That was the day that was….

Last Friday was an eventful day, full of surprises.  Let me explain.

Our house sit host Andrea has been back home for a couple of weeks and on Friday, she was due to return to Zurich for work.  The plan was for us to drive her to Brignoles to catch the 2:20pm bus to Nice.

We had had the morning relatively free as we didn’t need to leave until 1:15pm, so we all spent a bit of time working in the garden, going over some maintenance such as plant watering as the weather is so dry. 

I should just explain here that Lucky, like all cats, knew that Andrea was leaving and was just a little bit hyper all morning.  For example, whilst in the garden, Lucky was keeping an eye on Andrea as well as an unlucky bird that she caught, and killed unfortunately.  Andrea tried to stop her but in vain. 

At roughly the same time Eric spotted a snake hanging out in the garden pond; it was about 2 feet long.  He was so excited he called me over to take a look.  I’m not overly keen on snakes, especially ones that are alive, but I did go and take a very careful look and took a photograph.  The first picture isn’t great but you might be able to see a small fish tail sticking out of the snake’s mouth….

After those two bits of excitement, we headed back into the house to find that Lucky’s digestive system couldn’t cope with a rather large breakfast of cat food and bird, and she’d thrown it all up on the couch cover.  Yuk!  Nothing for it but to scrape the lot up (for a tiny cat her stomach temporarily held quite a lot of stuff), and shoved the cover into the washing machine. 

The morning was gone and time was pressing, so we loaded up Andrea’s car to drive her to Brignoles to catch the bus.  We managed to drive the 1km (ish) into Cotignac only to be stopped by the Police.  Hmm.  Nothing illegal thank goodness but the road to Brignoles was being cleared for the Paris to Nice bike race.  Unbeknown to us, part of the route was going through Cotignac, then through Carcès to Brignoles before the last leg to Nice.  Exciting news if you didn’t need to catch a bus….

As the cyclists weren’t due for another 20 minutes or so, the nice young Policeman allowed us through on the understanding that our route to Brignoles took us through a village called Montfort.  This we could easily do. 

I need to explain the road route here.  From Cotignac there are basically two routes to Brignoles.  Unfortunately these routes join up half way to Brignoles and from then on there’s no alternative.  It was at this point that we were stopped again, and this time we were not moving.  At this point the bus was due to leave Brignoles in about 50 minutes…. 

Nothing for it but to wait so I got out of the car to watch the race, an excellent photo opportunity I thought.  Every cloud has a silver lining….  In the end we waited for about 20 minutes.  Time was getting short.

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Amazingly within a few minutes of the last bikes and support vehicles passing us we were on our way and you know what?  Even with us driving at an average 35-40mph we didn’t see one bike ahead of us all the way to Brignoles.

To recap, the bus was due to leave Brignoles at 2:20pm, and we had resumed our journey by 2pm.  We were fully expecting to be held up again in Brignoles so whilst waiting in the car while stopped for the race, we had decided to drive Andrea to Nice, but when we arrived in town the roads were unexpectedly clear.  Deciding to see if we could make it to the bus stop in time, we drove straight through the town arriving at the bus stop with 5 mins to spare – perfect!

And then we waited, and waited.  Remember Eric and I waiting for a bus to Toulon that didn’t turn up?  Same thing.  Andrea managed to contact the bus company who informed her the bus had been re-routed because of the race, unfortunately in spite of her checking the bus website that morning to check bus times, there hadn’t been any notice about the change. Grrrr….

So, back to plan B, i.e driving Andrea to Nice airport when she had an idea and managed to find an alternative lift to the airport.  Phew!!

So we drove back to Cotignac for a relaxing remainder of the afternoon.  But the fun hadn’t stopped yet.  Later that evening we noticed Lucky getting rather interested in a corner of the living room.  You know the sort of thing, tail waving, pacing…. Leaning against the wall in the corner is a painting. Behind the painting was a very frightened rat.

Cotignac

Into crisis management mode, we scooped Lucky up and locked her outside. We then found a cardboard box and managed to get the rat into it.  I’m not keen on rats but the poor thing was so terrified it was almost frozen in fear so getting it into the box was surprisingly easy. We then let the rat loose in the garden and let Lucky back in the house.  She was not best pleased but soon forgot to be cross and fell asleep on the newly cleaned couch. 

