Monday, January 16, 2017

"Journée du Livre" de Sablet , a Book Lovers Paradise

Beyond the wines which are classified Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Sablet for the red, white and rosé wines produced by the Sablet vignerons, Sablet is probably best known for its "Journée du Livre". You ask what is the "Journée du Livre"? It is a book festival that takes place the 3rd weekend of July on the squares and streets of Sablet every year.

That is every year except this year when the 29th edition of the "Journée du Livre" was moved to the 9h and 10th of July so it would not conflict with the Tour de France. We were fortunate to be in Sablet this year for this special weekend when books and wine come together in Sablet.

Entrance into Sablet

Jean Raspail, a writer who lived in Sablet along with Jean Ripert and Jean-Pierre Buillet, members of the association, "Compagnons du Barrys" were responsible for planning the 1st "Journée du Livre" that took place on July 24, 1988. As I said above, the idea behind the festival was to unite books and wine so the Sablétains vignerons could promote their wines.

"Journée du Livre" welcome tent

Earlier in the week, we found notices on our windshield every time we got in our car that it was forbidden to park in the main part of the village because of the book fair as of Thursday midnight. On Friday, crews started assembling the various tents for the book fair.

Book tent in front of village bibliothèque (library)at Place de Verdun

Tables set up in front of the boulangerie for festival goers to sit and enjoy refreshments

About 90 writers and poets were set up at various tents around the village where they autographed and sold their books. There was also a full schedule of readings that were held in gardens around the village.

One of the larger author tents

Place de l'Aire de la Croix in front of Café des Sports

Bruno Bordeaux did a brisk business at Café des Sports

You can't have a festival in Provence without wine. For 2016, a writer named Isabelle Alonso was chosen the "marraine" (godmother)for the special wine and in consultation with the Sablet winemakers selected a special "Journée du Livre" de Sablet cuvee for the book festival.

"Journée du Livre" de Sablet red and white cuvees

The special cuvee was available for tasting along with other wines produced by Sablet vignerons at the winemakers tent.

Winemakers tent

More writer tents

Author's works included literature, travel, regional histories, cooking and wine, health, children's books, poetry, mysteries, first novels, and comics.

As the day went on, more and more people arrived to visit the authors

82 year old writer/journalist François de Closets presided over the "Journée du Livre" which took place in the village on Saturday from 4:00 to 8:00 PM and Sunday from 10:00 Am to 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM.

Welcome and announcements are offered by VIPs in attendance at the festival

The winner of the prize for first novel entitled "Je me suis tue", Mathieu Menegaux departed with his weight in wine after the traditional weighing of the writer.

Friends converse

A curious villager checks out what's happening at the Café des Sports

Tent promoting the Festival des Soupes

Empty writer's tent during the all important lunch break

Book festival attendees cross Place de l'Aire de la Croix

Shirley visits with her friend Sulvie in front of Café des Sports

I mentioned a the beginning of this post, that some of the "Compagnons des Barrys" were instrumental in starting the annual "Journée du Livre." The members of this association have also made it their mission to preserve the village ramparts (defensive walls) seen below.

Fund-raising over the past few years has enabled the restoration of a medieval watch tower and the Place des Barrys as public spaces; an ancient olive mill in the lower parts of one of the rampart houses, also open to the public, and the creation of 'L'Oustau di Barrys', an exhibition space for art, photography or objects of historical interest, within the rampart walls.

Sablet defensive walls

I am an old fashion book lover. I don't down load books on a kindle or iPad. So to see all of these authors and their books together in Sablet was very cool for me. Have a great week. A bientot mes amis.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A trip to Marseille for an authentic Bouillabaisse

We had been talking about throwing a Provence Party in our backyard with a traditional Bouillabaisse for some time. We had even told the neighbors it would take place in August when we returned from Sablet. While we were in Provence, I wanted to go to Marseille and have a Bouillabaisse in one of the restaurants renown for the dish and see how it is presented to diners.

