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/

Friday, February 18, 2022

Visit to Grignan, a Plus Beaux Villages de France and Lunch at Long Time Favorite Eatery Le Poeme de Grignan Restaurant

We often make visits to Grignan in the Drome Provencale, an area that falls between the Rhone River and Alps north of the Vaucluse. Since we were last there in the summer of 2019, Grignan was added to the list of Plus Beaux Villages de France.

So on a overcast Sunday in January, we drove to Grignan for a walk-about and lunch at Le Poeme de Grignan Restaurant. Our route took us past olive groves and fields with rows of lavender, which come summer will magically transform into a sea of purple and buzzing honey bees. 

Grignan sits on large rocky hilltop topped by a castle. Construction of the castle began in the 12th century, but it wasn't until the 13th century that the Adhemar family expanded it to a huge fortress. In the 17th century, Francois Adhemar de Monteil transformed the fortress into a luxurious residence.

The castle was completely ruined in 1793 during the French Revolution. Early in the 20th century, a Madame Fontaine spent her entire fortune restoring the castle to its former glory. Today the castle is owned by the Department of the Drome. You can see interior pictures of the castle on my post here.

The Castle and Village of Grignan

Located under the castle terrace is the Collegiate Church of the Holy Savior. The church seen in the right side of the picture below was built between 1535 and 1539. The Renaissance facade is flanked by two square towers and a Gothic rose window. 

Closer View of Castle and Collegiate Church of the Holy Savior

The Lavoir du Mail seen in the picture below is a 19th century wash house with a circular basin inside 16 Doric columns. The lavoir is named after the game of mail that was popular then: a game using a wooden ball and a mallet.

Lavoir du Mail (wash house)

Grignan village square

Grignan became renown in France during the 17th century when Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sevigne, a French aristocrat, famous for writing letters, wrote about Grignan and the surrounding area in letters to her daughter. 

Madame de Sevigne caught a "fever" and died in April 1696 in Grignan. She is buried in the Collegiate Church of the Holy Savior. She is revered in France as one of the great icons of French literature. 

The fountain shown in the photograph below was built in 1840 at Place de l'Horloge in the center of Grignan.

Fountain topped by statue of Madame Sevigne

We walked into Le Poeme Restaurant and were asked "avez vous reserve", did we have reservations? "Yes" I said, and immediately we were asked to present our Passe Sanitaires to prove we were fully vaccinated and boosted.  We noted that since we had last dined at Le Poeme, the restaurant's interior had been nicely updated.

Shirley at Le Poeme with complimentary bowl of black olives from Nyons

As is our custom, we passed on aperitifs and went directly to the wine list. I chose a red from the Grignan-les-Adelmar AOC which surrounds Grignan from Domaine du Chardon Bleu. It was 100% Syrah, more typical of Northern Rhone wines than the Southern Rhone wines we are use to.

Me and my wine selection


Amuse Bouche of Mushroom Soup and Duck Breast

In France, it is common for chefs to serve an "Amuse Bouche" to diners to enjoy while waiting for their food orders to arrive. It is a way of saying "welcome" and pampering them with something special. The Amuse Bouche at Le Poeme was delicious and more extravagant than most.

The pictures which follow show our meal as presented to us at our table.

Vegetable Soup with Truffles and Morel Mushrooms for Shirley

Scallops with Sunchoke and Potato Puree with Truffles for me

Filet of Bar (Sea Bass) with Rice, and Spinach in Red Wine Sauce for Shirley 

Veal with Root Vegetables, Mushrooms and Haricots Verts for me

We shared a dessert to finish our meal. 

Yuzu Lemon Souffle with Vanilla Ice Cream and Strawberry Sorbet and Mango

When we walked in, there was only one single gentleman seated in the restaurant. By the time, we left, all the tables were filled with diners enjoying Sunday lunch. 

We highly recommend that you always make reservations in advance for restaurants. We have seen time and again that restaurants with open tables throughout the time we are there will none-the-less turn away diners who arrive without reservations. 

Grignan is a very pretty village and lots to explore as recognized by the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association. There are several nice restaurants in Grignan, of which Le Poeme is our favorite.

Le Poeme de Grignan Restaurant
8 Rue Saint-Louis
26230 Grignan
France
Tel: +33 4 75 91 10 90
www.poemedegrignan.com