Sartene is Corsica in a nutshell

So, the last day before a return to the UK and time to share one last place with you. Sartene could be Corsica in a nutshell, set in the ancient hills of this mountainous island.

The town’s pride in its culture and history is reflected in the evenings performance of local, traditional choral pieces in the church. Sartene is well known for its wine along with having a long history of piracy, banditry and gangsters.

The evening sun gives the tall buildings, built in the same rock as the steep hill on which they stand, a sunny glaze, allowing them to be absorbed by the surrounding landscape of rock and wooded mountain peaks and ridges.

Having had a break in one of the cafes of the Place Porta, it’s time ťo track back in time into the fascinating old town of Santa Anna which spreads down the hill within ancient walls.

Its narrow streets are crammed with a incredible medley of tall ancient houses, linked by arches, arcades and alleys, and sometimes blocked by unexpected rocks and stairwells.

Life in medieval times had not changed one bit. You can feel the cramped, squalid living conditions and imagine wonderfully gnarled and evil characters and celebrate that one lives in the 21st century and not the 15th.

I’ve enjoyed Corsica. Never easy to get anywhere on its appendix of roads but always worth it when you do.

The journey is always as good as the destination. It’s scenery of tall peaks and grand forests, of soft-sanded bays and craggy coastlines, of ragged rocks and granite outcrops, the wild Corsica is never far away. This is balanced out with ancient, historic harbours, a proud history symbolised by the Corsican flag of a headscarfed pirate, classy hotels and chic residences for the rich and famous, traditional dishes from the land and the sea and local wines and customs that celebrate an independent and unique culture.

The charm of Port Vecchio

A few days have been spent enjoying the sun, admiring the views, counting the layers as the sun sets behind the rows of hills that lead to the sea, cosying into warm, soft sand on local beaches and only coming up for light refreshment and a cooling off in the gentle waters of the Med. The nearest beach is 20 minutes away.

ou can see the line of the surf from the terrace. Driving the roads here is like driving through the wiggles of a long appendix. Monotonous maybe but it’s easy. Nothing can overtake, everything goes at 40 mph. At this time of year parking has been easy and eateries and beach bars serve easily and quickly.

Still the holiday marches on and full advantage must be taken. The delights of Porto Vecchio, on the south-east coast are an hour or so away. So an early start means we set off and arrive for coffee. The old town walls overlook the approach to the harbour.

The old town is delightful. It’s not huge – a little square with tidy houses around the edge and a quaint, little roundabout for small kiddies.

Cafes abound with everyone trying to find some shade under umbrellas or up narrow streets.

From the church at the highest point cobbled streets leaf down to gateways through which the harbour seen and the salt flats on the far side.

Shops are classy and expensive, restaurants are of good quality. It is a cosmopolitan place with its own charm and warmth.

Worth a visit.

Taking the rough with the smooth in south-west Corsica

Having spent at enjoyable day in Bodifacio full of dusty history with flavours of the rich and famous, I assumed that I was getting to get more of the same when I visited the beaches and ports and harbours of the south west. Wrong!

First is Propriano. It looks great from a distance.

There is a suggestion of an old harbour with a few oldish buildings lining the quayside behind the cabins offering boat trips and fishing excursions. An evening night market of tat and restaurants offers pizzas and moules to the flotilla of sails that have assembled on the pontoons. Nothing jumps out saying ‘eat me, eat me’. All is very tame and unexciting.

Porto Pollo is the nearest beach to the house.

It takes about 25 minutes in the car and the bay has the softest sand. It is easy to park on the road at this time of year and cut through the small passages, past purple and pink flowering tall shrubs, to a sparsely crowded bay of empty towels and uninhabited umbrellas. And supervised by a team of lifeguards. All very civilised.

At the far end, a harbour of small, gleaming boats preens itself in the setting sun.

And then the capital, Ajaccio.

