Thursday, March 27, 2014

Domaines Bunan, excellent wines from a beautiful spot in Bandol AOC

Bandol is a small picturesque resort town alongside the Mediterranean sea about halfway between Toulon and Cassis that gives its name to a wine appellation (AOC) that produces powerful red wines (they must be at least 50% Mourvèdre), rosé and a small amount of white wine.

The Bandol AOC is bounded by a wide ring of hills with southerly exposure. Starting at the Golfe des Lecques near Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, rising to the Plateau du Camp and then curving toward Le Beausset, the boundary of the AOC follows the top of the hills and runs back to the sea east of Sanary.

I have wanted to visit the Bandol area since the first time I read about Domaine Tempier, the famous Bandol winery owned by the Peyraud family, in books authored by Richard Olney, Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch.

For those who don't know, Alice Waters is an author of cookbooks and proprietor of Chez Panisse, a gastronomic temple in Berkeley California for more than 40 years and arguably the most famous restaurant in the United States; she is a long time friend of the Peyraud family.

She was introduced to the Peyraud's by Richard Olney, a neighbor and friend of the Peyrauds. Olney authored cookbooks including "Simple French Food", "Provence, the Beautiful Cookbook" and "Lulu's Provençal Table: The Exuberant Food and Wine from Domaine Tempier Vineyard."

Wines from Domaine Tempier and Domaine de Terrebrune in Bandol have been on the wine list at Bistro Des Copains, the French country bistro I co-own with friend Cluney in Occidental, California. We get these wines from wine importer Kermit Lynch who makes his home in Bandol half the year.

I first learned about Domaines Bunan in a post written by Tuula from Belle Provence Travels about her visit to this winery. Then I ordered a Bunan rosé at a Bandol restaurant and that did it; we were going to déguster wine at Domaines Bunan.

Domaines Bunan

So after visiting the village of Le Castellet with friends Steve and Mary last fall, we headed to Domaines Bunan. Domaines Bunan is a small, three generations family-owned and operated wine estate; the 40 acres of vineyards are planted on steep, terraced slopes facing the Mediterranean.

In 1961, when the estate was acquired by the Bunans, the land was already partially replanted to the requirements of Bandol AOC. The terraces of Moulin des Costes vineyard overlook the Mediterranean sea. The vineyard is planted with 45 year old Mourvèdre and Grenache vines.

Domaines Bunan

The Bunan family have become the single largest vineyard proprietors in the Bandol AOC. Their vineyards are certified organic which means they don't use artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. .

Domanes Bunan

As I said, it was last fall when we went to taste wines at Domaines Bunan. They were in the midst of the annual vendange and we could smell ripe grapes as soon as we rolled up to the winery. Check out the pictures that Shirley took while we tasted the excellent wines from Domaines Bunan.

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

Steve and I loading our purchases into the car at Domaines Bunan

Domaines Bunan

I finally made it to Bandol to taste wines, albeit not at Domaine Tempier. Tuula was right, the wines at Domaines Bunan are excellent and I am happy we made the trip. I still want to visit Domaine Tempier to see this, almost mythical to me, winery and taste there. Stay tuned.

Domaines Bunan
338 Chemin de Fontanieu
83740 La Cadière d'Azur
Tel: 04 94 98 58 98

Have a great day. Chat soon.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A yummy lunch in Maillane, home of Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral

A few months back, we went to Maillane for déjeuner at L'Oustalet Maïanen, a Bib Gourmand restaurant according to the Michelin inspectors. Actually, we went there twice within a two week period of time. The first time for lunch with friends Steve and Mary and a second for dinner with cousins Jean-Marc and Christine.

We had not been to Maillane nor heard anything about the village before that day. It wasn't until our dinner with the cousins that we learned why there are so many references to Frédéric Mistral in the village. It is the birth place of this famous, Nobel prize winning Provençal poet on September 8, 1830 and where he lived all his life and died on March 25, 1914.

Maillane is a small quiet village set amidst olive groves in the Alpille's countryside about 7 km northwest of Saint Remy. As I said, we didn't know about Maillane before we came to dine at L'Oustalet Maïanen. So not knowing there was more to the village than the sleepy appearance it displays, we didn't visit the village and historical sites associated with Frédéric Mistral.

Cross in Maillane

First named Notre-Dame of Bethlehem, the Romanesque style parish church later took the name Saint Agatha, the village's patron saint. Saint Agatha is a Christian saint and virgin martyress born at Catania, Sicily and martyred there in approximately 251 AD. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, fire, and earthquakes.

Saint Agatha Church

Inside Saint Agatha Church, you can see a 17th century high altar of white marble, classified as a historic monument and representing Christ and the disciples in Emmaüs. In a reliquary, to the left of the altar, you will see a statue of Notre-Dame de Grâce, a crowned virgin from the 13th century, who saved the people of Maillane from the cholera epidemic of 1854.

Interior Saint Agatha Church

We went to Maillane to eat at l'Oustalet Maïanen hoping we would find a new, excellent place in the Alpilles, a chain of limestone hills dotted with small villages that run east and west south of Avignon. We got to the village and found the restaurant opposite the former home of Frédéric Mistral.

L'Oustalet Maïanen

We were shown into and seated in a well lit dining room. After reviewing the various menu options, we all chose the "Convivial" menu for 29 Euros. While we waited for our first courses to be served, we nibbled on a tray with tomato Parmesan crackers, olives, and multigrain crisps topped with tomato-cheese terrine.

