Monday, March 12, 2012

La Sab . . . Dreaming of Castles?

Have you ever had the urge to be "in" a foreign country,
rather than just "passing through?"

War memorial and le Castellas on top of the hill

Closeup of Inscriptions:
"The commune of  

St Victor la Coste
whose children
died for their country
1914 - 1918"
Then those who died in WWII,
were added.

I’m sure you’ve gathered that I like love to travel to France. I go as often as I can. The greatest number of these trips has been with Jeanne Mills’ quilters tours.

Tours are a great thing for seeing all manner of sights and sites: quilt expositions (bien sûr); museums, large and famous, intimate and obscure; great cities and quaint villages, national wonders and grand vistas, rural and urban; great cathedrals and humble chapels. Concerts, films, markets, dégustations, animals. And walk, walk, walk.

Speaking in general, a tour is a "moving" thing: you’re passing through, looking at. And the people become set pieces, to cater to your needs, or, regrettably, to serve as a "typical" adjunct to the scenery. And you may gauge your impressions of the people of a country by these commercial encounters.

Many of Jeanne’s tours incorporate get-togethers with, for example, French quilters, or with American expats living in France who are doing projects of interest to us as quilters, such as fabric dyeing and photography.

But, more than once, I've wanted to be "in" the country, rather than passing through.

So if you, like me, ever have that urge to be "in" a country, if you've dreamed of building castles, let me tell you about one thing you can do: volunteer at La Sabranenque, Saint-Victor la Coste, France, to "participate, discover and learn the traditional building techniques at an international volunteer project."

The door to my little room

I describe toward the end of "What Was She Thinking?" about how I came to spend two weeks in a Summer Volunteer Program at La Sab, an interlude in Nice, then one more week in a Volunteer and Visit session during September/October of 2004.

My blue door and its neighbors

I’ve wanted to go back, but I’m afraid I’m no longer up to the physical demands. I was 67 back then, yet there were people even older, so age is not a disqualifying criterion.

Some pictures from my stay:

Looking at the town from le Castellas.
Among other things, volunteers constructed buildings in the lower half of the photo to house their successors and others.

A broader view of the town
The flat mountain in the close distance was site of Julius Caesar’s encampment. Tools in the foreground are for mixing mortar to be used in trail improvement.

Mortar preparation

The tower was rebuilt by volunteers.
In my second session there, I worked on an excavation below and left of the tower.

Entrance to the excavation area. That’s me.

Our group . . .
. . . looking inside a chapel within le Castellas restored by earlier volunteers.

Vineyards outside of town

"Garrigue" to the southwest of le Castellas . . .
. . . a type of low, soft-leaved scrubland found on limestone soils around the Mediterranean Basin, generally near the seacoast . . . earliest cited 1546, from Provençal . . . wikipedia.   And Pascal, project technician, diploma of stone cutter, project leader, and he’ll greet you at the train station

Our crew at work on upgrading the trail to le Castellas

Ginou teaches me to patch a hole in a wall.

Assembling for lunch . . . meals taken here

At the end of every meal

On an outing to Arles, we decide to make a picnic in the forest for lunch.

"Ginou" describes to us (in French) how this cave
was used in times past for religious services.

Henri Gignoux
Director of La Sabranenque International Center, co-founder of the association, has a French national degree in direction of group projects. He has obtained several French National awards and medals for his long dedication, of 40 years, to the preservation of French heritage. Ginou will work with the participants on the various work projects, offering his expertise while training the volunteers in the traditional building techniques.

Summer volunteer program: in two-week sessions between June 4 through Sept. 22, 2012
Volunteer sessions:
Provençal Cooking   May 7-12
Volunteer & wine exploration in the Côtes du Rhône region   May 21-26
Volunteer & visit in Provence   May 14-19 and Oct. 8-13
Volunteer, hike and discover in Provence   May 28-June 2 and Oct. 1-6

Lots more details and pictures at La Sabranenque's website and leave me a comment if you check it out.

See you soon.


  1. Amazing pictures, and what a great opportunity! Sometimes I wish I had the travel bug pre-baby so I could do these kind of things but there's always after the nest is emptied.

  2. I'm totally envious of your travels. What fun! Love your photos, too. Especially your blue door photos. Very very lovely.

  3. Lee,
    This is a fantastic piece. I love your photos and the arm chair traveling we have done with you here - especially the tidbit about Caesar's camp. I suppose getting your hands into the actual soil of France is one of the reasons it resonates so strongly with you. I'd love to do this sometime and will save these links.

  4. We were just talking about this! I would love to go see this place. It sure looks like you had a great time and your photos are wonderful (love the one with the plate of delicious cheese). What a great experience and it's one that everyone should be lucky enough to have. Make sure next time you are 'passing through' that you let me know:)
    Ashley (backyardprovence)
    BTW- I had to comment as anonymous. Your comment board didn't like me today :(