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Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

B&B

La Bastide de Brurangère

NEAR CARPENTRAS

Bastide de Brurangère ext

167 Chemin des Rols
84380 Mazan
06 75 24 59 29

www.labastidedebrurangere.com

PRICE RANGE – EXPENSIVE

When she decided in 2010 to migrate south from Courchevel and create an upscale B&B, Catherine Gastaldi had two obvious advantages: a background in hotels and luxury ski chalets, and a Savoyard partner in the carpentry business. With vast expanses of rustic timber, the 19th-century bastide near Carpentras which they completely overhauled has more than a touch of the Alps in its aesthetics.

Otherwise, from a décor point of view, it’s the standard modern mix of putty-coloured paint, the odd splash of colour and the occasional bling chandelier. What counts most is space. There are two large bedrooms and three positively enormous suites, all with sleek, generously proportioned bathrooms. Add to these one big salon for quiet lazing, another with a billiards table, a sauna and hammam plus two outdoor pools (heated and unheated) and you’ll see this is the kind of place where guests need never get in each other’s way.

There is no lazy morning buffet: freshly squeezed juice, freshly made coffee, fruits, yoghurt, breads and viennoiserie, cheese, eggs, or ham if wished are served individually, as all decent breakfasts should be. In summer the setting for this feast is a magnificent courtyard with a fountain – rather like a private village square.

Written by marydowey

Posted in hotels/b&bs,NEAR CARPENTRAS



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Thursday, August 21st, 2014

POTTER

Françoise Rebord Ceramics

BEAUCAIRE

Francoise Rebord yellow display

1 Rue Roquecourbe
Place Vieille
30300 Beaucaire
04 66 68 28 32 / 06 78 64 87 16

www.francoiserebord.fr

A potter for 14 years, Françoise Rebord has travelled the world in order to refine her technique and ignite her inspiration, Canada, Greece and Japan turning out to be particularly fruitful. Even so, her work is imbued with the bold colours of Provence. Stroll by her workshop window just off Beaucaire’s main square and my bet is that you’ll be struck first by her daring palette, then by her pleasing forms.

Bowls or giant platters like those in the photo would give the simplest meal a festive air – not to mention arty individuality since every piece is unique. ‘Inspiration can come from anywhere,’ she says. ‘Nature, travels, museums…’ Her work expresses sure-footed exuberance with a certain delicacy – not an easy combo to pull off.

Besides focusing on her own ceramics, Fran̤oise loves running classes for children and visitors. Check out her website for details, then head for Beaucaire Рa town with plenty of other worthwhile addresses, as this site demonstrates.

Written by marydowey

Posted in Beaucaire,inedible treats



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Saturday, August 16th, 2014

RESTAURANT WITH ROOMS

La Bastide des Magnans

VIDAUBAN

Bastide Magnans fish

Route de la Garde-Freinet
83550 Vidauban
04 94 99 43 91

www.bastidedesmagnans.com

PRICE RANGE – MODERATE

In my notes about a visit to Bastide des Magnans the word FASTIDIOUS is scribbled in large letters. Attention to detail runs right through the restaurant which Christian Boeuf has run since 1999 in a former silk worm farm dating from the early 19th century, with five bedrooms converted for guest use a few years ago.

The place is immaculate; the food sourced from tiny local producers, carefully cooked and prettily presented. On top of that you have the feeling of being well looked after: on the day I dropped by, three waiters kept a well-trained eye on a small dining room – and no doubt these days the ratio out on the terrace is the same. M Boeuf worked for 13 years in the restaurant he opened in the Vins de Provence HQ in Les-Arcs-sur-Agens before setting up here. His background as a serious restaurateur rather than a fleece-the-tourists chancer shows.

The pavé d’ombrine you see in the photo – a fish like sea bass, served with a dill sauce, tiny vegetables and purple mash – was the highlight of a thoroughly enjoyable lunch, with sweetbreads in feather-light flaky pastry with asparagus to start with (it was spring – I’m catching up), and bourbon vanilla crème brûlée to knock the stuffing out of the afternoon.

