Provence, June 2009 Archives

June 6, 2009

Paris and Ansouis

Arrived in Ansouis earlier today after five of us enjoyed 4 days in Paris, then a trip back to CDG early Saturday morning to meet the 6th member of our group. Several glances and comments in Paris because of the make-up of our group - myself and 4, now 5, women. In Paris we got around on the Batobus (a big hit) and Metro, used a Museum Pass to visit the Musee d'Orsay, Louvre, Saint Chapelle, Arc de Triomphe, Picasso Museum and the 4 women went out to Versailles, while I spent time on my own in Paris. The Concergerie was closed and we ran out of time to visit other Museum attractions. The first morning, I took our group to the Trocadero Metro stop & enjoyed their reaction when they came around the corner and got their first view of the Eiffel Tower.

Funniest line so far - We we on the second level of the Eiffel Tower enjoying the views of Paris. I pointed in the direction of the Trocadero & commented that was where we were earlier. One member, who shall remain nameless, said, "But where's the Eiffel Tower?"

Dinner at Le Florimond was a big hit with the group - Chez Nenesse and La Fountaine Gourmand were also very good, but Le Bistrot du 7ieme at La Tour Maubourg, highly recommended by an acquaintance before we left Canada, was a big disappointment.

Took the TGV from CDG to Avignon, arriving at 11:45am. I hurried over to the Europcar office & arrived first in line - recommend the practice - the lineup has taken an hour or more in the past. I'm driving a Ford Galaxy 7-passenger mini-van - a tight squeeze for the six of us with our luggage - not much storage space at the back. We each have one piece of luggage and an open bag as our carry-on on the plane - pack light in a group. Our Mapquest directions to Ansouis were a bit confusing and dead wrong in at least one instance, but fortunately I was familiar with the area & made it to the house, avoiding the A7 completely by 1:30pm.

NICE HOUSE!! - pics & details to follow later.

Ansouis is a perched village at the eastern end of the Luberon about 25 minutes from Aix and only a short drive to the attractive villages of Lourmarin & Cucuron. The nearest larger town is Pertuis. Around 3:00 we drove over to the HyperU (known locally as HyperTensionU) supermarket in Pertuis, after making a shopping list - very busy spot, but then again it was Saturday afternoon. Dinner was pork chops & salad from HyperU with bread and dessert from the bakery a few seconds from our kitchen door. I told "Laurice" (sp) at the bakery that we would be there every day. "Moi aussi" she replied.

Oh yes, we also had some wine.

We plan to be out and about the region every day, returning to our house for dinner - with maybe 4-5 restaurant meals in the evening. Sunday is market day in Ansouis - as it is in Coustellet and L'Isle sur la Sorgue. I have prepared an itinerary for the first week - see how it goes. I'll try to add to this blog each day. I'll be back.

June 7, 2009

To Market, To Market

Breakfast on the patio with expresso, drip coffee, yoghurt, cereal and six croissants from the boulangerie next door - and a warm greeting from Ladys (corrected spelling from yesterday)

Off to Coustellet, a bit after 9:00am - through Lourmarin, up to and away from Bonnieux - arriving shortly after 10:00am - to buy supplies for this evening's dinner and beyond. I like the market at Coustellet a lot - fresh market food, most of it directly from the producer. Purchases included 2 poulets fermier, cerises, a variety of saucissons, fresh veggies and potatoes, and a personal favourite -tapenade - both verte and noire. I also purchased a straw bag - my third in the same number of visits from the same seller - nice guy. I am still using the first one I purchased back in 2005, but I figure you can never have too many good shopping bags. Am I right or am I right? Would someone please explain to BW? I have been cut off. I know the same vendor is over at Nyons later in the week - don't think we'll make it there - might have to sneak another purchase next Sunday in Coustellet - then give it to one of my "lady friends" to smuggle home to Canada - figure I can sneak it into the house when BW is out.

At 11:30am over to the well-known Sunday market at L'Isle sur la Sorge. Some "experts" say it's a must to arrive early to get parking. My take is a bit different - arrive around noon and you might have a 5-minute walk to the market - but, so what? Prices at L'Isle sur la Sorge are noticeably higher than at Coustellet - my take is about 50% - but I don't know the economics of the two markets. Bought some picodons.

Backtracked from L'Isle sur la Sorge, ending up at Lacoste and a very refreshing pause at Bar de l'Europe, with great views over the valley to Bonnieux and a walk up the village to the remains of the chateau of the Marquis de Sade.

Home to Chez Westfield - aka Chez Barbara - in Ansouis by 4:00pm, to much acclaim from all concerned. Dinner included fresh asparagus soup, salad, chicken, and a variety of cheeses - accompanied by an adequate supply of wine.

Life is good.

June 8, 2009

If it's Monday, it must mean wine.

"Bonjour, Ladys" at the boulangerie next door at 8:00am. The boulangerie is open from 7:00am to 12:30pm, then again from 4-7pm. In the morning there is a steady stream of customers - appears to be the best time of day for business. I bought our daily loaf along with breakfast croissants, because by mid-afternoon there is little left to choose from. Notice I did not say I bought our daily baguette in the previous sentence - because I usually don't buy the stick of bread above that label at the bakery. Instead I opt for un restaurant - a broader, more substantial piece of bread. I'll check on what else is available and get back to you.

Mondays are pretty quiet in the Luberon - most stores are closed unless there is a market in the village/town. BUT the wineries are open - so my plan was to do a wine tour of about 4-5 properties - I hadn't quite figured out how to combine the tastings with driving. I know there are containers to spit out the wine - but get serious. Who's going to NOT swallow an enjoyable mouthful of wine.

Our two most proximate Luberon villages of some repute are Lourmarin and Cucuron. We have driven through, by and around Lourmarin several times in our first couple of days - will stop in shorly, but not today. Instead I started our day by paying a brief visit to the sleepy village of Cucuron - with its distinctive etang (pond) that featured in A Good Year. Cucuron has always appeared to be a very quiet village, with not much to recommend it, but today as we walked around the village & up the hill to the church, I noticed a few artisan shops and at least two apparently good restaurants - one of which I hope to patronize during the rest of our stay here. Ansouis has one very good restaurant - La Closerie - only about a minute walk from our door. It enjoys an very good reputation and is reputed to be a favourite of Peter Mayle. We haven't decided whether or not to go there - opinion seems to favour the non side at present.

A longer stay in Cucuron that anticipated. There's a great story involving the plague that took over 900 lives many centuries ago, a community prayer and pledge to honour somebody if the plague would abate, and now a yearly ritual in which about a long tree trunk is carried up the hill by many men each year and mounted in front of the church. I'm not a big fan of churches - once you've seen one, you have seen a lot of churches - but at least the church in Cucuron comes with a good story - and a tree trunk stuck in the ground out front - not something you see every day.

