The Highest Point in the Valley of Hell

Les-Baux-de-Provence, France, is known for its bloody and ruthless past.  Known for pushing individuals off the rocky cliffs, decapitation, and other cruel methods of death, the lords of Les Baux are not characters you’d want to cross.   Thus, the area was feared.

It is said Dante modeled one of his layers of hell in the Inferno off of the rocky landscape of Les Baux.

I am not sure which contributed to it, but area became known as “The Valley of Hell.”

An omnious sky over Les-Baux-de-Provence

Gabe and I visited Les-Baux-de-Provence on our whirlwind trip to see the lavender this summer. However, short on time, we didn’t climb the entire way to see the castle & fortifications.  Instead, we wandered around the village checking out churches and views from the mid-heights.

However, this time, Mom & I were up for the adventure.

The wind was whipping at the top of Les Baux

Le Mistral, the fierce Provençal wind, also accompanied us.  However, pressing against the bursts had its rewards.  The top was very impressive with bell towers and rooms carved into the face of the stone cliffs.

Rocky facade of the castle

The sky definitely accentuated the scariness

If you go to Les Baux, don’t miss going to the top!

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Les Baux de Provence

Schwingen in Switzerland :  We Didn’t Know the Valley of Hell was So Beautiful – Les Baux

Pumpkins Galore at the Fête de la Courge

The Sunday after our guests left we went into withdrawal.  We’ve been traveling non-stop for what seems like 4 months.   So what should we do?

Luckily, the small commune of Corsier was holding the annual Fête de la Courge.   Courge means pumpkin in French.  We didn’t quite know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by the sweet little festival.

The pumpkin was certainly in the spotlight.  Farmers were selling every variety of gourd….from pumpkin, to squash, to small decorative ones.  They had pumpkins from Switzerland and pumpkins from Provence.

Lots of little pumpkins

A very attractive line-up

They had pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin quiche with bacon.  Pumpkin soup.    We even found the “great pumpkin”.

Delicious pumpkin treats

Gabe with the Great Pumpkin

However, sorry to report that there were no pumpkin spice lattes.

They also had a ton of local merchandise: sausages, macarons, wine, and Gabe’s favorite: Brasserie des Murailles beer.

A nice spread

Homemade macarons

Sausage

Brasserie des Murailles beer

We enjoyed the revelry and even bought our own pumpkins to decorate our flat.  They are not the traditional Halloween kind….more natural and lopsided, but they will do!

For more on the festival and dates for 2013, check out the Corsier website.

Postcards from the Swiss Riviera

Switzerland, being landlocked, actually has no ocean.   However, the shores of Lake Geneva near Montreux and Vevey are named “The Swiss Riviera” because of it’s picturesque and prestigious location on the lake, in view of both the Swiss & French Alps.  When Heidi & Olga were visiting Geneva, we took a day trip to this special region of Switzerland.

This area is located about an hour train or car ride from Geneva.  The ride provides amazing views of the coastline of Lake Geneva.

Typical view in the Swiss Riviera

Upon arriving in Montreux, we walked through the Montreux Marché, or Friday market.  I had actually never been to Montreux for a Friday market, and found it delightful.  It included vendors selling everything from handmade sweaters, to Provençal soaps, to secondhand goods.  They also had quite a variety of delicious street food.

We strolled along the Quai des Fleurs (walkway of flowers) towards Villeneuve.   One of the most special things about Montreux is that it has somewhat of a tropical ambience to it, provided by its plants and landscaping.

They have a few nice hotels in Montreux

Beautiful flowers against the French Alps. Seems like Summer, not Autumn!

A sweet hibiscus overlooks Lake Geneva

After a half hour’s stroll, we reached Chateau Chillon.   The castle dominates the coastline and was a major defensive structure up until modern times.  We didn’t go inside, but instead enjoyed the different perspectives we could see on the nature trails surrounding the chateau.

Chateau Chillon in autumn.

The legendary castle

The modern speedboats were a funny juxtaposition against the medieval castle

After walking back to Montreux and partaking of some of the market food, we then decided to visit to the Lavaux region.    I have heard numerous rave reviews about Le Deck, a beautiful bar/restaurant that overlooks the UNESCO designated Lavaux vineyards.   Heidi & Olga were game for checking it out, so we took a small regional train to Chexbres, the small town where Le Deck is located.    Note that it is possible to get there on the train, if you pay a 1.80 CHF  supplement on your Geneva-Montreux train ticket.  And you can return straight to Geneva via Lausanne.

