Sunday, February 26, 2012


The last time I went to Arles, it was on the spur of the moment early in the morning after dropping friends off at Marseille Provence Airport. As I got to Arles, the sun was coming up and the streets were empty except for a couple of the town's street cleaners I encountered while walking around.

This fall wife Shirley and I went back to Arles with friends but the experience was totally different. Saturday morning, weekly market day in Arles, was hot and the town was crowded with Arlesians shopping at the market and tourists come to visit the Roman ruins. It took me forever to find a place to park.

Arles sits along the Rhone River about 75 miles southwest of Sablet. It is located just down stream of where the Rhone River splits in two (big and little) forming the Camargue delta. A large part of the Camargue is located in the Arles commune making it the largest commune in France in terms of territory.

The town has a long history and the Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arles is just as famous for its connection to Vincent van Gogh - he completed over 300 of his paintings and drawings during his time in Arles, including many of his most famous. It is also where he chopped off his ear.

On December 23, 1888, feeling frustrated and ill, van Gogh went to a local brothel. While there, he cut off his left ear and wrapped it in newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to "keep this object carefully." He was checked into the Hotel Dieu, the local hospital for treatment of blood loss as well as severe depression.

The Hotel Dieu today is the Espace Van Gogh cultural center that surrounds a central garden recreated based on Van Gogh's painting of this space (Garden of Arles Hospital) and a letter to his sister containing details of the plants grown in the garden.

As I mentioned, it was market day and the big Saturday market for which Arles is well known was crowded with local shoppers and tourists, including ourselves. While walking around, we came across this duo playing music for passersby in hope they might drop coins into their open guitar case.

The Hôtel de la Lauzière was built at the beginning of the 17th century. The façade is proof of the social status of the family that lived within the walls of this home. The door is framed by stone torsos sculpted in the Mannerist style, a movement in art and architecture between the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The Obélisque d'Arles is a 4th century Roman obelisk in the center of the Place de la République in front of the Hotel de Ville - town hall of Arles. The obelisk is made of red granite and originally located in the Arles circus; it was moved to its present location in the 17th century. The obelisk stands about 65 feet tall.

To the left of the obelisk on the Place de la République is Eglise Sainte-Anne a church built at the beginning of the 17th century.

The Hotel de Ville - town hall on Place de la République in the center of Arles was built in 1676.

The Church of St. Trophime at Place de la République, formerly a cathedral, is a major work of Romanesque architecture and the representation of the Last Judgment on its portal is considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture as are the columns in the adjacent cloister. The Church was built in the 12th and 15th century.

The streets of Arles are narrow and wind between old medieval buildings.

A pretty café that caught my eye.

Still in business today, but now named Café Van Gogh, this is the bright yellow café that Vincent van Gogh painted in The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum in Arles in September 1888.

A statue in Place du Forum of Frédéric Mistral, a popular poet who wrote in the local dialect rather than French and a champion of Provencal culture.

Wife Shirley with friends Deb and Rick relaxing at a café on Place du Forum. We had a fun time, the food was not very good.

Café tables are set for hungry shoppers. The menu is listed on the blackboard on the left.

Morning glory climbs up the wall of this bright yellow house.

Friends Deb and Rick walk up one of Arle's many narrow streets through a live archway.

As I said, when I was last in Arles, it was early morning and nothing was open yet so I was not able to go inside the Arènes - Roman amphitheater. This time we wandered all around.

The amphitheatre is said to measure 136 m (446 ft) in length and 109 m (358 ft) wide, the 120 arches date back to the 1st century BC. The amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting as well as plays and concerts in summer.

Most of these photographs of the interior of the amphitheater were shot by Shirley. One of the walkways that circle the amphitheater.

Part of the amphitheater.

The entrance to the amphitheater used for the bulls.

A passageway into the amphitheater.

Stairway up to an upper level of the amphitheater.

Some of the 120 arches that circle the amphitheater.

One more passageway through the amphitheater.

There are panoramic views from the top of the amphitheater. The shots which follow are some of the views that caught my eye.

Eglise Notre-Dame-de-la-Major built in 1152 as seen from the amphitheater. The allied bombings in 1944 caused significant damage and major restoration work was required.

A lady enjoying her coffee and newspaper on the rooftop terrace of her Arles home.

The Eglise Notre-Dame-de-la-Major as seen through one of the 120 arches that circle the amphitheater.

A pretty courtyard of a home near the amphitheater.

The Rhone River seen through an amphitheater window.

Not much remains of the Roman theatre which was built at the end of the 1st century BC. The theatre is said to have been able to accommodate 10,000 spectators in 33 rows of seats.

If you are a fan of Roman history or van Gogh art make sure you save time in your schedule to visit Arles. Weekly markets are held in Arles on Wednesday and Saturday so plan accordingly as parking is most difficult on those days.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rest in Peace, Tante Germaine

I was saddened to hear via telephone call from cousin Jean-Marc that my sweet tante Germaine passed away in her sleep last night at Foyer du Romarin, the retirement home in Clapiers France where she had lived since 1995.

