Friday, July 31, 2015

Mollans-sur-Ouvèze, an insolite (unusual) village in the Drôme

I have been looking at pictures and racking my brain to figure out why Shirley and I ended up in Mollans-sur-Ouvèze. The village is about 30 minutes northeast of Sablet and for the world, I can't figure out why we were there. It's not on the way to anywhere we go, we didn't eat in a restaurant, or taste at a winery. But we were there. It was a most unusual village. Check out the pictures.

Mollans-sur-Ouvèze is a small village set in the Ouvèze River valley in an area known as the Baronies at the southernmost point of the Drôme. In case you don't know, the Department of Drôme borders the Vaucluse and was one of the original departments established during the French Revolution.

In the Middle Ages, Mollans-sur-Ouvèze was the border between the Comtat Venaissin and the Dauphiné region, the plains and the mountains. It was a gateway that had to be guarded to guarantee peace within the Baronnies - and so it came to be known as the "Baronnies Gate".

At that time the village had two castles, three towers and a drawbridge, all protected by a ring of defensive walls. Perched on craggy rocks, the two feudal castles (one of which has been restored) still overlook the village. The tiny chapel seen below was built in 1851.

Notre Dame-du-Pont Chapel

The single arch bridge seen below crosses over the Ouvèze River. It was built in medieval times.

Bridge over the Ouvèze River

The clock tower seen below is one of two towers that originally formed the main gates to the medieval walled village.

View across bridge to Clock Tower

The Dolphin Fountain seen below was built in 1713 and was the first fountain in Mollans-sur-Ouvèze. There are a total of 11 fountains in the village. The roofed washhouse with its seven arcades behind the fountain was built later that century.

Dolphin Fountain

Mollans-sur-Ouvèze is well known for its many mill products (wheat and oil), a silk-worm farm (one of the oldest and largest in the area) and many shops along the “Grande Rue”.

View down Mollans-sur-Ouvèze street with Clock Tower in distance

Saint-Marcel Church was built in the center of Mollans-sur-Ouvèze between 1787 and 1793.

Saint Marcel Church Bell Tower

The territory of Mollans-sur-Ouvèze was divided into two parts in the 13th century, two parishes, two monasteries and two castles, one seen below which has been restored.

Restored feudal castle

Pretty walls in Mollans-sur-Ouvèze

Arcade over street in Mollans-sur-Ouvèze

The Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs de Pitié Chapel also known as the White Penitents Chapel was built in 1743 and restored in 1951.

Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs de Pitié Chapel

Mairie (Town Hall)

At the top of the village stand the ruins of a fortress. All that is left is the base of the keep and some of its defensive structures. It was built by the Counts of Mévouillon in the 12th century, and today is private property.

Ruins of the castle built by the Counts of Mévouillon

If for some reason you find yourself near the border of the Drôme and the Vaucluse, take the turnoff and go take a walk about Mollans-sur-Ouvèze. It is worth the time. Have a great weekend. Chat soon.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

La Maison Bleue Pizza Restaurant in Villedieu. Both pizzaria and village are worth a visit.

One of our favorite villages around Sablet is Villedieu, a small village (population 514) set on a hill overlooking vineyards, olive groves and pine trees near the Eygues River on the border of the Drôme Provençale.

Villedieu dates back to medieval times when the village was a Commandery of the Knights of Templar who owned a chateau with a single tower. The village was founded during a time when potential invaders would come around so defensive fortifications were built which you can see as you stroll around the village.

The walls are over 32 feet high. Restored at different times, there are three majestic gates off Place de la Liberation. The middle gate seen below is topped by a belfry and has a clock on the face which dates from the 12th century. On the arch is the papal coat of arms, the only authentic papal coat of arms still in place in the Vaucluse.

Gateway through defensive wall into the center of Villedieu

After navigating the narrow street which leads into Villedieu, you arrive at the village square, the aforementioned Place de la Liberation, where you will find the Mairie (town hall), several cafes and a wonderful pizza restaurant called La Maison Bleue on the sides of the square. Our friends Bruce and Christine live in Villedieu.

While you find pizza all over France, pizza in Provence taste better. In my opinion it's because in Provence we have wonderful tomatoes, basil, olive oil, cheese and anchovies. Second, the region's proximity to Italy and its influx of Italian immigrants, vacationers and retirees has, over the decades, brought a steady supply of pizza cognoscenti, people who know a lot about pizza to Provence.

