Sunday, September 30, 2012

A visit to Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt, a town on the edge of the Luberon

After stopping often to shoot pictures of fields of blooming lavender and other scenery along the road from Aurel to Sault, I headed in the direction of Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt. I had not been to Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt before but I thought I recalled seeing pictures of the village in a book or magazine.

I was on my way to cousin Annick's who lives in a small village near Aix-en-Provence. I didn't have to hurry as Annick had said she would be sleeping till mid-afternoon, she works the night shift on the pediatric unit at a local hospital, so I figured I might as well visit Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt is a small village that sits at the base of a low cliff with ruins of a castle above the village at one end and a 16th century windmill on the opposite end. The village dates from the 10th century.

Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

The windmill as seen from the center of Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

The memorial to the children of Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt who died in wars for France.

A café on the main street of Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

One of the many colorful buildings I came upon as I wandered the streets of the village.

Shutters in Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

11th century church at the top of the village's fortifications.

More of the defensive fortifications.

There are a couple of main streets that run through the village parallel to the hills lined by pretty, medieval houses.

The fountain at the center of Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

The church of Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

A hotel-restaurant in Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt with colorful shutters.

Part of the stone defensive fortifications.

Another street that runs through the village parallel to the hill.

One of several little cross streets that pass through low vaulted passageways beneath the houses

At one end of the village, the street passes out through the 13th-century "portail Ayguier", an arched defensive entry through the fortified corner building of the old fortifications

Thanks for joining me on my visit to Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt. Have a great week! Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Aurel and Lavender Fields on the Road to Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt

On Thursday morning a few weeks back, I was reading the paper at Café des Sports in Sablet and chatting with Café owner Bruno, when he wasn't shouting "bonjour" or sharing gossip with new arrivals, mostly men, stopping in for a quick petit café or some other fortifying beverage before going off to work.

Most of Bruno's patrons are regulars and he starts to make espressos or pour glasses of red wine as soon as they appear. By the time the new arrival has made his way down the length of the bar and said hello and face kissed with everyone there, Bruno has their morning beverage ready.

It was a perfect day in Provence and I was in no hurry. The night before I had been guest at Bruno and Sylvie's beautiful home in Vaison-la-Romaine. We met for aperitifs at Festival Café in the center of Vaison-la-Romaine where their son works before sitting down for dinner of barbecued magret de canard (duck breast) at the table on their backyard terrace.

As I was leaving the Café, Bruno asked about my plans for the day. I said "I'm thinking of going to Sault to see if the lavender is in bloom." Bruno responded "Est ce que tu connais le village d’Aurel?" (do you know the village of Aurel). I didn't so he told me Aurel was a pretty little village near Sault where he he used to work and there is lots of lavender between Aurel, Sault and Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

I checked my Michelin map and located Aurel about 36 miles east of Sablet on the road to Sault. Aurel is a perched village with a joined 12th century church and 13th century chateau at the top of the village.

The main fountain in the center of the village.

There doesn't appear to be very much commercial activity in Aurel.

There is one hotel-bar-restaurant, the Relais du Mt Ventoux on the main road near the center of Aurel. The shady terrace across the street from the front door was very inviting as I drove by and I turned around and went back to have a very pleasant lunch.

You can walk around the 13th-century chateau and the 12th-century church at the top of the village, but these are privately owned and not open to the public.

After lunch, I continued on the road to Sault. Although somewhat early in the growing season, I found lavender blooming in some of the fields in between Aurel and Sault and then more on the road to Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt.

Aurel sits in an area of wide valleys with many lavender fields and grain and low forested hills.

Another lavender field.

And still another one.

The air is pungent with the aroma of lavender from this well manicured field.

I am frequently asked what we do in Provence or what is so special about Provence by guests who come to dine at our Bistro Des Copains. I have a whole list but the lavender fields is always on the list.

Next up will be a post about my visit to Saint Saturnin-lès-Apt. Have a great week! Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Auberge de la Clue, Plaisians - Head Cheese Anyone?

