Monday, September 29, 2014

Vaison-la-Romaine, a Tale of Two Unique Towns

We go often to Vaison-la-Romaine, sometimes it seems almost every day. We go for Tuesday morning market, basic household supplies at Intermarché, cheese at fabulous Lou Canesteou run by Josiane Deal, meet friends at Festival Café, or simply pass through on the way to Nyons and other destinations in the Drôme Provençale.

As we near Vaison-la-Romaine, the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse reigns on a cliff above the town like a beacon beckoning us to come up and visit. Although we see the Castle all the time, we have only walked up through the upper town to the Castle one time.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse

Vaison-la-Romaine is a short (6 mile) drive from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River on the Pont Neuf (new bridge); farther up the river, there is a Roman bridge too. Vaison la Romaine is divided into two parts by the Ouvèze River; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank on top of a rocky spur is the old medieval town.

The bridge in the picture below was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, with a single arch spanning 56 feet. It was built of large course masonry, resting directly upon the rock. Until a footbridge was built in 1858, the Roman bridge was the only link between the two sides of the river.

Vaison-la-Romaine Roman Bridge

When the causeway had to be repaired after World War II (the bridge was hit by a German bomb but was only superficially damaged), grooves meant to guide carts and chariots in narrow and dangerous passages appeared, a good indication of what traffic was like on the bridge.

View south to the Roman Bridge

One day after market last spring, we decided we would visit the old upper town and walk up to the castle. The entry street is lined with a few tourist shops and cafes. As you continue on up into the heart of the old town, the shops disappear and there's a sense of quiet, and of entering into the Medieval past.

The entrance into the heart of the Medieval upper town is through a deep, fortified gateway through the base of the tower. The Belfry, was protected by a barbican, a moat with a drawbridge, a portcullis and a gate. The base of the tower dates from the 14th century and the wrought-iron campanile were added in the 18th century.

Stone walkway into Medieval upper town

Stone alter

Vaulted arch walkway to home

In the 18th century, most of the fountains were erected. They are composed of a central column from which water springs, their top is rounded and decorated with a sculptured pine cone.

Fountain in old town

The heart of the Medieval upper town is quite large with long, narrow streets traversing the hillside east-west, between nicely renovated but ancient buildings, even narrower little streets connect the traversing streets, many with vaulted arch supports.

Narrow stone street with 2 vaulted arch supports

The narrow streets of the upper town are lined with old houses, picturesque old doorways, little squares with small fountains, and old churches.

Stone house with fortified cross street

Fountain in old town

Stone street traverses the hillside town

Thick stone walls with pretty window

Stone wall encloses garden

Fountain at intersection of streets

View over the roof tops

Narrow stone passageway

Vaulted arch over path up to castle

The view from near the castle over the lower Roman town is worth all the energy you expended to get up there; trust me!

Lower Roman and modern town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Around 1180, the men of the Count of Toulouse built a wooden tower strengthened by palissages (trellises) on the top of this hill to impose the image of the Count’s power on the citizenry. This was pulled down on Bishop Bérenger de Reilhane’s order and replaced in 1195 by Raymond V, Count of Toulouse and Marquis of Provence. Later, two buildings were added. The castle has been modified along the centuries.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

Pretty tourist shop

We got back down to the belfry tower and gateway to the lower town.

Inner side of the belfry tower

Belfry tower, entry to upper town of Vaison-la-Romaine

If you go to Vaison-la-Romaine on Tuesday for the market and want to tour the Roman ruins and climb up to the castle, you will have a full days worth of activities. So plan accordingly.

Have a great week. Chat soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Walk Around Gigondas and Wine Tasting at Domaine du Grapillon D'Or

We are blessed to have a house in Sablet and live as Sabletains several times a year. If you don't know, the people who reside in Sablet are called Sabletains. We love our location at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountains surrounded by vineyards as far as you can see. Nearby are several small villages, some known for their beauty and others renown for the wine produced in the village.

Sablet is located between Séguret, a village classified as a "Plus Beaux Village de France," to the north and Gigondas, a village renown for its red wine to the south. We think Gigondas is one of the prettiest of all Côtes du Rhône wine villages and one you should visit if you love red wine.

From the road, Gigondas seems little more than a cluster of stone houses set on a hillside with a church below the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountains overlooking vineyard covered slopes and valley below.


When I turn off for Gigondas, I follow the road up through the lower village, passing a succession of cafés and tasting rooms (caves) before arriving at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie (town hall) and Caveau du Gigondas (wine growers cooperative), are located. I park near the fountain.

