Sunday, August 23, 2015

There is lots more to Cucuron than just its famous basin.

Every time we go to Sablet we find time to hook up with cousins Jean Marc and Christine in Clapiers, spend an afternoon with cousins Andre and Mauricette in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and tour Luberon villages with cousin Annick. I will admit it is hit or miss with the other cousins.

Back in the spring, we made plans to meet Annick for a day of exploring Luberon villages across the Durance River, northeast of where she lives. On this particular day, we met up in Lourmarin (details about that visit to come in a future post) and walked around there before lunch. From there we drove 8 kms east to Cucuron.

Cucuron is an 11th century walled village located on the southern edge of the Luberon mountains in the Department of the Vaucluse, 105 km southeast of Sablet. We had been there once before as I told you here to see l'étang where Max brought Fanny on their first date in the movie "A Good Year" from a book of the same name by Peter Mayle.

We knew nothing about Cucuron except the now famous l'étang before that day with Annick. But no need to worry, she came armed with her little book full of handwritten notes she had researched online about the history, sites, people who were born or resided in the village and movies filmed there. Come along with us as we wander around Cucuron.

View of Cucuron

In the Middle Ages, a castle was built on the hill by the Reillanne-Valence family: the present village dates from earlier than the 11th century and is mentioned for the first time in 1024, under the name of castrum cucurone. The castle passed between the hands of several families of lords. Meanwhile, a "consulate" was created; the village was consequently administered by "consuls" who controlled the local justices and lower courts.

During the late Middle Ages, Cucuron had a Jewish community which was officially expelled in 1501. It also accommodated a Vaudois minority, after they repopulated Luberon at the end of the 15th century. In 1534, the archbishop of Aix-en-Provence executed ten of these "heretics", including inhabitants of Cucuron. However, at the time of the French Wars of Religion, Cucuron remained mostly Catholic, unlike the surrounding villages.

In 1720 and 1721, Cucuron was hit hard by a plague epidemic which had spread from Marseille.

Closer view of Cucuron

The clock/bell tower seen below was built in 1541 on the Revelin door of the second rampart, that was the defensive wall until the third rampart was added. The bell tower is topped by an usual stone campanile.

Clock/bell tower topped with stone campanile

There are six lavoirs (communal laundry basins) and 8 fountains in the village including La Fontaine de l'Obélisque seen below.

La Fontaine de l'Obélisque

An old Cucuron door

Close up of bell tower with stone campanile

Saint Michel's Tower seen below is all that remains of the XI century fortified castle.

Saint Michel's Tower

Saint Michel's Tower

View over the top of Cucuron


Cucuron house

La Mairie du Trincat is one of the oldest houses in the village built around 1400.

La Mairie du Trincat

A quaint stone house in Cucuron

Colorful shutters on a house in Cucuron

L'étang or the basin of Cucuron is an enormous man-built stone pond shaded by soaring, 200-year-old plane trees, and surrounded by cafes and restaurants that dates back to the 15th century and was originally used to power flour mills. In the 19th century it became an ornamental pool only, and now provides the focal point for the weekly market on Tuesday.

It’s not surprising that this setting was used for the scene in A Good Year where Russell Crowe’s character Max – an investment banker who inherits a ramshackle chateau and vineyard in Provence – takes Marion Cotillard’s character Fanny out for dinner.

L'Etang de Cucuron

This well preserved Portail de l’Etang (door of the basin) seen below is in the ramparts which were built in 1541.

Le Portail de l’Etang

The street which leads up to the Sus Pous Tower

A lavoir next to the Portail de l'etang

Cucuron house

Cucuron window

Cucuron shops

By the time we wandered upon this street with shops and cafes, the Mistral was blowing fiercely and sand was getting in our eyes so we were happy to get out of the wind and shelter in one of these cafes for a warming petit café.

