Today we visited three local towns and their chateaux, first Loumarin, then a bit of a let down at La Tour D'Aigues which turned out to be little more than a ruin facade, and then Ansouis, near where we are staying. The highlight was Loumarin where we were able to wander through almost alone as we timed our visit to the opening of the local market and even though there were tour busses and perhaps thousands in town they were all distracted!
Tomorrow we leave the Luberon and make our way to just inside the Italian border. Each of the villages we visited here had it's own charm, and we cannot really pick a most beautiful from among them. Loumarin is superb but probably the most exploited by tourism, market day is just crazy even now, and it isn't summer yet. Ironically the real estate agent there said there is little for sale, expensive and not negotiable, where as the nearby town of Cucuron (5k) is less commercial, has a fair bit for sale at around E 100,000 (for a 50 m 2, 1 bedder) and is in a quieter spot that is no less pretty.
We have been impressed with the French attitude in many ways, parents have to be more responsible for their kids when from the wall of a house to the narrow roadway is less than a meter; you cannot repair without ruining a 1000 year old, steep, narrow stairway with only a 400mm rampart leading up to a church spire yet they allow the public up it, and the idea of having a long, boozy break for lunch and finishing later does have some appeal! We are however (Marg particularly) thankful for some of the safety laws at home like having roads with verges where possible! We have seen semi's going down narrow village roads with Plane trees either side whose branches demand they travel the centre and everyone else must make do.
Their fierce patriotism is seen in the places we have stayed where all appliances like washers, dryers and coffee machines are French made, often to accommodate the limited size of the homes, and you see very few Japanese cars here, Citroen and Renault rule! They seem to think about employment differently too, maybe not mechanising as much to keep people employed and fed. Not like Gina Rhinehart at all!
Every village is sprinkled with artisans of every type, hidden away in the narrow back streets, and they must compete with the market sellers, it can be bedlam in the market but meters away in a side street you are lonely, it is hard to imagine how they are all making a crust. Like home the summer holiday must contribute substantially to their annual income and perhaps we have not seen that. The other side of that is the sometimes evident attitude from merchants that they will never set eyes on you again so get what they can now. We saw people get up and leave a restaurant because they could not share a pizza, they had to order one each.
Our lasting impression is of a country fighting to maintain its identity, Margaret observed today it is nothing like the Asian counties we have visited, so keen to emulate the American style of fast food and long, stressful working life. We saw a sign for Macdonalds yesterday but have not seen a store, and work life balance seems important here, the way is seems it has always been. They are unwilling to compromise just to make a visitor comfortable, you must have the full French experience, and we applauded that.