Sunday, June 27, 2010

Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Cassis

One of our favorite seaside villages is Cassis and we go there almost every time we are in Provence. Cassis is tucked into a curve of coast between Marseille and La Ciotat below Cap Canaille, the highest seaside cliff in France.

The centre ville - center of town, of Cassis is a lively place with a beach, a harbor filled with boats, and a row of pastel-colored cafés full of people sipping pastis and eating seafood.

The roadway from the A 50 autoroute winds down to Cassis cutting through vineyards towards the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. The wineries of Cassis produce red and rosé wines but its the Cassis blanc - white wine for which they are best known.

Despite the fact that since opening our Bistro Des Copains four years ago, we have had wines from Cassis on the wine list, we have never taken time to déguster - taste wines in Cassis. Cassis was granted AOC status in 1936 when the first Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée were awarded.

The best known winery in Cassis is probably Clos Sainte Magdeleine. Clos Sainte Magdeleine is located within walking distance of town on Avenue du Revestel on a parcel of land facing the sea below Cap Canaille.

The winery and tasting room are in a simple concrete building.

We were greeted and invited to go to the lower level where the tasting room and caves are located.

Shirley with our friend Julia, our winery hostess, and friends Allison and Kari in the Clos Sainte Magdeleine tasting room. We tasted the 2009 Rosé AOC Cassis and the 2008 Blanc AOC Cassis.

Clos Sainte Magdeleine sits on a beautiful site, the land worth far more as a resort than as a winery I am very sure.

I am not sure it would even be permissible to convert this land into a resort but I am very happy the owners have resisted any temptation to do so.

It is worth going to Clos Sainte Magdeleine just for the view if not for tasting the wine.

Besides grapes, there are trees, flowers and vegetables like purple artichokes growing on the land surrounding the winery buildings.

After tasting the wines and walking through the caves, we were invited to go out to the vineyards on the estate. We walked down a tree-lined gravel road out to the vineyards.

Clos Sainte Magdeleine has 9.5 hectares - a little more than 23 acres planted in vineyards, of which 6 acres are on the estate. The rest of the vineyards are planted on terraces below Cap Canaille.

There is Marsanne, Uni Blanc and Clairette planted for white wine and Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault planted for making rosé wine. Clos Sainte Magdeleine does not make red wine.

Our friends Allison and Julia fooling around after our tasting and tour of beautiful Clos Sainte Magdeleine.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Every time we are in Provence, we head in the direction of the Luberon mountains to visit one or more of the small hill top villages in the area. Many times, Gordes is one of the villages we visit, especially if we have first time visitors to Provence with us.

Gordes is about 1 hour drive southeast from Sablet on the southern edge of the high Plateau de Vaucluse. Nearby is the Village des Bories, a small settlement of drystone dwellings dating from the 17th century.

In addition to the Village des Bories, the spectacular Abbey of Senanque and beautiful ocher-colored village of Rousillon are close by and not to be missed (see previous posts).

The obviously strategic site where Gordes is located has been occupied since prehistoric times. The stone buildings were built against the base of the cliffs and spiral up around the rock where the village is set with a panoramic view over fields and forests and small perched villages across to the Luberon.

At the top of Gordes and in the center sits the castle which dominates the town. Built in 1031, reinforced in 1123, the castle was rebuilt in 1525. Today the castle is home to the Pol Mara museum, a contemporary Flemish painter who lived in Gordes, and the tourist information office. In summer there are concerts and plays in the castle's courtyard.

Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs is located near the castle. Dating from the 17th century, the white chapel is an art gallery today.

Gordes is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France -one of the most beautiful villages of France, one of seven to be classified as such in the Department of the Vaucluse where we live.

One of the many narrow stone streets called calades - small paved, sometimes stepped alleyways lined with gutters defined by two rows of stone.

Our friend Allison sitting on the ramparts of Gordes.

As you wander the narrow streets, you will discover here and there beautiful tall stone houses.

Every Tuesday morning is market day. Merchants from around the area set up stalls and sell their wares: fresh fruits and vegetables, Provençale pottery and linens, art work and clothing.