La Maison Bleue Restaurant

La Maison Bleue is owned by a chef named Daniel Roger. From a small kitchen dominated by a large pizza oven he built, he turns out a variety of salads, large enough to share, and pizzas with a variety of toppings on dough perfectly blistered by the heat of the pizza oven. He also offers pastas and other specials. During the summer, he offers a selection of grilled meats.

We have become friends with Chef Daniel as we dine often at La Maison Bleue during the 8 months the restaurant is open. March, April, May, June, September and October, La Maison Bleue is open Thursday through Sunday. July and August, the restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday.

A few weeks ago, we were honored with a visit from two of our long term employees and friends from our Bistro Des Copains; chef Melissa and Debbie who served throughout the nearly 9 years the Bistro was open. One of our guests favorite items at the Bistro was our wood fired pizza and we went to La Maison Bleue to dine and introduce them to chef Daniel and his crew.

Our special friends Melissa and Debbie

We love to sit outside in the village square when we go to La Maison Bleue but since the weather was unseasonably cool and windy, that was not an option. La Maison Bleue is decorated with bright colors; orange walls, blue and yellow colored tablecloths and blue chairs.

Shirley and I enjoy La Maison Bleue in Villedieu

The pizza's and salads are quite large so we usually end up sharing. I ordered the La Montagnard salad with greens shown below, a whole roasted Camembert cheese topped with tomatoes and pine nuts. Toasted bread accompanied the salad; wonderful for spreading with the warm, oozing cheese.

Another favorite is La Campagnard, a salad with greens, toasted wheat bread spread with chèvre cheese, toasted pine nuts, honey and herbs de Provence.

La Montagnard salad

Shirley and I shared our favorite pizza called L'Indigo, shown below, which was covered with tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, chèvre, Roquefort, and herbs de Provence.

Another favorite of ours is the L'Azur pizza, which is covered with tomato sauce, Eggplant, mozzarella and pesto.

L'Indigo pizza

One of Debbie's favorite items, mine too, on our Bistro Des Copains' menu was a cheesy, creamy Gratin de Macaroni, a wonderful mac and cheese. She couldn't resist trying one of the gratins that chef Daniel offers nightly at La Maison Bleue seen below.

Gratin de macaroni

Despite the fact that we only get to the area a few times each year, it is heart warming to be greeted as old friends by Chef Daniel, his crew including server Natacha, who hails from Russia and many times at the end of the evening by Patricia, Chef Daniel's sweet wife.

Chef Melissa and Chef Daniel in front of the La Maison Bleue wood burning pizza oven

If you are in Sablet or the surrounding area between March and October, and looking for a tasty but simple meal, we highly recommend La Maison Bleue in Villedieu. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially during warm weather when Place de la Liberation becomes a grand terrace shared by a café and 2 restaurants. Tables and chairs are arranged around a fountain with the area for the café and each restaurant defined by the color of chairs.

Sitting under the plane trees with family and friends on the square during a spring, summer or early fall evening is a magical experience and makes the food and wine taste oh so good.

La Maison Bleue
Place de la Libération
84110 Villedieu
Tel: +33 4 90 28 97 02

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A walkabout Gigondas and a wonderful lunch at l'Oustalet Restaurant

Sablet is located between Séguret, a small beautiful village to the north and Gigondas, a small village (532 pop) renown for its wine to the south. We think Gigondas is one of the prettiest of all the Côtes du Rhône wine villages and a must stop for red wine lovers. From afar, Gigondas seems little more than a cluster of stone houses on a hillside with a church below the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Turn off the D-7 and follow the road up through the lower village; you will pass a succession of cafés and tasting rooms, before you arrive at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie (Town Hall), and the Caveau du Gigondas (the wine growers cooperative), are located.

Park your car here and go explore Gigondas. We try to time our visits so we can eat lunch on the village square at l'Oustalet, one of my favorites in the area or for simpler fare, we go to Du Verre a l'Assiette, one of Shirley's favorites. Make reservations so you are not disappointed.

The pictures which follow are some we took back in May during a visit to Gigondas.


