Thursday, January 21, 2016

Return to Uzès, the first Duché of France

There are towns and villages we happily visit time and again which is good because our friends are getting to know the Vaucluse and surrounding area almost as well as we do. So it was an easy decision last fall to drive to Uzès; we love the town and Steve and Mary had not been there.

Uzès is a well-preserved medieval town in the Gard department on a promontory above the Alzon River. The old town is encircled by boulevards shaded by plane trees that have replaced the medieval defensive walls. Inside, there is a maze of small streets and shaded squares lined with beautiful old houses and mansions from the 17th and 18th century.

Street to center of old Uzès

Uzès is near the Eure springs which was the source of water for the Roman aqueduct built in the first century BC, to supply water to the town of Nîmes, 25 kms away. The most famous stretch of the aqueduct is the Pont du Gard, which carried fresh water across the Gardon River.

A medieval cobblestone street in the heart of Uzès old town

In the mid-16th century many citizens of Uzès were Calvinist and the town was the 5th largest Protestant town in the kingdom. Religious wars resulted in the destruction of all the churches and of the temple that Uzès had at the time. In 1685, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes caused many to leave for Protestant countries in Europe, or their colonies.

Bishop Tower (clock tower)

Starting in the 15th century, Uzès produced woolen, twill and cloth, then stockings and finally silk, until mulberry tree disease deprived the town of its textile industry, which gave work to 2000 people. This decline took the town with it, despite the development of the pottery industry and the licorice factory at the end of the 19th century.

L'atelier des Ours (the bear's workshop)

In the 20th century, Uzès gained a new lease on life when its town center was classified as a “protected zone” in January 1965. Ever since, Uzès has been upgrading and improving the town: roads have been paved, electricity cables hidden, facades renovated and the “protected zone” has been enlarged from 29 acres in 1965 to 101 acres today.

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

As you wander around the center of Uzès, keep your eye out for the Hôtel Dampmartin with its tower with a staircase seen below, built in the 16th century on Place Dampmartin.

Hôtel Dampmartin

Uzès arcade

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

Pottery shop

The old town is effectively a car-free zone. You walk everywhere because you have to, it is easy, and there is a lot to see.

Bishop Tower (clock tower)

The Uzès Town Hall seen below was built in the 18th century between 1767 and 1773.

Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)

Duché coat of arms

Olive tree growing next to Duché castle wall

The Duché is the defensive feudal castle standing in the center of Uzès old town. The castle was never attacked or damaged and is in very good condition. Uzès is the "First Duchy of France", France's oldest and most-important ducal peerage. Uzès was made a Duché in 1565. The current owner of the castle, Jacques de Crussol, is the 17th Duke of Uzès.

He grew up in the castle but these days, he actually lives in Paris but makes a point of coming to Uzès once a month, and spends most of the summer at the castle. Just like the Queen of England, his family’s flag flies over the castle when he is in residence.

Duché Palace with Vicomté Tower (King's tower/Royal tower) on left and Bermonde Tower (castle keep) on right;

The Bermonde tower is the Duché's keep, built in the 11th century by Bermond 1st. The corner watch towers were added during a restoration in the 15th century. You can visit the castle and climb to the top of the Bermonde Tower (135 steps) for a wonderful view of Uzès.

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

The castle is a harmonious blend of architecture from different periods of French history: it features thousand-year old caves, feudal towers, ramparts, a Renaissance façade featuring Ionic, Doric and Corinthian elements, and an 18th-century façade. The castle’s apartments house fascinating collections of furniture.

Place aux Herbes

The Uzès market is held all year long on Saturday mornings and Wednesday mornings on the Place aux Herbes in the old town. With its fountain, arcades and terrace cafés, it is a great place to shop and visit and pause for a café or leisurely terrace lunch. Parts of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu were shot here.

One of the arcades which line Place aux Herbes

Terrace café on the Place aux Herbes

If you like beautiful ceramic pieces and happen to pass the shop below, you should go in and check out the ceramics by Swiss born and educated Heidi Caillard. Her beautiful guinea fowl figurines which you will find in our home in Sablet are her most famous works.

Lussan ceramic shop in the center of Uzès

Street in center of Uzès

Uzès cobblestone street

The 12th-century Bishop's tower was the seat of the bishop's temporal powers, used as a tribunal and prison. This tall, square tower is topped by an octagonal clock tower and belfry, added in the 19th century.

