We’ve spent all week camped just outside Vence at a wonderful family campsite. It has a restaurant, shop, swimming pool and a bus outside the door. After a hot day of hiking the swimming pool is a godsend and the food in the restaurant is very good and inexpensive.
Vence has become one of our favourite towns in Provence – another town that developed on a rocky ledge and is still surrounded by its original fortifications. Its historic centre is circular and retains all its fortifications intact - these are now seen as a ring of ancient houses rather than stone walls - with the five gateways allowing access to the centre. The 13th century fortifications are so well preserved because in the 15th century it was agreed that houses could be built against the walls - so they couldn't later be demolished to make way for boulevards as happened in many medieval towns.
Elizabeth suggested a “stroll” to three villages in the area which turned into a 20km hike. We made our way directly from the campground along forested trails to our first village of St Paul de Vence. St Paul de Vence is a small village with a big reputation. It’s reputedly the most visited village in France. It’s not difficult to see why with its cliff top position, cobbled streets and alleyways and stunning views out over the surrounding countryside from its ramparts. It really is charming, but spoiled somewhat by the busloads of tour groups. It also drew the attention of people like Picasso & Chagall. One question: how can one tiny village support so many art galleries?
From St Paul, we followed back country roads and lanes to La Colle sur Loup – a much quieter town and somewhat of a surprise. From a distance, it looked modern and suburban, but the main street in the old town was quite charming. Because it doesn’t attract the tourists it seemed more genuine and relaxed.
To get to our next venue of Tourrettes sur Loup we had to climb up onto hiking trails far above the River Loup. Tourrettes is another village perched on a rocky outcrop. It proved to be our favourite of the day with its narrow streets, quaint shops and lovely views. We sat at a café for drinks and a chance to watch the world go by and then watched a game of boules as we waited for a bus back to camp.
Two of our hikes took us up onto baous (or bau in Provencal) – an outcrop of rock that towers above the land or town below. The views from the summits are outstanding with the Mediterranean coastline ahead and the southern Alps behind. The Baou de St Jeannet, the most imposing and tallest baou in the region is a sheer cliff which at 800m tall towers above the village. The baous can seem both protective and menacing. St Jeannet is another unspoilt village dating to the 13th c., perched high above the sea below the baou.
Another week and a new area……………..let’s move on!Things we have learned about Europe this week:
• Conversation in the camper van – week 5, June 5th. Ian: “Please pass me my second 6% beer from the fridge as you are right there.” Liz: “I am not encouraging your debauched habits, get your own.” Friday, June 6th was unanimously declared “Mental health Day”, where we spent at least 12 hours apart………..Liz at the market in Vence and Ian cycling.
• French bus timetables (see photos). Another bus schedule mystery solved. We thought there was fantastic service from the campsite with a bus every hour on the hour; so, Liz was miffed when the 9:00 bus never showed up and she ended up walking the 4km into Vence. All was revealed later when the campsite owner said, “No minutes, no bus.”
• The French have the very best guard dog signs on their gates! (see photos)
• The craziest tightrope walkers live in France! (see video at High wire walker
• The French are known for their formal traditions. For example, when someone enters a waiting room (such as in a medical office) or a store or a restaurant they greet every person in the room, who in turn greet them back. Quite wonderful!
• The sounds of spring in Provence…………….. birds singing, bees buzzing, frogs croaking, corks popping and whipper snippers (edge trimmers) whining away!Travel trivia
Last week’s question: Pont du Loup used to be a fashionable country resort at the end of the 19th c. By train or horse drawn coaches the elegant society used to have lunch in the restaurants along the Loup River. After, they would explore the canyons and waterfalls. Which monarch of the 19th c. regularly came to Pont du Loup?And the answer is…………………….Queen Victoria! The Queen was a regular visitor to Pont du Loup; she loved this entire area, and the square in Gourdon overlooking the gorge is named after her.This week’s question: For all you classic film buffs out there! Which Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly was filmed in this area of Provence in locations such as Nice, Cannes, Bar sur Loup, Tourrettes sur Loup and St Jeannet?
No “Googling” – answer next week!
Until next week!
Ian & Liz