Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Domaine de Valdition, Historic Winery in the Alpilles

I remembered reading a blogger's post about Domaine de Valdition's rosé wine as we came across a sign along the road announcing the entrance to the winery just ahead. That day we were headed to lunch down the road at Sous les Micocouliers in nearby Eygalières.

As you travel down the road, you can see the village of Eygalières ahead, perched on a small hill with chateau ruins at the top. As you get closer, you can see the small houses which line the winding streets of the village.

Domaine de Valdition is located down the road from Eygalières and not far from Saint-Rémy de Provence in the heart of the Alpilles. As we drive around, we see vast olive groves, vineyards, pine and oak forests and flocks of sheep grazing in fields.

Between Eygalières and Domaine de Valdition sits the Romanesque Saint-Sixte chapel, which has been listed as an historic monument by the French government since 1971. The chapel dates back to the 12th century and stands, isolated, on top of a rocky mount. The chapel is supported by massive buttresses and topped by a bell-tower wall.

The chapel is dedicated to the martyred Pope Saint Sixte who was believed to have died in the 3rd century. A procession is organised each year on the Tuesday following Easter, during which Guardians from Camargue, riding white horses, and men and women dressed in Arles-style costumes carry an effigy of the Pope to the Saint Sixte chapel.

If you have been following Our House in Provence blog for a while and especially the posts about food and wine, you have probably figured out that we love rosé wines. The aforementioned blogger, and for the life of me, I can't recall who, wrote that Domaine de Valdition makes her favorite rosé wine. Since we were early for lunch, we decided to turn in and taste the Domaine's wines for ourselves.

During the Renaissance, François 1st, King of France gave the Domaine as a gift to his daughter Caroline du Prévot who married Sieur Dacla de Chateaubert and their family and heirs keep the estate going for the next five centuries.

The Domaine is planted with vineyards and olive groves are surrounded by pastures and pine and oak forests. The Domaine de Valdition vineyards are planted with a lot of different cépages - grape varieties.

The varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Marselan, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot and Syrah for red wines, and Bourboulenc, Chasan, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Muscat Petit Grain, Roussane and Viognier for white wines.

There are 74 acres of olives groves planted with different varieties of trees for AOC Les Baux de Provence olive oil including Aglandau, Salonenque, Grossane and Verdale from the Bouches du Rhône. An olive called Bouteillan which came originally from the Var is planted on the Domaine too.

Shirley and friend John wait to enter the tasting room with me.

We taste through the various wines produced by the Domaine. They are are classified as Vin de Pays de Alpilles or A.O.C.Coteaux d’Aix en Provence.

We leave with a box of 2011 Vallon des Anges Rosé from the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence. The wine is pale in color and made of a blend of Grenache and Cinsault grapes.

We also buy bottles of AOC Les Baux de Provence olive oil and several ceramic pintades - guinea hens to add to our collection in the kitchen.

Thanks to the unknown blogger who wrote about Domaine de Valdition. We really liked the rosé wine and the delicious olive oil. I wish I could give credit to the proper author. If any of you are the ones who wrote, please remind me so I can correct this oversight.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!

Domaine de Valdition
Route d'Eygalières
13660 Orgon
Tel: 04 90 73 08 12

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Vaison-la-Romaine and Le Brin d'Olivier Restaurant

I convided that if you are in our corner of Provence, we think you should go to the Vaison-la-Romaine market on at least one Tuesday morning. There you will find an amazing assortment of fresh fruit, vegetables, olives, charcuterie, cheese, meats, fish and roasted meats and cooked foods to go.

While you are there, take the time to wander through the large fields of Roman ruins in the lower town and/or through the picturesque maze of tiny streets up to the castle at the top of the medieval upper town and enjoy the spectacular view out over Vaison-la-Romaine's new town.

The upper and lower towns are connected by this Roman Bridge dating to the 1st century over the Ouvèze River. One interesting thing about the Bridge is its single arch which spans 17.2 meters or 56.5 feet. It has withstood floods and except for the parapet which was rebuilt after the huge flood in 1992, the Bridge is as it was 2000 years ago.

At the end of the Roman Bridge on the medieval side, there is a large memorial to the children of Vaison-la-Romaine who died fighting for France during WWI and WWII.

Another reason we go to Vaison-la-Romaine is to eat at Le Brin d'Olivier restaurant which is located a few steps from the Roman Bridge in the lower town. We park along the Ouvèze River in the public parking lot facing the belfry tower with its 18th century wrought-iron bell cage.

For some reason, we end up most often at Le Brin d'Olivier on Sundays for lunch. The restaurant is the only one in Vaison-la-Romaine awarded a Bibb Gourmand by Michelin and included in the guide to Les Meilleures Adresses à Petit Prix, meaning you eat well for a good price.

The entrance to the restaurant through the patio into the dining room where guests are seated during warm weather.

The restaurant also has two dining rooms on the upper floor for use during cooler weather where we were seated when we went in late March. The tables in the small warm room with exposed wood beams on the ceiling were covered with white table cloths.

