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December 7, 2013

Of Castles, Cathars, Christians, & Christmas

By Maryanna Gabriel 

Myself With French Guides
It was not a good thing to defy the pope of the day and when the Cathars refused to pay tax to Rome they were hunted down and, er, killed. They were a virtuous sect with high morals and from what I can gather, a bit similar to the Quakers, living how they thought was in accord with the teachings of the Nazarene. We no longer have to tremble in our sleep if somebody randomly decides we are a heretic, or worse still maybe they want our house, our animals, our land. A clergyman conveniently arranges for our death based on lies. No this is not a worry today. Easy to take for granted. Queribus was a fortress-like castle where the Cathars hid, not very successfully, it’s virtue being it’s remoteness but clearly visible throughout the valley and possibly it’s thick walls which were three feet thick. It was a haunting place, with sweeping valley views. I was unprepared for the scope and beauty of it all. Our guide told me that someone was recently killed in Queribus. A fork of lightening had come right through a three foot thick window and zap. Not really something one would expect at the outset of one’s day as one munched pain au chocolat. 

Sant Pere De Rhodes
We finished in Sant Pere de Rhodes, a monastery in Spain a few kilometers from the French border. It was also high up and overlooking the Mediterranean, the misty blues of sky and sea a soft and luscious sensation to the eye. This place was very old, the earliest Christians fled for refuge here from Rome. Around 300 AD, some body parts made their way to boost business, the scapula of St. Peter, the baby finger of Mary Magdalene, means of acquiring alms and a vehicle for petitioning through prayer, kind of early church must haves. I saw a fresco that was worn and not even protected from the public leaning on it.

I feel I have inadequately covered some astonishing geography. This is a blog after all. But perhaps a sense of it has been conveyed in spite of my misgivings. Those of you who write so encouragingly to me, I thank you. It means so much to me. To all, a Bon Noel and may voyages of discovery in your own way and in your own time, fill your hearts desire. Thank you so much for joining me here. 

December 6, 2013


Les Templiers
By Maryanna Gabriel

Collioure, the famous seaside town in Languedoc is where we went to on the next leg of our journey. Languedoc is a word derived from the “language of the Occitans”. Here we are moving into a more Spanish or Catalan influence, the food has red peppers, and there is a more fiery and colourful aspect to the culture. Matisse painted in Collioure which is very pretty with boats, beach, and many visiting European tourists enjoying the scene, the light fairly bouncing off of the Mediterranean. I found myself in a famous historic cafe “Les
Cote Vermeille 
Templiers”. I parked myself in a corner and read international newspapers, then perused the art which covered every square inch of wall, up the stairwell, along all hallways. Some of the names I recognized. I fought off a cold and braced myself weakly as we prepared to walk the “Cote Vermeille” to the west. 

November 23, 2013


By Maryanna Gabriel 

Palais Du Papes
The Madonna
"Sur le pont, d’Avignon
l’on y danse, l’on y danse"

Ahhhh, Avigon.
This ancient walled city is teeming with life, people, shops, cafes, and at its heart on the Rhone River, is the famous bridge, the Pont D'Avignon which is only half there because it was blown up. The commanding Palais Du Papes is the focal point of the city. Here the kings of France fought for possession of Avignon and the popes of Rome came to live. The streets are cobblestone and it is here one can walks and sense the ages. We had a great hotel between the bridge and the famous palace and I was sad to say goodbye as some of us parted ways. The rest of us prepared for the next leg of our journey, onto Languedoc and the Cote Vermeille. 

Restaurant In Front Of The Palais
Merry Go Round & Theatre

November 15, 2013

“Les Pappesses” - An Art Show In Avignon

By Maryanna Gabriel 
Palais Des Papes
The Stairway Was Covered With These
I love to go to art galleries and modern art galleries in particular. I feel I can sense the mood of the people, the temperature of the culture, and more particularly I am curious how the modern French express themselves. I walked into a show called “Les Papesses” set in the Palais Des Papes (Palace Of The Popes). Five female artists were expressing their thoughts on the historic papacy, a particularly strong bastion of patriarchy, in vivid visual iconography. The papacy moved their headquarters to Avignon for a period. The Palais Des Papes was where they lived.  Pope
Larger Than Life
Joan was a feature of the show and why the show was given the name. (It is told that Pope John VIII was a man dressed as a woman. Her gig was up when she gave birth while parading the streets on a horse. The story goes the mob killed her. The Vatican denies this story but there are discrepancies in the historical record, there is a missing pope in the numerical sequence. Proof enough for me. I digress.) I wandered through the palace with my jaw dropping at the glorious expression of femininity, at times not so pretty. Next to the sarcophagus of dead cardinals, for example, was art so shocking it verged on sacrilegious yet in today’s culture the art show was all very respectable. I had to grin at the shifting sands of what is culturally sanctioned. 