Despite having multiple "French Connections" to Marseille, we don't go very often (traffic is a mess and parking hard to find among other reasons). My connections include my father and family lived on Boulevard Longchamp in Marseille when he was growing up and cousins lived in Marseille with their families too at various times. Now, cousins Ginette and Josiane live there. I digress so let me get back to the topic at hand.

As the time was nearing for us to leave Sablet, we set a date to meet up with Ginette for a traditional Bouillabaisse and go shopping for our daughters. Marseille's Vieux Port is about one hour and thirty-five minutes down the A-7 from Sablet. We found parking near the Town Hall and walked around the Vieux Port from the north side to the south side to shop before we went to lunch. On the way to and from our car, we saw the sights shown in the photographs which follow.

By way of background I should mention that Marseille was founded by the Phoceans (from the Greek city of Phocaea, now Foça, in modern Turkey) in 600BC and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The town is a far cry from the Cézanne paintings and Provençal clichés of sleepy villages, "pétanque" players and Marcel Pagnol novels.

Marseille's Notre Dame de la Garde

With around one million inhabitants, Marseille is the second largest city in France in terms of population and the largest in terms of area. The people of Marseille have varying ethnic backgrounds, with a lot of Italians and Spanish having immigrated to the area after the second world war. Currently, over one third of the population of Marseille can trace their roots back to Italy.

Marseille's Vieux Port

Everything in Marseille revolves around the U-shaped Vieux Port (Old Port) in the center of the city where boats have docked for 2600 years. The port is more pleasure marina that working port these days with pleasure yachts, small fishing boats, and sailboats filling more than 10,000 slips.

Marseille's Vieux Port

Around the port, fishermen mend their nets and lounge on benches reading newspapers in Greek and Arabic while cafes and restaurants serve up seafood from the nearby Mediterranean Sea.

Marseille street with nice shops

The Saint-Ferréol les Augustins Church is a Roman Catholic church located on Marseille's Vieux Port. The original building was owned by the Knights Templar. However, in 1369, it was given to a community of Augustinian hermits. By 1447, they spearheaded construction of a new church building. It was dedicated in 1542, even though the roof was not finished until 1588.

Pope Clement VII married his niece, Catherine de' Medici, to Henry II of France, in this church on October 28, 1533

Saint-Ferréol les Augustins Church

Le Panier quarter - the bread basket, seen below is one of Marseille's oldest sections. Le Panier is only a small part of what used to exist before the Germans dynamited it during World War II to flush out the Jews and Resistance fighters hiding there.

Up until the 1970s, the Le Panier quarter was the center for purification of heroin that passed through Marseille to Europe and the United States, hence the "French Connection" depicted in the 1971 movie starring Gene Hackman. Today ancient buildings line narrow back streets - kids playing, laundry flapping and people chatting in the squares.

Le Panier

Shops along the Vieux Port

The Marseille City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) seen below was built between 1653 and 1673. It was one of the few buildings on the harbor to survive the destruction of World War 2.

Marseille Town Hall

The ferris wheel seen below is located on the east end of the Vieux Port. While I am sure the view from the top of the ride over the port, the sea and the city of Marseille is nothing short of spectacular, my fear of heights will probably keep me from ever seeing those views from the ferris wheel.

Ferris wheel at Marseille's Vieux Port

After concluding our shopping, we decided to take a taxi to the restaurant in order to avoid having to deal with the Marseille traffic. Restaurant Fonfon is located in the Vallon des Auffes near the Monument aux Morts de l'Armée d'Orient off the Corniche du President-John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy.

The Monument aux Morts de l'Armée d'Orient by Antoine Sartorio seen below stands on a rocky promontory on Marseille's seafront and remembers all those Frenchmen who gave their lives during the 1914-1918 war fighting overseas particularly in the Far East.

The center of the arch has a carving of a crescent and a star. Sculptures of air force personnel and soldiers stand on one side of the arch together with a winged angel whilst on the other side is another winged angel and on a pedestal in the center of the arch is a bronze "angel of victory" her arms lifted to the skies. A stairway leading down to the sea completes the memorial.

