I’m not sure you ever sleep properly on a sleeper train, but it’s a very convenient way to travel. I got up early and watched the southern French scenery – La Roque Brune, a spectacular rocky outcrop which as its name suggests is brown; pine trees; vineyards; cypresses; small old farmhouses with terracotta tiles, built much as the Romans built 2,000 years ago. I talked with a young mother and cuddled her month-old baby as she prepared to leave the train. Then glimpses of the Mediterranean, cerulean blue under a cloudless sky, the sun rising ahead of us, super-yachts moored outside the harbours, smaller boats within.
We breakfasted in Nice and spent an hour or two on the beach, with time to pass before our 2pm bus to Vence, from where we’d be picked up by coach for the half-hour drive to Les Courmettes. The weather started promisingly but soon became overcast and even slightly chilly for this part of the world. The day before a “rain bomb” fell on Nice and the surrounding area – 5 hours of torrential rain, tropical in intensity. People couldn’t see the other side of the street.
There were two coach loads of delegates for the conference, perhaps 60 people, and more had already arrived and would arrive later. Les Courmettes sits at an altitude of 850 metres, on the side of a mountain (1250m). The weather is a little colder than usual for the time of year – the scenery and views are spectacular, and the wildlife abundant: wolves, lynx, foxes, hares, wild boar, lizards, many types of butterfly and other invertebrates, mosses and lichens, snakes, birds, and sub-alpine flora (the location is at the edge of the Alpes Maritimes).
There are around 90 delegates. Some have come as individuals, others are representing various Christian agencies – Ruth Valerio from Tear Fund, Andy Atkins and Dave Bookless from A Rocha, Caroline Pomeroy from Climate Stewards, and your own correspondent, amongst others. There are theologians and scientists, professional environmentalists and academics, ordained and lay people, ordinary church members and others. Around 20 people come from the UK, and there are good numbers from Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, as well as other European countries – and one or two from far-flung places such as Latin America, Haiti, and Egypt. A wonderful representation of the body of Christ.
The travel has been lengthy but easy, and we have received a wonderful warm welcome from staff and volunteers at Les Courmettes. It is a very full programme this week – 9 plenary sessions and many workshops, with opportunities to meet and talk with others.
But first – to put up the tent…