June 24, 2013

St. Rémy de Provence

St. Rémy de Provence, July 2012 - We arrived in St. Rémy yesterday on the Provence extension to our Rhone River cruise with Avalon Waterways. Once again the weather promised to be hot -  35 Celsius by afternoon. Unlike my previous visit to Europe when my sun hat travelled around in my luggage, mon chapeau is being worn every day.

Our hotel in St. Rémy was Le Vallon de Valrugues. Out by the pool, the morning air was fresh and the cigales (cicadas) hadn't yet started to sing - they must have been asleep.

Le Vallon de Valrugues Pool

We enjoyed a buffet breakfast al fresco on the terrace before boarding the motor coach at 9:15 a.m. for our excursion to St. Paul de Mausole Monastery and the ancient Roman town of Glanum. Both sites are south of the town centre.

Breakfast on the Hotel Terrace

The first evidence of the Roman civilization we encountered was Les Antiques de Glanum, a mausoleum and triumphal arch that once stood outside the city gates.

The Mausoleum and Triumphal Arch, Glanum

The Triumphal Arch

The Mausoleum

We crossed Avenue Vincent Van Gogh and followed a shady pathway dotted with reproductions of Van Gogh paintings of olive trees. Before continuing on to Glanum we would visit Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery, the private asylum where the artist was admitted for treatment in 1889. Prior to his arrival at Saint Paul, Van Gogh had cut off a portion of his ear following an argument with friend and artist Paul Gauguin.

Van Gogh's Olive Trees

Entrance to Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery

Van Gogh completed 143 paintings during the year he spent at Saint Paul, including this depiction of the psychiatric hospital.

Hospital in St. Rémy, Van Gogh

The hospital still functions today. A statue of the artist greets visitors to the grounds.

Statue of Vincent Van Gogh

A reproduction of Van Gogh's room is on the second floor of the building.

Bust of Van Gogh by Melvin Klapholz

The room is very simply furnished. Reproductions of his paintings are on display here as well, including one of two versions of Bedroom in Arles that he painted here. One version hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris but sadly none of Van Gogh's paintings remain in Provence.

Van Gogh's Room

Bedroom in Arles, Van Gogh

The window in this room looks out over a small lavender field below. Wheat would have grown here in Van Gogh's time.

View from Van Gogh's Window

Across the hall from Van Gogh's room is a treatment room with displays on psychiatric medicine in the 19th century.

Hospital Treatment Room

Through a doorway exiting from the main floor gift shop was the one thing I'd been waiting all day to see - no, I'd been waiting to experienceThe lavender fields of Provence – an important item on my Bucket List and a big reason for this visit to France.

Avalon offers an optional excursion out of Avignon to Gordes during lavender season, but heavy rains this year necessitated the cutting down of the fields before our arrival. I'd been really disappointed by the news but later heard that the lavender might still blooming at St. Paul de Mausole in St. Rémy.

Saint Paul de Mausole Gift Shop Window

Rows of Lavender

I stepped out into the hot sun and was met by the heavenly scent of lavender. There was plenty of time to wander around the garden while bees and butterflies hovered above the spiky purple blossoms and cigales rustled all around me - finally the sublime Provence experience from my Bucket List! 

Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery

Very happy now I rejoined our group for the walk to Glanum. 

Our guide told us that the helicopter circling overhead was patrolling for fires, which are a big concern in Provence during the hot, dry summers. At the time, fires were being battled in the nearby Pyrenees Mountains bordering Spain.

Helicopter Patrolling Les Alpilles for Fires

Exploration of the archeological site of Glanum began in 1921. Unlike Les Antiques, the monuments we'd seen earlier, the ruins of the town had lain buried in a gully below the rocky Alpilles. There isn't much shade here so a hat, sunscreen and water are a good idea for visitors, as are sturdy walking shoes.

The Glanum Archaeological Site

The Main Street of Glanum

Fossil Remains in Limestone

The Bouleuterion, the Assembly Hall

Next to the bouleuterion, the columns of one of the Twin Temples have been partially reconstructed. The temples were built in honour of the Roman Emperor's family.

