-Romaine (Part 1)

In a slight departure from normal service, this post doesn't cover much in the way of cycling -- except for Adam's epic Sunday morning!

I awoke when I heard Adam's voice. What was this he was saying?  

"I'm going to do it."

Instantly, I knew what "it" was. We hadn't discussed it at all but, really, realistically, how can "it" not be on the mind of any cyclist visiting Provence? 

"It" being riding up Mount Ventoux. 

I was still living in a migraine fog. Adam, on the other hand, was pumped up and raring to go. He intended to ride over to the mountain, do the ascent and come back before the heat of midday. So we had an early breakfast -- one that, technically speaking, meant he was actually going to do this epic thing in a fasted state. 

We undertook some drastic rearrangements as to bags and supplies, with a shift in focus to fuel, hydration and essential repairs. 

And he's off!

Once I'd seen him safely negotiate the blind 90 degree bend below the hotel, I went back to bed!

After a restless hour or two of not-quite-sleep in a stuffy room (it's a tricky thing to have the windows open to get some air while having the curtains closed to keep both light and bugs out), I gave up, got dressed, gathered my camera, postcards and address book and decamped for the restaurant garden, detouring past reception to borrow a pen. 

the Belfry through the trees at the end of the garden

Around 1pm, I began wondering if I should go ahead and order lunch in expectation of Adam's return. Fortunately, news came through on Facebook that he had indeed made it to the top of Mount Ventoux and was on his way back, although the return journey might not be much faster than the climb up, as the Bickerton was a bit terrifying at speed! 

A few photos by Adam of his exploits -- 

We enjoyed lunch in La Fontaine again, for its convenience given the uncertainties as to when Adam might get back.  I went for the poached egg starter and then the rabbit main course again (as it was definitely worth a repeat) and we finished with a rather gorgeous strawberry cheesecake -- very summery. 

And we had a small visitor!

After lunch, Adam showered and changed and we de-camped to the hotel's annexe up the hill, to spend a few hours by the pool. As I still wasn't 100% recovered from my migraine, I kept my head in the shade and enjoyed reading an old novel by Anne Jarvis McGraw, a childhood favourite. 

Views from the pool terrace

Views from the pool terrace. The tower is the top of the Belfry.

We felt quite refreshed after that and up for some exploring. So we changed into street clothes and comfortable shoes and girded ourselves to CLIMB. 

I have read a lot about the town since returning home -- apparently, it's a favourite with Alastair Campbell's family -- I do hope we don't bump into them there sometime!  

Welcome to Medieval Vaison-la-Romaine, often called "The Upper Town".

This area was occupied during the Bronze Age. According to Wikipedia (the source being the French archealogist, historian and writer Christian Goudineau), the upper town was occupied for several hundred years before the Romans arrived by a Celtic tribe, the Vocontii or Voconces. The Vocontii were extraordinarily successful in reaching accommodations with the invading Romans; they were not conquered or subjugated and their ancient capital city (a classic Iron Age fort called an 'oppidum') was not re-structured by Roman city planners into a typical Roman city. Throughout the Upper Town can still be seen fundamental traces of the Celtic oppidum settlement. 

Here is one of the best summaries (both brief and accurate) I've found of its main features.


The belfry

The Belfry (classified historical monument in 1914), was protected by a barbican, a moat with a drawbridge, a portcullis and a gate. The base of the tower dates from the 14th century and the campanile from the 18th century. The town council occupied the first floor until the 18th century.

The castle

Around 1180, the men of the Count of Toulouse built a wooden tower strengthened by palissages, on the top of the hill, in order to impose the image of the Count’s lay power. This was pulled down on the bishop’s order and replaced in 1193-1195 by a stone keep (turris). Later, two buildings were added. The whole was modified along the centuries. Nowadays, the castle appears as a vast parallelogram of 22m. on 19 m. with buildings on three sides of a courtyard limited on the south side by a bluff 22 m. deep. On the other sides, moats dug into the rock completed the defensive system. On the eastern side stood a double bartizan with loopholes (16th century).

The keep has a ground floor, a mezzanine floor and a first floor. The central wing includes three rooms on the ground floor (one of them a water tank) and a large hall on the first floor; on the second floor, a platform is accessible thanks to a covered way. The western wing includes two rooms on the ground floor, one on the first floor. Under the buildings are the dungeons and bottle-dungeons, the water tank and, in the middle of the courtyard, a very deep well.

The smaller squares and fountains

In the old city there are numerous little squares. One of them is situated outside the walls: there were the weights (pez) marked and checked. There also rose the indoors tennis court (in the game of close tennis, players sent the balls with rackets or bats). People met to play at skittles on the “planet” (a level area use for the skittle-allay).

The market was held on the main square of the Upper Town. To have a market, a city had to be allowed by its local lord. In Vaison this privilege had been granted by Pope Sixte IV in 1483.

In the 18th century, most of the ”comtadines” (belonging to the Comtat Venaissin) fountains were erected. They are composed of a central column from which water springs, their top is rounded and decorated with a sculptured pine cone.


As to order of play, the Belfry is immediately next to and below the hotel. Turning up the hill on Sunday afternoon, we walked through a series of small squares, past many fountains, finally coming out at the Count's Castle on top of the hill. 

We liked the look of the hotel with green shutters (above), in this square just up from our own hotel, so we popped in and made dinner reservations, timed to coincide with our likely return from the highest point.

Eventually, as you climb, you "run out of town" (!)  The only thing on top of the hill is the Count's Castle. To get there, I had to think more like a goat than a human.

The views were worth it!

Before we head back down, I'll throw in a photo taken of the Castle from the "Lower Town" the following day, because up close, it's difficult to appreciate its scale, position and beauty -- 

And then of course we had to go down... down... down...

 Back to the hotel with green shutters.

The restaurant was down half a flight of stairs through the arch.

an amuse-bouche - I was very taken with the whole concept!

lamb - gorgeous but fiddly to extract meat from the bones
and somewhat 'unrewarding' in terms of quantity!

enjoyable selection of cheeses

Every evening in France should end with cheese!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share This