Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blogger Meet-up and Sablet à la Belle Epoche

We have just returned from a wonderful time in Sablet. Niece Leslie was with us and we were on the go day and night. We took day trips, watched the Tour de France, visited with French family, went to festivals, shopped the markets, caught up with friends and enjoyed great food and wine; and I took lots of pictures.

We also had a blogger meet-up at our house in Sablet. Back in January, we were graciously invited for aperitifs to Barbara and Robert's beautiful home in nearby Vaison-la-Romaine, Barbara is the author of the wonderful Cuisine de Provence where she writes about food and life in Provence.

We really enjoyed our visit with Barbara and Robert and we decided that when we returned to Sablet that we would have them over to our house for aperitifs. Happily, we were able to find time to get together. As you might guess, our conversation covered food, restaurants, and summer festivals.

I prepared some food for us to nibble on while we sat on the terrace including eggplant caviar, bruschetta with diced tomatoes and basil I bought at the Vaison market that morning. We sipped on white and rosé Cassis wine from Domaine du Paternel. We had a great time, laughing and telling stories, probably aided by the refreshingly chilled wine on the warm summer evening.

Shirley, Robert, Barbara, and me on the terrace of our house in Sablet.

I should also mention that Barbara gives cooking classes in her fabulous kitchen at their home in Vaison-la-Romaine. If you are coming to the area and would like to take classes to learn how to prepare classical dishes from Provence, check out her Cuisine de Provence web site. I can attest to the fact, she is a wonderful cook.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we had a chance to experience a number of summer events, most we had never been there for until this visit. Unfortunately, the very special "Sablet à la Belle Epoche" took place on Sunday after we left for our return to California.

Barbara and Robert came to Sablet that Sunday and took in this unique event and shot some great pictures which she posted and you can read about on her Cuisine de Provence.

Barbara said, the theme was "Sablet à la Belle Epoche" and started with a mass in Provençal at the village church, followed by the blessing of a winestock by Father Pierre Granier and Provençal dancing. All through the village there were demonstrations of old arts and crafts and the villagers strolled about in their traditional Sunday finery. I wish we could have been there.

Here are Barbara's pictures.

Thank you so much Barbara for the pictures and for yours and Robert's friendship.  We look forward to our next meet-up in the Vaucluse.

Bonne journée et à bientôt mes amis!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Expensive Lesson ... and Camera

Wife Shirley always starts to pack for trips to France or anywhere else for that matter one or two nights before we leave. She makes detailed lists so she won't forget anything that she wants to take. Not me, I pack for a trip to France like I do for all trips - 30 minutes before I am supposed to walk out of the house and head for the airport.

On the day we were leaving for France, I got up at 4:00 AM (we had a 7:48 AM flight), showered and dressed and started packing, pulling out clothes, passports, electronic ticket confirmation, car rental reservatrion, maps, books, French cell phone, and miscellaneous items we were taking for our house in Sablet.

Daughter Tricia had sweetly offered to drive us to San Francisco airport despite having worked the evening before till 11:30 PM - she is a registered nurse. As we were approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my camera.

As those of you who are regular readers of this blog know, I love shooting pictures and usually include quite a few with every post. I was really upset at my self for not bringing my camera. As you probably guessed, wife Shirley was sympathetic but she couldn't resist telling me that is the risk of packing at the last minute.

It was clearly too late to turn around and go back home to get the camera. Shirley said she had her little Nikon Cool Pix camera and that I would have to settle for using it. I kept stewing and we decided that Tricia would send the camera overnight to my cousin Jean Marc's house in Clapier France.

Our route to Sablet this time took us through Washington Dulles airport then on to Geneva where we rented a car and drove to Sablet. Geneva was much less expensive when I went to buy tickets this time than Marseille or Lyon. It normally takes us 3 1/4 hours from Geneva to Sablet when I follow directions from Via Michelin.

This time it took us close to 5 hours which is another whole story but suffice it to say that the rental car had a GPS which I set up for the drive to Sablet. Well the "voice" insisted on taking me on every back road to avoid paying tolls it seems. A free plug for Via Michelin - in the future I stick with your recommendations.

I am really digressing from my expensive camera story. When we got to Washington DC, I had a text message from Tricia saying she dropped the camera off at UPS and it would be delivered either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning. The bad news was that it cost $260.00 USD to ship it. I knew it would be expensive but didn't think it would be that much.

I was very happy when I got a call from Jean Marc on Monday evening saying the camera had been delivered that afternoon. We made plans to go to Clapier and meet them for dinner (more about dinner later) and pick up the camera. If you are interested in knowing, UPS packed the camera great so there was no chance it would be damaged.

On Thursday, Bastille Day, July 14, we drove to the Metairie Neuve, the small family farm in the Tarn. After doing la bise - exchanging kisses on alternating cheeks with all of the family members, Jean Marc handed me a bill and told me that UPS had returned the day before to collect import taxes for my camera in the amount of 230,15 Euros or approximately $325.00.

Vive la France! The next day I called UPS and argued with them. They said that since we had put a value for insurance on the camera, that entitled France to collect an import tax based upon the value. I asked what if I can prove it was bought several years ago and will leaving the Country. He said that UPS charges import taxes even for déménagement - moving to France if there is a value on the items.

My now expensive camera safely with me in Sablet.

So lessons learned - don't forget your camera or other electronic items as it will be expensive to ship them to France and France will collect a big import tax. I should add that I don't expect to change the way I pack. It has always worked well for me before and no reason to change now.

I will need to make sure I take a lot of fabulous pictures to make this expense worthwhile. You be the judge.

