Saturday, March 23, 2024

Visit to Avignon and Tasty Lunch at Bib Gourmand Restaurant Bibendum

As faithful readers of Our House in Provence blog know, a visit to Avignon is an essential part of our time in Provence. During the first years, it was to shop for kids' clothes for our grandchildren, now that they are older and prefer to choose their clothes, we go to visit the Nespresso store, near Place de l'Horloge, to buy espresso capsules to take back to California (way cheaper). 

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, enclosed within ancient walls along the Rhone River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music, and activity.

Notre 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 election of 5 Popes and 1 Antipope.


Pope's Palace

In the center or 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 inspired the name for the square was incorporated into the construction of the current Hotel de Ville. 


Hotel de Ville

Our visits to Avignon are always timed so we can enjoy a leisurely lunch in a nice restaurant. We frequently dine at La Fourchette which I told you about here

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 a restaurant in France 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.

On our most recent visit, we make reservations for lunch at Bibendum on Rue Joseph Vernet, a restaurant recently designated by Michelin as Bib Gourmand. If you don't know, Bib Gourmand restaurants are those deemed by Michelin inspectors to offer a complete meal excluding beverages at an outstanding price/quality price of 40 Euros or less. 


Bibendum Restaurant

Bibendum is set in an old cloister that includes the restaurant, a wine bar, a cocktail bar and inner courtyard with patio where we chose to dine. Mathieu Desmarest, chef of the Michelin one-star restaurant Pollen, devises the menu, while his wife Emilie oversees this venue.  

Shirley sitting in the inner courtyard of Bibendum Restaurant

The following are various dishes that we enjoyed at our lunch at Bibendum starting with a tasty amuse bouche of puree with cheese sent out by the chef to kick start our taste buds. 


Amuse Bouche


Padrons


Salad with warm goat cheese


Green asparagus 


Fish fillet with beurre blanc sauce


Duck breast with side of polenta


Profiterole

We happily recommend Bibendum to friends who visit Avignon. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday, 12h00 - 13h30 / 19h00 - 21h30. They offer a 3-course menu for 39 Euros. The BBD Club (bar, cocktails and tapas) is open from 18h00 - 00h30.

Bibendum
83 Rue Joseph Vernet
84000 Avignon, France
Tel: 04 90 91 78 39
website: https://www.bibendumavignon.fr

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

If you are looking for an excellent place to lunch in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, go to Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a small medieval village located about 30 km from Sablet. The village spreads out on the hillside at the foot of ruins of an ancient chateau that I told you about here. 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. The village is best known for the wine that is produced from the vineyards that surround the village.

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.


Pope's castle in Chateaueaneuf-du-Pape

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 pas 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 streets to the chateau. 


Center of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

We were dragging on Sunday morning after our flight from San Francisco and especially the 3-hour drive from Nice where we landed, to Sablet. We hadn't done grocery shopping so eating lunch at home was not an option, so I called Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and reserved a table for 2.

Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine is in a relatively new complex, a few steps from its sister restaurant La Mere Germaine and the center of the village. There is a lovely terrace for dining when the weather is a little warmer, in our opinion. 

We entered the restaurant at the time set for our reservation and we were offered a choice of tables inside or on the terrace. Although it was sunny day, it felt a little brisk to us, so we chose a table inside with a nice view of the terrace and entrance to the restaurant.  
 

Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine

The dining room is large and airy with an open kitchen featuring a rotisserie. We like to sit at the counter and watch the kitchen team work their magic. Like the terrace, the dining room offers a panoramic view out to the vineyards. 

The menu is a la carte and offers a few starters, some larger dishes to be shared, single portion main courses, and a few side dishes to accompany main courses.

To start, we ordered Pissaladière du Comptoir to share. Pissaladière is a dish of flatbread with traditional toppings from Nice being caramelized onions, black olives, and anchovies. It was served cold, quite tasty but I would have preferred it to be warm.

Pissaladière du Comptoir

Shirley chose the fish plate of the day, which was filet of John Dory, served over braised cabbage. 

John Dory filet over cabbage

I chose the veal roasted on the rotisserie and served with a plate full of vegetables. We were both very happy with our selections. 

As you would expect from a restaurant located in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the wine list is large with many selections of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Veal roasted on the rotisserie with vegetables

As we walked out, we had a great view out over the village and Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards towards Mont Ventoux, far in the distance. 

View from the terrace over Chateauneuf-du-Pape towards Mont Ventoux

There are few good choices for places to eat in Chateauneuf-du-Pape except Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine et La Mere Germaine. So, because of this, we recommend highly that you make reservations, so you don't get turned away. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Le Comptoir de la Mere Germaine
4 Rue des Consuls
84230 Chateauneuf-du-Pape
France
www.lameregermaine.com
Tel: 01133428690060

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Our Visit to the Breathtaking Valensole Plateau Lavender Fields

Every year, thousands of tourists' travel to the sun-drenched South of France region of Provence. One of its biggest draws, field upon field of perfect rows of sweet-scented, violet-colored lavender. 

There are four main regions where lavender is grown in Provence. They are the Plateau de Valensole, the Luberon Valley, Pays de Sault, and the Drome Provençale. We have visited all of these areas several times except for the Plateau de Valensole. 

Last summer, with friends from Washington DC in tow, we loaded into our car in Sablet and headed out for the 122 km drive to the famous Valensole plateau to tour the lavender fields in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.  

The lavender fields on the Valensole plateau are the most photographed in Provence. This plateau, at 500 meters elevation is dedicated to the cultivation of cereals, olive trees and lavender. The plateau extends over 800 square km and offers a breathtaking panorama of the Provencal countryside. 