Off to Chateau Val Joanis, arriving after 11:00am. Val Joanis is by far the largest wine operation in our part of the south of France - the drive from the road into the retail side of the business takes a few minutes past fields of grape vines. Val Joanis is the only wine from this region that I have seen for sale in Ontario - and only at the Vintages store on Rideau Street in Ottawa. While the wines at Chateau Val Joanis were only OK - the reds are a bit harsh for our taste and likely need some aging, we ended up buying a few bottles of different white wines, some mustard and a 50cl bottle of olive oil - a main attraction of the property are the extensive and beautiful gardens behind the retail cave. We have been here once previously, in September when the gardens were past their prime. This time we are here before the peak - but still quite impressive. Worth a visit.

We're "dining in" again this evening - only need some salad vegetables. On leaving Chateau Val Joanis we head over to Cadenet, hoping to catch the end of the weekly Monday market. Too late - we arrived as the last of the venors were packing up their trucks - but we saw a small store on a nearby street with boxes of fruit & vegetables out front. A minor exchange - buying some lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and a bit of cheese - made very enjoyable by the friendly helpful manner of the owner - who appeared delighted to help us and explain the virtues of his products and prices.

Over to Bonnieux, always a busy spot - but much less so today. And I've noticed the traffic on the roads is quite light, in comparison to our other visits to the Luberon. In one pottery & jewelry store, the owner explained that the effects of the recession have had quite an impact on tourism in general and his business in particular. After a couple of hours in Bonnieux, we drove down to Le Pont Julien, a still-standing triple-span bridge from Roman times. There were at least two class visits when we were there and we we treated to a wonderful site - about 70-80 young students bicycling across the bridge - video to follow.

As we drove back in the direction of Bonnieux, we stopped at Chateau La Canorgue, the main setting for A Good Year. By chance, we had first visited the winery when the movie was being made back in September 2005 - and today was our 2nd visit since then. The movie has obviously been very good for Chateau La Canorgue. While we were the sole visitors on arrival, at least 4 other cars pulled into the parking lot when we were there, Souvenirs of the film are on the wall and tables and even in the wine available - one is called "Le Coin Perdu" - but the wines of Chateau La Canorgue enjoyed a good reputation in the the region before the film, and they continue to produce good products. A visit to Chateau La Canorgue is restricted to the retail cave where of course sampling is encouraged, but there is a sign reminding visitors that visits to the Chateau are not permitted. I suppose I wouldn't want strangers tromping through my house either.

After 4:00pm when we left Chateau La Canorgue - back to Chez Barbara by 5 - wine and cheese on the upstairs terrace and dinner at 7:30.

A good day.

June 9, 2009

Off to Aix

Rain in the night, a cloudy sky in the morning. AND much more noise on a daily basis than we are used to, living in a rural area in Eastern Ontario surrounded by a dairy farm. The traffic noise starts around 6:00am and the church bells chime in at 7:00 - almost like Paris, but I suppose I shouldn't comment - after all we're in the south of France.

We have decided to go to Aix today. We like Aix a lot, especially on a market day - Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We followed the back route recommended by Bob & Sue Winn in Provence Byways - buy it - the booklet is worth the price for this tip alone. Arrived shortly after 10:00am - I had talked my companions into a seafood dinner with purchases from the Aix market - parked at Parking Picasso on the top level & made our way through the market squares to the Cours Mirabeau - bought some Michelin maps for next year's trip to either Corsica or the Dordogne - maps that seemed so out of reach and expensive at home are at arm's length and inexpensive here in the south of France. We strolled along this most beautiful street, stopping at the Librairie de Provence bookstore, where we met up with an ex-pat Canadian from Vancouver who has relocated to a small village near Mont Sainte Victoire. She and her husband and son have been here for a year - love the life, despite the bureaucracy, and recommended an English-language bookstore - the Book and Bar, just off the Cours Mirabeau - great place! - more complete description to follow.

Lunch at Le Grillion on Cours Mirabeau - very busy compared to most other places on Cours Mirabeau, since they offer a light lunch - a salad and a beer, for example - compared to the formule offerings at many other restaurants. Even the venerable Les Deux Garcons had many empty tables at lunch.

My plan was to make our way back to the market area and make some seafood purchases that we had agreed upon on the way down. BUT I had thought the market closed at 2:00pm - wrong again. It closes at 1:00pm. We arrived back in the market just as the last trucks were pulling away and the municipal workers were hosing down the squares. Lesson learned - make your purchases early at the markets.

Back to Ansouis and over to the HyperU at Pertuis to buy meat and veggies for supper.

"Bonjour Ladys" at the boulangerie next door at 4:30pm, where I bought dessert - une tarte almandine - a big hit later with my female companions.

On Skype to make reservations over in Lourmarin tomorrow for dinner and to talk to my brother up in Chateauneuf de Mazenc. Rain at 6:30 - dinner at 7:00pm.

And, oh yes, some wine.

An early evening.

June 10, 2009

About Skype

We are using Skype to phone home to Canada and make calls around the south of France. Skype was originally a computer-to-computer voice and video means of communicating, but now it is possible to connect with a landline or mobile phone. While computer-to-computer calling is free, calling a landline or cell phone is quite inexpensive. Our calls back to Canada cost 2.4 cents a minute. I opened an account with Skype before we left - minimum deposit was $CDN14.00 - we've made about 30 calls so far - still over $8.00 in the account. I chose an option that tops up my account when the balance drops below $3.00.

The computer at our rental has the Skype program loaded on a laptop and headphones are available. I just log into my account and either click on a pre-loaded number add a new number and save it.

How good is Skype as a communications option for Slow Travelers?

It's GREAT!!!

Etang de la Bonde, Gordes, Abbaye de Senanque, Roussillon

"Bonjour Ladys" at 7:45am as I ordered six croissants.

Off before 9:00am with the intention of visiting Gordes and Roussillon, two of the most popular villages perché in the Luberon. But first a short drive over to Etang de la Bonde, a large pond or small lake (take your pick) - very quiet at this time of day, but worth a visit later in our stay if we decide not to travel very far afield. A drive through a few unfamiliar villages over to Cucuron and then on to Gordes via Bonnieux. The most impressive aspect of Gordes is its dramatic setting as you approach the village - the commercial area is dominated by tourist shops and some artist and craft boutiques. Parking in Gordes was plentiful and we only saw one tour group near the end of our visit.

While we have been to Gordes several times, we have never visited the nearby Abbaye de Senanque, so I turned right on leaving the village and drove along a narrow road with dramatic views down into the valley until we reached the abbey. I thought it was good for a quick visit, then hop back in the van and move on. Instead we were there for almost two hours, listening to the church bells pealing (short video to follow) and even sitting in on a mass and being greeted by the Cistercian monks whose home we were visiting. A highlight of our trip so far.

Then off on some back roads in the direction of Roussillon. Shortly after driving throught the village of Murs, and past groves of cherry trees loaded with fruit we pulled of the road and examined a well-preserved shepherd's hut, a borie - pics to follow.

