In our continuing quest to experience as much of France as possible in our year “Away, eh!”, we’ve moved! We’re now living in the village of Vaison la Romaine, about 140 kilometers north of coastal Marseille. It’s perfectly Provençal and in Côtes du Rhône Country, a region famous for its namesake wines.
We’ve been enthusiastically supporting the local vintners and I’m certain our presence here has improved the economy of the entire appellation. For all you aficionados who appreciate a deal, wine here is cheap. You can pick up an entirely decent bottle of Côtes du Rhône for about five or six Euros - my hubby is in heaven! What can I say, “When in Rhône...”
Vaison la Romaine is really two villages in one and each has its own special charm. The lower city, which centers around a lovely square, is considered by locals to be “modern” - even though there are two archeological sites full of ruins in its very heart.
Wow...those Romans, hey? They came, they saw, they conquered! Two thousand years ago, “Vasio” was a prosperous Roman settlement of 6000 people. Only recently did the town return to that same population. What is here today, is a fraction of the ancient city that existed when Rome was flexing its imperial muscles – the rest remains buried beneath the houses of modern Vaison. We’ve been here for about a month now and still do a double-take of our surroundings enroute to our favourite boulangerie. Walking (as if it is normal) by Pompeii-like foundations of mansions, bath-houses, shops, even an amphitheater, all of which interface seamlessly with contemporary buildings, isn’t easy to wrap one’s mind around.
Across the Ouvèze River via an ancient Roman bridge is the lovely hilltop Cité Médiévale - upper Old Town. Its ramparts and fortified gate shelter steep stone streets, ancient buildings and gurgling fountains. Even higher, way above on a rocky knoll, is a 12th century château built by the Counts of Toulous. Imagine, s'il vous plait, an open-air museum housing large collections from both the Middle Ages and Roman era! Voilà, that’s Vaison la Romaine!
We’ve rented a lovely manor house here on the edge of lower downtown. How we found it was a weird bit of serendipity. Last year, we were on a recognizance road trip checking out potential future homes. We stopped in Vaison overnight and were out for dinner at a local restaurant. Suddenly, a lady backed her chair into mine. We learned later, she was on an urgent quest to escape the pungent body odor of a fellow diner on the other side of her. She was Swiss, spoke excellent English (music to my French-fatigued ears) and, as it turned out, owned a vacation home here. We got chatting, she and her husband invited us over for coffee and a tour the next morning and five months later, here we are! Merci to the smelly hiker who made it happen.
Our mission to master French is (and likely forever will be) an ongoing process. We are still taking private lessons and I love our new teacher, Myriam. She learned English in the UK so when she says, “Don, we don’t say that in French,” (which, by the way, she says often), it is with this lyrical French accent, tinged with a hint of British posh.
Myriam and her husband, Mathieu (pronounced Mat-u, because the French don’t like the sound of the English “th”) are both avid cyclists. My favourite classes involve maps, spread on the table, scouting for new biking routes... en français, of course! Stay tuned for more about cycling in this area in a future post.
Mathieu owns “l'arbre à vins”, a funky, little wine bar on the main square. Every Friday night he prepares and hosts a three-course dinner for about twenty to twenty-five people. We’ve been twice and it is a wonderful way to celebrate week’s end. You pick your wine from his huge selection and, if there is any left over (which hasn’t happened yet), you can take it home. All his guests eat together, ranch-style, at one long table, so there are multiple languages (including beaucoup de français) flying around the room. The evenings are great fun, tend to have a lively international flavour and we’ve met lots of locals and people from other parts of Europe, including a lovely couple from Cyprus who were named after two Greek gods. I started to laugh out loud, until it was obvious from the look on their faces they weren't kidding. I bet Dionysis and Aphrodite (honest!) get that a lot!
I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, market days are a big deal throughout France. In Vaison, it is no different. The Tuesday morning market has been a central feature of life and dates back to 1483. It is that time of the week again, so in keeping with the ancient tradition...I’m off in search of fresh asparagus
Until next time, mes amis, when I hope to tell you about the heavenly hilltowns that surround us here and the biking...mon Dieu, the biking! It is incroyable!
Oh and, by the way - spring has sprung in sunny Southern France! Belles fleurs are popping up everywhere, and the trees are blossoming in delicious creams and pinks! My thoughts are with all our Canadian friends and family enduring “The Winter With No End”! Je suis désolée...
If you visit Vaison la Romaine and want to learn some French while you're here, connect with Myriam at: www.redboxvaison.com