She was the first born of father's siblings and outlived her two sisters and my father; her 100th birthday was celebrated last July. It saddens me to think that a generation of Augsburgers has passed. Like father, she was born in Switzerland. She trained as a nurse in Marseille and she married Paul a pastor.

Together they ministered to congregations in the Caméroun, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, l’île de la Réunion, Anduze, Valence, and Grenoble before retiring in the Gard. They had 3 children, all born in the Caméroun who now reside in the South of France.

We were thrilled that she and dad's sister Edith came once to the United States for a visit and passed through Washington DC where wife Shirley and I were living so we could show them the capitol city of the United States.

She was deeply religious and loved her church and family. It was hard to see her slow down and memory fade the past few years. She never lost her smile and despite not seeming to recognize visitors always had a smile ready to share.

In her special way, she showed us that she was concerned about our souls, probably rightfully so, as she would repeatedly asked; "are you Adventist (she was a devout Seventh-day Adventist)" and then she would ask "did you know my husband Paul"?

Tante Germaine was one of the sweetest people I have ever had the privilege to know and we will all miss her.

Rest in peace tante Germaine. We love you very much.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


We are starting to think about returning to Sablet and what we are going to do during our time there. If I was truthful, I would say that we started talking about our return to Sablet during the flight back to California last fall.

Hopefully the snow and bitter cold will have departed from the South of France and we will have normal Provençal weather which is to say sunshine and brilliant blue skies. I am not asking too much am I; no I didn't think so!

I don't recall spending an entire day in the house or even an entire day in Sablet since we moved there. We are always on the go, to the market, visits to favorite villages or wineries or exploring places where we have not been. There is so much to see and do.

We love to explore new villages, déguster at wineries, and learn how foods like saffron, olive oil and cheese are produced. By the time we get to Sablet, I will have a list of villages to visit and/or places to go back to that we have not fully explored.

I collect ideas from blogs for new places to visit. I hope we can make it to Sanary-sur-Mer and Bandol, thank you Tuula from Belle Provence Travels, and to Banon, we love the chestnut leaf wrapped goat cheese which comes from this area and think it would be a grand idea to go to the village and see if we can find a fromagerie so we can learn how the cheese is made first hand.

We have really not explored Saint-Rémy-de-Provence except for a quick stop on a bitter cold day in January to check out the weekly market on our way to taste wine at Mas de Gourgonnier. As I said, it was bitter cold and we were not impressed. I have been thinking we should go back.

I got an invitation today from Sherry Long who lives in Saint-Remy part of the year and just finished a terrific book entitled Dog Trots Globe To Paris and Provence, a story with tons of beautiful pictures, told from the unique perspective of Chula, her 9-year old Sheltie, to meet up with them while we are in Provence. It sounds like fun.

All these visits will have to be interwoven between the Tuesday morning markets in Vaison-la-Romaine and return visits to Gigondas, one or two Luberon villages, eating bouillabaisse in Marseille, a trip to Aix-en-Provence to buy place mats for our Bistro, Cassis and visits with family and friends. Of course we will go to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to taste wine.

If you know anything about wine, you have probably heard about Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines. You may not know that Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) located around the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône wine region.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a medieval village on the side of a hill topped by the ruins of a castle near the Rhone River. The village is surrounded by its famous vineyards.

When we go to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we try to park near the fountain in the center of the village. Its a good thing we come for the wine because there are not many tourist shops, restaurants, art galleries or much to see except for numerous wine tasting cellars and wine shops.

A couple of wineries we like including Clos du Mont Olivet have tasting rooms within walking distance of the center of the village. Other favorites such as Domaine de la Charbonnière and Vieux Télégraphe are located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape or in the neighboring villages of Bédarrides, Courthézon, and Sorgues.

The village streets are narrow, curving around the hillside or climbing up and down between the houses up to the castle. The buildings are old, but everything has been thoroughly restored.

A pretty belfry in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Pope John XXII built the castle that stands overlooking Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the Pope's new castle) as a summer residence for the popes.

Apart from the foundations, only two walls of the chateau remain, but they are the ones facing the village, and they are still high and imposing, giving visitors a good sense of what it was like in the village centuries ago

The back side of the tower of the Pope's castle, only ruins remain. The castle was sacked by Routiers (mercenaries who terrorized the French countryside during the 100 year war) when Jean XXII died and destroyed for the final time by the retreating Germans in 1944. The Germans turned the castle into a place to store munitions and blew it up as they were retreating.

Another side of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape castle ruins.

Niece Leslie with wife Shirley exploring Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC stretches from the bank of the Rhône river near the town of Orange in the northwest to Sorgues in the southeast. It covers 3200 hectares or nearly 8000 acres of land and is the largest appellation in the Rhône region.

94% of the wine produced in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC is red and the balance is white. The AOC rules do not permit rosé wines. While the AOC rules permit 13 different varietals to be blended into the wines, the dominant grape planted in the AOC is Grenache noir and is 72% of the total vineyard surface area.