On to Roussillon with its ochre quarries, many shops and excellent photo opportunities. We paused for a drink before most of us toured the dramatic remains of the ochre industry, following which we walked to the top of the village, past the church where there was a funeral service in progress. We visited a few stores on our way through the town, the most memorable of which was the studio of Francoise Valenti. The artist was behind the counter wrapping a painting for shipment and greeted two of our group who entered the studio very warmly. She was extremely pleasant, even when it was obvious she wasn't going to make a sale of one of her original excellent works of art. When we made a purchase of a couple of prints she graciously offered to sign each one individually. I walked out of the store leaving behind a book I had been reading. When I realized it was missing, I returned to her store - but it was empty and there was no sign of my book. Where else had I been?, I thought, as I turned a corner, then heard "Monsieur, Monsieur". It was Francoise with my book. She had hurried to the nearest parking lot trying to return my book. A very nice lady, as well as an excellent artist. If you visit Roussillon, drop into her store - but be sure to go Monday to Friday. Her store is closed on weekends when she paints in the region en plein air.

Back in Ansouis by 5:30 - a long and enjoyable day when nothing much had been planned - highlighted by a few unexpected sights and sounds and a short visit with an artist that will remain a fond memory of Roussillon.

Over to Lourmarin and our 8:00pm dinner reservations a L'Oustalet restaurant. While our meal was OK, the setting outside under a plane tree, our waitress, the large party of locals at a long table behind us and the 3 hours we spent there made it a very pleasant evening.

Up early tomorrow - off to the Drome.

June 11, 2009

Into the Drome and back home - riders, riders everywhere

Away before 8:00am to visit my brother & sister-in-law at Chateauneuf de Mazenc in Drôme Provence. I always like to visit with my brother and besides I left 4 bottles of wine at his yearly rental, when I spent two weeks there last June - see TR 1532: A Traveller in the Drome. Over to Cavallion and a diesel fill-up at the Auchan supermarket (gas stations at supermarkets tend to have the best prices), then onto the A7 up to Bollène and over to Vinsorbes passing by vast fields of grape vines. We are in the Côtes du Rhône wine region. At Vinsorbes we stopped for coffee before proceeding along a wonderful lavender route, first recommended by Susan Jones, and over to Valréas; then on to Grignan and a visit to the highlights of the town including the chateau. Over to Chateauneuf de Mazenc by 12:30 and a lunch prepared by my Ron and Mary Jane. In addition to the 8 of us, Ulrike, the owner of Ron's rental and a friend to both joined us for a wonderful meal of lamb, carrots, potatoes, salad, three kinds of rosé wine and a dessert. While my brother got most of the credit, I strongly suspect that my sister-in-law had a lot to do with the success of our lunch.

Following a too-brief visit we made our way back, stopping at nearby Le Poet Laval for a shopping fix, then proceeding through the familiar towns of Dieulefit, Nyons and Vaison-la-Romaine before taking a wrong turn going through Carpentras, as usual. Carpentras is a community in need of several roundabouts. A back street course correction brought us on the right road to Cavaillon and back to Ansouis shortly after 7:00 pm. A long day.

It is quite common see cyclists, both locals and tourists - indeed cyclying holidays are an obviously significant part of the tourism industry here in Provence. They may be traveling singly, in pairs - usually husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend and often speaking Dutch - or most commonly in small groups - many are kitted out in spandex and on expensive bikes. However, today was exceptional. In addition to the usual groups we encountered two additional classes of riders.

We saw several large - 50-80 at a time - groups of schoolchildren out for what was obviously a long ride - a support vehicle at the rear of the train advising traffic of the group ahead, several adults riding with the group and another support vehicle along the route. The kids were having a great time. I suspect it was some end-of-year activity, a reward for the long 8-to-5 days in classes.

In the area in and around Carpentras we saw what looked to be at least two professional racing teams out in force. I'm not sure if there was any organized activity going on, although we did pass by a large cluster of people waiting expectantly on a street in downtown Carpentras, or if they were just out practicing for next month's Tour de France. The 2nd last day of the tour starts in Montelimar and ends atop Mt. Ventoux, so perhaps Carpentras is on the route. I definitely recognised a team car for the Tour team of euskaltel-euskadi. It passed us twice (also got turned around on the streets in Carpentras) and they were in a hurry.

I estimate that we saw well in excess of 500 cylcists today.

I skimmed over an article in the paper today that a multi-stage bike tour is currently underway for a select group of prisoners. Giving prison inmates a fast bike and then setting them off on the winding roads of the French countryside? Only in France.

Cycling is at least as much a part of the national consciousness in France as hockey is in Canada. I suspect it is even more important. Whereas hockey is mainly a spectator sport for almost all of us over a very young age, cycling appears to be a much more participatory activity here in France. Good for them.

June 12, 2009

Summer arrives in the Luberon

We had ideal weather during our four days in Paris - warm yet moderate temperatures, sunny days with some cloud cover and not a drop of rain, despite the forecasts of miserable weather before we left Canada. On our way down to Avignon on Saturday on the TGV, the sky was dark part of the way and we drove through some showers - but no rain and pleasant weather in Avignon. Most of our first few days, there were morning clouds which gave way to bright sunny skies. In the nights there have been winds strong enough to rattle the window shutters. On Monday we drove through a brief rainshower on our way back from Aix.

The last two days the skies have been cloudless all day, the wind has abated to a welcome gentle breeze, the temperature is warm early in the day and positively hot by noon and beyond.

Another sign of the change of seasons is seen in the roadside stands offering fresh local fruit and vegetables. We saw our first sign for cerisis on Tuesday near a roundabout outside Cadenet, but by yesterday signs offering local produce are a common sight - every few kilometers in some areas. Besides cherries we have options to buy abricots, melons de Cavaillon, haricots vert, patates, courgettes, laitue, oignons, l'ail and more.

Summer is here.

A quiet day in Ansouis

We have had busy days since arriving in Paris 10 days ago - and yesterday's drive back meant for an early night. We have dinner reservations over in Bonnieux this evening, the temperature is hot, the skies cloudless and the breezes non-existent. Some of us went for an early morning walk down the hill and outside the village to get a good vantage point for some photos of the village. We spend most the morning chez Barbara, a few steps across the street at the Bar des Sports, or on a short walk up the hill to the base of the chateau. Shortly before noon we visit the boulangerie - "Bonjour Ladys" - and the small Vival store a few steps away - a recent addition to the village - and make some purchases to complete our lunch of bread, tapenade, cheese and fruit.

After a quiet afternoon marked by another walk around the village and a chat with an elderly villageur who has lived in Hamilton Ontario and fought in the Vietnam War when he lived in the U.S. He was quite proud of the health care he receives in France - there is a hospital in Pertuis and three in Aix, where he recently received a knee replacement.

