Monday, December 30, 2013

We visit the market in Nyons on our day trip through the Drôme Provençale

I think I have mentioned that we don't spend much time vegging out at home in Sablet. We are usually off visiting family, tasting wine, touring friends or exploring new corners of the region, usually with a leisurely Provençal lunch in the middle of the day.

One day a few months back, we headed off to explore the nearby Drôme Provençale. Being it was Thursday morning, our first stop would be Nyons (28 kms) so we could wander around the bustling Provençal market that takes place in the center of town every Thursday morning throughout the year.

Nyons sits in a natural basin on the right bank of the Eygues river, surrounded by hills and small mountains, which provides shelter from wind. The town gets an unusual amount of sunshine, earning Nyons the nickname "Little Nice" for its great climate.

When we get close to town, we see the Randonne Tower headed by pyramid arches on which stands a statue of Virgin Mary. The tower was erected around 1280, and at the time was used as a keep and military prison for the castle. In the 19th century it was converted to a chapel and renamed "Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours".

Nyons with Randonne Tower at the highest point

Probably the most famous historical monument in Nyons, is the "Roman Bridge," a single arch bridge across the Eygues river built in Romanesque style between 1341 and 1409. Until the 19th century, the bridge was the main access road into Nyons.

The Roman bridge over the Eygues river

The Olive tree in the roundabout in the center of town is a reminder that olives are celebrated in Nyons year-around with the Festival of Pitted Olives the weekend before Christmas, the Festival of New Olive Oil, the first Sunday in February, and Fête des Olivades, the weekend which follows Bastille Day.

The roundabout in the center of Nyons

In 1994, Nyons became the first region in France to be awarded its own appellation or AOC, for olives and oil, similar to that of wine regions. The rules of the AOC dictate what can be called Nyons olives or oil. For example, oils in this AOC must contain at least 95% of a variety of olives called Tanche.

Market stalls set up around the war memorial

We walk through the Saint Jacques gate, the only gate intact from the medieval defensive walls, to "Place des Arcades" and "Place de la Liberation" where the market is underway. "Place des Arcades" dates from the 14th century when it was set aside for markets and fairs in Nyons. The square gets its name from the arcades that surround the square.

Shops and cafés line "Place des Arcades"

Here are a few of the sights that caught my eye as we walked around Nyons that morning.

Street musicians perform on market day

Saint Vincent's Church with Saint-Césaire monastery and two nearby cemeteries formed the religious center of Nyons in the Middle Ages. Most of the modern-day building dates from the beginning of the 17th century.

The bell tower of Saint Vincent Church

Narrow street in historic center of Nyons

Brightly colored shopping baskets for sale on market day

The bell tower of Saint Vincent Church

Fruit and vegetable stand

The Roman Bridge

The bell tower of Saint Vincent Church peaks above the roofs of Nyons

Cafés line the arcades

Vendors set up under the plane trees on market day

Nyons fountain

As usual, we couldn't make it through a market without buying something such as linens, soaps, pottery, artwork, or something tasty to eat. Since it was getting close to noon and time for déjeuner (lunch), we headed for the car and to our next stop at La Charrette Bleue which I will tell you about in my next post.

Have a great day. A bientôt. See you soon.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil in Cairanne, an outstanding producer of organic wines

Small villages dot the hillsides throughout the Northern Vaucluse, a geographic area bordered by the Rhône river near Orange in the west and the Dentelles de Montmirail, a small chain of mountains with dramatically jagged peaks in the east just to the south of Vaison-la-Romaine.

The Northern Vaucluse is the heart of the Southern Côte du Rhône wine region with famous wine villages like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras and lesser known villages like Rasteau, Séguret and our own Sablet, the village we call home in Provence.

Cairanne is a village on a small hill east of Sablet known for producing very good wines. The lower part of the village is newer with a few shops, the Town Hall, and school. The oldest part of the village is on top of the hill. Cairanne was a fortified village of the Knights Hospitallers in Medieval times.

As I told you here, there is a hierarchy of wines in the Côtes du Rhône. Cairanne is classified at the third level, Côtes du Rhône-Villages (named village), which means Cairanne along with 17 other villages including our own Sablet, are authorised to put their village name on wine labels.

We recently added a red wine from Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil in Cairanne to our wine list at Bistro Des Copains, the small French bistro I co-own with friend Cluney in west Sonoma County California. Although we tasted the wine before adding it to the list, I had never visited the winery.