After looking over the menu, I chose the "Balade en Provence" menu for 29,00 Euros and Shirley went a la carte. We selected a 50 cl bottle of the 2010 Chateau de Paradis, Terre des Anges rosé, a very nice blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We were brought an amuse bouche of Suprise Crème de Tomates with Espelette along with a basket of house-baked bread.

For our first course, I chose the Oeuf poché à la crème de broccoli with a lemon sugar - poached egg with cream of broccoli soup. Shirley passed on the poached egg and had the cream of broccoli soup since she doesn't like poached eggs. The soup was delicious with a distinct lemon note.

Shirley waiting patiently for her main course to be served.

A little poodle waiting patiently too for little tidbits to fall to the floor.

For her first course, Shirley chose the Fiilet de Turbot roti sur poelle de legumes d'automne, echalotes confites - fillet of turbot roasted on autumn vegetables such as Zucchini and mushrooms in a rich mushroom broth with shallots cooked confit style.

I chose the Magret de canard roti au miel et epices sur potate douce fondante - duck breast roasted with honey and spices and served over a sweet potato puree. It was really good.

For dessert, we shared the Fondant chocolat aux eclats de noisettes, crème à la vanille de bourbon - warm runny chocolate cake with bursts of hazelnuts over a creamy vanilla bourbon sauce.

We have had consistently good meals at Le Brin d'Olivier. If you are in Vaison-la-Romaine, you should reserve a table for lunch. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Le Brin d'Olivier
4 Rue du Ventoux
84110 Vaison-la-Romaine
Tel: 04 90 28 74 79

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Roussillon and the Sentier des Ocres

I am frequently asked by friends and others headed to Provence where they should go during a once in a life time seven day visit to Provence. This is a hard question as most visitors have only 6 days since they usually arrive on Saturday afternoon and then they depart the following Saturday morning and there are so many wonderful things to see.

There is something for everyone in Provence; there are Roman ruins and medieval villages for history buffs, lavender, sunflowers and coquelicots for artists, open-air markets with amazing displays of fruits and vegetables and great restaurants for foodies, and world famous vineyards for wine lovers.

There are summer music and theater festivals, bull fights and the Transhumance for lovers of spectacles, brocantes and vide-greniers for antique hunters, Mont Ventoux for amateurs cyclists who want to test their skills on the most famous ascent on the Tour de France, the Dentelles de Montmirail for hikers and picturesque villages with beaches along the Mediterranean Sea.

Invariably, we suggest that visitors include a day trip to the vibrant red-ocher colored town of Roussillon, one of five villages nestled in the Luberon hills which are classified as Plus Beaux Villages de France - Most beautiful villages of France. Roussillon is one of our favorite villages and just over one hour from Sablet.

When we have guests from the United States, we make sure we take them to as many of our do-not-miss places as time will permit. That's why we were headed to the Luberon for a visit to Roussillon on an overcast day late in March with friends John and Lorelei who were on their first trip to Provence.

As we approach, Roussillon's colors are striking against the green fields perched on the edge of a dramatic red cliff.

As you can imagine, the incredible beauty of the village brings lots of tourists during the summer. It is clear during our visit that day how much Roussillon relies on tourists for commerce as we encountered only a handful of visitors and not a single shop or cafe open as we wandered through the tiny streets of the village.

We visit Roussillon often and have posted about some of those visits here and here. Shirley and friends John and Lorelei pause under the belfry topped clock tower.

A pretty window in Roussillon.

One of the many ocher-colored houses in Roussillon.

One of the few inhabitants we found out-and-about during our visit that day to Roussillon.

A rainbow like row of brightly colored houses in Roussillon.

A house on a dramatic ocher cliff.

Although we have been to Roussillon many times, we had never hiked the Sentier des Ocres - the ocher trail just a few minutes walk from the village. Since there were no shops or cafes open to draw us in, we decided we should walk the short trail. There is a small admission fee.

The trail takes you past multi-colored ocher formations set against a backdrop of pine trees.

One of the ocher formations we passed on our walk along the Sentier des Ocres.

Shirley pauses to admire the beauty of the ocher formations. I suggest you don't wear white shoes to avoid stains as your shoes will collect ocher as you walk along.

This is the heart of one of the world's largest ocher deposits where 17 different shades of soil were once mined.

Part of the ocher trail takes you through pine forest growing on ocher soils.

The town of Roussillon has put up signs along the trail which explain the formation and mining of the ocher.

We take a break for a picture with a multi-colored ocher formation as backdrop.

The trail back up to the village.

One more brightly colored ocher formation.

On the way back to the village, we passed the cemetery which looks almost like a village street.

Roussillon, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful villages of Provence.

As I said, the beauty of Roussillon draws hordes of artists and visitors during tourist season. So it is best to visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The village is fairly small so it doesn't take very long to explore. It is easy to combine a visit to Roussillon with a visit to Gordes or other hill towns in the Luberon.

Other places on my list include the Pont du Gard, Cassis, Les Baux de Provence and the Tuesday morning market in Vaison-la-Romaine. I am curious readers, what places are at the top of your list of places to visit in Provence?

