Monday, 12 September 2011

ANDUZE TO THE LUBERON

September 4th - 9th September

Sunday dawned cloudy but bright after the rains of Saturday, and having discovered that the Voie Verte led to a local village classified as "one of France's prettiest villages" and then to a local Gorge highly rated for scenic content, no further invitation was required. The Voie Verte was another ex railway line, spectacularly hugging the hillside over great views, with some very unrailway-like steep bits - but who cares when you have battery-power. The sun shone, the birds sang and we saw proper red squirrels, which we may never have actually seen before. They are noticeably smaller than the greys ( which is obviously why they have been wiped out in the uk) but so much cuter.
As we swept downhill into OLARGUES (Plus Beaux Village de France) we ran into rain out of nowhere. As the sun was still shining, we sheltered briefly under trees, but as the skies darkened, made a dash for the village, only to find its charm of steep,narrow,cobbled streets now running with water were not bike friendly and we had to cower under trees in the lower regions for some considerable time. We were surrounded by mountains and the outlook was bleak so at a glimmer of bright and a lessening of wet, we hightailed it back along the railway track. Sods law being present meant that 8 miles back saw bright sunshine and no evidence of rain, and the campsite, another 4 miles on was roastingly hot and required a visit to the pool when we arrived back.. so Olargues will have to be taken on hearsay as being so beautiful because we never found out.

On monday we moved ever eastwards towards Provence and stopped at ANDUZE, last visited in 2007 during the rugby world cup when we stayed overnight at the splendid aire next the old steam train station and in fact had a meal in town with Dave & Briony who had checked into a nearby hotel. Our impression on that fleeting visit had been fairly neutral, but a few days there revealed hidden charms. WE opted for Camping Castel Rose which was on the river and were not disappointed. Less than 2kms from the town, an easy walk or cycle ride and a very pleasant place with a nice market on Tuesday to replenish supplies.. great pitch on the river bank, with an abundance of bird life.... a pair of herons and a pair of Great White Egrets came to fish each morning and evening and - joy of joys - a kingfisher was much in evidence sitting on a rock. Each time we sat outside for breakfast,lunch or dinner we were besieged by a flock of Great Tits, a nuthatch and several chaffinches, all picking up the crumbs.

And next door to us was small vineyard with a notice announcing that it would be open for tasting and purchases on Wed (4-6pm) and Sat (10-12). So at 5pm on wed I popped round on the bike. At first it appeared closed ( this France, after all) but I persevered on to the farmhouse where I met the owner ( Jean Vercier) and his charming wife (Claire-Lise) who immediately accompanied me back to the Cave ( big garage really) and started pouring wine in very generous quantities. They grow mainly Merlot, with some Grenache and Chardonnay. They produce 2-3000 bottles a year of Merlot, a Merlot-Grenache blend and a small amount of white and rose. The merlot was stunning (14%), the grenache blend less so (13%) so I bought a case of the merlot at 4€ a bottle which I thought was very reasonable. They gave a me complete tour of the operation, this year's harvest having already started and the place was full of boxes of grapes. This was a real family busines because they and their 3 school-age children do the picking in the evening when the heat retreats and the kids have done their homework. He then sorted and cleaned the bunches of grapes in the morning and pressed them in the afternoon. The garage was full of vats of fermenting grapes which he insisted,with a big smile, on lifting lids so I could hear them fizzing.
I didn't get round to discovering where the wine is stored and bottled since what I bought was 2008 and there was no sign of a bottling plant. So I had a lovely time and they were very nice people.

Thursday required us to move as our present location did not give good reception on ITV which is essential for the rugby world cup. So we headed to the Luberon where there were 2 possible campsites that might offer the correct blend of shade and clear satellite views on the river Durance. We arrived at the first candidate at 12.45 which was amistake as reception was shut until 3pm. However as we walked around it became apparent that although the sign said 5 star camping, it was not actually a campsite as we know it but a mobile home holiday park. After half an hour we didn't discover any campers of any description so decided to move on and not hang around to find out otherwise. The other site was only 10km down the road and proved ideal. Lovely pitches, great shade and good views of the sky. All set till Sunday.

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