Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ménerbes, Peter Mayle's First Village in Provence

I fell in love with France, or at least a tiny part of it, during childhood trips to the Metairie Neuve, the family farm located near Viane Pierre-Segade, a small hamlet about 15 km from Lacaune in the southeast department of Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France.

It wasn't until quite a few years later that I discovered and began a love affair with Provence and began to dream about owning a home there through the pages of Peter Mayle's charming book, "A Year In Provence" and his other books that followed.

If you don't know, "A Year in Provence," describes Provence, its culture and the people Mayle, a retired advertising executive, meets after he and his wife leave London, buy a stone farmhouse in a Luberon village, fix it up, and adopt the region as their new home.

The village where Mayle and his wife settled was Ménerbes, a small walled village perched on the top of a long ridge of the north face of the Luberon. Ménerbes is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages of France.

One day last spring, wife Shirley and friend Kari and I drove from Sablet to Ménerbes to visit Peter Mayle's village (I should mention that the Mayle's don't live there anymore). Here are a few pictures from our visit to Ménerbes that day.


The city of Ménerbes and its citadel were the site of a major battle between Huguenots and Catholics, called the Siege de Ménerbes, which lasted from 1573 to 1578 during the French Wars of Religion. The Protestants finally agreed to negotiations, apparently because of a lack of drinking water, surrendering on December 9, 1578 to a "glorious capitulation."


Narrow streets wind up and down between lovely old buildings.

Ménerbes Street

Pretty Ménerbes House

Ménerbes House

Saint-Blaise Chapel was built in 1734 by the Brotherhood of Pénitents Blanc. During the Revolution, it served as a gathering place for the Republicans and its façade was very damaged. Today, it serves as a place of worship during the winter.

Saint-Blaise Chapel

Ménerbes village street, looking southeast

Ménerbes Iron Cross and Fountain

At Place de l'Horloge at the top of Ménerbes is the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (House of Truffles and Wine) in a beautifully restored, grand village house. There you can find out all about the truffles and wines of the region, as well as take wine appreciation courses in the summer.

Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (House of truffles and wine)

Monument honoring the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1789

Ménerbes Town Hall

The clock tower and wrought-iron campanile at Place de l'Horloge were built in the 15th century. Through the arch, there is a magnificent view out across the plains with several villages visible.

Ménerbes town hall with its wrought-iron "campanile"

Ménerbes Town Hall

Saint-Luc Church was built in the 16th century on the foundation of Saint-Sauveur Church. It is currently undergoing renovation.

Saint-Luc Church

Iron Cross

Gated Entrance to Ménerbes Home

Looking back towards Clock Tower at Place de l'Horloge in Ménerbes

Ménerbes' ancient fortified wall and round tower

If you go to Ménerbes, you might want to stop by the Musée du Tire-Bouchon (Cork Screw Museum) at La Citadelle winery about 1 km outside Ménerbes on the road to Cavaillon. The museum displays 1000 cork screws from the 17th century to today.

I think the Mayles were attracted to Ménerbes more for the house and the surrounding area rather than the village itself. While Ménerbes and the surrounding area are very pretty, there is not much life in the village as far as we could see.

Have a great week. Chat soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Wonderful Visit to Marseille and Lunch at La Boîte à Sardine

We have flown in and out of the Marseille Provence Airport and shopped at the nearby IKEA quite a few times. However, we have only visited Marseille twice despite its proximity to Sablet and I have two cousins that live there and as I told you here, my father lived there when he was young.

I have felt we were missing out by not going to Marseille so I had been looking at articles about Marseille, especially those that talked about the best places to eat there. Last spring, there was an article in Saveur Magazine entitled "City by the Sea" by Alexander Lobrano that got my taste buds going for a visit to Marseille.

So when we got to Sablet last spring, one of the first things I did was call cousin Ginette who lives in Marseille and cousin Annick who lives near Aix-en-Provence but knows and loves Marseille to set up a date to visit Marseille.

Marseille was founded by the Phoceans (from the Greek city of Phocaea, now Foça, in modern Turkey) in 600BC and is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The town is a far cry from the Cézanne paintings and Provençal clichés of sleepy villages, "pétanque" players and Marcel Pagnol novels.

With around one million inhabitants, Marseille is the second largest city in France in terms of population and the largest in terms of area. The people of Marseille have varying ethnic backgrounds, with a lot of Italians and Spanish having immigrated to the area after the second world war. Currently, over one third of the population of Marseille can trace their roots back to Italy.

We decided to visit sites that we had not visited on our previous visit when we toured the Le Panier District of Marseille and climbed up to Notre Dame de la Garde Cathedral. L’Opéra de Marseille, known today as the Opéra Municipal, is the opera company located in Marseille. In 1685, the city was the second in France after Bordeaux to have an opera house which was erected on a tennis court.

