Breakfast of croissants and tea then we were off by 9.30am, heading into busy and stylish St Raphael’s log jammed coastal traffic before finally escaping and making for Le Muy and the quieter, countryside D10 road to our chosen coffee stop in Lorgues, about an hour away.
I’d always wanted to visit this handsome market town with its medieval history, towers and fountains and 16th/17th century buildings.It didn’t disappoint.In fact I took to it right away, as we walked from our parking at the top of the old town, down to the Town Hall and the main avenue lined with plane trees.A lovely, typically French line of elegant cafes awaited – which to choose?
Oh the simple pleasure of sitting in the warm October sun with a Cafe au Lait, exchanging a few words with the young waitress (Chris is fluent in French, while mine is best described as ‘tortured’) and knowing we had the week ahead of us.Bliss.
We spent an hour after that exploring the old streets, past pastel coloured houses and admiring the defensive stone gates and walls of medieval times.A very ‘real’ town, not given overly to tourism and all the better for that.Beautiful churches too, silent and cool inside, smelling of wood and stone; a reminder of the deeper concerns of life perhaps, than our superficial but very enjoyable gadding about, seeing the world’s lovely places.
Now the drive onward and upward, literally, to the exquisite, tiny village of Tourtour, situated at over 2,000 feet and known as ‘the village in the sky.’ It’s listed in a great book we bought many years ago as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages of France and I certainly wouldn’t argue about its inclusion.
This was our second time here and what a delight to wander up again through the narrow cobbled streets, lined with stone and pastel coloured houses and with glimpses to the luscious, rolling green countryside beyond.In our guidebook, it was described as ‘ a picturesque tangle of streams, medieval buildings and old stone streets leading to a main square lined with restaurants.’ A stroll up to the striking 11th century Eglise St Denis, sitting atmospherically all on its own on top of a small hill, gave a 360 degree panorama over this, the Upper Var from the coast to a very distant Mount Ventoux, one of the hardest climbs in the Tour de France.
Hunger drew us back to charming Place des Ormeaux, filled with olive and plane trees and cafes. The menu of La Farigoulette looked good plus we had enjoyed the food here previously.Duck with fresh Morelle Mushrooms (it was mushroom season) and Dauphinoise Potatoes for me; Steak and Frites for Chris – both excellent.
I had a peek out back where they have a sunny little terrace, surrounded by a stone wall and overlooking the countryside – full to the brim today with chattering lunchers.I had initially dithered about whether we should sit out here, when the waiter offered us the choice, but I love being beneath these grand old plane trees and there is no traffic through the square, so where we were was perfect.
Time for an explore through the rest of the village, passing old stone fountains with drinking water coming from the ancient spring of St Rosaire; walls bedecked with the last of the season’s flowers, little windows decorated with pots of bright red geraniums; small Art Galleries.
Man can create an awful mess in this world but hasn’t he hasn’t he also built some exquisite places too… Tourtour has 2 castles, the oldest being 13th century; one now functions as a very beautiful Town Hall.
Bye bye to pretty Tourtour – it feels eons away from the busy coast yet it’s only 30 miles inland.
MOUSTIERS ST MARIE
Our second night’s stop now awaited , about an hour away, in equally gorgeous Moustiers St Marie.The village sits near the entrance to the spectacular Gorges du Verdon, Europe’s largest, with walls up to 700m high (2,300 feet.)
Moustiers was quite quiet by the time we arrived around 3pm – it does get busy -and we got parked easily just outside the village itself.The setting of this exquisite little place beneath the craggy rock walls is spectacular.We decided to leave the luggage for now and instead, climb the 262 stone steps of the Way of the Cross, up to the tiny 12th century Chapel Notre-Dame de Beauvoir which sits perched above Moustiers.
This is a little of its history – ‘ Like other Alpine chapels, the vocation of the sanctuary of Notre Dame de Beauvoir is the “suscitation”. In the XVIIth century, stillborn babies came back to life for the duration of their baptism. Their souls could then go to Paradise.’
What heartache and hope these chapels have witnessed…
Hanging between the rock walls is a golden star, said to have been originally placed there by a local Knight on his return from the Crusades; the star is dedicated to St Mary and pays tribute to the Virgin Mary.
We were now looking over the tiled roofs of the medieval village itself with the rich green countryside beyond, dotted with olive trees – apparently around 20,000.
No vehicles are allowed in the village so we humphed a small overnight bag plus supplies of wine and nibbles, to Hotel Particulier des Lumieres which had been converted into apartments.Some locals were playing petanque in the square in front – such a typical French scene!
Our ‘room’ was actually two rooms plus bathroom, shower and kitchen – a huge space with windows everywhere, light flooding in and some fine antique furniture.It was like arriving in someone’s quite elegant flat, rather than a hotel. Amazing and not what we expected! A haven of cool and quiet on this sunny autumn afternoon, ‘far from the madding crowd.’
Not that there was any real crowd as such in October, it all felt quiet but with enough people to add life to the place.Out we headed for a drink in the terrace of a charming cafe, opposite one of the stone washing troughs once used by the women of the village. Now it trickles water from the clear mountain river which runs through Moustiers.
Fresh Pear juice for me and a Rose wine for Chris, as we watched the world go by.
The plan had been to dine out at a well regarded local restaurant Le Treille Muscate which I had booked months ago. But the best laid schemes…it was shut for renovations! This is the second time I’ve tried to eat out here; the last time, we arrived on a closed day.They do lots of traditional sounding dishes – I was so looking forward to the local lamb cooked with lavender honey.Maybe third time lucky!
So – a mad dash to get the last baguette in the Boulangerie (and it looked like the last one); some Parma Ham and the usual cold accompaniments from a small shop which called itself ‘8 till 8’ but closed at 7pm and opened at 8.30am!
Another meal in – oh well, shouldn’t complain, having had a good lunch earlier. The sun went down around 6.30pm and the night sky was clear, promising a fine day for our drive tomorrow (which I was slightly nervous about.)
Next morning – a quick look in a beautiful perfume/soap shop which I can never walk by and which was open super early.Bought a gorgeous hand cream, Bois De L’Orange scent, still going strong as I write.( An Olive soap purchase wasn’t so successful, very little lasting scent.)Somewhere I could have browsed for yonks but I was soon pulled away by Chris checking the time on his phone and looking impatient.
Tomorrow – a drive round the vertiginous Route des Cretes above the Verdon Gorge; lunch above the gorge in tiny, 9th century Rougon; and a night in the fairy tale like – village of Entrevaux.