A view out over more of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards toward Sablet where we live near the Dentelles de Montmirail which you can see in the distance.

If you like wine or are interested in tasting and learning about wine, a visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a must. I am glad we have friends coming to see us while we are in Sablet so we can share some of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines we have in our wine cellar.

I know I can't go to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to just taste wine and I will end up buying one or two cases to add to the collection in our cellar. So many great wines, so little time.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I am looking for new places to visit, wines to taste and restaurants to try in the Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhône or Var Departments. If you have suggestions for places we should visit please let me know.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day and Joyeuse Saint-Valentin

Happy Valentine's Day to all of you who read my periodic ramblings and check out the pictures I post on my blog. I wish I had the time to post more regularly as I really enjoy sharing our Provence experiences with you.

We have had the fun opportunity to meet several of you who live near Sablet through the blog and we now count you as our friends. I hope we get to meet up with more of you who live in the South of France or elsewhere in the months and years to come.

I hope you have a wonderful romantic Valentine's Day wherever you are. Unfortunately, wife Shirley and I can't be together as she has to work at the hospital and I will be with our guests at Bistro Des Copains.

Daughter Stephanie took this picture of her 15 month old daughter Madison and her bestest friend Katie's 18 month old son Brady a few days ago. As you might guess, these two mother's are already match making for these babies. I think the picture is so sweet and loving and I couldn't resist sharing it with you on this Valentine's Day.

Again, Happy Valentine's Day and Joyeuse Saint-Valentin. What will you be doing to celebrate your Valentine's Day? I would love to hear all about it. I am a romantic and wear my heart on my sleeve.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Les Abeilles Restaurant, Sablet

A bitter cold spell and quite a bit of snow have descended upon the South of France. We are at home in Northern California where by contrast we have unseasonably warm and dry weather. Believe it or not, we were out in the hot tub this morning with grandson Dylan at 8 AM.

We are keeping up with happenings in the South of France through fellow bloggers who have shared pictures of their villages under snow and tales about malfunctioning heaters, empty fuel tanks and slippery roads. I grew up in the Midwest and wife Shirley and I lived in the Washington DC area for quite a few years and truthfully, I don't miss the snow at all.

It seems hard to believe that a little more than three months have passed since we were in Sablet and even less till we return again. The weather was absolutely perfect throughout our stay and I sure hope the sunshine and warm weather are back by the time we return. I can't wait!

Actually, the weather was perfect until the afternoon before we left for California when the sky clouded over and I took the picture of Sablet below. The bell tower of Église St Nazaire - Church of St Nazaire stands erect over the village like a beacon marking the position of Sablet in the countryside.

On one of those perfectly sunny, warm Provencal days, we went to lunch at Les Abeilles Restaurant in Sablet with friends Mary and Steve who were visiting from Michigan. Les Abeilles is located just a short distance from our house at the entrance to the village on the Route de Vaison.

In addition to the shaded terrace, perfect for dining alfresco on warm sunny days and evenings, there is a cozy dining room for cooler days and rainy weather. Our wonderful friends Mary and Steve relaxing on the terrace at Les Abeilles.

Les Abeilles, literally translated "the bees", has been owned by Marlies and chef Johannes Sailer since November 2003. As soon as we were seated, Madame Sailer brought us menus and the Chef's amuse bouche of bread sticks, cherry tomatoes and black olive tapenade to nibble on while we decided what we wanted to eat.

Being we were in Provence and it was a warm day, we selected a chilled bottle of the 2010 Domaine Champfort Sablet Rosé off the wine list, a tasty blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah.

After spending the morning at the weekly market in Vaison-la-Romaine, where we had seen tables piled with mushrooms, we were happy to see a starter of croustillant of sautéed mushrooms on the chef's menu for the day. It was very good.

Our main courses included perfectly cooked tagliatelles with carrots, zucchini and mushrooms in a cream sauce. Parmesan cheese was served on the side.

Another choice was lamb roasted pink, served with haricots verts, cauliflower gratin and ratatouille.

Our third choice was beef with lies de vin (wine) sauce on the side with cauliflower gratin, haricots verts and ratatouille.

My choice was braised biche (doe) with Alsatian spaetzle and cranberry sauce. Everyone was very happy with their selections.

To finish, some chose cheese plates of goat cheese with pepper, Forme d’Ambert blue cheese, Comté, and a soft cheese whose name I did not write down.

Those who didn't choose cheese plates, had either house made ice creams that included vanilla, pistachio, hazelnut and plum; or

the other dessert choice was a tarte fine aux pommes (apple tart) with vanilla ice cream.

To finish our lunch, we nibbled on mignardises including almond tuiles and meringue cookies while we sipped petit café's.

Shirley and I have had quite a few meals at Les Abeilles. We both thought this meal was probably our favorite one there. I am not sure if it was the menu options, the beautiful weather, dining on the terrace or being with our friends but it was a wonderful meal. We'll be back soon.

Bon appétit et à bientôt mes amis.