Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Les Gorges du Verdon

Les Gorges du Verdon
en français sous la ligne ___
Les Gorges du Verdon are sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon du Verdon, but in no way can the area be confused with what Americans consider the Grand Canyon!
Here is the wikipedia article in English. The river cut the river bed through layers and layers of sedimentary ocean floor. While it was rushing down the hundreds of meters of rock, it carried boulders from higher up and carved out these smooth curves in the rock and sometimes that led to deeper caves. Even before Neanderthal came along, these caves were inhabited by humans. Neanderthals lived there. Cro-Magnon did not live there because the glaciers had come back and it was just too cold for Cro-Magnon, who found a better climate in the Ardeche and the Dordogne valleys.
Claire showing Aurelia the oil
The Verdon is in what they call the pre-Alps or Basses Alpes. It's the eastern edge of the Provence region, east of the Durance river. It's a fruit-tree region, especially apple trees. There is also wheat, the hard variety used in pasta. Most of all, there is lavender. The best time to visit the region is before the lavender is harvested, before the third weekend in July. There's lavender and lavendin, but let's just say lavender to make things easy. The lavendin season is a little later than the lavender season and it takes 6 times more lavender than lavendin to extract the same amount of essential oil, so most of the production is lavendin. Apparently, you can use lavender essential oil in food, but not lavendin. How do I know all this? Well, the Plateau de Valensole is part of the region and we visited a distillery just outside the town of Valensole and the distiller explained it. He took a sample of from the condensing vat to show us the oil floating on the water.
Until 40 years ago, the canyon was all canyon and only accessible to hikers and rafts, but in the 70s a series of dams was built at Esparron, Quinson, and Sainte Croix and they created three lakes. The highest, the Sainte Croix is the biggest. We were on the middle lake, at Montpezat. We (Paul and I, Claire, Aurelia and Constance) were at a vacation village run by Belambra. It was fine for what it is, but not really my dream place. I'm not much into organized quiz shows before meals, the after-dinner parties with music blasting 'til 11. I did go to the aquagym sessions, though. The pool was great. The rooms were fine. I'm just not a great camp participant.
View from the room
The kids show, first week
It was a great location! The tiny village of Montpezat sits just above this vacation complex and is a delightful
place to go for morning walks. We also did little excursions to Riez, Moustiers, Valensole, Quinson and along the corniches of rhte gorges. I took a boat excursion on the lake through the gorges to the Sainte Croix dam. That's where I got my geology and pre-historic information. Moustiers is well-known for its ceramics. The industry had died out completely in the nineteenth century and a sole ceramist revived the industry in the early 20th century. Now, the town is 100% pottery shops. Riez was the closest town and has a good deal of its old ramparts and city gates, with the old main street with 16th century Renaissance homes. It has an enormous market and you can tell that it's not just for tourists when you see the hardware store in a truck on the parking lot.
Papa Cancy and the kids
A one-ring family circus was in town one evening and we treated the family to an evening at the circus -- very small family. The youngest performer was the 4-year-old boy and just learning his clown and acrobatic acts. The 10-year-old is well on her way, but still has a way to go. The younger girl, about 7, didn't seem much interested in making this her profession. Aurelia was very impressed and that's all that counts.
Entrance to the Pre-history museum
We went to Bargème, a midieval village that still has a very authentic atmosphere. It's hard to get to and doesn't have the touristy shops one finds everywhere else. At Quinson, another village with its ramparts, gates, Renaissance homes and fountains everywhere, we took in the Pre-History museum. It's an excellent museum, but perhaps a little out of range for children. There were some scenic windows, but not enough. When you see boxes of flints from 500,000 BC followed by boxes of flints from 400,000 BC followed by boxes of flints from 350,000 it's a bit overwhelming. However, you do see that there is evolution from simple flints to two-facets, to triangular; it just took a long, long time. There is also evidence of trade during Neanderthal times. Obsidean came from more than 1000 km. away in Italy, flint from 80 km. away. We didn't have Aurelia with us for this visit and I think it was a good thing. The entrance to the museum leads you to think that they cater to kids, though, with the Mammouth and tiger and other animals displayed. Kids might think they are in "Ice Age". For fans of contemporary acrchitecture, the museum was designed by Norman Foster and represents a flint. Not far away there is a "prehistoric village" which, according to Claire and Paul, who walked to it, is more adapted to children.
The church at Ganagobie

Lunch at Bargème
Bargème
We ended the second week with a visit to Six-Fours to see the family. Aurelia got to swim with her big cousins and loved it. The two Maxes are her heros and the Lebelle and Dehaut girls cousins were perfect and I think they all were taken with her. Constance was a bit startled by everyone and hung to Mommy, but was still well-behaved. The meal was absolutely perfect. And more family came over in the afternoon, so everyone got to see Claire and meet the girls. We were very sorry to miss the cousins from Pau. Claire and the girls had to leave to pick up Geoff and Charlotte in Marseilles and we waited a little longer, but had to leave to get back to Montpezat.
At the Carrière des Lumières
A sarcophage at the Arles Museum
Saturday, we got to see Geoff and Charlotte and said good-bye to the Brits, who are staying on in the area before coming to us on their way back home. We headed west through Provence to Les-Baux-de-Provence so that Paul could see the sound & light show, Klimt and the Vienna School, that I wrote about not long ago. We also squeezed in a visit to the Arles Antiquities Museum before heading to Avignon for the night. At Arles, they dug up a Roman-period barge from the Rhone and it is in almost perfect condition. That and many, many urns and statues and sarcophages make it an interesting museum to visit, though not for kids who haven't studied the Roman Empire.
Street musician in Avignon
We ended the evening in Avignon, a short visit with Tania's mother and then dinner with Tania at a very nice little restaurant on the Place St. Pierre at the Coin Caché. A street musician serenaded the diners for a long time and played beautifully.
I have shared the full photo album with family -- if you didn't get the link, let me know.
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Je ne vais pas tout résumé. C'est trop. J'ai parlé de ce que nous avons fait pendant les deux semaines dans les Gorges du Verdon en explicant un peu ce que sont ces gorges. 
Ensuite, la distillation de la lavande. Le plateau de Valensole, les villes et sites que nous avons visités. Nous avons vu un petit cirque familiale -- vraiment tout petit, mais idéal pour Aurélia qui a pu voir des acrobates, à peine de son age...
Les photos évoquent ces vacances et comme nous avons eu la chance de vous voir et de vous raconter de vive voix, je ne vais pas tout recommencer. Je partage l'album avec la famille, si vous n'avez pas eu le lien, passe moi le mot.

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