Léoncel near Valence – Romanesque church

On Wednesday, 5th of June 2019, we drive back to Switzerland, with a break in Léoncel in the Vercors mountains.

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Approaching the Vercors mountains

After an overnight stay in the practical IBIS hotel of Valencia, we cross the Rhone valley and the Vercors mountains are ahead of us.

The Vercors mountains belong to the Western Pre-Alps. Their highest peak reaches 2341m. The mountains consist of four districts that are separated by cliffs and canyons. These rough mountains were one of the strongholds of French resistance in the Second World War. Now it is a natural reserve that tourists come to for hiking, climbing, cross country skiing and skiing.

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Looking back into the Rhone valley around Valence

Our car climbs uphill, hairpin bend by hairpin bend. We look back down to the Rhone valley around Valence…

… hiding behind grass and blue flowers.

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Reaching the high lands of the Vercors

We definitively leave the Rhone valley at the Col des Limouches – at 1086m above sea level.

We are now in the Vercors. Meadows around us and in the background more steep mountains.

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Approaching Léoncel

In these secluded and rough mountains, the Cistercians founded a monastery in the 12th century.

Donkeys and horses welcome us on the meadow in front of the church.

The well-kept garden with yellow lilies leads to the entry gate.

We enter the church.

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Inside the church of Léoncel

As it is typical for the Cistercians, the church is sober inside. Five ribbed vaults in the nave. Some adornments on the chapters of the columns. The oculus above the choir symbolizes God. Or, as the panel in the church says, it is to remind us that we adore one single God. The arch that partially hides the oculus, remains from the former one nave church that ended there.

In front there is a modern ambo that has been selected with care. A panel explains that the stone comes from Tavel. Engraved is a curved cross, giving it a dynamic aspect.

An octagonal cupola covers the crossing.

We find some artefacts such as this icon of the Madonna and her Son.

In the church we had noticed the tomb slab of an abbot that froze in the cold winter of the Vercors. Indeed, the Cistercians have selected a rough place for their monastery.

Near the entry I find this religious panel written in French. It is difficult to translate the elegance of the French language.

Let me try nevertheless:

What did you come to see in Léoncel?
A lost place wiped by the wind?
Well, what did you come to see?
Stones placed harmoniously
on top of one another?
But much more than stones!
Will you be able to hear them breathe
conveying the singing and silence of a thousand years?
Will you be able to find the praying and the belief of the men
hidden in each of them?
Will you try to detect which Presence lives in them?
Will you not drink from the source of the Word of God?
If you would like to understand,
it is this Word that the stones testify.

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Leaving Léoncel

The sun enlightens the pentagonal central apsis, the two smaller apsides and the tower from the south east – it is still morning.

I walk around…

… and uphill.

I say good-bye to this church that has withstood the obstacles of the Vercors mountains for a thousand years.

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Driving home with one last lunch stop in Voiron

We continue driving north and have our last lunch stop in Voiron (Département Isère). The Rossignol skis are produced in Voiron, as I learn. We have a light meal – salad with fish – in the Café de l’Europe. The friendly servant says that the manager speaks German and does not like to write menu cards – that is why they do not have any… and indeed, the manager comes from the Black Forest and has lived here in France for many years.

We spend one last night with our friends in Monthey in the Valais – and then, after more than five weeks, we are back at home to unpack, to wash and to meet neighbours and friends.

Empordá with its rich heritage from the past

Monday, June 5th 2019, our quiet days on the sunny balcony with the view of the Mediterranean sea are over. From Hospitalet, we head north towards Switzerland, with two breaks, the first in the Empordá (still in Spain or, more precisely, in Catalonia) and the second in Valence (France). Let me start with the Empordá region.

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Romanesque churches – there are many, many of them in Northern Catalonia and also here in the Empordá 

The publication “Routen der Romanik in Katalonien” (edited by the Generalitat de Catalunya) promises three Romanesque churches around Bisbal, in Cruilles, in Canapost and in Sant Julià de Boada. We find another one in Peratallada.

Our first target is Cruilles with the church Sant Miquel, located amidst fertile wheat fields.

It is a former Benedictine monastery from the 11th century built in Lombardic style.

We continue our route through fields surrounded by poppies,…

… have lunch in La Bisbal de Empordà and continue to Peratallada, where we find another Romanesque church, Sant Esteve with this “wall” belfry, where the bells hang side by side.

Sant Esteve is late Romanesque from the 13th century.

But… what we really look for is the Preromanesque church Sant Julià de Boada. Finding it requires quite some persistence. There is the villlage called Sant Julià de Boada, and there are no signs directing us to that church. We oscillate around the village, continue to Sant Feliú de Boada, turn back to the village Sant Julià de Boada – it MUST be here! The church has got the same name: Sant Julià de Boada ! We enter something that looks like a dead-end street, are about to take another turn… and – unexpectedly – I see this.

