Medieval Fragments

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Thursday morning as I was looking over my Google map and notes and considering the options for the day, I chanced into a mention of a medieval tower in Pernes les Fontaines with notable frescoes. According to the web page, the tower was open for individual tours during the Summer, but beginning in September only to school groups. I thought, why not call the town tourist office to see if we could get in? As it happened, they were opening the tower once a week–today.

We drove down to the little town of Pernes les Fontaines, south of Carpenteras. The Mistral was blowing fiercely, whipping the clouds into strange flying-saucer-shaped layers.

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After talking to the friendly woman in the tourist office (who is also the guide) we found free parking and had a coffee and croissant in the little café opposite. At 11 we met up with our guide and two other women. The tour is all in French, although there is a sheet of explanation in English. The tower  was probably built by a relative of Charles d’Anjou, after he participated in the battles to conquer Sicily and Naples. You climb up a narrow, slippery stone stairway worn down by seven centuries of feet. The top floor room  of the three-story tower is covered in frescoes with scenes of the battle, along with legends and some Biblical scenes. Portions have been restored, and its interesting that the lower portions were protected from time and damage while the room was used to store flour when the lower floor was used as a bakery–although a section of fresco was lost when a chimney was built for the oven. It’s a fabulous thing to experience, well worth arranging to see.

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Afterward, we wandered the town. The town is largely known for having over 40 decorative fountains, but also has an interesting ancient market hall and a fabulous old gate. There are two small museums, one of traditional arts and the other of textiles and clothing, sadly both now closed for the season. We largely had the place to ourselves, except for this charming cat who accompanied us.

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We realized it was after one o’clock, so had a simple lunch in an otherwise deserted restaurant, Gallery. Steak-frites for Larry; salmon for me. And yes, wine.

We drove back to Vaison, taking a brief detour to the little town of Le Thor, which has a 12th century Romanesque church, Notre Dame du Lac. The church was closed up tight, so we walked around it admiring the external carvings and its location on the river as the Mistral did its best to knock us over. The tourist office was open however, and we learned that the church should be open in the mornings. Another bookmark.

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For dinner in Vaison, we walked over to Le Bateleur, which seems to be recommended by everyone. With good reason, as it was delightful from start to finish. We weren’t super hungry, so Larry went with the full  menu while I ordered a plat, and we shared his entrée (first course)  and dessert. The entrée was a slice of lamb, pork, and vegetable terrine, served with pickled vegetables and a mustard crème. For the plats, Larry had pork that was cooked to be crispy outside yet meltingly soft within, served with butternut puree and cubes of glazed butternut. I had fish (Loup, perhaps) served over homemade gnocchi with a “paella broth” which included bits of gorgeous seafood. Dessert was fabulous,and sadly the photo does not do it justice as our forks had destroyed it before I remembered the camera. Layers of caramelized apples, thin sheets of crispy pastry, some sort of apple-merengue frothy thing, and caramel ice cream. We restrained ourselves with just glasses of wine, knowing the next day would be all about wine.

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