Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brasserie Insolite, Lourmarin

As I told you in my previous post, we went to Lourmarin and while we were there, we ate déjeuner - lunch at Brasserie Insolite. I normally try to figure out what are supposedly the good restaurants in a town before we go, but since our visit to Lourmarin was a spur of the moment decision, I didn't get a chance to do that.

Although it was mid-September and vacations mostly over and people back to work, Lourmarin was bustling with lots of people. There were shoppers completing purchases at the Friday market while sellers were starting to box up the fruits and vegetables and assorted merchandise they hadn't sold, shopkeepers were closing for their two hour lunch break and office workers were headed home, baguettes in hand for lunch.

It was a beautiful day, the sky was brilliant blue and we wanted to sit outside and soak up the sunshine and atmosphere. We could see that diners were already seated at most of the café tables that line Place de la Fontaine and the streets near the center of Lourmarin.

We walked around reading the various menu's, some were on blackboards and others printed and posted outside restaurants. After checking menus and availability of tables, we decided to try Brasserie Insolite. They had a selection of salads and pizzas which was what we were looking for given we weren't familiar with any restaurants in the area.

Brasserie Insolite has a few tables along the street, a dining room for inclement weather and a large terrace behind the restaurant. We were offered the last table on the terrace along with a warning that there were no more umbrellas and it was very sunny. Sounded perfect to us.

It seemed like everyone had descended on the restaurant at the same time as it took a while for the server to get over to our table to take our order. In this picture wife Shirley is patiently waiting for our server to arrive.

We ordered a pichet - carafe of rosé wine from the Luberon region to accompany our lunch. For starters we chose a Salade Italienne - a nicely dressed salad of arugula, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese; and

Camembert Fondue - a plate of greens and a whole baked Camembert with little toasts on which to spread the cheese.

We had observed several pizzas carried out to other tables and seen they were very good size. So we decided to share a Pizza 4 Fromages - four cheese pizza. I guess we weren't worried about cheese overload.

To finish, we shared a Café Liégeois, a wonderful combination of vanilla and coffee ice cream, cold espresso topped with Chantilly cream. It was perfect for a hot day.

We will be returning to the Lourmarin area many times I am sure. Brasserie Insolite was wonderful for a simple lunch. I have heard there are several very good restaurants in the area. I would appreciate any restaurant suggestions you might have for Lourmarin and the surrounding area.

Bonne appetit.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brocante, Sablet

Spring will arrive soon in the Vaucluse and along with cherry blossoms, red poppies in fields, asparagus at weekly markets, sunshine and warm weather, will come hand-painted signs along the roads announcing brocante dimanche - flea market Sunday.

A brocante is actually a French cross between an antiques' fair and a flea market. If you enjoy hunting antiques, you can find a brocante almost every weekend, generally on Sunday in one village or another it seems.

I just got the schedule for Manifestations De Sablet 2011 - Festivities in Sablet in 2011 from the Office de Tourisme. There are three brocantes scheduled for Sablet this year: May 1, June 2 and a to be determined date in September.

Brocantes in Sablet are held at La Place du Village - the village square, in other villages, the center of town. The pictures which follow were taken at a brocante in Sablet on a Sunday morning last September. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Brocantes attract a mix of professional dealers and second-hand sellers. You can find everything under the sun at brocantes including copper pots and pans, furniture, glassware, old books and records, games, ceramics, art, old posters, silverware and delicate embroideries.

During the summer, you will also see signs for vide-greniers. Literally, it means empty attic. All the stuff that comes out of the attic ends up for sale in villages once or twice a year.

We have not seen the equivalent of the individual yard sale like we find on weekends in Northern California. Vide-greniers are the same idea but they are scheduled by the town hall for the whole village.

We have bought a few things at brocantes and we have found that sellers expect to bargain. Beware, they will act insulted if you offer too low a price. We tell them we really like the item but its more than we want to spend and they usually offer a lower price.