At 5:30 we headed out for the evening. Our dinner reservations are not until 8:00pm, but I wanted to show our friends a special site. We drove almost to Bonnieux, then turned right and drove along the top of a ridge over to Saignon, where we walked up to the top of the Rocher de Bellevue and it's spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding area, including Apt spread out over the valley below. Before leaving Saignon we stopped for an apéritif at a table near the the picturesque fountain in front of L'Auberge du Presbytere.

Back over to Bonnieux for our dinner reservations at L'Arôme - a favourite restaurant of my wife. We all enjoyed an excellent meal in a beautiful setting with friendly and attentive service. Our experience stretched over 3 hours and it was after 11:30pm when we arrived back at Ansouis.

A quiet day and a memorable evening. Another excellent day in the south of France.

June 13, 2009

Oddest behaviour

I am traveling with 5 women, my wife and 4 friends. There have been many comments over the past year-and-a-bit about how it would work out - "harem" usually figuring in somewhere. We do attract some notice and comments when we go out to eat, but the oddest thing I've noticed is the behaviour of my female companions.

It started in Montreal, just after we cleared security at Dorval. We were walking along the concourse in the direction of our departure gate when I realized I was walking alone. My companions had all detoured into the alcohol section of the Duty-Free shop. They each had to pick up a bottle of liquour, saving a few bucks in the process. The fact that we were going to be spending the next 18 days in France, hardly known as an alcohol-free zone, didn't matter. They all had to take a bottle of their favourite Canadian booze to the land of great and numerous wines.

AND the first time we went "food" shopping over in Pertuis, as soon as we walked through the door of the HyperU, one of the group asked, "Where's the vodka?"

I'm not making this up.


Turning Water into Wine - About Group Finances on the Road

We are staying in a large house in a small village. We eat most of our meals in - so we do a lot of food shopping in markets with the occasional run over to a nearby HyperU in Pertuis or the Auchan supermarket in Cavaillon about 20 minutes away. We started out by putting some money in the "pot" and buying from it, but now we keep track of our individual "group" purchases. We have a treasurer whose job it is to keep track of all our expenditures and bring each of us more or less in line with the group. "Doug, you're falling a bit behind. Can you give me 10 Euros?"

We have a Kitchen Rule for wine. Any wine left in the vicinity of the kitchen is Community Property. If you bought some wine for yourself, keep it in your room.
"Has anybody seen my bottle of white wine that I bought at Chateau La Canorgue? I brought it down to chill while I was out for my walk."
"Oh, we drank it while you were out. It was in the fridge."
Tough, but Kitchen Rule applies.

However, a can of beer in the fridge is regarded as Private Property.
"Carol, can I borrow a can of Heineken. I'll pay you back when we go to the HyperU."
"OK, Liz, but I'll need it back by Tuesday. I'm running low."

Allocating expenses on l'addition at a restaurant is usually a simple matter for a couple of reasons. First, all taxes and service charges are included in the price on the menu - no need of a calculator to determine the tip. Also, most restaurants offer a fixed price menu - so we only have to divvy up the liquid portion of the bill. However last evening, it got a bit more complicated. There were 2 fixed price menus - 4 ordered from one, and one from the other. The 6th person ordered à la carte. We ordered two bottles of mineral water and two different priced wines. Two of us had expresso at the end. The problem came with deciding the wine costs - 5 of us had a glass from one bottle, while only 4 drank from the second bottle. I suggested we allocate wine "shares", similar to the scene in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when the group is trying to decide how to divide up Smiler Grogan's loot when they find it. However, we were getting down to trying to divide small numbers among 6 people. At one point, trying to be helpful, I suggested, "If we turn the water into wine, it might work."

Time to give up and go home.

Saint Paul-de-Mausole et Les Baux

Another hot day. Off before 9:00 am, over to Cavaillon, across the Durance River, along the marvellous plane-tree shaded roads to St. Remy - birthplace of Nostradamus - and beyond.

I hadn't told our companions much about today's excursion until I pulled off to the right at the Roman monuments outside Glanum (parking €2). When we were here four years ago, we admired the Roman arch & mausoleum and were about to enter the main site across the road - but it was closing.

"How was it?" I asked a guy making his way out of the Roman archaeological site.

"Not bad," he replied, "really, just a bunch of stones. But that place was pretty interesting," indicating a cluster of buildings on the left, with an entrance about a hundred yards away. With no additional information, we entered the world of Vincent Van Gogh and the hospital where he lived for a year shortly before his suicide in July 1890. I have never forgotten that experience, and tried to re-create it for our friends.

"Does anybody have any idea where we're going?" I asked.

"Looks like a hospital." somebody said.

"Why are we going here?"

"Does it have anything to do with Van Gogh? There are copies of some of his paintings in front of this grove of olives. Hey, the grove looks like his painting!"

I like visiting Saint Paul-de-Mausole. I have likely never had an original artistic impulse in my life, but I think I can better understand and appreciate the talent and torment that enveloped the short life of Vincent Van Gogh by seeing his hospital room and walking around the grounds where he spent a major portion of his productive life.

We passed on Glanum. Maybe it's of interest to some, but not to us.

Off to Les Baux, where we encountered our first large crowds of our time in the south of France. Another hit with the group - a couple of hours on top of the rock outcropping, followed by some SHOPPING!

As we were handing back our audio guides, one of the group asked about getting une pression - some French words are easy to learn for some reason. I suggested we drive over to Maussane-les-Alpilles, a few kilometers down the road and enjoy a relaxing glass of draft beer on a square under a canopy of plane trees. The most attractive young woman collecting the audio guides said, "Une bonne idée!" And off we went.

Back home in the late afternoon, after stopping at the Auchan supermarket in Cavaillon, our local supermarket on our previous visits to the Luberon, for "Happy Hour(s)" and an excellent meal prepared by one of our own.

June 14, 2009

Crisis in Ansouis!

The bakery opens at 7:00am six days a week and 7:30am on Sunday morning. It is 7:50am today and the interior of the bakery is dark and the door locked. A small cluster of unhappy people are gathered outside waiting for the door to open.

There was a large party somewhere in Ansouis last evening that went on well past 1:30am. Speculation is that Ladys was at the party.

Crisis update

The boulangerie opened shortly after 8:00am, BUT there was no bread. And it seems almost certain that Ladys was at the party.

About shutters

All the exterior doors and windows in our house in Ansouis have wooden shutters. But, whereas shutters in most houses in my experience in North America are merely decorative, here in Ansouis and elsewhere in the towns and villages in the area the shutters are fully functional and an important part of the house security and temperature control system. By custom the shutters on the ground floor are closed by 8:00pm (a heads-up from the owner of the house), and they must be closed when we go out for the day. Most of the shutters lock from the inside. The shutters on the kitchen door lock from the outside.

The shutters on the wide front door area are two 4-fold affairs that tuck away into a box at each side. The boxes each have a door that shuts and is basically held closed by a large stone at the base.