A lavoir in Cucuron

Notre Dame de Beaulieu Church is composed of several parts reflecting different styles that have been added one after the other over the centuries. The Church as a whole can be classed as Gothic. One of the side chapels is devoted to Saint-Tulle, patron of the Parish

Notre Dame de Beaulieu Church

Cucuron street

Inside Notre Dame de Beaulieu Church is a recently restored pipe organ originally built in 1616.

Pipe organ inside Notre Dame de Beaulieu Church

In the summer, Notre Dame de Beaulieu Church will have a whittled-down poplar tree leaning on it because of a centuries-old tradition that the people of the village must go out and find a poplar tree at least as tall as the church (24m/80ft) and carry it back by hand with a boy riding it and waving a flag, in thanks to the village's patron saint for saving Cucuron from the plague in 1720.

Notre Dame de Beaulieu Church

Notre Dame de Beaulieu Door

Another well known movie filmed in Cucuron, is "The Horseman on the Roof" (in French, Le Hussard sur le Toit), a 1995 French film directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau starring Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez. Based on the 1951 French novel Le Hussard sur le Toit by Jean Giono, the film follows the adventures of a young Italian nobleman in France raising money for the Italian revolution against Austria during a time of cholera.

View from Sus Pous Tower over the village to Saint Michel's Tower

Stone wall near Sus Pous Tower

The Sus Pous Tower also known as the Tower of the Citadel seen below was built on a rocky nipple in 1542 to serve as a lookout for the village.

Sus Pous Tower

La Glacière (the ice box) seen below was built to store ice for use during the hot weather.

La Glacière (the ice box)

Cucuron Door

La Maison des Consuls

In one corner of the square where the Bassin de l'etang is located, is a supposedly very good restaurant with one Michelin star called La Petite Maison de Cucuron. Cucuron is well worth the time to visit and if the sites are not enough, maybe a wonderful lunch would be the icing on the cake.

Have a great week.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Crostini with oven-roasted tomatoes and fresh goat cheese

If you have a back yard garden like me, you probably have tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes of all colors and shapes coming out of your ears. Besides cherry tomatoes, I am also picking Roma (plum) tomatoes which are excellent for sauce.

Here is a great recipe for another way to use plum tomatoes for a tasty appetizer. I share the recipe because it would be wonderful with aperitifs in Provence as well as Northern California.

Crostini with oven-roasted tomatoes and fresh goat cheese
Makes about 30.


2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, quartered, cored and seeded.
4 plump fresh cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced.
4 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed.
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
A pinch of granulated sugar.
Extra-virgin olive oil.
1 baguette.
4 ounces fresh soft goat cheese.

Tomatoes ready to go into oven


1. Preheat oven to 250 F.

2. Arrange tomato quarters side by side on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Sprinkle each quarter with salt, black pepper and granulated sugar. Place thyme leaves and 1 sliver of garlic on top of each quarter. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

3. Place in oven and cook until meltingly tender and reduced in size about 2 hours. Check the tomatoes from time to time. They should remain moist and soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly.

Tomatoes just out of oven

Directions continued

4. Slice baguette 1/4 inch thick (about 30 slices). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange baguette slices on a large rimmed baking sheet; brush both sides with olive oil. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, turn crostini over once during baking. Let cool on baking sheets.

5. Top each slice of toasted crostini with thin layer of soft goat cheese.

6. Place one quarter of oven-roasted tomatoes on crostini topped with goat cheese.

7. Arrange on a pretty platter to serve.

Crostini with oven-roasted tomatoes and fresh goat cheese

Today, I made a double batch of these tasty morsels and we took them to a farewell party for one of Shirley's hospital colleagues. They were a big hit and they all disappeared.

