Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dancing and Drinking

You would think that we drank before we danced.

But no, we returned to Avignon on Tuesday, to tour the bridge made famous in song, Pont Saint-Bénezet, better known as La Pont d'Avignon, before we continued up the Rhône region and into one of my favourite French-wine areas.

And what do you do when you're on the bridge? You do something that people in Medieval times probably never did: you dance.

The legend of the bridge is that in the 12th century, a shepherd named Bénezet was commanded by God to build a bridge across the Rhône River. When he tried to convince officials in Avignon that he was on a divine mission, the authorities demanded that he prove he was doing the work of God by lifting a massive stone, which Bénezet handily achieved. Support was granted for the bridge and in 1185 the nearly one-kilometre expanse was completed.

Upon Bénezet's death, a chapel was erected close to the town's gate and the shepherd was interred within.

Through conflict and especially by the force of the Rhône, much of the bridge has disappeared: only four arches and the remains of the chapel exist.

Lori and I were gung-ho for dancing on the bridge, as were a few other tourists. But as soon as we set up Lori's camera, the kids moved as far away from us as they could, back toward the city walls.

Their loss.

Afterward, we ate a simple lunch of crepes in a narrow street between the bridge and the plaza in front of the Papal Palace, before getting back on the road and driving to Gigondas, about 40 minutes north-east of Avignon.

This hillside town is beautiful: old stone houses with terra-cotta-tiled rooves reminded me of Tuscany. The endless fields of vineyards helped reinforce that memory, though the hillscape itself was distinctly different, with craggy rocks jutting from the ridges like crooked teeth.

It was gorgeous.

We parked the car near the centre of this tiny town and headed straight to Caveau de Gigondas, a wine collective of dozens of domains, offering hundreds of wines. You are free to sample from an extensive list of available bottles, and Lori and I did our best.

We tasted about a dozen different wines (by taste, I mean at most, a sip for me; never more than a mouthful). We made notes, compared our findings, and settled on 10 bottles. I love the rich flavours of the Grenache and Syrah grapes, the full body that these wines offer.

Most of the wines that we bought are drinking wonderfully now; some will improve with age. That's fine: we're in no rush. Keeping these bottles will prolong the memory of our trip.

We returned to our farmhouse and joined our friends, who had a relaxing day on their own. We dined and enjoyed one of the bottles that we bought, settled in for a night with good company, made plans for the remaining two days.

Tomorrow, we decided, we would explore Aix-en-Provence and the mountain that inspired Paul Cézanne.

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