Thursday, May 18, 2017

Roussillon, the most colorful village in the Luberon

I don't think we've ever gone to Provence without going to Roussillon, a village in the Luberon about 35 miles southeast of Sablet, and we certainly were going to make sure neighbors Bob, Darlene, Ed and Gwen got there. We love the colorful houses in Roussillon, tinted by ocher that used to be mined here; this makes Roussillon unique compared to other villages in the area.

The Luberon stretches 35 miles along a ridge of rugged hills from Cavaillon in the west to Manosque in the east and from the town of Apt south to the Durance River. Much of the area including Roussillon is protected in the Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon.

Roussillon is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (one of the most beautiful villages of France). Roussillon sits above one of the world's largest ocher deposits where 17 shades of ocher--violet, blood red, orange, yellow, and everything in between were once mined.

Roussillon

Just a few minutes walk from the village is the trailhead for the Sentier des Ocres (Ocher trail). Ocher is a natural pigment in the soil which form the cliffs around Roussillon. Iron oxides color the sands into shades ranging from yellow to violet. The mineral landscape shows the effects of erosion and mining work done by man.

Two different trails, one short, one long, take you through the ocher lands on a 30-minute or 60-minute walk. You can stay as long as you like. Information signs along the way describe the geology, flora and history of the ocher deposits in the Luberon. The trails takes you past multi-colored ocher formations set against a backdrop of pine trees.

Ocher cliff

It's still not known exactly why geological changes caused these pigments precisely here and not elsewhere in the region.

Green forest on ocher hills

More of Roussillon

A rainbow like row of brightly colored houses in Roussillon.

Brightly colored buildings

Roussillon has been inhabited since Neolithic time, then later by the Romans who also left their traces. The village is also well known for being home to Samuel Beckett during Second World War.

La Maison Tacchella to the left and the Hotel de Ville to the right

Most likely thanks to its connection to pigments, plus its location and the natural light of the Luberon, Roussillon has been a destination for artists for many years. There are quite a few art galleries in the village and you can follow an art itinerary where you can visit participating galleries and artists workshops, specializing in paintings, sculpture, and ceramics.

Roussillon fountain

Roussillon must have more restaurants per head of population than any other Luberon village. Most are clustered around the square near the top of the village.

Town Hall Square

Roussillon belfry

As you stroll around the village, make sure you look for the 150 year old grape vine in front of Restaurant la Treille.

150 year old grape vine

The clock and 19th century belfry with a campanile overlooking the main village square. The archway at the bottom of the belfry was the ancient entrance into the fortified area called the Castrum

Roussillon street

The Librairie (bookstore) in La Maison Tacchella to the left and the Hotel de Ville (town hall) to the right in Town Hall Square, the main hub of activity along with the place du Pasquier on Thursday mornings when there's a weekly market and traffic gets even more congested than usual.

View over Town Hall Square

Follow the street up to the Castrum at the top of the village and you will find some wonderful panoramic views across the valley to the Grand Luberon, the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.

Passageway through the belfry

Neighbor Gwen pauses for a picture

Roussillon has been a protected village since 1943 and has benefited from a complete absence of modern development.

Archway view out over Luberon valley

Roussillon belfry

Saint Michel Church whose origins go back to the 11th century, originally faced the castle, inside the fortified walls. The church has undergone countless renovations over time, necessitated in part by its location by the cliff.

Saint Michel Church

Ocher only became a widespread, industrial product in the late 18th century when Roussillon native son Jean-Etienne Astier came up with the idea of washing the ocher-laden sands to extract the pure pigment.

View over Roussillon with village cemetery in distance

There are colorful old buildings and narrow medieval streets everywhere you go in Roussillon.

Small stone house

Narrow passageway in Roussillon

Pretty entryway into private courtyard

Roussillon post box

Stone house in Roussillon painted over with ocher

Shirley pauses for picture

Unusual Roussillon house

Colorful houses in Roussillon




Shirley on steps

Roussillon statue near the defensive wall

The ocher facades of the houses in Roussillon are beautiful - the colors vary from light yellow to dark red, accented by brightly painted shutters and doors. Many date from the 17th and 18th century.

Colorful Roussillon street

As you can imagine, the beauty of Roussillon draws hordes of artists and visitors during tourist season. It is the most visited village in the Luberon after Gordes, a few miles to the west. Despite this, we have never had any problem finding parking close to the village.