The present day opera house, the Opéra Municipal de Marseille, dates from its opening on December 4, 1924. It seats 1,800. It features a classic urn-shaped auditorium, three rings of boxes, two balconies and a gallery.

Municipal Opera House

Toussaint Blaize founded this Herboristerie (translates "herbalism") for the practice of herbal medicine in 1815. This boutique has been run by six generations of the Blaize family at this location since then. It is one of the oldest shops in Marseille.

Blaize Herboristerie

This marvelous statue of a giraffe and its baby is right on La Canebière, the main street of Marseille. It commemorates the arrival in the city in 1826 of a giraffe given as a gift to King Charles X by Egypt's Mohammed Ali.

Statue of a giraffe and its baby on La Canebière

Saint Vincent de Paul Church in Marseille is also called the L'Église des Réformés. It is located at the north end of la Canebière, Marseille's most famous street.

Saint Vincent de Paul Church

The monument aux Mobilisés was built on La Canébière in 1894 in memory of the Marseille soldiers who died during the 1870 war.

Monument des Mobiles (1894) War Memorial on La Canébière

I always try to choose an excellent place to eat when we go visit a new town or village. About the same time his article about Marseille appeared in Saveur Magazine, Alexander Lobrano wrote a piece for his blog where he said about La Boîte à Sardine that "There’s simply no better place in this port town to get a really good reasonably priced feed of just-out-of-the-water seafood." That was high praise for me, so we reserved there for lunch.

La Boîte à Sardine Restaurant

Sardine cans from around the world

A menu board at La Boîte à Sardine Restaurant

Another menu board at La Boîte à Sardine

A starter of deep fried artichokes

Since this day was about being with family and eating fresh seafood, I didn't take a lot of pictures or write too many notes. Please forgive me.

Shirley and I with the cousins at La Boîte à Sardine

Our friend Kari was with us for the visit to Marseille and she ordered fish and chips. We were all quite shocked to see the "fish" was whole deep fried fish, not pieces like we get in the USA. It reminded me of the scene in the movie "A Good Year" where Max who is played by Russell Crowe tells some rude American diners "MacDonalds is in Avignon, fish and chips in Marseille. Allez."

Fish and Chips

Shirley and I shared a whole roasted fish. It was fresh out of the water and perfectly cooked and served with fried polenta and ratatouille.

Whole fish with fried polenta and ratatouille

We are trying to set a date for a return during this visit to Sablet. Stay tuned, I will let you know in a future post if we were able to make it happen or not.

Shirley and I with cousin Annick

A café in Marseille

The Savonnerie Marseillaise de la Licorne has been making soap for more than 100 years in this location. The soap is made from a combination of oil and soda and then boiled before honey, lemon, lavender and other ingredients are added which give the soap great aroma. We bought several and they smell great.

Savonnerie Marseillaise de la Licorne

Apartments and shops near a Marseille water park

Bright colored café

Marseille street

Marseille street

Lots of colorful graffiti in Marseille

A square in Marseille

Fort Saint-Jean is a fortification in Marseille, built in 1660 by Louis XIV at the entrance to the Old Port. Since 2013 it is linked by two bridges to the Le Panier district and to the first French national museum to be located outside Paris; called Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée.

Fort Saint-Jean overlooks the Old Port

The Four des Navettes is the oldest bakery in Marseilles, located on the Voie Sacrée (sacred way) leading to the Saint Victor Abbey. It belongs to Master Baker Jean-Claude Imbert and his son Nicolas.

The secret of the Four des Navette recipe has been jealously guarded for more than 200 years. Three different families have owned it since it first opened in 1781 and have kept the know-how to themselves, handing it down from one generation to the next.

The vaulted oven, built at the end of the 18th century is still in use today and helps to provide the quality of the navettes - which is all it’s used for.

Four des Navettes

The octave of Candlemas begins on February 2, at 5am, with the procession of the Black Virgin. The procession starts on the Quai des Belges and proceeds to Saint Victor's Abbey. In front of the Abbey, the Archbishop, in the presence of the Mayor, gives the blessing of the city, the sea, the Abbey's green candles, and the Candlemas' Solemn Mass is celebrated.

At 8am, the Archbishop comes to the Four des Navettes to bless the oven and the navettes! Tradition says that you keep a navette which has been blessed by the Archbishop along with a green candle until the next Candlemas to bring happiness to your family. A year later, you burn the candle and eat the navette, because they keep for a whole year!

