Technically in Provence, it only just sneaks in as we cross the Rhone. It was late when we arrived, after visiting the Pont du Gard earlier in the afternoon. We managed to find a free campsite (car park) by the river, and within walking distance to the old city walls. While Risa cooked dinner, I read about the town, learning that it rose to power when one of the Popes decided to move from Rome to here in Avignon back in the 14th century. It was short-lived, approximately 70 years, but for a while, Avignon was the centre of Catholic Europe. And, to house the Pope, a fantastic gothic palace was built.
We crossed the Rhone, catching some views of a snowy Mont Ventoux (which I would have loved to cycle up, but I’ve got loads of excuses why I won’t).
Of course, by the time we’d arrived, all the attractions were shut for the day, but after reading non too positive reviews of a mostly empty/barren interior, we weren’t too sad to miss going inside the Palais des Papes. Instead, we walked around, trying to find something about it to admire. I usually like gothic-style cathedrals, with their intricate ribbing, and sharp pointy adornments. But this palace was far less exciting – at least from the outside. I will say this, it is enormous, and extremely well fortified – he must have been a popular pope.
Sadly the parks were also closed, as I was looking forward to walking through them, to look out on the partially collapsed Pont d’Avignon.
We tried wondering around the smaller streets in town, but I was struggling to find something about this town to enjoy. We’ve been to some amazing places already in this trip, like Salamanca, so standards have been set high.
We were recommended this by our friends in Toulouse for multiple reasons – firstly there is the ruins of a castle on a rocky hill, surrounded by a small town with cobbled lanes, secondly there is a disused underground quarry that has been converted into a art installation.
We started with Carrieres de Lumieres, which is the art installation inside an old sandstone quarry. The installation changes on what seems like an annual basis, with it currently showing art by a trio of artists, Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo. It was €12 entry, which came as a little surprise. For a moment, I considered cancelling plans, and I’m incredibly thankful that I didn’t! Walking through the heavy velvet curtains after the ticket office, we were immediately blown away by the scale of the art. The projections were on all of the walls, as well as on the floor itself. Also, it wasn’t just projections of the artwork, it had been animated, with the paintings coming to life to a powerful soundtrack (that included Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, as well as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons). In between films, there was a short period where you were able to appreciate the cavernous interior, which was completely transformed with their projections – see the before/after shots above.
I was reasonably familiar with Jerome Bosch’s twisted, semi-satirical artwork, depicting the sins of man, along with the hells that await.
I recognised Arcimboldo’s amazing portraits composed like a still life of fruit, but wasn’t aware of the work of Brueghel, which featured a combination of landscape, as well as scenes of life in the 16th century.
The animation went for about 30-minutes, and we must watched it three times in a row, each time from a different location, as you got a different perspective/narrative seeing different screens. It was honestly was one of the most amazing ways of experiencing art, feeling completely immersed in their works.
It also featured a shorter clip about a French cinema pioneer, Georges Melies, who is credited as being the inventor of special effects in film. The clip attempted to recreate his workshop, with various projects being put together, including his famous Voyage Dans la Lune. It was fun, but was nothing compared to the main film.
My only complaint, and this is from an Enginerd’s point of view, I wish they’d given more stats about the technical side of things, such as number of projectors used, and computing power required to drive them all!
Once we’d seen the films for the fourth time, we both agreed that it was time to move on – even though it was still fascinating to watch and pick up new, unseen details.
It was a very short walk to the old town, and fortunately the driving rain that had been lashing our car all morning had ceased, and we were even treated to patches of blue sky. We enjoyed the setting of the town, hidden inside these sandstone hills, with wildflowers taking over where possible.
Inside the town itself was nice, but less memorable than others. We wandered around for a while, looking at the souvenir shops, but in the end, it didn’t hold much interest for us. Risa wasn’t feeling the castle, so we gave it a miss and continued on our way.
It was only 45km from Les Baux-de-Provence, but by the time we arrived, it was already 5PM! The day had slipped away from us, after a late start due to the rain, and the mesmerising art displayed in the old quarry. There was a sign for a view area as we approached the town, and I’m glad that I caught it, as it gave the best aspect of the town – by far! We waited for the large group from the tour bus to finish doing their poses in front of the view, doing our best to be patient and to enjoy the scenery – it was hard. When they finally left, and we had this view complete with (relative) silence, it was heavenly. Risa mentioned that Howl’s Moving Castle, an animated film by Miyazaki, was based on this town – I’m going to have to re-watch it to be able to give an opinion.
We drove in a little further, and the view of the town continued to amaze as we followed the road. The only option for parking a motorhome was an €8/24h flat fee. We said thanks, and kept driving, content with the scenic distant view. We chanced upon a public car park, and a lovely French couple pointed out that the first 45-minutes were free – you just had to put in your number plate.
We had a quick walk around town, and while it was truly a pretty town, graced with gorgeous cobbled alleys, the magic was seeing it from afar.
It was also lovely to see the Provencal countryside, rocky hills, patchwork fields filled with grape vines, and small sandstone villages.
This time it was only 12km between Gordes and Roussillon, but somehow it took us over 30 minutes to get there. We weren’t complaining that our TomTom took us down some questionable roads, where we were lucky to have not encountered another oversized vehicle, as the pretty towns, and agricultural views were time well spent.
It was nearly 7PM by the time we arrived at the small car park just below the town. The town is famous for the ochre colours that come from the rock the town is built upon. The sun was well and truly low on the horizon, sadly filling the city with shadows, making it hard to really see this auburn town.
It was more of the same, small cobbled alleys, pretty houses with pretty gardens, friendly cats, and great views out over the landscape below – everything was just a little more pink.
It had been a nice day, and we were appreciative that the weather had improved, as much of the beauty of these towns would have been lost in the rain.