Colorful Roussillon houses

We think it's best to visit in the morning when the first sunshine of the day strikes the village, to see the glowing colors at their most stunning. Roussillon is fairly small so it doesn't take very long to explore. So combine a visit to Roussillon with a visit to Gordes or other hill towns such as Lacoste, Menerbes or Lourmarin in the Luberon.

If you are considering a sojourn in the South of France this summer, we would be honored if you would consider our home. You can find everything you need to know at www.sablethouse.com. We still have May 27-June 24 and September 1-9 and September 23-30. We will give a 40% discount on a weekly rental or more during the May 27-June 24 period.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Wine tasting at wonderful Domaine la Bouïssière and visit to beautiful Gigondas

Sablet is located between Séguret, a village classified as a "Plus Beaux Village de France," to the north and Gigondas, a small village renown for its red wine to the south. From the road, Gigondas seems little more than a cluster of stone houses set on a hillside with a church below the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountains overlooking vineyard covered slopes and valley below

Turn off the D-7 and follow the road up through the lower village; you will pass a succession of cafés and tasting rooms, before you arrive at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie (Town Hall), and the Caveau du Gigondas (the wine growers cooperative), are located. You can taste most current releases of Gigondas wine at the cooperative free of charge and buy bottles to take with you for the same price as they are sold at the winery.

Gigondas

As most of you know, Shirley and I were partners in a now shuttered French restaurant called Bistro Des Copains in Occidental, California. One of the pleasures of that experience was tasting many new wines as we made selections for our excellent wine list. An early favorite was the Gigondas from Domaine de la Bouïssière.

When we first tasted the wine back in 2006 before the bistro opened, we knew nothing about the village of Gigondas, the vineyards where the grapes are grown or the Faravel family who make the wine at Domaine de la Bouïssière except for what we were told by the wine salesman.

That changed when we visited the area with our partners and some of our bistro team in February 2007 and tasted wines in the Domaine de la Bouïssière cave in Gigondas with the winemaker Thierry Faravel. There is something special about tasting wine where its made and seeing the vineyards where the grapes are grown.

We became instant fans and we have returned to taste the new vintages every year since. Sometimes, we go a second time with friends visiting us in Sablet. That's what we did a few weeks ago when friends Darlene, Bob, Gwen and Ed were visiting.

Shirley and our neighbors Darlene, Bob, Gwen and Ed outside the Domaine de la Bouïssière tasting room

One of the reasons we love to taste wine at the Domaine de la Bouïssière is we are in love with Geneviève Faravel who oversees the tasting room. It was her husband Antonin who in the late 1950s planted vines on steep land high above Gigondas just below the Dentelles de Montmirail. At first, he sold the grapes to Pierre Amadieu. Then in 1978 he started to make his own wine.

Antonin’s sons, winemakers Thierry and Giles Faravel oversee the vineyards and production of wines today. Giles oversees the vineyards and Thierry makes the wine. The grapes for their Gigondas wines come from vines planted between 1963 and 1966 on a large parcel and adjoining terraces below the Dentelles.

The family's Vacqueyras AOC vines sit on a plateau north of Vacqueyras and became part of Domaine de la Bouïssière in 2001 by way of Gile's wife who inherited the vineyards from her father. The Beaumes-de-Venise AOC bottling is a new addition to the family’s lineup, from older-vine vineyards purchased in the early 2000s near the town of Lafare, on the eastern slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail.

The Faravels pick their grapes by hand and partially destem and lightly crush the grapes depending on the vintage. Fermentation on indigenous yeasts takes place in unlined cement tanks or stainless steel tanks; wines age in a combination of tank, larger foudre and barrel. Wines are bottled by gravity and are unfined and unfiltered.

Shirley and I and the family matriarch Geneviève Faravel

As I said, we love the maman of the family. She wears a constant smile and very energetic. You would not guess she is 83 years old. Don't bother to ask questions, she will explain everything without your asking. Hopefully, your French is good. We have been there enough times that she immediately recognizes us and asks how things are in Sablet.

Check out the array of wines in the picture below, especially the pricing. Look for these wines in retail shops and restaurants. You may find them. Unfortunately, they will be at least twice as much in the USA. But they are worth it and age great.

