It has been several days since my last post. We have been busy exploring the area and painting. The weather has begun to change with more clouds although the temperature is still mild. Tonight and tomorrow we are expecting thunder showers. This is bad news for the wineries who are just in the middle of their grape harvest.
We found that there is a medieval hostel in the area that provided lodging to pilgrims starting the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compestella. The pilgrimage route begins near here, crossing France and Spain. We see familiar trail markers that look like the ones we saw in Montcabrier.
If you are coming to St. Remy you should consult us about the best glaces. There is a favorite restaurant we can recommend for wonderful lunches. We also have found a patisserie to our liking.
Nostradamus was born in St. Remy! The house still is occupied in the old part of St. Remy. Jean and I walked down the narrow lane to the marker one night. In France Nostradamus is revered more for his medical skills and writing than for his prognostication. He developed a medicines using extracts from plants and minerals to treat the plague and wrote extensively on science, philosophy, and history. Late in life he began writing encoded quatrains that are presumed to contain prophecies. However, it isn’t clear what he really intended and may have written them to sell his annual almanac that became quite popular in his time. Subsequent “scholars” reinterpreted the codes, often for their own ends. Anyway, it’s an interesting tidbit of St. Remy history.
One place we visited to paint and sketch this week was Lac des Peirou, just a kilometer up our road. This little lake provides water for St. Remy as well as a beautiful recreation area for locals during their lunch hour and fisherman seeking trout. However, the story behind this lake goes much further back in time. In the first century BC the Romans built an arch dam about 11 feet thick across the cleft in the rocks to create this lake! They then built an aqueduct from here to their town called Glanum, that is now an archeological site just south of St. Remy. In 1891 the Roman dam was destroyed and the current dam created to ensure the water supply. It is a natural place for a dam because the little stream that feeds the lake ran through this narrow cleft and over a waterfall.
We enjoyed our day at the lake. The reflections were marvelous. The forest on the southern side of the lake is quite interesting with all the trees leaning one direction and a misty sort of feel. The trails around the lake do not extend along the cliffs to the dam, so you can’t get close to it. We wandered about until we found spots to sit and sketch and paint. The light was changing constantly in this little canyon.
We visited a local winery called Chateau Romanin. It is located on the site of a 13th century chateau that is in complete ruins. There are no trails to or in the ruins, so you must look at them from below unless you’re up to some bushwhacking. Chateau Romanin built their own cave in 1991 using arches copied from cathedrals. It is a most unique wine cellar filled with large and small oak barrels holding their many wines. Of course we had to sample the reds and came away with two bottles. The local appellation of Les Baux de Provence is entirely within the Coteaux-de-Aix-en-Provence, but was granted its own appellation in 1995. Unlike other Provencal appellations, Les Baux produces mostly red wines. The leading varieties are grenache, syrah, and mourvedre and these must account for 70% of the wine blend with cabernet sauvignon, carignan, cinsault, and counoise used in the other 30% to balance the wine. It is a complicated process. The Les Baux appellation requires that all grapes be grown biodynamically and have applied for a permit to require that all wines carrying their appellation be certified organic.
Chateau Romanin has just begun its grape harvest. This is almost a month later than usual due to a very late spring and cool wet early summer. We were unable to see the harvest because they were working the most distant vineyard…too far to walk and not a nice drive. However, the views from this winery over their vineyards are fantastic. A small airport hosting a glider fleet and the planes to pull them sits at the base of the mountains below the winery. We didn’t see any gliders, but did see one plane returning from taking a glider up. We wandered the vineyards, saw a couple of the harvesters taking a nap under a tree at the edge of a vineyard, looked longingly at the ruins on the side of the Alpilles Mountains, and gazed across the plain below toward some distant mountains shrouded in haze.