Saturday, December 14, 2019

La Cadière-d'Azur, Perched Village in the Var Region

La Cadière-d'Azur is a small medieval village perched on the edge of a cliff on the hill across from Le Castellet in the south-west of the Var region.

After we finished our walk-about Le Castellet, that I told you about here, we decided that since we were in the area, we should cross the valley over to La Cadière-d'Azur and take a walk through that village as well.

La Cadière-d'Azur has a panoramic view to the Mediterranean Sea. It is surrounded by pine forests and overlooks some of the famous Bandol (AOC) vineyards including Domaines Bunan that we told you about here.

The first recorded mention of La Cadière-d'Azur is in the year 977. The village was in a territory ruled by feudal lords from the Viscounts of Marseille, and later the Abbey of St-Victor.

There has been evidence of Romans dwelling in the village from quite a few traces from Gallo-Roman times such as ceramics, coins, and amphorae (vessels used to carry wine and oil), being discovered in the region, including several Roman fountains.

La Cadière-d'Azur

There are three portes, or gates along Marx Dormoy Avenue that remain from the village's historic ramparts, Saint Jean's gate in the center (built in January 1561), the Mazzarine gate to the east, and the Colle gate pictured below to the west.

La Cadière-d'Azur Porte de la Colle

While there is no shortage of tourist shops, cafes, bars and restaurants in La Cadière-d'Azur, the village seems less like a picturesque artificial enclave than other villages in the area.

La Cadière-d'Azur Street

Saint André Church shown below was built at the beginning of the 16th century on the ruins of a 12th century church. Its tall hexagonal bell tower possesses the oldest dated bell in the Var region; 1458.

Saint André Church

If you are a wine lover, there are many options for tasting locally produced wine. Just off the freeway at the exit for La Cadière-d'Azur, you will find the La Cadiérenne wine coop, where you can taste wine from almost 300 wine makers. This wine coop which dates from 1929, is the biggest producer of AOP Bandol wines.

Pretty door in La Cadière-d'Azur

Tour de l'Horloge with 16th Century Campanile

Shirley standing by the Studded Oaken Doors of Porte Saint-Jean

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Domaine Tempier, Legendary Wine Estate and Foodie Heaven

I have wanted to visit Domaine Tempier, ever since the first time I read about the Bandol winery owned by the Peyraud family, in books authored by Richard Olney, Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch. Kermit Lynch the renown wine importer, was introduced to the Peyrauds by Richard Olney and has been importing the wines of Domaine Tempier since 1976.

For those who don't know, Alice Waters is executive chef, author of multiple cookbooks, and proprietor of Chez Panisse, a gastronomic temple in Berkeley California for more than 40 year and arguably one of the most famous restaurants in the United States; she is a long time friend of Lulu Peyraud and family.

She was also introduced to the Peyraud family by Richard Olney, a neighbor and friend of the Peyrauds. Richard Olney wrote many wonderful cookbooks including "Simple French Food", "Provence, the Beautiful Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Provence" and "Lulu's Provençal Table" to name a few.

Wines from Bandol including those of Domaine Tempier and Domaine de Terrebrune were on the wine list at Bistro Des Copains, the French country bistro, now closed, I co-owned with friends in Occidental, California. We got these wines from wine importer Kermit Lynch who makes his home in the Bandol region half the year.

As I told you in my last post, we decided to go visit the hilltop village of Le Castellet and taste some Bandol wines including I hoped, the wines of Domaine Tempier. After a Provençal lunch and leisurely walk around Le Castellet, we headed to Domaine Tempier.

We found Domaine Tempier, nearby right below the village, at the foot of Le Castellet. Much to my dismay, while Domaine Tempier is open for tastings, it is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so we were not able to fulfill my dream of tasting their legendary wines at the estate tasting room.

Domaine Tempier in Bandol AOC

While the wines of Domaine Tempier have been praised by many, including Janis Robinson, a British wine critic, journalist and wine writer and Robert Parker, who famously once declared the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, the "greatest rosé in the world", I am attracted to this Domaine just as much, by the stories of family meals served by Lulu Peyraud as described by countless food writers.

Lulu who turned 100 in 2017, was born in Marseille and her cooking is Marseillais, although she doesn't think there is a lot of difference between that and the cooking in Bandol. One of my favorite cookbooks is authored by Richard Olney and is drawn from a series of interviews intended to translate Lulu's words into written recipes, called "Lulu's Provençal Table", published in 1994.