The town of Chexbres is a quintessential Swiss wine town.  Gabe & I have driven guests through it, descending off the A1 at the Chexbres exit and weaving down the wine roads to Rivaz.  There are almost as many wine cellars as citizens, with dozens of these little operations dotting the small village.   We have always enjoyed the drive; however, there is a certain magic about walking around in the town that Heidi, Olga & I discovered.    This was especially true during the timing of our visit, as it was the height of the grape harvest.      The locals were busy, soaking in the sunshine, and tasting the year’s dividends.

The village of Chexbres

It was very tempting to stay and drink our way through the town, but we continued on walking towards the outside of town and our destination: Le Deck.  Our friends were right – this is certainly a special place.   Cushy chairs and linen canopies provide an oasis above the Lavaux vineyards.   You can purchase wine by the glass and enjoy the view, savoring the fruits of the labor of the vineyard workers, who just happened to be harvesting underneath our feet.

The Lavaux vineyards

Olga, enjoying a glass of Lavaux rosé

Au Revoir, Swiss Riviera.  Thanks for a remarkable day!

Pirenópolous

One of D’s familly’s favorite spots to get away is the little town of Perinópolous.  This town dates back to the 18th century, when it was popular due to gold conquests in the surrounding area.  This trade then made Perinópolous the richest city in the land.

The church

The riches didn’t stay for long.   In the following century, there was a downturn.  The work and prosperity swapped to nearby Anápolis and the population moved to be closer to work.   However, Perinópolous still existed, just without the growth.  It reminds me of our trip to Brugge with the goods & diamond trade moving to Antwerp, but Brugge still staying adorably cute.

You may or may not know that the city of Brasilia was actually built to be the capital of Brazil.   The city was planned and once completed, the capital was moved from from Rio de Janeiro in 1956.  Since the little town of Perinópolous was only two hours away, it started to rise again as a tourist destination.

Today, Perinópolous is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a wonderful weekend getaway to experience traditional Brazilian architecture, lively squares brimming with cafes and restaurants, and a gateway to the nearby waterfalls.

The streets were filled with arts & crafts shops

Lovely night scene in Pirenópolous

Lively cafes in the main drag

Just outside of the little town, D’s family rented us an adorable B & B.  There were 10-12 rooms which was great as we all could gather in the common areas and easily visit between rooms.

Cute little B & B

View from our door to the common area, complete with breakfast porch, hammocks and a pool

While the Americans were in the B & B, the rest of D’s family rented a huge party house where it seemed like dozens of aunts, cousins, and friends stayed.   The house had an indoor/outdoor kitchen area, a pool, and numerous bedrooms.  They barbecued and cooked all day and partied at night.

Someone pointed out that they were not sure that our group would be up for the all nighters and noise, so that is why they found a close B & B for us to settle.     And we heard the prediction was true – – they stayed up to the wee hours of the morning.

You see, many of D’s family and family friends have moved to nearby cities.  So these special occasions like the wedding were a fantastic opportunity for them to come together.  The weekend was a celebration of the marriage, as well as a special time to visit their closest friends, many of whom were considered (and titled) family.

And such, because our group was going to be going to nearby Perinópolous, at least half of the wedding-revelers also traveled to the city as well.   I think we were over 35 in number between the multiple homes / B & B’s rented.    What a neat tradition!

They also rented a 15 passenger van for getting our large groups around, to town, and to the waterfalls.  It made it easy to keep us in the same place.

Party bus!

We had a lovely time in Perinópolous.   Thanks to Mama I and Dashing Dad for providing us such a great experience.

Canal Wars: The best canals in Europe?

Having visited and re-visited some of the best canal towns in Europe this summer, I thought I would share our thoughts on the highlights of each.

My ranking scale is done with 10 being a good rating and 1 being a bad rating.

Venice

The entire city is an island full of canals.

The grand canal in Venice

There really is nothing like Venice.  So, it really is a must-do in your lifetime. However, since everyone has it on their bucket list, it is over-crowded, and with the typical summer heat, it can be quite claustrophobic.

Uniqueness:                 10 – there is nothing like it in the world

Quaintness:                  5 – when you get into the back canals, this score could improve to a 7 or 8

Crowdedness:               1 – awful.  When mixed with heat, it’s a -1!

Ability to live there:     2 – couldn’t deal with crowds

Tips: Venice is best seen in the evening, when the sun is setting.  This provides both a more refreshing experience as the heat is less, as well as there is a decrease in some of the cruise ship travelers.  For the budget conscious, take vaporetti #1 or #2 (public transportation boat) and vie for a place on the edge.   Big spenders could go for a evening gondola but this sets you back around 200 euros or $250 USD.  In two trips to Venice, I still haven’t ‘invested’ in this, as I don’t think it is worth the price.

Amsterdam

Dark wooded and chock full of 17th century gabled architecture, this city is romantic and beautiful.   When you add the adorable local shops and restaurants lining its cross streets, its downright perfect.

Amsterdam in the Fall. I have painted this scene three times 🙂

Uniqueness:                   9

Quaintness:                   8

Crowdedness:                8 in Fall, 4 in Summer

Ability to live there:     9, I’d move there in a heartbeat

Tips:  I favored Amsterdam in the fall, when the leaves had fallen and we had better views of the charming architecture when strolling or biking down the canal.   This most recent trip, we took a summer canal tour, which was average.  I far preferred biking down the canals as the best way to see the the beauty and character of this city. 

Burano, Italy

This little island is off of Venice, but it is so different that I thought I would include it as a separate town.

Colorful Burano

Uniqueness:                   7

Quaintness:                   7

Crowdedness:                7 in Summer

Ability to live there:     5, too hot and isolated

Tips:  Quieter than its neighbor, this picturesque canal island is a nice side trip from Venice.   You can catch a boat that is included with the vaporetti pass. 

Brugge

Tiny and medieval, this city makes you say the word “cute” at least 10 times an hour.

Brugge is so CUTE!

Uniqueness:                  8

Quaintness:                   9.5

Crowdedness:                7, wasn’t that bad, even in the summer

Ability to live there:      8 – I’d adore a home on the canal.  But it’s a small town and maybe it could get mundane quickly without big-city appeal & activities?  Plus, I wouldn’t be able to fit in my pants with all the chocolate, fries, beer and waffles!

Notes: our favorite time was walking the canals at dusk, as the sun was setting.   The reflections were magical and ideal for photography. We did a canal tour the following day, but in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t as cool as a relaxing stroll our evening before.   

Copenhagen

A merge of classical and modern forward-thinking Danish design, this city was hip and fashionable while maintaining its priority one – Mother Earth.

Copenhagen’s Nyhavn harbor

Uniqueness:                   8

Quaintness:                    5

Crowdedness:                9 – not at all crowded

Ability to live there:      7– I could do it, Danes are said to be the most content people in the world

Tips:  this city had a few canals but was more completely surrounded by a vast body of water vs. small canals.   The architecture and vibe were cool and fresh, but cute/quaint is best reserved for neighboring Amsterdam and Brugge.   We did a canal tour which was a great way to see the city since a lot of it isn’t accessible by walking/biking.

The Verdict

As you can see, the ultimate decision is up to you, depending on how your preferences.    If you love fresh, clean, and green – Copenhagen should be your destination.   If you don’t mind crowds & souvenir stands, for unrivaled uniqueness, go Venice.    For a romantic & charming locale, Brugge is the best pick.   For vibrant color, sunny weather, and photo ops, Burano is a great choice.   And for the most character and culture, I’d always select Amsterdam in the Fall.

Brugge, Belgium

Belgium was the first city on our travels with Ferdinand & Isabella.    Brugge was our pick based on cuteness + the food factor.  In the coming days, I plan to divulge all of the best Belgian deliciousness, but today, I want to talk about how adorable Brugge is.

We see our fair share of adorable towns.  In a post from a few weeks ago, after a marathon tour of France, I noted that I might be having “cute town burnout”.  So, it takes a lot to impress us these days.   However;  fear no more faithful blog readers, Brugge definitely put a hault on the burnout and I was quickly snapping photos of this wonderful canal laden village.

Here is some evidence to prove it:

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Brugges’ historical center is a UNESCO site.  It’s height was from the 12th -15th century when it was a major trade route.  However, the water silted around 1500, and it lost its prized reputation to Antwerp (now known for diamonds).   Now it’s prize is tourism.  And pumping out waffles, frites, mussels, chocolate and beer.  Outside of diamonds, what more could you ask for?

Related links:

Schwingen in Switzerland: Why is Antwerp a center for diamonds?

The Clevelands’ Pad:  Trip Recap Part 3 – Brugge, Belgium

The romantic village of Saint-Émilion

When we went to Bordeaux, we stayed in the town of Saint-Émilion.

Saint Emilion is an old wine town.   History dates vineyards there back to the second century.  Can you imagine?

Our hotel was Auberge de la Commanderie. We’d recommend it. The building was from the 12th Century.

The town is a UNESCO site.   Romanesque architecture and roman ruins are sprinkled throughout the entire village.

Church in Saint-Émilion

A street in Saint Émilion

 

 

Rock integrated into architecture

View from the steeple

 

I really loved the architecture of this hill town

The town seamlessly blended into the vineyards, and vice-versa

Small church on the hill, overlooking the vineyards

What a romantic city. Too bad the hubbies weren’t with us.