And she thought she had an interesting day……

Lourges and Carcès

A few weeks ago, we visited another local village called Lourges.  Andrea told us it has a very good market on a Tuesday but we haven’t been there yet as it is on the same day as the Cotignac market which is obviously much more convenient for us. The village itself is a little bigger than Cotignac but I would say less picturesque. Having said that we still enjoyed our visit as the village still had a certain buzz to it.

As usual, our first stop was to the tourist office where we were given a map of a walking tour covering the old town, so off we went.  Overall the old town is quite neglected although there did appear to be some renovation work being carried out. The village was heavily fortified in the medieval times (12th-14th centuries) and much of the old walls and towers remain.  The Knights Templar owned a large number of tenures in and around Lourges, the local Order was known as ‘Ruou’.  As we wandered through the tiny medieval streets you could easily imagine how it would have been in medieval times.

Another local village we visited was Carcès, more or less between Cotignac and Lourges.  We visited here due to a minor emergency.  Whilst flossing my teeth, I neatly popped off a crown which remained (thankfully) intact.  A visit to the dentist was necessary, the nearest one in Carcès.  Luckily for me the dentist could speak a little English……..

The whole dental procedure took about 10 minutes, so with time to spare, we decided to take a walk around the village.  As we have now come to expect, Carcès has a small medieval quarter which was very charming and extremely well maintained.

The medieval village was dominated by a castle perched on a high rocky prominence, the old houses therefore are tightly packed around the building. 

We are now planning the next stage of our trip which has altered slightly.  We will now be visiting northern Italy (rather than the whole of Italy – too ambitious), then tour around Austria so we can visit my lovely Aunt before heading up through the Black Forest taking in Freiburg and Heidelberg.  Then it’ll be a quick whizz up through the rest of Germany and Holland to the Hook of Holland to catch the ferry to Harwich……

Market days in Cotignac

Cotignac has a regular market on Tuesday, usually finishing around 1pm.  When we first arrived here in early January, the market was quite small with perhaps a couple of vegetable and fruit stalls, and no more than a handful of other stalls selling a variety of food, clothing etc.

As the weeks passed, the market has grown busier with more stalls and a bustling atmosphere.  We have visited the market every week enjoying the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables available and getting to know some of the stall holders which is nice.

Cotignac

During the half term holidays, the town got quite a bit busier with people visiting from around France, with Dutch, English, Italian visitors too.  Possibly more but those are the languages we heard.  Of course the weather has been unusually bright, warm and sunny, helping to bring in the crowds and filling up the cafés.

Cotignac itself has just under 2500 inhabitants, swelling to around 15,000 plus during the peak of the summer in July and August.  I just can’t imagine what it must be like then, it seems pretty busy to us now!

On the last Sunday of the holiday, Cotignac hosted an antiques market….

Lots of interesting bric a brac and some lovely pieces of outdoor furniture….

Yesterday we heard that Cotignac has been nominated by the public for France’s preferred village ‘Le Village Préféré’.  There are 14 villages across France that have been nominated.  The public will be voting for their favourite on the 21st March and the winner announced as I understand, some time in June.

We have been having wonderful weather since we’ve been here which is now 2 months, with only 2 days of rain.  The spring flowers are blooming.

Whilst superficially it’s great as each day dawns bright and sunny, the lack of rainfall is worrying.  This part of Provence is known as Green Provence and there is an abundance of natural water which makes it so. Still the summers are normally hot and dry and I fear that with next to no Spring rain this year will reduce resilience and increase the risk of forest fires….

 

 

Mont Faron, Toulon

Toulon and its natural harbour has a stunning backdrop of Mont Faron.  At 584 metres it provides a fabulous view overlooking the city and the Mediterranean Sea. 

At the top there is a memorial dedicated to the 1944 Allied landings in Provence and to the liberation of Toulon.

Not only can you get to the mountain top via cable car, there is also a very steep winding road which is recognised as one of the most challenging stages of the annual Paris to Nice and the Tour Mediterranean bicycle races.  We took the easy way up by cable car (easy as long as you don’t mind heights, which I do)….