The wines produced by Domaine de la Bouïssière

After our tasting, we headed out to do a walk-about Gigondas. The pictures are some of the sights we saw. I should mention that the name Gigondas is of Roman origin. Jocunditas means great pleasure and enjoyment in Latin, with the town's origin and production of wine dating back to the Romans.

Pottery workshop on Rue de la Libération

Religion has played an important role in the history of Gigondas: no less than six churches were located in the village district in the 16th century. Today, the parish church Saint Catherine of Alexandria still stands, as well as the superb Romanesque chapel of Saint-Côsme et Saint-Damien, built in the 12th century, destroyed in the 16th century and restored in the 17th century that I told you about here and the chapel of Notre-Dame-des-Pallières.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church



Spring blossoms in Gigondas

A large, very old afternoon-only sundial is on the front of Saint Catherine of Alexandria church at the top of Gigondas village.

Gigondas Sundial

The original castle and its ramparts were built in the 13th or 14th century. From the beginning it was dedicated to the poor and the sick, serving as a distribution center for food and medical assistance for the needy. In 1678, Father Albert of the Order of Minims founded the Friary of Saint-Calvaire and Saint-Sépulcre hospice on the ground floor of the castle.

Gigondas defensive fortifications

Later, at the beginning of the 19th century, the hospice’s roof beams and tiles were sold to build the village wash house. The building was then neglected and fell into ruin. In 1984, the town hall took the initiative to restore the site and founded the non-profit organization "Gigondas d’Hier et d’Aujourd’hui" ("Gigondas of yesterday and today"), which became responsible for the restoration work carried out by local people.

Steps up to hospice constructed in 17th century

In 1971, Gigondas was designated as an AOC; previously it had been classified as Côtes du Rhône-Villages. There are 1202 hectares planted with vines within the Gigondas appellation. The wine produced is largely red (99%) with a small amount of rosé wine (1%) being produced. No white wine is produced with a Gigondas label.

Vineyards with a backdrop of the Gigondas defensive fortifications

The natural boundaries of the Gigondas wine appellation are the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains to the east, the River Ouvèze to the west, the mountain stream of Trignon on the border of Sablet to the north, and the hills extending from the Dentelles to the south.

Gigondas defensive fortifications

The Saint Catherine of Alexandria parish church with its central clock tower flanked by a campanile belfry seen below dates from the beginning of the 17th century. A hollow on the front façade shelters a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Gigondas

If you go to Gigondas, make sure you save time to stroll the pretty narrow streets lined with stone houses up to the parish church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. On the way, you can find pretty views out over the region and the vineyards of Gigondas and the surrounding communes.

Shirley, Darlene and Gwen at one of the several fountains in Gigondas

Shirley and friends in front of our rental "car"

Writing this post made me go to a nearby wine store and buy several bottles of Domaine la Bouïssière Gigondas wines. Decided I couldn't wait till we get to Sablet to pull out bottles from our cellar there. Cheers!



Sunday, April 23, 2017

A special day in Cassis with friends and excellent lunch at Chez Gilbert Restaurant

Cassis is a picturesque town a little over 1 and 1/2 hours from Sablet, tucked into a curve along the Mediterranean Sea between the calanques (little coastal fjords with tall cliffs), about 20 km east of Marseille.

It's a fishing port on a steep hillside with vineyards and pastel-colored houses that tumble down to a seaside port lined with more pastel-colored houses, shops and restaurants with 8,000 inhabitants. The port is filled with little fishing boats, yachts and charter boats that take tourists out to the calanques.

If you visit Sablet, we will take a day trip to Cassis. We like to go on Friday mornings since that is one of the days (Wednesday is the other) the Marché Provençal takes place. That is exactly what we did one Friday a few weeks ago, when our neighbors Bob and Darlene and Ed and Gwen were visiting Sablet for the first time.

Port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

Fishing was the main industry of Cassis for many years. Now there are only 8 fishing crews which operate out Cassis. The town holds a festival every year during June and July to celebrate the fishermen, the sea and their patron saint, St. Peter. Events include the procession of the "prud-hommes" (regulators of the local fishing industry), the blessing of the boats, water jousts, grilled sardines and anchovies and dancing.

Fisherman tends to his boat

There is a kiosk at the beginning of Quai Saint-Pierre that sells tickets for trips on one of the charter boats that line the Cassis port out to 3, 7 or 13 calangues. It takes about 45-minutes for a boat tour out and back to see 3 calanques.

Boats to take tourists out to the Calanques line the Quai Saint-Pierre

The area where Cassis now sits was first occupied between 500 and 600 BC by people from Liguria, a region of north-western Italy, who built a fortified habitation at the top of the Baou Redon. These people lived by fishing, hunting, and farming.

Another view of the port area where Quai des Baux and Quai Saint-Pierre meet

Cafes and houses along Quai Jean Jacques Barthélémy

The port is lined with tourist shops, terrace cafés and restaurants which offer a variety of food and prices. As you can imagine, it's great fun to watch people stroll down Quai (dock) des Baux while you soak up the sun in front of one of the cafes that line the port.

Pastel colored houses and cafes line Quai des Baux

Cassis became renowned as a holiday resort at the end of the 19th century drawing such notable visitors as Virginia Woolf. In the 1920s, Winston Churchill came to Cassis and took painting lessons during his stay in the town.

Fisherman on his boat with Place du Grand Carnot in the rear

Frédéric Mistral, the Nobel Prize-winning author and defender of the provençal language and traditions, also took a liking to Cassis. The writer famously declared, in the provençal language, "Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire, ‘n'ai rèn vist'." "He who has seen Paris but not Cassis can say, ‘I haven't seen anything'."

Another view of the cafes and houses that line Quai Jean Jacques Barthélémy

Pretty Cassis restaurant

Blue stripes are in style in Cassis

Merry-go-round/Carrousel in Cassis

Close up view of the Merry-go-round/Carrousel in Cassis

Cassis is one of only a handful of Mediterranean ports where fishermen still use the small, double-ended boats known as pointus. The boats, with their extended – and, some suggest, phallic – bow posts, have remained much the same for about 2,000 years.

Traditional fishing boats called "pointus" moored in Cassis harbor. Tourist center is in background

If you happen to go to Cassis in summer there are six public beaches in Cassis. The Grand Mer beach is in the center of town just south of the harbor and consists of sand and pebbles.

Houses and cafes on Quai des Baux

Cassis cafes

Le Bonaparte Restaurant has been our favorite restaurant in Cassis. It's located on a side street several blocks off the port. There is a small dining room and seating on the street. The restaurant takes its name from the cross street where the restaurant is located and where 25 year old Napoléon Bonaparte spent the evening of February 10, 1794 while in Provence to inspect troops.

View down Quai des Baux

Last summer while I was doing research about how to prepare and serve authentic Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille, I came across an organization called Charte de la Bouillabaisse. This group was formed in 1980 to fight restaurants who don't respect the traditional recipe and proper service for Bouillabaisse.

The Charte says Bouillabaisse must include at least 4 varieties of fish and the bouillon and cooked fish must be served separately along with rouille. One of the other rules is the cooked fish is supposed to be filleted in front of the diner. I discovered that there were 11 restaurants who signed the Charte and one, Chez Gilbert is located in Cassis.

Chez Gilbert Restaurant

Since we weren't planning to go to Marseille, I knew I wouldn't have a chance to eat Bouillabaisse at Chez Fonfon (which I told you about here), I made reservations for lunch at Chez Gilbert. It was sun shining and warm when we arrived at the restaurant, so we opted to sit at a table in the sunshine facing the port.

Shirley Augsburger enjoying sun at Chez Gilbert

The restaurant was opened in 1956. The restaurant has operated under 3 owners; the current owner has been in charge for 25 years.

Amuse bouche

As I planned, I ordered the Bouillabaisse and as per rules of the Charte, our pretty server presented a platter with 5 varieties of whole Mediterranean fish, scorpion fish, monkfish, red mullet, sea robin, John Dory and potatoes cooked in bouillon and then took the platter to a side table where they were filleted.

Server presenting platter with the fixings for the bouillabaisse

The chef was happy to oblige Shirley's request for a simple green salad.

Green salad

When you eat Bouillabaisse, you eat nothing else, so my meal began with the fish bouillon, much like fish soup and the grilled bread and a garlicky rouille seen below. Rouille is a kind of aioli, or fresh garlic mayonnaise, flavored with saffron and a red pepper similar to cayenne called espelette.