The window and kitchen door shutters fold back againt the outside wall and are held in place by a metal "arrow" that pivots on a bolt. This morning we noticed that three of the "arrows" are missing, victims of the party that ran late into Saturday night.

I understand that the shutters are traditional and important, but I don't like them. The interior of the house is usually very dark. I am accustomed to doors and, especially windows, that let in light.

Coustellet, L'Abbaye de St Hilaire, L'Abbaye de Silvacane, Buoux

The most pleasant part of recent days in the Luberon are the early mornings. Cloudless skies, light breezes, quiet village and deserted streets. A beautiful start to our last Sunday - but one which promises another hot day.

In theory, I support the local economy - the tabac, the boulangerie, the Bar des Sports, Vidal - and opinion is tilting in favour of La Closerie restaurant in our remaining days in Ansouis.

We wanted to re-visit Coustellet. I think it's the best market for our type of visit I've ever been to - but I was interested in seeing what the Sunday market in Ansouis had to offer. Not much as it turned out - just getting set up as we drove by at 8:30am. Arrived on Coustellet shortly after 9:00am before the heat of the day kicked in and parking was plentiful.

Another excellent experience at the Coustellet market before heading over to Lacoste and a relaxing expresso and "cinq Monacos" at the Bar de Europe, followed by a visit to L'Abbaye St. Hilaire, our nearby previous gîte rental, Menerbes, L'Abbaye de Silvacane - another Cistercian Abbey just across the Durance from Cadenet (parking €2, entrance 6€50 - OUCH! - only some of us paid to enter) before arriving back in Ansouis by 2:00pm.

Off again by 3:00pm - attracted by a large number of cars to stop at Lourmarin - nothing special seemed to be going on - the pretty village is just a magnet on a Sunday afternoon with all the restaurants and stores open for business. Over to Buoux, to see why a lot of people like it. Beats me - "scenic", aka treacherous, drive and not much there.

Another evening in - and a trip to the Med. planned for tomorrow.

We have begun to talk about going home.

June 15, 2009

About parking

Our house rental in Ansouis includes a garage - actually a rather large garage, but the wide doors open inward, as I presume most doors do in these small villages with narrow streets. We are driving around the south of France in a 7-passenger Ford Galaxy mini-van - no way we can get it in the garage & close the doors. We thought about it & even tried to re-arrange the interior until the futility of our quest set in. So we park in the public square beside the Bar des Sports and opposite the Mairie (Town Hall is the best translation, I think). Occasionally, we have had to park along the street below the square. At first, I was a bit concerned as we arrived back in the village about whether or not I would find a parking space - but I'm not bothered any more. Things work out, as they seem to do in France most of the time.

However, security is an issue. We are always being warned not to leave anything of value in the vehicle - in the emails from the owner, signage wherever we go, or helpful service people everywhere. If one of my companions says that she is going to leave something of value in the van, I say, "Well, I wouldn't do it." - and out it goes. I am uncertain if these dire warnings are a preventative measure (hopefully) or reflect rampant vandalism.

Expect to pay for parking in most of the larger communities or popular tourist sites - Aix, Gordes, Roussillon, Avignon, Arles, Nimes, Pont du Gard, Cassis, etc. It can either be a flat rate or an hourly charge, but figure on about one Euro per hour.

Free parking is usually available in the smaller towns and villages - Bonnieux, Lacoste, Lourmarin, Cucuron, Ansouis, etc. Sometimes availability is an issue, but this year not so much as in our previous visits.

On market days, parking is free in most places, except the larger communitues, e.g. Aix - but be sure not to block anybody's garage or laneway. And you might have a fair hike to the market. When we were at the market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue, I arrived back at the meeting place several minutes early. I decided to walk to the van, turn it around and move the vehicle a bit closer, since the market was starting to break up. When I found an empty spot, I quickly turned in, not noticing that a cyclist was close behind. As he passed, he directed a few comments at me. I didn't need a dictionary to sense that he was not pleased. However, as a final gesture of goodwill, he waved at me. Well, actually it was a partial wave. He only managed to raise one finger - but I know he meant well.

A day on the Mediterranean, fields of sunflowers and camels in the south of France

Still no bread or croissants in the boulangerie. I think there is a mechanical problem - hope it gets fixed soon. We fall into new patterns quite easily - and an early morning walk almost next door for some warm croissant is most enjoyable.

Originally we had intended to drive down to Cassis a few days ago, but our plans got pushed back to today - and we are beginning to run out of time. Off before 8:30 over to Pertuis and down by Aix, arriving at Cassis around 10:00am. After parking on the street we walked down to the quayside, paused for a drink, walked around the pretty seaside town and took a tour of the calanques at 11:30am. This was our 2nd time on the boat tour - another enjoyable experience and this time we saw several rock climbers. The tour was followed by another pause and some shopping.

On our way back we missed the turn north at Aix - no problem for me, as the drive down was in the morning rush hour and was a bit stressful. We turned off at Salon de Provence and made our way back towards Rognes and the bridge over the Durance at Cadenet. In the area around Lambesc we came upon a remarkable sight - fields and fields of sunflowers just before their peak - almost worth a return visit to catch them in all their glory.

On a couple of previous occasions my companions have reported seeing two camels in a large field just before Villelaure on the way back to Ansouis. I was a bit skeptical until today - saw them in all their glory.

Happy Hour started with Monacos - beer, lemonade and grenadine at the Bar des Sports opposite - the bar features new tables and orange chairs, a colour matched by the shirt of JJ, the somewhat diffident owner.

Dinner over in Cucuron at Restaurant de l'Horloge - a memorable evening and the best dining experience of the trip. Review to follow on Slow Travel.


Funniest line of the day -

"Are you taking that tray to the terrace, Donna?"

"No, it's going to the second bar."

June 16, 2009

How smart am I?

OK, here's an insight on how smart I am sometimes.

When we go out for the day, I try to travel as light as possible. No wallet, for example. I put my money & important cards in a pouch which I keep in a secure place. A couple of days ago I realized that one of the "important cards" I carried with me at all times did NOT include my driver's license.

Note to Paul Krugman, New York Times

Hi Paul,

I read your columns and blog almost every day - figure you keep track of me, too. Remember when I said last week that the slumping economy was hurting tourism in Provence - plenty of parking, empty tables in restaurants, merchants bemoaning their fate?

Well, I take it back. Lots of cars on the roads - really adds to the thrill of driving up to Bonnieux, if you know what I mean. Parking lots are full in Gordes and cars are pulled over for about half a mile on either side of Lourmarin. I don't know what you wrote last week - I'm on vacation, after all - but it sure seems to be working over here.

Now, if Obama will just tell the health insurance companies where to go, maybe it will get so busy over here that we can all go to New York for a rest.


La Tour d'Aigues, Gordes, Lioux, Apt, Chateau Turcan

We are a few miles from the town of La Tour d'Aigues, a community with a most interesting history, dominated by the partially-restored ruins of a château. Tuesday is market day in La Tour d'Aigues. I recall reading about it in Markets of Provence by Ruthanne & Dixon Long - so off we went. What a pleasant surprise!