Oh dear. Two cruise liners were in town. One was so large – at least 10 decks. It was a monstrosity. The passenger contents had unloaded and blue- stickered groups were led through the tat streets by paddle numbers held high in the air, searching for souvenirs and anything of interest. There was very little of this. No old town, no old streets, no old harbour. I missed the citadel and the cathedral was closed. So no great shakes there. And everywhere was teaming and steaming, stocked with hot, squeezing people, shoving and elbowing to the few bits of shade offered by buildings. I took a few images but really could not get excited.

Napoleon was born in Ajaccio. The Napolean Museum is up a narrow street. We didn’t go in but had a drink outside, listened to the bawdy, recorded singing and watched the progress of the tourist parties as they promenaded behind their guide in their limited time ashore.

It was so good to escape to the winding roads back home.

The rich and famous, and lots of ordinary folk, in Bonifacio

As the sun took a day off today it was time to go exploring in the car. Roads follow the coast and wind through the contours that mark the mountains and ravines. It takes forever to travel any distances and the sat nav shows why. The routes are shown as a long, tight snakes lassooing its way through scrubby green terrain. Following the coast road south, these images are typical of the glorious open space that is Corse.

Our destination is Bonifacio, right at the south of the island. Strategically the town was at the crossroads of the early trading routes between Italy and Spain and north Africa. Pisa was the first country to govern here until the end of the 12th century. It’s position bought wealth and revenues to the town through fishing and trade. Initially the port was simply a beach where fishing boats were drawn. After 1900 the marina was build up and the quayside cafes and eateries established, making it a docking place for the yachts and boats of the rich and famous, many dwarfing the dusty, faded buildings.

A long terrace of classy table layouts and extortionate menus pull well-heeled owners from their gin palaces to pose for the rest of us as we shuffle along at our visitors’ pace like groups of penguins in awe of another species.


Overlooking the harbour scene from its position on the tall limestone cliffs is the old town, guarded by the massive, medieval citadel, built in the 9th century. It is in its narrow streets that the full force of the tourist can be felt. Trails of cars move into town to squeeze every space from the car parks, releasing families and groups to zig-zag their way up cobbled steps and inclines to the massive gates and shops, built to keep seafaring enemies away and not cash-touting visitors.

The cobbled streets, particularly around the Church of St Marie Majeure, the oldest building here, are squashed between tall buildings linked by lines of flying buttresses. These are evident throughout the old town and are not required to support the buildings but are gutters which distribute rainwater around the settlement and into water tanks. Substitute pirates and merchants and fishermen and capes and gowns for the skimpy shorts and the strappy tops and the buggies and the carriers and the streets ooze history and times past. Romeo art thou there?

Base camp in Sollacaro

The base for this trip is the small village of Sallacaro on the edge of the mountains on the south west corner of Corsica. The house has amazing views from its terrace. To the left a dart of caramel-coloured houses stands out of the fluffy, scrubby trees that cover the hillside.

The arrow-head points to the coast in the distance straight ahead. A broken mirror of water shines as the sun sets over it in the west. To the right, tree-covered peaks and slopes run down in diagonal lines, heading directly towards the small bays of sand and flat agricultural land that lines each one for a short distance inland.

Sallacaro is a small, friendly village. About 50 houses line the road as it meanders down the hillside. There are two stores, epiceries, two restaurants, two bars, one that serves pizzas, a church and an elementary school with a post office sharing the same building.

The centre is the sharp curve of a band at the far end, marked by the tallest house, all four storeys of it. This is the social centre of the village with all four eating & drinking places next door out opposite each other. There’s no need to go any where out of the village!

From the terrace of the house the weather presents itself. If it’s feeling mischievous then the sun sets, dropping its core gently behind the bumps and lumps of the distant layers, creating a devil’s palette of oranges and reds. Sometimes the weather sends over mackerel clouds to remind us that nothing should be taken for granted. As the day passes and the heat grows these build in intensity and the atmosphere gets heavier. Gradually dark slabs of uniform darkness spreads over from the mountains. Watching clouds build and feeling the atmosphere intensifying sets up the rain dance at different tempos – gentle, short, swathes, deluge, storm, cracking. Wagner comes to mind. One thing is perpetual – it always ends, it moves off, it leaves an empty sky and then builds for another performance a few days/weeks later, also to be witnessed from the same terrace.