Enormous Metal Spider In The Nave

November 8, 2013


By Maryanna Gabriel

“We loved the vines – the ordered regularity of them against the sprawl of the mountain, the way they changed from bright green to darker green to yellow and red as spring and summer turned to autumn.” Peter Mayle

Restored Houses
Walled Ramparts
Ancient Architecture
Maison De La Truffes Et Du Vin
Vineyards In The Valley Below
Menerbes is situated on a hill and is a charming medieval village considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in France. It overlooks the Luberon Valley and is flanked by Mont de Vaucluse and Mont Ventoux and the foot hills of the French Alps. Peter Mayle’s book “A Year In Provence” wrote of life here and the Provence Guide states “Menerbes has survived centuries of strife and Peter Mayle remarkably well.” The former was because of religious warring between the Catholics and the Protestants with extensive cannonball damage and the latter certainly accelerated a migration and tourist influx contributing to the restoration of the ancient buildings. There is an air of wealth amid the stones and shutters and one can look out from the walled ramparts to the vineyards in the valley below. We went for a wine tasting, of course, at “Maison De La Truffes Et Du Vin”, a pleasant experience.  Menerbes is very close to the de Sade chateau and was home to Picasso’s Dora Maar and other notorious individuals. I enjoyed a quiet walk through the town to the very top where the uncomplaining residents there enjoyed the best view in the local cemetery. 

November 3, 2013


By Maryanna Gabriel

“...[we were] living among men and women whose interest in food verges on obsession....”
Peter Mayle
Luberon Mountains
Time Seems To Stand Still
Peter Mayle, author of “A Year In Provence” lived between Lacoste and Mernerbes and I can see why. It is beautiful and unspoiled. His book was so successful he was inundated by “lookie-loos” and he eventually had to move. They moved to Martha’s Vineyard and it would seem they have relocated again to Languedoc – location undisclosed. Lacoste is set in a sweeping valley of cultivated fields, overlooking the Luberon mountains and is an area of charm, rife with history. Here is a bridge that dates back to the first century built by the Romans. Lacoste’s most notorious resident, the Marquis de Sade did contribute to theatre and the town has an artistic reputation. Peter Mayle writes extensively of mouth watering details on culinary day trips to local eateries in this valley that are often difficult to locate and known to the locals in homes and courtyards. In Lacoste I walked by a window that had numerous tables and chairs with no sign on the outside. We hiked up behind the medieval looking town to luxurious more recently built residences but they hadn't the stupendous views. I guess the time to buy was 100 AD.

October 31, 2013

Marquis de Sade

By Maryanna Gabriel

Marquis de Sade Castle
Avant Garde Sculpture 
A name that strikes chills and where the word "sadism" is derived. I had said to my daughter I did not want to go into it when we visited the Marquis de Sade castle. It turned out to be a non-issue. The castle is one stark wall, the majority of it in rubble. The Marquis was a psychopathic byproduct of aristocratic parents combined with self indulgent narcissm (to put it mildly) along with an intense hatred for his “mummie”. He died in prison mad, sick, penniless, and alone. So much for sexual decrepitude. The villagers pillaged the castle during the revolution. I don’t get the feeling he was very attentive to his fiefdom. The village of LaCoste has now become a renewed focal point as Pierre Cardin, the famous French designer, made real estate purchases in this medieval looking town in 2001, the de Sade castle being one of them. The avant-garde Cardin has commissioned works of art that surround the de Sade castle and they interplay with the landscape high on a plateau, indifferent to the ancient stone buildings they overlook and to the history below.  