It is by far the most authentic French market we have visited in our 4 trips in the south of France. It is a reasonable size, spread out over a square adjacent to the château. It is a local market. One of my companions identified some of the differences between this market & the other ones we have visited.

1. We were the only Anglophones at the market. We stuck out like the proverbial sore thumbs.

2. Almost everybody else was better dressed than we were.

3. There was a lot of social interaction.

4. Most people had a small cart for their purchases.

Plus, it is in a unique setting. If you are in the area of La Tour d'Aigues on a Tuesday, GO THERE!

We dropped off our purchases of paella, cabillaud, tapenade, veggies in Ansouis before heading over to Gordes for one of our party buy something seen on our previous visit. I didn't realize that Tuesday was also market day in Gordes - a striking contrast to our earlier experience in La Tour d"Aigues. If our morning market was a quintessential French market, the one in Gordes was a tourist one. Almost nobody at Gordes, except the vendors spoke French; the items on offer came from a wider area, e.g. nougat from Montelimar, and there was a lot of art and memorabilia aimed at the "away" market. Plus, we had to pay €3 to search around for a place to park, whereas at the morning market we parked almost alone on a grassy square gratis. Unless you have a pressing reason to visit Gordes on a Tuesday, don't.

A few days ago we saw the large rock wall - falaise as we passed by Murs. At the base of the falaise was the village of Lioux. We thought it would be a nice to stop for a drink after the bustle of Gordes - so off we went ....... Pause for those of you who have been to Lioux to have a good chuckle ....... We arrived in Lioux and discovered that there is no visible commercial activity - nothing going on, much less a place to pause for a drink. So, we continued on to Apt, where we spent a couple of hours before heading back in the direction of Ansouis with a pause at Chateau Turcan, the wine of choice and universal acclaim last evening at Restaurant de l'Horloge in Curcuron. We are heartened by the proximity of the cave. If we run out before Saturday, it's only a few minutes away.

Dinner from the market in La Tour d'Aigues and 2004 vin rouge from Chateau Turcan. Wonderful.

June 17, 2009

Pont du Gard, Avignon, Chateauneuf du Pape

Away by 8:00am, arrived at Pont du Gard before 10 to an almost empty parking lot. We had a very good time climbing to the top level of the Roman aqueduct, even though the channel was blocked by by a gate, an added feature in the past 30 years according to a British gentleman whom I met beside the gate. "There were no steps, just scrub land all along the hillside and the channel was caked with lime. Footing was a bit tricky, but the experience was well worth it. None of these barriers to protect us from ourselves."

There was a large group of schoolchildren canoeing down the Gardon River - having a great time. Every day we meet groups of schoolchildren out on excursions. The more physical and demanding the activity, the better they like it.

Over to Avignon by shortly after noon. Easy parking outside the walls and a short walk into the centre ville, La Place de l'Horloge. Most of the group opted for a walk "sur le pont", while a couple of returning visitors were content with a more sedate activity. The Palais des Papes beckoned but the empty structure did not tempt any of the group, attracted by the more lively activites on the streets of the city, teeming with young people.

Off to the Chateauneuf du Pape wine region to the north of the city. We stopped, sampled and made purchases at two - Domaine Saint Siffrein and Mas de Boislauzon - of the many wineries that extend along both D68 and D72. We notice that our reception and interaction is not nearly as personable as in other areas. Perhaps the slightly elevated reputation of the wine is reflected of the demeanor of the owners, both of whom greeted us. Still, an enjoyable experience - and very good, if likely a bit overpriced, wine.

Home via the A7, avoiding Carpentras (WHEW!), gas fill-up at HyperU in Pertuis (the longer I am here the more "HyperTensionU" makes sense), a pause for "amuse bouches" and some wine from Chateau Val Joanis and Chateau La Canorgue, before an excellent dinner of cabillaud (cod) from the market in La Tour d'Aigues, haricots verts, patates, salade and a dessert from Le Fournil in Apt. All excellent.

Mont Ventoux is on tap for tomorrow.

About reading material

Hot tip! If you rent Chez Westfield, leave your paperbacks at home. There is a wonderful selection of books here to read. Instead of the somewhat typical (for us) jumble of "leave behinds", there is a great collection of France-related titles including for example:
My Life in France by Julia Child,
On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis,
A Farmhouse in Provence by Mary Roblee Henry,
Words in a French Life by Kristin Espinasse.
And several titles by Peter Mayle, a couple by Carol Drinkwater, lots of coffee table picture books, several hard cover novels and a shelf of cookbooks in the kitchen.


Even if you think you've read just about everything, you're almost certain to find something of interest. I'm reading one of the France memoir titles and I've also finished a "this is my life" book by a son of Brendan Gill, well-known estwhile editor of The New Yorker magazine. It's about how this son of privilege, tossed out on his ear by corporate America in his early 50's, maker of some bad decisions, finds renewal and a kind of redemption a decade later in another branch of coprorate America by working behind the counter at Starbucks. Odd book.

June 18, 2009

About roundabouts

If you haven't driven in France, your view of roundabouts might have a Hollywood "play it for laughs" flavour. You know, put Chevy Chase in a car and have him drive around and around and around the Arc de Triomphe for hours. Real funny, eh?

Reality is very different. Roundabouts mean fewer STOP signs (and they do say STOP in France - not ARRET as in Quebec), traffic flows pretty well, not a lot of speeding (why bother when there's another roundabout in a few klics?) and far fewer wrong turns.

Aside from the "A" series of highways - controlled access toll routes like thruways in the U.S. or the beloved 407 in Ontario - roundabouts are found everywhere around here - there's even one on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux - except in Carpentras, as noted elsewhere.

Priority goes to someone who is already on the roundabout, so jump in when there's nothing on your left. It is preferable to be on the outside lane for easier exit, but sometimes that isn't possible. I always check my rear-view mirror as I am exiting a roundabout to make sure I'm not cutting somebody off.

If we're not sure which exit to take I'll do a 360. I have even been known to do a 720, until my navigator & I are sure. If, even then, we discover we've made a wrong decision, no problem - I'll just swing around at the next roundabout & do it again.

Our companions are very impressed by the roundabouts here in the south of France.

I call them "stress reducers" - love 'em.

About JJ and the Bar des Sports

We are staying in the heart of Ansouis. Three centres of commerce in the village are within a few feet of our door - the boulangerie, the tabac and the Bar des Sports. The latter is by far the most interesting to first-time visitors like us. The Bar des Sports is the centre of what passes for much daily social interaction here in Ansouis. It is run & owned by JJ who lives a few steps (take 5 big steps - that's about how far away he is from work) across the street. He opens at 7:00am, closes at 8:00pm and he is there every day, 7 days a week, all but 2 days a year. He closes New Year's Day and a half a day at Christmas. He wears flip flops, smokes a lot and likes to sit on a bench in front of his house, where he can survey his domain - some tables would be out of his line of sight if he stayed in the bar.

