It’s a strange fact that people rarely visit tourist attractions when said sites are just next door and require minimal time, effort and expense, when on the other hand they’ll go to great lengths and fork over wedges of cash on flights and hotels to go and have a neb at someone else’s local tourist trap half a world away. I lived more or less next door to Edinburgh Castle for over 20 years, and never thought to set foot inside it until well after I’d moved away from home. And I only went then because I had a friend visiting and had to think of something appropriately visitorish to do.
Interseason unemployment leaves us with plenty of time to do tourist stuff round here, but as usual we take minimal advantage, and have so far notched up the Chateau de Vizille and the Grotte de Chorance, neither of which count because they were trips taken with visiting friends who needed tourist activities.
So discovery of a postcard depicting Les Sept Merveilles du Dauphiné has provided us with an interseason sightseeing project, all the more intriguing for the fact that I’d only ever heard of one of them and didn’t think it was all that marvellous. Clearly I shall have to go and look at it again in a new light.
I’m not sure why merveilles have to come in sevens either – Wikipedia would have you believe it’s because the ancient Greeks believed the number to represent perfection and plenty. (Though if their grasp of basic accounting was anything like that of the current Greek government their opinion on matters numerical can probably be largely ignored.) It makes you wonder whether some of them are only in there to make up the numbers and aren’t actually marvellous at all. Or conversely, that you’re missing out on other equally mind-boggling sights because there were only seven places and you got the ones whose tourist offices were shrewd enough to shell out the backhander required to be featured on the postcard.
Still, seven is probably enough to keep us occupied until it starts snowing again, at any rate, and more than that would probably seem excessive for a completely frivolous project of this nature anyway. So here they are, the seven wonders of the Dauphine:
Le Tour sans Venin or the non-poisonous tower. This doesn’t seem like much of a unique selling point, but it turns out that the site of the tower is alleged to be entirely free of snakes and spiders. Which means I will be forced to poke about in all its nooks and crannies looking for tarantulas, a stressful activity for an arachnophobe.
Le Mont Aiguille is essentially a big sticking-out rock, which doesn’t promise to be excessively marvellous in a region consisting almost entirely of nothing but big sticking-out rocks. But it stands out from the crowd by having a flat top where most of them are pointy, so maybe that’s the secret.
La Pierre Percee. Now I’m sorry, but that just looks like a big rock with a hole through it to me. I’m open to persuasion, but at the moment it’s looking distressingly non-marvellous. Definitely not up there with the hanging gardens of Babylon, at any rate.
Les Grottes de la Balme. This one sounds a lot more promising, what with prehistoric remains, big stalactites, bats and those blind transparent shrimp things you get in caves. A bit further afield and 7€ to get in, but you get a guided tour and strange animals for you money, which sounds like a bargain to me.
Le Pont de Claix is the only one I’ve actually seen, and while it was quite attractive as bridges go it was hardly the Pont du Gard. But this was several years ago and I was lost and trying to find either the Pôle Emploi or the way back to the motorway at the time, so possibly I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate it properly.
La Fontaine Ardente isn’t a fountain at all, but a gout of flame springing from the very rock. Marvellous or what? Judging from pictures available on the interweb it looks disppointingly small, but I suppose if it was a three metre high column of fire someone would probably have put it out by now.
Les Cuves de Sassenage. More caves and another guided tour, this time with a light show and allegedly a mermaid with fossilised tears. This sounds a tad unlikely to me, but I wouldn’t have it said that I’m not open-minded about such things, so I’ll go and have a look anyway.
So there we have it, the interseason local tourism project. They look like an odd collection of marvels, and I could wonder why they’ve missed out such obvious candidates as the château at Vizille (a rather more impressive edifice than the Pont de Claix) or practically any of our glaciers, all of which are thoroughly marvellous by anybody’s standards. No doubt all will be revealed.