Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Up on the roof

Looking down over the rooftops of Roquebrune Cap Martin showing the coastline and sea in the background.

One thing I do love about the south of France are the rooftops.
An aged tile on our roof.
Each of the old curved terracotta tiles is a piece of art decorated with varying colours and and lichen growth.
Some are newer than others and the old ones can appear quite grey.
My early views of the Cote d’Azur were from the Corniche, the highway through the mountains to Italy.
Travelling in and out of tunnels high above the small townships grouped along the sea’s edge gave spectacular views over the coast below. I knew then it was a place where I wanted to return.
Going up . . .
If you travel by train along the edge of the sea between Menton and Monaco, you will pass through a station called Cap Martin-Roquebrune. If you alight there, you will eventually see what I mean.
But first you will have to climb just under 600 steps.
All you have to do is turn your back on the beach below, cross the road outside the station and find the little signs indicating the way to the top.
Follow these steps up through the town – it is a delightful walk, especially if you stop from time-to-time to look around at the hidden squares, gardens and archways you encounter.
At the top you are rewarded with a magnificent view that takes in the bay – almost immediately below! – plus Cap Martin, the cape that separates Menton from Monaco, and of course the Tête de Chien (Dog’s Head), the hill that looms up directly behind Monte Carlo.
From the ancient fort, you can see Monte Carlo, the sea and the rail line that skirts the coast.
There is plenty to explore in and around the castle ruins, including the remains of a medieval garden.
The fort was obviously built to protect people from invasion from the sea as the hills behind it are even higher.
So the fort would end up indefensible from an attack from the inland.
Going down all those steps again can be hard on the knees but a relief for the lungs.
And once you reach the rail line again, you can take the underground passage below and keep on going down to the bay to cool off in the Mediterranean.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Menton - verging on Italian

Looking back at Menton from near the Italian border.

I have a special place in my heart for Menton. It is where my belle-mère (sounds much better than mother-in-law) was born and where she and my beau-père were married. It was also the first French town I really fell in love with, completely unaware of my future husband's connections, as I'd not yet met him!

The centre of town.
Menton is just one kilometre from the Italian border and has at times been part of Italy (Piedmont - and later Sardinia), part of the Grimaldi empire (Monaco) and since 1861, has been re-annexed to France in the department of Alpes-Maritimes.

It is two hours by train from Les Arcs - and the journey from Nice takes you along some of the most spectacular coastline in Provence.
During the Victorian era, it was popular as a health resort (and for those suffering TB) because of its air quality - no doubt enhanced by the number of eucalypt trees from Australia.

The New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield, lived there and has a street named after her.
The beach - looking towards the cliffs of Italy.

The tower of the St Michel Basilica dominates the old town which scrambles up the steep hillside to the cemetery - where my husband's grand-parents are buried.

The locals joke that it is the best view in town and none of the inhabitants can see it!

Menton is known for its gardens, which have been developed mainly by private citizens, but are open to the public.

My favourite is the Val Rahmeh, now owned by the National Museum of Natural History, which contains, among its 1400 different species, citrus trees, avocados, bananas, palms, olive trees, tropical and sub-tropical shrubs and water gardens.
The waterlily garden at Val Rahmeh.
The town is also known for its Fete des Citrons, held annually in February, where hundreds of floats made entirely from lemons and oranges, parade through the town amid many other citrus festivities.
The view from Menton's hilltop cemetery above the old town.

The Menton economy depended on the export of citrus fruit during the 18th and 19th centuries and small farmers would grow around 35,000 lemons per hectare, with pickings occurring four or five times a year.

At its height, Menton had 80,000 lemon trees yielding 12 million lemons a year. Sadly the industry declined from 1850 and by 1950 there were just seven lemon traders left in the town. Fortunately today there is renewed interest in cultivating lemons but it's unlikely to return to its heyday.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Colours of Provence

The ochre cliffs at Roussillon.
Stepping outside of Var this week, to show some of the brilliant earth colours found in the Luberon region of Provence.
Some of my husband's collection of earth colours.
I will also digress to show some of the equally brilliant earth colours found in the Western District of Victoria.

My husband is an artist with a profound interest in the history of colours - and of course those that can be found locally - so when in France two years ago, Roussillon was red-flagged for a visit.

Red - or rather red-ochre - is the operative word and the cliffs that once provided the hilltop town with employment, are not merely spectacular for the shapes created by wind erosion, but for their colour, which has almost literally, painted the town red.

The ochre-dusted town.
Okay, it was not painted, rather it was dusted - again by the wind - and it glows with a rosy luminosity under the setting sun.

Landforms eroded by the wind.
The ochres were originally mined by the Romans who traded it through the port of Marseilles.

From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries Roussillon was the major producer of ochres for the whole of France.

There is a walk through the former ochre quarries and it is well worth taking the time to view the colours, the shapes, the contrast of the red ochre walls with the bright green pines and the way almost everything has been dusted red.
It's a bit like the central Australian red dust, so don't wear white!
Yellow ochre cliff looms high above the forest.
Just outside the town is an ochre pit where you can see the various stages of ochre production. They also hold painting days for people who are interested.

The introduction of cheaper colours made by using iron oxides led to the decline of the ochre pits around the time of World War Two.

Earth colour painting by Alan Leishman.
Ochres and earth colours of course have been used by the indigenous Australians for thousands of years - and ochres were traded as currency, used as body paint and in cave and bark paintings.

My husband, Alan, has collected a number of ochres - and other earth colours - from around the Western District and created paints and pastels from them.

He exhibited some of his colours - and paintings (one pictured right) - in an exhibition held at the Off the Rails Gallery in Dunkeld, some years ago.