Wednesday, 31 July 2013


The last stop on our Provencale holiday was at Vaison la Romaine.  This was a Roman town during their occupation of France and has many archaeological relics on view.  In fact it has the largest area of Roman remains in the whole country, many of which are visible from the street.  I had hoped to visit the sites but we didn't have time so I'll have to wait till another day.  As well as the older part of the town there was a mediaeval part built on the rocky outcrop on the other side of the river which was crossed by a 2000 year old bridge.  We climbed up through the pretty, narrow streets to the chateau perched on top of the cliff and were rewarded with a fabulous view over the vineyards to Mont Ventoux in the distance.
The town centre was very attractive with a big square lined with cafes and bistros and shaded by the wonderful plane trees. On the Saturday as we rested after our lunch a group of kids turned up with some musicians to put on a display of break dancing.  They went on for quite a while with a lot of drumming and attracted a lot of attention.
Our campsite was named after the Roman theatre nearby and only a short walk to town. The trees here were mainly cherries and I wondered if they had been an orchard before the camp was set up. I had time on the Sunday to draw this very old and twisted one while we were resting after catching very bad coughs from the dust blown up by the mistral the week before.
This leaf drifted down while I was drawing the tree so I added it to the page. Vaison la Romaine is in the region of Cotes du Rhone Villages wine production and we had hoped to get out our bikes and do a tour of the vineyards but we felt too ill with bad chest colds to be able to climb the hills, even though our bikes are electric!  At least we have a good reason to return in the future!
Th food in the restaurants here was pretty good and very reasonably priced.  This is a quick sketch of our lunch one day, a basket of raw vegetables and a very garlicky dip of aoili, the local speciality.  We left this camp after only 4 days having had a lovely time in hot sunshine and seen many new places and looking forward to the next time.

Monday, 29 July 2013


In the morning after our arrival we set off to explore the Colorado of Rustrel and the campsite owner told me it was about 4 kilometres to the entrance of the marked footpaths along some very pretty lanes lined with lavender fields and vines growing out of the startling red earth.  She explained that there were 3 paths of varying length and difficulty and we chose the easiest mainly because the others had some very steep climbs.  The sights we found were quite astounding with all shades of rocks from white through yellow to the darkest red.  It just wasn't possible to sit and draw everything so I chose the most spectacular to sketch where I found a group of German artists also trying to capture the views in watercolour.
Later in the afternoon I took a short walk from the campsite and found myself in this amazing red landscape. The rocks had been cut to use for paint pigments and left some very sharp and strange shapes. Steps and paths had been placed so one could explore this wonderful place.  I was alone and saw nobody as it's off the beaten track mentioned in the guide books.  I spent a happy half hour drawing with only a few large ants for company.
While we were in the area I collected a few of the coloured stones to draw.  I found several different shades and used the pigments to rub in for the background.  2 years ago when we visited Roussillon I was able to buy pigments ready ground to make into paints which I did as soon as we returned home.  I have used them in a few paintings and also made some wax crayons by mixing the pigments with melted candle wax.  I have a few sketches done in 2011 of Roussillon so maybe I'll post them after I've completed the 2013 trip postings.
These strange rock formations loom above the pizza restaurant at the entrance to the campsite. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013


From Ile sur la Sorgue we went on to the Colorado of Rustrel, an area of former ochre quarries. We found a campsite very close by and set up under the oak trees where the land had been terraced to make flat piches for the campers.
The hill side climbed behind us with smaller flattened areas for tents and we had quite a bit of trouble trying to get our camper car level.  I had to put folded towels under the end of my mattress to be able to sleep as we were sloping down slightly and that sinking feeling was very strange!
We set up our table and chairs and ate our lunch with this lovely view over the valley and across the lavender fields.  I had been looking forward to this trip at this time of year so I could see for myself the lavender for which Provence is so famous. It was just a bit early to see it in full bloom and the flowers looked a bit darker than I expected so I used a bit of artistic licence with the colouring!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


The river Sorgue has it's source at Fontaine de Vaucluse only 10 km away from the campsite we were staying on.  We cycled there one hot day through the lovely quiet lanes along the vineyards.  We arrived at coffee time and chose a bistro next to the river.  I sketched the view across the water as we relaxed in the shade with our coffees which came with a cool glass of water.
Having refreshed ourselves we set off to walk to the source of the river up the hill towards the cliffs you can see in the background of the previous sketch.  The beginning of the path is lined with tourist souvenir shops and ice cream sellers as well as plenty of plane trees for much needed shade as it's quite a climb! As we went higher the river became narrower and faster moving until it disappeared under the tumble of boulders.  At the end of the path we came to a deep blue pool, quite calm in the shadow of the looming cliffs, apparently over 300 metres deep which is where the river begins.
After marvelling at this sight, having never actually seen the source of a river before, we walked back down and returned to our riverside bistro for lunch.  I had time for another sketch while we waited for our pizzas to arrive.  After lunch we visited the paper mill which is still making hand made paper with old cotton rags in the traditional way with waterwheels turned by the river as it passes.  I took some photos of the process but haven't yet done any sketches.

