Thursday, May 13, 2010

Visit French Listed Historic Monument N°2

When Prosper Merimee,  learned and fashionable writer of the 19th century drawed his famous list of remarkable French monuments, around 1840, item number One was Mount Saint Michel in Normandy. That extraordinary  pyramid of stone defying both the tides and the English certainly deserved the honour of being listed in the inventory that later directly inspired the French National Heritage listing.  (No surprise, because Merimee became Inspector of Historic Monuments.)
 But then, what was item number Two on the writer's list ? Not Versailles, neither Notre-Dame de Paris. No Amiens, no Vezelay or Chenonceaux. Not even the Palace of the Popes. But  a rather humble stone chapel,  Saint Gabriel, at the western foot of the Alpilles, 20 km from Avignon in the  Tarascon Municipal limits.
Saint Gabriel, built in the XII century  is one of the very few chapels in this country to be dedicated to an Angel, not a Saint ; it is also a fascinating  edifice  mixing  splendid sculpture on the main  facade over the door with absolute sobriety inside. The location is gorgeous. Something quite peculiar definitely radiates from the site. Peace. Inspiration. Sacred breeze in the pine trees. Absolutely not trinquets sellers or soda-vending stalls.
Our suggestion for a memorable day: You can easily walk from Saint Remy ( 20 mn by public transport from Avignon's gare routiere, located 5 minutes from home)  to Saint Gabriel, in about four hours, along a lovely and partly shaded footpath. Then  enjoy the place at length,  briefly regret the absence of  the soda vending stalls, and then walk to the next crossroad and  take a bus back to Avignon, Tarascon... or even Arles where you can have lunch or dinner and then bus back to Avignon. We can check the bus times for you, lend you  maps and directions.
Olivia and I are so impressed by this site, discreet but very dear to the heart of the local population, that we decided to call our first son Gabriel.