Friday, 30 March 2012

Cereste: A Perfect Villa for Holidays

Cereste is a pretty Provencal village nestling beneath the Luberon mountains. Mostly 15th to 18th century, it is a  delight to walk around to explore all the art galleries, shops selling local produce and crafts, or stop at one of the many cafe's for a glass of rose, a pastis or a coffee.  Walking is a theme of the village as there is an ancient walking route which is also now a cycle path that links Cereste with Forcalquier region to the Rhone Valley.

The village itself has an interesting selection of gargoyles to admire, although I find them all rather unattractive, their historical antecedents are interesting. These are in the Place Verdun, which has many fine houses, one of which has been turned into a hotel and several others into art galleries. Going east out of the village is the Nid d'Amour, a walk taking in the old pigeon coups, pigeons were once big business in this village, and although you can find it in some restaurants locally, it is a very gamey almost an acquired taste. The path then leads on through some lovely fountains and leads to the Roman church built in the 13th century and the Priory Carluc.  

Cereste has an unusual microclimate that they claim makes it cooler in the evenings in summer than anywhere else in the area, which may not be what you want to hear if you are reading this in England in winter, but trust me, the evenings in Provence in summer can be very warm.

Other attractions include the 18th century St Michael Church, a ruined abbey, a Roman bridge and swimming, mountain bike hire, hiking are all available, plus there is an interesting market every Thursday morning.

Once you have seen all there is to see in  Cereste , and if you are more ively than I tend to be when going for a relaxing break in deepest Provence, then the nearby village of Viens is worth visiting.  It is a 13th century perched village which at 630 metres above sea level, nearly 2000 feet, provides fantastic views across the Provencal countryside, and over the border into the Alpes Maritimes where it is possible to see in the distance fields of lavender at the right time of year, which I guess means the summer!  Enter the village by way of the Saracen Gate and have look at the clock tower, which inevitable dominates the village skyline. The village has history going back over a thousand years, and there are still several 13th century houses to see, plus it has a restored 14th century Renaissance Chateau.  It is at the end of the so called "route d'ochre" which leads to the famous Provencal "Colorado Cliffs"

Another village which is just as pretty and offer the same wonderful outdoor summer experience of flowers, forests, woodlands, walking and mountain biking is St Martin de Castillion about 8 km's away.
Staying in the area in a hotel can be tricky, there is one hotel In Cereste, and as far as I can ascertain, no others in the area.  There are of course a few gites, but to be comfortable for a week or a fortnight, a better bet is to look to hire a private villa, as there are a number to choose from.  There are several agencies offering this kind of Rentals , some speak English and some are in fact English.

Getting to this part of Provence is pretty difficult unless you have access to a car, which to my mind is imperative, especially if you want to take in the whole area, as public transport hardly exists and taxis are scarce.  Nearest airport is Marseilles, which has flights going to many destinations in Europe and the UK plus you can get too and from several provincial French cities plus Paris quite readily. The airport is some 75 km's distant but allow up to 2 hours as the back routes are not conducive to fast driving, and in any event the route is pretty and worth taking in.