As we mentioned last week, we had a friend visiting recently and used her as an excuse to go to visit various local sights. Something that always gets into the tourist brochures and articles about Provence (and other parts of France too) is the local markets. So as the nearby town of Lorgues has a particularly good one, we thought we ought to visit. It’s so popular that there’s a problem with parking and in the summer cars are parked all along every verges of every road leading into the town. However being April, we managed.
The market in Lorgues on Tuesday mornings takes up the whole length of the spacious main street and spills over into some of the side streets. It starts at one end with fruit and vegetables, artisan breads, plants and specialist meats, plus local herbs, olives, honey and cheeses, and continues with clothes, leather goods, jewellery, straw baskets and shoes. You can find second-hand books, order some wrought-ironwork, find someone to cut or prune your garden trees, or even buy a mattress. In the way of all markets these days, there is always someone selling dubious eclectic gadgets and endless accessories to go with any kind of mobile phone.
There were also a handful of Municipal Police, the local coppers who report to the mayor. In a rather nostalgic echo of the long vanished British village bobby they seemed to spend their time wandering leisurely around the stalls and chatting amiably with everyone. The ability to socialise is clearly a vital gift of being a member of the Police Municipale. It seemed rather strange to see an armed female officer being greeted with affectionate kisses on both cheeks but well, this is France.
Then we went to the coast. We’d had the Rayol Gardens down on our list of places to visit for some time, and as our visitor liked gardening this seemed a good opportunity. The Domaine du Rayol is listed as a Jardin Remarquable and it certainly deserves the title. It was originally created in 1910 but fell into neglect during the 1960s to 80s before being transformated into today’s garden. Its a charming sprawling place that rolls down to the sea. If you dislike gardens that are precisely manicured and insist on telling you what everything is, then you will like this. (Which is a polite way of saying that it’s just a little wild, woolly and under managed.) It’s dedicated to plants from a Mediterranean climate in different parts of the world. So there are areas representing the Canary Islands, California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and so on. (Readers who have visited the Welsh National Botanic Gardens at Llanarthne will remember a very much smaller version in the giant greenhouse.) And of course there are also the sections with the local plants.
All these are planted in 20 hectares of land which descends to sea level and from which you have great views of the coastline and out to the “Golden Islands” (the Iles d’Hyères). It was a slight pity it was a grey day but we didn’t mind.
The plants of different areas are grouped together and you wander round lots of winding paths, guided by a map and plaques with large numbers which tell you where you are. Here are just a few of the many photos we took… (sorry it’s very difficult to arrange them).
It was fascinating to see the range of plants. Our part of the Mediterranean is very fertile and the sun, gentle rain and absence of frost enables all sorts of things to flourish. That may sound like good news but there is a downside. So many plants have been introduced here and then escaped into the wild where they are doing far, far too well.
So in January and February hillsides on the Côte d’Azur are yellow with the Australian mimosa, now overwhelming native trees and bushes. And along the seashore the quickly spreading South African Hottentot-fig or Ice Plant (Carpobrotus edulis) is spreading everywhere. And let’s not mention the Eucalyptus and the South American prickly pear and apparently another hundred more invasive species.
Anyway we had a good time and despite the weather, so did our guest. Perhaps we should become professional tour guides.