Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Walk through beautiful Grignan and lunch at Bistrot du Chapouton at La Ferme Chapouton

We have made several visits to Grignan in the Drôme Provençale, an area that falls between the Rhône River and the Alps north of the Vaucluse. A few weeks ago with friends Steve and Mary, we decided to go to Grignan, to try a new restaurant that was recently awarded a Bib Gourmand designation by Michelin.

Our route took us past olive groves and fields with row after row of lavender which one or two weeks earlier, must have been a sea of purple and buzzing honey bees. Grignan sits on a large rocky peak crowned by a huge castle, formerly owned by Adhémar de Monteil.

Construction of the Grignan castle which can be seen from quite a distance, began in the 12th century, but it wasn't until the 13th century that the Adhémar family expanded it to a huge fortress. In the 17th century, François Adhémar de Monteil transformed the fortress into a luxurious residence.

Grignan Castle in the distance beyond the cemetery

We usually find parking in the car park across the road from this pretty restaurant at Place de Castellane.

A pretty restaurant near the Grignan car park at Place de Castellane

Attractive shop display

Grignan became renowned in France during the 17th century when Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné, a French aristocrat, famous for writing letters, wrote about Grignan and the surrounding area in her letters; Most were written to her daughter Françoise, who was married to François Adhémar de Monteil, Comte (Count) de Grignan.

Madame de Sévigné caught a "fever" and died in April 1696 in Grignan and is buried in the Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church. She is revered in France as one of the great icons of French literature.

The fountain shown in the photograph below was built in 1840 at Place de l'Horloge in the center of Grignan. The statue of Madame de Sévigné was added to the fountain in 1857.

Fountain with Statue of Madame de Sévigné

The Hotel de Ville or town hall was built in 1857 in neo-classical style on the site of 16th century market halls and butcher shops.

Grignan Town Hall

Madame de Sévigné travelled three times to Grignan in order to spend time with her daughter and son-in-law: a 14-month stay beginning in 1672; another 14-month stay beginning in 1690 taken before a quick trip to Brittany; and a third stay of 22 months leading up to her death in 1696. Madame de Sévigné spent a little less than four years total in the part of France which filled so much of her heart and letters.

Place de l'Horloge

Tricot tower or belfry

We have dined at Le Poème de Grignan when we visited Grignan on previous occasions. While Le Poème is very charming and the food has been excellent, their outdoor dining space is limited to a couple of tables on the narrow street which runs in front of the restaurant, so I decided that since it was a beautiful day, we should try Bistrot du Chapouton since their website touted their terrace.

La Ferme Chapouton is located just outside of the village walls and offers a hotel and Bistrot with indoor and outdoor seating. They also have a gastronomic restaurant with 1 Michelin star called La Clair de la Plume located about 400 meters away from La Ferme in the village. Julien Allano, a native of Avignon, is the Chef de cuisine for Clair de la Plume and the Bistrot du Chapouton. The Clair de la Plume was awarded a Michelin star in 2015 and the Bistrot a Bib Gourmand in 2019.

Bistrot du Chapouton at La Ferme Chapouton

La Ferme Chapouton is located in a building dating from 1760. The hotel offers 9 rooms and a great view of the castle of Grignan and Mount Ventoux.

The entrance to Bistrot du Chapouton

We were seated at a terrace table just next to the large, grassy lawn. Everyone at our table decided to start with a house aperitifs, my selection is shown below. I don't like beer of any kind but nevertheless, I chose the aperitif with some white beer. While it wasn't bad, it wasn't my favorite of all time, by any means.

House aperitif with Cointreau, white beer and lemon syrup

The daily 3-course menu offered a choice of two starters, and two main courses. One of the choices for starter (entrée in French) is shown below.

Ceviche style marinated tuna, cucumber, celery, lemon and ginger with mustard greens

The other entrée was a really good tomato pineapple gazpacho.