Bishop Tower (clock tower)

Bermonde Tower (castle keep)

Pretty Uzès shop

Uzès passageway

The Saint-Théodorit Cathedral seen below, was formerly a Catholic cathedral, but is now a parish church, named in honor of Saint Theodoritus. It was the seat of the Bishops of Uzès until the diocese was abolished under the Concordat of 1801 and its territory passed to the Diocese of Avignon.

The cathedral was destroyed during the Albigensian Crusades, rebuilt, and destroyed again in the 16th century Wars of Religion and rebuilt again in the 17th century before it was gutted during the French Revolution. In the 19th century, a new west front was added.

Saint-Théodorit Cathedral and Fenestrelle Tower

The Fenestrelle Tower avoided destruction in 1621 and is the only part of the cathedral which survives from the Medieval structure. The tower is built in the style of the Medieval Italian Lombard towers, and is the unique example in France of a round clock tower.

The Fenestrelle Tower

Saint-Étienne Church, the belfry can be seen below, was built between 1763 and 1775 on the location of an ancient church that was destroyed during the Wars of Religion.

Clock and belfry on top of the St-Etienne church tower

Cobblestone street to center of Uzès with Bermonde Tower in background

The Georges Borias Museum, the entrance is seen blow, is a museum of history, archeology and local traditions, located in the old Bishop's Palace, next to Saint-Théodorit Cathedral and the Fenestrelle Tower.

Georges Borias Museum next to Saint-Théodorit Cathedral and the Fenestrelle Tower

By the end of the day, we had walked all around Uzès, found a nice restaurant for lunch, where we were introduced to a stunning rosé wine, ending up going to the winery that crafted the aforementioned wine, so we could buy some to take home. All of which I will tell you about in the next post.

Here in Northern California, we are finally getting some significant rain giving hope that our four-year drought might come to an end soon. We feel blessed to have the rain but I hope it is sunny where you are. Have a great weekend. À bientôt.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Swordfish with Tomato Caper Butter Sauce

I am going off topic this evening and share a fabulous recipe with you. As some of you know, it has been exactly one year since we closed our beloved Bistro des Copains in West Sonoma County, California. It was a labor of love for almost 9 years, not much profit, but it gave us a chance to share our love of great food, especially French food, and wine with lots of appreciative guests.

When I get to missing our food and friends at Bistro des Copains, we invite neighbors, some friends, or the kids who are always happy to eat Dad's food, head to the kitchen and set about fixing something fantastic to enjoy with a great bottle of wine or two.

As I have shared here before, I have a library with a collection of several hundred cookbooks, which continues to grow. So if I need some inspiration for my menu, it's not hard to find a new dish to prepare. Occasionally, I try to bake or make a dessert, but not very often.

Back in October, cousins Jean Marc and Christine came for dinner in Sablet and brought along an apple tarte tatin that she finished baking in our oven. I have had tarte tatins before, but never this good. So ever since, Shirley and I have been talking about trying to make an apple tarte tatin.

So last weekend, I decided to try my hand at apple tarte tatin. I looked through a bunch of cookbooks for apple tarte tatin recipes and decided to try the one in Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. The result is below and it was very good, good enough that I will serve it to guests.

Apple Tarte Tatin

This morning as Shirley and I were drinking petit cafés before I left for work, she said she preferred to eat dinner at home tonight, something simple, maybe fish. So during the course of the day, I thought about what I would cook for dinner. By the time I got home, I had decided to do a variation of a dish I have prepared before with swordfish. The result is below.

Swordfish with Tomato Caper Butter Sauce

The resulting dish was as I said at the beginning of this post, fabulous. One of the best fish preparations I have tasted at home or in a restaurant. The dish would be equally appropriate for a menu here or in Provence. We can prepare it anytime as we have these ingredients on hand pretty much all the time except for swordfish. So here's the recipe.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1 cup cherry tomato halves. Recommend mixture of colors.
1/2 cup dry white wine. Recommend Sauvignon Blanc
2 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 tablespoons chilled diced unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste
4 (7 or 8 ounces) portions Swordfish (Shirley prefers them about 3/4 inches thick)

Directions for Tomato Caper Butter Sauce

1. Heat an 8-10 inch sauté pan over medium heat and add olive oil.

2. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and garlic and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring often for 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Add wine and deglaze pan and reduce until almost evaporated.

5. Add the capers and lemon juice.

6. Add butter pieces, a few at a time, until fully incorporated.

7. Add the chives.

8. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat until Swordfish is cooked.

