Monday, May 1, 2023

Visit to one of the 7 Most Beautiful Villages in Vaucluse

We usually take daily trips away from Sablet to explore the Vaucluse and surrounding Departments. We probably go most often to the hill-top villages of the Luberon including Venasque, which is what we did a few weeks ago.

Venasque is a small pretty village that clings to a rocky hillside overlooking vineyards, garrigue (areas of shrubby vegetation found in the Mediterranean region), and cherry trees. It is classified as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" (translated as most beautiful villages of France).

Cherries have been grown in this part of Provence since the 17th century and it remains the largest cherry producing region in France. Cherries from Venasque are said to be the best; the village refers to its cherries as diamants rouges (red diamonds). 

Venasque is one of the oldest villages of the Comtat Venaissin often referred to simply as the Comtat. Comtat means county in its original sense, or land belonging to a count. Venaissin refers to Venasque, a former bishop seat which gave its name to the Comtat. 

Saracen Towers and Arched Doorway through Defensive Walls
Venasque's location on top of the hill provided a natural defense against attacks from enemies. Nevertheless, in Roman times, a defensive wall with towers was built around the village. The arched doorways were restored at the beginning of the 20th century.

Defensive Wall
The thick walls of the ramparts which survive connect three Saracen towers and two arched doors. Supposedly the stones in the defensive wall that no longer exist were removed as if the walls were a sort of rock quarry and used to build the school and village houses. 

One of the reasons we like to come to Venasque is because of Les Remparts restaurant. At Les Remparts, you can sit in the interior dining room, a large sunroom or a small outdoor terrace with views of the valley on sunny days.

Les Remparts offers a number of prix fixe menus, including a 3-course vegetarian menu currently priced at 39 Euros. Food is always well prepared and beautifully plated. We recommend you reserve ahead. 

Les Remparts Restaurant
As you can see, Venasque is a small village. There are only 1013 people who reside in the village according to the lastest census. 

Water was piped to houses throughout the village between 1959 and 1965. Prior to this time, villagers got their water from the various fountains scattered throughout the village.

The fountain in the center of Venasque at Place de la Fontaine

Artist workshop in Venasque

Lady taking in the views down the Venasque street

Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)
The Notre Dame church in Venasque dates from the end of the 12th century. The side chapels date from the 17th and 18th century, and the bell tower from the 17th century. 

Notre Dame Church in Venasque
Inside the church, there is a very beautiful baptistry. Its origins are unclear, but it is believed to be the oldest religious baptistry in the region.

Iron Cross near Notre Dame Church in Venasque

War Memorial in Venasque near Notre Dame Church

Arched Passageway into and out of Venasque
It is worth the trip up the hill off the D-4 to visit Venasque. As I said, it is small and will only take you a couple of hours to walk around the village. Try to time your visit so you can eat lunch at Les Remparts. You will be happy you did.

Les Remparts Restaurant
37 Rue Haute
84210 Venasque
Tel: 04 90 66 02 79

Monday, April 24, 2023

A French Memorial to 5 US Airmen who Died in WWII in Plan de Dieu While Attacking Nearby German Airfields

We were invited to dine with Paul and Francoise Roumanille "chez Bruno" in Sablet on a recent Friday. As I told you in this post, Paul and Francoise and their parents before them have been making wine in Sablet since 1939. 

We got to talking during our lunch of traditional Aioli a la Morue, about what life was like for their families during WWII. Paul mentioned that there is a memorial to US airmen in Plan de Dieu, a large area planted in vineyards 11 km west of Sablet. Plan de Dieu translates to "God's Plain."

There are around 2620 acres planted in vineyards at an altitude of 100 meters within the Plan de Dieu AOC. Rather than one named village, the area includes the territories of Camaret-sur-Aigues, Jonquieres, Violes and Travaillan. A few patches of woodlands dot the expanse of vines.