Lulu Peyraud's Provençal Recipes

If you Google "Traditional Food of Provence, there are lots of lists from different publications which show up in the results. All of them it seems, include Bouillabaisse, Ratatouille, Aioli, Tapenade, and several others. For Thanksgiving this year, I made the Tapenade recipe in the "Lulu's Provençal Table" cookbook for one of our appetizers.

Tapenade is a Provençal name for a dish consisting of puréed or finely-chopped olives, capers, and anchovies. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. It is ubiquitous in the Provence region of France, where it is frequently served as an amuse bouche in restaurants, or with aperitifs, sold in jars in grocery stores or freshly made in farmer's markets.

We love Tapenade and Lulu's recipe is so easy and quick to make, that it seems a shame to not enjoy it freshly made. We serve it with fresh bread, toasted slices of baguettes, or crackers. We served Tapenade as an amuse bouche at every dinner service at Bistro des Copains.


1/2 pound large Greek-style black olives, pitted. The olives I like come in jars with 9.5 oz drained.
4 anchovy fillets
3 Tablespoons capers
1 garlic clove
Small pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon savory leaves, finely chopped. I can't ever find fresh savory, so I substitute fresh thyme
4 Tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients for Lulu Peyraud's Tapenade Recipe


In a food processor, reduce the olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, cayenne, herbs, and olive oil to a coarse purée. Process only until the mixture is homogenous.

Tapenade Ingredients in Food Processor

Here is what the Tapenade should look like when it is out of the food processor.

Lulu Peyraud's Tapenade

I know you will find this recipe super easy. It is something you can whip out very quickly if guests drop in unexpectedly. I hope you will enjoy the Tapenade as much as we do. We hope to go back to the Bandol region when we return to Sablet in the spring and this time we will go on a weekday so we can taste at Domaine Tempier.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information at

Friday, November 29, 2019

Le Castellet, Perched Medieval Village in Bandol AOC

As we were approaching the end of our most recent sojourn in Sablet, I suggested to Shirley that we visit the Bandol region and taste wine since we had not been there for several years. I told you about our previous visit to taste Bandol wines here.

One of my favorite blogs is authored by Tuula, Southern Californian raised, but now living in the Bandol region. Her blog called "Belle Provence Travels" is about living and traveling around the South of France. Although we have not met in person yet, we have corresponded several times.

So I sent her a message to ask, "what are your favorite villages near where you live". She responded very quickly, that Le Castellet is one of her favorite villages. So on our last Saturday, we headed out for the almost 2 hour drive there.

Le Castellet is a picturesque, medieval village, perched on top of a hill around a castle from the 17th-18th centuries, which today houses the Town Hall, overlooking vineyards and the surrounding countryside directly north of the beaches of Bandol.

Originally a fortified town, the remains of ancient walls are still present so you enter Le Castellet through one of the fortified gates of the defensive walls into a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and pretty squares.

Le Castellet

Le Castellet is full of typical Provençal buildings. Beautiful old houses line the streets which have been carefully restored to highlight their stonework with brightly colored flowers cascading down their walls.

Bougainvillea, wisteria and fuchsias are everywhere with pots of geraniums and lavender outside the houses adding a touch of gaiety to this charming village.

Le Castellet Archway

Olive Tree

The first record of a settlement in this area is in 1030 when it was called Castellarium. Because of its strategic position, Le Castellet has been an important site in history and was inhabited by Celto-Ligurian for several centuries and later the Gallo-Roman empire.

In Medieval times, Le Castellet was a protected township belonging to Les Baux and King René of Anjou. The Lords and Bishops of Marseille ruled the district but authority was passed to the Lords of Castillon in 1434.

Le Castellet Tower

The Saint-Sauveur church of the Transfiguration seen below was built in 1030 by the Bishops of Marseille. In 1754, the church had become too narrow and was enlarged, the orientation was changed, and two Gothic vaults were added perpendicularly to the Roman axis.

Église de la Transfiguration du Sauveur

Le Trou de Madame (The Hole of Madame) opening in the ramparts offers a remarkable panoramic view including a view in the distance the massif of Sainte-Baume.

Le Trou de Madame

The Portalet gate was opened through the ramparts in the 17th century for the convenience of the Castellans going to work in the fields. The gate is easily recognized in different scenes of the film "The wife of the Baker" by Marcel Pagnol which was filmed in the village.

Le Portalet gate through Le Castellet defensive wall

The local vineyards and wine estates at the foot of the village produce renown wines of the Bandol AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), one of the world's great wine regions.

While the region produces good-quality whites and rosé wines, Bandol's claim to wine fame rests in the deep, rich and intense bottlings made from Mourvèdre, a red grape that reaches its zenith in this region.

