Monday, April 28, 2007
Monday turned out to be an overcast and rainy-type day, so we decided to sightsee at two places that were near to our farmhouse/home. The first stop was Glanum just outside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and then onto The Abbey of Montmajour just outside of Arles.
The Glanum ruins are approximately 2,300 years-old, in a valley stretching from St. Remy into the Alpilles. *The original settlement was located at the site of a spring, and was founded by the Celto-Ligurians and subsequently Hellenized as Glanon. It was already old when it became a Romanized settlement in the first century BCE. A shrine to the Celtic god Glanis (glann, “shining”), who was associated with a local healing spring, had been erected on the site in the fourth century BC. The Romans adopted the shrine and the divinity, naming the town after Glanis, and also adopted a triad of local mother-gods, similar to the Matres, whom they termed the Glanicae. The gods Epona, Mercury and Rosmerta were also represented there. The Augustan age saw the city elevated to the status of colony, and many monumental buildings were erected, including an enlarged forum, baths, a triumphal arch, and various temples (some of which were erected by Augustus‘ general and son-in-law Agrippa).
Glanum was destroyed by the Alamanni in 260 and was subsequently abandoned, its inhabitants moving a few miles north into the plain to found a city that later was named Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Glanum was not excavated until 1921, but has since become one of the most important Roman excavations in France. *Reference: Wikipedia: Glanum
Off to lunch at “La Gousse d’Ail” (A Clove of Garlic) in St. Remy. This eclectically-designed restaurant located on the Boulevard Marceau offers a variety of choices to suit all palates. David chose the Daurade Royale, while I picked the Canard, and Darren went with Bouillabaisse, a specialty of Marseilles where it was created. Click on their site: www.la-goussedail.com
The Abbey of Montmajour
After lunch we drove to the centuries-old Abbey of Montmajour to take tour. Darren was the only brave one in the group climbing to the top of the watchtower. See our photo of the watchtower, Yikes! When Darren got to the top it was so windy he didn’t dare get near the crenels for fear he would be blown over.
*The Abbey is a fortified Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 13th century on what was then an island five kilometers north of Arles, in the Bouches-du-Rhône département, Provence, in the south of France.
The Abbey is famous for its 11th-14th century graves, carved in the rock, its subterranean crypt, and its massive unfinished church. It was an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages, and in the 18th century it was the site of a large Maurist Monastery, now in ruins. *Reference: Wikipedia: Abbey de Montmajour
All of this history and culture had caused us to become thirsty, so we headed to the Château d’Estoublon, near Fonteveille to taste their wines and olive oils. The Château sits in the middle of two hundred hectares (about 250 acres) of vineyards that have been improved and upgraded over the last few years. Most of the local folks we talked to express a mild air of disapproval with Estoublon, finding it too commercial for a region that prides itself on being low key and simply dedicated to producing good food and wine. The wines and oil are good, but it is a bit like being in Napa at one of the “theme” vineyards.
We tried two vintages of their white, and all agreed that the 2006 was the better, more fruit and easier on the palate. We bought two. Then, on to the reds. One taste and another two bottles were added to the purchase. Estoublon’s wines are good, but a bit pricey for the region, with the red at 18 Euros and the white at a hefty 25, more than double the tab for many comparable white wines from other vineyards (Mas de la Dame, Terres Blanches, and Vallongue are all excellent and under 10 Euros a bottle). We also bought a Domaine de Lauzieres Asterie, a unique white wine which is made using a centuries-old traditional technique of aging in terra cotta amphoras. It is excellent, and something you’d never find outside the region. We loaded up the car with our wine while the sales person chased after us trying to sell us their olive oil. It is good, but comes in a designer bottle that looks like a large bottle of Chanel No 5, with a price tag to match.