Such a long gap in my writing is almost unheard of, but the preparations for our annual holiday, the holiday itself and all the work awaiting us on our return has kept me very busy indeed.
Our journey down took us through the cool mountain scenery of the Auvergne, with a night in one of France’s most beautiful villages, Salers. 16th century buildings in dark volcanic stone sit on a hill overlooking pastures full of the local red cattle breed of the same name. Locating them is easy even in the morning mist, with clanking bells dangling from their necks audible over huge distances. After walking in the mountains and countryside for half a day we headed further south to Murat, and a night at the lake below Gustave Eiffel’s wonderful Viaduct de Garabit, built over the river Truyère in 1885. From their it was a six hour drive to our destination in the sun.
We based ourselves in the Provence this year, for a week or so of exploring the sights of the region around Hyères. We rented an appartment on the presqu‘île de Giens, a paradise for divers, kite surfers and nature lovers, jutting out into the Mediterranean sea near the port of Toulon. I dived a few times with a local club, my first in France and in French.
The land in this region is important horticulturally and nurseries of all kinds fight for space close to tourist villas, salt marshes and vineyards, in an area blessed with a superb climate and high light levels.
The lovely old town of Hyères contains the villa of the American novelist Edith Wharton, who wintered here annually from 1919 until her death in 1937. Castel Sainte-Claire is open to the public, who are free to wander the terraces of this
very atypical garden, full of tender plants.
I spotted a slection South American plants alongside native species – Lantana in many colours and huge bushes of Erythrina crista-galli. Many Salvia species were in flower but the rare Salvia divinorum formed large, flowerless bushes. Natives includes Santolina, Lavender, Phlomis and a host of plants adapted to the dry climate, often highly scented and covered in insect life.