Heavy fog blanketed the roadway ahead as Jim cautiously drove in the Provence along D36 from Bonnieux to D943 down south to Lourmarin. It was a narrow corkscrew of a road cut through rock with high limestone peaks. Mourre Nègre rises to 3,690 ft. in the spectacular range of mountains. Occasionally, I had a glimpse through the fog of the outstanding beauty of the valley below and the rocks jutting from the savage countryside with no houses in sight. I remembered reading in the novel “Anything Considered” that this road was the perfect setting by night for the twentieth-century highwayman. Husband Jim the normally fearless man at the wheel was driving in mid-morning after a heavy overnight rain which likely accounted for the fog. Peter Mayle’s novel set an ominous crime scene for the very road we were traveling: “Rumors of armed robberies had been circulating recently in village cafes, and the story was always the same. A car, seemingly broken down, blocks the road, with a lone figure standing beside. The unsuspecting motorist stops to offer help. Friends of the lone figure then jump out from their hiding place in the bushes, often with guns. The helpful motorist is left with a ten-mile walk to civilization, while his car is being processed for resale in a backstreet Marseille garage.”
Surely, there was no need to worry about highwaymen during the day, and after all this was a fictional account published in 1996. I decided this was not a good time to share the information like a scary book-of-the-month installment. I can always find something to worry about. We were thankful to say good-bye to our jumpy, nervous feelings and ease into Lourmarin through the golden canopy of plane trees and past the amusing sculpture of a naked lady at the edge of the road.
She wasn’t very sexy, but apparently she needed a good sudsy bath with extra heavy-duty mildew remover. I was drawn to Lourmarin for two reasons. First, the village is rather flat, a welcome change after climbing the steep pathways in the other villages we had visited in Provence.
The second enticement was the beautiful chateau. We went in that direction first.There is a hint of Italy in Lourmarin’s castle which stands regally beyond open fields at the edge of the village. One reference work says that when the chateau was abandoned in the nineteenth century that it was taken over by gypsies. A local tradition says the gypsies were responsible for the strange graffiti on one of the inner walls, and that they put a curse on the place when they were evicted.Below the chateau to the right of the pathway from the chateau into the village is a church which was built for Protestants, who formed the major population during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A tomb in the surrounding cemetery is that of the novelist, essayist and playwright Albert Camus, who bought a house in Lourmarin before he won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1957. His time enjoyed in Lourmarin was cut short when he was killed in a car crash near the village while being driven to Paris in 1960. Now, there was another subject I would not mention to Jim at the end of the day when we wound our way north again through the ravine separating the Grand and the Petit Luberon.
The smart people in the chateau had closed their doors for lunch. Fortunately, I could enjoy the garden of richly-colored dahlias, shining like jewels after the night’s refreshing rain. We admired the views of the village and then decided to walk on to find a shady place to eat beside the winding narrow street with typical Mediterranean architecture.An arbor of vines kept us in the shade, but it held a canopy of raindrops which showered us with each gust of wind. We had placed our order and I didn’t see another open table. The young couple next to us saw our predicament, and the nice lady helped me grab a table without a built-in shower. After lunch, I noticed that she left the table early to search for photo opportunities, as I did, leaving the guys behind to face the bills alone. I found a window full of toys for our grandson, Daniel. Now, wouldn’t my daughter appreciate the Noah’s ark with the many, many animals? The zebra, snakes, penguins and squirrels might not fit into my brocante antique finds either. I watched a big sister giving a little sister rides on her scooter on the pedestrian-only street.
A city maintenance truck with the cutest, smiley face on the window came around the corner and parked. The worker was very annoyed because a car was parked and blocking his way, but he posed for my camera anyway.
A tiger was waiting in an open air safari Jeep. Oh, it was fake, but very amusing. A real curbside market, in every sense of the word, was set up at the edge of the lane with vegetables, figue noire (black figs) big as a baby’s fist, sausage hung in loops and wine.
During the photo-snapping, I was suddenly photo-bombed by two young ladies. After the laughter and surprise, I introduced myself, produced my business card, and they agreed for me to share their photo. Among all of the giggles, I failed to notice that one of the pretty ladies had her eyes closed in the photo. I suppose that I had the last laugh and photo bomb. Thanks again, ladies!
Lourmarin is officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Lourmarin is a cultural center for the region as it hosts music and art festivals and has many art galleries. The Countess of Agoult, whose family owned the village chateau, was the mother of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and three other children. One of the children married Richard Wagner. Quite interesting to find such a number of talented people associated with this small town. Peter Mayle, the famous author mentioned at the beginning, also lived here for awhile. I found a news item published in 2011 that reported the sale of his sumptuous eighteenth-century residence with fourteen acres of property, an olive grove, pool, ponds and gardens for $8.6M.
I never expect to have that sum stashed in the bank, but I have a wealth of experiences stored in my personal bank and bright hopes.
You may be interested to know that I took the beach trip with Vanessa, the buddy I mentioned in the last blog story – “Thrown Away”. We shopped and enjoyed shrimp at almost every meal except breakfast. The brilliant white sand of Miramar Beach, Florida was wonderful, as always. We spent one night at the Hilton San Destin, and then we stopped for information at Henderson Park Inn since Vanessa had never visited.
One of my highest rated blogs “Umpteenth Honeymoon” was set at this atmospheric location. The generous lady at the front desk gave us the key to the Presidential Suite for a short visit with my Canon in action!
Perhaps you would enjoy the book (CLICK TO VIEW)”A French Opportunity“. It isn’t quite the best-seller compared to “Anything Considered” but it has its appealing moments.
Thanks for visiting! Please come again. I do appreciate everyone of you very much.