Sometimes the best laid plans have to be cast aside and that was the case last Tuesday. After taking the dog for an early-morning walk and getting everything ready for a cycle out to Roussillon for breakfast, we started to get the bikes out, only to hear the rumble of thunder coming from the valley behind us. Looking round the corner of the house, the sky was black and the first flashes of lightning could be seen in the distance, which is never a good start to the day.
I don’t normally shy away from cycling, but I must admit the thought of being a mobile lightning conductor on a bike doesn’t fill me with any joy, so we quickly popped the bikes back inside, got changed out of our cycle kit and had a quick change of plan.My immediate thought, of course was breakfast, so we hopped in the car and headed off to the Boulangerie at Simiane-La-Rotonde, which is always excellent and has a lovely, cosy sitting-in area should it be raining when we got there.
After a couple of coffees and a couple of croissants too, the rain was starting to fall and the thunder echoed off the hills around us. It seemed a shame though to head straight back to the house, as we would inevitably find a pile of things to do and that just wouldn’t be fun, so we decided to carry on up the road and head to the neighbouring village of Banon to have a fuddle around its weekly Tuesday market.Banon is a pretty little village in Alpes de Haute Provence, close to the Montagne De Lure and is well-known for its local product, a round little cheese made using unpasteurised goats’ milk that is wrapped in Chestnut leaves (found in the surrounding woodlands) – it’s delicious, especially served warm and gooey from the oven with a salad !
Setting the thought of warm goats’ cheese salad to one side we concentrated on what we had come to do, parking the car on the approach to the town and walking up the road to the marketplace.
On market day the centre of the town is closed to traffic and the square and nearby street is filled with a full range of market stalls selling everything from locally produced food and plants to clothes and jewellery.The village has a wonderful buzz to it, even on a thundery morning at the start of July, with the cafes around the square filled with people chatting over coffee.The peaceful old village rises above the market square, with a tumble of old houses climbing up the hillside to the old church at the top, which is often used for exhibitions and shows.
At the entrance to the old village is a beautiful old gateway, parts of which date back to the 14th Century….Once you pass through the gate the cobbled streets lead you past pretty houses, fronted with multi-coloured hollyhocks growing between the stones, adding colour even on the greyest of days.
Even though there are signs pointing the way towards the old church at the top of the hill, you don’t really need them as you just keep walking upwards, following whichever path you see and fancy taking….
…. Some sloping gently, others with uneven stone steps…. the choice is yours.
All the way up, there are views out across the rooftops of the lower houses into the valley beyond, which is a carpet of purple, with the lavender fields in full bloom, both towards the Montagne De Lure and back towards Simiane-La-Rotonde.
Half way up the path we followed, we came across closed shutters with faces drawn around eye-holes, with a panel above that opened allowing you to turn on a light. The faces draw you into taking a peek at what is beyond…..
The answer is not a pretty view on a screen or even a collection of Santons, but a room full of large and bizarre papier-mache creatures and heads…. almost quite scary when you first turn the light on….
This is ‘La Boite Magique’ filled with pieces that were made in the early 1980s to be used in the Fete Du Vieux Village, which saw the pieces paraded between the low and high parts of the village – it must have been a dramatic sight when it was taking place and it’s nice to see that the ‘marionnettes’ have been preserved for the future like this.As you reach the top of the village you find the Church, when we visited it looked as if we’d been cast back in time as an old Peugeot was parked just outside…
It is often used for exhibitions and events and we found the doors wide open as it was housing an unusual art show . The open, simple space of the Church is a perfect exhibition space and proved to be the ideal setting for the display of fluid and quite haunting pieces created by George Stolf using plastic bags…..
And more plastic bags….
Amongst other reusable finds….Once outside the Church we followed the path down the other side of the village, passing a bench offering you a ‘well-earned rest’ for having walked to the top. To be honest the view is worth the walk up and the bench happens to be best-placed to enjoy it, with stunning views across the lavender fields of the valley below….Ambling back down through the cobbled streets past the traditional Lavoir with its hole between the basins, designed to hold a pole to support heavy wet sheets whilst they were being washed. I wonder what conversations these spaces were party to, I’m certain that they would have heard all the gossip of the day all those years ago as the women of the village scrubbed their laundry.
Eventually we arrived back in the main square and popped across the road to have a look at the incredible bookshop Le Bleuet, with its sculpture of books outside and the piles of books inside too. This is a superb bookshop and worth the drive to Banon any day of the week …..
So it was time for a final potter around the stalls to stock up on a few bits we needed, passing the boulangerie that sells choux-bun kebabs (I discovered these on a cycle ride one day when I had cycled further than I had planned and was is desperate need of sugar!)
Sometimes it’s nice when plans change unexpectedly and this was a case in point. It’s the first time we’ve visited Banon on market day and the relaxed, gentle bustle was a delight, coupled with the gentle stroll around the village too. It may have been thundery and showery, but this didn’t matter – all in all it was a very pleasant way to pass a morning.And I have a feeling it won’t be too long before we’re back again….