Monday, 22 July 2013


Our next port of call was at l'Ile sur la Sorgue a charming small town on the river Sorgue.  It has a central town with canals around the edge as well as the river which flowed past the campsite. It is famous for the waterwheels which were used to power mills for the wool industry centuries ago.
From the camp we were able to cycle to town along this delightful canal lined with beautiful houses.
In town the waterfront was lined with bars and bistros all right next to the water.  We had a delicious salad lunch there one day and I sketched the shops opposite while we waited for our food to arrive.
Another day and another sketch, this time next to one of the waterwheels, slowly turning as the canal flowed past.

Friday, 19 July 2013


After a few days at Vallon we got itchy feet and moved on to Bagnols sur Cèze, a town on the west of the Rhone river in one of our favourite wine regions. The campsite was on the banks of the River Cèze.
The pitches were shaded with tall acacia trees full of birds that sang all day and there was even one, probably a nightingale, that kept going all night as well.
We had a corner plot so we saw everybody as they passed on their way to the shower block or to do their washing up. The campers here were mostly Dutch, maybe as a result of the Dutch owner who organised bridge tournaments for her compatriots. They don't tend to speak French, so seeing our French registration they were a bit stand offish unless we spoke to them in English!  We met an English couple who had been coming here for about 10 years in their caravan and thought how strange when there are so many other places to see in this wonderful country!
The River Cèze was so close that you could take your deckchair and sit with your toes in the water.  I spent a couple of afternoons drawing the views until it got too hot and I had to get back under the shade of the trees.
This tree was right next to our table and I had a couple of happy hours scribbling and painting it!
Just across the path we could see a field full of wild flowers which I collected to draw.  While we were in this area we cycled around the lanes and into town to get a feel for the landscape which was very gentle rolling hills covered with vines.  Of course we didn't leave without stopping at a 'cave' to buy a selection of the local brew grown in the next village!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


This is the Pont d'Arc after which Vallon is named.  It is a spectacular sight on the river Ardeche, having been eroded over millions of years so that the water flows through.  When we left the town we drove along the gorges along the very windy road you can see on the map. It was very hard work for Bob going around all those hairpin bends but we saw some amazing views along the way.
While we were at Vallon I had some time to read and practise some exercises from the John Muir Laws book of drawing birds I had brought along for the holiday.
I had a lot of fun copying the pictures and trying to understand the structure of the bodies and the way the feathers grow.
There weren't many birds to be seen on the campsite apart drom a solitary sparrow searching for crumbs so I was pleased to have this to amuse myself.
I quite like the way the tinted pages have worked out with the drawings in sepia pen, white gel pen and colourbrush pens.  I also used a touch of coloured pencil and a white marker pen.

Monday, 15 July 2013


Vallon Pont d'Arc is at the entrance of the Gorges d'Ardeche. The town is very tourist orientated with many companies offering kayak and canoeing trips along the river through the gorge.  This weir, right next to the campsite has a bridge channel (just visible on the left) for people to manoeuvre through this obstacle.
It was very hot during our stay and we were very pleased that our pitch had plenty of trees. This is the view directly above my head as I relaxed in the shade.
I picked a twig from this lime tree one day while we were out walking.  The branches were weighed down with the fruit hanging below the leaves.
Another tree sketch! Can't seem to get away from them, I'm fascinated by the bark on the plane trees, all shades of olive green from light to dark with very pale patches enhanced by the sun glancing through treetops.

Saturday, 13 July 2013


After a good sleep at Saint Amand we awoke refreshed and ready for the next leg of our journey.  We set off south to cross the Massif Centrale, the mountains of central France. I had my sketchbook and some watercolour graphitint crayons ready to use.  The centre of the country has a region of volcanic formations which look very odd as you approach from the north; The Puy de dome is the highest one in this sketch and the rest are just as seen here, lots of even shaped peaks scattered across the landscape.
The volcanoes give way after Clermont Ferrand to more peaks, some still snow covered in the distance.  We visited the Monts d'Or a couple of years ago and found them beautiful with many beautiful valleys and hillsides of meadows populated with cows producing delicious cheeses. On the way down the motorway I bought a new road atlas and decided to use the old one to illustrate my sketches.
About an hour's drive south of Clermont we turned off the A75 to go across country to our next destination of Vallon Pont d'Arc.  The N102 is a beautiful drive through undulating countryside gradually becoming more mountainous with hairpin bends around the valleys filled with broom bushes in full flower.  The fragrance came in through the open windows and the air was very warm, quite different from our drive the day before that started in cool drizzle.
We arrived late afternoon and found our site at the side of the river Ardeche.  It was very hot by this time so we were pleased to find all the pitches well shaded by plane trees.  We chose our spot and settled down for a rest before having a pizza for dinner.

Thursday, 11 July 2013


I decided to use the sketchbook I made at the bookbinding lesson I took in January for this trip so I made an elasticated band to hold my pens and the re-purposed box of inktense blocks. I planned to use the blocks as watercolours with the waterbrush.
I designed the title page to colour co-ordinate with the cover and told the story of how it was made in the speech bubbles.
We set off on Tuesday June 11th and made our first stop at Saint Amand Montrond in the department of Cher.  Bob used to work here in his 20s as a repair engineer for Monotype. He made many visits to the printing works and started his love of France and wine at the Hotel de la Poste.  Sadly the hotel has been empty now for 5 years since the owners sold up and the business failed under the new proprietors.
The camper car park is at the side of the canal de Berry on the edge of town within walking distance of the bars and shops.  We always go to La Rotonde in the square as they serve good food at reasonable prices and Bob has fond memories of evenings there in his youth!