Tuesday, May 27, 2014

France 2014: Bargemon Home Swap

The quaint little village of around 1500 people called Bargemon, in the upper Var department, is the location of our home swap where we will live for the next five and half weeks. Bargemon was fortified as far back as the 10th century and traces of walls or ramparts, huge archways that once held doors to fortified entries, ancient stone roads, and stairs still remain.  The larger archways have names such as "Porte de la Prison", "Porte de l'Horologe" and "Porte du Château", reflecting their original purposes.  The church dedicated to Saint-Etienne was built right into the defensive walls.

Today, renovated residential houses or apartments can be found that were also originally built into the ramparts.  The beautiful place that we are staying at is such a structure.  It is a unique experience to be living in a Medieval building that is many centuries old, with its large, wide, uneven steps on spiral staircases, rounded archways and doors, and solid wood beams still exposed in some of the ceilings.

Our place has a terrace with a magnificent South-East view of the hilly countryside, looking down into the valley and then up to the neighbouring town of Claviers.  It is a lovely spot for us to sit after a day of sightseeing, having a glass of wine, surfing on our IPADs or catching up on my knitting.

For such a small village, Bargemon has more than its share of fountains.  The oldest one dates back to the 12th Century and is quite rudimentary, while the later ones become more ornate.  Although compared to the gigantic, ostentatious fountains of bigger cities like Paris, these are all relatively modest.  Only a few of them have warnings that the water is undrinkable, so I assume that means the others are safe–at least I hope so, since I drank from some of them!  No ill effects so far.  The older fountains were also used for laundry or providing water for livestock.

Although we follow similar practices at home, since we live less than a block away from three grocery stores, staying in this small town allows us to live like locals by going on an almost daily basis to the Boulangerie (Bakery), Boucherie (Butcher), and the Presse mini market, so that we can have something fresh for our meals.  The other day, our pain au chocolat came straight out of the oven into our hands and then our mouths.  Notice though that they are all closed in the photos.  This was taken around 2pm in the afternoon on a Sunday.  We need to be careful about opening hours for shops and museums in the smaller French towns, since most of them take a long break for lunch (anywhere from noon up to even 4:00pm!) and close early on Sundays. The cafes on the main square that seem always open but we haven't had a chance to try those or the numerous restaurants yet.

From the tourist information centre, you can get a map of Bargemon that takes you on a self-guided tour of the historically significant sites of the village.  In addition to all the ancient fountains and ramparts, we passed by many other interesting stops.  The "Tour du Cours" is the last remaining tower that was part of the 16th Century "Porte du Clos" fortification that guarded the north part of the village.  Today it has been renovated into a residential home with a painter's workshop at the bottom.  The Chapelle miraculeuse de Montaigu is named after the a statue of the Virgin of Montaigu to which miracles were attributed including curing illness.  It is said that a shepherd once tried to remove the statue from its resting place against an old oak tree and was rendered immobile until the statue was restored to its rightful position.  The Monument aux Morts is a war memorial with plaques commemorating veterans of the first and second World Wars.  There is a also a plaque in front of the one time home of Jean Moulin, a high-profiled World War II French resistance fighter who was killed by the Gestapo.

There are three museums in Bargemon–one dedicated to Minerals and Fossils, one to the history of the typewriter, and the Musée Camos, named after ceramist and painter Honoré Camos.  So far we have only visited this last museum, hosted in the old Chapelle Saint-Etienne, which contains a very comprehensive history of Bargemon and is also used as temporary art exhibition space.

In the Camos Museum, the second floor (or première étage as it is confusingly known in France) is dedicated to the heritage of Bargemon.  There are human remains from an original resident of Bargemon dating back to between 3000-5000 B.C. Write-ups trace the history of the village from prehistoric times, through the Middle Ages, all the way up to recent past.  Pictures depict famous past residents of Bargemon, past scenes of the town including the old railway station, and various activities and trades of the people including shoe-making, olive oil, and raising sheep.  At the rear of the ground floor is a section dedicated to the art and artifacts of Honoré Camos, including a wax figure of him creating one of his paintings of chickens.  The figure was so realistic that I thought it was a man giving a painting exhibition and tiptoed around him so as not to distract him!

The front of the ground floor is used for displaying temporary art exhibits.  The current show called "Capitane de mon âme" by Christel Leleu-Ferro features paintings and drawings of former political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Ai Weiwei, and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.

Everywhere you go around the edges of Bargemon, there are magnificent views of hillsides and neighbouring towns.  Imaging playing tennis or swimming or just walking around in the face of such beauty.

Bargemon is also an ideal location for taking day trips to visit other towns since it is about the same distance to the mountains or the coast and most destinations are about 1-2 hours away at the most (the time it used to take Rich to drive home from work).  Having a home swap in such a lovely location allows us to take a more leisurely pace.  If we don't feel like a driving, we can just hang around the town for the day, or go for a hike to the neighbouring town of Claviers, which we can see each morning from the terrace. 

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