The wine list is predictably strong on Provence wines (extra marks for the selection of  50cl and 37.5cl bottles) with an exceptional champagne section; the southern Rhône, not so very far away, lags a fair bit behind. Still, this is an address worth hanging on to, as its strong local following suggests.

Written by marydowey

Posted in restaurants,VAR,with rooms



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Monday, August 11th, 2014

ICE CREAM SALON / CAFÉ

L’Écume des Glaces

LA CIOTAT

Ecume Glaces

8 Place Sadi Carnot
13600 La Ciotat
06 28 25 50 11

www.ecumedesglaces.e-monsite.com

If the sun is enough to trigger an appetite for ice cream, the sea air intensifies it into an insatiable lust. Pas de problème in La Ciotat where, just one block back from the port, you can lap up (or lick up) exceptionally delicious home-made sorbets and ices in about 50 flavours.

Stéphane Besançon cooked on board boats all around the Med and far beyond before setting up shop in the centre of La Ciotat in 2005. ‘ At first it was very simple. Only milkshakes, ice creams and cakes – not even coffee,’ he recalls. ‘Then we added juices, lunch snacks and drinks. Our salads and savoury tarts are really popular.’

Maybe so (you eat out on the square, weather permitting) Рbut for me the ice creams are the main draw. St̩phane and his partner Catherine Tolvaly use a special machine to introduce air into the mixture as it churns, resulting not only in a light, silky texture but less reliance on sugar.

Apart from staid old vanilla, the bestsellers are chocolate sorbet with piment d’espelette, mint sorbet, pistachio ice cream and lemon and ginger ice cream. But you might be equally tempted by some of the latest creations showcasing ingredients like tonka beans and szechuan pepper. Heavens, there is even a Guinness sorbet. An as Irishwoman, I approve.

Written by marydowey

Posted in ice cream,La Ciotat,restaurants,salon de the,shops & markets



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Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

B&Bs

In praise of chambres d’hôtes

ALL OVER PROVENCE

B&Bs praise avignon-et-provence

Since this blog took life over four years ago, the most positive trend I’ve noticed is an increase in the number of terrific chambres d’hôtes dotted across Provence. They come in all shapes and sizes; some modern, some traditional; some mainstream and some close to wacky. Their prices range from the upper end of inexpensive (this is the south of France, remember) to five-star-hotel level – with the majority, including an address book’s worth of gems, falling somewhere in between.

What the best have in common, apart from an attractive location, are these three things:

1 An owner who genuinely enjoys have people to stay in his or her home. Otherwise rattiness creeps through, especially towards the end of a busy season. B&B hosts should be prepared to help guests plan itineraries, choose and book restaurants and repeat the history of their house a thousand times if need be – without being intrusive or over-effusive. A delicate balancing act.

2 Solid comfort with no skimping on top-quality beds, good bathrooms (with hot water, please, at all hours), and the provision of small but welcome extras (hairdryer, bottled water, guests’ mini-kitchen…) As for wifi, it should be more widely realised that this is not a luxury but an essential.

3 A decent breakfast, with freshly brewed coffee or tea instead of stuff that has been stewing for hours; good juice – freshly squeezed if possible or from a local organic producer if not; yoghurt and some fruit; fresh breads and croissants from the best bakery within reach, plus a selection of home-made jams.

Click on the HOTELS/B&Bs tab at the top of the homepage and you’ll find heaps of chambres d’hôtes where a stay is likely to be memorable for all the best reasons. Here are a dozen that I particularly like:

AROUND L’ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE
La Carol’Isle (for space and calm) and Le Clos Violette (for character), both in the centre of town; Poppy Salinger’s La Bastide Rose not far away for elegance and gardens filled with modern sculpture.

IN WINE COUNTRY
Patios des Vignes in Séguret; Au Coin des Figuiers near Sarrians and Auberge du Vin surrounded by vines above Mazan.

LOST IN THE WILDS, AND LOVELY
Métafort at the pinnacle of the village of Méthamis in eastern Vaucluse; Les Pierres Sauvages in the Var’s green hinterland near Brignoles.

