Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Visit to the Amazing Roman Theater in Orange

As I have told you before, we generally explore a village or town, see some historical monument, check out an artisan producer of some unusual product, or taste at a winery almost every day we are in Sablet. We don't let grass grow under our feet.

One Friday earlier this year, the day before we were leaving for California, I wanted to do one more outing, but practical Shirley thought we should clean the house and get things set so we wouldn't have to do it at the last minute. We compromised by deciding that we could do an outing as long as it was close by.

Friend Kari was with us and she had not been to the Roman theater in Orange, so we decided to go there. Orange is about 25 minutes from Sablet and best known to Shirley and I as the exit off the A7 and A9 to get home to Sablet. Orange is also where our insurance agency is located and the Tresor Public where we pay taxes for our house.

Orange is best known for its Roman ruins, especially the Roman Theater and Triumphal Arch of Orange. Orange was a thriving city in ancient times - situated on the Via Agrippa - which linked the cities of Lyon and Arles. We arrived in Orange and found parking near the War Memorial, a few steps from the Roman Theater.

War Memorial to the Children of Orange who Died in Wars for France

Colorful cafes are all around the Roman Theater of Orange

The Théâtre Antique d'Orange - literally translated as the Ancient Theater of Orange is an old Roman Theater built in the 1st century between A.D. 10 and 25 under the reign of Augustus in the heart of the town of Orange. It is now owned by the town and is the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d'Orange.

Arched Entry to the Roman Theater

The Roman Theater of Orange is an exceptionally well preserved remnant of the Roman Empire in France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Entrance to Roman Theater

The Roman theater of Orange owes its fame in particular to its magnificent stage wall, amazingly well-preserved and unique in the Western world. It is the only Roman theater to have preserved its stage wall almost entirely in tact. A new roof which can be seen below was built to protect the stage wall.

Back Wall, Stage and Orchestra of the Roman Theater

A panoramic view out over the town of Orange from the top tier of the Roman theater.

Panoramic View of Orange from the Roman Theater

The terrace seating was constructed in a half circle around the stage and could accommodate 8000 to 10000 spectators. Mime, pantomime, poetry readings and the "attelana" (a kind of farce) was the dominant form of entertainment, much of which lasted all day. The entertainment offered was open to all and free of charge.

The Romans built the terraces for the theater seating against the north side of the existing Saint-Eutrope hill to make the construction easier and the completed theater more stable.

The Seating for the Roman Theater is set against Saint Eutrope Hill

The theater's stage wall was very important as it helped to properly project sound and comprised the only architectural décor in the theater. The theater's original height of 36 m/118 feet has been entirely preserved. The wall was richly decorated with slabs of multicolored marble, statues in niches, and columns.

The stage wall had three doors, each of which had a unique function. The royal door in the center was used by the principal actors for their entrances. The two smaller side doors were for the supporting actors. The second and third levels, comprising columns, are purely decorative.

The Roman Theater Stage Wall

The only remaining authentic statue is the 4 m/13 feet high statue of Augustus in the central niche, used to symbolize the universal presence of the emperor.

Statue of Augustus in the Central Niche of the Roman Theater Stage Wall

As the Roman empire declined during the 4th century, the theater was officially closed and remained abandoned until it became a defensive post in the Middle Ages and then a refuge by townspeople during the 16th century wars of religion.

Nearby, is Saint Florent Church built by the Franciscans in Orange at the beginning of the 14th century. It is simple and austere, according to the style of the Franciscan Order, with one nave, and contains the relics of Saint Florent, a Bishop of Orange in the sixth century.

Saint Florent Church

The exterior façade of the Roman theater is a stone edifice 103 meters or 338 feet long and 36 meters or 118 feet high. Louis XIV is said to have described the façade as “The finest wall in my kingdom”.

Before you leave Orange, make sure you go see the Triumphal Arch, also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is in fact a commemorative arch erected as a tribute to the veterans of the 2nd Gallic legion who founded the town.

Have a great week. Chat soon.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Côté Terrasse Restaurant in the Most Beautiful Village of Séguret

Our village in Provence is surrounded by small wine-making villages, the closest of which is Séguret, about 1.25 miles northeast of Sablet. As you can see in the picture below, Séguret is elevated above the vineyards that separate Sablet from Séguret and wraps around the bottom of a steep hill. At the top of that hill behind the village, are the ruins of its medieval castle.

We go often to Séguret, sometimes on foot through the vineyards up to Séguret then walk through the pretty village before heading back to Sablet on the connecting road. Other times we drive, especially if we are going to eat in one of the restaurants. Séguret was one of the first villages classified as a "most beautiful villages of France" and is most deserving of this honor.


If you drive to Séguret, you have to park in one of the parking areas just below the village as Séguret is accessible only on foot. From the parking lot, walk up the hill and enter the village through the arched portal of the old wall around Séguret to the main street.

Roundabout on the Road up to Séguret

The small square in the center of Séguret has a 14th-century stone bell tower with a 17th-century belfry and a single-hand clock dating from 1680. On this same square is a lavoir built in 1846 and the 17th-century fountain with its four stone faces.

Bell Tower in the Center of Séguret

One morning a few weeks back, I was visiting with Jeannine Moulin and her son Julien, she is the proprietress and waits on customers and he is the baker, at Pain Medieval Boulangerie in Sablet. We were sharing opinions about area restaurants when Madame Moulin asked me if I knew Côté Terrasse Restaurant in Séguret.

I was not, but her description of the restaurant and their menu of salads, tartines and grillades (grilled meats) reminded us of Du Verre à l'Assiette Restaurant in Gigondas which we like a lot. Since the restaurant is so close to Sablet, we decided to give it a try.

Côté Terrasse Restaurant

We found the restaurant in the center of Séguret on Rue des Poternes next to Le Mesclun Restaurant which I told you about here. Since it was a cool day, we opted to sit in the pretty dining room. As soon as we were seated, the ardoise (blackboard) was brought to us so we could read the day's handwritten menu.

Shirley at Côté Terrasse Restaurant

As we say, when in France, do like the French. For lunch in California during the week, it is usually ice tea or water, but in France we get a glass or carafe of local wine. For lunch at Côté Terrasse, we selected a carafe of locally produce rosé from Domaine de Mourchon, our favorite Séguret winery.

2013 Domaine de Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Rosé

Most of the restaurants we frequent in the Vaucluse offer a prix fix 3 course menu. Here it was more casual and we chose a salad for Shirley and a grillade for me. Shirley got a Salade Camenbert Pané (breaded), without the jambon (ham), with greens, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes.

Salade Camenbert Pané

For me, I love lamb and I chose the Côte d'Agneau Sauce au Thym. Very tasty served with crispy potatoes, grilled eggplant and zucchini and roasted pumpkin.

Côte d'Agneau Sauce au Thym

Our meals included a choice of desserts and I chose chocolate and pistachio ice cream.

Chocolate and Pistachio Ice Cream

Shirley went with the Raspberry Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis.

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Coulis

The restaurant has been open for 4 years and closes every January and February. We found it to be a nice change from our usual three course lunches. Don't get me wrong, we love those meals, but it was nice for a change. So if you are like us and wish for less elaborate meals from time to time, don't hesitate to go to Côté Terrasse Restaurant. We will return.

Côté Terrasse Restaurant
Rue des Poternes
84110 Séguret
Tel: 04 90 28 03 48

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sur Le Pont d'Avignon, we dance, we dance!

We go to Avignon fairly often and as we get there, we see Saint-Bénézet Bridge, also known as the Avignon Bridge, off to the right side of the road. If you don't know, Saint-Bénézet Bridge is a famous medieval bridge that spans the Rhone River between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

Although we have seen and shot pictures of the Avignon Bridge quite a few times, we had never walked the bridge, or more accurately what remains of the bridge. So a few weeks back, we did just that. Before, all we knew was that the Bridge inspired the song "Sur le Pont d'Avignon" a French song about the Avignon Bridge that dates back to the 15th century.

The bridge was constructed between 1177 and 1185 with 22 arches and was 980 yards long. It was destroyed by Louis VIII of France during the siege of Avignon in 1226. It was rebuilt beginning in 1234. The bridge was only 16 feet wide, including the parapets at the sides. The arches were liable to collapse when the river flooded.

The bridge fell into disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 the bridge was missing four arches and finally a catastrophic flood in 1669 swept away much of the structure. Since then, the surviving arches have successively collapsed or been demolished and only four arches remain.

As you can see below, the piers have cutwaters that are pointed in both the upstream and the downstream direction. These reduce the scour around the piers caused by rapidly moving water, one of the main threats to the stability of stone bridges.

Saint-Bénézet Bridge From the South

The bridge was very important strategically when it was first built because it was the only fixed crossing of the Rhone River between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It was also the only river crossing between the Comtat Venaissin, an enclave around Avignon controlled by the Pope, and France proper under the authority of the kings of France.

As such, it was closely guarded on both sides of the river. On the Avignon side, the bridge passed through a large gatehouse erected in the 14th century (with major modifications in the 15th century), passing through and over the city wall and exiting via a ramp (now destroyed) which led into the city.

Gatehouse on the Avignon Side of the Avignon Bridge

The right bank, which was controlled by Kingdom of France, was overlooked by the fortress of Philippe-le-Bel Tower which was built at the beginning of the 14th century. It is named after the French king Philippe-le-Bel (Philip IV "the Fair") who was responsible for its construction.