Directions for Swordfish

1. Heat 12 inch cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

2. Season Swordfish with salt and pepper.

3. When olive oil is hot, add Swordfish and sear for 3 minutes.

4. Turn fish over and cook on the other side for 3 more minutes.

5. Place on plates and spoon sauce over fish so it falls on plate.

The recipe serves four. Since there was only Shirley and I, we served ourselves very generous portions of this fabulous sauce.

The sauce was delicious with Swordfish but if you prefer, it would go equally well with Halibut or True Cod fillets. We served the fish with roasted red potatoes and broccolini, and of course a glass of Sonoma County Pinot Noir.

I hope you will try this recipe. Let me know what you think. Bon Appétit.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What a great day, wine tasting, a leisurely alfresco lunch, and a visit to Carpentras,

We always devote at least 1/2 day to shopping for kid's clothes for our precious grandkids. Shirley's favorite shops for kids are in the town of Carpentras, which is about 12 miles from Sablet. As we chatted one morning about going to Carpentras, it came out that friends Steve and Mary do not like driving around Carpentras so avoid going there.

I will admit we have made wrong turns more than a few times trying to leave Carpentras to return home or crossing town to get to the other side to go to Venasque. But after a fair amount of trial and error, I think we have it figured out.

As we were late getting started that day, we decided stores would be closed for lunch by the time we got to Carpentras, so we should do a quick tasting at a winery on the way and then have lunch in Carpentras. By then stores would be opened and Shirley could shop to her heart's content.

Since Steve and Mary introduced us to Domaine de Coyeux, a winery located high above Beaumes de Venise near the top of the Dentelles de Montmirail, that I told you about here, I decided to introduce them to Domaine de Durban, another Beaumes-de-Venise winery.

Domaine de Durban and its vineyards sit on a picturesque plateau in the Vaucluse, sheltered by the Dentelles de Montmirail, where the Gigondas and Beaumes-de-Venise appelations meet just above the village of Beaumes-de-Venise.

Domaine de Durban

The scenic views make you pause as you consider that wine has been part of the culture here for hundreds of years and ancient philosopher Pliny the Elder was the first person known to praise the Muscat from this place. During the Middle Ages, Domaine de Durban was a fortified farm, which it has been since 1159.

Panoramic View from Domaine de Durban

Jacques Leydier bought the property in the 1960s when the farm had fallen into disrepair. Today, his grandsons, Henri who is in charge of the cellar and Philippe who takes care of the vines, run the domaine.

Tasting Room and Cave at Domaine de Durban

The Leydiers farm fifty-five hectares of vineyards for Gigondas (6 hectares), a Beaumes-de-Venise Rouge (21 hectares), and by all accounts, the most celebrated Muscat (25 hectares) in the Beaumes-de-Venise appellation. The vines are all 35 years of age and over.

Friend Steve in Tasting Room at Domaine de Durban

Pine trees protect the area from the Mistral winds. The soils are rich and deep, a mixture of clay-limestone (60%) and Trias (40%), lending finesse and freshness to the wines. The vineyards high altitude means a slightly cooler microclimate with strong sun exposure, a blessing the Leydiers credit for the amazing consistency their wines enjoy year after year.

View of Dentelles de Montmirail from Domaine Durban

After we finished tasting the wines, bought a few bottles, and admired the views a final time, we loaded up into the car, and headed down the hill and on the road to Carpentras.

Carpentras sits along the banks of the Auzon River. As capital of the Comtat Venaissin, it was often the residence of the Avignon popes; the Papal States retained possession of the Venaissin until the French Revolution. Nowadays, Carpentras is a commercial center for Comtat Venaissin and is famous for the black truffle market held from winter to early spring.

Our go to restaurant in Carpentras is Chez Serge Restaurant which is located on the ring road near Allée des Platanes. The Restaurant has been owned by Serge Ghoukassian since 1987. We usually order from the 3-course "La Formule du Midi" selections which are presented on l’ardoise (slate) for 17 Euros.

Friends Steve and Mary at Chez Serge

Shirley at Chez Serge

Potato Leek Soup

Chèvre Chaud Salad

Roast Veal with Wild Rice and Vegetables

Fillet of Lieu with mashed potatoes and vegetables with beurre blanc sauce

Crème Caramel Renversée

Faiselle with Red Fruit Sauce

After a very tasty lunch accompanied by a chilled bottle of Domaine de Fondrèche Rosé, Shirley headed off to shop and I to wander around the center of Carpentras seeing the sights and taking pictures of whatever caught my eye.

