Monday, September 5, 2022

Excellent Seafood Restaurant near the Port of Le Grau-du-Roi and a Water Jousting Match to Boot

On a warm Saturday a couple of weeks ago, we headed seaside to Le Grau-du-Roi, a fishing port and beach resort, with cousins Jean-Marc and Christine. We figured we would find cooler temperatures near the Mediterranean Sea and bonus, we could try out a new restaurant I had read about.  

Le Grau-du-Roi is a commune in the Gard Department about 1.5 hours south from Sablet. Le Grau-du-Roi is the only commune in the Gard Department to have frontage on the Mediterranean Sea. Le Grau-du-Roi is the second largest French fishing port on the Mediterranean. 

Port of Le Grau-du-Roi

I made reservations at Le Vivier Restaurant early in the day. As we made our way toward Le Grau-du-Roi, it became clear we would be quite late for our reservation because of heavy traffic on the A-9. So I called and they said come ahead, but get there as soon as possible.

When we finally got there, we were kindly welcomed and seated at a table on the terrace. The charming owner told us they didn't mind tardy arrivals but since the chef works by himself in the kitchen, they try to keep to their posted hours as closely as possible. 

Le Vivier in Le Grau-du-Roi

The menu offers a wonderful selection of seafood and fresh fish with very tempting accompaniments. I debated between Couteaux, Razer Clams in English, that were dressed with a Safran Cream sauce and Tellines also in a cream sauce. For those who don't know, Tellines are tiny triangular shaped multi-colored clams. 

Cousin Jean-Marc order a platter of mixed seafood that includes oysters, sea snails, and shrimp. The ladies passed on starters and said they would order dessert instead. 

The owner steered me to the Couteaux, saying the Tellines were really tiny right now. I didn't know what to expect as I had not tried Couteaux before but was really happy I took her advice. They were perfectly tender and delicious with their sauce. 

Couteaux (Razer Clams)

The main courses offer a nice selection of fish, any of which I would have been happy to try. Cousin Christine chose the "Poisson du Jour" which this day were Rougets accompanied by veggies and a sweet potato puree. 

Rougets with Sweet Potato Puree and Vegetables

Shirley opted for the filet of Daurade (Sea Bream) with a mint, dill and citrus broth accompanied by tomatoes and zucchini. 

Filet of Daurade (Sea Bream) with a Mint, Dill and Citrus Broth accompanied by Tomatoes and Zucchini

Jean-Marc and I both ordered Whole Wild Fish which were a duo of whole fish, which changes plate to plate with a citrus cream sauce accompanied by crushed potatoes and veggies.

Duo of Wild Whole Fish with a Citrus Cream Sauce and Crushed Potatoes and Vegetables

Our dessert selections were Frozen Citrus Souffle accompanied by a citrus coulis and fresh fruit,

Frozen Citrus Souffle with Citrus Coulis and Fresh Fruit

Lingot Glace accompanied by caramelized peanuts and fresh fruit,

Lingot Glace with Caramelized Peanuts and Fresh Fruit

Frozen Chocolate Souffle and fresh fruit. 

Frozen Chocolate Souffle with Fresh Fruit

After lunch, we walked along the canal that connects the fishing port to the Mediterranean to see the lighthouse at the entrance. As we walked, we watched the water jousters (Joutes Nautique in French) in combat on the canal. 

In water jousting, two wooden boats are rowed towards each other by eight or ten oarsmen. One jouster on each boat stands on a raised platform at the stern of the boat about 10 feet above the surface of the water. In addition to the jouster and rowers, the crew consists of a helmsman and two musicians, and jousters who will participate in the next match.

Water Jousting Team

Jousters carry a shield 70 cm high and 40 cm wide and a lance 2.8 meters long. They must wear white outfits and white shoes. As the boats approach each other propelled by the rowers, the jousters crouch with their lances directed towards their opponent. A direct hit will propel the unlucky jouster into the air before he falls into the water. 

Water Jousting Team

In case you think these matches have been created as tourists attractions, you will be interested to learn that jousts have been carried out since ancient times. There are records of jousts going all the way back to the time of Christ. This form of jousting is practiced in eight towns in the Herault Department and one town in the Gard, Le Grau-du-Roi. 

The Water Jousting Teams Meet in "Combat".

Our meal at Le Vivier with the dishes of very fresh fish and seafood prepared by an excellent chef made the trip from Sablet worthwhile. Finding out they were jousting on the canal was just icing on the cake.  

I would recommend making reservations at Le Vivier as its a very good restaurant and very popular, especially during tourist season. Parking is available a short distance away. 

