A classic. Two 80-year olds discussing the music for a luncheon – all on vinyl, naturally. Ravi Shankar or Santana? Ravi won!
The vast majority of Provençal villages have a ‘carriere’. A local quarry which supplies stone to builders, gardeners and local proprietors. It is always good to use ‘local’ stone when building!
We had to visit our local carriere last week and were reminded of this article which appeared in a South African magazine in 2013 –
Les Carrieres de Provence – the Quarries of Provence
The rolling vines, orchards, medieval villages, and spectacular scenery which dominate the world-renowned Provence/Cote dAzur region of Southern France have been a magnet for hundreds of thousands of tourists. However, these attractions are only part of the story. Dotted throughout the area are signs which probably only resonate with the locals but can be fascinating to the visitor.
The Carriere is the local quarry and each village or district has their own.
French law dictates that these enterprises are all family-owned and each family is given a one hundred year licence. The Provence/Cote d’Azur region spans from Mount Ventoux (famed for its King of the mountains leg in the Tour de France) in the west to the Italian border in the east. However, it is in the Vaucluse department comprising an area of approximately 300 square kilometers from Mount Ventoux to Aix-en-Provence where there is the greatest concentration.
There are over 30 quarries in this area all mining the local stone – limestone and the equally famous ocher. Many of the smaller quarries have been mined out over the centuries but still remain as processing points for the stone coming from the larger and more active quarries.
The processing quarry is the hub of all construction work in Provence. Stories are legendary, many movies and documentaries have been made about the challenges of renovating in building in this area – most of them true! Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence is the best example of the hazards of dealing with French artisans. For the more romantic, the movie ‘A Good Year’ starring Russell Crowe is a reference.
The Carriere supplies all the stone work for construction. Whether it is paving materials, stone cladding, ornamental pieces or major construction blocks, all roads lead to the Carriere.
Local builders are careful to use the Carriere closest to the building site. Apart from being the most economical (transport is expensive), the local stone is more suited to adapt in the environment.
Provence is an area which ‘should’ be semi-desert – its climate is synonymous with this type of topography. However, superb water management pioneered centuries ago by the Romans and perfected over the years by the locals has ensured that this is a green oasis and water is in great abundance. When the winter strikes, there are great differences in temperature and consequent stress on the natural materials.
In summer, the limestone paving around the pool remains cool under the blazing sun and has the added advantage of being ‘non-slip’ – no additives required. Many locals will nod sagely when they hear their ex-pat neighbour lamenting the collapse or cracking of their precious fountain or pool paving during a particularly severe frost. “Ah yes, but you did not use the local Carriere!” is muttered from behind a large scarf and a wet, well-chewed home-rolled cigarette.
The Carriere too makes copious use of the water. Our Carriere, Serre Freres, maintain that by using large amounts of water, coupled with a firm steel saw driven at high speed by enormous turbines, “we cut through your stone like the knife in the butter”. As family owned businesses, the local carriere is typically managed by a husband, wife, children and parent team. There’s nothing they don’t know about the local stone and how to treat it. A typical discussion is ‘do you treat the beautiful stone staircase which has just cost you 6,000 euros’? No says our local Carriere’s wife, Yes says the Carriere who is 2km away on the other side of the Luberon valley.
Who do you believe? We listened to the local lady – we want to continue doing business with her! Serre Freres have had their licence since 1973 and work with 15 different types of limestone – their descendants have their careers mapped out for them as this licence only expires in 2073.
The products produced are numerous. Even Christmas decorations are created and produced from the limestone – tiny replica trees. Popular are gate posts and the quintessential Provencal fireplace. Each fireplace is cut by hand and then the exact proportions chiseled to perfection. An example of pricing is that a fireplace sells for an average of E4,600 plus a delivery charge of E600. At approximately R11 to the Euro, that’s a hefty price in South Africa but affordable by French standards.
Each person employed at the Carriere as an artisan is just that – an artist. Apart from limestone, the other major product mined in Provence is ocher. This area is the last remaining one in Europe and is situated in the areas of Gargas, Rustrel and Roussillion (a 15km enclave in the Luberon valley). These deposits have been registered by the French government as Strategic and Historical. Ochers are still used to dye the famous Provencal fabrics and clothing. The colours range from pale yellow to intense red.
Like the limestone open-cast mining and processing, ocher extraction at the Luberon quarries is a well-controlled mining process, paying strict attention to the environment. Air pollution is prevented by the use of dust removal devices installed in the factory’s chimneys to clean the smoke before it is released into the air. Once again, water plays a part. A high volume is necessary to clean the ocher. Running in closed circuits allows for cleaning and recycling of this water. The separated sand, when not sold for different purposes, is returned to its original site.
In both cases of mining, extraction is done by machine and employs the technique of terracing to maintain structural integrity. Mined sites are then rebuilt with their original top layer of soil. If you’re travelling in Provence, make a detour when you see those road signs “Carriere” – it’ll be worth it.
Simon and Lovonne Burrow have settled in Menerbes after living in Cape Town and Melbourne. Simon is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Lovonne is a publisher. They have been renovating their property for the past two years and know their way around the local Carriere intimately. For more information on their property visit: www.bastidelesamis.com
Happy Australia Day to all our friends and readers in Oz. Enjoy the prawns and the barbie!!
Nostradamus once said: “Ménerbes is like a ship rising from a sea of vines”.
The inspiration for his quote, made when he was a General Medical Practioner in St Remy-de-Provence in 1503-1566 is here…..
We paid another visit a month later – and the standard was just as good!
For the past 4 years, a young Belgian couple, Niels and Virgine, have owned Auberge des Carrieres in Les Taillades.
Close to Cavaillon, Les Taillades merits a detour to discover a medieval village which has kept its charm and offers pleasant walks. (It is a classified village).
Once upon a time Les Taillades was an important stone quarrying centre. The quarries were abandoned at the end of the XIX° century and have now been transformed into an open air theater where dance, theater and concerts are held in August each year.
Go as far as the XIX° century Saint-Pierre mill, to see its large water wheel used in times gone by to mill flour. The mill is not a working mill but its water wheel still helps the waters of the Carpentras canal to flow by.
The marvellous landscapes which surround the village are protected as Taillades is within the Luberon regional park.
During your walks you’ll discover and appreciate a variety of flora species as well as the subtle perfumes of the mediterranean and the aromatic plants typical of the “garrigue”… and of course, don’t forget (in summer…) you’ll be accompanied by the song of the cicadas.
and the food.. sublime!
To book at Auberge es Carrieres, click here.