Timing is important at a brocante. Dealers arrive first and the good stuff and best prices are gone early in the day. By the end of the day, there won't be much left.

Enjoy the brocantes. Most of what you see will not suit your taste but its fun to wander around and check things out. If you find something you can't live without, go for it and try your hand at bargaining. Good luck.

There are many festivities scheduled this year for Sablet besides the three brocantes. If you are there for one of these festivities, I would love to see pictures.

Bonne journée et à bientôt.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lourmarin, A Beautiful Village in the Luberon

There are many Vaucluse villages we have not visited so we are trying to visit some of those rather than returning to the same villages over and over. One of the villages we had not visited was Lourmarin in the southernmost part of the Luberon.

I guess Lourmarin was at the top of my list to visit because it is classified as a Plus Beaux Villages de France - one of seven small Vaucluse villages classified as most beautiful villages of France and the English author Peter Mayle who wrote A Year in Provence and other books about Provence lives there. I should mention that Julie over at Provence Post has reported the house is for sale so that may be changing soon.

We arrived in Lourmarin late one Friday morning just as the weekly market was wrapping up. I didn't know there was a market on Friday mornings or I would have made sure we got there earlier so we could wander through the market, one of our favorite things to do.

Lourmarin is nestled in the middle of vineyards and olive groves just north of the Durance River at the foot of the Montagne du Luberon. The inhabitants of Lourmarin are called Lourmarinois.

Lourmarin was bustling with people finishing up morning shopping before heading home for lunch and tourists staking out tables for lunch at one of the cafe's that line the street.

Lourmarin is very picturesque village although not as compact or cute in my opinion as some of the other more famous villages nearby.

Brasserie Insolite where we ate lunch. Since our visit to Lourmarin was spur of the moment, I didn't do any research about local restaurants or reserved a table so we decided to eat here since it was cute and we could get a table. More about lunch in my next post.

We wandered in and out of the shops but didn't find anything that we had to buy.

All roads seem to converge on the intersection near Cafe de la Fontaine.

Another view of the center of Lourmain.

There are many narrow winding streets to explore.

The architecture is typical of a Provencal village.

Pretty shutters on a window with a pretty flower box.

Another pretty house that caught my eye.

I love all the blue you see on the walls of homes and shops.

One of several interesting fountains we saw on our walk around Lourmarin.

The Romanesque church of St. Andre.

A fortress was first built at this site in the 12th century and was rebuilt by Foulques d'Agoult in the 15th century on the foundations of the earlier castle. It was restored in 1920.

Another pretty house and arched passage we passed as we made our way back to our car to return to Sablet.

Bonne journée mes amies et à bientôt.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Insensé Restaurant, Montpellier

One Saturday morning back in January, after a morning walk around Sablet, I headed over to rendezvous with cousins Jean Marc and Christine at their house near Montpellier. When I got there, I was happy to hear that we were going to meet their daughter Anne-Emmanuelle and Christine's brother Jean Baptiste for lunch near Place de la Comédie as he was arriving by TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) - high speed train from Paris.

The Place de la Comédie is the main focal point for the city of Montpellier so there are many stores and restaurants located nearby. We decided to dine at Insensé Restaurant at the Musée Fabre. Insensé Restaurant is owned by twin brothers Jacques and Laurent Pourcel who also own the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Jardin des Sens, also in Montpellier

Cousin Christine, a pediatrician, with her brother Jean Baptiste, formerly an actor, now restaurateur and owner of Le Chalet des Iles, a restaurant on the lake in Bois du Boulogne in Paris' 16th arrondisement.

Me with cousin Anne-Emmanuelle, a soprano with an amazing voice and a talented flautist too; she now concentrates on her vocal career. She has sung all over France and will be in New York City to perform in September 2011.

We ordered a bottle of Chateau de la Negly from the Languedoc region to accompany our lunch.