IN THE LUBERON
Le Parfum des Collines, a haven of luxe near Apt; Les Terrasses, close to Gordes.

CLOSE TO THE COAST
La Royante on the edge of Aubagne – calm and super-civilised; swish Maison 9 above the port of Cassis.

Written by marydowey

Posted in hotels/b&bs



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Friday, August 1st, 2014

RECIPE

Peppers stuffed with tomatoes, garlic and basil

PROVENCE AND BEYOND

MD peppers
This recipe may not be Provençal in origin but it is an easy and delicious way of using superb Provençal produce – especially at the moment when tomatoes are bursting with flavour. I cook it ridiculously often yet friends still clamour for more…

Serves 4-8

4 red peppers

4 medium to large tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, peeled

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

20-30 basil leaves

1 Turn the oven on at 180C and lightly grease a baking tray with a little olive oil.

2 Cut the peppers in half lengthways keeping the green stems attached. Remove and discard all the seeds and core so that only the bright red interior remains. Arrange the pepper halves on the baking tray and sprinkle with a very little salt. (Not too much as more will be added later.)

3 Halve the tomatoes lengthways, then cut each half into three equal segments. Fit three segments neatly into each half pepper. Sprinkle with a little more salt and some black pepper.

4 Halve the garlic cloves, then cut each half into slivers. Tuck several of these around the tomatoes in each stuffed pepper.

5 Drizzle olive oil quite generously over each stuffed pepper. Place the baking tray in the oven and bake the peppers for 45-55 minutes, watching them closely after the first half hour and moving them around the tray if necessary so that all cook evenly. The half-hour stage is also a good moment to add 3-4 basil leaves to each pepper half. Continue to bake the peppers until they are fully cooked. They should look slightly brown around the edges but not burnt.

6 Slide the stuffed peppers on to a serving plate and drizzle the cooking juices over and around them. Serve with crusty bread as a first course, or as an vegetable accompaniment to a robust main course like tuna, roast chicken or beef.

Written by marydowey

Posted in recipes



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Saturday, July 26th, 2014

FOOD TOUR

Avignon Gourmet Tour

AVIGNON CITY CENTRE

Avignon Gourmet Tour MD

06 35 32 08 96

www.avignongourmetours.com

Hopping in and out of Avignon regularly every year for the past ten, I thought I knew pretty much everything there is to know about the papal city’s food scene. Up to last week, that is, when a tour with Avignon native and dedicated gourmet Aurélie Gilabert (on my right above, discussing olives) opened new doors, introduced new flavours and made three hours fly by at TGV speed.

Launched this spring, Avignon Gourmet Tour combines long-established food landmarks with some much more recent addresses. On our walk we stopped, for example, at Trouillas, a bakery in the same family since 1931 which makes what prominent Avignon chef Christian Étienne considers the best savoury fougasse in Provence. (Taste the well-filled olive version and you’ll see why.) We also dropped into Cafés au Brésil, now in the hands of the third generation and voted best coffee roasting company in France in 2012. (Their 300+ teas are equally superb: I won’t easily forget captivating Coquelicot Gourmand.)

On the other hand, La Fine Bouche (in the photo) run by Paul Chatrouillaux is a brand new épicerie fine. (Don’t leave it without sampling the peppery olive oil from Moulin de la Chartreuse, one of Provence’s oldest mills, in nearby Villeneuve-les-Avignon). And Angéla de Beaupréau has only been treating Avignon residents to her fine hand-made chocolates since last Christmas.

These are just some of the highlights of a tour which also included good artisan ice cream, award-winning sweet fougasse, a tasting of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape with local goat’s and sheep’s cheeses (at the wine bar Le 46) – and, unexpectedly, a feast of historical and architectural tidbits. While the itinerary may vary (morning tours take in the brilliant market Les Halles, closed in the afternoon), it’s invariably as well stuffed as you will feel by its end.

Besides speaking flawless English (perfected during four years in Dublin, I’m happy to report), Aurélie is also fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

Written by marydowey

Posted in AVIGNON,outings



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Monday, July 21st, 2014

HOTEL / RESTAURANT

Les Gorges de Pennafort

NEAR DRAGUIGNAN

Pennafort restaurant-002

RD 25
83830 Callas
04 94 76 66 51

www.hostellerie-pennafort.com

PRICE RANGE – EXPENSIVE

‘C’est gargantuesque!’, a local man exclaimed when I told him I was booked into Les Gorges de Pennafort for dinner and an overnight stay. Never was an adjective more apt. So lavish is the culinary approach of Philippe Da Silva, the Michelin-starred chef who has made this address half an hour from the coast a magnet even for people normally glued to the Croisette, that by the petits fours stage the few steps from table to bed could barely be accomplished.

Lavish but well-judged is how I’d sum it up – generous rather than ostentatious, with just enough innovative tweaking of familiar flavour combinations to make ‘neoclassical’, M Da Silva’s definition of his style, spot-on. As sometimes happens in grand restaurants bursting with lobster and foie gras and truffles, I enjoyed some of the less flamboyantly luxurious dishes most. As an amuse-bouche, for example, cream of peas with nut froth and a drizzle of perfect olive oil was unsurpassable. Less is more, and more is too much, I found myself thinking again when dessert turned up: five desserts, served to everybody in the room.

But this is ungracious carping because dinner at Les Gorges de Pennafort was a superb treat – even for a lone diner. (People-watching and placemats inscribed with hundreds of terms for gastronomic excess helped to pass the time.) Super-attentive, friendly staff helped to create a relaxed atmosphere in a formal, marble-floored, orchid-laden room which might otherwise have felt stiff.

Wine prices here hit wallets hard (cripes, €65 for a very basic Côtes du Rhône!), but at least the selection is impressive with plenty of high-profile Bordeaux and an extraordinary list of vintage champagnes.

I can strongly recommend staying the night – or maybe a few days. Bedrooms are modern, spacious and well equipped; bathrooms vast and ritzy; breakfast – ah, that breakfast. On the tray: two freshly pressed juices, two fruit salads, yoghurt, a basket of brilliant viennoiserie, Echiré butter, great coffee. A queen couldn’t ask for more. The price: €20. I’ve paid €17 more than once for mediocrity.

Written by marydowey

Posted in NEAR DRAGUIGNAN,restaurants,VAR



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Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

WINE ESTATE

La Gramière

CÔTES DU RHÔNE

La Gramiere Amy

1 Place de la Fontaine
30210 Vers-Pont-du-Gard
06 89 38 08 29
www.lagramiere.com

APPOINTMENT RECOMMENDED

Only a trickle of wine writers put down their critical pens to immerse themselves in the messy business of making their own wine. It takes guts. Amy Lillard has them, together with crackling energy and sunny American positivity. So La Gramière, the small estate which she and husband Matt Kling set up in 2004, goes from strength to strength.

A couple of lucky breaks helped, Amy would claim. After university in Colorado and a summer guiding luxury bike tours around the south of France, she landed up in Gevrey-Chambertin in 1992, staying on to work through three harvest seasons. ‘Locals thought I was hanging around looking for a husband,’ she exclaims. Instead she happened upon influential French wine critic Michel Bettane who was working on the Burgundy section of the Bettane & Desseauve guide, then brand new. ‘He offered to teach me how to taste, then took me along to assess hundreds of Côte d’Or wines. It was amazing – I was 22 years old!’ The collaboration with Bettane was to continue for two decades.

Winters were spent back in Colorado working in a shop to learn more about the business side of wine. Then, after a spell with a Californian winery, came the chance to work for Kermit Lynch, a major US importer of French wines. ‘Kermit was a huge influence,’ Amy recalls. ‘I got to taste absolutely everything.’ She also got to meet future husband Matt, a computer wizard  who was a customer in Kermit Lynch’s Berkley store.