Philippe-le-Bel Tower

The View From the End of the Avignon Bridge to Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

The View Up the Rhone River to the North

Saint Nicholas Chapel sits on a platform on the upstream side of the second pier (between the second and third arches). The chapel has undergone a number of reconstructions and restorations. It is now divided into two floors, each with a nave and an apse. The upper floor is on a level with the platform of the bridge and reduces the width of the walkway to about 6 feet.

The Upper Level of Saint Nicholas Chapel

Shirley Pauses for a Picture from the Lower Level of Saint Nicolas Chapel

The lower level of Saint Nicholas Chapel is accessed by a set of steps that descend from the bridge. The lower level chapel with its apse decorated with five arches dates from the second half of the 12th century.

Lower Level Chapel of Saint Nicholas Chapel

The North Side of Saint Nicholas Chapel with Philippe-le-Bel Tower in the Distance

Visit to the bridge finished, we headed back into Avignon by way of the Porte du Rhone ("Rhone Gate").

Porte du Rhone With Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral in the Distance

The defensive walls of Avignon are among the best and most complete set of city walls in France. They are a UNESCO world heritage site. The population having spread outside the walls, Pope Innocent VI began in 1355 to construct new defensive walls which would enclose the new settlements. These are the present day walls. They were protected and restored in the nineteenth century.

Some of the Defensive Walls of Avignon

We walked along the defensive wall until we got to Place Crillon, seen below, then back to Place du Palais where the Pope's Palace and Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral can be found.

Place Crillon

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

Pope's Palace

Oh yes, the chorus to the song that made the bridge famous goes like this:

Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond

On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there, we all dance there
On the bridge of Avignon
We all dance there in a ri

Have a great week and very Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Market Day in Vaison-La-Romaine and Lunch at Le Bateleur Restaurant

In twelve days we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday replete with tradition and centered on family and a special meal to celebrate our blessings. As readers probably know, the traditional center piece of a Thanksgiving meal is turkey accompanied by a smorgasbord of salads, side dishes and desserts. This year we will be joined by cousins who recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Preparation for the Thanksgiving meal includes ordering the turkey, which I have not done yet, and several trips to the grocery store or if you are lucky, a visit to a local farmer's market for seasonal fruits and vegetables. If we were in Sablet for Thanksgiving, we would get most everything we need for our special meal at the Tuesday morning market in Vaison-la-Romaine.

Unfortunately, we don't have a farmer's market in Sonoma County that offers as wide an array of seafood, meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables, as we find at the Vaison-la-Romaine market. A highlight of our visits to Sablet are the weekly visits to this market and our visit last month was no exception.

Vaison-la-Romaine is a quick 6 mile trip from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River. As I told you here, Vaison-la-Romaine is divided by the Ouvèze River into two parts; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank is the old medieval town with the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse at the highest point, which can be seen from afar.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

The Vaison-la-Romaine market takes place in the center of the modern town. Like most towns, parking in Vaison on market day is not easy so we try to be there by 8:30 AM so we can park in the small lot near Notre-Dame de Nazareth Cathedral.

After we park, we walk along the north side of the Cathedral past a very large field of Roman ruins which border the path to the main market area. I am embarrassed to say we don't give any more thought to these ruins as we walk pass them then we do to walking past houses in our neighborhood.

What makes these Roman ruins unique is that they are streets with shops and houses, rather than individual ruins like the Arena in Nîmes or at the Pont du Gard, so you get a sense of the overall layout of the town.

The Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine are spread over two sites; Puymin adjacent to the Office of Tourism with its Musée Théo Desplans (museum) and Théâtre Antique (Roman theater) built in the first century AD and La Villasse which we see on our walk up to the market.

These are ruins of shops along the central street of La Villasse. The Romans were very practical and built one street for chariots and a parallel footpath for pedestrians covered by a portico (many of the columns remain in place) to shelter the stalls and people from the sun and bad weather.

La Villasse Ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine

Provencal cooking uses a lot of garlic and there are tables piled high.

Strands of Fresh Garlic

Different honeys made from local flowers.

Lavender, Flower, Acacia, and Chestnut Honey

Most of the fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetable sellers set up their stands on Cours Taulignan or on one of the nearby cross streets.

Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine

You will find several small tables set up with displays of locally made artisan cheese like shown below.

Freshly-made Artisan Cheeses

A variety of saucissons sec (dried sausages) are available from artisan producers.

Variety of Sausages

Even though it was October, we were able to find some very nice fresh, tasty tomatoes, that were the base for several salads during our sejour in Sablet.

Tomatoes from Provence


Patrons line up to place their order for freshly butchered meat and poultry.

Mobile Butcher Shop

We were thrilled to find the first Cèpe (Porcini) mushrooms of the season on display. There were also Girolle (a member of the Chanterelle family) mushrooms.