Note: I think the best way to peel tomatoes is to cut an x into the non-stem end of the tomato. Blanch in boiling water for one minute, then plunge them into chilled water to refresh. Remove from water and tomato peels will slip off with ease.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A visit to the historical sights in Avignon and a lovely lunch at La Fourchette

My first memory of Avignon is trying to get from the TGV station south of town on the road leading to the A7 in Le Pontet to go to Sablet. Since that day, we have returned to Avignon many times to visit the town's many historical sites, shopping and dining. It is always one of the places we take all our guests.

Last May was no exception when friends Melissa, the former chef at our Bistro des Copains and Debbie, one of our lead servers visited Sablet. On the morning of the day they were leaving for Paris for their return home, we headed to Avignon to see the sights and eat at La Fourchette Restaurant.

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. You can spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored.

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of dance, music and theater founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville

Near the Palais des Papes is the Opera-Theater seen below, built in 1825 on Place de l’Horloge. Rebuilt in 1847 after a fire, the Opera House offers music, dance, theater and opera performances throughout the year.

Opera-Theater of Avignon

There are two statues in front of the Opera-Theater in Avignon. One is of Pierre Corneille, a French tragedian, and one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine.

Pierre Corneille statue in front of Opera-Theater of Avignon

The other statue is of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature.

Statue of Molière in front of the Opera-Theater of Avignon

Next to the Opera-Theatre on Place de l'Horloge is the neo-classical town hall known as the Hôtel de Ville built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. Only the 14th century clock tower remains from the original structure. The Gothic clock tower, which gave the square its name, was incorporated into the construction of the later Hôtel de Ville.

The City of Avignon sets up a traditional Provençal crèche with santons, in Provençal it means "little saint" in the Hotel de Ville every year. A santon is a small hand-painted, terracotta nativity scene figurine produced by artisans in workshops in Provence. The santons represent various characters from Provençal village life such as the baker, the winemaker, and a farmer's wife with eggs.

Hôtel de Ville

Near the Hôtel de Ville is a bust of Frédéric Mistral, a French writer and lexicographer of the Occitan language. Mistral received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist".

Bust of Frédéric Mistral near Hôtel de Ville

La Fourchette Restaurant, a restaurant owned by Philippe and Danièle Hiély since 1982 is on Rue Racine.

La Fourchette Restaurant

Chef Hiély offers a printed three-course menu with quite a few options for both starter and main course plus a long list of daily specials for 35 €.

Friend Debbie and Shirley at La Fourchette Restaurant

Our starters included:

Papeton d'Aubergine

Lentils de Puy with cured salmon and gravlax sauce

Our main course selections included:

Daube de Boeuf

Gratin of Macaroni

Salmon with curry sauce and zucchini

Filet of Daurade with basil sauce and Parmesan

Desserts included:

Profiterole with ice cream and chocolate sauce

Yummy chocolate sauce being dribbled on the profiterole

Ice cream with Chantilly cream

Nougat Glacé

As we walked back to the car, we passed the "Belle Epoque" carousel at the top end of the Place de l'Horloge and of course we couldn't resist using the carousel as a backdrop for a cute picture.

Our friends Melissa and Debbie enjoy the "Belle Epoque" carousel in Avignon

Murals on wall of shopping arcade in Avignon

I should mention that the Place de l'Horloge is filled with cafes catering to tourists. While it is appealing to sit under one of the umbrellas and watch the world go by, it is better to save the experience for a café break, rather than lunch since we have not found any of the cafes to serve great food.

Place de l'Horloge Cafes

The Popes' Palace is a historical palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important Medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palace, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.

The Palace is actually made up of two buildings: the old Palace of Benedict XII which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new Palace of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes. Not only is the final combination the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, it is also one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style.

Palais des Papes

Statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the 19th century gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII (1334) is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral, it is a noteworthy example of 14th-century Gothic carving.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

The menu at La Fourchette has enough options that you are guaranteed to find several starters and main course offerings that appeal to your palate. So go and enjoy when you are in Avignon. I would encourage you to make reservations before you go.

La Fourchette Restaurant
17, Rue Racine
84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 90 85 20 93