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  • Shelley Dark

4. Gordes

You're right if you wondered where #4 went. Yes, this is 4, not 5. Just checking to see if you're paying attention.

You know the saying 'Some days are diamonds, some days are stones'? We just had a stone. Not a stone really, more like a boulder. Well, not the whole day. Just part of it.

It started well enough. John was up early as usual and went off photographing, while I had a lovely sleep-in until 7.30am which is rare for me. Even better, the fog which had come in during the night lifted before we were picked up for our drive to La Bastide de Gordes.

We arrived here at the hotel at about 10am, too early for our room to be ready, which was quite understandable.

We upgraded to a higher floor room which was ready, and yet there's hardly room to swing a cat. The decor of the hotel is based on a burgundy colour, or perhaps you'd call it a deep rose, which is not really me. It's ridiculous but it unsettles me when the colour scheme isn't one which puts me at ease. Plus the staff are dressed in some kind of Tyrolean costumes, and I couldn't quite bring myself to ask the significance.

It was a relief to walk into the celadon bar area.

The furniture is antique, with some lovely pieces. There are literally hundreds of old leather-bound books everywhere which looks just slightly forced. I quite liked this frou-frou wall lamp though.

Gordes has always been very 'in', and it's easy to see why. It's a very pretty hilltop village, surrounded by lush green countryside. Stone houses line the roads which wind around the sides of the hill. It was a great stronghold of the Resistance in World War II, and the inhabitants suffered reprisals.The whole village was awarded a Croix de Guerre after the World War II.

It was made famous by artists such as Marc Chagall, and in more recent history authors like Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence). It's said that many movie stars have houses here. I'll keep my eyes peeled, but I'm so ignorant that I wouldn't even recognise Beyoncé or Lady Gaga if they stood up in my coffee, let alone a French movie star.

I've really been looking forward to seeing the Cistercian abbey at Sénanque, which I had read is a quick walk of a few kilometres mainly cross-country from Gordes.

The Cistercians broke away from the Benedictine order as a protest against the excesses they perceived the order to be enjoying. The architecture of their buildings is usually simple and spartan. Sénanque has clean romanesque lines, and is stunning in July with a foreground of lines of flowering lavender.

I expected the hotel to have printed maps similar to the ones we found at the Hotel Crillon le Brave. Instead, the concierge gave us a map of the town proper with an arrow pointing towards the abbey on its very edge. We wouldn't need any map of the extended walk, most of which is off the main road. Just follow the signs.

Off we set. It wasn't long before we were confused about which road to take.

John spotted this very kind local woman with her gorgeous dog, who was happy to help us. She asked in French if we wanted the main road or a quieter path. I said not the main roads, and she gave us quite clear directions.

We started off walking between these two beautiful high stone fences. They're so distinctive and so clever, made of stacked dry stones, a capping of vertically placed ones on top.

There were obviously lovely gardens behind some of these fences, and we wandered along, stopping to take photos.

We passed all sorts of entrances. Some grand, some rustic. I liked the effect on the pillars of this one.

At a t-junction we caught up to the friendly woman who had given us directions, and she indicated again the way to go. We turned right as she said. Immediately the surroundings became more rural.

We left the bitumen road and began on a shady path. It was nice to be out of the sun and back into the soft woods.

The path became shale, and opened out on to a hillside with views of a valley. This was beginning to feel not quite right. We walked for a kilometre or so on a precarious pathway across the hill, with fairly steep drops to what was beginning to look like a gorge. We debated turning back, but our helper had been so definite about this being the way to go. Could we have missed a turn? We thought not. We kept going.

The path was following the edge of a steep hillside, winding lower and lower. We'd been walking for quite a long time. We were beginning to notice that there were blue paint marks along the way on the rocks. I recalled that the concierge had said we would be seeing red and white marks. (Much later a man in a truck said we should have stayed on a yellow route). Hiking paths in France are colour coded. I haven't googled it but I think blue must be 'suicidal hikers only'.

After a kilometre or so, we were grateful to come to a signpost which looked positively civilised. It said Sénanque was another 2.8km. We discussed it again and neither of us were keen to go back the way we had come, so we continued.

We were seeing some spectacular scenery.

We were now in the bottom of the valley, in what was becoming a gorge. John said 'All we need now is for a thunderstorm, and we'll be washed away in the flood.' I was more concerned that one of us would fall over and hurt ourselves. Then the other one would have to walk out alone for help, leaving the wounded one behind! I didn't want to be either one.

The loose stones on the path were slippery. We crossed the gully and started to climb the other side. It turned from a path into just a slippery rocky slope, with a very steep drop to the valley floor. I used to get vertigo when I was in my forties, and suddenly I started to feel wobbly in the legs. I couldn't look over the side. John went ahead and reassured me that after this, the path was wider again. I decided to crawl across, looking for branches to hold as I wnent. It was only about 5 metres or so, this treacherous looking bit. Hang on, aren't we in France, supposed to be strolling around a beautiful Cistercian abbey??? This wasn't in the plan!

I just couldn't do it. I couldn't go across. John was a really good sport and said ok let's go back the way we came. I didn't argue. So we did. Without incident.

On the way back, we sat on a rock to eat our picnic lunch, with borage growing wild nearby. When we arrived back in Gordes, we'd been away for 3 hours.

Not to be defeated, we refused to retreat back to the hotel. We tried to find a taxi to take us to the abbey. Not possible. We found the formal garden at the mairie (town hall). We thought we'd explore the town a little before we discussed the abbey again.

The chateau is in the middle of town, and very impressive...

How beautiful are the colours of provence? The biscuit coloured walls, pale terracotta roofs, and the powder blue doors and shutters???

And after our hike, how steep were the streets? The sides are sloped for cars, and the middle steps for pedestrians.

So many quaint doorways, with metal brackets above to support flowering vines.

The beautiful doorways....

We had been going downhill for a while and before we knew where we were, we were looking up at the town. Which meant another climb back up.

Water flowed from rocks out of base of the hill, some of it in troughs under cover like this.

We saw terraced gardens, one with a lit petanque court.

Pencil pines always. Some trimmed on top like these.

I'm beginning to think it's my map-reading skills which are missing, Or as the French would say, they lack me. Because we were lost again. This time we found an elderly woman and her husband who showed us the right direction.

We didn't even care that it was so steep. We just wanted to be at the hotel.

But I did find some Fabiana Fillippi on the way home. My location skills must have started working again!

Love this herringbone stone wall pattern, don't you?

By the time we arrived back at the hotel, we were flagging. We discussed getting better directions to the abbey, but discarded that idea. John hopped in the shower while I downloaded my photos. I hadn't really explored the hotel for you, so off I went, iphone in hand. What a treasure trove!

There are extensive terraces overlooking the valley. This one is off the bar and reception area.

Several floors down there are gardens and swimming pools.

Far from the deep rose of the foyer and our bedroom, I found charcoal grey, beige, and manicured gardens.

Formal swimming pools, both outside....

and in......

A handsome spiral staircase took me to the spa, where I was given a Sisley sample perfume, and a tour of their restful charcoal-walled treatment rooms.

I arrived back at our room at 6.50pm and suddenly realised we had a pre-booked reservation for dinner at a local restaurant at 7pm. We just made it. John had beer and a steak again, I had a coupe de champagne and St Jacques on fusilli with coriander pesto. Magnifique!

And with that buddies, I'm ready for bed. John is asleep already. I won't need any rocking. We have a taxi coming tomorrow morning at 6.30am to take us to catch our train at Avignon. Until tomorrow night, here's a rose for you....

shelley dark, writer 

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