Tomato pineapple gazpacho, served with creamy herb goat cheese made in Grignan

Since it was a beautiful day, and we were dining "en pleine air" (outside) as the French would say, we went with a local rosé. A tasty, light pink blend of Cinsault (60%), Grenache (30%), and Syrah (10%) produced by Domaine Rozel.

Domaine Rozel Insouciance Grignan-les-Adhémar Rosé 2017

The choices for main courses (plat in French) for the €32.50 three-course menu were Seared Tuna with eggplant and zucchini and the Supreme of Chicken shown below. I chose the chicken, which was perfect and the others chose the tuna.

Roast chicken breast with summer truffle sauce and vegetables

To complete our meal, the chef offered a selection of desserts including a cherry tart, strawberry tart, pana cotta with coconut, lemon mousse cake, and a selection of sorbets and ice creams. We went the light route in our opinions, and chose sorbets and ice cream.

The Grignan castle, which can be seen from the Bistrot du Chapouton terrace, was ruined in 1793 during the French revolution. It was rebuilt in the early 20th century by Madame Fontaine who spent her entire fortune restoring the castle to its former grandeur. The castle now belongs to the Department of the Drôme.

Grignan Castle in the distance over the umbrellas

In order to save steps for the others, I walked back across Grignan to the car park to get our car.

Grignan Street

Another view of Tricot Tower

The defensive walls of Grignan were built in the 13th century. The circular protective wall included a dozen defensive towers and six gates. The Tricot tower, also known as the belfry, with its arched passageway through the wall was extended upward in 1600 so the first public clock could be installed.

Tricot tower or belfry

Rue St. Louis

The Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church (Collegiate Church of the Holy Savior) seen below, is located under the castle terrace. The church was constructed between 1535 and 1539 at the request of Louis Adhémar. The Renaissance façade is flanked by two square towers and a beautiful Gothic rose window. Inside is an impressive 17th-century altar and organ loft. On the floor in front of the altar is a marble funerary stone marking the sealed entrance to the tomb of Madame de Sévigné.

Collegiate Church of the Holy Savior

The top of Grignan Castle from the Car Park

Bistrot du Chapouton at La Ferme Chapouton
200 Route de Montélimar
26230 Grignan
Tel: +33(0)4 75 00 01 01

Friday, August 16, 2019

Traditional Provencal Meal at Le Girocèdre in Puyméras

Puyméras is located just a few km northeast of Vaison-la-Romaine, so it is convenient for lunch after the Tuesday morning market and from our house in Sablet. Puyméras is a pretty, small village, at the northern tip of the Vaucluse near the border of the Department of the Drôme.

When you approach Puyméras coming from Vaison-la-Romaine, the village is visible on a rocky outcrop surrounded by beautiful countryside dotted with homes, vineyards and lavender fields. The appearance of a few olive trees and fruit trees among the vineyards is what remains of what used to be a diversified farming area which suffered a devastating frost in 1956 so mostly vineyards remain.


As I said, the village is small, the last census in 2017 showed there are 624 residents who live in the village. They are called Puymérassiennes (ladies of Puyméras) and Puymérassiens (men of Puyméras). The area has been settled since the end of the Upper Palaeolithic Era (Old Stone Age), more than 10,000 years ago.

The vineyards of the Puyméras appellation hop back and forth between Drôme and Vaucluse, the Puyméras wine-growing area extends over five different communes: Faucon, Puyméras itself, Saint Romain, Mérindol-les-Oliviers and Mollans-sur-Ouvèze.

There are 136 hectares (336 acres) planted with vines in the Côtes du Rhône Villages Puyméras AOC, they are 100% red. Granted Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC status in 1979, the vineyards were accorded full Côtes du Rhône Villages Puyméras appellation in 2005.

Saint-Michel et Saint-Barthélemy Church

There are quite a few very good restaurants near Sablet that we like a lot. We come to Puyméras to dine at Le Girocèdre, because they serve very traditional, in our opinion, Provençal food and there are always good vegetarian options for Shirley.

We usually find parking across the street from the village fountain and lavoir.

