Dark Caves to Bright Lights

Our autumn in France started with a few days in Marseille.  We went under the sea to mysterious caves.  Actually we took a tour at Cosquer, a replica of the caves discovered by Henri Cosquer in 1985, 37 meters beneath sea level in the Mediterranean Sea along the Calanques.  This is an area between Marseille and Cassis with rocky inlets and towering limestone cliffs.  At the base of these cliffs Cosquer found connecting caves with walls covered with handprints, engravings, tools and drawings of bisons, horses, penquins and other animals from approximately 30,000 years ago. The caves have been authenticated, and because of the rising sea they may no longer be available to enter.  By using 3D maps they have been replicated for us to learn about life at that time.

The 35-minute exploration tour begins by entering a submersible to descend (by elevator) to the caves.  We are provided with an audio guide while seated on exploratory vehicles which describes in each cave the artifacts on the walls lighted as we proceed through the caves.  The building consists of three levels, the under the sea for the tour and the above two levels for learning about the life of that period.  There are life sized stuffed animals, digital and audiovisual diagrams showing the water levels then and now reflecting the climate changes, and the means of transportation that were used. There is also a restaurant and a store for purchasing memorabilia.


The next day we stayed above ground and visited the Marseille Soap Museum.  The soaps are made with 72% olive oil.  The current location was once a King’s arsenal.  You will discover by representations, photographs and diagrams of the original making of soap.  There is also a workshop with a demonstration of the steps and machines used. The original soap was pure with no added scents.  The same as what Cleopatra was using, the color of olive oil.  Unappealing for today’s tourist market, but the original green is still available Afterwards you can actually make your own bar of soap.  Then go to the smelling station and test your sense of smell and see if you tell if the soap contains lavender, roses, lilac, vermilion, etc.  Next door is a store for purchasing your favorite soaps and other related items.

This autumn we decided to extend our stay in our village L’Isle sur la Sorgue until mid-December to enjoy some of the Christmas festivities and customs.  November 24 is the opening date of the Christmas market, set up at the Public Garden along the canal.  The market consists of about 20 “chalets” some displaying the artisans’ handicrafts, and other chalets for purchasing refreshments including hot soups, cheeses, burgers, oysters, and of course hot and cold drinks.  We bought a cone full of freshly roasted chestnuts – YUM! A tall tree is made out of sparkling blue and clear triangles topped with a glittering snowflake-like star and can even be seen from across the canal.  There is also a chalet where children can meet and have a photo with Père Noel (Santa).  In the center is a handmade replica of the village.  The santons (little saints) are small painted figurines that represent the likeness of the gardener, carpenter, baker, farmer, butcher and good friends, and are represented throughout the Provençal village scene.

As the weather was getting colder we were welcomed to order a glass of vin chaud (hot wine) in many of the bistros as we strolled around taking photos of the beautifully decorated store fronts.  Also, there were bright lights strung overhead on the streets and even strung across the canal. At the esplanade Robert Vasse there is a lighted archway to view the canal lights and next to it is a brightly colored mailbox for the children to deposit their letters to Père Noel.

On December 9 (first Saturday of December) the Fête de Lumiere (festival of lights) occurs.  There are band parades roving though the village with batucada (a percussive type of Samba music that is fast paced and repetitive, and noisy!) and other styles of music.  Following along with the bands are stilt walkers dressed like angels. And finally there is a light show illuminating the sky.

We departed two days later but were glad we stayed and enjoyed all the en‘lightening’ activities.