Banon: The Prettiest of Them All?

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At the top of Banon, located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department, there is the prettiest group of houses all bedecked with flowers, whose colors change depending on the season. This is absolutely one of the most photogenic spots if you are looking for charm. Additionally, as you continue to walk up on the far left side of the village, there are more charming little homes with more colorful flowers on the road leading out of the village.

I like to walk up to the top the fun way. Right across from the parking lot is a steep set of narrow, broken steps that just beckon exploration. Where do they go? These are the kind of steps that make you wonder if you are really suppose to be on them. But the curiosity makes you continue on. At the top, you come out to the most charming group of houses.

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Banon has a rustic charm that reminds me of Bourgogne. There is no doubt, though, that you are in Provence with the gorgeous fields of wheat and lavender below.

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Banon is known for its AOC goat cheese matured in brown chestnut leaves. And the village has a few shops and cafés along with a charming little épicerie, where the charismatic “Uncle Henry” is still singing away carefree as ever, living the simple life.

I leave you with more of Banon.

À bientôt!

Evening Ambience at Its Best at la Terrasse in Joucas

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Exciting news! Bistrot la Terrasse, located in the peaceful, charming village of Joucas in the Luberon, is once again open in the evenings for dinner. This is truly an enchanting spot to watch the sun set over the Luberon valley with the red hue of Roussillon in the distance.

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La Terrasse now has a new owner. Though we are sad to see the prior owner go, as well as our little canine friend who was always faithfully at his spot every time, we are happy to be able to enjoy this place in the evening once again.

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The food is good, basic bistrot fare. Yet, the omelette complèt with the frites is a notch above good. It is one delicious omelette!

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You can’t go wrong going for a simple meal in order to enjoy the evening ambience. Even on a hot day, if you go for lunch, there is a huge plane tree to sit under and the Provençal breeze to keep you cool while you enjoy your meal. And of course, the village of Joucas itself is a charm to wander the cobbled streets after a good meal. Apparently, according to one local, during the filming of A Good Year, Russell Crowe rented a house in the lovely Joucas because he enjoyed the peaceful village. It’s funny how every time we visit Provence, we meet someone associated with this movie. Last year it was Peter Mayle’s assistant and then a relative of Russell Crowe’s assistant during the filming of the movie. Who knows? Maybe we’ll run into the beautiful Marion Cotillard herself next time.

Reservations recommended. (04 90 75 17 98)

À bientôt!

How to Survive Provence? One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence by Keith Van Sickle

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For anyone in love with France and the idea of giving up the so-called normal to live in a charming, small French village where it really is all about the bread, the wine, and the cheese, Keith’s delightful book takes us on a humorous journey of what it really takes to make living in France—Provence—a success.

And with all the mishaps of learning a new language and trying to fit in and make friends with the locals, surely having an abundance of local French wine on hand couldn’t hurt, right? As anyone who has had the pleasure to travel to France knows, it comes with its fair share of eccentricities. For instance, as Keith states: “The French like to drive much too fast. No matter what road you are on or how fast you are driving, you can be sure that a French driver will be tailgating you. I think it is required by law. You could be setting a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats and if you looked in your rearview mirror you would see a French driver just inches from your tailpipe.” Isn’t that so true? And let’s not forget about the death-defying passing on the narrow, winding roads.

Or what about the simple act of buying a beard trimmer at the Intermarché? Simple not! Read Keith’s hilarious account of what one must go through just to buy a beard trimmer in France.

So many eccentricities. Yet, we all keep coming back for more. More of, as Keith puts it, the joie de vivre. Yes, the slow pace, a simpler life that revolves around which type of bread to pick out for the day from the boulangerie and which vegetables to choose from the outdoor market.

Escape with Keith, his wife, Val, and their dog Lucca as these part-time expats from Silicon Valley take us on a comical tale of immersing oneself in the French language and Provençal culture as they learn to live in Provence One Sip at a Time.

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Available here at Amazon.

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For more wonderful stories from Keith, read more at http://www.keithvansickle.com.

Cassis: The Charm of a Bygone Era

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“He who has seen Paris and not Cassis has seen nothing.”—Frédéric Mistral; Provençal writer and poet and 1904 Nobel Prize winner in literature.

