Monday, September 9, 2013

Le Couvent, Apt

There is nothing like staying in a bed and breakfast inn to break the rhythms of a busy life.  
  So I was especially pleased to have an excuse to reserve Le Couvent when we went to the antiquarian book festival last weekend.

  What I didn't know was that Le Couvent Chambres d'hôtes   was going to be 19 kilometers away from our festival over a winding road that skipped over the hill into the Luberon valley below.   But alas, all the hotels were taken nearby the town... so I chose this one that was rated high on Trip Advisor. 

 The first glance of Le Couvent in Apt was a bit dispiriting as the garden and entry need a bit of a tidy-up.... but I kept reminding myself that the price for our room was a slim 98 euros and it was only for one night. 

 Laurent was cheerful and easy going and hopped up the two long staircases ( we carried the cases) with us without even checking our reservation... leading us into vast rooms, a bedroom, anti-chamber and large bathroom.   After a shower and a change of clothes we were feeling better about the place..... 

third bed in antechamber

Peeking into the large bath and shower room

I enjoyed both the tub and the shower

but then it was back over the hill to the festival and no time to look around .

From the second floor balcony

But a good night's sleep makes a difference.  The next day we were refreshed having had a good bed , a spacious room , a bubble bath (for me) and a shower for Monsieur (with a shower head the size of a dinner plate) and we were ready for breakfast.  

I was curious to see what I could find out about the place. 

 I learned from Laurent that he and his wife were responsible for renovating  Le Couvent.  And it was established on the site of an ancient monastery (1600s) not a convent.     After the revolution, the monastery was abandoned, taken over by the state,  sold to some Germans (who couldn't get the proper permissions to rebuild) and then left to fall to ruins.   

 The present owners, Laurent and his lovely wife,  bought the building in the state one sees in the above photo!  They spent five years on the structural work... and another seven years to get the place running. 

  Such a big, old place takes endless work ( and deep pockets) to keep it spiffy so I quickly grew appreciative of its quirkiness, its odd corners, ancient smells and the romantic echoes that only a very old building can display.   

I think what made me a true devotee though, was the breakfast..... served in a welcoming "salle a manger". ....being served with sacred music playing softly in the background.  Such sonorous sounds seemed fitting for the Sunday "breaking of fast" in a former house of God. 

 For those who eat grains there were fresh baguettes, croissants, pain aux raisins, pain chocolates, country breads .... all served with four or five kinds of home-made jams and jellies.

  There is a "red berry" juice and an orange juice, a myriad of teas and of course, coffees. 

  But for those of us that eat "non-gluten", there was also cheese, excellent yoghurt and fresh fruit.  I was not disappointed even though I had brought along my "squirrel food" ( nuts, seeds, and berries) just in case.

The server was just about to add more cheese under the dome.  On the right on the table are pictures taken during the reconstruction.

 It was really an exceptional hotel breakfast.  The  dining room was a bustle with guests and Laurent's busy wife who never stopped re-filling food trays and turning tables both inside and outside on the terrace. 

   It is a popular place.  I think I was disappointed on first glance after seeing the pictures on the site which show the inn in a glamorous light.  In those photos the grass and plantings are pristine , the beds look sultry with all their hangings.   Still the quality price is right for this guest house and the essentials like cleanliness, comfort, and friendliness, even wifi are there.  

I would have loved to linger and spend the day in Apt at Le Couvent and surrounds but Monsieur promised we could come back another time and "just be on holiday".  Now I'll have to hold him to that.  

Castle of Lourmarin

The Château de Lourmarin is a converted castle in the town of Lourmarin in the Valcluse department  which is still according to Wiki .... part of the Provence, Alpes, Cote d'Azur region of France.  Now that is puzzling to me.  

  I visited the castle twice because it was the site for Camus Centenary last week .  I was able to visit it during the day as well as the dinner held on the last night.

Apparently the structure itself started as a 12th-century fortress, but was transformed in the 15th century by Foulques d"Agoult chamberlain of King Rene I de Anjou.

 After 1526 the converted castle belonged to  Louis d'Agoult-Montauban  and his wife Blanche de Levis-Vantadour and the new annex made the building the first Renaissance building in the Provence Region.

Afterwards this "chateau" became the residence of the Créqui-Lesdiguières family.   But despite being owners of it, they never took residence, and this was true until the beginning of the  French Revolution.
After the Revolution, and despite having two more owners, the castle slowly crumbled and fell to ruins.

