The Saignon village fountain. You expect Yves Montand to stroll around the corner at any time.

Our Tuesday hiking group visited the tiny village of Saignon, and rambled along country tracks around the area.

Saignon village (1064 inhabitants) extends over an area of 1960 hectares, and looks over  the right bank of the Calavon river to the foothills of the Luberon. The village is situated overlooking the bigger town of Apt.

It is built on a rocky outcrop, which is the identifying mark of the village, along with the clock tower and the Church.  The Church was built in the late Middle Ages, and was a special place of pilgrimage for all of Provence but also for all those who went to Rome using the Via Domitia and pilgrims from Italy making their way to Saint-Jacques de Compostela.

Saignon attracts a fair amount of visitors each year but does not suffer from over-commercialism. Unfortunately, the one hostelry has just closed down and the locals are holding their breaths that someone will pop up and re-open it again. It is situated in a most beautiful courtyard with a fountain straight from  Jean de Florette.

 

A beautifully restored house in Saignon

 

Peeping through the ramparts down into the valley below

 

The Saignon ramparts

 

Part of Saignon village

 

More this afternoon…….

 

Cherries..cherries

 

Roses at Bastide les Amis

 

More roses, this time at twilight near Roussillon

Newly planted lavender field encircles a borie near Saignon

 

Poppies start to peep out near St Panteleon, in the Luberon Valley

Markets are in full swing – literally! These two stall holders decide to serenade themselves at the end of the Coustellet market.

 

Garlic ready to go

The first cherries of spring. Walk along the byways of the Luberon Valley and pick as you walk!

Rosesare blooming everywhere. A taste of what is to come!

Yes! The poppies are out!

Poppy field in the Luberon Valley

 

After the Parade, guests and families are invited to move behind the barrack lines and sample culinary offerings from the Legionaires and a variety of stalls and activities put on by the various companies and groupings to raise funds and to showcase their skills.

Initially, we felt that the 6€ charge for ‘vin’ was a bit steep, but when it transpired that that was for a bottle, not a glass, we felt better. At 2€ a pint bottle, beer was plentiful and cheap. Food was not gastronomic, mainly chips and…., but very edible and wholesome.

Unarmed combat, night vision, obstacle courses mixed with more traditional fun fair activities such as carousels, bungy jumping, smacking the boxing ball and dodgem cars. Legionaries showed immense patience with the many children present and it as a realy festive ‘school fete’ atmosphere.

 

The Memorial pillars for the fallen at the end of the parade ground.

 

One of the fun activities for kids was an inside obstacle course

 

Here we go!

 

The crawling net! Makes the kids really tired. Wonderful.

 

We hard a familiar language – Afrikaans being spoken by a Legionaire and his family. An obligatory photo opp with one of the 5 South Africans in this regiment.

 

Part 2 continues:

The march past commences withthe band of the Paris-based Fire Brigade in the background. Wearing of beards by slected Legionaires for this day is traditional.

 

A platoon of Engineers in their historical parade get up of leather aprons and carrying axes instead of modern firearms. The balance of the Regiment carried their combat weapons. note the beards.

 

The Legion has a very slow and distinctive march – accompanied by deep singing voices gives a surreal air

 

Smartly turned out and very exact.

 

After the parade we had a renactment of the actual Battle of Cameróne. Here is the ‘Legion side’ in their ancient uniforms and rifles

 

The Mexicans are under attack! But we kept to history and the sombrero brigade triumphed.

 

The companies start to form up for the Parade.

Our enduring fascination with the French Foreign Legion took a fun turn when we were invited to accompany some friends to the annual ‘Camerón Day’ – a day when the normally secretive Legion throws open its doors to friends and family for a parade, fund-raising events and general merriment.

The open Days are held on 30 April and 1 May each year with the major parade on 30 April. Some bases are more secretive than the others and demand for places is high. At Aubagne, the Legion HQ, for example, you have to write in and apply and it’s a difficult entry. However, our contacts took us to Laudun in the Var, the HQ of the 1st Regiment Engineers – a combat engineering regiment. Another option could be Saint Cristol base high up on the Sault plateau – the Engineers HQ. entry is on a first come, first served with preference to ‘friends and famly’. Get there early! And, when the Legion says that they start at 10h00, it really is 10h00!

The Battle of Camarón  occurred on 30 April 1863 between the Legion and the Mexican army, and is regarded as a defining moment in the Foreign Legion’s history. A small infantry patrol, led by Captain Jean Danjou (who had a wooden hand fom an earlier battle) and Lieutenants Clément Maudet and Jean Vilain, numbering just 65 men was attacked and besieged by a force that may have eventually reached 3,000 Mexican infantry and cavalry, and was forced to make a defensive stand at the nearby Hacienda Camarón, in Veracruz, Mexico. The conduct of the Legion, who refused to surrender, led to a certain mystique — and the battle of Camarón became synonymous with bravery and a fight-to-the-death attitude. Only two Legionaries survived and when they were captured, they asked the Mexican Commander if they could be released and accompany Captain Danjou’s body back to France for burial. The Mexican agreed, saying “how can I refuse them? They are not people, they are devils!”

 

On the left is the guest band, the Fire Brigade from Paris – a military unit.

 

The Colour Party arrives

 

In the foreground, the Commanding Officer arrives to control the parade.

 

The Inspecting Generals march towards the Officer Commanding to start the Legion review

 

After a short medal parade, the veterans march out with their colours and line up for the march past

 

More to-morrow……….

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