The word "bar" should not suggest a dark interior space with service restricted to alcoholic drinks. The life of the Bar des Sports, at least in the warm months, occurs mainly outside at a number of new-since-we-arrived multicoloured tables and orange chairs. JJ's daily outfits have been colour-coordinated with his new furniture since it arrived. AND, while perhaps in cooler months, patrons are gathered inside to follow sports on TV, in the summmer the word "Sports" in the title of the bar, doesn't appear to signify anything. The Bar des Sports offers a light fixed lunch during the week and a barbeque lunch on weekends.

JJ is serving café to a small group of regulars almost as soon as he opens, café crême to a varying number of our group before 8:00am, and likely a drink of some sort to many locals and most visitors to Ansouis throughout the day. In the late afternoon JJ is often engaged in a conversation with a table of the same group of people - appear to be friends - but he sits apart, ready for business.

For the past few days, most of us have dropped in for a Monaco (pronounced "Moonaco" - with the emphasis on the "a" - as in in Menachem Begin) - the unofficial start of Happy Hour at Chez Barbara.

He's fairly reserved at first, but we have noticed a more relaxed and friendly interaction the longer we have been here - likely has something to do with how much we frequent his bar. Fair enough. He's running a business, not part of the local colour for our entertainment.

JJ and the Bar des Sports have added to our most enjoyable time in Ansouis. We're glad he's here.


Sault, Mont Ventoux, Buis les Baronnies, Vaison la Romaine

Wanna know what I'll be doing on July 25th? .... OK, I'll tell you. I'll be glued to my TV back in Eastern Ontario watching the 2nd last stage of the 2009 Tour de France.

Why? ..... OK, I'll tell you. Today's excursion included 3 places on the 2nd last day of the 2009 Tour de France.

Off by 8:00am - great time to start to a day that became very hot. (I am usually the last one ready to head out for the day - and with 5 women, what are the chances of that?). Over to Apt and up to Sault where we stopped for a café. The trip over to Sault awarded spectacular views, but also included narrow twisting turns and bridge passages high above deep valleys.

I am sure some wondered if this was a prelude to come when I said that I thought they would enjoy a trip to the top of Mont Ventoux. My wife and I drove to the top on our first visit to Provence, back in 2005 - but we didn't see much. A mistral was imminent, and we could only see a few feet in front of us - see TR798 - Footloose in Provence and Paris.

After visiting the tourist office in Sault, picking up a map and being assured that we were within 30 minutes of the top of Mt. Ventoux, off we went. Most of the drive up the south side is in a forested area with only the last few kilometers on the exposed top of "Old Baldy". While we had told our companions about the number of cyclists we would encounter, even we were impressed with their numbers. We passed many, many cyclists - some labouring, some climbing easily, some in tandem, some in groups and many alone - all impressive individual efforts. We parked at the top and were humbled by the dozens of cyclists who were celebrating their ascent. There must have been close to 100 while we were there. We were all impressed by the achievement of those who ascended the summit under their own power. The views are spectacular. Mt. Ventoux dominates the horizon of a large part of the Vaucluse.

We descended on the north side - almost alone. We met only a few cyclists and even fewer cars. The south ascent, which is an HC (above category) climb in the mountain stages of the Tour de France is by far the most popular.

Over to Buis les Baronnies, a picturesque village and a very enjoyable lunch featuring a galette. The village was quiet when we were there, as most of the businesses were closed for a 2 or 3 hour lunch break. A bit our of the way, but an enjoyable visit to a highly-recommended community.

Then on to Vaison la Romaine, a visit to the Roman bridge & streetscape, some shopping before heading back to Ansouis via Carpentras (yes, we took a wrong turn again) and Cavaillon, stopping for some ripe melons de Cavaillon and abricots at a roadside stand. In for dinner - starting to finish off our food purchases, getting ready for our departure.

The July 25th stage of the 2009 Tour de France passes through Sault, Buis les Baronnies, and ends at the top of Mont Ventoux. You can bet I'll be watching.

Tomorrow is our last full day in our house in Ansouis. Our 6:16am Saturday morning TGV booking from the station in Avignon suggests a quiet day close to home, packing & getting ready for our departure. The owner of our property has been in contact a few times - nice touch that - and has encouraged us to visit the nearby Friday market in Lourmarin. OK Barb, we're going, we're going.

June 19, 2009

Last day - Lourmarin and Helianthos

Hey, remember when I mentioned the fields of sunflowers over near Lambesc? Well, I should have just waited a couple of days and raved about the sunflowers between Ansouis and Lourmarin. We came upon them today on the way to the Friday market in Lourmarin - several large fields just starting to bloom - should be a breathtaking site over the summer until they are harvested. Got a few pics, but nothing to do them justice.

Arrived at Lourmarin before 9:00am - lucky to get a good parking spot. Very popular and very good market - recommend to anybody staying in the area. Thanks for insisting we go there, Barbara. We didn't need much in the way of food, since we're leaving early tomorrow morning, but we spent a couple of hours making a few purchases & stopping for a drink in the attractive and winding central area of the village. It's very hot again today.

Back to Ansouis and a light lunch at the Bar des Sports, one last wine run over to Chateau Turcan and a quiet afternoon packing & resting for our long day tomorrow.

Some of us are going to the highly recommended local restaurant, La Closerie, this evening, but comments and a review will have to wait a few days until we arrive back home in Canada. Signing off my blog for a couple of days.

Helianthos? Oh, that's Sunflowers in French.


June 21, 2009

No snags

Away from Ansouis early yesterday (Saturday) morning to give us plenty of time to make the 6:16am TGV at Avignon to CDG. (Note for future reference. The Avignon Gare TGV doesn't open until 5:30am. No need to arrive earlier - no access to even the rental car lot before then).

First class tickets back to Paris - price was better then 2nd class when I booked online - followed directions on how to book online in French & printed our train tickets before we left. No need to deal with the kiosks or ticket office at CDG, thanks again to my ST mates. Our group split up at CDG. One was flying back to Montreal on Air France while the rest of us were on Air Transat. Flight home (7 1/2 hours) was OK - customs, baggage pickup, where we met up briefly with the 6th member of our group, shuttle transfer to the Park 'N Fly lot, 2 1/2 hour car ride back home on 20 ouest, Highway 401, turn right at Brockville and north on Hwy 29 - arriving home by 7:30pm.

Pool looks OK; garden needs some care but in pretty good shape; grass needs cutting, but what else is new at this time of year?

There were no snags on our way home - and indeed there were no snags anywhere during our 18 days in France. We all got along very well together, had a great rental, everybody up & ready to go early each day, great times in Ansouis and everywhere we went, good times in the evenings whether we were out or Chez Barbara, no bumps or dents in the mini-van. The last was a bit of a personal concern of mine before we left. I had not driven as large a vehicle in our previous visits. But I had 5 other sets of eyes to guide me into tight parking spots and the Ford had sensors that beeped when getting too close to a solid obstruction. Great feature.

