Trans-de-Provence (Provence), France August 2022

Trans de Provence appears an old fashioned ordinary sleepy French provincial town (and I mean nothing disparaging in that). The town used to be about olives and silk; there were more than 20 silk mills operating in the area just before WWI. The French tourist site ‘France-Voyage.com’ claims these industries have since given way to tourism and that there is much to see and do in the immediate area. I’m not so sure about that unless, of course, they are referring to cycling and/or hiking trails in the area.

Around the middle of August, the town holds a week long ‘Sant-Roch Festival’ with balls, concerts and petanque tournaments and, as we arrived, a stage was being set up in the small square outside the town hall. At the time I thought this was for a one off rock concert but, in hindsight, I suspect it was preparation for the festival. For a while I watched six locals playing petanque on a piece of dry flat land down by the river and I was amazed at how good they are. Three of the six were regularly throwing to within an inch or two of the jack; no matter whether they threw, lobbed or rolled the boule and, frequently, they were applying spin. My money would be on them to win the petanque tournament. As an aside, I believe Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is a tolerable petanque player. He probably took the game up during his period of tax exile in France during the 60’s and 70’s (not that I’m having a dig or anything lol).

After watching the petanque for a half hour or so I wandered downstream along a path on the right bank of La Nartuby River. The river was very low (no surprise given the current drought conditions) but there was plenty of evidence to suggest that water levels can be considerably higher. Indeed, the river has cut a deep gorge through the town. It is a nice stroll down by the river and there are a number of bridges which, if the water were at normal levels, would facilitate some good photos. I didn’t go too far or my stroll would have become ‘canyoning’ but, instead, turned back into the town after reaching what I would term the Himalayan bridge (so named because it resembled those swing bridges we kept encountering in Nepal – gosh, was that really three years ago?).

Returning to the town, I made my way to the main square which is in the older part of Trans en Provence. It is a very pretty place but, unfortunately, there’s not enough of it.

Whilst in Trans de Provence, I spent a fair time looking for the remains of an “Air Well” designed by the Belgian engineer, Achille Knapen. I had read that his Air Well stands 14 metres high, has massive masonry walls (some 3 metres thick) and sits on top of a 600 metre high hill. Could I find it? Could I hell!

In case you don’t know (and assuming you are interested) an Air Well is a large stone structure which serves to convert warm air into drinking water. It takes the form of a long smooth concrete column, topped and surrounded by thick stone walls which are punctured with lots of holes. During the heat of the day, the holes let in warm moisture laden air which at night, as the temperatures drop, then condenses against the central column. The resulting condensation trickles down the column into a collecting basin as drinking water. Voila, water from warm air.

The Knapen ‘Air Well’ – obviously it isn’t my photo because I couldn’t find the bloody thing!

Knapen’s Air Well excited some public interest when it was being built but it had a disappointingly low yield; generating no more than few litres of water each day, as opposed to the thousands that Knapen hoped for. It was deemed a failure and, sadly, left to ruin.

Notwithstanding the above, Knapen’s concept holds true. Indeed, for some years many houses in India have had dew condensors on their roof and, more recently, some South American countries (Chile and Peru) have been developing the concept to collect drinking water. I suspect that ‘dew harvesting’, as it now seems to be called, will become more prevalent as the global climate changes and drought becomes more common.

Back to Trans-en-Provence. I did enjoy wandering around the town and I would recommend it as a place to stop by but; I would suggest the middle of August as a time to visit, when the Sant Roch Festival is on, and; I would advise getting a decent map if you want to find Knapen’s Air Well.

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