 

The view from the mountain top is amazing.  From there we could also see in to the naval base and saw what looked like on of France’s aircraft carriers in the hazy distance….

MontMont Faron, ToulonMont Faron, ToulonMont Faron, Toulon

Near the summit there is a zoo that focuses on the breeding of big cats, it has been several decades since I had visited a zoo and I was keen to take a look.  Unfortunately, it looked quite run down and the animal pens, like in most zoos, looked cramped.  We saw a number of smaller cats pacing up and down which is a sign of stress.  Several of the cats were very old (20+ years old) so that added to their tired look.

I’m not really sure what I expected to see but it was sad to see the animals caged like that.  From my reading before our visit, I was curious because of the zoo’s breeding programme which helps to save big cats from extinction.  Since my visit, I’ve spend more time just wondering at the point of this as these animals will never be able to go back in the wild.  They’ll only end up as exhibits in zoos like this. 

The problem is of course us.  There are simply far too many humans in the world, 7 billion and rising.  What we need (says she on yet another soap box) is some serious human population check and then maybe, just maybe, there would be room for us and wild animals to live in their natural habitat.  Just saying…..

Entrecasteaux and le Village dans le Ceil, Tourtour

We visited Entrecasteaux last week, a village only about 7 miles away.  There are two ways to get there from Cotignac, the good road, and the back road.  You can guess which road we took 😒.  Luckily for us the back road was not busy as it randomly changed from almost wide enough for two cars to just comfortably wide enough for one car.  It also meandered through the countryside with many a sharp bend and deep ditch one side of the other.  It also quite typically for Provence it seems, had a bridge that was narrow with an alarming concreted wall bend in the middle often with scrapes of car paint on it 😳….

This is a sample, the bridge into Cotignac.  It can be quite scary avoiding cars hurtling toward you at speed!

Anyhow back to our journey, we arrived at Entrecasteaux in one piece.  The village is known for its Château which dominates the centre of the small village.  Derelict and run down, it was bought by Scottish artist Ian McGarvie-Nunn in the 1970’s who painstakingly restored it to its former glory.  Sadly it is only possible to see inside the Château between Easter and October but I understand it has been sympathetically redecorated.

Entrecasteaux

The village has a quaint old quarter with narrow alleys or streets….

Entrecasteaux

Feeling in need of some exercise,  we decided to climb a steep hill from the village which promised a chapel at its top.  The climb was hard but the views were stunning…

Later in the week we visited a village called Tourtour, aptly named the village in the sky.  At its highest point the church overlooks the village at 630 metres above sea level.  The views from there over the valley were amazing though sadly the pictures I took don’t do it justice.

The Church of St Denis, Tourtour

Tourtour
Inside the Church

TourtourTourtour

Tourtour is a very well preserved medieval village and a great tourist attraction, though in February it is very quiet and many of the little shops and museums are closed.  It sounds like it’s big; it’s not having only 600 or so permanent residents, but it is a centre for arts and local crafts hence the usual smattering of higher end shops. It even has a small Sotheby’s Estate Agents office where for a laugh we found if we had a million or so to spare we could purchase a reasonable chunk of this idyll.

Still it was lovely to wander around the little alleys and streets, so picturesque….

Tourtour also boasts not one but two castles….

More of the village views….

Some of the artwork we noticed in our meanderings….

We had planned to have lunch there but most of the restaurants were closed, the only one open was very expensive, the cheapest set menu was €38 per head.  A very kind local advised us this restaurant was OK, and that the food often ‘surprising’.  As her English and our French precluded us from exploring this phrase further, we decided at that price, ‘surprising’ was a step we weren’t prepared to make.  We therefore headed back the way we came and stopped in a larger village called Salernes for lunch and had a lovely meal for half the price 😉

That’s all for today everyone!  Hope you’re still enjoying my ramblings ☺️

More of Cotignac

We’ve now been staying here for 6 weeks and are settling into a routine.  We’ve weighed up the difference between the two local boulangeries, we’ve checked out a number of local supermarkets and weekly markets.  We’ve visited Toulon, Brignoles, Barjols, Carces and Entrecasteaux (more of the latter in a separate post).  Our French is getting slightly better especially when talking about food ☺️

We’ve also spent more time exploring Cotignac and learning a bit more of its history. The old village backs onto a high cliff which was once a waterfall before the river was diverted in the 10th century, creating what I imagine is a far less spectacular waterfall at the edge of the village. This diversion allowed the villagers to use the exposed caves in the cliff  to build homes mostly as a refuge during invasions.

