In the past when I’ve visited old stone cities in Europe, perched on hilltops, I’ve always imagined what it would be like to live in such ancient buildings, walking every day on streets paved with rocks or bricks, opening unscreened windows to the air with other houses tight up against my own walls.
Now I know what it’s like, at least for a few days. David and I are staying in Vaison la Romaine, a small bustling city with a “new town” and an “old town,” both being very old by American standards. First settled in the 2nd century BC, Vaison la Romaine has a history of townspeople moving back and forth from the lower city on the north side of the Ouveze River to the upper side on the south, depending on what war was going on and who needed protection from whom. We’re staying in the medieval upper (as in further up the hill) city where the Count of Toulouse built a castle on a rock above the upper town in the 12th century.
The lower town has impressive Roman Ruins, an outstanding Provencal Romanesque style Cathedral and Cloisters and streets busy with cafes and shops. The upper town is a maze of stone buildings (many built with stones from the Roman ruins during a particularly large exodus from the lower city to the upper) and streets with alleys and walkways circling in and out of squares centered around fountains.
We arrived late on Friday night after a long day of train travel and negotiating our rental car out of traffic in Lyon to head south for Provence. The friendly owners of the AirBnB where we’re staying had made us a reservation at Le Bistrot du’O and we ate our delicious dinner (what dinner on this trip hasn’t been delicious?) and fell into bed. Our small flat is a long room with one window on the front facing out on Rue de Fours, the bedroom behind curtains at the back. It’s like sleeping in a cave, which suits me fine. But the owners have made it clear that their three level terrace off the back of their apartment upstairs is ours to use as we wish, and we’ve spent hours under the grape arbor, having lunch, reading, and drinking Cotes du Rhone wines that are impossibly inexpensive here.
Yes, we’re enjoying Provence immensely, spending a few days living in a medieval city, which is as delightful as I’d always imagined it would be.