Grilled bread and rouille for bouillabaisse

Main courses included Vol au Vents with mushrooms and veal seen below.

Puff pastry with veal and mushrooms

My dish of assorted fish fillets and boiled potatoes were served in accordance with Charte rules separately from the fish bouillon. You can add fish and potatoes to your bowl of bouillon. Our server came by several times with a bowl of bouillon and ladled more bouillon into my dish until I couldn't find any more room.

Assorted fish fillets for bouillabaisse

Another main course selected by our group was Papillote de bar au vin blanc seen below.

Sea bass baked in parchment with white wine

Our landlubber friend Ed chose a delicious Paleron de boeuf et jarret de veau essentially a Pot au feu seen below.

Pot au feu with beef chuck and veal shank

True to form, Shirley chose a whole grilled fish, in this case Bar, sea bream with wild fennel and vegetables seen below.

Grilled Sea bream with wild fennel and vegetables

Since they were out of our first choice, Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis which I told you about here, we opted for a 2016 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Blanc that was recommended by our server. It is a blend of Marsanne, Clairette, and Ugni Blanc. It was an excellent choice.

2016 Domaine de Bagnol Cassis Blanc

While we waited for desserts to be delivered to the table, we nibbled on Babba au Rum that were dropped on our table a gift from the restaurant.

Babba au Rum

Desserts included the apple tart seen below;

Apple tart with vanilla ice cream

and as expected for a chocoholic like me, the plate of different preparations of dark chocolate.

This was an excellent meal attentively served by a restaurant located on the port with a beautiful view. Up to now, we have not found the food to be very good that is served by the restaurants that line the port. We will return to Le Bonaparte Restaurant again but Chez Gilbert will be a regular destination.

A variety of preparations of dark chocolate

The Castle seen below was built in 1381 by the counts of Les Baux and refurbished last century by Mr. Michelin, the boss of the company that makes tires and publishes the famous Green Guides. Today it is privately owned and partially converted to a luxury B and B.

Maison des Baux Castle

When you exit off the A50 auto route, the road down to Cassis is a winding road that goes past vineyards planted on steep hills between olive groves and country houses above Cassis. The wineries of Cassis produce red, white and rosé wines but it's the white wines for which the appellation is best known. We like Cassis white and rosé wines a lot.

By the way, don't confuse the wines of Cassis with crème de cassis, a sweet black currant liqueur, a specialty of Burgundy which takes its name from black currants (cassis), not this town.

We liked the wine we drank so much at lunch that we decided to go find Domaine du Bagnol and taste the wines where they are made.

Domaine du Bagnol

Domaine du Bagnol is a small 15 acre estate created in 1867 by the Marquis de Fesque. The modern history of the domaine began in 1997 when Jean-louis Genovesi bought the domaine. In 2003 after finishing his viticulture studies, son Sebastien took the helm.

Domaine du Bagnol with Cap Canaille in the distance

The Cassis Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée wine region is unique in Provence because 75% of its production is white wine. The soil is primarily limestone which is particularly suited to the cultivation of Clairette, Marsanne, Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes which are the major varietals of the AOC. Grapes are harvested by hand.

View to the Domaine du Bagnol vineyards

In addition to retasting the white wine, we tasted the rosé wine. The rosé comes from a handful of parcels planted in clay and limestone soils, on a gentle north-northwest-facing slope. Grenache-dominated, with smaller percentages of Mourvedre and Cinsault.

Me with friends Bob and Ed and tasting room hostess Lola

Model "pointus" fishing boat in tasting room

View of Domaine du Bagnol vineyards with Cap Canaille in distance

The wines of Domaine du Bagnol are excellent. I recommend you seek them out. If you are in Cassis, look for the domaine on the road from the auto route to Cassis. To take a phrase from Michelin, it's worth the detour.

Domaine du Bagnol

Cap Canaille which rises up between Cassis and La Ciotat, is one of the highest cliffs of Europe at 399 meters (1,309 feet) and the highest cliff in France while the route des Crêtes between Cassis and La Ciotat counts among the most scenic drives in Southern Provence.

Cap Canaille

It was a wonderful day in Cassis.

Chez Gilbert Restaurant
19 Quai des Baux
13260 Cassis
Tel: 04 42 01 71 36
www.chezgilbert.net