Finally, in 1920, Robert Laurent-Vibert a cosmetics producer, bought the ruins of the structure and employed the architect Henri Pacon to restore it.  

 In 1925, Laurent-Vibert died in a car accident but in his will he donated the castle to the Academie des Sciences, Agriculture, Arts, et Belles Lettres under condition that it should be made into a trust, which would support young artists. 

 This is the setting for music festivals as well as the antiquarian book fair and many other exhibitions.  It has quite a unique garden and pond, now filled with giant carp.

You can see why it would be easy to store a grand piano inside the fireplaces.  This room displayed the kitchen utensils but all of the rooms had such fireplaces.

All of the rooms on the first floor had these giant fireplaces and I saw one with a baby grand tucked into it. 

Underneath the center original staircase to the upper floor

Later I found out that I had not visited the upstairs bedrooms which feature immense fireplaces with pianos inside them also.  Who knows how they ever got the pianos to the second floor unless it was by the wide center staircase which is original, but I did hear the musicians practicing for an upcoming event and the acoustics are wonderful.  You start to see so many of these old places,  but to me they are never ho-hum...too much history to contemplate.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lourmarin Festival du Livres Anciennes

For the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Camus,   Monsieur and I went to Lourmarin, near Aix en Provence in the Luberon,  where the Salon du Livre Ancient et de la Bibliophilie was being held.  Lourmarin was once the home of Camus and his wife and his daughter, Catherine Camus who still lives there ( and who we met).   The book festival takes place here about every two years.

  We were pleased to be asked to the dinner at the Chateau which closed the week-long festival.  Monsieur was helpful to the organizers in obtaining some of the exhibits. 

Photo of Lourmarin Castle.  Sisyphus Organization.f

The Lourmarin castle was the setting for the exhibition which consisted of a chronological representation of all of Camus' work... along with precious memorabilia ...some which had never been exhibited.  This included posters, photos, cards, manuscripts and correspondence.

   Saturday evening just after we arrived, was to be a "lecture" by Pierre Arditi.  Having been invited by the Sisyphe organizers of the Exhibition,  we were expected to attend, but I was afraid that the discourse would be way beyond my expertise, would be given by a boring professor ( I knew nothing of M. Arditi at that time) and would test my meager french skills to the limits.  Also I had mis-interpreted  the word "lecture" which means something entirely different in French.  After a 3 hour drive from Nice, I was hardly in the right frame of mind for it all.

   The line was long and when we were finally seated , we waited another 3/4 of an hour in a crowded , overheated"salle"  while I was seriously wondering what in the world I was doing there and "whose idea was this anyway"?

  But all of a sudden my "people watching" was interrupted by a charismatic man walking onto the stage,  letting fall a funny story , putting us at ease,  and beginning to recite passages in a trained and mesmerizing voice.    The audience, myself included, was captured and transfixed from that moment and it was obvious to me that this was no university savant but a talented actor and reader who loved his subject ( Camus).   And it became clear that Lecture means " a reading".

Pierre Arditi  photo by

 After the treat of what I now know was the free offering of one of France's most beloved theatre actors, Pierre Arditi,  we were in a much better mood.  But as we walked up to the castle, I again began to fuss that I would not have the expertise to talk to these obviously serious collectors and intellectuals who had been asked to the dinner.

 Here again I was pleasantly surprised, was treated with all of the courtesy of an honored guest, and got to sit next to one of the most pleasant couples I have ever met.  Dominique was a passionate collector and he and monsieur swapped tales of "search and seizure and the one that got away", while Brigitte and I added our two cents,  joining in the passionate exchange .

 It was a wonderful evening as we sat in our Arabian tent and ate a delicious cous-cous...(a nod to Camus' Algerian upbringing) .  Afterwards I wondered at all the misconceptions that I sometimes still bring to living in France.

I will say this:  where in the States, in a tiny village would you get thousands of enthusiasts pouring in from surrounding towns and cities to attend such a cultural event?

 The cultural life is alive and thriving in France .   All musical events, operas, art exhibits, dance, poetry  and "lectures", especially philosophy have a special place in the hearts of most Frenchmen, and not just those with university educations.       And this really pleases me.  I have so much to learn and such good company to learn it in while I am here.   

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mountain walkabout: people

Les filles

And the Johnny Depp inspired instructor

Gymkhana:  obstacle course for horse and rider

The ideal little workshop and garden table

Village Church

Visit to a cheese maker...sounds interesting.

Bain de Serenity: swimming hole

Mountain nature walk