Saint Raphael in the south of France is today a typical suburban town on the edge of the Meditteranean, with all the usual modern conveniences including a TGV stop en route to Nice. Which is certainly nice for us (pun intended). Between Saint Raphael and Fréjus (which share a waterfront), there are shopping centers and golf courses and everything you might want or expect for a comfortable daily life.
But Saint Raphael also has an "old town" (and Fréjus is even older, dating back to Roman times) which I always like to walk through when I'm there. I can't seem to get enough of that Provençal village thing, and sometimes I fantasize about what it might be like to live in an old Provençal village full time. Would I be bored senseless, or would life be more like a Peter Mayle book? Tough call; the best of both worlds would be a renovated mas (farmhouse) in the Provençal countryside (or possibly a villa overlooking the sea) complete with swimming pool for those blistering hot summer days, and also keeping an apartment in Paris, and having the luxury of being able to go back and forth as we like. Well, maybe some day.
For now, I content myself with taking pictures whenever I'm in the old town at Saint Raphael (or any other village center in Provence).
The old church tower with wrought-iron bell support; in Provence, with the strong wind known as the "Mistral", old church towers kept their bells in the open with only the iron supports, allowing the wind to blow freely past the bell without blowing it off the top of the tower! That's why there are no steeples in the old Provençal churches.
This stone arch was probably the entrance to a stable area; in old villages, it was not unusual for peasants to share living space with their very valuable livestock. This wasn't wide enough for a carriage although a small cart might have fit through the doorway.
The "main street" of the old town, which wraps around the church tower (at left). Vehicles are only allowed to drive through here by special permit so one can stroll at one's leisure. There are some other side streets (there is a little passage under that coral-colored house that leads to a parallel street with some cafés and the newly renovated marché -- where a couple in love once bought some melons shortly before agreeing to get married on a nearby beach.
Looking up at the tower. I just realized that I have yet to actually go inside this church, which houses the local history and architectural museum. (Mentally putting that on list of things I want to do next time; possibly will even climb tower if knees are up to it.)
The requisite olive tree, nicely framed in a little residential square.
As much as I love strolling through and photographing old Provençal villages, I actually question whether I would ever want to live smack dab in the center of one. Mainly because, although the buildings are so quaint to look at, living in them might actually be quite uncomfortable: very few windows and those that do exist are small, so lack of light is a big factor; low ceilings; narrow staircases; and lack of space or badly-designed spaces. "Quaint" comes at a price in terms of comfort. Whereas having a renovated home just outside a little village, you could potentially create a much more comfortable living space, with more light, more conveniences and better flow of both space and air, while still retaining the original character.
Well, once again, it's fun to dream. :) Better get back to writing that novel if I want to fund this dream!