Soil is mainly red clay packed with rounded cobblestones. There is not a lot of soil matter, so yields are modest, barely enough to produce one bottle of wine per plant. The wines are all red, made from the Cotes-du-Rhone's 3 leading grape varieties, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. 

The next day, Saturday, we went out to find this war memorial to US airmen. We see war memorials in almost every village in Provence dedicated to the children of the town who died serving their country in WWI or WWII. We have never seen a war memorial to US military personnel other than near where troops landed on D-Day in Normandy

Paul said the memorial was on the road to Cameret-sur-Aigues just beyond the turnoff to Cairanne. Sure enough, as we were driving on the D23 toward Camaret-sur-Aigues, we came to a small road going off to the right with a small white sign "war memorial".

War memorial to US airmen who died in Plan de Dieu
There is not a lot of information at the memorial or on the internet about the events that occurred over the Plan de Dieu that inspired locals to build this memorial.

You can see the vast plain of vineyards to the west of the war memorial
At first glance, the site is unremarkable. Set in the middle of a vast plain of vineyards, the simple stone monument is set just off the side of a one-way dirt road. 

The memorial is festooned with flowers and red, white and blue ribbons
I found that on Saturday, April 16, 2005, approximately 200 French men and women along with French and American military representatives gathered during an icy spring rainy day to dedicate the new memorial to the five P-38 Lightning pilots who died while attacking nearby airfields.

2005 was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of France. The locals thought it necessary to express their appreciation with this memorial stone to the young pilots for their dedication in the darkest hour of French history, and active participation in the liberation of France and victory over Nazi Germany. 

Three of the honored pilots went down on June 15, 1944, trying to weaken German defenses for the Allied assault of southern France that would follow the Normandy invasion. 2nd Lt. Hugh Crandall Jr. and 1st Lt. Harold V Duggleby from the 94th Fighter Squadron were both brought down by anti-aircraft fire on strafing runs against the Orange-Plan de Dieu airfield. 

At about the same time, 1st Lt. Warren E. Semple from the 49th Fighter Squadron was shot down by a German pilot while strafing the nearby Orange-Caritat airstrip. 

Several weeks later in early August, 2nd Lt. Robert D. Simpson of the 48th Fighter Squadron and 2nd Lt. A. Tracy of the 49th Fighter Squadron were downed by flack and killed on similar missions. Watching the attacking planes get shot down was shocking for those on the ground said one of the local residents who was 11 in 1944.

Listing of the names of the 5 young US airmen who died in Plan de Dieu.
Across the narrow country road from the war memorial, there is the Bergerie du Bois des Dames. The name Bois des Dames (wood of the ladies) comes from the thick oak woods and pastures that once covered part of this area. The woods belonged to religious ladies who had retired to a high valley in the hills of Gigondas, at the convent of Prebayon, hence the name Bois des Dames. 

Bergerie du Bois des Dames
I couldn't find any information about this bergerie. I do know that bergeries are enclosures that shepherds used in old times to contain and protect their sheep. In the picture below, you can see in the corner of the bergerie, the remains of a very deep well. 

Interior of the Bergerie du Bois des Dames.
In the picture below, you can see where the water came out from the well into a water trough that delivered it into a basin for the sheep. 

Trough for water to run from well into the water basin
The next time we are in Sablet, I will go to the Domaine Bois des Dames and see if anyone there can tell me why the memorial and bergerie are located on different sides of the country road. I would also like to find out the age of the bergerie structure. It looks old, so I assume it is but sometimes looks as we know can be deceiving. 

As I have told you several times. we frequently see pilots of the Patrouille de France, the French precision flying unit, practicing their stunts over this area. So sobering to think, while we get such enjoyment from seeing the Patrouille flying overhead, there was a time in the last century when the planes flying overhead were engaged in serious, deadly warfare.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Friday is Market Day in Sablet

In previous posts, I have shared the criteria that we considered as we searched for a house to buy in the South of France. Near the top of the list after Shirley's #1, "no-fixer-uppers", was our desire to own a house in a village that was active year around so we could visit whenever we wished. 

