Les Tourades

We have mentioned many times in these blogs the A Rocha France centre at Les Courmettes, because this is the one we lived at and continue to be involved with most. There is in fact a second centre, which came into existence well before Courmettes, at Les Tourades, a few kilometres outside Arles. (The fact that both A Rocha France centres are in the south-east of the country has not escaped the attention of the A Rocha France board: if anybody wants to give us a nice chateau in northern or central France, preferably without needing any restoration, feel free!)

The main house at Les Tourades

The smaller and older house where the science office is

Tourades is very different from Courmettes and probably gets crowded with only a dozen people staying. Its environmental significance is that it’s not far from the Camargue and the vast wetlands – now substantially drained – that were present there. In particular, there is a small finger of the wetlands a few kilometres to the north of Tourades, the Ilon Marsh, which the Tourades team in various incarnations have been responsible for helping to preserve (see our blog on swallow ringing).

In the science office: The current volunteers at Tourades who are helping with various science projects

Timothée Schwartz is the science director

Due to the manager of Tourades being on holiday, we went over for three days to help out. It’s about 1 hour 40 minutes away from us which is pretty much the same as Courmettes. It’s a charming site with lots of trees, lots of birds and some lovely open scenery not far away.

Near the house looking towards Arles: this area has been cut off from the main marsh

We enjoyed our visit and all being well in the next couple of weeks will post some pictures of Arles and the Camargue.

And finally, there is the need for an individual or (preferably) a couple to manage Tourades for (probably) the end of the year for (probably) the next couple of years. Anyone interested, get in touch!

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Walking in Var

We’ve mentioned in previous posts that Alison now belongs to the International Women’s Club of Provence, based around the nearby town of Lorgues. One of the many activities is a walking group which we joined last year. What we like about it is that it’s run by someone with her husband so the men are included. In fact sometimes there are more men on a walk than women.

We’re a very international group. It’s not uncommon to be walking along talking to someone in French, but hearing Dutch or Norwegian behind or in front. But of course we have a lot of conversations in English too!

Some of the walking group above Entrecasteaux

As the weather over the past few weeks has been excellent for walking, we thought we’d post a few of the group and of places we’ve been.

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The other St Tropez

The church tower of St Tropez as seen on numerous postcards.

When we tell people how to get to our house we often say, drive along the A8 (La Provençale) until you see the junction for St Tropez, turn off but then go in the opposite direction. In theory, St Tropez is only 45 minutes away, but in practice the traffic is so abominable in summer we just don’t bother. In fact unless you leave early in the day we don’t recommend driving to it to visitors: far better to take the ferry from Ste Maxime if you must visit in summer.

However, the other Saturday we decided to go over because that weekend was the Journées du Patrimoine (European Heritage Days) with various places open or free that would not ordinarily be so. So we parked near the centre of ‘St Trop’ (as we call it with deliberate dismissiveness) and after the obligatory coffee and gawping at the rich and famous (or those who either were, or aspired to be, such), we found the real part of the town and got the shuttle bus (full of people who clearly were not rich and famous) to the south of the town.

By the harbour

The market, selling everything for reasonable prices

The bus driver (standing) is trying to make sure both the pushchair and the shopping trolley actually fit and don’t block the door too much. It’s a fairly safe bet than none of these people own a yacht.  

There we had a good wander around an old house, Chateau de la Moutte, and its grounds. In the 1860s the owner of the house, a local politician who was also involved in politics at a national level, modified and enlarged it to make a quiet retreat for himself and his family. It’s now managed by Saint Tropez and the grounds are a botanic park.

The library at Chateau de la Moutte

After looking at the house, we decided to walk back to the town along the coast. Possibly we should have consulted the map a little more carefully. It was a very long and hot walk, and we think we went by Brigitte Bardot’s villa. But we had certainly got through all the water we had with us by the time we walked into ‘St Trop’.

