The day after our exploration of Avignon our weather luck ran out. Big time! Our program had promised: "This morning you will have the opportunity to visit rural Provence and breathe in the country air at the beautiful family gardens of Jardin aux Abeilles." I'm sure it was beautiful, but we never saw it. And breathing too deeply would have resulted in drowning!


Pont de Robinet

The day didn't start too badly. It was threatening, but we were hopeful.

As we drove to our first scheduled stop, we crossed this lovely bridge, the Pont du Robinet, which crosses the Rhône downstream of Viviers. It was completed in 1847 to replace an earlier ferry at the same spot. We clamored to stop and take pictures.

Marc Sequin designed and built the first (temporary) wire-cable suspension bridge in 1822. (Earlier designs used chains instead of cables.) This bridge was constructed using his techniques.


Rain

Our first destination was La Garde Adhémar, a fortified village at the top of a rocky outcrop. The village would have been charming, I'm sure, but it was raining.

The Eglise Saint-Michel is a well-preserved Romanesque church originally built in the 12th century and restored in the 19th century. It is unusual in that the apse faces west instead of east, which is more typical. We were not only hoping to see the interior of the church, but also to escape the rain. Exceptionnellement it was locked today!


Stunning view

Opposite the church was a stunning view (we were assured) of the surrounding countryside. There was also a small herb garden.


Agathe

We did our best to soldier on in the downpour and toured the bedraggled garden, which would have been interesting and beautiful on a brilliant day, but the downpour eventually overwhelmed us all.

I was interested to see that my sworn enemy, pokeweed, with its tall red stalks, had a proud place in this garden -- for its medicinal properties. If it doesn't kill you first.


Grocery Store

Eventually we squished into a local grocery shop for hot drinks and cookies to discuss Plan B. The proprietor was very gracious as we steamed up his shop. He offered some stronger warming potions, but it was too early in the morning for that -- however tempting.


Our van

By the time we reached our alternative destination, the Château de Grignan, the rain had dwindled to an occasional drizzle and it was starting to clear up enough to see some of the surrounding countryside.

This is the only picture I have of our trusty van, which slipped through many tight places under Mouhi's expert guidance.

Our local guide, shown here talking to May and Jim, had not checked the weather forecast and didn't bring either a raincoat or an umbrella. She was soaked to the skin before she finally accepted an umbrella from Marilyn, who had a backup raincoat with hood.


Chateau of Grignan

The Château of Grignan, also associated with the Counts of Adhémar, was a good haven in the storm. It had a romantic history of development from a medieval fortress into a Renaissance chateau, destruction during the French Revolution, and eventual restoration by Marie Fountaine in the early 20th century. It was quite interesting, and most importantly, out of the rain.

This is the Renaissance entry with its symmetrical facade.

There were pictures inside that showed the extent of the destruction when Mme. Fountaine began her restoration. She had a vision that transcended all rational consideration!


Medieval entry

And this was the original entry, which is around the corner to the left of the above picture. It wasn't deemed grand enough for the Counts' "pleasure palace."

One interesting facet of our visit here was the fact that, exceptionnellement, our guide was allowed to take us through at all. There are strict rules in France about what guides can say and where they can say it. More than once we would have a guide tell us that she was not allowed to speak in such-and-such a place. Our local guide, however, had once worked here and had maintained good relationships with the folks in charge so they graciously made an exception for us. I expect there may also have been an element of "if these Road Scholars like it, you may get put on their standard tours."


King Francis' emblem

One of the big events in the history of the château had been a visit from Francis I of France. His emblem was a salamander nesting in flames. Lore had it that the salamander could withstand flames and even put out fires by the coldness of its skin.

The motto surrounding the image is: Nutrisco et extinguo or "I nourish [the good] and extinguish [the bad]."

The emblem was painted on the beams of one of the rooms of the château in honor of Francis' visit.

Another notable figure associated with the château was Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné. Her daughter Françoise married François Adhémar de Monteil, Comte de Grignan, and the mother and daughter began a correspondence that established the marquise as one of the leaders in French literature of the day.


Chateau Grignan

A view of the château from the plain.

The fields in the foreground are lavender. It is a popular crop in Provence. There are many types of "lavender" but the commercial variety in Provence is technically lavandin, a hybrid. The lavender flowers have already been harvested.

As mentioned above, May and Marilyn were constantly on the search for lavender products to take home as presents for friends.


Domaine Eyguebelle

Our next indoor stop was Domaine Eyguebelle. Looking at those casks you might be tempted to think this is a winery. Nope; it is a distillery famous primarily for making flavored syrups, but also for cordials and liqueurs.

The operation was initiated by Cistercian monks of the Aiguebelle Monastery in the 13th century, but in the late 20th century, it was "spun off" into a separate business.


Rhone lock

After our visit we returned to the ship to change into dry clothes and enjoy a lecture on truffles, the black diamond of Provence. We also passed through another lock. Rather than sliding doors, this one had hinged doors that swung open.

We had not realized that truffles were actually farmed in Provence. Oak trees are inoculated with spores and planted in suitable locations. The information at the link describes a would-be truffle farmer and what s/he would need to do.

Truffle farms are often combined with lavender farms since they require the same growing conditions and soil.


Tain-Hermitage

Our next stop was in Tain-l'Hermitage, where we had time to visit the town and go wine-tasting. Wines of the Hermitage appellation are generally priced beyond what we like to pay.

This image is of Tournon-sur-Rhône on the other side of the river.


Wine tasting

The winery where we enjoyed several wines is Gilles Bied. It was a very pleasant experience with the family offering us wine and canapés. And the chocolate was good too!

After our wine-tasting we had the option of strolling through town or returning to the boat. That evening we had a gala dinner and our final night aboard.


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