Courting Corte, the old capital of Corsica

An evening out in Bastia gives a real flavour of what is to come on Corsica. The island is a fusion of Italian roots, French history, a hard mountainous spine and the coastal romance of the sea. Music, menus, culture, sport, place names reflect both Italy and France.

The town’s petanque competition brings locals out in their droves. Held over several days on the wide open square by the modern port, all ages and genders, from 7 to 70 perform in their teams and leagues to win the top prizes.

From Bastia it is a long drive through forested peaks across the spine of the island to the south west. From the 11th to 13th centuries Corsica was ruled by the Italian city-state of Pisa, superseded in 1284 by Genoa. To prevent seaborne raids, mainly from North Africa, a massive defence system was constructed that included citadels, coastal watchtowers and inland forts.

An hour out is the old capital of Corsica – Corte. In 1755, after 25 years of sporadic warfare against the Genoese, Corsicans declared their independence, led by Pasquale Paoli (1725–1807), under whose rule they established a National Assembly and adopted the most democratic constitution in Europe. They made the inland mountain town of Corte their capital, outlawed blood vendettas, founded schools and established a university. But the island’s independence was short-lived. In 1768 the Genoese ceded Corsica to the French king Louis XV, whose troops crushed Paoli’s army in 1769 and the island has since been part of France except for a period (1794–96) when it was under English domination, and during the German and Italian occupation of 1940–4.

The steep, narrow, frequently cobbled streets and tight squares still remember those days of local patriots and pride in Corsican values.The many statues of Paoli always points the way for each following generation.

Where next – of course it’s Corsica

Hi everyone. Well, you may have wondered where I’ve been. Since last blogging to you I have been on a trip to Barcelona. It was a real adventure. I joined Chloe, Alexa & Toby on the first leg of their railway adventures around Spain. On the first evening I had a run-in with a bag-snatcher. He was not content to simply pick my pocket. No, I stupidly placed temptation right in front of him, or her, and he/she swiped the whole bag, camera and all, from the back of my chair in a restaurant and no-one saw a thing. Hence no photos and no blog.

Three weeks further on I have replaced my kit and I am back on my adventures. You find me in Corsica, that small island off the coast of France which was the birthplace of Napoleon. We fly into Bastia, in the north of the island, and the next day is spent exploring this historic port, through which most of Corsica’s trade and goods arrive on and leave the island. Established by the Genoese in 1487 the narrow, dusty streets ooze history.

There are three main areas to this historic town. The old town around the cathedral & square of St Jean-Baptiste.

The old port.

The citadel.

 

Lost in France

You may have been wondering why things had gone quiet From your favourite blogger since Mongolia. Has he finally settled down beside the waters of Lake Victoria? Is he being held for ransom somewhere and no-one is prepared to pay the £100 for his release? Maybe he bought that Harley and it’s now motoring through South America through the dust of the Pan American Highway. Hey, he could have been put into a home by his family and friends so we don’t have to suffer any more of  his rambling accounts of his latest trip.

Well, my friends, I was cut off from all techno contact when all my techno gear was nicked, stolen, burgled in France. I say ‘all’. They didn’t take my camera (thank you Spirit in the Sky) nor my car. So I was cut off from you, my friends, and everyone else I should add. I am getting my stuff back gradually, thanks to insurance, and am now able to ‘share’ again. ‘Oh goodie’ I hear you all cry. Do let me tell you what happened.

Having spent a few days in Provence enjoying the company of friends, the wine, the food, the sun, the heat, the smells, I moved over to the foothills of the Cevenne to a small village outside Uzes. I had rented an old family stone built house for two weeks. Set on two floors, the bedrooms were on the lower floor with an outside door and the living area was on the upper floor, accessed by two sliding French Windows, we were in France after all.

It was the second night. It was 3 o’clock. It was dark and still. I was sleeping in my new bed. Dreaming. In my dream I could hear footsteps walking above me. I opened my eyes to discover that there were footsteps walking about in the living space above my head. ‘Hello’ I cry out in my innocent daze. ‘Oh, it must be the owner popping in to say hello’. Derrrrh. I get out of bed. I put on my M&S pants (the white ones) and I go out into the downstairs reception area. There is a cool breeze from the back door which is wide open. Up the stairs a light goes on. I call out again and do what no sensible person should do. In my white underwear, I climb the stairs calling out some nonsense as I go.