We then visited the Annonciade Museum, an art gallery which was free over this weekend. St Tropez was a haven for artists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and despite the gallery’s small size it has a number of very fine paintings from that period, mostly painted locally. It’s often a problem with big art galleries that you soon feel you’re suffering from an overdose of art. There’s no risk of that here.

We walked back to the car past the harbour with its motor yachts bought to impress, carefully negotiated our way past the Bentleys, Lamborghinis and open-top sports cars and headed back to the normality of Taradeau.

St Tropez is a lovely place, we just wish it hadn’t been discovered by everyone else. Its all Brigitte Bardot’s fault.

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Courmettes Centenary Part 3

On the Sunday morning of the Centenary there were a variety of small things on offer at Courmettes: with lots of people having church obligations it wasn’t the time to run major activities. The weather having improved from the Saturday afternoon Chris did his walk and talk down to the marsh, which was well received.

Getting ready for a walk

By lunchtime Courmettes was full of people having picnics.

Mid afternoon everyone assembled in the marquee for the centenary celebration.

In fact the marquee was so full that people put extra chairs outside at side and back.

There was the excellent Salvation Army band and a very talented Seventh Day Adventist music group.

In planning the service Jean-François had wanted to involve as many people as possible, particularly those from families or organisations that had links going back into the past. So it was fascinating that there were descendants of some of the “founding fathers” of Courmettes in its present form, and those who had been involved in all the decades since (see here for a brief history). Among the representatives of the French guides (Fédération Française des Eclaireuses) who ran Courmettes between 1937 and 1964 was one who had camped there as a 14-year old in 1939.

Former Guides singing a Guiding song

There were also representatives from local churches and national denominations. Chris was one of two Anglican representatives and used the opportunity to flaunt his Reader’s scarf (having borrowed our chaplain’s cassock and surplice).

And given that brevity is not a virtue in French culture its not surprising that we did overrun. But only by a little.

So, all in all,  it was an excellent series of events and has really helped put Courmettes on the map. Congratulations to all who were involved in setting it up! Your efforts were rewarded!

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Courmettes Centenary Part 2

As we mentioned last week, we have just had the centenary celebrations for Courmettes. Last week we blogged on the many labours done for preparation. This week we want to give you some photos of events on the Saturday and next week we’ll cover the well-attended Sunday service. One reason why we have so many photos is that we were appointed as official photographers and it’s been gratifying to see the images being widely circulated.

A very full car park

Saturday was pretty hectic, with lots of events, starting with a sheepdog demonstration and there was also making bread in the wood oven, cooking in a solar oven for kids (sadly the weather meant the cookies had to be finished in an inside oven), various guided walks and talks on nature at Courmettes, demonstrations from the local beekeeper, and of course the exhibitions. Below is a small sample…

Didier Fischer, one of the shepherds at Courmettes, giving a sheepdog demonstration and below, people watching it

The buvette was open all day for drinks and snacks.

Clockwise from top left: making fougasse, an ancient beehive with a honey comb; Jean-François giving one of many announcements, and a talk on the natural history of Courmettes.

Stall for one of the big regional environmental organisations

What was particularly gratifying was to see various other organisations turning up and being represented. In France there are a multiplicity of organisations dealing with the countryside and sometimes it’s not easy to find out who exactly is doing what. In fact one of the less tangible achievements of the weekend (and one that will probably bear more fruit in the future) was the way in which we were able to deepen links with individuals and organisations.

Chris was planning to give his walk late in the afternoon, but by that point the weather had deteriorated.

And the rain came down!

However this didn’t detract from the evening’s events, which took place in the marquee. A Salvation Army band gave a concert, reflecting the fact that the pastor who bought Courmettes had strong Salvation Army links, followed by dancing with an electric folk/Provençal band.  It was a good day!