Le Vivier Restaurant
7 Rue du Commandant Marceau
Le Grau-du-Roi
Tel: 33 (0) 4 66 53 23 36
website: https//levivier-restaurant.fr

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Newish Bistro in one of our favorite villages

As long time readers of Our House in Provence blog know, one of our favorite villages besides Sablet is Villedieu. Its a small village (population 514), built on a hill overlooking vineyards, olive grows and pine trees near the Eygues River on the border of the Drome Provencale. Villedieu is located about 7 1/2 miles northwest of Sablet in the direction you would take if you were headed to Nyons. 


Villedieu Cafe


Villedieu dates back to medieval times when the village was a Commandery of the Knights 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 visit the village.


Villedieu Town Hall


In the center of Villedieu is a square with a fountain, recently dry to due to the extreme drought and plane trees call Place de la Liberation. The Mairie (town hall), a cafe, a creperie, and until just before the pandemic, an excellent pizzaria called La Maison Bleue were located on the sides of the square.  


Le Bistrot de Villedieu

During warm weather between April and October, the square becomes a grand terrace shared by the cafe and restaurants. Tables and chairs arranged around the fountain with the area for the cafe and restaurants defined by the color of chairs. 


Villedieu Place de la Liberation

Shortly before the start of the pandemic, our friend and chef/owner of the Maison Bleue Pizzaria sold the restaurant to chef Laurent Azoulay. He and his wife Rachel reopened the restaurant in June 2020 as the Bistrot de Villedieu.

Bistrot de Villedieu Server

Chef Azoulay retained the wood burning oven of Maison Bleue and most of the food served at the Bistrot is cooked in the wood burning oven. Because of the pandemic, we had not been able to dine the new restaurant. We made up for that during our current stay by dining there twice; once at lunch by ourselves and once with friends for dinner. Menu was identical both times.

Chef Azoulay is clearly a talented chef. In addition to the Bistrot de Villedieu, Chef Azoulay owns a one star Michelin restaurant called L'Ekrin by Laurent Azoulay in the mountain town of Meribel.

Zucchini Blossoms 

Mussel Soup in Saffron with Spelt

Spelt Risotto with Summer Truffles. 

Baked Tomato stuffed with Rice and Beef with Arugula over Rice and Beef. 

Apricot Crumble


With our friends, he and I split the 1 kg Angus Beef "Cote de Boeuf" which was expensive but delicious.

The owners of the Bistrot de Villedieu split their time between the Bistrot de Villedieu and their second restaurant in the mountains so the Bistrot de Villedieu is only opened during festival season from June 1 to September 30. 

The food was delicious and perfectly cooked and very attractively plated. The servers were very friendly, although service is a little slow when the square is full of diners. The only person who didn't seem to go out of his way to show any charm was the owner/chef.

Le Bistrot de Villedieu
Place de la Liberation
84110 Villedieu
France
Tel: 04 90 28 97 02

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Avignon and Delicious Lunch at Le Gout Du Jour

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. I never get tired of wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls.

We come to Avignon to shop and meet up with cousins. Our stops always include a visit to the Nespresso Boutique, near Place de l'Horloge, to buy espresso capsules to take back to California (way cheaper). Shirley prefers to shop leisurely by herself so I go off to explore and take pictures.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral seen below is a Roman Catholic church located next to the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. It is a Romanesque building, constructed primarily in the second half of the 12th century. The bell tower collapsed in 1405 and was rebuilt in 1425.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

The Pope's Palace seen in the picture below 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 Pope's Palace

In the center of Avignon on Place de l'Horloge you will discover the neo-classical town hall known as the Hotel de Ville seen below. It was built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. The 14th century Gothic clock tower from the original structure which gave the square its name was incorporated into the construction of the current Hotel de Ville.

Hotel de Ville and 14th Century Clock Tower

While Shirley shops, I choose our restaurant for lunch. We learned early on, that with the exception of cafes that are mostly frequented by tourists, it is not a good idea to drop into French restaurants without reservations. 

You will probably find they are "complet" (full) even if they have empty tables. You might get lucky if you show up just as they open their door for service. Most local restaurants with the exception of the aforementioned cafes for tourists do not turn tables like is customary in the United States.

It appears the pandemic has been hard on restaurants in Avignon like the United States. So some of the restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years are now "permanently closed". So on our visit in January, I decided we would try a new-to-us restaurant called "Le Gout De Jour" which I found in the Michelin Guide.

Shirley and I at "Le Gout Du Jour" with a glass of Mont Redon Gigondas 

Le Gout Du Jour restaurant is located just a few steps from the Hotel de Ville. The chef is a young Avignonnais (born in Avignon) by the name of Julien Chazal. He offers diners a variety of menu options including a vegetarian menu. The following photos show the dishes we enjoyed at lunch.

Pumpkin Soup

Salmon Fillet for Shirley

Venison Loin for Me

Dessert for Me

Dessert for Shirley

Espresso and Brownies to Finish the Meal

I am happy we discovered a new restaurant to recommend to friends who visit Avignon. The restaurant is opened daily for lunch and dinner except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. As I mentioned earlier in the post, I highly recommend you make reservations and don't show up hoping to get seated without one.