Marseille War Memorial called "Monument aux Morts de l'Armée d'Orient"

Fonfon Restaurant which has been in business since 1952, is located in Vallon des Auffes, a small picturesque fishing port crowded with "pointus", traditional fishing boats and ringed by "cabanons", fishing sheds in Marseille's 7th arrondissement.

Vallon des Auffes

Vallon des Auffes"

Marseille is most famous for three things: the national anthem called “La Marseillaise”, the "French Connection" drug trade and bouillabaisse. Of these, the renowned fish stew of Provence is easily the most controversial and complicated. For a start, no one can even agree on the origin of the actual word, let alone the origins of the dish.

The most likely story is that it came about when local fishermen decided to boil up the fish and crustaceans they couldn't easily sell, which explains why the main contents are small rock fish and other ugly ducklings of the Mediterranean coastline, such as rascasse and anglerfish.

The prime ingredient is at least one of the three members of the rascasse family. The other commonly accepted ingredients are olive oil, onions, garlic, tomatoes, fennel, parsley and saffron. Some add a glug of Pastis, the anise-flavored aperitif.

Fonfon Restaurant

Recommended wines for bouillabaisse are Provencale rosés, and white wines from Bandol, Cassis and the Rhone. We opted for a bottle of white Clos Sainte Magdeleine, one of our favorite wineries in Cassis that I told you about here.

Clos Sainte Magdeleine

As is the custom, our server brought a platter to the table to show the fish that would be cooked for our Bouillabaisse that day. Most recipes call for bouillabaisse to include at least five types of fish. It almost always contains rascasse, a Mediterranean fish. The addition of shellfish is voluntary and is seen as snobbish by many Bouillabaisse purists.

Server presenting fish that will be cooked for the Bouillabaisse

Shirley finds the fish soup that is served for Bouillabaisse to be a little strong for her liking. So she opted for having one of Sole the server presented cooked to order for her. Whole fish is sold per 100 grams.

Tray with choices of whole fish for the day

Amuse Bouche

Bouillabaisse comes in two courses. First is the soup, accompanied by croutons, which you rub with a clove of whole garlic and spread with rouille, a bright orange mayonnaise flavored with saffron, cayenne and more garlic (rouille means, literally, "rust").

Bouillabaisse soup

The second course is the fish themselves, which are usually presented whole on a platter before they are taken back to the kitchen to be cooked and filleted for diners. The cooked fish are usually accompanied by potatoes that have been cooked in the Bouillabaisse soup.

Cooked fish for Bouillabaisse

Perfectly cooked Sole.

We chose ice cream for dessert

The Bouillabaisse was excellent. One thing I noticed was that from the last time I was there about 7 years ago, the clientele had changed from all French speakers to mostly tourists at least on this particular day. We headed back up to the Corniche and hailed a taxi to return to our car.

Vieux Port with Notre Dame de la Garde in the distance

It is very hard to find well-prepared, traditional Bouillabaisse in Provence. Forget one that is cheap. If you do find one that is cheap, don't order it. If you visit the fish mongers in the South of France, you know how expensive fresh fish is. So it stands to reason that an excellent traditional Bouillabaisse will be quite expensive. Chez Fonfon's menu currently quotes a price of 53 Euros per person.

Chez Fonfon Restaurant
140 Rue du Vallon des Auffes
13007 Marseille
Tel: 04 91 52 14 38

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gordes, a Beautiful Hilltop Village in the Luberon

Gordes is a beautiful village in the Luberon region about 1 hour southeast of our home in Sablet. The obviously strategic site where Gordes sits has been occupied since prehistoric times. The stone buildings were built against the base of the cliffs and spiral up around the rock to the top where the chateau was built with a panoramic view over fields and forests and small perched villages.

The village's setting is striking and lots of tourists come to visit in the summer. Gordes is classified as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, literally translated, one of the most beautiful villages of France; Gordes is one of 156 French villages with that classification. It is said to be the #1 tourist attraction in the Luberon.