Columns of the Twin Temples

At the conclusion of the tour of Glanum we returned to the centre of town to spend our free afternoon exploring St. Rémy. The oldest part of the town is circled by a road with interesting shops and many restaurants. Wednesday is market day and at 1:00 p.m. the vendors began to pack up their stalls.

Lavender and Sunflowers

Citroën Car

Rick Steves' Provence guidebook recommended two shops that I wanted to visit while in St. Rémy. ALe Petit Duc (7 boulevard Victor Hugo) I bought some calissons, a traditional Provençal sweet (€8 for 24) which I shared with the members of our tour group on the drive to Aix-en-Provence the next day. (This treat made of ground almond paste and candied melon was created in Aix.)

Au Petit Duc

A little further down the street is a chocoholic's paradise, Jöel Durand Chocolatier (3 boulevard Victor Hugo). This master chocolatier incorporates a myriad of exotic flavours, such as rosemary, violet and Szechwan pepper, into the ganache fillings of his 'alphabet of chocolates'. Of course I chose the lavender flavour (2 for 4€) which they packaged for me in a tiny white box for safe transport back to the hotel where I could savour them later. The smooth dark chocolate, blended with the subtle herbal essence of lavender, was very good.

Jöel Durand Chocolatier

An Alphabet of Chocolates

Jöel Durand's Lavender Chocolates

All this talk of exquisite French chocolate brings to mind a book I read recently, The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand, with its lush descriptions of food and the romantic city of Paris. I'm looking forward to reading The Chocolate Rose, which the author has set in Provence. It's sure to evoke memories of my visit to Jöel Durand Chocolatier in St. Rémy de Provence. (I'd better stock up on some chocolate.)

With an assortment of sweets in hand, we settled at a sidewalk table at Brasserie de L'Industrie (21 boulevard Mirabeau) for some lunch: a refreshing glass of rosé, a colourful salad and tender roasted chicken.

Lunch at Brasserie de L'Industrie

Near the restaurant was a small fountain, the Fountain of the Trinity.

Fountain of the Trinity

After lunch we returned to our hotel (and air conditioning!) where we made leisurely plans for dinner over a glass of wine on the shady poolside terrace. The restaurant of Le Vallon de Valrugues has been awarded one star by the prestigious Michelin Guide. But we had a reservation at Le Louis XV - Alain Ducasse (three Michelin stars - another item on my Bucket List) at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo the following night, so we chose to return to town for a simple meal.

Most of the shops closed at 7:00 p.m. so we weren't able to do much shopping. We did, however, find a tiny gourmet food and wine shop open near the central square across from the Mairie, or Town Hall.

Wine Shop

Town Hall of St. Remy de Provence

When it came time to select a restaurant for dinner I couldn't resist the cheerful pink and green table settings of La Fontaine (19 boulevard Mirabeau). And my meal - described so plainly on the menu as salad with chicken - turned out to be a vibrant platter of red and yellow tomatoes and green beans over a bed of crisp greens, alongside half a melon overflowing with juicy grapes, berries and a slice of watermelon. As tasty as it was visually appealing. And our waitress was very helpful.

La Fontaine, St. Remy de Provence

La Fontaine Salad

After this lovely dinner we set out to explore more of old St. Rémy, now much quieter than in the afternoon. The day-trippers had departed, the air had cooled down - it was the ideal time to wander the narrow streets lined with pastel shuttered buildings.

Quiet Evening Streets of St. Rémy de Provence

Nostradamus was born in St. Rémy de Provence and we stumbled across a fountain decorated by a bust of the man famous for his prophecies, although we didn't come across the house where he was born.

Nostradamus Fountain

Bust of Nostradamus

We made our way back to the ring road and enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate at a café across from the carousel while we waited for our motor coach to take us back to the hotel.

St. Remy Carousel

As a relaxing end to a busy day – and a memorable time in Provence – I sipped a glass of wine by the pool and dipped my feet in the cool water as a crescent moon peeked over the tree tops.

I'd learned much about a great artist, walked the streets of an ancient Roman town, and finally experienced the sensory pleasures of a lavender field in bloom. And in the morning we were headed to a very different world: the glitz of Monte Carlo on the French Riviera.

Next:  Monte Carlo

Related Posts:

Afternoon in Arles
"R" is for Roman Ruins
"V" is for Van Gogh
"X is for Aix-en-Provence

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated.