Gordes to Murs in the Vaucluse

Murs Travel Blog

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Monday, June 7, 2004

We tried to make our backpacks as light as possible (although we were to lighten them later by giving a few things away or throwing them out). Everything else went in the one rolling suitcase that the folks at the Blauvac Hotel graciously agreed to store for us until we returned to Avignon. After morning coffee at Lou Mistral, our favorite cafe we headed off to the bus stop, in hiking boots and backpacks. Although we had to leave a nice bottle of Rhone in the suitcase back at the hotel (too heavy), we did have room to stop at a patisserie and pick up a couple of amazingly light Sacristans for the road. The Sacristan is a new discovery for us, a long, twisted flaky pastry, made with almonds or chocolate. These were actually better than any croissants we had found on the trip so far.

We made sure to get to the bus stop well before departure time only to find that the ticket booths were closed until 10:15 a.m. Then, when the booths opened, we were told to buy our tickets on the bus anyway! As we descended from the bus at Coustellets, a late model mini-van pulled up behind us, and Edith welcomed us into the air-conditioned ABC Taxi. She and her husband run the business. We were happy to find out that should we have any problem on our hike, she'd be happy to go get us and take us wherever we needed to go in the region. Putting her business card in my pocket, I felt reassured. Of course, the taxi people have cell phones, but we did not. So it wasn't like we could call from a remote trail somewhere. Happily, we never needed to call them again, although we did think about it once or twice.


It didn't seem to take very long to get to Gordes in the taxi, but it wouldn't have been a very pleasant hike. It was all paved road, and a busy one at that, with lots of tourist and commercial business between Coustellets and Gordes. As we approached the town, it became clear that Gordes was an outstanding example of "un vieux village perche…. etc.” an old village perched on the side of a hill. It is beautifully situated with narrow meandering roads and many more photo ops for flowers against stone walls (I resisted). We bought a melon and cherries for the hike. The fruit and vegetable market was the subject of many a tourist photo that day. We wandered around, consulted the tourist place about our hike, popped into an art gallery. A young couple asked us to take their picture, so we did, and they reciprocated. However, all this was preamble. We were really itching to get going, to truly start the hike.

It didn't take long to get off the paved road and onto a rocky path with a gentle incline, bordered by stone walls, old orchards, scrub oaks, and the occasional vineyard. It was a hot day. The melon was heavy so we had our first stop about 45 minutes into the hike, consumed the melon and drank a lot of water.

I think it is time to talk about these Mediterranean melons. Whether from southern France, Spain, or Morocco, they look like small cantaloupes with stripes, the fruit is the same color, but the taste is so much sweeter and full of flavor. They never seem to leave that nasty, taste-it-again indigestion problem that cantaloupes at home do. I imagine that one of the big differences, as with all farm produce in the south of France, is that fruit can truly be picked ripe. Since the farmer doesn't have to pack and ship it for thousands of miles, he can offer us ripe cherries, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries at the farmers' markets that almost every town hosts at least once a week. In fact, Stephen's Internet research gave us a schedule for markets in all the villages we thought we might visit. At some point, we held the fantasy that we would be able to arrange our hike in order to hit a farmers' market every day in a different town. Alas, that didn't work out, but we certainly didn't lack delicious calories from all the local produce and cheeses.

Abbaye de Senanque

Our French friend Chantal, who lives in Cambridge, Massachsetts but grew up in Provence, said we must visit the Abbaye de Senanque if we were going to be near Gordes. So after our melon stop, we headed up for another half-hour or so to the crest of a hill. As we began the steep descent, the abbaye and its lavender fields appeared below us. We could only imagine how much more magnificent that view must be when the lavender is in full bloom. Every day for twelve days on our hike, we passed lavender fields that were progressively closer and closer to blooming. I would run my hand along the foliage and inhale the sweet scent. On our last day, we could see the purple buds about to burst and smell the perfume in the air. Did we ever see one in full bloom? Well, we'll tell you that story later.

Our reward, or perhaps consolation prize for seeing a lot of bloomless lavender fields, was to see, day after day, empty bus parking lots, and to wander through this beautiful country without having to make many reservations and to generally see it as close to its natural self as it could be seen. - Stephen

We arrived at Senanque at about 1:45 p.m. We were told that the only way one can visit the abbey is to go on a guided tour, and the next one would start at 2:20. We bought our tickets and headed back outside to seek a spot of shade in which to share our one chevre sandwich that I had picked up in Avignon that morning. It was a hot, dry day. We noticed an "eau potable" spigot outside the building which we made a mental note to use to fill up our water bottles before the next leg of the hike.
This place is a Cistercian monastery. There are currently seven monks living, meditating, praying, and working here. At first I thought the guide must have said seventy, or even seven hundred because the place is so vast, but no, there are only seven. It is a very austere order. They observe silence. One of the things that appealed to me about it was the simplicity, the lack of decoration. The guide told us that the concept was to <b>evoke</b> the spirit of God, rather than to represent the Holy Spirit. Hence there were no paintings, sculptures, or stained glass. The altar and chancel were very simple, reminding me of my Protestant roots. Many of the windows were circular, symbolizing God as all-powerful, the beginning and the end, the full circle of life, death, and Holy Spirit.   

Before we went into the church itself, the guide said a few words about it then asked us to go in and visit it, but not to speak in the church. She would meet us outside the exit to continue the tour. The color of both the light and the stone were exquisite and the seven simple chairs in the sanctuary confirmed the number of monks who were there. We had come a long way to sit in this place, and it was good to let it work its magic in silence.
- Stephen

Our tour group sat for a moment in the Chapter Room. We had visited many such spaces in other churches, but I never knew what the name Chapter Room referred to. The guide spoke quietly from a particular spot, and we could all hear her clearly. Apparently, this space is acoustically designed for a particular reason; this is the one place where speaking is allowed, and the monks gather there each day to hear a reading of one chapter of the Scripture. The guide pointed above our heads to the one small representational sculpture in the entire abbey. It was not a sculpture of Christ or the Virgin Mary, or of any saints or apostles. Instead it was the face of the Devil, allegedly placed there to remind the monks to behave properly…or else.

The tour ended at 3:30. We headed across a dusty dirt path, wistfully eyeing the vast, pregnant fields of lavender to find a phone booth and call the Pougets to say we'd probably be quite a bit later than the original projected arrival time of 6:00 p.m. I spoke with their son Bruno, who could have been thirteen, or thirty; I had no idea. He seemed surprised that I called (again!) saying, "But of course, you arrive whenever you want." Since they had said they would feed us that night, and I did not know what time dinner was scheduled, I figured I should forewarn them of our late arrival. Meanwhile Stephen stopped at the spigot to fill up our water bottles, and we were off on the trail again.Getting back up that path we had descended to visit the abbey wasn't so bad after all. However, finding the correct paths later proved to be more of a challenge.

France has a spectacular, immense trail system and wonderful maps. The GR's (grande randonnees) are the most utilized trails, and some of them are just beautiful. However, sometimes those trails spend a certain amount of time on paved roads, and we wanted to avoid auto roads as much as possible. So we often followed regional or local paths. The only problem with those is that sometimes they were simply overgrown because of lack of use, or some person had bought the land and no longer wanted to give hikers the privilege of walking across their property. As we were later told by one of our B&B hosts, access to walking trails across private property has been a tradition in France for over a thousand years, and it galled (Gauled?) him that some new landowners were starting to change that tradition.


About three hours later, we found ourselves walking up a long, hot hill, on pavement because of overgrown trail inaccessibility, approaching the town of Murs, "the most beautiful village in the world," according to the owner of the Crillon, a small hotel that I had called from the States. It did indeed look to be a lovely village, but it was getting late, and our destination was another 3k past that village, so on we went to  Les Vergiers which turned out to be a mini-village in and of itself. There were three or four old stone buildings, either connected or extremely close to each other out in the middle of the farmland. We asked a rotund, older lady who was watering her flowers where the Pougets lived. "Les chambres d'hotes?" she said. At my "oui," she pointed around the corner. We walked on and saw a young woman with a couple of small children, then a handsome silver-haired man in a big straw hat. We nodded and smiled at everyone, but couldn't really figure out who was who since they didn't introduce themselves. Eventually it became clear that the silver-haired man was Claude, the B&B owner, and the young woman was his Australian daughter-in-law, and the two kids his grandchildren. I don't think we met Jeannine, Claude's wife, until the next morning.

Claude led us up a small flight of rose-covered stone steps to a little private terrace attached to our room. The room was chic rustic, all warm woods inside, a very comfortable bed with blue and white sheets and comforter, a nice modern bathroom with blue and white tile. He brought us a huge thermos of ice water and real glasses (not plastic cups) which was just what we needed after our first day of hiking. Apparently dinner was going to be served at eight (which turned out to be the case almost everywhere we went in that part of France) so we had almost an hour to shower, wash out our hiking socks, and stretch out a bit. As I was resting, I noticed a little card on the desk describing "la Table des Vergiers." "Depuis son enfance… "Since his childhood, our son Bruno has been captivated by the art of food. He has been cooking professionally for eleven years and offers you a five course dinner made from the freshest local produce in season, accompanied by our fine wines of the region." This all sounded great, but we had no idea if this was the meal we were going to eat that evening, if there would be other guests for dinner, or if we would be having an omelet "en famille" with the family. So we sat outside in the twilight, overlooking Claude's orchard of 150 cherry and plum trees, and waited to see what would happen.

Then Bruno came out and introduced himself. Since we were the only guests that evening, he wondered if we would like to have our dinner right there, sitting at the table "sur l'herbe." Well, that sounded lovely, and Bruno (who turned out to be just about my son's age) proceeded to serve us the "formule gastronomique " at 28 Euros. So our first night of the hike turned out to be a little pricier than we had planned, but it was so worth it. At some point, I tried to say in French, "I think I've died and gone to heaven," but Bruno had such a distraught expression on his face, I knew he must have just thought that I thought I had died, and probably with incorrect grammar at that. So, the meal:

Pate de volaille with sauce de canard (chicken liver pate with duck sauce)

Terrine de carrottes, poisson, oignons verts, cumin, etc (Terrine of
fish with carrots, green onions, cumin, in a lovely light green sauce…)

Salade aux trois asperges ( salad with three asparagus spears)

Plateau de fromage (He apologized because all the cheeses were goat cheese…, which we love)

Gateau au chocolat, with cinnamon and chocolate sauce

A pitcher of white wine, and a pitcher of red, both of which we drank

And a tisane (herb tea) to finish

All this, served one course at a time, by the chef himself, to Stephen and Dawn, sitting en plein air all by themselves, overlooking the cherry orchard to the distant hills. And then the moon came out, and it was full.

And so were we!
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