October 29, 2013

Of Gypsy Caravans & Truffle Hunting

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Gypsy Caravans"
"Morning Going Out To Work"
We were resting when a woman in gypsy garb rode by on a horse and I sat up astonished. Walking into the woods between fields we passed a colourful caravan and I asked our guide, Thierry, if there were gypsies in Provence. He said yes. The fields were being hayed and grapes were ripening in neat, orderly rows. We walked on a pathway screened by vegetation and lined by oak trees. Thierry stopped us and told us how his father hunted truffles and what his father had taught him. Thierry pointed to the ground and showed us what to look for and answered the question that the French don’t use pigs as the pigs are rather prone to eating the truffles but instead use dogs. These paintings by Van Gogh done in 1888 seem to capture the moment, effortlessly spanning the centuries

October 25, 2013

Hitting My Stride

By Maryanna Gabriel

Les Alpilles
After leaving such a beautiful and peaceful setting we 
departed the cloister and walked past more Roman ruins in the forest. I fancied I could sense the ghosts of romantic trysts in the trees for something seemed to sparkle in the air. I was mindful of how artists have waxed prosaic of the light in Provence. There was something compelling about this place. We climbed and climbed until we came to the top of Les Alpilles, a mountain ridge covered in pine trees. Here we stretched out. My heart soared in the sunlight and blue sky. White horses with riders passed us. We became so hard hit by the Mistral that I felt if I leaned into it I would be supported it as it seemingly
Les Baux De Provence From Les Alpilles
exceeded 100 km per hour in places. As if this sparkling day was not enough we descended down  the backside of a ridge to an 
historic village called Les Baux De Provence. This town of stone is set dramatically on a rocky outcrop and dates back as far as 6,000 BC. The place has a long and fascinating history but by 1632 it was ordered demolished because of its Protestant affiliations and granted to the country of Monaco. This entitlement lapsed with the death of Princess Caroline’s grandfather. The population now is about 400 people. Modern art was displayed on some of the standing walls with the interesting effect of the past setting off the present. The place is very charming and has a surreal quality as if it is a movie set but no, this is what it has looked like for centuries. 
Church With Bell

Lone Standing Wall With Modern Art

October 22, 2013


 By Maryanna Gabriel 

View From His Window
Vincent Van Gogh's Brushes

After visiting Arles, famous for Roman ruins and where Vincent Van Gogh was born, we went to St. Remy, to a cloister called Cloitre Saint Paul, where Van Gogh voluntarily “committed” himself for almost three years. The cloister was founded in the 5th century when a monk named Paul, planted his staff on the ground and it blossomed with white flowers. The mission down through the ages was to heal the sick and weary, with the nearby spring of Glanum reputed to have special properties. Here Van Gogh produced some of his finest and most beautiful work for there seemed here to me to be a special beauty and peace. Over 150 paintings and a 100 drawings were accomplished as he worked in the gardens. I walked into the room where he lived and the photo of the cloister is the view he had from his room. His brushes
Room Where He Lived
and satchel were on display as was a history of how they treated him and others with mental illness. It is thought Vincent Van Gogh might have been bipolar, he certainly suffered from poisoning as he ingested his highly toxic paint trying to get the beautiful colours inside of him in order to feel better. The setting of the cloister was further conveyed to me when we began our hike out into the forest behind it where Van Gogh would have walked, the very trees themselves seeming to shimmer. Perhaps Van Gogh thought he could manage and that he could not stay at the cloister forever but unfortunately he committed suicide within two months of leaving this nurturing place. 

October 19, 2013

Of Trogladytes Et Autre Villes Francais

Abbey Of Senanque

Trogladyte Dwelling In Cliff
We passed dwellings built right into cliffs. The people who live there were called troglodytes and these were troglodyte dwellings. I asked if they had “title” thinking they would be considered squatters but in actual fact the answer was that that they do have title even if it is in a national park. These houses are usually passed from one generation to the next and are very old. As we walked the Aigubrun River Canyon we passed several trogladyte homes as well as prehistoric caves that were inaccessible because of the steepness of the cliffs. The Abbey of Senanque we visited next had been there since the 11th century. We were asked to be quiet as the monks were actively living there. We walked through their lavender fields and visited their lovely shop. I admired wood carvings and was entranced by all the things they had made and were selling. We then ascended from the valley, the pathway treacherously stony, and headed for a very picturesque hamlet called Gordes. Here a local
Lovely Gordes
market was in full swing, I was again over the moon seeing huge cheeses, sausages, knives, baking, and wonderfully made goods. The famous Mistral was blowing very hard. Stones were placed to prevent the goods from blowing away and on the rooftops rocks held down tiles. This wind comes off the 
Mediterranean and it is said to drive people crazy at times. It blows very strong and sometimes goes for days before stopping. Gordes was a picture post card of a place, medieval in feeling, and was subject to intense German reprisal during the French Resistance of World War ll. Subsequently a lot of the damage has been repaired. I learned that the bell towers are supposed to be open in design and this was also the home of Marc Chagal, the famous glass artist. We finished the day in famous Rousillon, home of the ochre cliffs. Provence is famous for the colours of the buildings derived from the ochre. 