Obviously, whoever it was caught sight of my manly physique, heard the authority in my voice and not wanting to be attacked with the bare hands of a bald headed, semi naked, retired English gent decided, like any cornered rats would do, to run out of the top doors with all the loot in their swag bags. By the time I got to the door and rather nervously looked out, all that could be seen was the disappearing headlights of a 🚗.

I took stock….. The story does go on – being locked in the gendarme compound, of scene of crime taking swabs to find DNA, of the retrieval by a local farmer of my passport & Nector card & bus pass (thank goodness for the latter items, Ay?). But hey, you don’t want to hear all that. You will just be pleased that I survived this experience and that I am now back in the blogging seat again.

Oh, Please text me with your numbers as they took my phone so I have lost all my contacts.

A few images of the following weeks of my journey through Provence, the Camargue and Languedoc-Roussillon. I know you’ll be upset if you have no pretty piccies to look at.

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The three faces of Le Coitat

The first face of Le Coitat can be seen high above the sprawling buildings & resorts that spread along the Mediterranean to the east of Marseille. A dozen or so gantries & cranes hold up the sky in the distance and become more impressive as the old ship building yards are approached. This is where proper big ships were built with huge keels and propellers the size of tall men. Now the rusty remnants stand as hanging idols to a glorious past and grasping fingers fight rusting decay against a blue sky.

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These guardians of history stand tall around the tightly formed, compact, old town, the second face. Here the narrow streets & faded tall buildings would have offered protection from Saracens & Turks & pirates. Crusaders must have walked her once on their way back from the Holy Land. Nowadays the tight darkish streets offer shade & respite from the burning sun for locals & visitors alike.

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The final face of Le Coitat comes out as dark approaches & stays until the early hours. Hundreds of stalls start to appear and like candle flames start to attract an increasingly busy crowd of holiday makers who feed the umbrellered  hives with Euro pollen. The streams of bustling shoppers turn to rivers & then a flood around the once picturesque quayside of the old port. When morning comes all is as before and the night is forgotten until it all starts again as each day ends. Like the seasons the Night Market comes seven nights a week – beware!!! Well in July & August anyway!

 

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A few days down on the Cote d’Azur – Villefranche-sur-mer

A short skoot from the Var, through the golden delights of Nice brings me to Villefranche- sur-mer. Once, a beautiful small fishing village with a secure harbour and a protective citidal built in mid 1500s. Now surrounded by typical Côte d’Azur developments: villas, properties, apartments & hotels and the tall, 21st galley- the dreaded cruise ship although to be fair, other than a few northern accents the presence of its cargo of UK tourists went barely noticed.

Down on the quayside tourists meet bars meet yacht owners meet20150809095407_IMG_7601 20150809100208_IMG_7616 20150809102708_IMG_7628 20150808173432_IMG_7537

pizzas meet oyster restaurants meet beer meet rosé. A delightful atmosphere in the cool of the evening. Take my frame, place it around the old town, add a bit of cool salsa played in a bar, distress the plasterwork and shutters and ignore all the buildings outside it – you could be in Cuba.

Some of that history & local character still remains whatever the tourists try to do to the place. You can see why I had to include one of my frames!!!

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Enjoy the smell of the sea and the sight of glistening white yachts & sailing boats of all sizes bobbing at anchor on a turquoise sea.

 

 

 

Fun, food and farewells at Restaurant la Gloire de mon Pere

While at Seillans the restaurant at the heart of this lovely small medieval Var village has become a favourite place to eat & enjoy the shade of the four huge plane trees and the gentle breeze during the evening. The site of the first & the last meal, of a wonderful long lunch with friends from home and countless beers & cafes that have been purchased during the week spent here. Staff found time to have some fun with photo frames & bonhomie (that’s French, you know, for geniality & good spirit). A special place!!! Thank you.