So one day earlier this year, I called and set a rendez-vous (made an appointment) with Madame Le Goeuil to visit the winery and déguster (taste) her wines.

Born to French parents in the Congo, Catherine returned to her homeland and in 1993 having lots of determination but not much experience, she and her family bought the 6 hectares (nearly 15 acres) domaine in Cairanne.

Friend Greg, Catherine Le Goeuil, and me

Shortly after applying one of their first chemical treatments to the vines, Catherine became very ill. Convinced the illness was caused by the chemicals, she decided that going forward, she would farm as naturally as possible. Over time, she converted to organic farming and in 1999 was organic certified.

The Mistral wind blows often on the vineyards which rids the vines of excess moisture when it is not wreaking havoc on her flowers. As is typical for organic farming, there is a grassy cover crop in between the vineyard rows that provides nutrients and microbiotic growth and well-aerated soils in a typically tough and relatively impermeable sandy soil.

Stainless steel tanks for fermenting white wine

Friends Julia and Jennifer with Catherine's helper

We have the 2010 Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cairanne red wine seen below on our list at Bistro Des Copains. The wine is a blend of Grenache (51%), Syrah and Mourvèdre.

The grapes are harvested by hand from 50 year old vines and naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered which makes it more flavorful but also prone to more sediment.

Wine we have on list at Bistro Des Copains

Showing Catherine pictures of Bistro Des Copains

Lots of flowers

Friends Julia and Jennifer

She doesn't make a lot of wine, only 1600 - 2100 cases a year, so it may be hard to find. If you are in Sonoma County, come to the Bistro and enjoy it with dinner; its a great food wine. If you are lucky enough to be in the Southern Côte du Rhône wine region, you should visit Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil. You will be warmly received.

Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil
Quartier les Sablières
84290 Cairanne
Tel: 04 90 30 82 38

We hope you are enjoying the holiday season. Have a great weekend. Chat soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Notre Dame de Consolation Chapel, a tiny, tall church in Pierrelongue

After finishing lunch one Saturday, I headed out in my car to explore an area of the Drôme Provençale not too far from Sablet, the small Medieval village we call home in Provence.

The road wound its way along the Ouvèze river and before long, I came upon a church perched on a very tall rock I had never seen before. Come to find out, the church is called Notre Dame de Consolation and overlooks Pierrelongue, a tiny village (174 residents) in Drôme Provençale.

Notre Dame de Consolation Chapel

Pierrelongue, its name, literally means "long rock", comes from the rock on which the castle that originally stood in the village was built. Destroyed in 1789 during the French revolution, it was eventually replaced by this church.

Conceived in 1864 by Abbot Jules Joseph Pascaly, work finally began in 1900 and lasted 5 years. Modeled after the basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes, it consists of a monumental stairway that encircles the rock, a crypt, and the Chapel of Our Lady of Consolation with a nave that measures just 800 square feet.

Notre Dame de Consolation Chapel

The Abbot's tomb is in the crypt and has become a tiny religious art museum where religious ornaments can be seen. On the front of the church (see first picture), is a statute of the Virgin Mary, a gift of the Duchess of Uzès in 1907.

Notre Dame de Consolation Chapel

The Abbot Jules Joseph Pascaly was obviously a smart man and figured out that parishioners would receive both physical and spiritual blessings from attendance at church on Sunday. By the time you've walked up the steps around the chapel, you are ready for a reprieve and chance to reflect on your life. There are also great views over Pierrelongue and the surrounding Drôme Provençale countryside.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season. Have a great weekend. Chat soon.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Visit to Fontaine de Vaucluse and lunch at Restaurant Philip

We have driven past the sign to Fontaine de Vaucluse many times on our way to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and other Luberon villages but we never turned off until one day this fall we went to déjeuner (lunch) at Restaurant Philip which got a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin Guide this year.

We had not visited Fontaine de Vaucluse because the village has a reputation for being overrun with tourists and Chowhounders advised visitors not to go because it is Disney-like and there are no good restaurants.

As I have told you before, we generally eat very well in Bib Gourmand designated restaurants so we decided to eat at Restaurant Philip and see Fontaine de Vaucluse for ourselves with friends Steve and Mary in tow.