This meant we wanted a "living village" which for us meant, not tourist dependent as they essentially shut down from early November to middle of March. This eliminated a lot of villages in the Alpilles, Luberon or near the Mediterranean Sea. 

We discovered as we searched that small villages in the Cotes du Rhone and other wine making regions are open year around as wine making is a year around process. Thus, we considered these villages "living villages".

It seems that our village has only gotten better as a place to live or visit since we bought back in 2008. The village of Sablet has a population of 1381. We have a boulangerie that is open 365 days a year. We have a butcher shop; a very well stocked grocery store called an épicerie, a bar/cafe in the center of the village, a pizzeria, and a fine dining restaurant called La Table de Magali.

We have a pharmacy, a medical office, a dentist, a floral shop, two salons, a dress shop, a tourist information center where they sell local wines, and a tabac where they sell stamps, and French, English, and German newspapers and magazines. There are two churches and a bank with ATM machine. 

More recently, the village has seen their Friday morning market in the center of Sablet expand with the addition of new vendors, some of whom are shown in the pictures below. While the market is small (we recommend you go to one or more of the larger weekly markets in the area), the quality of fish, cheese and fruits and vegetables sold at the Sablet market is excellent. 

View of Sablet from Rue du Stade

Fruit and Vegetable Seller

Mobile Fromagerie

Le Poissonier

Seller of All Things Related to Honey

Something akin to a Mobile Italian Alimentari 

A Close-up Look at the Products on Offer from the Mobile Italian Alimentari 

Another Fruit and Vegetable Seller

Freshly Made Paella to Go

I have written posts about weekly markets in Vaison-la-Romaine, Nyons, Carpentras, Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes, and Uzes, I have never written about our own smallish market that takes place every Friday morning on Place De L'Aire De La Croix, in front of Bar des Sports. 

Between the shops in the village and the Friday weekly market, you can live very well in Sablet and never venture out to shop anywhere else. Parking gets a little tight late Thursday night until after market on Friday as there is no parking on Place De L'Aire De La Croix, which normally is full of cars. 

If you are looking for a home to rent for a holiday in Provence, we still have multiple weeks available in May and June as well as a few single weeks through the end of October.  I hope to hear from you. 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes, the best Saturday market in the Vaucluse for fresh produce, fish, and flowers

One of the best things about coming to Sablet is shopping at the weekly outdoor "marches" in towns and villages throughout the region ... or at least it is for "foodies" like me. Why would you buy fruits and vegetables, cheese, meats, or fish at one of those supermarkets on the outskirts of town when you can leisurely stroll through a market and choose what you want for the next couple of days. 

Depending on what day we arrive in Sablet, we pick up staples from Alain and Mimi at Vival in Sablet and wait for the next market in the area to buy fresh, perishable foods. We arrived midweek this time and missed the Tuesday morning market in Vaison-la-Romaine. So, on Saturday, we got up early and headed to Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes for the Saturday morning market. 

Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes is a small village located 15 kms northwest of Sablet on the border of the Vaucluse and the Department of the Drome. As the name suggests (les "vignes" means the vines), Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes is an agriculture village devoted to making wine. Vineyards surround the village.

The biggest challenge about going to these markets is finding parking, especially if you are not there bright and early. We always try to go early so we find parking within a reasonable distance of the market. Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes has proved to be more challenging than others in our opinion, although it is not easy to find parking at any of them. This morning we were lucky.

Entrance through the Belltower into the center of Saint-Cecile-les-Vignes
I don't go to the "marches" with a list of things to buy like I do when I go to the supermarket. No, I walk through the market and buy what is fresh, in season, and local. I never buy anything on my first walk through the market. After I have surveyed what is for sale, I take a second walk through and buy what I liked on my first walk-through. 