I was awaken by church bells ringing at 7:00 on Saturday morning. After talking to Shirley who was home in California, the staff at Bistro Des Copains who were finishing Friday dinner service and checking my emails, I headed out to take my morning walk around Sablet.

First stop, a visit to the Tabac to pick up the "International Herald Tribune" and check out the latest issues of "Saveurs" and "Cuisine et Vins de France", my two favorite French cooking magazines. I also buy a SFR ticket recharge (minutes) for my French mobile phone.

Then to the boulangerie to get a palmier to nibble with my morning double café. If you don't know, palmiers are a type of crispy buttery delicious cookie made of puff pastry. I think palmiers are my favorite French pastries and Julien makes really good ones.

On my way to Café des Sports, I run into Alain who along with wife Mimi own the Vival épicerie, the little grocery store in Sablet. He is rolling out the racks of fresh fruits that he displays on the sidewalk in front of the store. After la bise (cheek kissing), we briefly catch up.

I finally get to Café des Sports where I am happy to see Bruno, the jovial owner in short pants as usual, at the espresso machine. After more cheek kissing and explaining why Shirley is not with me, I order a double café and a bottle of Vittel spring water. Ordering the latter with coffee marks me for sure as an American.

I sit at a table under an awning in front of Café des Sports and read the newspaper while I wait for Bruno to bring my café and water. The sky is brilliant bright blue and I can tell it is going to be a beautiful day. I am so happy to be back in Sablet.

Later in the morning and after checking the Michelin Guide for restaurants in the area that are designated "Bib Gourmand" defined as Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value, I drive off in my rented car in the direction of Mont Ventoux east of Vaison-la-Romaine. I am headed to Auberge de la Clue in Plaisians, a resto and village about 23 miles from Sablet where I have never been.

I drive down the road through a beautiful forested area till I come upon a sign that points to Plaisians. I make a sharp left turn and cross the Gorge of la Clue.

I drive slowly down a narrow road that snakes back and forth around hairpin curves and up the road past hillsides covered with what appears to be Forsythias bushes in full bloom.

More of those blooming Forsythias bushes. Whatever they are, they are a beautiful spot of bright yellow on the green hillsides.

I finally arrive in the center of Plaisians and park near the square 18th century belltower that stands next to the church of Plaisians.

The village is tiny, only about 180 people live here, isolated so not very many tourists find their way to Plaisians. The 17th century church sits in the center of Plaisians.

As I said, I have come to Plaisians to eat lunch at Auberge de la Clue, a restaurant that is designated as a Bib Gourmand in the 2012 Michelin Guide. The Auberge has a beautiful garden terrace as well as several small dining rooms for cool or inclement weather.

It is a beautiful warm day and I am seated at a table on the garden terrace under a big umbrella.

A single rose bush with pink and white flowers grows near where I am seated on the terrace.

From my seat, I can see the Auberge with its two hotel rooms and Mont Ventoux in the distance.

The Auberge de la Clue offers a number of fixed price menus. I choose the 5-course menu for 34 Euros. Except for me, it appears that all of the diners have dined there before and know exactly what they are going to order.

One of the specialties of the Auberge is Pieds et Paquets (sheep's feet and stomach) and the couple sitting at the table next to me tell me they have been coming to the Auberge for over 40 years for this dish.

The five courses does not include the Cadeau de la maison (gift from the house). When the dish below is set before me along with a ramekin of marinated mushrooms, I initially think this is a wood dome over a plate with a special treat from the Auberge.

As I said, that was my initial thought until horrors, I saw it jiggle and discovered this was another specialty of the Auberge, a whole house-made head cheese. Now this was a new experience for me and being a "foodie," self-proclaimed of course, and restaurateur, I figured I had to at least try it.

If you must know, head cheese is the unappetizing term for a kind of French charcuterie made from, well, the meat of a calf or pig's head (minus the brain). Fromage de tête is set in an aspic made of reduced cooking juices, seasoned, and molded into a terrine. It is sliced and served cold or at room temperature.

