Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ahhh - Provence

There is something about Provence.

It's not that the people are friendlier (they are), or that the countryside is idyllic (it is), or that the wine is the best (tougher call in France, but with the right choices, it is), or that the food is wonderful (it is).

There is one word to describe it:  "We could live here forever."  Okay, more than one word, but if Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, it apparently wasn't permanently closed and can still be visited.

We had a long but pretty pleasant drive from Lourdes to Saint-Remy-de-Provence.  The weather was actually very nice and Emma was on her best behavior - well, until the very end.  She guided us all the way into Saint-Remy and then took us on a back road (read, narrow and last used by sheep) that took us to the place we were staying.  There were a few moments when we knew that meeting another vehicle coming the other way would not have been good, one side had a ditch and the other side had a ditch with water, but we didn't.

We made it to Chateau Roussan, which was to be our home for the next six days!!!

Chateau Roussan was built in the 16th century by the brother of a real famous old magic-type guy.  I initially thought it was Merlin, Methuselah or Jehoshaphat, but turns out it was Nostradamus.  I've read up on this guy and he was originally an "apothecary" which is French for drug dealer, but he went into the prediction business.  He turned this into a real money-maker and is still publishing books of predictions, just last year he predicted that there would be a couple of huge wars in the 20th century and that Apple Computer stock would reach $500 a share.  Turns out he is right!

The Chateau Roussan is incredibly beautiful and a wonderful place to stay.  We stayed in the "New Wing" which was added on about 200 years ago.

The first night we made reservations for 8 p.m. at the restaurant downstairs.  We chose the "Chef's Selection" menu for that night and proceed into a wonderful 3+ hour eight-course meal at the end of which the chef, Vincent, came out and talked to us.  It was a a great introduction to what was going to be a wonderful stay.  Our waiter was from Greece and was named "Joshua", except when I said "Joshua" was an odd name for a Greek, he spelled his name out and it is "Georges", which sounds just like "Joshua" when he says it.  Of course, years ago, I found out that my name meant "Donkey Cart" in Persian, so I try not to go too far down the naming thing.

The next morning, Karen rather tentatively admitted that she saw a ghost in our room last night.  She said it was a tall dark guy (which didn't describe either Vincent or Joshua, so that was right out) who sort of floated in the corner of the room (everyone else we saw in the castle was pretty much the "feet on the ground" type).  She didn't feel threatened, though she did bury her head in the pillow after a bit and left the lights on in the room the following four nights, so she wasn't keen on the tall dark guy hanging around either.  She wasn't sure she wanted to tell me because she knows I am a bit skeptical about these things and I'd think she was crazy.

I assured her that there is a host of things in this universe that we don't know and anything is possible,  including the possibility that she is crazy.  I think she was comforted by that.  Karen actually found out later that the Chateau Roussan is on the list of haunted castles in France and that people come here for supernatural sightings, so there are a lot of crazy people out there.

The next day we toured the Chateau's surrounding park.  It is incredible!  There are fountains, streams, dams, and a very pretty green house that was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the tower guy from Paris.

We toured around the area and ended up in the town of Les Baux-de-Provence, which is a village built on a mountaintop around a castle.  The castle is pretty much in ruins now, having been burned down by Cardinal Richelieu (not a good guy to tick off), bombed by the Germans in WW II (possibly even worse than the Cardinal) and generally stomped on by a lot of other people before the millions of tourist arrived.  The place was pretty much decimated by the time 1945 came around and then Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland arrived and said, "Let's save this town and put on a show!"  Ever since then, it has been dedicated to tourism and is generally regarded as "the most picturesque village in France", at least that is what it says in their brochure.  It is very beautiful and well worth a visit.  We had a lovely lunch there overlooking the valley.

On another day, we toured the sanitarium where Van Gogh spent a bit over a year after committing himself.  The place is pretty much the way it was when Van Gogh was there and the place is amazing to walk through.  There is still a working sanitarium close by, but the part where Van Gogh lived has been preserved as a museum, with replicas of his paintings throughout the exhibit (inside and out) next to the things he was painting.  It was a wonderful museum and a very moving place to be.  Karen has done a separate slide show for this which is on our Blog.

We found ourselves returning to the Chateau late at night and taking most of our dinners at the restaurant there.  The last night of our stay was magical.  It was comparatively warm (for us, not the locals) and we opted to have our drinks and appetizers outside.  We ended up having the whole meal there.  Georges, who had been our waiter for a couple nights, was on break and we had Vino, the aptly-named waiter who also was a walking encyclopedia about wine.  The meal was lovely, the moon was out and the night was delightful.  A little after 11 p.m., as we had finished our meal and the restaurant was closing, Vincent, the chef came out with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and three glasses.  We sat, talked and drank until after 2 a.m., including a glass of wonderful aged rum.

There is no doubt in our minds; Provence is a wonderful and magical place to visit and the Chateau Rousann is a wonderful and magical place to stay in Provence!!!!

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