Shirley in the center of Puyméras

We walk a short distance up the hill as if we were heading up to Saint-Michel et Saint-Barthélemy Church, to reach the entrance to Le Girocèdre Restaurant.

Entrance to Le Girocèdre

Le Girocèdre restaurant is owned by the Trappo family. Father Roger, originally from Marseille, arrived in Puyméras in 1977. The name Girocèdre is a combination of 3 first names; his wife Gisèle, born about 9 kms away as the crow flies in Veaux, Roger and their son Cédric, who is a native of the area.

Le Girocèdre Terrace

A few weeks ago, we went to Le Girocèdre with friends Steve and Mary and Windsor neighbor Taylor. The restaurant is always busy, so reservations are recommended.

Tables on the terrace are situated under shady trees and umbrellas between bushes that break up the dining area.

Shirley and Taylor at Le Girocèdre

We were seated and took up the task of selecting a nice bottle of wine to accompany our lunch. Although, with the heat, rosé wine might have been a better choice, we are all lovers of red wine so we chose a bottle of 2016 Domaine Alary Cairanne, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan.

2016 Domaine Alary Cairanne

Le Girocèdre offers a 3-course menu for 29 Euros (currently $32.00). You can see our choices in the photographs that follow.

Salad with Bruschetta of Zucchini, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Perorino Pepato, Lonzo, and Pistou

Leg of Lamb with Ratatouille and Spelt topped with Chevre

Grilled Tuna with Ratatouille and Spelt

Apricot Crumble and Vanilla Ice Cream

Caramel Ice Cream with Biscotti

Molten Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Ice Cream

The restaurant is usually open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday through Sunday, from around the middle of March. As I said previously, reservations are recommended. I also recommend you call to check on whether they are open after the 1st of October, because we have found they close for several months during the off season.

Le Girocèdre
4 montée du Portalet
84110 Puyméras
Tél: +33 (0)4 90 46 50 67

Saturday, August 3, 2019

We Made New Friends and in the Process, we Unraveled the Mystery of Sablet House

Some of you have stayed one or more times at our home in Sablet, in the South of France, or walked past our house when you visited our pretty village. Maybe like Shirley and me, you looked up and saw the stone plate on the wall and wondered whose name is engraved into the stone that you see from the terrace and street below.

Sablet House at Dusk

Over the years, we have learned that our house most likely dates from around 1600 and that the name engraved into the stone seen below, Ausonio Urban, is the name of the stone mason who restored the house most recently. That is all we have been able to learn until a few weeks ago.

Stone Plate on Wall of Sablet House

Close-up of Stone Plate on Wall of Sablet House with Name of Stone Mason

We arrived in Sablet a few weeks ago after an 11-hour flight from San Francisco followed by a 3-hour ride on the TGV train from Paris to Avignon. Too late in the day to shop, too tired anyway, we opted to dine at Bistrot des Copains in the center of Sablet. You can read about our meal on Sablet House Facebook page.

Bistrot des Copains in Sablet

We had a delicious 3-course meal prepared by Chef Melissa (there's a whole another story about how she ended up in Sablet) accompanied by a well-made, tasty 2016 Paul Roumanille Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet red wine (see below).

We liked the wine so much that we decided with friends Steve and Mary, that we would find Mr. Roumanille's winery and see if we could taste wines at his "cave". I had never heard of the winery or Mr. Roumanille, so I asked Bruno, the charming owner of Café des Sports and Bistrot des Copains, where it was located?

2016 Paul Roumanille Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet Rouge

Bruno said, the Paul Roumanille winery was located just before the turn off for the lake of Sablet that I told you about here. We found the winery easily, just off the D69 between Sablet and Rasteau. There, we encountered a very friendly and charming gentleman who welcomed our group into his modest "cave".

During the process of tasting his excellent wines, we learned that Paul is the 4th generation of the family to grow grapes and make wine at this location. He said he is semi-retired and unfortunately, he does not have children who wish to take over the winery. He has a daughter and no sons and the daughter has no interest in continuing the family wine business.

