Sunday, January 26, 2014

Beautiful villages around the Dentelles de Montmirail

It might seem like our day trips take us a long way from Sablet, the village we call home in Provence, but that is not the case at all. Most day trips are are less than one hour drive and quite a few take just a few minutes.

One of the most scenic trips is the 62 km "Route des Vin" (wine road) that goes around the Dentelles de Montmirail with stops to visit one or more of the pretty wine-making villages along the way. The Dentelles de Montmirail are short, steep mountains with a distinctive rocky ridge extending west geologically from Mont Ventoux which is located just to the east.

The name Dentelles, the French word for lace, refers to the jagged, rocky tops obtained by erosion, while Montmirail is derived from the Latin mons mirabilis meaning "admirable mountain" though the alternative connection with teeth, "dents" in French is equally good in my opinion.

The Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range is about 8 km (5 miles) long and runs from Vaison-la-Romaine on the north end to Beaumes-de-Venise on the south. The tallest peak of the Dentelles de Montmirail range is St-Amand, at 734 m (2,400 ft).

View toward the Dentelles de Montmirail with Sablet in the foreground

As you know, we live in Sablet, which we think is one of the prettiest villages along the Dentelles de Montmirail wine road. You can check out Sablet here, here and here.


Next door to Sablet is Séguret, a small village 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. Séguret is classified as a "most beautiful village of France" and is most deserving of this honor.


When you get to Séguret, you will 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.

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.

Shirley and friends at the fountain in the center of Séguret

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

Cobblestone street in Séguret

Séguret has a number of tourist-oriented shops along Rue des Poternes including several art galleries and santonniers. In case you don't know, santonniers are makers of hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in Provence that I told you about here.

Rue des Poternes in Séguret

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

Séguret's Huguenots' gate

Below you can see one of the village lavoirs near the Huguenot's gate; lavoirs are a public place set aside for washing clothes.

A Séguret lavoir

As you exit Séguret, you will pass the public toilet facilities. Let's just say that public toilets in France are a mixed bag of good and bad and we recommend ladies, that you carry toilet paper in your purse as you travel about. Toilets deserve a post of their own and someday I will tackle this topic as a public service.

Public toilets

Fourteen km on the wine road around the Dentelles de Montmirail we come to the tiny village of Crestet. It is perched on a crest at the northern edge of the Dentelles de Montmirail facing Mont Ventoux.


Drive up the narrow winding road, in some places more like a path, up to the medieval castle sitting atop Crestet where there is a spectacular view towards Mont Ventoux.

The castle is one of the oldest castles in Provence. It was renovated and enlarged in the 14th century and for a while the bishops of Vaison-la-Romaine resided there. What remained of the castle was restored in 1984. It is now privately owned and not open to the public.

Crestet castle

The village is tiny, population 434. From the castle, you head down the narrow cobblestone street into the center of the village. You will enter into a medieval world with old stone houses, narrow alleys, arches and cul-de-sacs. Beware, none of the streets are flat.

Narrow cobblestone street in Crestet

The steeple of Saint-Sauveur-et-Saint-Sixte church

Cobblestone stairway

One of many stone structures in Crestet

A statue along the path

Steep narrow cobblestone street in Crestet

All the streets are cobblestone and barely wide enough for two people

The construction of the village church began in 890. Three chapels were added successively in 1380, 1495, and 1563. It wasn't until 1760, that the church was dedicated to Saint-Sauveur.

Saint-Sauveur-et-Saint-Sixte church in Crestet

The beautiful fountain seen below is in the center of Crestet near the village church. It was built in 1843.

Crestet fountain near village church

Cobblestone steps and archway in Crestet

Village lavoir

The Annonciade chapel seen below was built in 1545.

Annonciade chapel

Old stone well in Crestet

Cross against backdrop of the end of the day toward Mont Ventoux

Stone house with sun dial

Stone archway in Crestet

Cobblestone path uphill back to castle

There is almost no commercial activity in the village; a restaurant at the top which we have not tried and Poterie de Crestet, a pottery maker at the entrance to the village.

If you are in the Vaucluse, you should set time aside to drive the wine road around the Dentelles de Montmirail. Sablet, Séguret and Crestet are definitely worth a visit along the way but so are Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise and Vaison-la-Romaine.

Although we have driven around the Dentelles de Montmirail many times, we have not yet stopped and explored Suzette or Lafare. Maybe when we are there in a few week.

Have a great week. Chat soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

La Maison, a wonderful restaurant, worth a detour in the village of Gaujac in the department of Gard

As I have told you, we go for outings almost every day in Provence. As we walk around Sablet past the boulangerie, épicerie and café before we leave, one or more of the villagers ask "where is your balade (ride) to today? Sometimes they offer a suggestion saying "do you know this village?"