Lavender Field in Valensole

Lavender attracts thousands of tourists and bees, hoping to time their visit for the peak of the flowering cycle. The precise timing of flowering changes annually, depending on the weather. Typically, some fields are in full bloom by late June, and the harvest is mostly complete by mid-August.


Lavender Field in Valensole

There are many varieties of lavender. Although we typically associate lavender with purple flowers, the varietals include many colors, from deep blue to white. The plants love the dry, sandy, rocky soil that is typical of southern France.

 

Lavender Field in Valensole

Lavender has been cultivated at least all the way back to biblical times. Lavender is referenced in the bible as a holy herb nard. The Greeks and Romans used lavender for personal hygiene and medicinal purposes. The Romans used lavender flowers to scent bath water. The flowers and essential oils have been used throughout the ensuing centuries for everything from repelling insects to treating burns to sleep therapy. 


Lavender Field in Valensole

Two main lavender varieties are grown in Provence. The “real” lavender is a small, tufted plant with a single floral spike. Each plant is unique. The plants grow naturally at elevations between 600 and 1,400 meters, but cultivation is generally above 800m. Each plant is unique.


Lavender Field in Valensole

Lavandin is a hybrid, the result of a cross between lavender and a wild varietal, lavender aspic. It’s a hardy plant, less susceptible to disease, and it grows at lower altitudes (200 – 1,000m above sea level) than fine lavender. Since lavandin is a clone, the plants have identical biological footprints, propagated by cuttings. A single lavandin stem has three blue-purple flower spikes.


Lavender Field in Valensole

Be forewarned, lavender season brings traffic congestion. Bus tours and cars clog typically quiet roads while their passengers walk into the lavender fields to snap selfies and photos of each other in the fields. 


Lavender Field in Valensole

Much of the lavender grown in Provence is distilled for essential oil and fragrant water. The plants are also dried for scented objects. Tourist shops in Provence carry lots of lavender products, soap, perfume, honey, tea, ice cream and scented packages. Be aware, some of the products sold in stores are mass-produced outside of France and hardly artisanal.


Lavender Field in Valensole

Because of the size of the lavender fields, the lavender harvest is usually not done by hand. A tractor passes through the field, cutting the lavender and leaving small bundles in its wake. The cuttings then dry in the sun for 2-3 days before being gathered into giant bundles similar to large hay bales. 

At the distillery, the bales are dropped into cauldrons with water where the steam passes over the flowers creating the essential oil and lavender water. To produce one liter of essential oil requires 200 kg (440 lbs) of lavender flowers. 


Shirley and I on our 50th Wedding Anniversary in a Valensole Lavender Fields

Walking through lavender fields in Provence on your wedding anniversary is about as romantic a setting as you can find in my opinion. 

Just before we left California for our trip to Sablet, Shirley played her one and only pickleball game and fell and broke her wrist in 4 places. We were grateful the doctor was able to put her wrist in a cast. We were hoping it would fully heal that way but unfortunately, she had to undergo surgery a few months later.

After touring around the Valensole plateau for a few hours, we drove into the town of Valensole, to find a place to eat and drink. 

Valensole

You can find lots of guides online that identify where the prettiest shots of lavender can be found on the Valensole plateau. However, because harvest occurs at different times and growers replant fields as they age, it is not always possible to find all of the recommended locations. Yes, it was a long drive from Sablet, but worth the effort in our opinion. 

If you are still searching for a house to make your home during your sojourn in Provence this year or in future years, please don't hesitate to visit our website at www.sablethouse.com You can also email me at chcmichel@aol.com  

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year

Happy New Year dear friends. Bonne et heureuse annee mes amis. Anyone who takes the time to read my recently, infrequent posts, are truly friends. One of my New Year's resolutions is to write posts more frequently and regularly.  

2023 has been a crazy year with some wonderful highs as well as some challenges, including spending the last few days of the year isolated with my first bout of Covid despite being vaccinated and boosted a total of 6 times. I am grateful my symptoms have been very minor.

Christmas Eve in Windsor, California

One of the highlights of the year was the visit of cousins Jean Marc and Christine from Clapiers, France for Thanksgiving. We were joined by family members from Michigan, Seattle, San Diego, Cupertino, and of course everyone here in Windsor and Santa Rosa. There were 30 of us for dinner. 

Sonoma Coast at Thanksgiving

Alzheimer's Walk in Yountville, California in September

We were fortunate to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in beautiful Provence on July 15. Seems hard to believe that it's been 50 years since we were married in my hometown of Berrien Springs, Michigan. 

Plateau de Valensole in Provence, France in July

A few days before we left for our July trip to France, Shirley decided to try her hand at pickleball. Unfortunately, Shirley fell while back pedaling to get to the ball and broke her wrist in four places. She hoped to fully heal without surgery but a few weeks ago, she had that surgery.

Santa Rosa, California in July

We find great joy spending time with our family. Shirley stays busy running her granny taxi as she helps provide transportation to and from school, sports events, and other non-scholastic activities. 

Mother's Day in Windsor, California

Our other great joy, especially for Shirley is our two big Golden Doodles. Cooper, the black one weighs 105 pounds and Bailey, the brown one weighs 95. Shirley and the dogs are inseparable it seems. It would be helpful if we could find a comfortable and affordable way to transport the two dogs to Sablet when we travel there. Anyone have ideas?

Cooper and Bailey in Windsor, California

We continue to make improvements to our house in Sablet including the new electric, green awning shown below. 

Our house in Sablet, France (Note our new electric awning)

We hope to see some of you in Sablet this year. If you are looking for a wonderful place to call home for a sojourn in Provence, we invite you to consider our house. You can find all the information you need on our website www.sablethouse.com.

Happy New Year. We hope that this year brings peace, joy, good health and prosperity to one and all. 

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
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.