While Shirley and friend Kari went off to hike to the top of the Dentelles de Montmirail as I told you here, I walked around Gigondas taking pictures before I went to taste wine at Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or. The pictures which follow are some I took that day.

Gigondas Town Hall

If you like red wine, plan to stop in at the Caveau du Gigondas (wine cooperative) where you can taste more than 100 different Gigondas wines from 80 wineries and buy them at the same price as at the winery. The Caveau sells more than 80,000 bottles of wine each year.

Caveau du Gigondas

The name Gigondas is of Roman origin. Jocunditas means great pleasure and enjoyment in Latin, with the town's origin and production of wine dating back to the Romans.

Gigondas Fountain

I love the bright shutters, usually blue, I come across as I walk around Gigondas.

Gigondas Fountain

Gigondas Sundial

The stairway walk up to the hospice which dates from 1678. After the French revolution, the hospice became a girl's school up to the beginning of the 20th century when it was abandoned and fell into ruins.

Stairway Walk up to Hospice

Iron Cross and vineyards in front of Gigondas ramparts

The Gigondas castle and the defensive ramparts were built around the 13th to 14th century.

Gigondas Defensive Ramparts

The Saint Catherine of Alexandria parish church with its central clock tower flanked by a campanile belfry dates from the beginning of the 17th century. A hollow on the front facade shelters a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria Church

One of the many stone houses I came across as I wandered around Gigondas.

Gigondas Stone House

Trimmed Plane Tree

One of our favorite producers of Gigondas wine is Domaine La Bouissiere. This wine has been on the list of our Bistro Des Copains since we opened back in June 2006. The tasting room is just a few steps from Place Gabriel Andéol.

Domaine la Bouissiere

Another Village Fountain

Stone House with Defensive Ramparts in the Background

Porcelain Cicadas Decorate House Shutters

The Dentelles de Montmirail provide a spectacular backdrop for Gigondas. As I told you here, the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountain range is about 8 kms (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 feet).

Dentelles de Montmirail

While Shirley and Kari made their way to the top of the Dentelles de Montmirail, I headed to Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or to taste wine. My tasting at the winery had been arranged by Bruno, the proprietor of Café des Sports in Sablet.

As I told you here, Café des Sports usually has one or two tables occupied by local vintners playing card games. One of the vintners who frequents these games is Bernard Chauvet who is the proprietor of Domaine du Grapillon D'Or.

Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or

Domaine du Grapillon D'Or is located on the hillside below the village of Gigondas. The property has been in the hands of the Chauvet family going back to 1806. Bernard has run the winery for the past 40 years. He is now assisted by his daughter Celine who makes the wine.

Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or buildings

It is uncommon to walk into Côtes du Rhône wineries to dégust (taste) wine and find yourself in a bright, cheery, tastefully decorated, tasting room. So I was surprised by the tasting room at Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or. If you go to the winery, make sure you check out Bernard Chauvet's collection of wine corkscrews. There are more than 300 on exhibit, the oldest date back to the 18th century.

Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or Tasting Room

The Domaine du Grapillon D'Or vineyards consist of 14 hectares (a little over 34 acres) on Gigondas hillsides, 2 hectares (approximately 5 acres) in Vacqueyras and 3.3 hectares (a little over 8 acres of Vin de Pays (country wine) made with Merlot-Caladoc grape varieties.

Grenache is the main varietal used in the blending of the Domaine du Grapillon D'Or wines. The Grenache gives the wines their structure and tanins while Syrah gives the wine its intense color and aromas. I liked each of the 4 different bottles I tried. I particularly liked the Gigondas, one of two bottles made from Gigondas wines.

Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or barrel room

Before heading back to the village to meet up with the lady hikers, I went to visit Saint-Cosme and Saint-Damien Chapel on the north side of Gigondas on the road to the Col du Cayron pass. The Chapel was built in the 12th century, destroyed in the 16th century and restored in the 17th century. The Chapel is dedicated to two saints and brothers Cosme and Damian, protectors of surgeons and pharmacists.

Saint-Cosme and Saint-Damien Chapel in Gigondas

If you like red wine, I can't say enough to encourage you to visit Gigondas and taste at Caveau de Gigondas or wineries such as Domaine La Bouissiere and Domaine Du Grapillon D'Or.

Have a great day. Chat soon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things in Sablet

We are counting down the days till we board our plane for France. It seems like it has been forever since we were in Sablet and we can't wait to get back. When we finally exit the A-7 autoroute at Orange, we will head to Sablet through the town of Camaret-sur-Aigues, then down a narrow two-lane road through the Plan-de-Dieu vineyards. Then voila, we will see Sablet off in the distance.