We visited the current waterfall a couple of weeks ago….

Cotignac

Cotignac
The Cassole river flowing from the waterfall

In the pictures below, you can see the cliff and what remains of the cliff houses.  The two towers you can see at the top of the cliff are what remains of a medieval fortress which was built in the 12th century.

CotignacCotignacCotignac

In the summer, it is possible to pay a small fee and climb up the cliff path and visit some better preserved cave homes but at this time of year the path is closed.  Near the base of the cliff however, we found a few abandoned cave homes to give you an idea.

CotignacCotignac

Cotignac
Steps leading to cave homes in cliff face

Today the homes backing onto the base of the cliff are rented out as holiday homes with lovely gardens overlooking the village with secluded areas for al fresco dining. A world away from the dangers and hardships endured by the villagers in Earlier times.

CotignacCotignac

Bye for now ❤️

Toulon

 

On Wednesday, we visited Toulon.  It wasn’t our first attempt to visit, that was last Wednesday.  We got up early and drove the half an hour journey to Brignoles to catch the 09:10 bus to Toulon.  It was very cold, there was snow on higher elevations, and the wind was keen.  We waited for the bus, and waited, and waited.  During this time we witnessed an arrest, 5 armed policemen in two cars pulled up in front of us and spoke to a man (who was as high as a kite) waiting near us for the same bus.  Eric nudged me to take some piccies but with the albeit mild ruckus, and the nearness of 5 men with guns, I decided not to bother.  You’ll have to take our word for it.  Eventually the man was bundled into one of the cars and was driven off. 

That was it.  We waited a bit more and decided that the bus wasn’t coming and it was cold.  We didn’t want to wait for the next bus which would have got us into Toulon near lunchtime, so we headed back.  The next few days were cold and wet but the following (this) week the weather was due to be better, so we decided to defer our visit.

Back to this Wednesday; it dawned bright and sunny as we set off on our second attempt to visit Toulon.  This time as you will shortly see, we were much more successful.  The bus was on time and the journey pleasant.  The 34 mile, one and a half hour, journey cost us just €3 each.  Bargain.

We plan on visiting Toulon several times, so we planned to use our first visit to get a feel for the place, get our bearings and decide what things we want to see on future visits.

On our arrival, we walked down to the harbour which was beautiful in the bright sunshine, the water was literally right up to the edge of the city. As it was reasonably early, we saw small fishing boats which were selling their super fresh catches to customer direct.  From the harbour we walked up the Cours Lafayette which is the site of the daily street market.  It was huge and bustling with people. 

We strolled around the old town, drinking in the atmosphere.  I took a few random snaps to give you an idea.

The boat sculpture you can see in the picture above was a surprise.  It is 10 metres high and wide and is a replica of the bow of the frigate ‘La Flore’ which was based in Toulon in the 18th century.

Which leads me nicely onto the key thing about Toulon – its maritime history.  The city is an important centre for naval construction and the port is the major Naval centre on the French Mediterranean coast.  It’s the home of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and is the base for the French Mediterranean Fleet.

So it was rather naive of us to think we could walk around the base and take a look at some of the ships ☺️.  We did try but of course it’s a military base and heavily guarded.  And it’s HUGE.

We did however, take a look at a small Toulon History Museum which sadly for us was all in French but did give us a little understanding of how important Toulon’s military presence was and is.  The city was very heavily bombed by the Americans in the Second World War and I think the following 3 pictures should give you an idea of the devastation using the landmark of the Statue du Genie de la Navigation on the harbour front….

Our next visits will focus on two key activities, one or possibly two boat trips around the Harbour, and taking the Cable Car up Mount Faron which forms part of the backdrop to the city.

Before I go, a little montage of Lucky…..