In case you don't know, navettes are a cylindrical sweet-pastry from Marseilles with a "fleur d'oranger" flavor. It's baked without yeast in the shape of a boat (navette), an oval 7-8 cm long with the ends tapered in sharply,

Inside Four des Navettes

Saint Victor Abbey was built in the 5th century on the burial place of Saint Victor, a Roman martyr who had died two centuries previously. The abbey was destroyed several times over the years, until being fortified by Pope Urban V in the 14th century.

Abbaye de Saint Victor (Saint Victor Abbey)

The Monument aux morts de l'Armée d'Orient by Antoine Sartorio stands on a rocky promontory on Marseille's seafront and remembers all those Frenchmen who gave their lives during the 1914-1918 war fighting overseas particularly in the Far East.

The center of the arch has a carving of a crescent and a star. Sculptures of air force personnel and soldiers stand on one side of the arch together with a winged angel whilst on the other side is another winged angel and on a pedestal in the center of the arch is a bronze "angel of victory" her arms lifted to the skies. A stairway leading down to the sea completes the memorial.

As I told you here, this monument is near the Vallon des Auffes and a very good restaurant for bouillabaisse called Fonfon.

Monument aux Morts de l'Armée d'Orient et des Terres Lointaines

If you go to Marseille and love fresh, perfectly cooked seafood, don't hesitate to go to La Boîte à Sardine. Don't take my word for it, listen to Alexander Lobrano.

La Boîte à Sardine Restaurant
2 Boulevard de la Libération
13001 Marseille
Tel: 04 91 50 95 95

Monday, October 13, 2014

Alsatian Onion Tart

Since we returned to Sablet, we have eaten most of our meals in restaurants and fewer at home than what we originally planned. We have returned to some favorite restaurants but have discovered several new restaurants that I will share with you in upcoming posts.

The last few days before we came to Sablet, I was in Chicago for meetings with colleagues in the seniors housing industry. Shirley and I met up for our flight to Paris at O'Hare International Airport and brought along mail including the September/October issue of "Cuisine et Vins de France"

I flipped through the pages of the magazine during our flight to Paris and came across a recipe for "Tarte à l'Oignon à l'Alsacienne" (Alsatian Onion Tart). I showed the recipe and accompanying picture to Shirley and we agreed we would try it while we were in Sablet.

Back at Café des Sports

This being Monday when many of the restaurants in the area are closed, we decided to have the tart for dinner tonight with salads made from ingredients we picked up at the Vaison-la-Romaine market. Since I had to be on a telephone conference call this evening, Shirley said she would make the tart.

The tart was delicious and perfectly set after a few minutes cooling after being brought out from the oven after baking. I have had many savory tarts over the years but this was probably the most delicious one ever. Shirley's version of the recipe follows.

"Alsatian Onion Tart"
Makes 6 servings (the recipe in the magazine says it is for 4 persons)


600 grams (22 ounces) thinly sliced sweet onions
1 single pie/tart crust
150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) unsalted butter
3 large eggs, well beaten
25 cl (1 cup) crème fraîche
25 cl (1 cup) whole milk
45 grams (3 tablespoons) flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
50 grams (1/2 cup) grated Gruyere cheese
Nutmeg, salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make your favorite pie/tart dough and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Heat the butter and vegetable oil together till the butter is melted. Add the thinly sliced onions and sauté on medium/low heat for approximately 20 minutes. Don't let the onions color.

Mix in the flour and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the crème fraîche and whole milk. When its well mixed, stir in the 3 beaten eggs and 1/2 cup grated cheese.

Season the mixture with salt, pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg.

Roll out your chilled pastry and drape over a leak proof 24 cm (9 inch) quiche pan with removable bottom or spring form pan. Prick the dough with fork tongs.

Pour the onion mixture in the pan and bake for 30 minutes. It should be golden on top as shown in the picture above and pretty well set when you move the pan. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before removing the tart mold.

Note: Shirley prebaked her tart crust for a few minutes so the crust was nicely baked and slightly golden. The recipe in "Cuisine et Vins de France" does not call for this step.

This was really a fabulous recipe for a light supper. I recommend it highly. Serve with salad greens or vegetable Crudités like we did along with crusty baguette. Bon Appétit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and an Excellent Lunch at La Balade des Saveurs

Although we are back in Sablet and doing all kinds of fun things which I will share with you in later posts, I am going to tell you about a visit we made last spring with friend Kari to l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a very pretty and popular town for people who are into antiques.

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the literal translation is "Island on the Sorgue (River)," is a small town about 22 miles south of our home in Sablet that straddles five branches of the Sorgue River. As you can imagine, there is water pretty much at every turn.

The area was swampland in the 12th century when a handful of fisherman and their families built houses on stilts where the town now stands. The Sorgue River has been essential to this area's economy for centuries providing fish, water for crops and power for industries.