The Salvation Army band had come down from Paris to join the celebrations

Folk dancing in the marquee

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Courmettes Centenary part 1

Almost exactly a century ago, as the appalling bloodbath of the First World War staggered wearily to its end,  the Domaine des Courmettes was bought by a local pastor (with a generous donation from America) for the Protestant Church of France to be used as a place of healing. The last 100 years have seen a turbulent history for the estate, some of which is recounted at this web page, and a lot more (in French) in a fascinating new book available from Courmettes (in which we get a brief mention).

Anyway, as we have mentioned more than once in this blog, it is now doing very well and making a lot of friends in the area. Well over a year ago a decision was taken to make a big effort for the centenary and we were up for all the three days of it last weekend. We’ll cover some of the events next week, but we think it’s important to record here the astonishing amount of work that Jean-François and the permanent team did to prepare for the event. They were aided by numerous volunteers both beforehand and over the weekend.

Putting up signs and the PA, weeding the paths, taking out the recycling

Early 20th century poster on display in one of the exhibitions on ways to combat tuberculosis

Four rooms were converted into exhibition spaces, two covering the history of the estate, with its long links with guides, scouts and churches. There was also a fascinating display about the decades in which the house was a sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers.  (Fascinating fact: D. H. Lawrence died of TB in the next sanatorium along in 1930  – if he’d been at Courmettes we might have to have a blue plaque saying that the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover died here).

Another room had some of Ellen Teurlings’ excellent photographs chronicling a year in the life of Courmettes. The fourth exhibition was of the natural history and science of the site.

 

Setting up the exhibition of Ellen’s photos

The exhibition of the natural history at Courmettes included information about scientific work being done and a scale model of the estate (on the right of the picture)

In addition to these there were also two new publications. The first, already mentioned, was the history, the second a rather attractive colour book on the geology and natural history of Courmettes in French, which includes a number of Chris’ photos and some text from him. It also has a picture of Alison (at least of her back!) on the front cover.

Last but not least, there were some well organised catering arrangements, including piles of chocolate cookies and two massive paellas.

Making chocolate cookies, preparing ingredients for paella and fruit salad for 150 people

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The Maures and a sad resignation

We live at the edge of a broad, flat valley that stretches half the way to Toulon one way, and opens out to the sea at Fréjus the other way. (Chris is fairly certain that it was once a big lake, but can’t find any scientific discussion of this.) What is striking is the way that this flat sandy area, now largely covered in vineyards with clumps of umbrella pines, suddenly changes when you come to the Maures (pronounced ‘Moor’). Here, with extraordinary abruptness, ancient metamorphic and igneous rocks (related for those who are interested to the massifs of Cornwall and Brittany) rise up to give a rugged, tree-covered landscape.

Starting only three or so miles away from our house it’s a great place for walking as long as you don’t try to battle your way through the dense vegetation.

Ancient rocks and not so ancient walkers

Partly because of the fire risk, it has remained largely unpopulated and so it’s easy to find yourself on your own in some very remote area.

In about a 30 minutes walk from our house it’s possible to cross under the motorway and only a few hundred metres further on find yourself in very attractive terrain.

Driving into the distance, ignoring the local surroundings

There are also some dramatic rivers, which have attracted the attention of canoeists. It’s one of those delightful areas that are overlooked because people are intending to go elsewhere, in this case, probably St Tropez. Their loss is our gain.

Some rather depressing news this week was the sudden and rather theatrical decision of the French environment minister, the respected Nicholas Hulot, to resign in the course of a radio interview. His reason was that he found M. Macron’s government to be yielding far too much to lobbyists and despite fine words (“Make the Planet Great Again!”) to have pushed the environment well down the agenda. Certainly, environmental policy has come under enormous pressure from such powerful bodies as the nuclear industry, agriculture, the agrochemical industry and — a particular challenge in Hulot’s case — hunters. It will be interesting to see who he is replaced with and how genuine M. Macron’s commitment to the environment really is over the long term. We will watch events with interest and concern.

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