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Shopping in Aix-en-Provence and Lunch at Le MilleFeuille Restaurant

We go to Aix-en-Provence to shop and meet up with cousin Annick who lives close by. There are no ancient historical sites or museums you have to visit but it is a popular destination because of its outdoor markets, its pretty squares, wide avenues, and beautiful fountains.

Aix is home to some art schools and several universities, including some American, attracting a youthful population that gives the town a lively energy. It is said that of the 142,000 people who reside in Aix, some 40,000 are students, most of whom it seems to me dress only in shades of black or gray.

Aix-en-Provence is sometimes referred to as the city of a thousand fountains. The most famous and most photographed fountain is La Rontonde which is at the bottom of Cours Mirabeau. La Rontonde is a huge round-about and the hub of modern Aix. Dating from 1860, the fountain is topped by three statues representing art (facing Avignon), justice (facing Aix) and agriculture (facing Marseille).

Cours Mirabeau is a wide avenue with two rows of plane-trees which provides shade from the hot Provençal sun, bordered by big old houses and decorated by a procession of four fountains. It was built on the site of the town's medieval ramparts and divides the town into two sections; The new town, Mazarin Quarters, extends to the south and west; the old town, with its wide but irregular streets and its old mansions dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, lies to the north.

The avenue is lined on one side with banks and on the other with bookstores and cafés with tables that spill out onto the sidewalk, one of which is Les Deux Garçons, the most famous brasserie in Aix. Built in 1792, it has been frequented by the likes of Paul Cézanne, Émile Zola and Ernest Hemingway.

At the top of Cours Mirabeau is a a 19th century fountain which depicts the "good king" René holding the Muscat grapes that he introduced to Provence in the 15th century.

Aix-en-Provence hosts open-air markets several mornings a week: there is a produce market daily at Place de Richelme, flea markets Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the Palace of Justice, flower markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Place de l'Hotel de Ville as well as a book market on the first Sunday of each month.

One of the many fountains found throughout Aix-en-Provence.

Sundial on side of a Aix-en-Provence building in the historic old town.

The 16th century clock tower at Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. The tower has two clock faces: a typical one and an astronomical clock from 1661.

Aix has an abundance of shopping options, enough to keep Shirley occupied for hours.

We always pay a visit to Marie-Hélène who owns La Victoire with her husband Philippe, the store where we have purchased all our fabric for the table cloths, curtains and place mats we use at our Bistro Des Copains. The store has been in business since 1918.

As you probably know, we have four wonderful grand kids; Avery age 5, Dylan age 4, Caedon age 3 and Madison age 18 months. Shirley is known to the grand kids as GG (Greatest Grandma), and in order to live up to her reputation, a visit to the kids stores in Aix-en-Provence including our favorite, Petit Bateau is mandatory.

Another one of our stops is at Chocalatier Puyricard on rue Rifle Rafle to pick up an assortment of their handcrafted chocolates to take with us.

As it is just before Easter, the shop has a beautiful assortment of chocolates for Easter on display.

Just a few steps from Chocalatier Puyricard is Le Millefeuille Restaurant where we were headed for lunch. The restaurant is run by two veterans of l'Oustau de Baumanière, the well regarded restaurant with two Michelin stars in Les Baux de Provence.

We were immediately seated a simply set table and brought a plate with black olive tapenade and toasted bread to nibble while we figured out what we wanted to eat.

Shirley is happy after a morning of shopping and looking forward to what we hoped would be a great lunch. After considering the menu options, we both chose the "Menu" which included a starter, main course and dessert for 27 Euros.

We chose as our starters, a Tarte tiède aux jeunes épinards, fromage de chèvre et amandes servie sur lit de salade - a warm spinach and goat cheese tart with almonds served on a bed of greens and

a Salade de fumeton de l'Ubaye, asperges vertes brousse de pays, crème de vieux Parmesan - salad of smoked leg of lamb from the Ubaye Valley and wild green asparagus with an aged Parmesan cream sauce.

For main courses, we chose a Filet de daurade poêlé à l'huile d'olive, risotto carnaroli crémeux aux poireaux, crème de panais - filet of sea bream pan-roasted in olive oil served over creamy leek risotto with a cream of parsnip sauce and a

Sauté d'agneau de Sisteron confit façon aillade, polenta moelleuse et poêlée de légumes de moment - sautéed Sisteron lamb in a garlicky sauce served over creamy polenta with vegetables.

For desserts we chose a Moelleux au chocolat chaud "Antao" 70% et glace chocolat fève de tonka - warm chocolate cake served with chocolate ice cream infused with tonka bean. Tonka beans are used as a vanilla substitute in French desserts and stews but interestingly at least to me, it is banned for use in food by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Our second dessert was Pommes chanteclerc caramélisées, amandes et sa glace caramel beurre salé - carmelized chantecler apples served with almonds and salted butter caramel ice cream.

We have not had great meals in Aix-en-Provence or at least nothing to write about until now. The cooking and plating of the food at Le Millefeuille was excellent and we will definitely return when we are back in Aix-en-Provence. I recommend this restaurant to you without hesitation. Make sure you save room for dessert because these are really outstanding.

Le MilleFeuille Restaurant
8 rue rifle-rafle
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tel: 04 42 96 55 17

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!