Ochre Cliffs Of Rousillon

October 15, 2013

Dejeuner Sur Les Herbes

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Anybody who makes cheese like this is my best friend."
Journal Entry

Our Guides

On the grass we quaffed back our lunch and what each of us had brought for a picnic and then pretty much uniformly as a group in not many minutes later were ready to move on. Some of us stood around pointedly and a bit restlessly. One thing was immediately apparent. This was Canadian. Our French guides were taking their time. They were not moving. "Every group is the same," Thierry shrugged. "By the end of the week, you will be drinking wine and slowing down. You will see." We watched fascinated as Thierry used his curved French knife to cut skillfully into a tomato to accompany his baguette. Suddenly it seemed apparent to me I wasn't giving this "picnique" planning the justice it clearly deserved. Our guides needed their petit cafe so then we had to go look for an expresso. You could tell we were starting to get the hang of this. Shops were all closed, tourists or not, and there we were sitting back, enjoying a tisane, an expresso, perhaps a pastiche, or a draught beer on tap. We listened to the languages around us, enjoyed the view, and relaxed into the art of conversation and exchanging pleasantries as the afternoon sun gathered heat beyond shuttered windows. We savoured the moment enjoying ourselves. We were learning. 

October 10, 2013

The Secret Staircase Of Fort Boux

By Maryanna Gabriel

Neolithic Site Near Fort Boux 
We walked through a Neolithic site that was stone age to a place called Fort Boux. We were all a bit entranced by the gate keepers house, charming pots of herbs, the shutters, the curtains, and we lingered there as the owner chased one of us out of his garden. Fort Boux overlooks an impressive canyon in the Aiguebrun Valley. Every century appeared to be represented. After we were all done some of us elected to follow our guide down the "secret staircase". Was that an experience. It was right out of Indiana Jones. Stones cut dramatically into a steep face wound treacherously down the mountainside and would have been invisible from marauders as it hugged
Fort Boux
a cleft. Exhilarated, we passed a small troupe of people and I looked right into a the eyes of a blonde, blue eyed, pink-faced man without thought. As we moved on our group erupted. "That was Rick Steves!" one of us exclaimed. Well. Well. Our guides have this lovely Gallic shrug accompanied by a pout of the lower lip. Some of us tried imitating it. "Who is this Rick Steves?" I responded, "He is an American travel writer who does television documentaries." The shrug. Apparently he hadn't called. A girl has to look her best on the trail. You never know who you are going to bump into.

October 9, 2013

Quiet Places We Were Passing

By Maryanna Gabriel

"There comes from her all joyous honesty...." Francesco Petrarch

Mouth Of The Sorgue

Shutters On Stone Houses
We were at the mouth of the Sorgue near Fountaine de Vaucluse. It seemed a lifeless and fairly dim pit filled with water but the marks on the cliff indicated times when the flow is very high. A charming treed river descended from the source which tourists strolled enjoying the peaceful sunlight filtered by the many trees. Petrarch lived in Fountaine de Vaucluse for a time. It would  have been restful in the treed streets with the nearby cooling waters. He was a poet laureate in the thirteenth century known for his love sonnets and being a renaissance man ahead of his time. We were quickly being exposed to the charming stone houses on terraced hillsides in our walks in the surrounding hamlets. Lace curtains, shutters, and flowers give life to the quiet places we were passing.

October 7, 2013

In Groggy Haze I Walk


By Maryanna Gabriel

In groggy haze I walk, not quite acclimated to the nine hour time change. I note how polite the Europeans seem to be. We shove. They say "pardon" if you bump into them. I am also grateful for the lack of signage and advertising. The muted and conservative tones heightened by soft pastels in the buildings are a visual reprieve. It is all so tasteful. We have French guides to steer by and at times we have to work as hard at communicating with them as they do with us. As we climb into the hills we are immediately assaulted by a torrential downpour and most of us are ready for it. Striding along, I take in the stone walls, the limestones on our path, the scent of the earth with rosemary, mint, and thyme. I am grateful for this kind of interface with the land and the elements. We come across a "borie". It is a stone house that is circular and very old. They were used for shepherds, travellers, and maybe truffle hunters, I am not altogether sure. I decided after being in one it wasn't really my thing as a wave of claustrophobia assailed me. A rather pronounced fear swiftly arose as I stared dubiously at the ceiling. It was certainly clear that the centuries old sleeping accommodation of choice was not for me. These bories were something we frequently came upon on our walks.