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The Pàrumeries of Grasse

Grasse is a wonderful mediaeval town, surrounded by a spreading slick of suburbia in the form of apartment blocks & private housing along with commercial developments, that is the centre of a large well reknowned perfume manufacturing industry. Museums & smelly shops sing the praises of this long established industry. Women walk around its narrow stepped streets holding a fan of white emery board shaped samplers to their delicate noses trying to decide which small aromatic treasure to buy.

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The heart of Grasse old town is magnificent in the colours of its tall, stretching tenements which line the narrow alleyways. Blocks of rich oranges & orchas & reds & tans stand side by side as if in a merchants sign or a baron’s coat-of-arms. Arrays of shuttered windows hide away secrets of bubbling vats & coppered urns linked over furnaces by pipes and test tubes all furiously working together to create the next fragrance to take the classy class by storm. Alchemy in practice in the 21st century.

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It’s a shame that tourism, once again, hides the innocent glory of a once elegant centre where Victorians would have travelled to take the air away from the coast of the Med which can be seen in the far distance from Grasses’s high promenades.

Market days and dinner out in the Beaux Villages of Var

Fayance is just one medieval hilltop village amongst many close by. Market day is like any other when columns of visitors move up the ancient pathways leaving their shiney modern cars parked down the hill heating up like ship furnaces. When they get back yells of pain will screech out as bare flesh hits red hot leather seats. Like sharks they lazily circle around the white umbrellas that shade the stalls & wares and then suddenly strike, stripping away from the stallholders their salami or cheese or linen tea towels and descending back to the depths & shade of the gite or the villa or the hotel.20150806092135_IMG_7288

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Bargemon is up in the hills of the Canjeurs about 20 km from Seillans. 700 metres up creates a cool drop in temperature as locals cluster around steps and verandas to shoot the breeze before heading for bed in front of opened windows. A long staggered line of people, many with instrument cars attached to backs like shells of a tortoise leave the church and make their way through the square obviously content at sharing the music from a set of musicians from Cambridge! The clink of meals & quiet callings resound around squares & cafes as visitors finish off long lazy meals.

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Two things are quite noticable in the Var – one is the spread of gated homes throughout these hills are around these old hilltop villages and two is the increase in the number of English voices heard around the restaurants & markets & shops – no comment!!!!

Picture framing at the brocante in Seillans

It’s hot, hot, hot!!! So, from the shade of the olive trees in the garden, this would be a good opportunity to share with you my new, six step technique to taking images of the people around me. For this I have to thank my pal Chris for constructing my portable picture frame and also to the lady at the Seillans brocante who sold me three small, empty frames for one Euro.

Step 1 entails putting together the frame.

Step 2 requires an approach by me to the subject & asking them, in my best French, if I may take their portrait for my gallery.

Step 3 is the handover when the subject agrees & holds the frame in front of them and peers through.

Step 4 is the taking of the photo with the frame.

Step 5 is the closer picture through the frame.

Step 6 involves me sharing the image with the subject.

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Great fun is had by all. Truely!!!

A brocante market is held on the small open ground at the top of Seillan. Up here, overlooking the glorious surrounding hills I try out my new approach. These are all images of some of the stallholders and I have the choice of including their portraits with the frame or without it. What do you think?

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The heated silence of Seillans

Leaving behind the layered hills of the Cevenne and carrying warm memories of time around  Barjac exploring the streams & rivers, jumping off rocks in the Ceze, picnics amongst boulders and stones on the banks of the Silver River amongst the Fools Gold & the scrubby oak woods, learning to swim & dive & snorkle & jump from high places (adults & children), of families & friends that leave & arrive & leave again and it is time to make my way back through Provence to the district of Vars and a small hilltop town called Seillans, near to Grasse in the nice hills above Nice. In the space of a few hours the scenery changes from limestone scraggy outcrops & stunted oak trees protecting an agricultural landscape to a more developed, modernised panorama where the clean, hilltop towns peer out from tall cedars that spread over all the hills like a thick carpet of green spikey hair following the contours & undulations of the pointed scarps & ridges & newly built or renovated homes are scattered amongst their foliage just presenting a hint of affluence to any observers on the opposite slopes.

