Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Visit to Lourmarin, One of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France"

As I told you in a previous email, we met cousin Annick in Lourmarin for a day devoted to visiting Luberon villages. Lourmarin is about 1 1/2 hours from Sablet and is classified as "one of the most beautiful villages in France."

Lourmarin is nestled in the middle of vineyards, olive groves and almond trees in a combe, or valley, which separates the Grand Luberon mountains from the Petit Luberon. On sunny days, its golden stone glows against a swathe of green, marshy land watered by the Aigues Brun brook.

In contrast to many other villages in Vaucluse, Lourmarin isn't a rugged perched village. It's just slightly hilly, with narrow cobblestone streets spiraling lazily up to the belfry at the top of the village.


Lourmarin, like much of Europe, was devastated by the Black Death plague epidemic in 1348 and left semi-deserted. The village's fortunes turned around a century later with the arrival of the powerful D'Agoult family who started building the Château de Lourmarin.

The Lourmarin Chateau was built by the Agoult family between 1479 and 1545 on the ruins of a 12th century fortress. The part of the chateau open to the public includes the furnished apartments and the library (with some 28000 books). The highlight is probably the magnificent stairway.

Lourmarin Castle

War Memorial at Eugene Bounot Square

The Three Mask Fountain by sculptor Louis Didron seen below. The three masks represent the Rhone River, the Durance River and Luberon Mountains.

The Three Mask Fountain

Lourmarin has an unusually large number of bars and restaurants, many of which - even more unusually - are open outside tourist season.

Cobblestone Street

Empty Café in the Early Morning

Cafés cluster around the place de l'Ormeau, pictured at the end of the street below. The small square is named after an elm which was planted there as a sort of "tree of liberty" in 1792 during the French Revolution. It had to be cut down in 1944 and was replaced by a fig tree (though the square was not renamed).

Cobblestone Street Leading Down to Ormeau Square

Lourmarin Door

Faded door in Lourmarin

Lourmarin Town Hall

The Church of Lourmarin, which is part of the Avignon Catholic Diocese, used to be dependent on the Priory of St Andrew in Villeneuve-les-Avignon in the XIth century. In those times, it was a Chapel with only two arches and no choir. This church, in which Romanesque and Gothic styles are both present, has gone through several restorations and additions.

The Church of Lourmarin

Fountain in front of the Church of Lourmarin

Lourmarin Fountain

Lourmarin Boutique

Annick and Shirley Receiving Aroma Therapy from the Huge Jasmine Bush

Lourmarin Fountain

Pretty Stone House in Lourmarin

Stone Arch Entry into Lourmarin House

Narrow Lourmarin Street

Stone Pigeon House

Wash House

The D'Agoults also repopulated Lourmarin by inviting a colony of Vaudois (Waldensians) from Piedmont in Northern Italy to settle in the village. This was a sect that had split from the Catholic Church, leading to its members' persecution.

Many were burned as heretics; many more fled to Provence, where the massacres nonetheless continued, notably in nearby Mérindol. Those who remained joined the Reformed Protestant movement in the 16th century and finally built their own Protestant church - sometimes referred to as a "temple" - in Lourmarin in the early 19th century (see below).

Saint-André and Saint-Trophime Church with the Lourmarin Castle in the Rear

Entry into Lourmarin House

Pottery Shop

Inside the Pottery Shop

Lourmarin Street

Lourmarin Cafe

Our day trips with Annick are always fun and informative. We will be back in Sablet in a few days and I look forward to new adventures.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger, an excellent restaurant just north of Orange.

As I told you before, we always find several occasions to meet up with cousins Jean Marc and Christine during our sojourns in Sablet. These get-together usually revolve around food; meals at home in Sablet, meals at their house in Clapiers or a restaurant in nearby Montpellier or dinner after they get off work in a restaurant somewhere between Sablet and Clapiers.

One evening last spring, we set a date to meet after work at a restaurant between Sablet and Clapiers. I was tasked with finding the restaurant, a task, you probably know, I relish. One of the first things I do when we get to Provence in the spring, is buy the latest edition of the "Bonne Petites Tables du Guide Michelin."

I immediately check to see which restaurants in our area have been added or dropped from the list of restaurants awarded Bib Gourmand, small charming restaurants offering exceptionally good food for a maximum price of 31 Euros for starter, main course and dessert. I had seen that one of the new additions was just outside of Orange.

The restaurant was open and I decided it would be a good place to meet as at Orange, the A7 tollway intersects with the A9 tollway which continues to western Provence, Nîmes, Montpellier all the way to the border of Spain while the A7 tollway continues south toward Avignon, Marseille and the heart of Provence.

Orange is about 25 minutes from Sablet and best known to wife Shirley and me as the exit off the A7 and A9 toward home to Sablet. Orange is also where our insurance agency is located and the Tresor Public where we pay taxes for our house. Orange is best known to most people for its Roman ruins, especially the Roman theater and the Triumphal Arch of Orange.