If you like red wine, plan to stop in at the Caveau du Gigondas which was opened in 1972 by the winegrowers of Gigondas as a place where you can taste more than 100 different Gigondas wines from 80 wineries and buy them at the same price as at the winery. The Caveau sells more than 80,000 bottles of wine each year. The Caveau is opened daily from 10-12 and 14-18. Tastings are free.

Place du Village and Caveau de Gigondas

The name Gigondas is of Roman origin. Jocunditas means great pleasure and enjoyment in Latin, with the town's origin and production of wine dating back to the Romans.

Gigondas Town Hall

The castle seen below originally belonged to the Princes of Orange and was probably used as a second home. In 1678, the Hospices were added to the castle. After the French revolution, the castle functioned as a girls' school up until the beginning of the 20th century when it was finally abandoned and fell rapidly into ruins.

Ruins of the Princes of Orange Castle


Walk up through the pretty streets and alleyways lined with stone houses to reach Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church with its beautiful façade. With the elevation at nearly 800 feet, you can see a great view of the region all the way to the Cevennes.

Gigondas street towards the village church

Gigondas house with bright blue shutters

Gigondas fountain

Trimmed Plane tree

The pottery shop shown below is on the main street leading to the main square of Gigondas. If you are looking for beautiful, locally made pottery, make sure to check out this shop.

Gigondas pottery shop

Stone houses

Flowers in a Gigondas garden

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church with its central clock tower flanked by a campanile belfry seen below dates from the beginning of the 17th century. The hollow on the front façade shelters a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church

The Gigondas castle and the defensive walls were built around the 13th to 14th century.

Gigondas defensive walls

View from the church

Vineyards in front of Gigondas defensive wall

Gigondas is largely a red wine (99%) appellation with a small amount of rosé wine (1%) being produced. No white wine is produced with a Gigondas label. In 1971, Gigondas was designated as its own appellation; previously it had been classified as Côtes du Rhône-Villages.

View of defensive wall from the village cemetery

Gate through the Gigondas defensive wall

The ruins of the ancient fortifications extend up from the rocky ridge high above the village and most of the old defensive wall still runs down from the top along the east edge of the village.

Eastern defensive wall of Gigondas

Stone wedge house next to lavoir

Gigondas lavoir

When we first arrived in Gigondas that day, I walked over to l'Oustalet Restaurant to see if they had an open table for two persons since I had not made reservations in advance. They said "bien sur, a quelle heure?" When we finished our walkabout Gigondas, we headed over to taste wine at the Caveau du Gigondas while we waited for our table to be ready.

L'Oustalet Restaurant

L'Oustalet Restaurant has a pretty, small, wood-beamed dining room and a tree-shaded stone terrace where you can sit and watch all of the activities in the center of the village. The restaurant is owned by the Perrin family who own Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape. The chef is Laurent Deconinck.

Shirley at l'Oustalet Restaurant in Gigondas

Shirley chose a table somewhat in the shade as it was a sunny, warm day. Our lunch which followed was excellent. To begin with, we were offered the amuse bouche seen below.

Amuse bouche of zucchini tartar with pesto and confit almonds

We both chose the same dish for first course seen below.

Asparagus over potato mousseline with softly poached egg

For my main course, I chose roast veal with potato mousseline that arrived with a lovely crock of morel mushrooms and fingerling potatoes.

Roast veal with potato mousseline

Crock of morel mushrooms and fingerling potatoes

For her main course, Shirley chose braised monk fish served two ways. The first was served over a green garlic leaves sauce with artichokes, cauliflower, and spelt.

Braised monk fish over green garlic leaves sauce with artichokes, cauliflower, and spelt

Second, braised monk fish was served over a hay broth. To tell you the truth, in this case I think the chef carried away with trying to be overly creative with his hay broth. Neither one of us thought it did much for the perfectly cooked fish.

Braised monk fish over hay broth

But he was back on track with the dessert of strawberry rhubarb with vanilla ice cream shown below.

Strawberry rhubarb with vanilla ice cream

To finish, we were brought the tray of small dessert bites shown below.


Service by the all-male staff was excellent. If you get a chance, you should visit their wine shop which is just up the street from the restaurant.

L'Oustalet Restaurant
Place du Village
84190 Gigondas
Tel: +33 4 90 65 85 30

Have a great week. Chat soon.