Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An old map talked to me of trees

I took the following fuzzy photo of an old map with my hand-held camera in poor lighting conditions at the Isère Archives in Grenoble:

Let me point out a few relevant elements in this map. Midway between Grenoble (Isère) and Romans (Drôme), I've drawn a blue rectangle around the town of Saint-Marcellin, and I've marked the location of my homeplace, Gamone (Choranche), with a yellow dot. Now, according to this map, when I drive to the supermarket at Saint-Marcellin, I should normally pass through a vast forest—shown as a green blob—just before crossing the Isère River at La Sône. The truth of the matter is that, if you were to question most drivers concerning this itinerary, they would swear that they didn't drive through any great forest whatsoever. In fact, I've always known that the roads go either along the top of the green blob, or along the bottom of it (corresponding to the location of bridges over the Isère), but not through the middle of it. Consequently, as I said, most people simply don't imagine for a moment that there's a forest here. But there is indeed...

To get a feeling for the presence of this forest—known as the Bois de Claix—you have to find a local hill with a good view, not blocked by buildings or trees... and this is not as easy as it might seem. Finally, last week, my friends Tineke and Serge took me to an ideal observation point: a splendid domain named Combelongue on the edge of a hill above the river at La Sône. In fact, Combelongue is a country estate that is operated as a luxurious guest-house and function center. Here's the main building, set in a wonderful park with ancient cedar trees:

[Click the photo to visit their website. The exquisite Combelongue domain is surely a marvelously romantic place to spend a night or two, and no more expensive than an urban hotel.]

And here, seen from a typical bedroom at Combelongue, is the view out over the valley of the Isère and the hills of the Royans, with the cliffs of the Vercors in the background:

What you see here corresponds to the green blob in the old map. I've labeled the two familiar mountains that I admire daily from my house at Gamone.

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