Cubist painter André Lhote discovered Gordes in 1938 followed by Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely and other modern artist who visited and summered in Gordes. More recently the village gained exposure as one of the locations for a movie filmed in the Luberon, "A Good Year" based on a novel of the same name written by Peter Mayle starring Russell Crowe.


At the top of Gordes and in the center sits the chateau which dominates the town. Built in 1031, reinforced in 1123, the castle was rebuilt in 1525. Today the castle is home to the Pol Mara museum, a contemporary Flemish painter who lived in Gordes, and the tourist information office. In summer there are concerts and plays in the castle's courtyard.


The Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, translated as the "white penitents chapel" is located near the castle. Dating from the 17th century, the chapel is an art gallery today.

White Penitents Chapel

The fountain in the square by Hôtel Renaissance seen below, is where Max waits for Fanny Chenal, the character played by Marion Cotillard in "A Good Year" movie to get off work. Hôtel Renaissance was transformed into Fanny Chenal's bistro for the movie, and where Max famously tells an obnoxious American couple that "MacDonalds is in Avignon, fish and chips in Marseille. Allez".

Fountain in center of Gordes

A stone tower in Gordes next to Hôtel Renaissance

The memorial to the children of Gordes who died in wars for France is in the main square and where Russell Crowe's character, Max Skinner circles several times in his little yellow smart car looking for the notaire, a self-employed legal specialist with public authority to draw up contracts for clients, in the "A Good Year" movie.

War Memorial in center of Gordes

Every Tuesday morning is market day. Merchants from around the area set up stalls on Place du Château and sell their wares: fresh fruits and vegetables, Provençale pottery and linens, art work and clothing.

Place du Château and the fountain where Max waited for Fanny


The original Romanesque church in Gordes was dedicated to Notre Dame. Rebuilt in 1704, it has a colorful interior and was dedicated to its patron Saint Firmin, a former Bishop of Uzès.

Façade of Saint Firmin Church

Around the center of the village near the castle, you will find various cafés, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops.

A Gordes tourist shop

During World War II, Gordes was an active resistance village and was later awarded a medal, the Croix de Guerre 1939 - 1945. On the 21st of August 1944, just 6 days after the start of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, a German patrol was attacked by members of the Gordes resistance and the day after, the village was subjected to violent reprisals and much of Gordes was destroyed.

Another view of the Chateau

Gordes boulangerie

It's enjoyable to wander around the maze of stone-paved-narrow streets which crisscross Gordes.

Gordes defensive tower

Gordes shop

While there are several Michelin starred and recommended restaurants in the area, we have not discovered any excellent places to eat right in Gordes itself.

Gordes street cafes

As in many villages in the Vaucluse, agriculture is important. Historically, almond trees were the most planted in the area, and though they are still present, olive trees have largely replaced them. Thus olive oil is important to local commerce. You can also find vineyards, with the production of table grapes or wine in AOC Ventoux.


Almost opposite the church, the Caves du Palais Saint Firmin (the Cellars of the Palais Saint Firmin) offer a glimpse into a mysterious underground world. A fortified hill village where space was limited, Gordes developed an extensive network of cellars carved into the rock for use as storage areas and artisans' workshops.

Saint Firmin Church

While strolling around the tiny streets which climb up and down between the tall houses, you will discover here and there beautiful old doorways, arcades and walls of flat stone perfectly restored, and on the other side, there is the panorama of the valley and mountains of Luberon.

The year 1826 on the stone façade of a house

Arched passageway

One of the many narrow stone streets called calades - small paved, sometimes stepped alleyways lined with gutters defined by two rows of stone.


It is definitely worthwhile to visit Gordes. If you have time, you should also visit the Bories village, a collection of 30 stone huts made of dry flat stones made without mortar and the nearby Sénanque Abbey, a 12th century Cistercian abbey, that is surrounded by lavender fields.