Friday, August 12, 2011

STAMP: Evenos, France

Little known to outsiders, Evenos is a tiny medieval village north of Toulon that is perched on a rocky hill. It dominates the countryside for miles and has a 360 degree view above the gorges that surround it. So does it's sister village, Ste-Anne d'Evenos, across the valley (left). From a small viewpoint, I could see the port of Toulon, granite outcroppings, a marble quarry, and a scatter of big Provencale homes clinging to the sides of the steep slopes. Evenos is 1500' high.

We drove the back roads from Aix and wound our way through hills forested with Pin Pignon and the scrubby oak trees and a few small villages. We were in Bandol country so the valley floors were wall to wall vineyards that produce my favourite rose of Provence.

You could smell the heat the moment you left the car to climb a short way to the village entrance. The tightly-packed, ivy covered buildings are below and a part of the castle walls. So narrow in parts, I could touch either side of the alleyways between the buildings with my arms stretched out. No cars here! The fifteen houses are built of stone with thick walls, and roofed with terracotta tiles.

Evenos has a long, long history that includes the Romans, Crusaders, Saracens, and Knights Templar.  Woven through this are legends, myths, miracles, disasters and many superstitions. Here the church is also fortified and dates back to about 900 CE when the first castle/fort was constructed of wood. After several sackings, the inhabitants built a second set of ramparts, but they are gone now - their position marked only by a pathway around the castle. Sadly for me, this path was closed and it is from this that good photos can be taken of the castle.

The castle, rebuilt in the 11th century, is the only one I've seen that incorporates the giant granite boulders that were there from time immemorial. It looks as if it has grown upwards out of the rock like some giant rugged plant. The 10th century engineers must have known what they were doing! The dungeon was at the top and the living quarters, below. When the population grew, houses were built attached to the lower part of the castle walls.

All ancient castles should have a ghost, and Evenos is no exception. Her name is Sybille and she walks near the remains of the White Tower on stormy nights. Her brutish husband threw her out of a window when he caught her in flagrante delicto with a minstrel ....

The only store in Evenos is a small cooperative selling artisanal products from nearby. You climb down a few steps to enter it and can browse the honey, jams, pates, soaps and a few postcards. Obviously this is a new venture in the village and is nicely renovated deep among the stone walls of an old house.

We timed our visit so we could have lunch in the only restaurant in Evenos. La Voute, or archway, can seat about sixteen people on the terrace, which is on the edge of a precipice. We had a table by the railing and looked across a heavily treed gorge. We looked down on the roofs of a handful of homes o utside the village walls. Although hot, we were cooled by a breeze and sat under an orange umbrella. The owner's grandchildren played quietly by a couch which was the bar. Lunch is prix fixe at 15 Euros per person with two choices for the main course. We had fried brie salad with prosciutto and it was filling and delicious. A pichet of Bandol rose was our wine and fromage blanc sitting on a bed of warm baked apples was dessert. Reservations are essential here as the locals love it.

IMAGES: (c) Julie H. Ferguson 2011
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