For the first time in years, I find myself in France without my (full) focus on wine. This go around, as I follow the Tour this coming week, I hope to discover segments of its soul that are as old as wine itself in this country through pieces of architecture and culture that were sculpted alongside the first vineyards. For all the grapes that I have touched (that’s i’ve consumed!) and contemplated for its arguably unmatchable talent for terroir, I wish to better understand the stony walls that once held so many stories… so many secrets, to be sure.
I will begin in Pau later today, an old stomping ground now, as it is a crucial hub for the epic climbs of the Tour. Here, a future king was to be born–one that would tirelessly fight to end the relentless war of religions: none other than Henry IV. A unique city, once capitol of Bearn, it is a mere 50 km from Spain, and you no doubt feel the pulse of its proximity in this culturally blended town– in its cuisine, its people and its customs. It is heavy with thought, this town. And you feel it surround you with each step on the well trodden cobbles of the old town near the famed Chateau de Pau castle in particular. Though I won’t spend a lot of time writing this town, you can turn back to my old writings should you plan a trip to this profound area here. And I just realized there is an entry from last year I never posted on Pau with a little restaurant info… You can find that mistake in the next posting to follow this one!
I then plan to peel back the covers on Conques– a Medieval gem that was actually kept in tact despite the battle wounded buildings in so many other French villages that wear the mark many hundreds of years of brutality, intolerance and cultural upheaval. It is a protected UNESCO world heritage site and marks the route the pilgrims once passed upon to get to Santiago de Compostela. The appeal of Conques for them was to honor the remains of St. Foy, a female martyr from the 4th century, poked with a fiery stick for her Christian beliefs. I am a sucker for badass women, so I hope to learn more about this steadfast individual.
A couple days watching the Tour will certainly be on the menu, but I plan to move it down to the area of Vaucluse (or the Luberon Valley), not terribly far from Provence, in the village of Gordes. Sadly, war was not kind to this village. In fact, there was an outpouring of artisan help to restore this village after World War II. It should be interesting to walk both areas of Conques and Gordes… to sense if there is a shift or some kind of imprint of character that settles upon one.
Of course, I am not actually capable of visiting any place–even Nebraska– without a nod to my unwavering interest in food and wine. In France, you are never far from incredible viticulture and so your meal is not either. Whether Marcillac, Luberon, Madiran, Provence or just some random gems, you will get the full report. These are sleepier towns with little online should you go. Hopefully I can pool together a few insider tips for you to plan a couple side trips next time you are in France. Stay tuned! A bientot…