Lunch starters included: Tartine de poivron rouge et chèvre - toasted bread with roasted red peppers and goat cheese,

ravioli de champignon avec sauce au potiron et crème de châtaigne - mushroom ravioli with pumpkin sauce and cream of chestnut,

and l’assiette de jambon ibérique, copeaux de poire, parmesan et pousses de roquette - plate of ibérique ham, sliced pears, parmesan cheese and arugula.

Main courses included:

cabillaud et sauce safran, courgettes et carrotes - pan roasted cod with zucchini, carrots and a saffron sauce,

tartare de boeuf classique, pommes frites et salade - beef tartare, fries and salad greens,

filet de daurade royale grillé, jus de cuisson en émulsion - pan roasted sea bass with cooking juices emulsified,

and l’émincé de boeuf poêlé, pommes frites, et fondue d’échalotes - sliced pan roasted beef with fries and shallot fondue.

Desserts included:

feuilleté caramélisé aux pommes confites with glace vanille - layered apples cooked confit style with vanilla ice cream,

tarte fine a l'orange et sorbet senguine - orange tart with blood orange sorbet.

Insensé Restaurant is a good choice for lunch or dinner if you are looking for a moderately priced place to eat near Place de la Comédie in Montpellier. We will definitely go again.

Bon appetit.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Early morning walk in Arles

Very early one morning, after dropping friends off at Marseille Provence Airport for their 6:00 AM flight back to the US, I decided that rather than go back to Sablet, I would go to Mas de Gourgonnier to buy wine. Since the winery wouldn't be open for dégustation - tasting for several hours, I headed to Arles for petit déjeuner - breakfast.

Arles sits along the Rhone River about 75 miles southwest of Sablet. It is located just down stream of where the Rhone River splits into two parts (big and little) before it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. I had never been to Arles before so I had no idea where I would find a café or boulangerie where I could get coffee and croissants for breakfast.

As I explained, I had never been to Arles but recalled there are some Roman ruins, there is a bustling weekly market, Vincent van Gogh lived there and the town is the gateway to the Camargue, the vast Rhone River delta. When I don't know a town or village, I usually look for and follow the signs towards Centre Ville - center of town, which is where I headed that morning as I figured I would for sure find a café there.

The sun was up by the time I parked near the center of town. The narrow streets were largely deserted except for a couple of municipal streets cleaners. Nothing looked open yet so I decided to walk in the direction the sign pointed for the Arènes - Roman amphitheater.

As shown in the picture below, the streets of Arles are truly medieval in character: narrow and winding between ancient buildings.

The amphitheatre is said to measure 136 m (446 ft) in length and 109 m (358 ft) wide, the 120 arches date back to the 1st century BC. The amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting as well as plays and concerts in summer.

A pretty house I passed on my walk around Arles.

Another narrow street, this one stair stepped in cobblestone

Church of Notre Dame la Major.

To the left in the picture below is the Roman theatre which was built at the end of the 1st century BC. The theatre is said to have been able to accommodate 10,000 spectators in 33 rows of seats.

Houses and shops around the amphitheatre including the café where I ate breakfast. The area was deserted early in the morning.

More houses with colorful shutters that caught my eye.

The Church of St. Trophime at Place de la République, formerly a cathedral, is a major work of Romanesque architecture, and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture, as are the columns in the adjacent cloister.

Place de la République with the Hotel de Ville at the rear of the large square and the Church of St. Trophime on the right side. In the middle of the square stands an obelisk from Arle's Roman circus, moved to its present location in the 17th century. The lions at its base are the symbol of the town.

An archway leads to another narrow winding street.

A view of what remains of the Roman theatre in Arles.

Another view of the area around the Roman theatre.

As I got back to my car, I came across this interesting building.

I didn't try to avoid taking pictures with people in them.  It was just so early that I almost had the town to myself. Not too bad if you just want to wander around but don't care to enter buildings or historical sites or wander in and out of shops; something we like to do. So we will definitely have to return on a market day so we can get a sense of life in Arles.

Bonne journée et à bientôt.