Whilst hair-raising for us atop a Ligurian mountain top, the storms in Europe have wrecked destruction making news as far as Australia. With landslides, flooding, felled trees and drownings, 11 people have been reported dead in northern Italy, with thousands more left stranded in Swiss mountains and trains, cut off by snowfall. Thousands more still are without power. Venice is under 1.6 metre floods, St Mark’s square, a pool. It’s a sobering thought – we were lucky to make it off that mountain without the incident. Luckier still that we debated a stop in Venice and decided against it. It would have been our stop that night otherwise.
After seemingly days of rain, the morning brings clear blue skies. From our view point, we can see the Swiss/Italian Alps, dusted with bright white: fresh snowfall, looking spectacular.
It’s not until much later in the day that friends and Australian newspapers fill me in on what that meant for thousands of holiday makers, cut off, up there. No doubt like us, they were looking to escape summer’s heat and crowds, getting way more than they bargained for. I particularly feel for those stuck in the mountains on trains that suddenly could not pass – it would have been a cold and uncertain night.
Try as we might, it’s going to be hard to escape this weather. We’ve researched as far south as Spain, Corsica and Sicily, but everywhere seems to be trapped in long range rain, indispersed with the odd clear day. Greece alone has escaped, with sun and temperatures still in the mid to high 20s. That ship has sailed though, and the news of cut off mountain roads and landslides have given us pause for thought on quite a number of Les Plus Beaux Villages that are hilltop based. There’s little comfort in stressing basic roads in poor conditions by driving a 5 tonne vehicle over them.
We lose the morning somehow, partly in faffing around trying to make new plans, partly dazzled by the freshly minted sun and running a few errands. By afternoon though, we’re back in action, arriving at Ansouis, in the Pays d’Aigues region.
It’s a peaceful spot set, surrounded by 12th century walls, topped by the 12th century church of Eglise Saint Martin, attached to its perimeter.
It’s known for two saints, Count Elzear Sabran and Delphine de Signe, a married couple, who lived a life of chastity, prayer, penance and devotion to the poor in the 13th century. Their works are still celebrated today in an annual festival each September.
Elsewhere the village is quiet, the castle is closed – we missed it by an hour. Across the defensive walls, the views across vineyards in the afternoon light are spectacular.
As we walk though the village we come across historical photographs, capturing the settings we stand in, in comparison to the present day surrounding us.
Little has changed – trees are a little larger, fashions of course, but elsewhere in these beautiful villages, in the fabric of their stone, time has stood still. It will continue to stand still, long after we’re gone. It’s a comforting thought, that somewhere in our fast paced, throw away world, there’s a sense of permanence.
It’s the light that captures me for the rest of the afternoon, infusing a spectacular beauty in the simplest of things: autumn leaves,
rows of trees
and the warm glow of sandstone.
It’s very clear to see how this region inspired painters across centuries – it’s breathtaking. It’s impossible to see it, bathed in this glorious light and not want to commit it to permanence, be it on canvas or aloft in the ether, thousands of pixels formed into images that barely do justice to what the eye sees.