There was locally grown green and white asparagus. Did you know there is no difference between green and white asparagus. White asparagus comes from depriving the asparagus of light. Dirt is mounded around the emerging stalk, depriving it of light. The plant can't produce chlorophyll without light, thus there is no green color to the stalks. 

Fresh white and green asparagus from nearby Department of the Gard
Invariably, whenever I buy produce on my first walk through a market, I wish I had waited to buy those tomatoes, eggplants or zucchinis a little way further up the street. The only exception I make to buying at the "marches" is if there is a fantastic poissonnier or fromager in the area whose products are better than what you can find in the marches or for staples like flour, sugar, and milk.

Make up your menus as you walk through the market. Don't worry if you don't have a recipe. Between Google, Instagram and Pinterest, you can find lots of recipes when you search for a particular fruit or vegetable. Choose one that sounds good to you. That way you are trying new dishes which is part of the fun of spending time in Provence.

One of the poissonnier at the Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes market
The market in Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes takes place every Saturday between 8:00 AM and 1:00 PM at Le Cour du Portalet, La Place de la Marie and La Place de la Fontaine including in front of the parish church of Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes. This church replaced a church that the villagers had decided was obsolete. Built between 1854 and 1860, the new church was consecrated in 1860 by the archbishop of Avignon. The church was built from stones brought from Saint-Restitut, a village in the Department of the Drome known for its old stones. Inside the church, you can see alters, pictures, and statues saved from the old church.

Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes parish church
Tomatoes from the Drome
More asparagus and the famous strawberries of Carpentras
Strawberries have been grown around Carpentras since the late 19th century. Carpentras strawberries means they come from the area around Carpentras, not what variety.  You can find them at markets around Sablet between March and June. 

We were going to visit my elderly cousins who reside in a retirement community in Villeneuve-les-Avignons later in the afternoon. So, we bought a box of strawberries from Carpentras to take them as a treat. Cousin Mauricettes spent the first 21 years of her life in Carpentras. You have never seen a bigger smile on someone's face than when we told them we had brought them a box of Carpentras strawberries. I called them on Sunday morning to wish them Happy Easter and they told me they ate the entire box that evening.

Enjoy your trips to the local marches when you are in the South of France. We recommend you go early. Later in the day, it will be difficult to move around, let alone find parking.  

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Tulips in the Vaucluse put on a dazzling display of color near Jonquieres.

We are back in Sablet after an unusually long absence for us. One of the highlights of our sojourns in Provence, are the flowers that you find in various seasons of the year. 

You can see cherry orchards in bloom in April and early May around the Plus Beaux Village of Venasque. The time to enjoy their fruit is late May to early July. 

Then Shirley's favorites, bright red poppies, known in France as Coquelicots make their appearance in fields in May. The Coquelicots grow wild rather than cultivated so you can never tell where you will find them. 

Lavender, the most famous flowers to be seen in Provence, bloom from mid-June to mid to late July, depending upon elevation. Sunflowers bloom from late June to the end of July and are typically harvested in August. 

Back in 2010, I was surprised to discover fields of tulips growing near Violes, a small village near Sablet. I was surprised because we had never seen fields of tulips or read about them in any of the various guidebooks I have perused over the years. 

Since now is the time of the year when the tulips bloom, we went out to look for them on our first day back. We went to the area where we have seen them previously. Nothing! So, we made inquiries in Sablet, and discovered the tulips were growing in a different field farther from Sablet, near Jonquieres. 

So yesterday, we went out again and were happy to find multi-colored rows of tulips alongside the Route de Carpentras into Jonquieres, with views of Mont Ventoux in the distance. 

Tulip field near Jonquieres with view of Mont Ventoux
I grew up in Southwestern Michigan about one hour south of Holland, Michigan. An annual field trip in elementary school was our trip to Holland, Michigan to see the tulips.

Tulip field near Jonquieres
I learned back in 2010 that these tulips are not grown to be sold as cut flowers by floral shops or vendors at weekly markets that occur throughout France. 

