Catching Up

Frouville-Pensier, located in the Beauce region of France (known for wheat cultivation) is the only surviving windmill in the Eure-et-Loir department of France. It is in working order, and from time to time is rigged out with cloth sails and allowed to turn in the wind on ceremonial occasions. Emile Zola described it as “a light house in a sea of wheat.” He visited in 1886. It has stood in this field since 1274.

We discovered it by accident, when we stopped for a picnic on our way to Burgundy in July.

Some good friends called us from California recently and reminded me that I haven’t posted anything on my blog since July. My only excuse is that my mind (and often my body) have been elsewhere. I promised, however, to try to rectify the situation and get myself back in front of my computer to chronicle our adventures and reconnect with friends and family who might be interested. Last year was full of travel and discovery. To bring you up to date on our activities in some kind of reasonable blog length, I am going to have to limit the number of photos of beautiful places we have been over the last five months. Each location merits an entire post, but there isn’t time for that.

This summer marked our 23 year wedding anniversary. We decided to celebrate by returning to the hotel in Burgundy where we began our honeymoon trip in 1996 Le Moulin des Templiers. The countryside around Avallon and Vézelay isn’t so different from the part of France we live in, but the Vallée du Cousin, between the two towns, has a beautiful rocky river beside which the hotel sits. It reminds me a lot of places I love in California and Oregon, so it is especially attractive to me. We had a marvelous time revisiting happy memories from two decades ago and also discovering some lovely new corners.

James and Daniel were in Paris all summer, as Daniel is the director of the UC Berkeley Summer Abroad program. In early August, after the students had gone back home and our boys were free to travel, the whole family took a vacation to Tuscany together. We rented a house in a remote village in the hills above Lucca, called Casabasciana. The location was spectacular. There was a swimming hole down the road where we spent several afternoons splashing about.

Days were spent lazily, playing cards, reading, doing crossword puzzles, drawing, walking, cooking and eating. The house had a wonderful terrace where we could gather together and enjoy the beautiful view across the valley. It was just what everybody wanted to do: almost nothing.

In October our friends Cass and Billy arrived. We had rented an apartment in Sarlat, as they wanted very much to see the Dordogne, one of my favorite regions of France. We were in a wonderful lodging in the center of this lively and ancient city. We took day trips to see the sites, but spent the evenings at home playing Mahjong and Oh Hell, two of my favorite ways to while away the time. There was a daily market right across the street from our place as well as numerous restaurants to choose from.

The Dordogne is called the Valley of 1000 castles. It certainly has its fairy tale qualities. This view of the river, as seen from Domme, (considered one of the most beautiful villages of France,) is famous.

One thing I had never done before was to take a boat ride down the river. This was a marvelous way to spend an afternoon. We could look up to the famous château of Castlenaud which during the 100 years war was a British stronghold. Across the river is the château of Beynac which was held by the French. Those were the days of catapults and siege warfare. The Dordogne Valley preserves that rich history.

We spent a day at Rocamadour, the site of a famous pilgrimage sanctuary. It’s dramatic location, hanging on to the cliffs above the river, make it one of the most popular sites in France.

Cass had one place above all that she wanted to visit in the Dordogne, and that was Les Jardins du Eyrignac. It really is one of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen. The manoir, at the center of the formal French gardens is a private home, in the same family for 500 years. It perches on a hill above a picturesque valley in the Périgord Noir. The garden itself is known for its topiary and fountains.

In November we had yet another long trip away from home. Rick’s cousin and his wife are spending a year traveling around Europe. They are living in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence during the fall and winter. We began by visiting there and discovering this town which was new to us. It is the location of the asylum where Vincent Van Gogh was admitted after cutting off his ear. He made 142 paintings in the year he lived here, including some of his best known. While there we were treated to some wonderful day trips in the area, including a visit to the magical village of Gordes, another one of those French towns that seems to grow out of the mountainside.

One of the most remarkable experiences we had in Provence was attending the Carrières de Lumières, a large enclosed space that was once a stone quarry. It is now home to an immersive art experience of video and music. It’s difficult to explain how extraordinary it is. We saw an exhibition of Van Gogh’s work and it was truly mesmerizing. This show has now moved on to Paris and if you follow this link, you can get a taste of how beautiful it is.

We have heard about the glories of Provence from our friends Christine and Chuck, who know the area very well. Last time we saw them they gave us a list of “must see” villages. One of them, Eygalières, was not far at all from where we were staying. The view of the Alpilles Mountains from the hill top is breathtaking.

After leaving St. Rémy we took a tour along the fabled Côte d’Azur. We stopped in Cassis for a night and enjoyed the open sea, the old port and the exquisite sea food.

We drove past Cannes, which looked quite overwhelming, to stop in Nice, but only for lunch and a short tour. Nice is nice, a little more authentic than a lot of the towns along the coast which, according to many French people, “are ruined.” Nice holds up. One can see why so many of the rich and famous have chosen this area, and why it attracts so much tourism. The coastline is very beautiful and the Mediterranean is a warm and calm sea. Unfortunately though, there are just too many people, too many high rises and far too much traffic.

Our real goal, as we raced past the glamorous cities on the Côte d’Azur, was Lake Como. From Menton, where we stayed a night, it is only a 3 hour drive. I have wanted to go to this romantic destination for quite some time. We were not disappointed. Sitting, as it does, just beneath the Italian and Swiss alps, it is the third largest lake in Italy. Shaped like an upside down Y, it certainly attracts the rich and famous too, but happily the villages that hug its edge are more or less as they were in the 17th century. There is no gaudy development. It is one of the loveliest places I have ever visited.

Next time I will finish my catch up with some stories from the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020.

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