Mourvèdre does best in Bandol because it flourishes in the intense heat of the Mediterranean sun. Rainfall is less than 20 inches a year, and most of the vineyards are set in a bowl that encompasses a variety of exposures and terroirs.

Le Castellet War Memorial

Le Castellet House

Le Castellet Street

The Grand Portail gate is on the south end of Le Castellet and was rebuilt in the 14th century. For many years, it was the only access to the village.

Le Castellet Grand Portail Gate

There are plenty of shops in the center of the village including several art galleries and artisan’s workshops selling local pottery, ceramics, candles and leather crafts.

Le Castellet Shops

There are also several cafés where visitors can get a drink or meal, rest and visit on a shady terrace in one of the town’s squares.

Le Castellet Street

Le Castellet is also famous for the Paul Ricard racetrack built in 1969 by pastis magnet Paul Ricard, a few kilometers north of town. The racetrack will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix de France, June 26-28, 2020.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information at

Monday, November 25, 2019

Wine tasting in Gigondas and a hike from Col de Cayron to the Dentelles de Montmirail

We are blessed to have a house in Sablet, France and live as locals several times a year. We love our location at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail surrounded by vineyards as far as you can see. Nearby are several small villages, some known for their beauty and others renown for the wine produced in the village.

Sablet is located between Séguret, a village classified as a "Plus Beaux Village de France," to the north and Gigondas, a village renown for its red wine to the south. We think Gigondas is one of the prettiest of all Côtes du Rhône wine villages and one you should visit especially if you love red wine.

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.

Gigondas Village

When you turn off for Gigondas, you follow the road up through the lower village, passing a succession of cafés and tasting rooms (caves) before arriving at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie (town hall) and Caveau du Gigondas (wine growers cooperative), are located.

If you like red wine, plan to stop in at the Caveau du Gigondas (wine cooperative) where you can taste more than 100 different Gigondas wines from 80 wineries and buy them at the same price as at the winery.

Gigondas Town Hall

One of our favorite producers of Gigondas wine is Domaine la Bouïssière. We first became acquainted with this wine when we assembled our wine list for our now closed Bistro Des Copains, in Occidental, California. The tasting room is just a few steps from Place Gabriel Andéol.

Shirley at Domaine la Bouïssière Tasting Room

The Dentelles de Montmirail are short, steep mountains with a distinctive rocky ridge extending west geologically from Mont Ventoux which is located just to the east. When we go out onto the terrace off our bedroom in Sablet, we have a beautiful view of the Dentelles.

The name Dentelles, the French word for lace, refers to the jagged, rocky tops obtained by erosion, while Montmirail is derived from the Latin mons mirabilis meaning "admirable mountain" though the alternative connection with teeth, "dents" in French is equally good in my opinion.

The Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range is about 8 km (5 miles) long and runs from Vaison-la-Romaine on the north end to Beaumes-de-Venise on the south. The tallest peak of the Dentelles de Montmirail range is St-Amand, at 734 m (2,400 feet).

Dentelles de Montmirail

One day last fall, we decided to take the unsurfaced road up to Col de Cayron to get a closer look at the peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail and see the views out over the vineyard covered Rhone valley.

One of the famous Gigondas vineyards high up over Gigondas at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail is seen in the picture below.

I should mention that Gigondas is a wine Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhône wine region of France. It is primarily a red wine region, with a very small amount of rosé wine produced. No white wines carry the Gigondas appellation at this time.

Gigondas Vineyard

The Col de Cayron is 396 m (1300 feet) high and in the center of the Dentelles de Montmirail principle peaks.

Dentelles de Montmirail from Overlook

A splendid view of the Rhone valley with Sablet in the foreground on the left and Séguret on the right against the hill. Séguret is classified as a Most Beautiful Village in France.

View from Overlook towards Sablet and Seguret

We hiked up a trail with steps, one of approximately 600 hiking trails in the Dentelles de Montmirail range, to a peak with great views and an overlook a little farther up for a photo together.

Shirley and I on the Overlook with Mont Ventoux in Distance

There are a many trails to hike up to and around the Dentelles de Montmirail. If you do, you will be rewarded with close up views of the peaks and magnificent views out over the Rhone valley. I am sure we will be making this hike again with grandchildren in tow the next time they come to Sablet.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information at

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Domaine de la Charbonnière, an excellent producer of wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and wonderful family

One of many things that attracted us to Sablet, was its location in the Côtes du Rhône and proximity to world-renown wine villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We like all the wines from this area but our favorites are Châteauneuf-du-Papes and we go there often. Hey, its only 15 miles away.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a small medieval village on the side of a hill, guarded by the ruins of an ancient chateau towering above. From the chateau hill you have an outstanding view in all directions, mostly of vineyards and of the Rhône River 1.9 miles to the east. The village is between Avignon (7.5 miles to the south) and Orange (6.6 miles to the north).


