A few days back we returned from our summer holiday in France, in Provence. We stayed a week in St Julien-le-Montagnier which is a quaint little hilltop village not far from Aix-en-Provence. Maria had tracked down a beautiful apartment owned by a Swedish family which we could rent for a week. We flew to Nice and drove a hire-car the few hours from the frenetic Cote d’Azur up into the peaceful countryside. St Julien is quiet and peaceful with a beautiful view over the surrounding wooded countryside. It was exactly what we needed: a complete change from everyday life, in warm sunny Mediterranean climes. We have returned refreshed and ready (almost) for a Swedish autumn. I wrote the following on the last day:
The morning is beautiful, the sky is clear, a cool breeze drifts in. Beyond the windows is the narrow street, but it is below my line of sight and is only evident by the occasional passing car or pedestrian. I look over the street to crooked houses of stone and render, with orange roofs of terra-cotta tiles and random chimney stacks. Pencil pines are scattered around the village, which like much of the vegetation and the climate, remind of Tamworth and northern NSW.
St Julien le Montagnier is set on a hill and our little cottage, joined in a ragged row with the others in the street, is close to the top. So from our windows we look over the rooftops of the houses on the other side of the street, which are lower down, and beyond we see the valleys and ridges of Provence. Far off in the distant valley of the Verdon River a collection of houses marks the town of Vinon-sur-Verdon, where we have shopped for supplies during our week here. There is a new Carrafour supermarket there. The river itself is shallow and wide, running over stones, a stark contrast to its dammed majesty in the lakes where we have swum these past days.
This region of France is called the Var, and is the part of Provence which reaches down to the Mediterranean coast. To our west but invisible to us is a big road running north from the coastal strip of the Cote dAzur to Aix-en-Provence and onward up to Avignon. To our north is the Verdon River, which has been our recreation this last week. The dam closest to here, directly north of our little village, makes the Lac d’Esparron, which backs up into the Gorges du Verdon at Quinson, to the east, where we swam the first day after we arrived. The much bigger Lac de La Croix is further to the north east, formed by another huge dam. It backs up into the Gorges at Port de Galetas, near Moustiers Saint Marie, where we hired our paddle boat a few days back to explore the spectacular gorge.
The village itself has a church crowning the hill, with a tower and a bell which rings on the hour, and once at the half hour. There is a restaurant and a little square where serious looking groups of Frenchman gather to play boules. There are spectacular views on every side. There is a sister village at the bottom of the hill called St Pierre which has a school and some shops and a public swimming pool. It is reached by a stony zigzagging footpath down the terraced slopes on the northern side of our hill. Distant in the forested valley on the southern side is a little stone chapel, Chapelle de la Trinité. Catholicism runs deep in the veins of these hills and valleys.
There are lots of villages and towns called St-Julien in France. Exactly who they are named for I am not sure. I don’t know why he features so frequently in town names. One website mentions an Italian saint, Sanctus Julianus Montanarius from the 12th century, but exactly who he was I don’t know. The le Montagnier suffix helps differentiate this St Julien from the others in the immediate region, which can be readily identified on a map of the Var region. It is fitting for a city set on a hill, Julien the mountaineer. St Julien is visible from miles around, and we saw it long before we drove up the steep narrow road. It raises expectations and attracts the eye. It is a pretty place and brought joy and rest to us.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Jesus)