In all the years I’ve been coming to Provence, I’ve never been to Boulbon, which is strange as it’s a mere twenty minute drive from where I’m staying. Looking in my notebook to see what can be said about today’s visit, I see that the first thing I wrote was ‘there’s a good view from the cemetery’. Fortunately, there’s a bit more to the place.
Eventually, you’ll come across this fourteenth century carving. Most of the depictions of saints in this tiny part of the world are either of St Eloi or St Roch. This, however, is St Christopher with his feet submerged as he carries the Christ child across the Rhone. As we know, folk round here are keen on the story of Jesus being born in Provence, so maybe this is somehow related.
Probably the main reason for a visit to the village is to see the eleventh century feudal fortress come chateau. It’s been added to and updated over the centuries, to accommodate the vagaries of the war machine but, today, is largely ruined. A quick perusal of any relevant literature will inform tourists that you can’t get in due to private ownership and the instability of the joint. That doesn’t mean you can’t try.
I find a street that turns into a path which becomes a track and make a torturous ascent. I say torturous not because I don’t like hills or the way is both stony and slippery, but because of the crowds. Down in the village, with high noon approaching, there was barely a living soul to be seen. Up here, just as I was negotiating a particularly difficult step past the last tumble-down house in near-civilisation, I suddenly find a man with a small child in one arm close on my tail.
Bonjour, I say, clinging onto a tree in order that he can pass. Bonjour, he replies. I stagger upwards behind him only to hear the snapping of twigs behind. Turning round, I see a woman who’s even older than me virtually on all fours. Bonjour, I say. Bonjour, she replies and begins to speak some impenetrable language that she clearly thinks is French and I know isn’t. She’s trying to ask if I’m with the man and the baby.
Now, we seem to have formed some sort of rambling troupe in which no-one knows where they’re going. No sooner have we re-grouped than two more climbers appear. Bonjour, we all say politely to each other and make suggestive noises and grunts regarding the castle.
I forgot to mention an ancient woman had emerged from the shack with two bin-bags full of dead foliage and weeds. She looks up the path. Bonjour, we all say but she glares at us. She doesn’t seem overly happy at so many idiots passing by her house, all of whom, it transpires, have English as their first language despite coming from a variety of countries. Of course, none of us get anywhere near the castle: some of us realise broken ankles are in the offing and others just get fed up with it all and lose the will to live. I begin my descent and pass the withered old crone again with two more bags of weeds that she’s surreptitiously dumping somewhere or other. I don’t speak.
Once I get back down, I wander across to the other side of the village and begin climbing another hill. This one leads to the cemetery via St Marcellin’s Chapel to which it’s adjoined. It’s difficult to find anything about St Marcellin that doesn’t involve cheese so I don’t know who he was. His twelfth century chapel is built on the site of an earlier edifice and is, of course, shut. It’s a mystery to me why all the interesting chapels are never open whilst all the boring churches never seem to close their doors.
Close to hand, I can see the windmill but it’s not THE windmill, renovated and complete with sails, that can be seen from the road below the village. That windmill has completely disappeared so I make my way to the second best option
This involves another climb through the terraced cemetery where the grandest tombs are right at the top, nearer to God. They remind me of a row of ornate beach huts.
Finally, I reach the top and see the ‘proper’ windmill in the distance. The views up here are amazing and worth the climb. But now it’s surely time for lunch. In the Café du Commerce, where all the local workmen are eating, I join them in a chicken curry which is dish of the day. It bears little resemblance to the curry at home but it’s very tasty.