Cepes Mushrooms

There were multiple displays of fresh figs for sale. I love figs, love to have fig jam to put on top of cheese. Yum! Shirley not so much.

Fresh Figs

There are olive groves every where so it is not surprising that there are kitchen utensils and dishes made from olive wood for sale in the market.

Kitchen Utensils Made of Olive Wood

Fresh Vegetables

Nougat is a family of confectioneries made with sugar and/or honey, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia), whipped egg whites, and sometimes chopped candied fruit. The consistency of nougat can range from soft and chewy to hard and crunchy, and it is used in a variety of candy bars and chocolates.

There are three basic kinds of nougat. The first is brown nougat ( nougatine in French) which is made without egg whites and has a firmer, often crunchy texture. The second is the Viennese or German nougat which is essentially a chocolate and nut (usually hazelnut) praline. The third, and most common, is a white nougat from Montélimar, made with beaten egg whites and honey seen below.

Nougat Made in Montélimar

Jams and jellies of all kind.

Locally Made Jams and Jellies

You have to have spices for cooking. In Provence, spices are not sold in the market in little jars or packages. Buy only what you are going to use for a week or two as there is no reason to use stale spices since you don't have to buy a jar which might last 6 months or more.

Spice Vendor

Several butchers come to the market every week and display their cuts of meats and charcuterie. I have never seen anyone selling Cheval (horse) meat at the Vaison-la-Romaine market, although we do see it elsewhere.

Mobile Butcher Shop

Seller of Artisan Hams

Our favorite poissonier, fish seller. He also comes to Sablet and sets up his truck next to the little grocery store every Thursday morning.

Our Favorite Fish Seller

Artisan Sausages

Lots of vendors offer a variety of vegetables and salad greens like shown here.


There is a huge variety of different shellfish on sale from the various fish sellers.

All Kinds of Shellfish

Several cheese vendors set up shop at the market every week. Full disclosure, I don't buy from any of them since I am partial to the cheese that Josiane Deal sells at her wonderful shop called Lou Canesteou just a few steps away on Rue Raspail off Place Montfort, the town's main square.

Mobile Cheese Shop

The best place in our opinion to get chocolate, macaroons, or beautiful tarts and cakes in the area is at the Peyrerol shop on Cours Henri Fabre in Vaison-la-Romaine. I bet you can't walk in and come out without buying something.

The Peyrerol Shop in Vaison-la-Romaine

A great gift to bring to friends and family from Provence is bars of he wonderful olive-oil based soap locally made in Nyons. They have a shop, seen below, on Grande Rue in Vaison-la-Romaine. Our favorite soap aromas are lavender and lemon. We leave bars of lavender soap for our guests who stay at our home in Sablet.

Savon (Soap) Shop

Tourist Shop Selling Brightly Colored Bags

Le Bateleur Restaurant is located at Place Théodore Aubanel near the Roman bridge in Vaison la Romaine's lower city and modern town. The restaurant is owned by Adriana, she takes care of the front of the house and her husband Nicolas Boffelli, the chef. Prior to taking over Le Bateleur Restaurant, Nicolas was the sous chef at the Michelin starred Le Grand Pré in Roaix.

Le Bateleur Restaurant

As soon as we were seated, a plate of foods to nibble was placed on the table along with an amuse bouche of Porcini mushroom soup. Shirley opted to get a glass of 2011 Domaine Charvin Rouge Vin de Pays and I chose a glass of 2013 Chateau de Coulerette Côtes de Provence Rosé. You know what they say, when in Provence.

Amuse Bouche of Cepes (Porcini) Soup


Our lunch was served as follows. For me, I chose a starter of shrimps in orange vinaigrette with vegetables.

Shrimps in Orange Vinaigrette with Vegetables including Carrots, Green Onions, Tomatoes and Squash

Shirley selected the pan roasted Ligne with Butternut squash and curry sauce.

Pan Roasted Ligne with Butternut Squash and Curry Sauce

I chose the pan roasted Merlu fish with Parmesan risotto and tomato sauce.

Pan Roasted Merlu with Parmesan Risotto and Tomato Sauce

Our desserts were:

Caramel Apples, Lemon Curd and Sorbet


Pistachio Cream, Poached Pears and Financier Cookies

This was a truly excellent meal. Up to when Nicolas and Adriana took over the restaurant, it had been owned by the chef who owns Le Mesclun in Seguret. We ate there several times while he owned the restaurant, but this was much more to our liking. If you have been to Le Bateleur before Nicolas and Adriana took over, you should return. It is a great place to go after a visit to the market.

Upper Medieval Town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Le Bateleur Restaurant
1 Place Théodore Aubanel
84110 Vaison La Romaine
Tel: 04 90 36 28 04

Have a great week.