Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday morning at the market in Vaison-la-Romaine

Tuesday mornings you will find us at the weekly outdoor market in the center of Vaison-la-Romaine, a short (6 mile) drive from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River. The town is divided by the River into two parts; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank is the Medieval town with castle ruins at the highest point which you can see from far away.

The two parts of Vaison-la-Romaine are connected by a single-arched Roman bridge over the Ouvèze river. The bridge was originally erected in 149 BC, and is the oldest surviving Roman bridge. It is still in use after some 2000 years despite taking a hit from a German bomb during WWII and a flash flood from a monsoon storm in September 1992 that killed 32 people.

Roman Bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine

The weekly market is a kaleidoscope of colors and smells of Provence with up to 450 vendors in the summer (pottery, arts and crafts, food stalls of all kinds, local fruits and vegetables, linens, soap, regional specialties, clothing) and spreads out over Place Montfort, the main square in the center of town and nearby streets including Avenue du Général de Gaulle seen below. The market is is an ancient tradition dating all the way back to 1483.

Avenue du Général de Gaulle

One of the best things about owning or renting a house or apartment in Provence, in my opinion, is the chance to cook with some of the amazing produce, seafood, cheese and meats you find at the various weekly markets as you travel around Provence. And let me tell you, the weekly market in Vaison-la-Romaine is one of the biggest and best.

By contrast when you stay in a hotel or similar accommodation, you will walk through the markets, and look, sniff and drool about the possibilities that lie before you on those artfully displayed tables. You will undoubtedly buy a few things for a snack or picnic, but you won't have the enjoyment that comes from a home-cooked meal on your terrace made with ingredients you bought at that's morning market.

Heirloom Tomatoes

We try to get to the market shortly after 8:30 in the morning. Yes, I know it is early to be out and about while you are on vacation. But listen to me, it will be much easier to find parking. By 10:00, it will be difficult to find any parking, let alone a convenient spot close to the market area.

Also, by 10:00, the streets will be crowded with people trying to make their way through the market and it's not so much fun in my opinion. So we get through the market and retire to one of the cafes that line Place Montfort for a petit cafe or cold beverage, hopefully with friends.

We usually park near Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth Cathedral and walk up to the market past the Roman ruins or up Avenue Jules Ferry so I can get cash out of an ATM machine. You need Euros at the market as the vendors don't usually take credit cards. Shirley and I go our separate ways when we get up to the market, Shirley to look for clothes and souvenirs and me to the food aisles, basket in hand.

I rarely go with a shopping list or menu in mind but rather I'm guided by what looks the best that morning. I do a complete walk through the food aisles without buying anything and then make a return trip, stopping to buy from the sellers whose wares had caught my eye. I will admit that after doing this a number of times now, I know pretty much where I am going to buy before we get to the market.

Mounds of Radish

Check out the pictures that follow and see if by the end of this post if you are not thinking about what you would like to prepare for dinner if you had been at the market with me last month. Try to ignore this crowd of locals who are looking quite suspiciously at this guy taking pictures of their olive oil.

Local Olive Oil

Bananas (I'm sure they are not local)

Dry Sausages

An Artful Display of Purple Artichokes

Green and White Asparagus

Assorted Olives and Spreads for Aperitifs

Local Strawberries from Carpentras

A Basket of Eggs

A Pile of Mesclun Greens for Salad

Artisanal Nougat

Haricots Verts, English Peas, and Snow Peas

Locally Made Jams


A variety of Radish or Turnips

Bins of Every Kind of Spice You Can Imagine

A Variety of Beautiful Vegetables

A Basket of Sun Dried Tomatoes

Fresh Fish of Every Kind

Our Friend Bruce Conversing with the Fish Seller 

An Artful Display of Fresh Fruits


Hats of Every Color

Weaved Baskets


Table Linens

Market Baskets of All Colors and Shapes

Shoppers on Avenue du Général de Gaulle

Decorations Around the Entrance to a House near the Roman Ruins

The Path Along the Roman Ruins

A Field of Coquelicots with the Cathedral Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth in the Background

You have seen a small sample of the offerings from the sellers back in May. I know the market has grown considerably as we head into July. So if you are in the area, I hope you are lodged somewhere where you can take advantage of all the amazing food on sale on Tuesday mornings at the market in Vaison-la-Romaine.