As its name suggests, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is closely linked to several Popes. As early as 1157, faithful to Roman customs, Bishop Geoffroy of Avignon planted and cultivated a vineyard in his Châteauneuf territory. In 1308, Clement V also planted vines, thereby becoming one of the first winemakers in Châteauneuf.

Pope Jean XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon, had a particular appreciation for wine from this area, and ordered the castle seen below to be built in 1317 as a summer residence, and bestowed upon the wine, the title of “Vin du Pape” (Papal Wine), the name by which it was known before it became “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”.

The back side of the tower of the Pope's castle is shown in the photo below, only ruins remain. The castle was sacked by Routiers (mercenaries who terrorized the French countryside during the 100 year war) when Jean XXII died and largely destroyed for the final time by the retreating Germans in 1944.

Pope's Castle Châteauneuf-du-Pape

There are several cafés with outdoor terraces around the center of the village. Although this is a tourist town, there are not many tourist shops as the business of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is selling wine.

The village streets are narrow, curving around the hillside or climbing up and down between the houses up to the castle. The buildings are old, but everything has been thoroughly restored.

The chateau ruins at the top of the village are accessed by walking up Rue Joseph Ducos past the front of the Town Hall to the church at Rue des Papes. Just to the left of the church, steps lead up the wide, stone step-street to the chateau.

Center of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Village

As I indicated above, we come often to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for the wines. The sign below which you see alongside the roads that cross into the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation reads "Here begin the celebrated vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape."

Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC wines are made from grapes grown in the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and portions of the four neighboring municipalities (Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange, and Sorgues) in the Vaucluse.

There are 13 grape varieties permitted in Châteauneuf wines, although it's rare that most are used in one blend. Grenache is dominant in the reds, supported by Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse and Terret. White wines are a blend of Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Picardin.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC Boundary

Our favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery is located just outside the village on the Route de Courthézon. We first became acquainted with Domaine de la Charbonnière and its wines when we tasted wines for the initial wine list for our Bistro Des Copains in Occidental, California and have been fans ever since.

The domaine is owned by the Maret family, daughters Véronique and Caroline and parents Michel and Mireille, and have been making wine since 1912 when Michel Maret's grandfather Eugene bought the domaine as a gift for his wife who was the daughter of a local winegrower. Michel took over in 1978 and started bottling wine-most of it sold out the winery door.

He was the one who named the estate Domaine de la Charbonnière from the name used for the area around the domaine. The name means "the area of charcoal burning".

Domaine de la Charbonnière

Véronique took over winemaking responsibilities from Michel in 2012 after starting at the domaine alongside her father, in 2009. Michel, although now retired, still drives the tractor and helps her in the cellar. Véronique and Caroline are the fourth generation of Maret's to oversee the domaine. Mother Mireille continues to manage the vineyard team.

One of the most important changes Véronique made since taking over in 2012 was the move to organic viticulture.

From left, Caroline Maret, Shirley, and Mireille Maret

The wines from Domaine de la Charbonnière have not suffered at all from the change in winemaking responsibilities, in fact they seem to be getting better with each harvest, if that is even possible. Take a look at the tasting points in the November 15, 2019 issue of "Wine Spectator Magazine".

Wine Spectator Magazine
November 15, 2019
Domaine de la Charbonnière Cuvee Vintage WS Points
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Hautes Brusquières 2016 96
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vielle Vignes 2016 95
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Red 2016 94
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Mourre des Perdrix 2016 94
Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2017 93

New barrel room at Domaine de la Charbonnière

To accommodate the growing demand for their excellent wines, they have recently finished an expansion of their barrel room.

Domaine de la Charbonnière Wood Tanks

The majority of the grapes for wine made by Domaine de la Charbonnière comes from parcels in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They also own and make wine from parcels they own in the Vacqueyras AOC and in Côtes du Rhône, just outside the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC boundary. Their two different bottlings of 2016 Vacqueyras both earned 90+ points from Wine Spectator Magazine.

Domaine de la Charbonnière 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix in Wood Tank

Steel Tanks Holding 2019 Grapes

Inox (stainless steel) tanks at Domaine de la Charbonnière

Terrace over the new barrel rooms at Domaine de la Charbonnière

Domaine de la Charbonnière estate vineyards

There are several distinct terroirs in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Clay soils and those with galets-large round pebbles that store heat, make full-bodied, structured reds; sandy soils produce lighter, more elegant wines. The whites, which are full-bodied and aromatic, with yellow fruits and floral notes, favor the limestone soils.