Around the center of the village near the castle, you will find various cafés, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops.

We try to get to Gordes as early as possible especially in the summer as there are a very large number of tourists who come to visit this popular village.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pain Medieval Boulangerie, Sablet

As I have said in previous post, we have two boulangeries in Sablet. We are fortunate because while neighboring Gigondas and Seguret might be more charming, Seguret is classified as a Plus Beaux Village de France, and better known, Gigondas is renown for their red wine, they don't have boulangeries.

One of our criteria for villages when we were looking about for a house was that the village had to have some commercial services open year around like cafés and boulangeries. We wanted to be able to walk to a boulangerie every morning.

The fact we have two boulangeries assures that the villagers of Sablet have freshly baked baguettes every day as the boulangeries coordinate their days of fermeture - closing and congés annuels -vacation closing, so that one of the boulangeries is always open.

This is the boulangerie that is located closest to our house. Their days of weekly closing are Monday and Tuesday. On the days madame is open, it seems there is always a line out the door and cars are parked with motors running while their drivers dash into the boulangerie to get their daily bread.

As each new person joins the line waiting to be served by madame, you hear the newcomer say "bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur" and responded to accordingly. When you get to the front of the line, upon hearing what you want, madame will generally asked about the cuisson - baking, you desire, meaning how brown do you want the baguette or croissant, more or less?

Between orders, madame calls out to her son who is the baker for the boulangerie about the status of baguettes baking in the big oven.

Upon arriving back in Sablet a few weeks ago, upon entering into the boulangerie, we immediately noticed that they had renovated the boulangerie to better accommodate the line of customers who gather through out the day.

As you know, I am a co-owner of a small French bistro called Bistro Des Copains. At the Bistro, we have two large wood burning ovens, one of which was specially designed and built for baking bread.

I assumed that the boulangerie in Sablet would have a similar old fashion oven. With the renovations, they opened up the boulangerie so you can see the actual baking area. With the baking area now visible, my fantasy about how the baguettes were baked was jolted as the baker can be seen mixing dough or adding bread to a big modern oven.

Despite my shattered fantasy, rest assured that the boulangerie bakes wonderful baguettes and croissants. Several mornings each week, in addition to the plain croissants and chocolate croissants, there are almond croissants which my wife loves.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Du Verre à l'Assiette Restaurant, Gigondas

Drive 6 km south of Sablet on the D-7 towards Carpentras and you will see a small village up on the left side of the hill below the Dentelles de Montmirail. This is Gigondas.

Turn off the D-7 and follow the road up through the lower village; you will pass a succession of wine caves before you arrive at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie - town hall, and the Caveau du Gigondas - wine growers cooperative, are located.

We think it is worthwhile to take the time to stroll through Gigondas and it is an essential stop if you are a lover of big red wines. If you happen to be in or near Gigondas around the time for déjeuner - lunch, we think a good choice for lunch is Du Verre a l'Assiette.

Du Verre a l'Assiette restaurant is located kitty corner across the street from the Caveau du Gigondas. The restaurant is situated on two levels; the entrance to the restaurant and open kitchen are on the street level and the small dining room is on the lower level. There is a tree-covered terrace just outside the entrance to the restaurant.

You enter the restaurant and go down a narrow flight of stairs to the small dining room and bar area with stone walls and painted concrete floors.

Wooden tables are simply set with paper place mats, silverware and nice glassware. A small dish of olives is placed on the table for nibbling while you peruse the menu.

The menu is presented to diners on a handwritten chalk board that is leaned up against the wall or nearby table. The menu is comprised of salades - salads, planches - boards with assorted charcuterie, tartines - open-face sandwiches, grillades - grilled meats, spécialités - daily specials and desserts.

I chose the entrecôte, similar to rib-eye steak for 16,50 E with mushroom sauce for a 1,00 E supplement. The entrecôte was accompanied by a mixed green salad and boiled potatoes and slices of grilled tomato, zucchini and eggplant, all on skewers.