Le Gout Du Jour
20 Rue Saint-Etienne
84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 32 76 32 16
Website: www.legoutdujour84.com

Monday, March 14, 2022

Hunt for Sunflowers and Hike to the Fortress of Mornas

Last July, we went to Provence for the first time since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. As I wrote in this post, shortly before our trip, about our favorite things in Provence, seasonal "floral" attractions such as red poppies, lavender, and sunflowers are high on our list. 

Since July is sunflower season, we set off one morning to look for sunflower fields around the town of Orange. We had been told there were large sunflower fields north of Orange and while we were there, we should take the time to hike up to the Fortress of Mornas.

Sunflower field near Mornas

Sure enough, we found quite a few fields as we drove toward Mornas. Sunflowers have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile, and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds, from which oil is extracted.  

Sunflowers near Mornas

Sunflowers generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to end of July with harvest occurring beginning of August. A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact mature sunflowers typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do change their orientation from east to west during the course of the day; once mature, the movement stops.

We arrived in Mornas, a medieval community that sits along the Rhone River halfway between Orange and Bollene. The village is longer than it is wide with a single street that runs end to end. At each end of the village, are magnificent, fortified stone gateways which guard the entrances to the village. Above Mornas, on top of a 450 foot cliff is the Fortress of Mornas. 

14th century Saint Nicolas gate

We had come to visit the fortress, so we headed up a very steep narrow road. About half way to the fortress, past the village cemetery, we came to Notre-Dame du Val-Romigier, a Romanesque church dating from the middle of the 12th century. It was enlarged during the Gothic era and restored several times over the years. 

Notre Dame de Val Romigier Church

After pausing our walk to stroll around the cemetery and visit the church, we continued up the very steep road to the fortress. Note, the walk up to the fortress takes about 15 minutes. The first part of the walk to the church is steep, the walk from the church to the fortress is very steep, on a wide, flat cement roadway with no shade. 

The Fortress of Mornas

The large fortress, with stone walls, towers, chateau and chapels was constructed on top of the cliffs in the 12th century by the Earl of Toulouse. 

The Fortress of Mornas

The fortress ruins are visible for a long distance to the west. If you have ever driven down the A-7 autoroute from Bollene past Mornas to the Rhone valley, you have surely observed it as you passed below. 

The Fortress of Mornas

Mornas was passed to the Avignon Popes at the beginning of the 14th century. The fortress was restored and improved with an outer wall built around the top of the hill to protect it from highway robbers that were looting and devastating the land at that time.

The Fortress of Mornas

Protestants and Catholics fought fiercely over Mornas during the wars of Religion. In 1562, after killing women, children and elderly in the church, the Protestant troops forced the Catholic brigade to throw themselves off the walls. The Protestant Huguenots met the same fate when the Catholics recaptured the fortress in 1568. 

Shirley below the Fortress of Mornas

After the French Revolution, the fortress was abandoned and fell into ruins. 

The Fortress of Mornas

Starting in 1978, the "Les Amis de la Forteresse" association has been restoring the fortress back to medieval times. 

Shirley at bottom of the path leading up to the Fortress of Mornas

If you want to do an serious climb, or look for sunflowers, then head to Mornas. You are probably curious anyway about the fortress on the hill if you ever drove past on the A-7 autoroute.  If you go there during truffle season, there is a very good restaurant that is famous for their truffle menus in Mondragon that I told you about here

Monday, February 28, 2022

Visited Wine Friends and Best Lunch Ever in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

One of the many things that drew us to Sablet was its location in the Cotes-du-Rhone wine appellation and proximity to renown villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We like all the wines from this region but our favorites are the wines produced in the AOP located around the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a small medieval village spread out on the hillside at the foot of ruins of an ancient chateau. From the chateau hill, you have an impressive view in all directions, mostly of vineyards and the Rhone River 1.9 miles to the east. It is best known for the wine that is produced from the vineyards surrounding the village. 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Our favorite Chateauneuf-du-Pape winery is located just outside the village on the Route de Courthezon. We first became acquainted with Domaine de la Charbonniere when we tasted wines for our first wine list at Bistro des Copains in Occidental, CA. We have been fans ever since. 

The domaine is owned by the Maret family, daughters Veronique and Caroline and parents Michel and Mireille. They have been making wine since 1912 when Michel Maret's grandfather bought the domaine as a gift for his wife who was the daughter of a local vigneron. Michel took over in 1978 and started bottling and selling wine, most of it out the winery door.