We usually visit villages, wineries, historical sites or one of the many Provencal markets in the region. Once we decide where we are going, I try to find a good place for lunch as I don't like to leave that important decision to chance. Fellow foodies know exactly what I mean.

Sometimes our destination is a restaurant, then we hope it's in an interesting place or pretty spot, like the day we headed to Gaujac with friends Steve and Mary to dine at La Maison. I discovered La Maison in Michelin's Bonnes Petites Tables guide for 2013, my best resource for good restaurants.

Gaujac is a small village (population 1,026) on the other side of the Rhone river in the department of Gard in the Languedoc-Roussillon region about one hour from our home in Sablet. Here are some sights that caught my eye as we walked around Gaujac before lunch.


Gaujac gate

Gaujac town hall

Gaujac fountain

Gaujac church

Gaujac gate

Gaujac tower

Gaujac house

Gaujac clock tower with iron belfry

Gaujac war memorial

La Maison Restaurant

La Maison is located in a 17th century vigneron's (winery owner) house built in the defensive walls of Gaujac.

Shirley waiting outside La Maison Restaurant

The restaurant is owned by chef Christine and husband Pierre who works the front of the house. The restaurant has been owned by the couple for 9 years. Options for seating are a vaulted dining room and patio.

La Maison Restaurant dining room

As I said, I found La Maison in the 2013 Michelin Guide to Bonnes Petites Tables. Restaurants in the Guide have been chosen as Michelin inspector's favorites and awarded a Bib Gourmand. Bib Gourmand restaurants offer three courses for 31 Euros or less.

We ordered a bottle of 2012 Château de Tresques Côtes du Rhône rosé and waited for lunch. First out, an amuse bouche of carrot ginger soup with a swirl of reduced balsamic vinegar on top. A great start. Check out the rest of our meal.

Amuse bouche of carrot ginger soup with swirl of reduced balsamic vinegar

First course of grilled tuna over lentil salad with soy sauce and sesame oil.

Main course of grilled beef

Main course of pan roasted sea bass with Madras curry sauce and sweet potato vanilla puree.

Friend Steve

Friend Mary


Dessert trio

The food was excellent and service was friendly and attentive. The only slightly negative thing if any would be there are only a couple of choices for each course. We look forward to a return visit.

There is not a lot to see in Gaujac but La Maison would be a great choice for lunch or dinner before or after a visit to the Pont du Gard (19 km), Uzès (19 km), or wine tasting in Tavel (17 km) or Lirac (14 km).

La Maison Restaurant
Rue du Presbytère
30330 Gaujac
Tel: 04 66 39 33 08

Have a great week. Chat soon.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Le Castellet, a Beautiful Feudal Village in the Var

After spending Friday morning in Cassis wandering through the market and shops along the marina followed by lunch at Le Bonaparte Restaurant, we drove to Le Castellet, a small feudal village perched on the edge of a 820 foot cliff. The village is surrounded by Bandol AOC vineyards.

You enter Le Castellet through one of the fortified gates of the defensive walls into a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and pretty squares. The Church of the Transfiguration du Sauveur seen below was built in 1030 by the Bishops of Marseille. In 1754, the church had become too narrow and was enlarged.

Church of the Transfiguration du Sauveur

Le Castellet window

Le Castellet boutique specializing in lavender products

Le Castellet artist

Le Castellet shop

Friends Steve and Mary take a break in Le Castellet

Le Castellet building

Abandoned well and pond

Beautiful old buildings with brightly colored flowers cascading down their walls line the streets.

Le Castellet Street

Le Castellet shop

We quickly discovered that most of Le Castellet is on a slope that climbs up to the church and 15th century castle, where the town hall is now located.

Street up to Church of the Transfiguration du Sauveur

Flowering bush in Le Castellet

Le Castellet Bistro

Le Castellet streets are for pedestrians only. There are two parking lots near the village where you can park cars.

Le Castellet street

Shirley taking break in a Le Castellet square

The Grand Portail gate is on the south end of Le Castellet and was rebuilt in the 14th century. For many years, it was the only access to the village.

Le Grand Portail gate through Le Castellet defensive wall

Le Castellet shops

Memorial to the dead

There are plenty of shops in town including several art galleries and artisan workshops selling local pottery, ceramics, candles, and jewelry.

Le Castellet shops

The Portalet gate is on the eastern side of Le Castellet and was restored and enlarged during the 17th century.

Le Portalet gate through Le Castellet defensive wall

Cafe outside the Le Castellet defensive wall

Le Castellet is worth a visit if you are in the area to enjoy the sea or to taste Bandol wines. I would guess that the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, it's only 12 kms away, means many of the shops and cafes stay open all year long. We'll be back.

Have a great week. Chat soon.