Thursday, 21 June 2012

A week in Provence.... part 3

We woke to warmth and sun and an amazing rooftop view from the bedroom window. The arrangement for breakfast was for us to meet up at a street cafe for croissants and strong coffee. It was Saturday, market day in Beaune. I went out for an early morning stroll taking photographs and relishing the quiet warmth of a new day. But after 20 minutes my battery ran out and I contented myself with just walking and looking.

Beaune is an ancient and historic town on a plain by the hills of the Cote d'Or, with features remaining from the pre-Roman and Roman eras, through the medieval and renaissance periods and up to recent history and modern times. It is a walled city, with about half of the battlements, ramparts, and the moat, having survived and in good condition, and the central "old town" is extensive. Historically Beaune is intimately connected with the Dukes of Burgundy. There is a comprehensive "traditional" shopping area clustered around the central square with a focus on gourmet food, fashion, and wine. The Saturday market is perfectly French - there are major fine food stalls supplying a broad selection of products and specialties from Burgundy and the surrounding regions. For example, Bresse chickens, cheeses, bread and pastries, mustards, small goods, spices, produce of every variety as well as seasonal specialties such as truffles. I had enjoyed Raymond Blanc's TV programme 'The Very Hungry Frenchman' on TV earlier this year - he visited Beaune and I remembered him showing us an exceptional cheese shop - I made a mental note to seek it out later.

Breakfast in Beaune
We sat at a pavement table, in mellow sunshine overlooking the bustling scene. Hundreds of market stalls covered the centre of the village, roads were closed and people busied themselves searching out various delights. The French really have us beat at markets, in England a market is seen as cheap and cheerful, in France the produce is as good or better than in the shops. In France there is a gastronomic landscape wandered and enjoyed by all, in Britain we prefer to draw the curtains, open a book and never leave the room. Everything looks delicious and tempting, fresh and loved. it's a pity we can't do more to encourage the same attitude over here. After breakfast we wandered the streets in avaricious awe marvelling at the casual incoussiance of the French - this is pretty much an everyday occurrence for them. We bought cheese, bread, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pickled garlic, mustards and saucisson - the plan was to have a picnic when we reached our destination later in the afternoon.

Bread stall - Beaune market
First sight of Mont Ventoux
We set off for Bedoin just before lunch. 241 miles to drive in warm sunshine. A straightforward trip on more toll roads through rolling green countryside. We noticed there were lots of cars loaded with bikes, we saw every conceivable marriage: BMX bikes mixed with road bikes, Mountain bikes and tourers, Kids bikes with grown up counter parts. We travelled through Lyon, or more precisely underneath it. No need for ring roads or by-passes - simply dig a tunnel under the city - job done. We passed over and alongside the Rhone river - a wide flowing expanse like molten steel snaking below aquamarine hills, Cote de Rhone terroir now as the light grew ever brighter and the sun hotter.

As we enter the Vaucluse region of Provence our momentum increases as our expectations rise. Look right or left and it's vines.... and olive groves.... and cypress trees. There are honey coloured stone-built houses dotted around, all with narrow windows and blue-painted shutters to protect against the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The landscape is dry and dusty, streaked with yellow ochre and raw sienna. And then, suddenly, we spot it; directly ahead, rising up from the earth like a vivid, monstrous souffle. It is preposterously large, tearing into the blue sky, vast and aloof, its naked summit white as monumental alabaster, the bloodless white of death and topped by a radio mast that looks like a steeple or possibly a lighthouse. It is far away but dominates the horizon - from now on I am barely able to avert my gaze, I feel transfixed, hypnotised. This is Mont Ventoux. It looks to be impossible, beyond me, but I have to keep such thoughts at bay - I know it will be hard and steep.

The villa
We arrive in Bedoin, a sleepy Provencal village with a a collection of terrace cafes along a single main street shaded by giant plane trees. The church of Saint Antonin sits high above the village, built in a spanish style but with a wrought iron campanile typical of the region. Compact houses cluster up the steep side streets, there are boulangeries, restaurants and a couple of supermarkets and Mont Ventoux, ever watchful, towers to the North-East.
We follow the instructions to our 'villa' for the week, past more fields of vines and cherry trees, finally turning onto a rough unmade track to our destination. It is a restored 'mas' with a large open plan lounge with cool limestone floors, a kitchen, three bedrooms all with ensuite facilities, a garden terrace with a large table and chairs and a small swimming pool. There are olive trees in the garden and a good view of the mountain. We unload, unpack and open a bottle of wine. The travelling is over. Next will be cycling up the mountain.

al fresco supper
villa - lounge area
villa ` bedroom

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