I sent a text message to Jean Marc and we agreed to meet at 20:00 (8:00 PM) at Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger just northwest of Orange. The restaurant is owned by Savoy native Alain Davi and his wife Sylvie who took over Le Mas d'Aigras in April 1999.

Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger

Le Mas d'Aigras is set in the middle of vineyards, 4 kms from Orange in a shady park-like area with 9 rooms and a pool and the restaurant La Table du Verger. The building originally housed a convent, then a farm, and a winery, before its current incarnation as hotel and restaurant.

Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger Dining Room

Before he and his wife established La Table du Verger, the chef trained with Philippe Million (Relais and Châteaux and 2 Michelin stars), then in Burgundy, at the Saint-Michel Abbey (2 Michelin stars), with Christophe Cussac. He then moved to Avignon, where he cooked at La Mirande Hotel (1 Michelin star) for 8 years, 2 of which he was Chef de Cuisine.

Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger Grounds

As I mentioned, Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger was awarded a Bib Gourmand by the

Michelin inspectors. This means that they offer exceptionally good food for a maximum price of 31 Euros for a starter, main course and dessert. So we all chose the Menu du Verger for 31 Euros.

To warm up our taste buds, the chef sent out some crudités, olives and gougères to nibble while we waited the arrival of our first courses.

Amuse Bouche

Pan-seared Duck Foie Gras

Millefeuille of Local Asparagus with Parmesan Tile and Cream of Tonka Beans

Fillet of Sar with Concasse of Fresh and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Monk Fish Medallions with Basil and Little Spring Vegetables

Fresh Goat Cheese and Salad Greens

Cousins Jean Marc and Christine

Shirley and me

Angelique's Lemon Cheesecake with Red Fruit Coulis

Strawberry Soup with White Cloud

Babas au Rhum and Pineapple compote

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Custard

The chef took our orders and served the food. He was very friendly and chatty and told us he prepared all of the sauces and his second assembles the plates. The food and service were excellent. The restaurant was not very busy that night in May. We will return. The location turned out to be even more convenient than originally thought as there is an entrance to the tollway less than 1 km away.

Le Mas d'Aigras and La Table du Verger
Chemin des Aigras
84100 ORANGE
Tel: 04 90 34 81 01

Have a great week. A bientot.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Vaugines, a Marcel Pagnol village and home to Peter Mayle

From Cucuron, Annick drove us a short distance west down a road through olive grove fields, vineyards, and oak forests to nearby Vaugines, a very old and isolated village situated at 1300 feet elevation on the southern side of the Luberon.


Vaugines is the setting for the famous French films "Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources", adapted from books written by Provencal author Marcel Pagnol. The film stars three of France's most prominent actors – Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, and Yves Montand in one of his last roles before his death.

The film takes place in rural Provence, where two local farmers scheme to trick a newcomer out of his newly inherited property. The film was shot, together with Manon des Sources, over a period of seven months. At the time the most expensive French film ever made, it was a great commercial and critical success.

Entrance to Vaugines

The church on the edge of Vaugines (below), was originally dedicated to Saint-Sauveur. It was built in the 11th century. From 1350 to 1450, France was hit by the plague, wars and famine and an almost 50% decrease in the French population. As a result, Vaugines and its church were abandoned.

Saint Barthelemy Church

It wasn't until 1470 that the village and the church were restored which then became Saint-Barthélemy. Beginning in 1630 and over the next 100 years, 5 successive side chapels were added giving the church its current structure.

Saint Barthelemy Church

Vaugines is also the village where the author Peter Mayle and his wife live after moving from Lourmarin a couple of years ago.

Canal outside Vaugines

Vaugines house and street

An old wall in Vaugines

The chapel/library below in Capello Place was built in 1873. In 1988, it was renovated and converted into a library.

Chapelle/Bibliothèque (chapel/library)

We came across several sundials in the village, including a triple sundial, for summer, winter and sun time. The triple is on the chapel/library building at Place Capello high in the village.

Triple Sundial

Stone step street and covered passageway

Pretty Vaugines house

Vaugines house

The ancient fountain in the main square of Vaugines

The Mairie with the clock and bell in the iron campanile seen below was built between 1845 and 1846.

Mairie (town hall)

The magnificent old house seen below known as La Commanderie was built in the 17th century by the descendants of Georges de Bouliers.

La Commanderie

Vaugines house and street

Vaugines house

Cherry Orchard

Saint Barthelemy Church

Cemetery next to old village church

Olive tree grove near old village church

As I have been writing this post, I have been watching the movie Jean de Fleurette...again. If you have not seen this charming and exceedingly well made movie, I recommend it to you. If you are in the Southern Luberon, I recommend you visit Vaugines. You might see some sights you recognize from the movie and you might even see Peter Mayle.

Have a great week. We are on the countdown till we leave for our fall sojourn to Sablet with our friends Steve and Mary. Can't wait. A bientot.