In just under two hours from our peaceful Vaucluse department in Provence, we arrive at the top of Cassis. Upon exiting our car and breathing in the fresh sea air, we realize that we have arrived at a special place. Our first thought is ‘Why haven’t we come sooner?’ As we make our way down to the village, we are swept away by a sight we did not expect— charming villas surrounded by cascading flowers and cliffs towering over the lapis-blue sea. This characterful fishing port indeed has the charm of a bygone era, a place of refined elegance by the sea.

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Having just the day to get a taste of Cassis, we planned to hike the calanques, beautiful fjord-like inlets carved into the limestone cliffs. Our goal was at least to hike to the second calanque, called Port Pin, to swim in the gorgeous sea. Starting at the harbor, where we could have just enjoyed the beauty there and been fully satisfied, we started our walk to the first calanque, Port Miou. Now this was supposed to be just a 30-minute walk from the harbor. But being the geniuses that we are, we somehow got off the route and didn’t make it to Port Miou until an hour and a half later on a sultry day of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35°C).

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Nervous to continue on one hour more to the second calanque, Port Pin, because of ankle and foot issues, we had to turn back. Next time, the plan is to drive up the Route des Calanques from the harbor and try to find a place to park on a side street not far from Port Miou or in one of the car parks mentioned on the Calanques in Cassis site to save time. It was disheartening to have to turn back, especially as we saw a large group of “older” ones returning with their hiking boots and walking poles.

Nonetheless, we went back to the harbor and relaxed with a plate of moules-frites as we watched some locals enjoying a game of boules. This is the type of scene that speaks French village to me and just charms my heart.

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The inner streets of Cassis are well worth exploring as they are filled with high-quality shops and restaurants with a bit of an Italian flair.

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We have seen Paris, and now we have seen Cassis. A place we hope to return to again and again.

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À bientôt!

Bistrot le 5 in the Luberon Village of Ménerbes

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Looking for fresh, local, delicious food on a beautiful terrace overlooking the Luberon valley? You won’t be disappointed at Bistrot le 5. The food is excellent, with the most visually appealing presentation. Even more, this outdoor bistrot is located in the most polished of villages—Ménerbes.

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The bistrot wins for the most gorgeous presentation of local deliciousness of our recent trip! This time around, we ordered the Provençal stuffed zucchini, called petits farcis, which came from the nearby enchanting village of Maubec. This dish was truly as beautiful as it was delicious. And all for 15 euros at lunchtime. You can barely even get a processed meal in the United States for $15. And this was a presentation of exquisite work with local and in-season ingredients.

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Bistrot le 5 is run by the same owner of the excellent Café Véranda just around the corner. We prefer the flavors and creativity of the bistrot though, as well as the outdoor atmosphere. And the village of Ménerbes? A Provençal paradise indeed.

IMG_4727À bientôt!

 

Will Ventoux Wine Become Côtes du Rhône?

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The smooth, bold red wines that fall under the Ventoux AOC, formerly known as Côtes du Ventoux, are distinct from the neighboring Côtes du Rhône wines. I actually prefer them, but again I am no expert on wine or anything for that matter. All I know is that I like the wines of Provence, especially those known as Ventoux.

Lying on the western slopes of the iconic Mont Ventoux at the southeastern end of the Rhône Valley are the vineyards of the Ventoux appellation. Recently, the subject of Ventoux wine came up while we were enjoying a bottle at Bistrot 40K at Hôtel Crillon-le-Brave. Each year, we like to award a wine as the “wine of the trip.” And this time the award goes to Domaine de Fondrèche.

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Our server gave us quite an interesting history on Ventoux wine. In fact, he mentioned that within the next 10 years, the Ventoux wines may come under the Côtes du Rhône AOC classification and no longer be distinguished as Ventoux AOC. The result will be that the Ventoux wines will become more expensive since they will be called Côtes du Rhône. More expensive like Châteauneuf-du-Pape for example. In fact, the winemaker of our newly awarded wine of the trip use to work as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemaker.

We savor these Ventoux wines while in Provence because very little would ever get exported to the United States. In fact, even Crillon-le-Brave has trouble getting the specific Ventoux wine we ordered, and they are neighbors. If they can’t get it, how could we? So we enjoy it while there, and then it’s back to our black Lab table wine from Portugal when we get home.

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À bientôt!

A Sea of Purple in the Luberon

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The words lavender and Provence are synonymous. Yes, lavender embodies the very essence of Provence. Isn’t it true that when one imagines Provence, it’s fields of lavender as far as the eye can see that come to mind? Sunflowers too? Yet, the lavender season is short. So when can you see it?

