Monday, February 21, 2011

Our house in Venasque

We’ve spent a relaxing first couple of weeks in Venasque, France. Venasque is “One of the most beautiful villages in France”, apparently a much coveted title but fairly liberally handed out. Mind you, we’re tourists following advice from guidebooks so it bears to reason that we see the best and most beautiful.

Our first glimpse of Venasque was driving up in the evening, the sun low in the sky, illuminating a village perched atop a cliff. We didn't take a picture that evening so you get the light grey version instead. Not knowing where we were going to end up, Tom said, “I hope that’s it”. We wound our way up the hill, traversing the narrow switchbacks like old pros.

We drove through the arched passage at the top, to arrive a dry fountain that looked as though pedestrians could navigate it easily but anything larger than a mini was a risk. Our GPS, Pierre, pointed us into a passage that could only have been for horses. We opted to return outside the walls to park and explore instead on foot.

Following the ramparts we arrived at an open parking area with arched gates into the city on either side. We discovered our street sign behind the parking lot wall and eventually located a door with the correct name on it. It is an interesting system of addresses in Europe. You have no house number, simply your name and street.

The house is stone, just like the ramparts but the house has a layer of plaster over it. It was built around the 16th century possibly as the gatekeeper’s cottage. In the picture below, you can see how narrow our street is yet it is open to vehicles. We haven't driven it; maybe because of the stairs that go down just beyond the door? The rampart wall is on the right. Our front door is open on the left and those are our window shutters. There are three floors which seems generous for the time but perhaps the floors were put to different uses. It seems like the whole place may actually be two old homes made into one because of its size. Today, the main floor is the kitchen and living area with a wonderful wood burning fireplace. The remains of a second blocked fireplace are by the front door, lending support to our theory that this is two residences combined into one. We’re allowed to burn wood, which is good as it is our main source of heat. There is central heating but we have been warned it cuts out quite frequently and cannot be relied on. As back up, there are two gas heaters and an electric space heater. Seems like overkill but we have used them all at various points. After one week the living room lights stopped working. Tom believes this is because of the transformer.

It may sound like we are freezing to death but it is really quite toasty in the main living space and our home has a wonderful woodsy smell. The main floor is quite dark, although there are several windows. The windows are all set into the thick outside walls and with such narrow streets and tall buildings, little sunlight penetrates. It gives a cave effect and feels positively medieval…if you discount the 21st century creature comforts.

Upstairs is a whole different world. The spiral staircase with steps emulating wedges of Brie cheese rises into a bright, cheery sitting room. This floor has skylights and if the upstairs heaters worked better, I’d spend more time there. Rhys sleeps upstairs and his room is separated from the sitting area by a curtain. He has his own sink and toilet as well so essentially he has his own pad. You can see a picture of the sitting room on the left below.

The rest of us sleep on the bottom floor. Strangely, the basement floor is the warmest in the house. The rooms feel a bit cave-like without windows though both have a door that exits onto the side street. Julia’s room is more spacious but as it had the canopied bed graced with lavender chiffon and oozing feminine charm, Tom and I opted for the low-ceilinged room closest to the bathroom. Two bathrooms feels particularly luxurious after six months of sharing.

There are wonderful “old world” touches throughout and I’m not just talking about the suspect plumbing in the bathrooms. Many of the walls have odd recesses for shelves, the doorway is arched, the windows shuttered and there is a ladder stairway leading to a tiny rooftop terrace overlooking the rest of the town roves. I’m hoping a bit of heat will pass our way so we can enjoy the view out there while sipping wine and eating cheese and tapenade and feeling very Provencal.


Mynnette said...

Wish I were with you- you make it sound FUN, interesting. How smart to have a GPS... said...

Loved talking to you today and the place you are staying looks wonderful! I hope your trip to Arles is interesting and I am looking forward to the blog and to hear about your talk with the town Mayor. Love Mom

Steve said...

Gruel for breakfast I assume then?