Before long, as usually happens, he asked where we were from? I told him California and our friends, Michigan, but we own a home in Sablet. He perked up and asked where? I described the location and he seemed a little puzzled, so I pulled out my mobile phone and showed him a picture of the Sablet house.

Paul Roumanille

He immediately responded, "I know this house." He continued on to say he drove his tractor and wagon filled with stones, to the house for the mason, Mr. Urban, for rebuilding the house. It turns out, Mr Urban is his neighbor and friend.

Paul said that if we wanted to meet Mr. Urban, we should call the night before and he would get Mr. Urban to the "cave". He said I should use the password "Californie Michel" anytime I called so he would know who was calling.

As circumstances so happened, we ran into Mr. Roumanille and his wife, Francoise several times during the week, including the "Fête des Vins" (wine festival) of Sablet and another time when we were dining again at the Café des Sports and Bistrot des Copains. He stopped at our table and pointed to where they were dining with friends and invited us to come to their home after dinner for some champagne.

That would have been a treat, but it was already late, so after we paid our "addition" (bill), we went to their table to give our regrets, but he wouldn't hear of it, insisted we sit with them and have some wine at least. One wine led to more wine, let's just say we had a great time.

I should mention Mr. Roumanille is a very thoughtful gentleman; telling me several times to speak in English (he and his wife don't speak English but their friends from Germany spoke very good English) so Shirley could understand some of the conversation, which of course made Mr. Roumanille a hero in Shirley's eyes.

The next week, we were honored by a visit from our neighbor's son Taylor, who is working on a Master's degree in Nottingham, England, and playing Lacrosse for the British national team. Taylor wants to work in the wine industry and will be working through a harvest at a winery in England this September.

We had decided it would be nice for Taylor to taste wines at some of our favorite wineries in the Côtes du Rhône, including Domaine de Mourchon in Séguret and Domaine de la Charbonnière in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We decided it would be interesting for him to taste at Paul Roumanille winery and see how wines were made in the "old" days.

We went to the Paul Roumanille winery at the appointed hour with friends Steve and Mary and neighbor Taylor.

Taylor Harrison in the cellar at Paul Roumanille Winery

Shortly after we arrived, Mr Urban walked into the "cave", short in stature but well dressed and very friendly. We immediately learned from Paul Roumanille, that Mr Urban is quite the lady's man and he loves good whisky.

Besides that, we learned Mr Urban's family were nobles in the Austria-Hungarian empire but had to flee after a family member went against the monarchy. They landed in Venice, Italy, before Mr Urban and other members of his family moved-on to Sablet.

He said at the time he started the reconstruction of our house, it had totally fallen in and was just ruins. He began to rebuild the house in 1977 and it took 12 years to finish. He believes the house dates back at least 100 years earlier than what we have been led to believe, putting the house's origins closer to 1500 than 1600.

One of the most interesting things we learned was the caves under our house (a clean up project I hope to undertake at some point), were connected to caves under neighboring homes through a network of tunnels. The locals would travel to their neighbors through the tunnels rather than on the street. The entrance to the network of tunnels was near the fountain and lavoir between our house and Festival Boulangerie.

Shirley Augsburger and Me with Ausonio Urban at Domaine Paul Roumanille

Meeting Paul Roumanille and Mr. Urban was among the highlights of our sojourn in Sablet. We extended an invitation to the two of them along with Mrs. Roumanille, to come to our home for dinner when we return to Sablet. They both said they would be happy to come. I promised that I would bring Mr Urban a bottle(s) of some very good Whisky/Bourbon. I know nothing about whiskey, so need suggestions of what to buy him.

If you want to taste wines with a charming Provencal winemaker, we encourage you to go taste at Paul Roumanille winery. The wine we loved was only 9.50 Euros a bottle. Where in the US, can you buy an outstanding wine for 9.50 Euros?

Paul Roumanille Winery
220 Route de Rasteau
84110 Sablet
Tel: 04 90 46 92 26