Bonne journée et à bientôt.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

L'Oustalet Restaurant, Gigondas

In Sablet, there is a wonderful restaurant called Les Abeilles which is owned by Marlies et Johannes Sailer. Prior to opening Les Abeilles, for many years, they were the owners of L'Oustalet Restaurant in Gigondas. We didn't get a chance to eat there while they owned the restaurant but we dine at L'Oustalet Restaurant now every time we are in Sablet.

I was at home in Sablet about eight weeks ago with friends Susan and Steven and we wined and dined our way around the area including lunch at L'Oustalet. L'Oustalet Restaurant is located in a historical house in the center of Gigondas at Place de la Marie.

The restaurant is now owned by the Perrin family who make wine at world-renown Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles California.  The chef is Aurélien Laget who was previously sous-chef at Michelin-star Maison Bru in Eygalières.

We arrived for lunch at L'Oustalet and were seated in the dining room; it was April and the weather was not warm enough that day to sit outside on the terrace.

Friends Susan and Steven in the small dining room at L'Oustalet.

We chose a bottle of 2007 Domaine du Clos des Tourelles Gigondas to accompany our lunch. Incidentally, this domaine was bought by the Perrin family several years ago.

For an amuse-bouche, the waiter brought a platter with a selection of small appetisers to prepare us for our meal and give us a taste of the chef's cooking style. They included: chive butter mousse, bread sticks, prosciutto, almonds, tapenade and olives.

Our entrées - starters included grilled calimari (seches) and greens

and a salad of arugula, serrano ham and artichokes.

For our main courses, we chose grilled rascasse, a fish commonly part of a traditional Provençal bouillabaisse, with zuccchini

and grilled pork fillet mignon with spinach, potatoes, porcini mushrooms and sauce.

To finish our delicious meal, we chose the cheese course of marinated St. Marcellin cheese with greens

and pineapple beignets with a pina colada sauce accompanied by chantilly cream.

L'Oustalet is definitely one of our favorite restaurants and one of the best in this part of Provence. If you are fortunate enough to be in this area, I definitely recommend that you reserve a table for a meal at L'Oustalet. We are back in Sablet and we will be doing just that.

Bon appétit mes amis et à bientôt.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Oppède-le-Vieux, a Magnificent Old Village in the Luberon.

When friends come to visit us in Sablet, some who may be there for their first and maybe only time in their life, we plan our time together so they see and experience what we think are the best parts of our beautiful corner of Provence.

It is really hard to decide where to go when they are there for just a week even if we say we are not going to go farther than one hour away by car. That distance includes almost all our favorite places except for Cassis which is more like one and one-half hours away; but its our favorite seaside village so we make an exception.

My list of places not to miss include the Tuesday morning market in Vaison-la-Romaine, Crestet, Séguret, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape for wine lovers, Roussillon and Gordes in the Luberon, Sénanque Abbey especially during lavender season, Pont du Gard although not technically in Provence and the aforementioned Cassis.

We also love Aix-en-Provence, Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Villedieu, Les Baux de Provence and the surrounding Alpilles where the best olive oils in France are produced, the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux. Its hard to whittle our list to make everything fit let alone get to new places where we have not been before.

So it was a little unusual a few weeks back when friends Steven and Susan were visiting that we decided to go to Oppède-le-Vieux where we had not been before. Oppède-le-Vieux is generally not very well known, little is written about the village in the various guide books about Provence but I had it in my head that I wanted to go.

So off we went. Oppède-le-Vieux is a beautiful village with many ruins perched on the northern face of the Luberon mountains about one hour's drive from Sablet.

If you go visit Oppède-le-Vieux, you will have to leave your car in the parking lot at the base of the village; from there, follow the path up the hill. There is a small fee for the parking lot.

It was beautiful and sunny, late April, the day we went and the trees were in full bloom as we walked up the path through the terrace garden into the old village.

Oppède is in fact two villages: Oppède-le-Vieux ("the old" in French), built against the Petit Luberon and dating back 1000 years, and Oppède-les-Poulivets ("nice view" in Provençal), today known as "le village", down in the valley.

There is a terrace café and a few shops in the center of the old village below the church and ruined castle. This is a good place to rest and soak up the atmosphere after your walk from the parking lot.

Cross in the old village square. I love that blue sky.

The walled village and arched passage.

A beautifully restored home.

Chapel of White Penitents in the old village.

A 15 to 20 minute walk up hill on cobblestones through the trees past ruins of ancient dwellings will bring you to the summit and the 16th century Church of Notre Dame d'Alidon.

As you hike up to the village, look back as you have magnificent views out towards Mont Ventoux; Gordes is in the foreground.

Church of Notre Dame d'Alidon is being restored by the commune.

Church of Notre Dame d'Alidon.

The ruins which remain of the castle. Pay attention when you are up on the summit as there are drop offs and no rails.

The view out of a window of the castle ruins.

Besides the church and castle ruins, a climb to the summit from the old village below will be rewarded with fantastic views of the countryside.

More of the castle ruins.

As we walked back to the old village below, we passed more flowering trees.

More restored homes in the old village.


A pretty house. I like the blue shutters with flowering tree.

Towards the end of the 19th century, a post office and school were opened down in the valley in Poulivets and the residents of the old village slowly moved out of Oppède-le-Vieux. In 1909, the city hall officially moved to Oppède-les-Poulivets and consequently the old village became deserted.

After World War II, attracted by Oppède's beauty and history, some people returned and refurbished some of the houses beyond the ramparts and little by little the old village came back to life. I really like this beautiful place and Oppède-le-Vieux is now on my list of places not to miss.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt