Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mont St-Michel

This post outlines some of our adventures on our Spring Trip in April/May 2012.

Along with Versailles, Mont St-Michel was on my 'must see' list for our time in France.


Although on the morning of our visit I wasn't feeling very inspired. Do you ever get travel-fatigue in the middle of a long holiday? We all had a touch of it that day, no doubt due to 8 days straight sight-seeing in the cold and rain. We Provence types aren't used to so much rain.

So sitting in the carpark with rain splatting on the windshield and wind rocking the car (it was gusting 70 km/hr), the last thing I felt like doing was getting four small people kitted out in waterproof attire and trudging up the top of a mountain.


But of course we did it and of course we weren't disappointed.

So, what's all this about Mont St-Michel? Briefly:

  • It's old, old, old. The first chapel at the summit was built in 708 AD.
  • Europe's highest tidal variations are experienced there - the difference between high and low tide can be 15m!
  • It's terribly touristy (and very crowded), so be prepared.
  • Have little kids? Forget about the pram and take the baby backpack. There are steps everywhere.

A small sample of steps

We saw these crazy people shoeless in shorts despite the weather conditions.


As we gained some height we could see them, with a guide, walking around the Mont at low tide.

Off they head, to the left there

We forged straight up to the top of the hill as soon as we got there and found a big, long line waiting to get into the abbey . So instead we wandered the streets a bit, checked out a newer chapel down the hill and had a spot of lunch.

By the time we finished that (after 2pm) we found the line had disappeared.

The abbey is spectacular, especially when you consider where it's built. Imagine lugging all that stone up the Mont.

These pictures are from inside the abbey church (Eglise Abbatiale):


From a quilting point of view I thought the stained glass windows provided tons of inspiration.


Elsewhere in the abbey, this large wheel (built in the 19th century) was used to pull supplies up the Mont. It was powered hamster-wheel style by prisoners (the abbey became a prison for a while after the French Revolution).


The view from the wheel (before the wheel they just dragged stuff up the side of the mountain with ropes):


You can go down amongst the foundations of the church too, where it's built on solid stone and supported by these huge pillars.


Some more quilty inspiration - this time on the floors.


There were also some old, spooky sections that the kids thought were awesome. Me, decidedly less awesome thanks to all the Stephen King I've read.


As always, you exit through the gift shop. I really liked this make-your-own cardboard model of the Mont, very cool:


Next door to the church is this gorgeous cloister:


The double arches around the grassed area were great for the kids to weave in and out of:


The awesome view from the cloister:


The refectory, built in the 13th century, has a pretty awesome rounded ceiling:


Which is actually based on triangles, as this model demonstrated. Isn't geometry sexy?


You can imagine how cold it was living up there in winter (we were pretty cold and it was Spring) - hence the need for these enormous fireplaces to heat the Guest Hall. You can see a lady standing in the other one to get a sense of scale.


Think of much wood would be required, and then think about lugging it all up the hill. Crap.


One final word on the new parking arrangements, which had just opened the day before we visited. The old carparks closer to the Mont have been closed off (they are sinking into the marsh) and now you park a good 2-3 kms away and take buses to the base of the Mont. The buses were free, the parking you pay for. Unfortunately the carparks are not sealed - this is what it looked like after 2 days of use:


I'm not sure how they're going to hold up, so think about your footwear!


A visit to Mont St-Michel is definitely recommended. Yes it's touristy and it's logistically difficult if you have little ones. However the views, the medieval ambience and the engineering feat that is its construction will leave you marvelling.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


This post outlines some of our adventures on our Spring Trip in April/May 2012.

Here we are, still galavanting through the green, rain-soaked hills of Normandy - this time in the wee town of Camembert.


This village was a 'must see' for us given we're all cheese lovers and this is the birthplace of the famous camembert variety.

Why the cows are so happy in Normandy

There's not much in Camembert any more, just a Maire (town hall), a church, a few houses and the cheese museum.