This post includes photographs of some of my favorite places and people to hang out with in Sablet. These pictures were taken last spring when Kari visited during her travels through Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, England and wait for it ... Thailand where she went after 3 months in the European Union zone.

Café des Sports

One of my favorite places to hang out in Sablet is at a sunny table in front of Café des Sports.

Sylvie Bordeaux with brother and sister-in-law

Two of my favorite people in Sablet, or really anywhere for that matter are Alain Fabre who owns Vival Grocery Store with wife Mimi and Sylvie Bordeaux who owns Café des Sports with husband Bruno.

Alain Fabre and Sylvie Bordeaux

We like this little orange truck, so much so that we have a framed picture of the truck in our California home along with pictures of unusual Deux Chevaux we have come across. It seems appropriate that this unusual truck is generally parked in front of Insolite, which translates to "unusual."

Kari admires the miniature truck

If you have been a reader of Our House in Provence blog for a while, you have already figured out that one of my favorite places in Sablet for taking pictures of people, is around the pretty fountain at Place Yvan Audouard, just a few steps from our house.

Fountain at Place Yvan Audouard

No doubt about it, my favorite place in Sablet is our house. Looking at this picture, reminds me I should probably paint the garage door while we are there.

Home Sweet Home

In this picture, Shirley stands in "Grande" (big or wide) Rue and stretches her arms between our house and the house across the street.

Shirley stands in Grand Rue and stretches her arms between our house and neighbors

In the picture which follows, Kari is reading in the bedroom window where she has a bird's eye view of the village.

Kari reads her book on the window ledge

Kari gives me a smile from her perch on the window ledge high above the street.

Kari gives me a smile from the window ledge

One of our favorite pastimes in Sablet is to watch drivers, usually tourists struggle to make a left turn from Grande Rue onto Rue d'Eglise to go up to the Romanesque Church of Saint Nazaire at the top of the village. Only the locals can make the turn with just one move. We also hang out the window to chat with passerbys, especially if we hear US English being spoken.

Shirley hangs out the window to greet passerbys

Most mornings and evenings you will find us on the kitchen terrace. This is where in good weather, we always have our petit dejeuner including a café, and croissants and palmiers from Festival Boulangerie. In the late afternoon, you will find us enjoying a glass of chilled local rosé wine if we are not down at Café des Sports.

Yours truly and Shirley relax on kitchen terrace

We generally eat out at lunch in whatever village we happen to find ourselves. But in the evening, we generally cook whatever we found that day in the market. This day being Thursday, I bought Dover Sole this morning from Monsieur Lafont of Marée du Comtat Venaison when he brought his mobile fish stand to Sablet like I told you here.

Favorite room in the house

I dust the cleaned fillets in flour and then sauté the fish in a combination of butter and olive oil in a non-stick pan.

Cleaned Dover sole ready for cooking

I keep the fish warm in a very low oven while I finish the other dishes.

Cooked Dover Sole

Most people are frightened away from cooking whole fish because of their fear of having to debone the fish. I am not perfect, but I am getting better. I think the old adage, "Practice makes Perfect" holds true when it comes to deboning fish.

Yours Truly debones the Dover Sole

Cooking whole fish is worth the effort to get over your fear and learn to debone whole fish.

Dover Sole with lemon caper butter sauce

I also made this Eggplant Custard from a recipe I found in a cookbook by Richard Olney entitled "Simple French Food."

Eggplant Custard

We finished our dinner with a Pear Cake that had a deliciously moist interior and slightly crunchy exterior. I will have to tell you how to make this cake for yourselves in a future post. I made it here a few weeks ago. It is really simple and delicious.

Pear Cake

I have been fortunate to meet some people in person and others by way of email because of this blog. I hope to meet many more of you in the future. I get a huge kick when people tell me they planned their trips to Provence based on my blog or went to a village or tried a restaurant because of it.

I have showed you a few of my favorite things about Sablet. It goes without saying that we love Sablet and that we have a whole different life in this village. Someone I met today by email summed up what we love about Sablet.

Jeri, I hope you don't mind me sharing what you said. "We're actually in Sablet now, finishing up a two-week stay. We were here for three weeks in 2012 and really loved the village--friendly people, fabulous location, and a real, functioning town, not a museum like Seguret. So we came back this year and find that our first impressions have been confirmed."

Have a great week. Chat soon.