One of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards with layer of stones called galets (pebbles)

The best thing about Domaine de la Charbonnière is the Maret Family, they are all charming, funny, and always have a smile to greet you, even during the middle of vendange (grape harvest). After many tastings at Domaine de la Charbonnière over the years, I can say we are friends.

We were very happy we could meet Véronique and Caroline when they were in Sonoma and Napa County a few weeks back, visiting customers with their new California importer, Grape Expectations, and take them to dinner in Sonoma.

Girl and the Fig in Sonoma California with Caroline and Véronique Maret

If you are in the Vaucluse region of France, and tasting wine is part of your trip, it is well worthwhile to visit and taste at Domaine de la Charbonnière. If you are in shops that sell special wines or in a nice restaurant, French or otherwise in the US, Canada, or UK, make sure you check to see if they have a bottle on the list from Domaine de la Charbonnière. Trust me, you will be very happy you did.

Domaine de la Charbonnière
Route de Courthézon
84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Tel: +33 (0)4 90 83 74 59

If you are planning for your next vacation and it might include a visit to the south of France, check out our website about our home in Sablet which we rent by the week or for longer periods of time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Les 3 Souquets", an Olive Oil Boutique and Santonnier Workshop Near Sablet

We have been traveling to Sablet several times a year for the past 11 years. You would think that by now, there would not be anything new left for us to discover, but that is not the case. It seems that we find someplace new every time we are in Sablet.


"Les 3 Souquets", a santon work shop and boutique offering for sale, products from the region, including all things olives, such as fresh olives, olive oils, and tapenades, made from green and black olives, is our latest discovery.

Fortunately for us, "Les 3 Souquets" is located on D-977 (also known as Route de Vaison La Romaine) near the turnoff for Sablet. The workshop and boutique are the creation of Denis Voeux, a santonnier and owner of a small grove of olive trees, in the neighboring village of Séguret.

Les 3 Souquets

I do not know if Monsieur Voeux was a santonnier who became passionate about olive oil, or vice versa, but at "Les 3 Souquets", there is evidence of both. There are a variety of olive oils from various AOPs ("Appellation d’Origine Protégée") in France and elsewhere as well as fresh Picholine and Tanche olives available to taste and purchase.

Every year, Monsieur Voeux takes a tour of the Mediterranean Region's olive oil AOPs and chooses what he believes are the best from the most recent harvest to sell in his boutique. He also has bottles of olive oil he produces from his small grove in Séguret which falls within the Nyons AOP.

The owner of "Les 3 Souquets", Denis Voeux with Shirley

For santon newbies, santons are hand-made clay figurines that depict the colorful people, traditional trades, activities and costumes of Provence as I told you here. In Provence, they are set out at Christmas in a Provençal creche (nativity scene). I love them and have a small collection that I set out at Christmas time.

If you are fortunate enough to come to his workshop on a day that Monsieur Voeux is working on santons, you might be able to see how they are baked in a red hot oven or how he hand paints each one of them. He says he was enamored with santons from a young age and finally gave in to his love of making objects from clay and modeling them.

Every santonnier has their own style, usually the way to tell one santonniers' work from another, is by looking at the faces of the santons. One of the unusual features of Monsieur Voeux's santons, are his faces, they are all people from Monsieur Voeux's life. The first face he modeled was that of his grandfather on his mother's side of the family. Quite a few other people from his life have since joined the nativity scene. His most recent creation was a santon with a face modeled after his uncle.

Santons by Denis Voeux

In France, olive trees are planted along the arc of the Mediterranean Sea, between Nice and Perpignan, Marseille and Nyons. It is said that there are 100 different varieties of olive trees grown in France, of which 20 are important for the economy of the region. As I said earlier, Monsieur Voeux travels throughout the various olive oil AOPs to selection the best for his boutique. As you can see below, he has a large number of excellent olive oils available.

Olive oils on display at Les 3 Souquets

If you are in the area, and interested in learning about Santons or how they are made, or anything to do with olives or olive oil, make sure you stop in to visit the "Les 3 Souquets" boutique. After tasting quite a few different bottles during our visit, I bought a bottle of Monsieur Voeux's own Nyons production. It was really nicely balanced for me. Tell Monsieur Voeux that Michel from Sablet told you to stop in.

"Les 3 Souquets"
1471 Route de Vaison La Romaine
84110 Séguret
Tel: 06 18 56 57 02