The Mairie

At the start of the museum tour you get to watch a short film that tells you all about the history of the cheese and how they make it.

Then you can walk through the small museum which does a great job of showing all the processes involved, from cow:


to milk truck:


to the factory:

These aren't real, BTW  (although they would've fooled me after a few sherbets) 

Here is Marie Harel, the lady given credit for the creation of camembert after talking to a priest from Brie.


Camembert was invented in the late 1700s and remained very much a regional cheese for over a hundred years.

Still not real

During the First World War the producers decided to donate one day's production a week to the French troops as their contribution to the war effort. As a result hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen discovered the divine gooeyness that is camembert and the cheese became a national sensation.

That's what I'm talking about

There was a taste test at the end. We were all pretty excited.


The main differences between the three are (from left to right):
1. Made with hot, pasteurised milk
2. Made with not-so-hot, pasteurised milk
3. Made with hot, raw milk.

Regarding the commercial use of the name 'camembert' for a cheese - many of you would have seen local non-French camembert in your supermarkets and might have wondered how that is possible. (Given that you can't call your sparkling white wine 'champagne' or your blue cheese 'roquefort' unless it's made in that region to the required standards.)

Lucky this gorgeous vintage cheese box was behind glass, otherwise I would've swiped it.

So if you want the 'real deal' AOC camembert you want to look out for 'Camembert de Normandie' - this will be made according to strict quality regulations from delicious unpasterised Normandy cow's milk. All the others are just posers (but yummy posers).

La mooooo

It will be 38% fat or higher and it will blow your mind.  We bought a wheel to have for dinner that night with baguette and a Normandy apple cider. Heaven.

That was Camembert (well, most of it) and we loved it. A great half-day visit if you are in the Normandy area.

In other news - remember this day? Well, that was exactly a year ago. I can't believe he's one already! You'll find a much more recent photo of him over on my Facebook page.


Welcome to Friday, clink (that's my glass touching yours). I think we need another French pop video to lead us into the weekend.

This single, Je veux le monde (I want the world) has been released in the lead up to the musical play 1789: Les Amants de La Bastille, which opens in Paris in September. Honestly, I didn't pay that much attention to the music as I was too busy squeeing over the fact it's filmed at Versailles in costume.

What are my chances of getting the mister in a powdered wig? Phwoar.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Provence Lavender

Apart from the Eiffel Tower, is there any image more French than Provence lavender?

Rows of lavender in Provence, France

Each year there are probably 3-4 weeks when the lavender is in its prime. The flowers are fresh, full and an intense hue. After that, the blooms start to dry and the colours become more dusty.

Looking down a lavender row in a field in Provence, France

It's been very warm this summer, so lavender season will most likely be even shorter.

Wheat fields contrasting with lavender in Provence, France

We got lucky the other week on a drive around the Valensole area in the Luberon Valley, coming across several well-maintained fields. (Not all the fields are kept in this weeded, nicely groomed state)


Walking along the rows is one of my favourite things to do, listening to thousands of drunk bees and smelling the perfume.


Brushing your hands along the flowers releases an even stronger scent but you have to be careful of the little nectar gatherers.

My daughter walking down the rows of lavender in the field

I had fun playing around with the manual settings on the camera. Which do you prefer - the focus on the foreground lavender?


Or on the rows in the distance?


The golden wheat fields make a lovely contrast to the purple.


Also golden - the occasional sunflower crop.

Sunflower crop in Provence, France
Close up of a sunflower centre

This one was just coming into maturity.

Unopened sunflower in a field in Provence, France.

Lots of bees mooching around these flowers as well.

A bee collecting nectar on a sunflower in Provence, France

We are going home to Australia in January and I'm already asking myself how I'm going to be able to say goodbye to Provence.

A bit of lavender essence in the oil burner just isn't going to cut it. Sniff.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...