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The peak month when tourists flock to the region to see the fields of purple is July. There is some lavender out in mid to late June as well. But this June was a surprise with the lavender in bloom in many places, early. It was exploding!

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To see such vibrant fields of purple all around the valley below Bonnieux and Lacoste and around the village of Banon was a feast for the eyes. In fact, I did get some looks of disapproval and some scolding words and hand signals by a few locals as I was standing on the side of a very narrow road trying to capture this purple jewel. Don’t they know it’s like a priceless treasure to us visitors? That’s OK. I know there are much more important issues in life than risking one’s life to get that perfect shot of lavender.

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It sure would be nice to visit in July to see the patchwork of intense purple throughout the region, but I’m not sure about the crowds. So to have the place almost all to myself in June and still see lavender was a dream!

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I leave you with more of the colors of Provence.

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À bientôt!

Scenes From the Bonnieux Market

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It’s always exciting to wander into a French market with the hustle and bustle and the thrill of discovery awaiting. From the beautiful fruit and vegetable stands to the local honey to the fromage to the wine to the soaps and linens, market day is a must.

We arrived by bike at the Provençal market in Bonnieux greeted by live musicians playing a song from the French movie favorite Chocolat, which transported us back to scenes of Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche and the lively party on Roux’s boat.

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After wandering the market for some time, we reserved a table for lunch at un P’tit Coin de Cuisine on Place Gambetta, where we had a delicious Mediterranean plate with the local and in-season zucchini from Maubec. Much to our delight, the musicians relocated to a spot just below our table to entertain the crowds through lunch. This turned out to be an unexpected yet delightful day, and we were in no rush to leave.

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Here are more scenes as we wandered the market in Bonnieux just last week.

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À bientôt!

A Rental in Goult With a Million-Dollar View

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Nestled on the side of a hill with stunning views looking out over toward Bonnieux lies a small, secluded studio for two. This little rental is a dream. Though small, it is fitted to such a high standard.

But that view! I could stand there all day washing dishes at the kitchen sink with a view that makes you just want to pinch yourself. It could not be captured in photos. Many evenings, we just parked ourselves in the chairs facing the window and stared out at the view.

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The rental has three outdoor areas for relaxing as well. And with Café de la Poste just a two-minute stroll away, it is the perfect location.

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As mentioned before, the village of Goult itself is a secret little gem of the Luberon. With charm for days, it also has some excellent restaurants, two boulangeries, a cheese shop, and the most adorable grocery store.

For those looking for an economical yet high standard rental, the studio in Goult is fantastic. It can be viewed more closely here on the Luberon.com.

À bientôt!

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Crazy About Bonnieux

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I must admit, at first I wasn’t crazy about the village of Bonnieux. I thought it was a little too busy, a little rougher around the edges than some of my favorites in Provence. But after staying two weeks just below the village, I am now smitten.

Each day as I walked the steep street up into the village and took my time slowly exploring the narrow cobbled streets, I began to get this village. Now it is a part of me, a place I can’t wait to return to.

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With cascading houses clustered on the side of a hill, Bonnieux is filled with cafés, excellent dining, boulangeries, and views, views, and more views. The photogenic walk up the 86 steps to the top is a must with views over the Luberon valley to Lacoste, Gordes, and beyond.

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But the best is walking up the road behind the village against the Luberon mountain. Once you get close to the top, duck into the narrow alleys to explore and discover the charming doors, windows, and pots of flowers. You will have this all to yourself. This side of the village is even more stunning than the valley side.

There is no shortage of places to eat. As mentioned before, our new gold standard for the region is le Fournil. Also, la Bergerie is fantastic. And simple yet delicious Bretagne crêpes can be had at le Tinel crêperie.

Bonnieux is truly belle Provence. A place to return to again and again. A place that stays with you.

À bientôt!

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RESTAURANTS:

Le Fournil: Place Carnot; phone: +33 (0) 4 90 75 83 62; closed all day Monday and for lunch on Saturday.

La Bergerie: Chemin des Claparedes; phone: +33 (0) 4 90 75 89 78; closed Sunday evening and all day Monday.

Le Tinel:  Place Gambetta; phone: +33 (0) 4 90 75 61 28.

L’Arôme: I have not dined here yet, but it looks wonderful. The most charming setting with tables spilling out onto a narrow street.  2 rue Lucien Blanc; phone: +33 (0) 4 90 75 88 62; closed all day Wednesday and for lunch on Thursday.