Several chapels can be seen as you walk through the streets of Carpentras, evidence of the many religious orders and congregations which thrived in Carpentras during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The chapel seen below was built by the brotherhood of the black Penitents between 1738 and 1741. The building, has a single nave and side chapels located between the buttresses that support the nave. Outside the apse and side walls are included in buildings that adjoin the chapel.

The Black Penitents Chapel

The 28 foot Roman arch in Carpentras is the only remaining testimony to the Roman period. It was built in the 1st century AD under Emperor Augustus to commemorate the Roman victory over the Barbarians. The single arch is decorated with sculpted figures representing chained prisoners on its lateral sides.

Roman Arch in Carpentras

In the center of Carpentras is Saint-Siffrein Cathedral which was built on the ruins of a Roman church. The cathedral was constructed in Gothic style by order of Pope Benedict XIII. The work lasted for more then a century, from 1404 to 1519. One of the cathedral's most unusual features is the south doorway known as the Porte Juive (Jews' Gate). This ornate Gothic doorway was designed as an entrance for Jews who wished to be baptized.

Saint-Siffrein Cathedral

In 1792, the first Carmélite convent established in 1627 was pillaged and closed (A second convent was built in a new location and operated until it was permanently closed in 2008). The door of the original convent seen below was miraculously saved and incorporated into the north wall of the Palace of Justice in 1930.

Door of the Old Carmelite Convent

Saint Siffrein Cathedral, named after the Bishop, patron of Carpentras in the 7th century, is an example of southern Gothic architecture, characterized by unified space and strong wall space. It is the biggest church in the Dioceses: 190 feet long, a 138 foot long nave with six ribbed bays. The cathedral was built on top of two previous churches, and vestiges of the 13th century Romanesque church can be seen on the northern side of the apse.

The interior of the cathedral testifies to the great artistic fervor during the papal presence in the Comtat Venaissin. Painted panels of the Crowning of the Virgin, 15th century stained glass windows, precious marble Genoan altarpieces, gilded wood sculptures by the Bernus family, outstanding wrought iron work by the Mille family, paintings signed by G.E. Grève, N. Mignard, E. Parrocel and Carpentras artist J.S. Duplessis.

The Roman Arch next to Saint-Siffrein Cathedral at Place d'Inguimbert

Boyer Passage, also known as "rue vitrée" (glass-roofed street), is a covered passage built in 1848 by the unemployed put to work by the Ateliers Nationaux (National Workshops). The street was built to connect the little Halles and the market.

The Boyer Passage

The Synagogue was built in 1367 and restored in the 18th century. It is the oldest active synagogue in France. It stands as testimony to the Jewish community which sought pontifical protection after being persecuted in the Kingdom of France, and settled here in the Comtat Venaissin in the 13th century.

The discreet façade dates from 1909. The prayer room has an 18th century Baroque décor, with pillars and faux marble. The ground floor holds the oldest parts of the building, the ritual baths and 2 bakeries, one reserved for daily bread, the other for the preparation of the unleavened bread, and a room dedicated to Jerusalem within the prayer space.

The Synagogue of Carpentras

The town of Carpentras has a long history connected with agriculture and has been an important place of trading since Greek times and served as a grain station for the Gallo-Romans. The Town Hall is one of the center pieces of the old town and was built with the significant finances that the public purses had gained through being such a prominent part of the agriculture industry for so long.

Market day in Carpentras is Friday and takes place at Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, which was the center of the Jewish community until the 19th century, when the houses were cleared away to make way for this large open square.

Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) of Carpentras

On the north side of Carpentras stands the last vestige of the 14th century ramparts, the Porte d'Orange, the Orange entrance. seen below was originally part of a defensive wall with 32 round and semi-round towers. This last tower stands proud and tall at 78 feet high. The Orange entrance was saved from destruction during a major urban renewal project which took place in the late 19th century.

Porte d'Orange (Orange Entrance)

Oh by the way, the best way to get out of Carpentras back to Sablet is to make a sharp hairpin right turn at the light by the Porte d'Orange and go down the hill and follow the signs for the D7 toward Aubignan.

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. We wish you and yours a very Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year. I appreciate the comments on the blog or emails I get from you telling me you are enjoying my pictures and ramblings about our life in Provence. It makes the effort all worthwhile. A bientot.

Chez Serge
Rue Cottier
84200 Carpentras
Tel: 04 90 63 21 24