Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wine country

The land around Marseille is rough limestone with a skim of clay soil, supporting scrub pines and bunchy weeds. It's obviously poor agricultural land; you couldn't herd anything but goats on it; but it's pure gold for the cultivation of grapes and olives. Here's a view of the vineyards (right middle ground) from the fortified hill town of Le Castellet (AOC Bandol, if you want to know):


The vineyards sometimes use tall, narrow cypress trees, or Lombardy poplars, which have much the same vertical habit, as hedgerows. This seems to produce an unnecessarily high hedge, but it is very scenic. It is also a popular region for the fancy homes of the very rich, as in the left foreground (note swimming pool).

The town itself was very pleasant, with medieval walls:


and shady, narrow streets:


Lavender and rosemary grew everywhere, often interspersed with wild poppies. This particular fortified town is developed for tourism (meaning there is some parking, and most of the shops sell Provencal specialties like artisanal olive oil, lavender, Marseille soap, and of course wine). Still, it's a remarkable old town. The narrowness of the streets is purely medieval, of course, and the limestone of the walls and cobbles makes it seem to have grown organically from the bluff on which it is situated.

The coast is marked by "calanques," basically fjords in the limestone sea cliffs, which are amazing geological formations. This one isn't limestone but an outcropping of pudding stone at La Ciotat. From across the bay it looks like the Sydney Opera House.


We also stopped in the town of Cassis, namesake of a Honolulu restaurant started by a Marseillais of Greek descent, and wandered its narrow streets:


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