Veronique took over winemaking from Michel in 2012 after working alongside her father beginning in 2009. Michel, although now retired, still drives the tractor and helps her in the cellar. Veronique and Caroline are the 4th generation of Maret's to oversee the domaine. Mother Mireille continues to manage the vineyard team.


Domaine de la Charbonniere

There are several cafes with outdoor terraces and a gastronomic restaurant with one Michelin star in the center of the village. Although this is a tourist town, there are not many tourists shops besides those selling wine as the business of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is wine.

The village streets are narrow, curving around the hillside or climbing up and down between the houses up to the chateau. The buildings are old but everything seems to have been completely restored. 

You can get to the chateau ruins at the top of the village by walking up Rue Joseph Ducos past the front of the Town Hall to the Church at Rue des Papes. Just to the left of the church are steps that lead up the wide stone-step street to the chateau.


Michel in the Center of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

One morning back in January, we headed to Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a degustation (wine tasting) at Domaine de la Charbonniere. We had read reports that the 2019 vintage was outstanding throughout the Cotes du Rhone and we were eager to see our friends and taste their wines.

As our visit came to an end, they said La Mere Germaine Restaurant opened a sister restaurant in the village last summer that we should try. We are always up for new restaurants so Veronique called and made a reservation for us to have lunch at Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine.    

Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine

Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine is in a new complex a few steps from the center of the village. There is a terrace with views of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I imagine it would be a lovely place to dine when the weather is a little warmer.

The view from the terrace of Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine

We entered at the time set for our reservation and after the obligatory checking of our Pass Sanitaires, we were offered a choice of all the tables since we were the first diners to arrive. Although, it was a beautiful day outside, it was a little brisk so we decided to sit at the comptoir in front of the rotisserie.  

La Rotisserie au Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine

The Comptoir de la Mere Germaine has an extensive wine list including many selections from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Since we had just come from Domaine de la Charbonniere, we chose the AOP Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2015 Cuvee Domaine Rouge.  

Domaine de la Charbonniere 

We chose the leeks in vinaigrette and chickpea hummus with little rolls to share as starters for our meal. 

Leeks in Vinaigrette

Our position at the comptoir was conducive to chatting with the cooks preparing our meals. They told us the Comptoir de la Mere Germaine opened on July 14, 2021, so quite new. 

Chickpea Hummus with little rolls with herbs and spices

I went with the farm chicken from the Luberon roasted on the rotisserie. It was accompanied by roasted potatoes. 

Rotisserie Farm Chicken from Luberon with Roasted Potatoes 

Shirley selected the filet of Bar (seabass). 

Filet of Bar (Seabass)

We were happy to see the restaurant menu included a selection of sides including a pan of seasonal vegetables.

Sauteed Pan of Vegetables

We shared a Lemon Meringue Tart to finish. 

Lemon Meringue Tart

The culinary team working in the open kitchen on the other side of the comptoir were happy to pose for a picture. 

We have not been to the La Mere Germaine since long before it was awarded a Michelin star during the pandemic. In fact, it was not very good as I recall. Also, we have not found any dining establishments in the village that we would recommend. 

So I am pleased to say the Comptoir de la Mere Germaine offers a welcoming mix of friendly, professional team, comfortable, well lit dining room and last but not least, generous portions of very good food, albeit not quite as refined as at some restaurants we frequent. 

Having said that, we will return again and again. In fact, we enjoyed our meals so much that we made a reservation before we left for the next Saturday for lunch.   

The Culinary Team

Here some different dishes we tried at the aforementioned Saturday lunch. 

We shared a vegetarian board of confit eggplant, zucchini and focaccia to start.

Vegetarian Board with Confit Eggplant, Zucchini and Focaccia

For my meal, I chose the rumsteak a la Rossini which is essentially a steak pan-fried and topped with a hot slice of fresh whole foie gras, briefly pan-fried at the last minute. I will be honest that I didn't know that "a la Rossini" means it comes with a slice of foie gras. Having said that, hey when in France...it was delicious. 

Rumsteak (Sirloin) a la Rossini 

Shirley ordered a filet of trout from l'Isle sur la Sorgue. 

Trout from l'Isle sur la Sorgue

From the list of sides on the menu, we chose a bowl of crispy, hot frites. 

Side dish of Crispy French Fries

To finish, we got the Mille-Feuille to share. This was sort of deconstructed and I didn't think it was all that special and would not order again. This was the only disappointing dish we had during our two meals there.

Mille-Feuille to share

If you are in the area to taste wines from AOP Chateauneuf-du-Pape or just looking for a good place to have lunch in wine country, I recommend that you make a reservation at Comptoir de la Mere Germaine.  There is a large public parking lot a short walk from the restaurant. You will not be sorry. 

Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine
4 Rue des Consuls
84230 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
France
Tel: +33 4 28 69 00 60
website: www.lameregenermaine-chateauneufdupape.fr/le-comptoir/