Next… marriage, a spell in Paris and finally, in 2002, a move south to the Uzès area where the couple bought a huge village house. ‘We thought if ever we got around to making wine, we’d could do it in our garage.’ Which is precisely what happened until this summer: they have just relocated to Vers-Pont-du-Gard to be closer to their 6.5 hectares of vines in nearby Castillon.

Enough history. What about the wines? While the range includes easy quaffers like the rosé in the photo, the two top reds are infinitely more serious. La Gramière (green label), an 80:20 Grenache-Syrah blend, is a finely judged wine that I’ve enjoyed through several vintages; notes of leather, thyme, black pepper and and black olives deliver a deliciously savoury edge. The 100% Grenache (grey label), a more recent creation made to showcase the fruit of old vines in the best years, is better still – ripe, concentrated and lingering with fine tannins and plenty of acidity. Both are made using only wild yeasts and without the influence of oak.

Written by marydowey

Posted in NEAR UZÈS,wine producers



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Friday, July 11th, 2014

B&B

Les Pierres Sauvages

NEAR BRIGNOLES

Pierres Sauvages

83890 Besse sur Issole – near Brignoles
04 94 80 18 73 / 07 60 39 72 57
www.lespierressauvages.com

PRICE RANGE – MODERATE

The Hans Wenger wishbone chairs, soft terracotta walls and polished concrete floors all point in the same direction: pared-back style. Gabrielle Choisy and her architect partner Gil have created a super home that will fascinate anybody interested in design; it takes its name Les Pierres Sauvages from the title of a book by French architect Fernand Pouillon about the exquisite Abbaye de Thoronet not too far away.

This pleasantly relaxed house with its jars of wild flowers and baskets of hedgerow fruits suffers from neither the cold minimalism nor the studied formality that so easily rob modern interiors of life.   That’s probably because Gabrielle and Gil are convivial, easygoing people who love having guests to stay.

It helps that Gabrielle is a talented cook, serving terrific table d’hôte dinners fairly regularly at her long oak table as well as stupendous daily breakfasts; mine included seven home-made jams and six local honeys as well as her own granola and a freshly baked cake.

With a keen interest in wine, she also offers guests half-day outings to interesting local wine producers in her funky 2CV.

Written by marydowey

Posted in BRIGNOLES,hotels/b&bs



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Sunday, July 6th, 2014

GARDEN POTS

Poterie Ravel

AUBAGNE

Ravel Julie

Avenue des Goums
13400 Aubagne
04 42 18 79 79

www.poterie-ravel.com

Scrutinise the most striking terracotta pots in Provence’s handsomest gardens and you may well find they come from Ravel. Now run by the fifth generation, Julie Ravel (above) and her sister Marion, this firm dating from 1837 makes garden containers so perfectly proportioned that just dropping in to admire them is a pleasure. If you have a garden begging to be beautified, so much the better – and it doesn’t have to be anywhere near. ‘We’ve even sent pots to Australia without any problems,’ Julie reports. ‘Breakages are rare.’

For the traditional pots a mix of three clays is used, the most important coming from a village 15km away. The techniques for washing and purifying them to a plasticene-like texture ready for the company’s 16 potters to spin into shape has changed little over the years; in fact, one long-serving potter’s wheel is made from the steering wheel of a jeep left over from the Second World War.

‘The major changes have been in design,’ Julie stresses. ‘Our father had studied fine arts, so when he took over in the 1980s he began to introduce some new styles and gradually our pots came to be seen as decorative objects rather than purely functional containers.’

The current bestseller is the Camélia pot, with a thick band top and bottom, and the round-bottomed amphorae-like jarres which I love are racing back into fashion. With retail prices ranging from €8 to €1,800, it’s difficult to leave empty-handed.

Ravel also makes Provençal tableware (in both traditional and way-out colours). The latest addition to this sizeable complex is a fabric and table linen shop named after the sisters’ fabric-manufacturing grandfather, Philogène. Everything in it is made by a 100-year-old company in the north of France which matches Ravel’s profile as comfortably as its pottery.

Written by marydowey

Posted in Aubagne,inedible treats,Provencal pottery



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