Saturday, August 25, 2012

A walk through Séguret, a "Most Beautiful Villages of France"

Our village in Provence is surrounded by small wine-making villages, the closest of which is Séguret, about 1.25 miles northeast of Sablet. As you can see in the picture below, Séguret is elevated above the vineyards that separate Sablet from Séguret and wraps around the bottom of a steep hill topped by ruins of its medieval castle.

We go often to Séguret, sometimes on foot through the vineyards up to Séguret then through the pretty village before heading back to Sablet on the connecting road. Other times we drive, especially if we are going to eat at Le Mesclun restaurant. Séguret was one of the first villages classified as a "most beautiful villages of France" and is most deserving of this honor.

If you drive to Séguret you have to park in one of the parking areas just below the village as Séguret is accessible only on foot. From the parking lot, walk up the hill and enter the village through the arched portal of the old wall around Séguret to the main street.

Walk up the cobblestone street to the center of Séguret.

The village of Séguret is long and narrow with cobblestone streets and rough stone walls.

The small central square of Séguret has a 14th-century stone bell tower with a 17th-century belfry and a single-hand clock dating from 1680. On this same square is a lavoir built in 1846 and the 17th-century fountain with its four stone faces.

Across from the lavoir is La Maison d'Eglantine tea room, a charming place to grab snacks, ice cream, tea or a cold beverage.

Saint Thècle Chapel was built by the brotherhood of the Pénitents Blancs in the 18th century. Today it is an exhibit hall where since 1970 from late November into January, the "Amis de Séguret" put on an exhibition of traditional santons made by the best local santon makers as well as santon makers from throughout Provence. At other times throughout the year, artists display and sell paintings.

Séguret has a number of tourist-oriented shops along Rue des Poternes including several art galleries and santoniers.

More of tiny Rue des Poternes, the main street of Séguret; note the archway over the street which appears to also function as a terrace for one of the village homes.

The Huguenots' gate which still has its two iron bound wooden shutters.

A look back to the Huguenots' gate and one of the village's lavoirs, a public place set aside for washing clothes.

The Roman Sainte-Denis Church was built against the cliff between the 10th and 12th centuries and a bell tower was added in the 14th century.

One of the many cobblestone streets in Séguret, this one is very pretty with ivy covered walls.

Heading back to the central square of Séguret you can see the stone bell tower and iron belfry.

More cobblestone streets and rough stone walls.

Heading back to the parking lot through Porte Reynier.

While we have been to Séguret many times, we had never hiked up to the castle ruins which sit on top of the hill where Séguret is built. As I was leaving the village that day I saw a sign pointing to the chateau and decided that since I had nothing better to do, I would hike up and see the views from the top.

As you can see from the picture below, this is not a street, this is a steep stony footpath.

As I hiked up the winding path to the top, I paused to catch my breath in several places with panoramic views like this one of Sablet across the vineyards.

Back around a hair pin turn on the footpath, I got a great view overlooking a part of Séguret that lies outside of the historic walls.

The walk to the castle ruins was quite strenuous, at least for me, and the views from the top were mostly obscured by large trees.

Construction of the castle began in the 11th century. It was fortified and expanded during the Wars of Religion. A garrison was housed in buildings that were built around the tower.

I know many people visit Séguret every year but only a few probably take the time or put forth the energy to hike up to the castle. So I am posting a number of views of the castle ruins in case you didn't make it up there.

One more wall of the castle ruins.

After climbing down below the ruins, I came upon another footpath and decided after some hesitation to follow it, hopefully back to Séguret. I wasn't quite sure how far out of the way this path might take me.

Séguret is not just a beautiful village, it also has land and people who for many years have produced wonderful wines. Our favorite domaines in Séguret are Domaine de Mourchon and Domaine Jean David.

Back to Séguret.

If you are in the Northern Vaucluse region of Provence, it is definitely worthwhile to visit the beautiful village of Séguret. If you go, plan to have lunch at Le Mesclun restaurant which is located on Rue des Poternes near the center of the village. My next post will be about my lunch there.

Have a great weekend! Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

La Mirande Restaurant, Avignon

I had come to Avignon to shop and have lunch at La Mirande restaurant at the suggestion of blogger friend and cooking instructor extraordinaire Barbara at Cuisine de Provence. I found the restaurant easily at the 5 star hotel of the same name at the foot of the Palais des Papes in the heart of historic Avignon.

The hotel is named after the room in the Palais des Papes, La Mirande, where the Pope’s representatives held receptions for the city’s notables and visiting high-ranking officials.

The walls of the hotel hold years of history. Originally a cardinal’s palace in the 14th century, the ruins of La Mirande were restored during the 17th century to create the Hôtel de Vervins with its baroque façade by architect Pierre Mignard, later becoming the Hôtel Pamard between the late 18th and 20th centuries.

The Stein family opened La Mirande as a hotel-restaurant in 1990 after restoring the property to recreate the atmosphere of an 18th century aristocratic residence, where period tapestries and chandeliers harmoniously co-exist with tufted armchairs and master paintings.

It was a beautiful day, warm, so I was seated on the terrace under a canopy overlooking a garden courtyard.

The chef of La Mirande is François Secrétin who trained at the Feux des Iles in Britanny after which he worked in several Michelin starred restaurant such as l’Auberge de l’Atre (Burgundy) and l’Esplanade (Périgord).

Shortly after the menu was placed on the table, the chef sent out a plate with black olive tapenade on toast, salmon, and a small bowl of picholine olives for an Amuse Bouche to get my taste buds warmed up for the meal.