 

 

 

The hilltop villages of Bonnieux & Lacoste

After Oppède-le-Vieux, we continued onto the Luberon Valley.   An article from jet setter had recommended Menerbes, Lacoste, Bonnieux, and Gordes to be nice stops while in Provence.   We knew we  would hit Gordes later in the Fall with my Mom so chose to pick from the remaining.

Image courtesy of miniplan-Luberon

We settled on Bonnieux as it was supposed to have excellent views of the countryside and lavender fields.  We didn’t have time, but it is supposed to be an excellent place for pain au chocolat.   They also have a museum of bread-making.

Since we wanted to see the view, we drove right through town, up to the top.

Approaching Bonnieux

Vineyards surrounding Bonnieux

The town of Bonnieux

 

After driving through the adorable streets, we parked at the top.   There was an old passageway that was quite beautiful.

The passageway to the top

We found the most peaceful hilltop.   It was adorned with trees, permanently bent by Le Mistral.    There was a single cross and a few benches.   One fellow was meditating at the top, and we were the only others.

These trees had been shaped by Le Mistral, the strong wind in the South of France

 

The view was very calming as well.   Note the lavender fields in the distance?

View from the top of Bonnieux

 

We enjoyed taking in some of the architecture and panoramic views.

Provençal architecture in Bonnieux

View from the other side of Bonnieux, where La Terrace restaurant is located

 

As we were driving out, we got some views of Lacoste.   No, this town isn’t the namesake of the alligator brand.  But, an interesting fact is that Pierre Cardin has dedicated much energy to restoring and improving this little Provencal gem.

A few of Lacoste across the small valley. The towns are 4km apart.

 

Lacoste, France in the distance…

 

By the time we left Bonnieux, we decided we had had quite a full day of Provencal adventures so we returned back to our hotel pool for some relaxation.

 

Related links:

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Breaking Wind – Le Mistral

 

A nice view at Oppède-Le-Vieux

Bruno also recommended Oppède-le-Vieux.

In French, when a town is old, they put the word old right in the title.   So, while there is a regular Oppède, we searched for Oppède-le-Vieux to find the old town.  This is the same as Annecy-le-Vieux, and also in Geneva, we have Vieille Ville, old town.

The town is located against the Petite Luberon mountains.  You park about 1km from the town since it is perched high on the ledge.   A fifteen minute walk has you into the town.  It is super small little village but still adorable.  The day we were there, they were hosting a local arts festival.    Another fifteen minute ascent on narrow cobblestone streets has you at the very tip top at the site of 16th-century Notre-Dame-d’Alydon church.

Below are a few photos we took of the town, the hike, and at the top.

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Les-Baux-de-Provence

On Saturday morning, I woke up with high hopes for lavender sightings.   However, my new laissez-faire attitude with trip planning (“let it be”….just book hotel, do research on the way) had a flaw….we were a little too far South for the purple crop.   Oops.

Bruno, our innkeeper, recommended we stay around the area for Saturday and hit the lavender on our way home back to Geneva, since we’d need to pass by it to get home.   Gabe said he could visibly see me getting anxious as he listed all the little non-lavender producing hill towns we could see near Saint Rémy.   Anyhow, we decided to start with some of his recommendations, the first being Les Baux de Provence, and see how the day progressed from there.   It was just a ten minute drive south of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, so we headed off.

As we approached, we could see the settlement high on the mountaintop.   The range in this area of Provence is called Les Alpilles, or mini Alps.   Les-Baux-de-Provence sits on the top of one of these rock spurs.  On a clear day, it is said you can see all the way to the Carmargue, the mouth of the Rhone.

Approaching Les-Baux-de-Provence

The town was really beautiful and we got there early enough to beat the tour buses.  Apparently, they start coming in after 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning.

The architecture reflected the different civilizations that ruled over the town

The history of life on the rock dates back to 6000 B.C.    During the Middle Ages, the kingdom was quite powerful.   However, the Baux lords’ reign ended in the 1400’s and the town was ruled by the Grimaldis, of Monaco, from then on.   Actually, while we were there, the town was hosting a Princess Grace photo exhibition.

If you are interesting in learning more about the history of Les Baux de Provence, Schwingen in Switzerland has an excellent post entitled We Didn’t Know the Valley of Hell Was So Beautiful.  They also visited the castle, which we did not do, so you can get tips from their visit as well.

Streets of Les Baux

Morning skies over Les Baux

Walls of Les Baux

A few of the valley

Les Baux was built directly into the rock

A lovely square in Les Baux

A downward view of the streets

Gabe at the gate

Les Baux is worth a stop – make sure you hit it early to beat the crowds.