I noticed that one of these whole head cheese was placed on every table and that everyone took just a slice or two and the remainder went back to the kitchen. I didn't see any table receive one that had been sliced into previously so not sure what happens to the leftovers.

For my first course, I chose a salade de chèvre fermière aux olives de Nyons (a farmer's goat cheese salad with olives from Nyons).

For my next course, I selected the Coquilles Saint Jacques fraîches sauce safranée (scallops in a saffron sauce).

For course number three, I chose Lotte fraîches sauce Nantaise (monkfish with an herb butter sauce).

For the cheese course, I went with the faiselle (fromage blanc) with house made red berry sorbet rather than taking different cheeses from the large cheese trolley that was rolled from table to table.

And to finish off my meal, I chose the profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce with chantilly cream, a nice refreshing way to finish a very good meal.

The Auberge de la Clue is set in a beautiful and isolated spot high up facing Mont Ventoux. The chef serves diners a huge amount of very good food. I was totally satiated at the end of the meal. I have now had my fill of head cheese and won't have to try it ever again.

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

Auberge de la Clue
Place de l'Eglise
26170 Plaisians
Tel: 04 75 28 01 17

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Le Mesclun Restaurant, Séguret

I walked up the hill and through Porte Reynier, the arched portal that cuts through the thick old defensive wall around Séguret to the central square. Although very small as central squares go, the one in Séguret is unusually pretty with a 14th-century stone bell tower topped by a 17th-century belfry. There is also a unique 17th century fountain with four heads.

As I walk through the central square, I stop to admire the items displayed in the window of La Maison d'Eglantine tea room, I love food you know, and I am treated to the aroma of freshly baked cookies and cakes drifting out the open door. Those aromas arouse memories of a simple lunch Shirley and I had at La Maison d'Eglantine a couple of years bck.

I am on my way to lunch at Le Mesclun Restaurant and since I don't have a reservation, I don't linger long so I won't be turned away because the restaurant is complet (full).

I had arrived late the night before in Sablet from California, actually early morning, just as the Fête de Musique, the music party that takes place in French villages on the day of summer solstice was winding up and I figured Le Mesclun would be a good way to recover from bad airplane food.

When I ask the young man who greets me at the door if I can get a table for lunch, he responds "mais oui monsieur" (of course), follow me. The sky is bright blue and there isn't a cloud in the sky so I am happy to sit on the pretty terrace with the view out over the vineyards towards Sablet. I make note to reserve this table for a romantic dinner with Shirley when we return in the fall.

After contemplating the menu options, I order the three-course Douceurs "Des Dentelles de Montmirail" menu for 35 Euros. For starter, chef Christophe offered Velouté glacé de piquillos à l'huile d'olive de Séguret, Taboulé de quinoa menthe-zestes d'orange, Escargots de Provence en beignets croustillants (chilled red pepper soup with a quinoa tabbouleh with mint and orange zest and escargots in crispy beignets).

The chef followed the starter with Râble de lapin du Vaucluse en pot au feu du Maraîcher, Court bouillon d'herbes au bâton de réglisse, Crème fouettée de moutarde-miel (saddle of rabbit with market vegetables in an herb court bouillon infused with vanilla sticks and cream of honey mustard).

To finish, the chef served a freshly baked apple tart with sorbet accompanied by a slice of roasted pineapple. While the dessert was delicious, it seemed wrong to me to serve roasted pineapple when the market was full of local berries and stone fruit such as peaches and apricots.

We have eaten at Le Mesclun Restaurant quite a few times and chef Christophe finishes every dessert with greenery which imo does nothing for the presentation.

If you are in Séguret or nearby at lunch time, Le Mesclun is a very good choice. The food is well prepared, delicious and the terrace is a wonderful place to linger over a good meal and chilled glass of local rosé before or after a walk around the beautiful village of Séguret.

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

Le Mesclun
Rue des Poternes
84110 Séguret
Tel: 04 90 46 93 43