Seillans boasts itself as being ‘the most beautiful village in France’. It is hard to dispute this. From the approach by the main road, the village spreads upwards and its flat, cardboard box houses are attached to the hillside with mastic.

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The road narrows to single file in the centre & from the little cafe opposite the pizzeria it is only possible to climb to the centre on foot. Narrow, cobbled streets are lined by tall townhouses with faint painted clues on their facades suggesting what business they might have housed in the past. One narrow set of cobbles & steps leads to the château dating from the 13th century, another leads up under arches & buttresses, past the Mairie’s office to the small square with seating for open air concerts & then through to the smart restaurant at the top of the village.

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All paths seem to lead to and spread from the shade of the trees that cover the tables of the Restaurant du Glorie de Mon Pere. It seems it was the site of the village boulangerie and when the baker died his son converted it into a restaurant under the two huge plane trees and named it in memory of his father. He is still there supervising his young staff from the top of the slope as they scurry around the tables waiting on the punters with an excellent menu, good humoured banter & efficient service. Reservations are recommended!!

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It feels like time has stopped, the world is at peace. Even the cicadas have gone on their holidays and the silence that then remains calms the soul & raises the spirit.

 

The crystal delights of Uzes and Pont du Gard

Uzes is literally a gem of a town about 30 minutes drive from Barjac. It is like one of those large graphites that look completely uninteresting from the outside until it is cracked open to reveal its hidden cave of coloured, glistening angles of sparkling delight. Around the nugget centre tree lined streets surround the old town walls. These house the ordinary day to day shops & offices with tabacconists rubbing shoulders with bars & banks & bakers & butchers & candlestick makers.

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Narrow alleys duck under the stone work to enter the market place revealing a space filled with restaurants, cafes & milk shake bars, classy fashion shops and bustling tourists & locals going about their business. At night the lights in the trees & musical buskers add extra atmosphere to the smell of good food and the hum of happy conversations.

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The Pont du Gard carried water for the Romans to Nimes to service their baths & villas. Amazing to think this aquaduct has settled here for two thousand years. It seems unbreakable as visitors scuttle around its pillars & arches which stand grand and proud between the tall banks of the Gard. Canoes like colonies of maggots wriggle their way along the river & under the clutches of the Roman guards as they make their way downstream scraping their bottoms on the stones & rocks of the near empty waters. It has been a long time since any rain fell in the region. Maybe they should resurrect the aquaduct & pipe it in from the north!!

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Markets, fairs and Bull Runs under the trees

Every Friday the market comes to Barjac. Colour & smell & shapes & sounds all come together to represent the nation in the eyes of the world, as they do in every French town & village. These images display the wealth of French life better than any words. I love the products, the sampling, the range of faces, the colour that is attached on every stall and the busy tempo as stall holders try to sell & the punters jockey for position around the stalls, handing over grubby notes & coins before placing their purchases in large shoulder bags & wicket baskets. Macho men & glamorous women & young tatooed mums & grizzled, aged grandma’s & large bellied, vested granddad’s balance baskets & baguetes & wraped salamis with wine bottles & leads of dogs of every shape & size.  The siren sounds at 12.30 to mark the end of trading and the world returns to normal, the stalls are packed away, the vans leave for farms & studios before setting up again the following day in another town as has happened every week over the centuries.

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The fun of the fair hits Barjac on our first weekend. They set up under the trees and gradually everything comes to life as dusk comes & darkness falls. The fairground families leave their Mercedes & motorhomes & Beamers & wander up and wind up the children’s dodgems, the candy floss, the shooting arcades, the octopus Whirler, the duck grab, the gentle plastic cars, the sexy chair rides. Excited children & bored mums & posing gigggling teenage girls showing off to nervous insecure boys & dads showing off with the mallets to be the strongest strong man all mingle together through the smell of chips & burgers & tomato sauce. Healthy living at its best!!! Enjoy life and bump & hoot & scream & munch together.