Tulip field near Jonquieres
Rather, these tulips are grown for export to the Netherlands. In a few days, the flowers will be cut by a lawn mower type machine to save the bulbs. The bulbs will be harvested and shipped to the Netherlands. 

Tulip field near Jonquieres

Tulip field near Jonquieres

Tulip field near Jonquieres

Tulip field near Jonquieres

If you are going to be in the Vaucluse during the month of April, keep your eyes out for fields of multi-colored rows of tulips.

If you are planning a trip to the South of France, we would be honored if you would consider making our house in Sablet your home for your sojourn. We have weeks available in May and June, July 23 to August 5, and August 12 to September 2. Please reach out to me for information about availability and rental rates. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Original Van Gogh Experience in the Carrieres des Lumieres at Les Baux de Provence

I figure that many of you have seen the immersive Van Gogh Experience in one of the many US cities that have offered this program. But how many of you know that the "Van Gogh Starry Night" art and music program was first exhibited in the Carrières des Lumieres at Les Baux de Provence in the South of France from March 1, 2019, to January 5, 2020?

Les Baux de Provence is a picturesque village about 47 miles southwest of our home in Sablet, France. The village sits in a strategic location on a rocky outcrop with ancient houses and a ruined castle perched on top of the village overlooking vineyards and olive groves to the south.

Les Baux de Provence is officially classified as a Les Plus Beaux Villages de France - one of the most beautiful villages of France. The beauty of the village and the surrounding Alpilles mountains, makes Les Baux de Provence a very popular place for tourists all year long as I told you here.

The name Les Baux refers to its site, a baou is a rocky spur. Aluminum ore bauxite was first discovered near Les Baux in 1821 and named after the village of Les Baux de Provence. Bauxite was extensively mined in the area but by the end of the 20th century, the bauxite had been completely extracted. 

Les Baux de Provence

The Carrières des Lumieres is located 800 meters from Les Baux de Provence, a 10-minute walk from the village so you can get there easily if you are parked near the village. There is limited parking near the village or the Carrières des Lumieres, so you may have to walk a little.

Arrival at Les Baux de Provence

The quarry of Les Grands Fonds, now known as the Carrières des Lumieres, was opened in 1800. The area's white limestone was easily worked and was used to build Glanum, the village of Les Baux de Provence and for the construction of the castle of Les Baux.  

As I mentioned earlier, a red mineral was discovered in 1821 in the limestone quarries. The mineral was used to extract aluminum and named bauxite after the nearby village. In 1935 after the first world war, with the emergence of new building materials such as steel and concrete, the quarry closed. 

In 2012, the village of Les Baux entrusted Culturespaces with management of the quarry. Every year since opening, Les Carrières de Lumieres has offered an immersive digital exhibition devoted to a major artist. In 2019, we had the opportunity to see "Van Gogh, Starry Night" in July and again in October.

Entrance to the Carrières de Lumieres

To the right of the entrance, a larger gallery leads you under the mountain, towards an enormous hall divided by huge pillars left by quarry workers to hold up the roof. The 7,000 square meters (75,000 square feet) of walls and ceilings are used as natural screens to project beautiful 14 meter-high (45 feet) images. 

There are no seats per se. Audience members walk around, viewing the changing images from different vantage points as their own shadows are eerily cast on the paintings. Some people sit on a few concrete slabs around the perimeter, some huddle together for warmth. 

The pictures which follow show some of the artwork which was displayed as the program ensued during our visit in July 2019.

In 2023, the Carrières des Lumieres will present two new immersive exhibitions: a long program, "From Vermeer to Van Gogh, the Dutch Masters", and a short program, "Mondrian, the architect of colors".

If you are planning a trip to the South of France, we would be honored if you would consider making our house in Sablet your home for your Sojourn. Please reach out to me for information about availability and rental rates.