In the Footsteps of Van Gogh - Part II
In the Footsteps of Van Gogh
Wednesdays are usually scheduled as a “free day”, when everyone can decide whether they wanted to shop in St. Rémy, relax by the pool or paint with us at the hotel. Wednesday is also market day in many villages in France, so after breakfast, we encouraged everyone to join us for a walk down to the centre-ville (main square) of the town to enjoy the market. Along the way, we stopped to read the illustrated placards which marked the places along the road where Van Gogh had painted. Other spots simply had a bronze marker set into the pavement which said “Vincent”. One has the feeling that art history is alive and part of the life of St. Rémy. When we reached the centre-ville, there were dozens of vendors set up in the central square and along a side street with their products gaily displayed and ready to be sampled.
We are always impressed by the varieties and quality of fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, jams, honeys, and many other locally raised and produced foods that these markets offer. Since this was October, just-picked and cured local olives were also on display in vast, colorful quantities, something not available fresh any other time of year. The cheese varieties were phenomenal—many of them unknown to us. One can buy all sorts of cooked foods as well and I was tempted by the fresh paella filled with gambas—a delicious variety of giant Mediterranean shrimp. I was also interested to learn more about the wines produced locally. I had a nice chat with a wine maker who encouraged my purchase of a couple of remarkably inexpensive and excellent rosés which I had never seen in the U.S. It is so much fun to walk around discovering new taste sensations and meeting the friendly local farmers and merchants at these markets. It is an added bonus that so many photo opportunities and even painting opportunities abound as well.
That afternoon, we had arranged for a special treat—a trip south up into the Alpilles to Les Baux and the Carrières de Lumieres (Quarries of Light) show. This wonderful immersive experience takes place underground in a former limestone and bauxite quarry which has been reincarnated into a kind of movie theater unlike anywhere else.
This animated slide show is projected on every surface—floors, ceiling and every wall surface simultaneously by 70 laser projectors which are synchronized to a specially composed soundtrack. The space is over 650 feet long and 50 feet high. Within that are enormous smooth pillars which support the ceiling. One can walk around this vast space and see different aspects of the presentation, suddenly finding different views around each pillar. The images move across all the surfaces, even the floor, in a bright, mesmerizing display. The effect is amazing, thrilling and joyful. There are two presentations, a short and a long one. Viewers are free to come and go or stay and watch twice if desired. The shows are changed annually. This year was a short presentation of animated Japanese-inspired art, followed by a Van Gogh presentation. Wonderful! The air temperature is quite cool inside, so take a light jacket or wrap. Admission was 12 Euros per person.
It would be a shame to be in the heart of French wine country and not visit one of the premiere wineries. We decided to take everyone to visit the renowned Mont Redon winery in the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. Châteauneuf-du-Pape sits toward the bottom of the Rhône Valley, close to the border of Provence. The name means “pope’s new castle,” and refers to a time when the seat of the Roman Catholic Church was in Avignon (between 1309–1377). Châteauneuf-du-Pape was where the Pope’s personal wine was grown. It is fitting that the region became the very first French wine appellation, created in 1936.
There are 320 wine growers in the appellation’s syndicate of vignerons, and there are 7,746 acres of vineyards in the region, which produce an average 14 million bottles each year! A big part of the reason that the area is so ideal for growing grapes is that it receives an average of 2,800 hours of sun per growing season, making it one of the sunniest of France and on a par with Los Angeles.
We had visited here many years ago and were impressed with the beautiful landscape around the winery, the friendly staff, and the exceptional wines of Mont Redon. That was a spring trip. This year, in October, they were making new wine. The trip can take a couple of hours, so plan to arrive around lunchtime so that you can picnic, as we did, in the lovely outdoor patio just off the shady parking area. Warm, golden sunshine poured in as we sat at limestone tables and ate delicious Provençal cheeses, bread, olives, saucisson and quiche and shared some of those special rosés I had bought at the market in St. Rémy. After lunch, we went into the winery for a tasting. Our host explained the qualities of each wine in perfect English as we sampled the range of wines produced by Mont Redon. Because it was not high season and we were the only visitors, our experience was unhurried and very relaxed. After the tasting and some purchases for home, everyone repaired to the van to get their painting gear to take advantage of the marvelous golden afternoon light. By late afternoon we had to pack up if we were going to get back in time for another amazing dinner at Table d’Ivan. We thoroughly enjoyed the drive back through the Châteauneuf-du-Pape area in that wonderful late afternoon light.
Day Five: Centre-Ville
By noon, it was time to go in search of another lovely meal, so we packed up and wandered down a nearby street. We found a very eclectic-looking place, with all kinds of funky antiques and bric-a-brac set around the entrance on a little alley. This is part of the fun of travel—exploring and trying new places and foods. We all sat at a large outdoor table with charming mismatched chairs and ordered whatever looked good. Glasses of wine arrived quickly and amid the conversation and laughter, we had our final lunch together.
After lunch everyone went exploring the little streets of the old town. Interesting buildings and shops abounded and here and there a street musician sent echoes of music through the little rues. I noted several good spots to paint for the next trip as we slowly explored and poked our noses into shops. In one, we found a paté sampler which was shaped like an artist’s palette, with little glass jars of paté in the places where paint would sit. Unexpectedly charming, again. After a while, we all walked back to the van and returned to the hotel to pack and rest before dinner. We always plan for ample relaxation time in our workshops—it is necessary and welcomed by everyone. Some folks reclined at the pool, some took naps and others painted quietly in the hotel garden. We learned long ago that it is a valuable amenity to be staying in a comfortable hotel which has a big garden space, especially for painters. One more amazing dinner to go and then we would have to bid farewell to Le Mas des Carassins and lovely St. Rémy.
Day Six: Saturday
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