A bientôt friends.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Brantes, One of Rick Steve's Top Ten Provencal Towns and Villages

We make a conscious effort to visit new villages, eat at restaurants and taste at wineries we have not been to before so I have new material for readers of "Our House in Provence" blog. I get ideas from reading other blogs, talking to Sablet friends and French relatives and from guide books.

Among the guide books I check out, are those blue and yellow books authored by Rick Steve's. Although I have a collection of his books, I am not a big fan. After buying each new edition of his Provence book for quite a few years, I have concluded that he does very little research for new editions, so his information is not always up to date.

One morning last month, I was flipping through guide books when I came across a list of "Top Ten Provencal Towns and Villages" in "Provence and The French Riviera" by Rick Steve's. We had been to all of the towns and villages on his list except for Brantes, which he described as "a spectacularly situated cliff village with little tourism."

I Googled and found that Brantes was not far from Sablet (37 km), so off we went. We discovered that Brantes is a very small village (population 81) that lies on the northern border of the Department of Vaucluse at the border of the Drôme at the foot of Mont Ventoux, overlooking the Toulourenc Valley.

Mont Ventoux

Saint Jean Baptiste Chapel seen below, sits in the middle of the village cemetery and dates from the 12th century. It was the first church in Brantes.

Saint Jean Baptiste Chapel

Interior of Saint Jean Baptiste Chapel

Saint Jean Baptiste Chapel

Family plot in the cemetery near Saint Jean Baptiste Chapel


Brantes is nestled on the flank of the mountain and is full of old stone houses, narrow lanes, cobblestone streets, and vaulted passageways.


The first mention of Brantes is in 1163 under the name "Brantule" and in 1254 under "de Brantulis." During the War of Religion (1562 -1598), the village was occupied by Protestants (Huguenots). In 1697, the village is purchased by Pierre du Blanc, Lord of Buisson who held it till 1790. The population declined until the end of the 20th century, when the inhabitants set about restoring Brantes.


The Town Hall of Brantes seen below is situated a little over 1500 feet elevation. The top of Brantes is over 6,000 feet elevation.

Town Hall and Fortified Gate into Brantes

Vaulted Passageway

Bell Tower of Saint Sidoine Church

The stone Chapel of the White Penitents which dates from 1705, today serves as an exhibition hall for the "Friends of Brantes."

Chapel of the White Penitents

The fountain seen below is one of several that run in the village which villagers depended on as water was not installed in Brantes' homes until 1958.

Water fountain

Rick Steves was right; there are not a lot of tourists so therefore not a lot of tourists shops or cafes to be found in Brantes. One of the few shops that exists sells faience made on site. If you don't know like me, faience is the name for fine tin-glazed pottery on a delicate pale buff earthenware body.

A Faience Workshop in Brantes

Saint Sidoine Church seen below, was built in 1684 upon the ruins of Saint Elzéar Church which itself was built at the end of the 1300s at the location where an old hospice once stood.

Saint Sidoine Church

Saint Sidoine Church Bell Tower

The interior of Saint Sidoine Church is decorated with a "trompe l'oeil," a style of painting intended to give a convincing illusion of reality. It was restored in 1989.

Interior of Saint Sidoine Church

We stopped in at La Poterne, a combination of café, gallery, and concert hall in the middle of Brantes with excellent views of Mont Ventoux and the Toulourenc Valley.

La Poterne Café

Shirley takes a break to enjoy the beautiful views from the café

View from Café

Flowers alongside a path in Brantes

It was spring, and many flowers were in bloom.

Yellow roses alongside a path in Brantes

The Toulourenc Valley lies on the north side of Mont Ventoux, and is an oasis of cool fresh water and nature, thanks to the Toulourenc River which flows 30 km before joining the Ouveze river outside of Vaison la Romaine. We were told that the Toulourenc Valley is full of little creeks and springs which are great for swimming during the summer heat.

View of the Toulourenc Valley

Ruins of the Brantes Castle

A Brantes house with a sign saying they sell honey from Ventoux

Irises in bloom in Brantes

Pansies in a pot

Chapel of the White Penitents and Iron Cross

Entrance to a house in ruins

I don't think we would say Brantes is one of our top ten towns and villages of Provence. But having said that, it is definitely worth a drive out through the Toulourenc Valley to walk through Brantes. It might be good if you go to the Vaison-la-Romaine market on Tuesday morning, drive out to Brantes after lunch, as this would be a perfect afternoon outing.

Have a great week. Chat soon.