The village of Fontaine de Vaucluse is squeezed into the end of a narrow valley and takes its name from the mysterious spring at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains that feeds the Sorgue River not far from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

We arrived in the village a few minutes before our noon reservations and found parking near the center of town. Did I mention that I hate to pay to park in Provencal villages but that's the case here. All parking, anywhere, including the dirt lots on the roads out of town, will cost you.

I try to get to restaurants at the reserved time even though I know that in France we won't be turned away if we are late. So off we went toward the restaurant. Souvenir stands and refreshment stalls line the path along the Sorgue river. Restaurant Philip is the last restaurant before you reach the falls.

Trees shade the path along the Sorgue River

Restaurant Philip has been operated in this location by the same family since 1926. Chef Philip is assisted in the kitchen by his daughter Camille.

Restaurant Philip

Shortly after we were seated, our server set a plate with olives and crispy puff pastry bites on the table to nibble while we enjoyed the bright emerald green Sorgue river and decided about lunch.

Amuse bouche

We all chose the 3 course menu for 27 Euros which offered an amuse bouche, 2 choices for first course, 2 choices for main course and a dessert.

Restaurant Philip

The amuse bouche offered by Chef Philip that day was a snail in a garlic cream sauce, truthfully a little bite not universally enjoyed by our group.

Our table alongside the Sorgue River

The plates of food brought out after the amuse bouche were seemingly licked clean; everything was delicious.

Spelt risotto with mushroom cream and butternut squash, topped with Parmesan chip and crispy bacon.

Shredded beef cheeks with red wine reduction topped with potato puree.

Trout fillet with coco beans

Gormandise consisting of meringue with red berries and cream, chocolate tart, blood orange ice cream and crème brulee.

Terrace dining alongside Sorgue River at Restaurant Philip

Sorgue River

The ruins on the high cliff with the view over Fontaine de Vaucluse seen below are the remains of the castle built by Philippe de Cabassole (1305–1372), the Bishop of Cavaillon, Seigneur of Vaucluse, and the great protector of Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarch.

Ruins of the Bishop of Cavaillon's castle

The source of the Sorgue river is fed by collective rainfall throughout the Plateau de Vaucluse. If there is a dry spell, there isn't much water, but at maximum, this source produces water at an amazing 200 cubic meters a second, making it one of the most powerful resurgent springs in the world! Speleologists (experts who study caves) have searched unsuccessfully for the source of the spring.

In 1878 a descent of 75 feet was made into the pool. As late as 1985, a small robot submarine went down 1000 feet and still no bottom. More recently, colored dye has been used to prove that the source originates somewhere high up on the Plateau de Vaucluse, flowing 12 to 18 miles thorough rocky underground passages before it arrived at the still-looking pool.

Sorgue River

One of the attractions in Fontaine de Vaucluse is a paper mill, now a site for tourists to visit, the paper mill was a driving industrial force starting in the 15th century.

Paper mill

Sorgue River

View toward the source for the Sorgue River in Fontaine de Vaucluse

Another view of the ruins of the Bishop of Cavaillon's castle

There are seven museums in Fontaine de Vaucluse including the Petrarch Museum in the center of the village for the 14th-century Italian poet Francesco de Petrarca (1304-1374), who lived in a house at this same site.

Petrarch Museum

Houses line the Sorgue River in Fontaine de Vaucluse

Center of Fontaine de Vaucluse

The commemorative column below in the center of Fontaine de Vaucluse was erected to honor the 5th century of Petrarch's birth.

Monument at Place de la Colonne in the center of Fontaine de Vaucluse

Ruins of the Bishop of Cavaillon's castle

The Aqueduct de Galas is a 469 foot long bridge with 9 arches across the Sorgue River that was built in 1855.

Aqueduct de Galas

It is true, Fontaine de Vaucluse is full of tourists, but I am glad we went so we could walk-up the tree-shaded path toward the source of the Sorgue river. The emerald color of the Sorgue river will probably shock you. Lunch at Restaurant Philip was most enjoyable, first for the food and company, but also because of the pretty setting along the Sorgue river.

The timing for our visit to Fontaine de Vaucluse and lunch at Restaurant Philip was perfect as we found out the restaurant would be closing in a few days for the season. Restaurant Philip is open from April 1 to September 30.

Restaurant Philip
Chemin de la fontaine
84800 Fontaine de Vaucluse
Tél: 04 90 20 31 81