Our friend Kari ordered the tartine du jour with sun-dried tomatoes, accompanied by a large green salad for 12,00 E.

Shirley ordered the tartine "végétarienne with artichokes and a large green salad for 12,00 E.

To accompany our meals, Shirley and I paired a glass of 2007 Domaine de la Mavette Côtes du Rhône and a glass of 2009 Domaine de la Mavette Gigondas rosé.

When we came in, we were asked where we were from. We told them about our Bistro Des Copains. Later as we were enjoying our lunch we spotted the Bistro card in the back pocket of our server. We couldn't resist the photo opportunity.

We have eaten at Du Verre a l'Assiette several times and have enjoyed each meal. Be forewarned, this is not fancy food. Food is prepared simply using very fresh ingredients; portions are large and tasty.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My favorite fountain

My favorite fountain in Provence is the fountain at Place Yvan Audouard, a few steps from our home in Sablet. I am sure, actually I know, there are prettier and more impressive fountains in Provence but this fountain is my favorite.

I walk pass this fountain several times a day. The first time is in the morning when I go to Café des Sports for my petit café - espresso, and conversation with Bruno who is the patron - proprietor, of the cafe.

Except for early in the morning or late in the evening, there always seem to be people near the fountain, a group of older men sitting on the stone wall overlooking the street or a couple of ladies standing in the shade of the adjacent wash basin in animated conversation.

There is a small plaque on the fountain which says "eau de source non contrôlée", which essentially means the water is probably not safe for drinking. Despite this admonition, we see villagers filling buckets there every day.

Throughout the day, the area around the fountain and wash basin is alive with activity as it is near a boulangerie and the village bibliotèque - library. However, at the end of the day, Place Yvan Audouard is usually quiet except for the village cats and the sound of water trickling from the fountain.

One morning a few weeks back, our friend Kari Sante who is a server at our Bistro Des Copains went with me to Café des Sports for espresso. I couldn't resist the chance to take a picture of her sitting on our fountain.

Like me, you might be curious as to who Yvan Audouard was or did that he was bestowed the honor of having his name on the square where our fountain is located. After some research, I found out he was a writer and journalist with roots in Provence.

He was born in 1914 in Saigon, now Hồ Chí Minh City, his father was in the military from Avignon and his mother was a librarian from Marseille. He died in 2004 in Paris. He spent quite a bit of his life in Arles and Nimes.

I am not sure he ever came to Sablet but maybe he came to the village's annual Journée du Livre held every July or the Journée du Livre inspired the village to name the square after the Provençal writer.

In any case, he is honored to be named for the location of our favorite fountain. Oh, this is my favorite fountain because I know that I am close to home in Sablet when I see it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


As I have written previously, one of our favorite towns is Aix-en-Provence. This capitol of Provence in the middle ages is located about one hour and 15 minutes from our home in Sablet.

Aix-en-Provence is famous for the outdoor markets, shopping and beautiful people, and as the home of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) who lived and did most of his work here. Unusual for Provence, there are no ancient historical sights to see.

Aix-en-Provence has long been a university town: Louis II of Anjou granted a royal charter for a university way back in 1409. The 40,000 students studying at the many teaching and research institutions today give the town a youthful energy.

Cours Mirabeau is a beautiful avenue, shaded by double rows of plane trees, which provide protection against the hot Provençal sun. Built in the 17th century on the site of the medieval ramparts, the life of the town revolves around this area.

Lined along the avenue on the north side of the street are book shops and cafés, of which the brasserie Les Deux Garçons is most famous. Dating from 1790, it was once an important meeting place for artists and writers. I ate lunch at Les Deux Garçons which I will write about in a future post.

On the other side of the street are offices and banks housed in aristocratic facades of old hotels with their beautiful doorways and wrought iron balconies supported by caryatids, sculpted female figures.

Aix-en-Provence is often referred to as the city of a thousand fountains (a slight exaggeration). Among the most well known are the two fountains at the ends of Cours Mirabeau: At the top, a 19th century fountain depicts the "good king" René holding the Muscat grapes that he introduced to Provence in the 15th century.