Diane, one of our group, observed that, "We brought the sun with us wherever we went." True in a lot of ways.

A few more blogs in this category on a variety of topics and observations, hopefully over the next couple of days.

Dining Chez Barbara - Pas de problème

We had the majority of our dinners at our rental in Ansouis, with most of our food purchases at the weekly markets we visited several days in various towns and villages. Most wine purchases were made directly from the producing property - including whites and reds from Chateaux Val Joanis, La Canorgue, Turcan, plus some wines from Chateauneuf du Pape. We also had a few bottles of rosé wines from various sources, including a Tavel chilling in the fridge when we arrived.

Faith, one of our group, is an excellent cook. Some of her plats, including the veau and cabaillaud were restaurant quality. Donna was the chef de salad, and prepared the salad early enough so it wouldn't interfere with Happy Hour. Carol and Liz and Diane prepared the vegetables, cut up fruit, prepared desserts - which sometimes involved cutting a purchase at un fournil into slices. I'm not sure who prepared les amuse bouches, the tray of several small snacks that marked the start of Happy Hour. Being the chauffeur, I was exempt from kitchen duty - although I must admit that I was called upon to open a bottle or two of wine.

Individually we each contributed €120 for our food purchases - including wines and cheeses. We ate very well. A major contributing factor was the size and especially the quality of the kitchen facilities at Chez Barbara. There was a large island and work area which meant that several people could be working in the kitchen together. Every kitchen appliance or gadget we needed or reached for was there. And every drawer and cupboard was well-labeled.

Dining in Chez Barbara was not a hardship.


Do you have anything to declare?

What did my wife and I bring back from France in June 2009?

From Paris
- 2010 French Impressionist calendar purchased at the Musée d'Orsay
- a jar of Moutarde Violette de Brive

From Bonnieux
- two pieces of pottery

From Lourmarin
- some clothing (wife, daughter, son's girlfriend), a belt (daughter's boyfriend), pumice stone, a piece of jewelry, and a jar of Camargue Fleur de Sel

From Coustellet
- several bars of soap and two jars of tapenade noire
- shopping basket from our first visit. I now have 3. I know our companions thought it was a bit odd for me to be making this purchase. But we returned to the market at Coustellet our 2nd Sunday, partially so two of our group could make a basket purchase from the same vendor. They were the best made baskets they saw.

From Roussillon
- one signed print of a field of lavender and a piece of jewelry

From Gordes
- one cork purse and one canvas bag

From Mont Ventoux
- a t-shirt and water bottle for Steve, our cyclist son
- a t-shirt for John, our cyclist son-in-law

From Avignon
- three small watercolours of a sunflower, a poppy and sprig of lavender. Our small dining room has only artwork and photos from our travels on the walls. These paintings, framed together, will make a very nice addition.

From Chateau Val Joanis
- one bottle of olive oil

From various places
- items of clothing for our grandson - see example below
- several fridge magnets. OK, so I collect fridge magnets. You got a problem with that?
- five Michelin maps - #329, 337, 341, 345, 525 - to help plan future trips. I looked at buying these maps online before we left. But the prices, including shipping, were quite high. And then there they were sitting on racks in Aix and Apt. We will almost certainly not be returning to the Luberon in 2010. This was our 3rd trip based in the area in 5 years and we even drove down a couple of days when were were in the Drôme last year. But, if you haven't been to this area of France, I would urge you to consider it.
- five bottles of wine - 2 from Chateau Turcan, 1 each from Chateau la Canorgue and two different domaines in Chateauneuf du Pape.
- lots of photos and great memories.


June 22, 2009

About Recycling

One day Diane said, "You know what I've noticed over here as we drive around? No litter." She's right, there is almost no trash along the roads and recycling has been a way of life at least in the south of France for at least then past five years. I'm sure it's much longer than that, but we've only been coming since 2005.

In Ansouis there are recycling bins - for paper, glass, and tin/plastic at the bottom of the hill leading up into the village. There are two additional bins off to the side - think they are for specialty paper products such as cardboard. Not sure about those, but we made several trips - "clank", "clank" (trying to approximate the sound of wine bottles jostling in the bag) - down the hill in our two weeks. Beside the main parking lot by the Mairie, there were two other bins for regular household garbage. There was garbage pickup in our small village at least three times a week - sometimes with a large garbage truck, sometimes a small pickup. We could hear the large truck coming up the hill, so a few times we just handed a bag to a guy on the back of the truck as he passed by. Yes, the street was that narrow.

There are recycling and garbage depots in every town and village. In rural areas they are located at convenient places along the roads. On our two previous visits on a rural gîte, we made several visits to the recycling depot at a crossroads down the hill as we headed out for the day.

The last part of our checkout process at Chez Barbara was a stop at the recycling depot in Ansouis.

La Closerie, Ansouis - un bon cadeau

On Wednesday our four companions presented my wife and me with un bon cadeau, a gift certificate for dinner on Friday evening June 19 at La Closerie, a highly-regarded restaurant owned by Delphine et Olivier Alemany. La Closerie is about a minute walk down the hill from our house. Donna and Diane even picked out our table in conversation with Delphine. We were seated on the terrace next to the stone wall looking out over the valley. We both like to dine out when we are in France - who wouldn't? - but we usually pay close attention to the right side of the pages on a menu. A very generous and unexpected gift.

I almost left my money pouch at home - after all the gift certificate would cover the fixed price menu and a bottle of wine, with a bit left over - but I decided to take along some extra Euros, "just in case." Good thing I did, or one of us would have had to make a somewhat embarrassing trip up the hill at the end of the evening.

Of course, we had to begin our special evening with an apéritif - kir for me and kir royal (made with Champagne) for Liz. While the fixed price menu was perfectly fine, we decided to order à la carte - a decidedly pricier option. And besides, Delphine mentioned that a special lobster entrée was available. We followed this with our plats - loup (sea bass) for Liz and pigeon rôti for me. We chose a bottle of Reserve 2004 Chateau des Tours from the wine list.

We ended our meal with dessert and café. Everything was excellent.

We shared the small patio with a few other people, including a English foursome who were dropped off by a chauffeur. Some of their conversation debated the merits of Eton vs Harrow for their children/grandchildren.

When ordering from the fixed price menu (€34 in June 2009) and selecting one of the more moderately priced bottles of wine, it is possible for a couple to enjoy a 3-course dinner at La Closerie in the evening for under €100. Lunch presents a more moderate option.

We enjoyed our evening at La Closerie very much. Thank you Donna, Diane, Carol, Faith.


This page contains an archive of all entries posted to To Slow Time Down in the Provence, June 2009 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Pomodori e Vino is the previous category.

Rome is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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