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The potters’ market is held on the last Thursday in July. Now the classy artisans display their wares and a new type of more cultured buyer congregate amongst the leafy arches to ooh & arh & comment & appreciate.

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The finale to our stay in Barjac is the bull run which is held over the first weekend in August. Large grids are positioned on either side of the main Street and the local cowboys & youths prepare to show off to the young girls & visitors. A few bulls are released from cattle trucks at the top of the town. Local cowboys herd them in to charge down the street & past waiting youths who time their run, grabbing onto tails to pull the beasts back or racing alongside the menacing horns. Everyone seems to enjoy it, except the bulls maybe. The Barjac Horns of Plenty accompany the proceedings keeping up a ratter tatter, ump pa pa, boom bang a bang the whole time.

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Barjac stands guard over the layered hills of the Cevennes

Leaving Provence I cross the Rhône and drive to Barjac to spend two weeks with family & friends in the most amazing château dating from the 16th century. Monsieur Flemal welcomes me into the cool shuttered darkness of huge rooms & shaded stairways & corridors whilst the heat of the day tries to unsuccessfully batter its way in. In the gloom of the huge rooms Louis 14th cabinets & tables stand to attention around regal carpets. In two rooms of the top floor a skin of a large bear and one of a huge boar lie down in prayer to guard any sleeper who dares use the four poster bed in each. Only open windows/shutters manufacture a breeze to keep the heat at bay at night! 20150720192843_IMG_6554

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Barjac is a small market down where past memories are updated. Tall plane trees stretch out over the main street like the vast roof timbers of a ancient cathedrals, providing shade & shelter from the blazing sun, to the markets and fairs that settle beneath their imposing branches. A few cafes share the street with the haberdasher, the fishing tackle shop and the odd restaurant. Disappearing up the narrow lanes small eating places & pizzariers with countless tables crammed onto the narrow streets jostle for space & shade with the omnipresent tat shop, the up market pottery & gallery, the two aisle minute supermarket. Elegant townhouses hide their secrets behind shuttered windows in battered facades of plaster & brickwork. Occasionally an open shutter reveals the glass which act like golden mirrors reflecting back golden, distorted images from across the street. Old men clack their boules together as they decide on their next shot in the dust under the plane trees. Pedestrians squeeze past diners in the balmy evening as the clink of cutlery & glasses & muted conversations try to out-chatter the cicadas & roosting swallows & bats.. The sun sets, the temperature drops, slightly, the wine flows, the children yawn and all is at peace. Contentment spreads into the dusky silence of a town at peace with itself.

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La belle France

La belle France. It’s like being back in a warm bath of calm & quiet & peace. Driving along tree lined roads with the roof down and the wind blowing through my hair as the sun shines down from a blue, blue sky. Fields of sunflowers turn and bend their yellow heads as I pass, computer tracked combines precision harvest the wheat & barley leaving mohican cuts of the last rows of bumper crops, vines stretch in tangly lines on both sides of the road hiding their clumps of grape treasure amongst their grasping fingers. Further south this ripe farmland gives way to the rocky limestone outcrops & stunted oak woodland of Provence & the Cevenne where narrow ancient roads wind their way up & down crags & hills, following the courses of near dry rivers & streams as they link shuttered towns & villages & hamlets all locked away from the heat & the sun. Yes, la belle France.

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My first taste of the Provençal life is spending a few days catching up with friends around their pool, enjoying with them the lifestyle, the culture, the vineyards, the towns & villages around Manosque, to the east of the Rhône in Provence. Together we sample evening meals & cold beers in balmy, leafed ceiled squares, enjoying warm temperatures and good company and excellent food & wine accompanied by local musicians hammering away at some dubious mid metal European pop, morning coffee to watch this small town wake up and visits to local vineyards to taste & purchase the best rosé and heaviest reds (not so good at 10.30 in the morning!!)!

Enjoy these images which I hope capture the heat, the colour, the smell, the sound, or lack of it, the peace of small town France. The accompanying soundtrack should include the cicadas sounding off at each other, the leaves & flags, gently rustling in the breeze and the occasional clink of cutlery around a hum of French voices. I am home!!!!

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