Tomato Parmesan crackers, olives, and multigrain crisps topped with tomato-cheese terrine

The food that followed was excellent.

Friends Steve and Mary with Shirley at L'Oustalet Maïanen

Frisée Salad with grilled quail, radicchio, raisins and onion confit

Pumpkin soup with sauteed mushrooms and cream

Rabbit three ways

Pan roasted cod on tomato confit with sauteed zucchini and star anise sauce

Baked apple with almond crisp and ice cream with currant sauce

Chocolate crunch with chocolate cookie, raspberry mousse, chocolate mousse, all encased in chocolate ganache

As I said, our meal was excellent and we intended to go back when we were in Provence a few weeks ago. Besides the excellent food served at l'Oustalet Maïanen, I wanted to take photographs of the historical sites related to Frédéric Mistral to put in this post.

We were told you can see the house where he was born, then the house where he lived with his mother, and third the house which he built upon his marriage and where he eventually died. Finally, you can see his final resting place in the cemetery.

Well l'Oustalet Maïanen was closed for congés annuels while we were in Provence and we had so many places to go that we didn't have time to make a special trip to take pictures. So those will have to wait for a future visit.

Maillane street and Saint Agatha Church

L'Oustalet Maïanen
16 Avenue Lamartine
13910 Maillane
Tel: 04 90 95 74 60

We definitely found an excellent restaurant like we hoped at L'Oustalet Maïanen. It is very close to Saint Remy and would be an excellent place to dine after the market or if you are looking for a place to dine in the Alpilles.

Have a great day my friends. Chat soon.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gordes, One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France

Every time we are in Provence, we head toward the Luberon mountains to visit one or more of the small hill top villages in the area. Many times, Gordes is one of the villages we visit, especially if we are touring first time visitors around Provence.

Gordes is a beautiful old village in the Luberon region about 1 hour southeast of our home in Sablet. The obviously strategic site where Gordes sits has been occupied since prehistoric times. The stone buildings were built against the base of the cliffs and spiral up around the rock to the top where the chateau was built with a panoramic view over fields and forests and small perched villages.

The village's setting is striking and lots of tourists come to visit in the summer. Gordes is classified as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, literally translated, one of the most beautiful villages of France; Gordes is one of 156 French villages with that classification. It is said to be the #1 tourist attraction in the Luberon.

Cubist painter André Lhote discovered Gordes in 1938 followed by Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely and other modern artist who visited and summered in Gordes. More recently the village gained exposure as one of the locations for a movie filmed in the Luberon, "A Good Year" based on a novel of the same name written by Peter Mayle starring Russell Crowe.


At the top of Gordes and in the center sits the chateau which dominates the town. Built in 1031, reinforced in 1123, the castle was rebuilt in 1525. Today the castle is home to the Pol Mara museum, a contemporary Flemish painter who lived in Gordes, and the tourist information office. In summer there are concerts and plays in the castle's courtyard.


Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs is located near the castle. Dating from the 17th century, the white chapel is an art gallery today.

Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs

The main square and memorial to the children of Gordes who died in wars for France which Russell Crowe's character, Max Skinner circles several times in his little yellow smart car looking for the notaire in "A Good Year".

War memorial in center of Gordes

Every Tuesday morning is market day. Merchants from around the area set up stalls on Place du Château and sell their wares: fresh fruits and vegetables, Provençale pottery and linens, art work and clothing.

Shops near chateau with St Firmin church bell tower in background

Gordes shops

The fountain in the square by Hôtel la Renaissance where Max waits for Fanny Chenal, the character played by Marion Cotillard to get off work. Hôtel la Renaissance is Fanny Chenal's bistro in the movie, and where Max famously tells an obnoxious American couple that "MacDonalds is in Avignon, fish and chips in Marseille. Allez".

Fountain in center of Gordes

Pigeon drinking from fountain

Around the center of the village near the castle, you will find various cafés, restaurants, art galleries and souvenir shops.

Shops and cafés near chateau

Typical Gordes street

The original Romanesque church in Gordes was dedicated to Notre Dame. Rebuilt in 1704, it was then dedicated to its patron, St Firmin, a former Bishop of Uzès.

Interior of St Firmin Church

The walls of Gordes were built later than the heart of the town – they were needed in the 16th century to protect the inhabitants from the bands of marauders roaming about Luberon during the Hundred-Years War.

Caves below Gordes

One of the many narrow stone streets called calades - small paved, sometimes stepped alleyways lined with gutters defined by two rows of stone.

Stone street

Stone steps

Gordes shops

Every town and village in Provence has a Fête Votive, which is a festival specific to that town, rather than a National holiday. In early October, Gordes holds its Fête Votive which includes a boules tournament seen below, concerts and meals.

Boules tournament

During World War II, Gordes was an active resistance village and was later awarded a medal, the Croix de Guerre 1939 - 1945. On the 21st of August 1944, just 6 days after the start of Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France, a German patrol was attacked by members of the Gordes resistance and the day after, the village was subjected to violent reprisals and much of Gordes was destroyed.


It is definitely worthwhile to visit Gordes. If you have time, you should also visit the Bories village, a collection of 30 stone huts made of dry flat stones made without mortar and the nearby Sénanque Abbey, a 12th century Cistercian abbey, that is surrounded by lavender fields.