October 5, 2013

Isles Sur La Sorgue

Laced By Waterways
Populated By Pretty Restaurants
By Maryanna Gabriel

Amazingly, French words were tumbling out of my mouth as I negotiated trains, hotels, and meals as I traveled to southern France. When I was finally gathered into the Canadian fold in Isles Sur La Sorgue something in my began to relax. I felt like I was with old friends. Isles Sur La Sorgue was the heart of our journey in Provence. We would be walking in areas surrounding this southern town. It would seem I was with an entirely Canadian contingent as I was introduced to people from Charlottetown, Thunderbay, Waterloo, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, and Victoria. I was learning as much about my own country as I was about Provence. Isles Sur La Sorgue is very charming and is characterized by being laced with waterways
Historic Water Wheel
Dining Over The Sorgue
populated with pretty restaurants and is famous for antiques. Huge water wheels from days of yore used for dying cloth were visible in several places. As I took in the cheeses and pichets du vin of the house wine I began to melt with pleasure. I learned that rose is a specialty of Provence. It is not from mixing red with white wine but rather the white grape is allowed to ripen even further creating the pinkish hue. Food was worth taking time over and the flavourings done with great care and presented with artistry. I felt as if I had come home.

October 2, 2013

Of All The Gin Joints

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Of all the gin joints in the world, she had to walk into mine."
Movie "Casablanca"

It's the best airport I have seen and by now I have seen a few. Walking off the plane into the Vancouver airport my heart swells with pride. A river of water pours with a wash of sound, vast wooden carvings by Bill Reid and others mesmerize, beautiful Salish coloured weaving tantalize and wave in the moving air, trees and plants soothe while rising to glass where light pours in as escalators quietly convey one to an efficient and friendly customs populated by the cultural mosaic that is this country. Coming from Paris, the Charles De Gaulle Airport where the cool greys, muted signage, lack of manned information, and kiosks geared strictly to the French as opposed to an international perspective heightens my appreciation on this side of the world for what is home. I write to you now of my walks in Provence and Languedoc in southern France.

September 7, 2013

Sense Of It All

By Maryanna Gabriel

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Mark Twain

While vegetating has it's merits, and being still, a much touted spiritual quality, when it comes to travel, I confess, I don't need to do it the hard way. If someone wants to transport my bag, help me figure out where to stay, organize where the regional cuisine is whilst giving me a rundown of the area's history, it is just fine with me. I am going from Provence to Languedoc, through to the Spanish border mostly along the Mediterranean. I had tried once before to get to Southern France when I was twenty, my friend and I got rerouted from the Canary Islands, to the Spanish Sahara then across northern Africa, a surprise even to me, and I was the one doing the travelling. We survived unscathed and saw some amazing country and people as a result and were able to travel a lot longer surpassing even our own expectations. Southern France is to me a peculiar sense of returning to a memory when there shouldn't be one, a calling although no kin lives within, and a sense of the familiar when all is unknown. Alors, it is hard not to be a bit nervous at the onset for perhaps this sense of it all is sheer folly.

August 31, 2013

For Whom The Bell Tolls

By Maryanna Gabriel 

Southern France
As the season here on this island starts to turn I contemplate the thought that we travel for many reasons, sometimes it is a quest, a call of the spirit as a certain place might beckon, whispers and images that repeatedly occur until at last with a deep sigh we resign ourselves and connive on how to open the pocket book to make it so. At least this is how it is for me. Try as I might, as I gnawed away at the thought, I could not get myself to say yes to the Camino in Spain. When I wanted to years back I could not, and here we are now and my soul just says, but you hate crowds, you hate heat, you don’t relate to the point of the walk, or even to St. James. Right. Having read three books of those who have, spoken to a person who did, seen one movie and followed a blog, I had to resign myself to the truth, this bell was not tolling for me. If I wanted to walk I asked myself, where did I want to do it? Southern France, my soul said. Really, I replied. Good idea. Why not? So this is what I am doing. Staying true to one’s soul is the best way to sort through a lot.