At the bottom at la Rotonde, the hub of modern Aix-en-Provence, stands a monumental fountain from 1860 beneath three giant statues representing art, justice and agriculture.

Another notable fountain is located at Place d'Albertas. This square was opened in 1745 and the fountain was added in 1912. It has beautiful mansions around it and concerts are held here during the summer.

The Cathédrale St-Sauveur (Holy Savior Cathedral) has an eclectic mixture of styles from the 5th century to the 17th century.

The Palais Archiepiscopal (Arhbishop's Palace) in Place Martyrs de la Résistance, is now a museum.

There seem to be interesting old or pretty buildings where ever you look.

North of Cours Mirabeau lies old Aix-en-Provence. The many pedestrian streets criss-crossing this area make it perfect for a walking tour.

This is the place for shopping.

The northwest corner of the Place de l'Hotel de Ville is overlooked by the 16th century clock tower. This is the site for morning flower markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Café tables replace the market stalls each afternoon.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Maison Bleue, Villedieu

We met our young friend Kari at the TGV station in Avignon after her train ride from Zurich, Switzerland; not feeling overly ambitious, we decided we should go out for dinner.

You should be aware that quite a few restaurants are closed in Provence on Sunday night. One of the restaurants we really like that is open on Sunday night is Maison Bleue in Villedieu. That is where we decided to go.

As I told you in a previous post, Villedieu is a very pretty village located about 12 kms northwest of Sablet in the direction you would take if you were driving to Nyons.

Villedieu is small (population 518), set on a hill surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and pine trees, overlooking the Aygues River, close to the Drome Provencale.

When you drive into Villedieu, you will arrive in the village square, called Place de la Liberation, where you will find the mairie, several cafes and a pizza restaurant called Maison Bleue.

Maison Bleue is owned by a wonderful chef named Daniel Roger. From a small kitchen equipped with 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 that is perfectly blistered by the pizza oven. He also offers pastas and other specials.

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

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

Chef Daniel offers a variety of combinations which makes it easy to share: La Gourmande for 24,00 Euros lets you choose a salad, whole pizza and dessert, La Double for 19,00 Euros lets you choose a salad and a whole pizza and La Classique for 16,00 Euros lets you choose a salad and dessert. We ordered one La Gourmande menu, one La Double menu and one La Classique menu so we could each choose a salad and share two whole pizzas and two desserts.

I ordered the La Montagnard salad with greens, a whole roasted camembert cheese topped with tomatoes and pine nuts. Toasted bread accompanied the salad; wonderful for spreading with the warm, oozing cheese.

Shirley and Kari ordered the La Campagnard salad with greens, toasted wheat bread spread with chèvre cheese, toasted pine nuts, honey and herbs de Provence.

We shared two equally delicious thin-crusted pizzas. Our first selection was L'Indigo which was covered with tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, chèvre, roquefort, and herbs de Provence.

Our second pizza selection was the L'Azur which was covered with tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, eggplant slices and pesto.

Our friendly server set a bottle of red pepper infused oil on our table for us to drizzle on our pizza. It definitely spiced up the pizza.

We chose a bottle of 2009 Domaine du Gros Pata rosé from the Côtes du Rhône to accompany our dinner.

We finished our meal by sharing a trilogy of ice creams; pistachio, chocolate nut and coffee ice cream.

As usual, we were one of the last tables to leave so we could chat with Chef Daniel after our meal. Shirley asked Chef Daniel how long the restaurant had been open. He pointed to the menu which said May 1, 1998. Immediately, Shirley said "your anniversary was yesterday, we were here for your anniversary". Did I say we we had eaten at Maison Bleue the night before as well?

Chef Daniel responded that he had completely forgotten, that we were the first ones to wish him happy anniversary, that none of the staff, his family or friends had noted the anniversary.
He insisted that we stay and share a bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion of the 12th anniversary of the opening of Maison Bleue. We stayed around the table with he, his son and staff for quite a while chatting. It was wonderful.

We walked out into the night and saw the old gate all brightly lit up. I am sure we will return many times in the future.