The menu changes daily according to the season and the whims of the chef. The restaurant offers several menus ranging in price from 35 Euros to 105 Euros for a five course Menu Decouverte. I decided on the four course Menu du Marché.

After making my choices and selecting a glass of chilled 2011 Domaine La Millière Côtes du Rhône rosé to accompany my meal, a second Amuse Bouche of roasted red pepper soup was brought out. Based on the two Amuse Bouches, I knew I was in for a treat.

The first course on the Menu du Marché was Pressé de boeuf de Charolles confit et comté aux aromates, dried beef from Charolles pressed with comté cheese served with ceps from Mont Ventoux.

For the fish course, the Menu du Marché offering was Marbré de dorade sauvage, sauce légère aux coquillages, wild dorade with black rice from Canada with a shellfish sauce.

For the meat course, it was Canon de volaille fermière rôtie au sautoir, jus et sucs de viande, rolled stuffed chicken breast with potato pancake, haricots verts and finished with reduced meat juices.

The Menu du Marché dessert was Macaron inversé a la framboise et crémeux au citron, raspberry macaroon with lemon cream topped with raspberries served with raspberry sorbet. This was a wonderful refreshing finish to an absolutely fabulous lunch.

As there were guests only at a couple of tables that Monday, I got to chat quite a bit with the friendly server. I had told him I was co-owner of a French bistro in Northern California and after dessert, he asked me if I would like to go meet the chef.

I complimented the chef on his food and I told him I was intrigued by how he prepared the wild dorade. He proceeded to show me how he did the rolled fillets. Who knows, maybe someday a similar dish will appear on the menu at our Bistro Des Copains.

He said that if I was not in a hurry I should go down to the basement and see the old 19th century kitchen which I was very happy to do.

Several nights a week, one of the chefs prepares a meal on the original wood burning stove in the old kitchen and serves it at the big chef's table for up to 14 people.

Le Marmiton cooking school at La Mirande also take place in the old kitchen. Classes are held one week per month and are a practical ‘hands-on’ experience. The class is limited to 12 participants who work around the wood-block table. The kitchen’s wood stove is fired up three hours before the class begins.

Thank you Barbara for the great suggestion. The meal and service were outstanding. I will be back, hopefully next time with Shirley so she can enjoy it too.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Avignon and Jardin des Doms

I had come to Avignon to do errands and eat lunch at La Mirande (more about that wonderful meal in my next post). I found a place to park and headed towards the Place de l'Horloge, the center of Avignon near the Palais des Papes, the residence of the Popes from 1309 to 1377.

As I was walking, I came upon a steep stairway called Escalier Sainte Anne. Since it was open to the public and I am always looking for places with great views for pictures, I decided to climb to the top and see what was up there. After huffing and puffing up the steps, I made it to the top and discovered a beautiful park.

First developed in the 18th century, the Jardin des Doms became a popular spot for walking. The park offered a retreat from the bustle of Avignon and magnificent views of the historical city, the Rhône River, Saint Bénézet Bridge, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon and Mont Ventoux. It was fully landscaped as a public park in the 19th century.

The seven acre park is beautifully landscaped with shrubs and trees, statues of local notables and built around a pond which is home to ducks and geese. There are lots of benches, a picnic area and children's playgrounds. You will have to take my word for this since my pictures are mostly of the great views from the park.

The gilded statue of the Virgin Mary which surmounts the western tower of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral over the top of the trees.

Fort Saint André across the Rhône River in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon.

A statue of Paul Vayson, a French painter born in Gordes in 1841, he was educated in Avignon and studied law in Paris. The subject of his paintings were mostly animals or pastoral scenes. His paintings included "Hay Making in Provence," "Sheep in Provence," "Sleeping Shepherdess," and "Truffle Gatherers". He died in 1911.

Saint Bénézet Bridge, the bridge across the Rhône River of the song "Sur le pont d'Avignon" (On the bridge of Avignon) which describes folk dancing was initially built between 1171 and 1185.

Jean Althen was an Armenian agronomist who developed the cultivation of Madder in France. Although the plant had been present in the region before his arrival, it was Althen who developed its cultivation, paving the way for production of the colorful fabrics of Provence.

A view up the Rhône River towards Châteauneuf-du-Pape. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the ruins of the famous castle erected by the Popes on the left and Mont Ventoux on the right.

A side view of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral,a Romanesque building mainly built during the 12th century.

In addition to the entrance from Sainte Anne stairway, you can also enter the Jardin des Doms from Place des Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace Square) shown here and the watchman's walk along the ramparts from Saint Bénézet Bridge.

Place des Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace Square).

The interior of the beautiful Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral.

A side view of a statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral.

Hôtel des Monnaies across the Place des Palais des Papes (Popes' Palace Square) was built in 1619. The coat of arms on the building is that of Pope Paul V.

A narrow passageway through the rocks to La Mirande Hotel and Restaurant. A lady sits in the shade playing an accordion.

L’Opera D’Avignon's inaugural performance occurred in 1847.

Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs. The penitent brotherhoods were at their peak during the 16th and 17th centuries. The brothers were expected to help each other, do public penance, and perform good deeds. The brotherhood they belonged to was identified by the color of their sackcloth and the hood that covered their heads during processions. Each brotherhood had its own chapel. This is the chapel of the black penitents.

I was happy to discover the Jardin des Doms and would recommend you include time for a visit when you are in this historic town. It is open all year and admission is free. It is not the place to go when the Mistral winds are fierce as the high exposure of the gardens would probably make it unpleasant.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great day, chat soon!