Le Bassin where the Sorgue River enters town and divides into branches

Canal waterwheels provided the power for silk, wool, rugs, dyeing, and paper-making industries making l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue the most important town of the Comtat-Venaissin, now known as the Vaucluse. It is said that at one time, there were approximately 70 waterwheels, only a few remain today.


As the town modernized, these industries disappeared and today the town's economy is driven by tourism and sales of brocante (second hand goods) and antiquaires (antiques).

Antique seller of treasures for the outdoors

Today, l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has the second largest concentration of antique dealers in France after the market in Saint-Ouen in the northern suburbs of Paris. Over 300 antique dealers exhibit in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on a permanent basis.

Shops along one of the canals of the Sorgue River

There are two international antique fairs held in 'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue every year - one at Easter and one on August 15 - when over 500 dealers come to town. On Sunday mornings, the permanent antique shops and antique villages are joined by sellers who set up stalls along the canals.

Statue of Alphonse Benoit and a canal of the Sorgue River

The town holds weekly Provençal markets on Thursday and Sunday mornings in the streets of the old town. On Sunday morning, the place becomes an orgy of antiques and bric-a-brac stalls, the one on Thursdays is more intimate.

Once a year on the 1st Sunday of August, there is a floating market. It starts at about 9 and ends at 12:30 PM. In addition to shopping for fruits and vegetables, you can enjoy ladies and gentlemen wearing traditional Provencal costumes and music.

Homes on one of the canals of the Sorgue River

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is fun to explore and it's interesting to check out the antiques even if you are not looking to furnish your home. Be forewarned, it's not cheap! Parking is a challenge almost anytime but especially on the weekend.

Colorful shop in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

There is no shortage of other tourist shops to wander in and out of during a visit to l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Flower shop in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

There are many waterside cafés and restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. The problem over the years as we have visited is finding one that serves good food. That is always a high priority for me.

Restaurant in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

In l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, there is one of 87 worldwide boutiques of Oliviers and Co. The company was founded on the question, "like wines from the most reputable vineyards, why can't superior olive oils be worthy of being recognized as grand cru?" The boutique sells 110 different olive oils.

Oliviers and Co Boutique

Another all things olive shop

The imposing Notre-Dame-des-Anges Church in the center of the "vieille ville" (old town) was a Collegial church in 1222. Rebuilt in the 17th century, three sides still show signs of its age; the front is refurbished, and includes a lovely clock showing the time, date and phases of the moon.

Notre-Dame-des-Anges Church

The church is surrounded by cafés and shops.

Cafes and shops near Notre-Dame-des-Anges Church

You have to make sure you look up on the buildings so you don't miss any of the unusual colors such as this shop with different colored shutters.

Fading paint on shutters of this bookstore

Brightly colored shop

Narrow streets crisscross the town.

Mother and children on way for lunch

The Sorgue River is never faraway. No matter what time of year you dip your toe into the river, it will always be 13 degrees C (55 degrees F), which is the temperature it shoots out of the earth in nearby Fontaine de Vaucluse.

Restaurants line the canals

Moss covered waterwheel

Shops and other businesses line the canals

Restaurants line the canals

After walking around l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and in and out of antique shops all morning, where to eat is the next thing to figure out. Actually, I had already decided before we left home where we were going to eat.

We have generally found that restaurants in the Vaucluse awarded Bib Gourmand by Michelin serve excellent food for a modest price and the recently released at the time 2014 Michelin Guide had awarded a Bib Gourmand to La Balade des Saveurs which sits along a canal on Quai Jean Jaurès.

Kari enjoying the spring weather in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

The La Balade des Saveurs Restaurant is owned by the chef Benjamin Fabre who is from l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and his wife Sophie who is from Belgium. At the time we were there, the Restaurant had been in business for three years. Madame Fabre told us they served wine from Sablet at their wedding. So I thought that had to be a good sign.

We chose starters and main course from the Menu de la Sorgue for 14.90 Euros and selected desserts from the a la carte menu.

Lentil soup with poached egg

Chevre breaded and fried with greens and lardons

Chevre breaded and fried with greens and vegetables

Kari and Shirley enjoying their wine and our table along the canal

Beef Shepard's pie with mustard sauce

Pan roasted cob over fried polenta with vegetables

Café Gourmand

Chocolate cake

Molten chocolate cake with ice cream

This is really a wonderful restaurant. Amid all of the restaurants serving expensive bad food and wine, this is a little haven of excellent food and hospitality in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I would recommend you reserve your table if you want to eat here.

More shops along a canal

La Balade des Saveurs
3 Quai Jean Jaurès
84800 L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Tel: 04 90 95 27 85