French Friday – Beyond Paris with La Belle in France

Beyond-ParisBack to Provence! That beautiful corner of France that has been idolized as much as Paris. You read Sara’s perspective on Sunday, now it is time for Stephanie. I have been reading La Belle in France for a while now, I love her clean design, her fascinating posts on art in Fine Art Fridays and her gorgeous photos.

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She had even tried to come up to Paris for the Paris Blogger’s Meet-up. And although we did not meet in person she inspires me to check out an area of France that I have yet to see…Provence.

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When people learn that I’m living in Tiny Village, Provence, I think they only see the colorful shutters and doors, rosé wines over two hours lunches, goat cheese with lavender honey on fresh baguettes and heaps of time to relax. Those quintessential picture-perfect postcards perpetuate the idea that Provence is charmingly rustic; an untouched destination lost in time with antique bicycles leaning against storefronts, splashes of pink and yellow flowers planted in overflowing window boxes and lazy cats basking in the brilliant afternoon sun.

One of many picturesque windows you’ll find scattered about France.

Provence Photo 1Upon my arrival, that’s exactly what I found (although I’m still waiting on the warmth of the sun). Even my own little house (like a miniature townhouse) stands out with its beautiful cobalt blue shutters and stonewalls.

On the first floor, a heavy trapdoor leads to a dark underground cellar filled to the brim with countless untold stories dating back to the twelfth century. I’m somehow allowed to be living in restored archeological ruins and it boggles my mind to think how many stories these thick stone walls are keeping from history in an unbreakable silence.

But you don’t have to wander far from my house to find yourself lost on some trail in the middle of nowhere where the whispers of Provence are far quieter. Many people often don’t realize that Provence is largely a dense forest with rocky hiking trails by the thousands winding through lush foliage, unfenced vineyards and passed neglected dwellings. The trodden paths may very well be as old as my house, a permanent fixture in the history of the land, and it’s amazing what you can find.

Old shutters to one of many abandoned houses.

Provence Photo 6One sunny afternoon, I embarked on a hike with a French friend who grew up in the area and thus knows the trails like the unique creases in the palm of her hand. We wandered around so many bends I completely lost my sense of direction and realized I’d never again find my back to this spot. Eventually we finally arrived at the base of what appeared to be a low aqueduct.

Climbing over mounds of dirt and rock covered in a thick layer of wild vines, we reached the top of what would have once been a prominent rock wall. Teetering across it’s narrow top, we came to the large gaping mouth of a bottomless well. Darkness quickly swallowed up any inclination of how deep the well may have be and we listened intensely as we dropped rocks into the black hole, expecting to hear the stones hitting the bottom – but no matter how large the stone, not even an echo returned to us.

Peering down into the depths of the abandoned well.

Provence Photo 2Clearly at one point in time the well had purpose but now it was neglected and useless, if not completely forgotten. My mind couldn’t help but fill the silence with questions and visions of what it could have been long ago: Who built it? Why did they want it? What was it for? Who worked here? Where did their productions finally end up? After all, there were not even the remnants of a service road once leading to the area.

Walking along the base of the wall. Clearly someone put some effort into this, but whom?

Provence Photo 3A little further on, connected to the well was what appeared to be a house although only a thick stonewall with a window and some ambiguous stairs leading down to foliage remained.

What made whoever lived here, pick up and leave? Does anyone still alive have memories of what this once was? As troubling as it was, I had no ideas to find the concrete answers knowing the truth would only spoil the fun of my intrigue and curiosity.

My friend’s dog, Quanzo, taking a moment to enjoy the great outdoors.

Provence Photo 4Although it may seem as if I stumbled upon a hidden treasure, this was not the first time. Each hike in Provence I set out on leads me to some sort of forgotten structure, such as the time we found a swimming pool filled with rainwater yet alone in the middle of the forest with no signs of who would have splashed in its waters on a hot day.

The most magnificent find was an old two-story villa left vulnerable to nature in an open valley surrounded by vineyards. The house evidently once stood tall in a halo of nobility and stature. But now not even the suggestion of a ceiling remained, the windows were completely knocked out and the walls were crumbling to pieces.

An old car left to become one with nature.

Provence Photo 5It’s hard to imagine, but stretching on for miles beyond Paris is a vast landscape whispering its history to those who will stop to listen. Sure I’m looking forward to returning to my city life of lively get-togethers, museum exhibitions, gallery openings, concerts and jazz nights – a life robust with what’s happening in the moment, but I can’t help appreciate my time in Provence for giving me a more profound understanding of France’s past, and even of the French.

About Stephanie
Stephanie-LaBelleinFranceAfter studying a year in Montpellier and Paris, Stephanie found herself in love with France. Exchanging her plans to work in the art world for a box of chalk sticks, she moved to a little Provencal village to teach English.

While plans are underway to return to the City of Lights and the world of art, she’s still enjoying the quiet life of southern France and taking advantage of being near some of the most popular and even secluded areas difficult to get to from Paris.

You can read more about her travels and French life on her blog, La Belle in France.

Merci Stephanie!

8 Comments

  1. Christine
    April 9, 2011

    This is inspiring me to go exploring! Or better yet, visit Provence!

    Reply
    1. Andi
      April 9, 2011

      @Christine, I am glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  2. Dianne
    April 9, 2011

    Loved this post and the pretty rustic shutters!
    “All Things French”

    Reply
  3. Stephanie
    April 9, 2011

    You should Christine! Especially in Europe where there are ruins hiding nearly everywhere.

    Reply
  4. Lady Jennie
    April 12, 2011

    This is gorgeous. This is the France that people think of when they think of me and yet I’m living in the suburbs running kids to and from school. I will have to tweet this so everyone can be filled.

    Reply
    1. Andi
      April 12, 2011

      @Jennie, that totally cracked me up!

      Reply

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