“Could it be that this is, what we are looking for?” I ask. We both hop out of our car to explore this unimposing church.

The entry door shows the form of a horseshoe pointing to the Visigoths. Inside there are more arches in horseshoe shape that Ursula carefully photographs across the mirroring glass door.

We are happy – finally we found this Preromanesque gem. And then, what a mishap, then we lose part of “our” paper “Routen der Romanik in Katalonien” published by the Generalitat de Catalunya that we take so much care of. Some kilometers away, we discover the mishap – half of “our” paper is missing. We drive back to this small Visigothic church – and there we find the other half of “our” paper on the pavement. We are happy, as we plan to visit more Romanesque churches in Northern Catalonia – we have not seen all of them so far, and “our” paper of the Generalitat is a very useful guide.

Our next Romanesque church is Sant Esteve in Canapost.

Behind the church we find the necropolis from medieval times (14/15th century). The church was built in the 9th/10th century (rectangular shape, Preromanesque) and extended in the 11th/12th century (Romanesque apsis and belfry of Lombardian style). The modest main entry (see above) is from the 18th century and remained incompleted.

There are sculptured heads above the windows of the belfry.

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Medieval small city Peratallada

Between visiting the pretty churches, we enjoy the medieval city of Peratallada that has kept its appearance from the 16th century. Peratallada may come from “pedra tailada” which means “carved stone”.

Across a deep ditch carved into the rock (7m deep), we enter the city through the Portal de la Virgen.

Narrow streets,…

… cosy restaurants,…

… this castle adorned with the Bougainvillea in full bloom…

… and there is more to see such as medieval towers, squares with vaults along narrow streets. Perhaps a little too many shops and too many restaurants. I am sure, in summer, this small town is busy with tourists that take a break from the beaches nearby.

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Sant Martí de Empúries – beaches and medieval village with many restaurants

It is late afternoon. Enough sightseeing for today. We drive to Sant Martí de Empúrias, where we have booked a room in the Hotel Riomar, north of Sant Martí. The Riomar may have been built by the friendly elderly couple that still runs it today. The pool and the garden DO welcome children, as the inflated swan illustrates.

The garden has been planted with much care. There is even a tennis court and there are ping pong tables. But they are at the brink of decay.

The rooms – and that is important to us – have been nicely refurbished and, from our room, we have a nice view of the sea .

We have a delicious dinner in the hotel Riomar. Everything cooked a la plancha (barbecued), but never before have I had such juicy and tasty grilled vegetables and fish.

We are so close to the beach that I feel like an early morning walk, when the rising sun starts to hide behind some clouds.

I am not alone. People walk their dogs along the beach.

I enjoy the symphony in blue and purple…

… and reach the small city of Sant Martí, located on a rock above the beach. This was an island that became the first Greek trading settlement in 600 BC. Later the Greek transferred their city to the main land which is now Ampurias. In the mean time nature has connected the island of Sant Martí, with the main land…

… and the medieval city of Sant Martí has replaced the first settlement of the Greeks. The Plaza Mayor is full of restaurants.

Not far from here is a famous bird reserve. This hoopoe (Wiedehopf) is currently visiting the small town. I have never seen a hoopoe before, what a beautiful bird!

I return to the beach, …

… and to the hotel Riomar. It serves breakfast in the garden – what a nice atmosphere.

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Ampurias – Greek and Roman settlement

“Our” Allemann (who wrote the DuMont Kunstführer) has visited Ampurias, this Greek-Roman settlement, in 1980 (Fritz René Allemann and Xenia v. Bahder, “Katalonien und Andorra”, DuMont Buchverlag Köln 1980). He tells us that not much is left and that it is difficult to imagine the former grandeur of the Greek and Roman cities. In the meantime, the Catalans have installed a video center that tells the history and they have placed explanatory panels all over that explain what may have been here before (often though, they are also not a hundert percent sure).

The Greeks founded Emporion on the former island of Sant Martí (they called it “Palaiapolis”), and later they founded Neapolis on the main land. From Neapolis, foundations are left, with this magnificent view of the Mediterranean.

Famous is the statue of Asklepios, the god of medicine. The statue is a copy, the original is in the archaeological museum of Barcelona.

Does Asklepios not have a magnificent view of the sea?

What might he think about the cities that arose around the bay and grew with the tourists. This is the view of l’Escala, taken not far away from Asklepios.

It was in Emporion, where Scipio landed in 218 BC to attack Hannibal from behind. In 195 BC, Cato started to subdue the Iberian tribes from here. And later, Caesar had the Roman city Ampuriae built above the former Greek settlement of Emporion. Retired soldiers lived here. We stroll along the remains of the Cardo and the Decumanus between the mosaics that decorated the Roman villas.

Ursula dreams of being a Roman soldier in retirement that was so lucky to be sent here with this gorgeous view of the sea.

We now say good-bye and drive north, to France. In France, we plan to stay one more night in Valence and visit another Romanesque church, Léoncel.