The Purple of Provence

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It’s the essence of Provence—intoxicating, calming, soothing, stunning—the purple elixir of Provence. Yet, it’s here for just a short time—at its peak in July but still stunning at the end of June. Provence is raw, rugged, and enchanting all year, but how can one resist being there when the purple elixir makes its show?

Provence in June.

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Now to see the patchwork at the Plateau d’Albion or the Plateau de Valensole at its peak, a visit in July would be best. But in late June, there will be gorgeous lavender below Bonnieux and Lacoste, around Saignon, near Simiane-la-Rotonde and Banon, as well as many hidden fields down country roads all around the Luberon.

À bientôt!

An Enchanting Evening at Bastide de Marie

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Just a skip down the road from our rental in Ménerbes, we returned to la Bastide de Marie for our final evening of our yearly trip to Provence. And the meal won for best of the trip, though a couscous and garbanzo dish from an auberge in Brantes was hard to forget!

This year the weather was perfect, in the month of June, and the tables were set up outside overlooking the vineyard. We started with complimentary apéros and appetizers before moving over to our table for the evening. Soon the sun was setting, and as if with the stroke of an artist’s hand, the color of the sky was changing moment by moment. A Provençal sunset is a sight not to be missed.

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With a small, select menu to choose from, we chose the fish and the lobster. It’s the “secret” sauce that makes the meal in France. This was exquisite! And of course, like last time, the wine of the domaine was included throughout the evening.

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Ending our trip with an evening at la Bastide de Marie was special. But really, anywhere in Provence, even sitting on a rock overlooking the valley while watching the sunset would be a special evening indeed.

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The Lettoch Cottages in Perthshire

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Just outside the town of Pitlochry, centrally located for visiting the Highlands and Cairngorms National Park, are three cottage rentals—the Lettoch Cottages—that make you stop and ask, ‘Do people really get to live here?’

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Since we were two couples traveling together, we rented the Cow Shed and Cow Shed 2, side by side. What a peaceful, cozy, and stunning place to stay, being located high up on a hill above the village of Killiecrankie with a misty view of rolling hills and sheep scattered! Whether taking a country walk or sitting by the fire, it’s hard to pull yourself away from the surroundings at Lettoch Cottages.

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And right next door is the most charming bed and breakfast, the Hayloft, if you need a night or two before checking into Lettoch Cottages.

There is no shortage of inns and pubs nearby, offering fish and chips, fish pie, steak pie, and other comfort foods.

Four favorites:

Blair Atholl Watermill: Delicious soup, sandwiches, and homemade bread.

Moulin Hotel: Delicious pub food, such as leek pie. (Atholl Arms Hotel, their sister hotel, looks amazing for dining.)

Killiecrankie Hotel: Delicious food in a cozy, charming dining room, just minutes from Lettoch Cottages.

Atholl Palace Hotel: Beautiful grounds. Sit on a sofa on the casual pub side for fish and chips and enjoy the rolling Perthshire hills.

Spa des Écuries at Hôtel Crillon le Brave

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In keeping with our yearly tradition and being a supportive wife while my  husband does the challenging climb up Mont Ventoux, I needed to find a place to pass the time. Thus the Spa des Écuries was my “sacrifice” for a few hours. Well, what choice did I have?

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This 18th-century former stables has been converted into three unique treatment rooms with honey-colored stone walls and archways and bouquets of lavender. After a treatment, it’s nice to venture to the upper terrace of the hotel, find a comfortable sofa, order a glass of wine—which comes with a generous serving of nuts and olives—and just soak in the view.

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But I can’t sit still for long because it’s also fun to wander all the little stone walkways of the hotel and hike way down below the village to enjoy a steep hike back up in order to work off all those croissants and such. Ah! Waiting is such drudgery!

Until we escape again. À bientôt!

Are We French Yet? by Keith Van Sickle

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Keith and Val are at it again! Recording their life’s adventures in Provence. These part-time expats are immersing themselves deeper and deeper in the French way of life. But are they French yet?

If you can pass the French doctor test—the interrogation—and perhaps walk away with, not a prescription, but an invitation to a private wine tasting in one of the most famous wine villages of the world, you just might be French!

If you can subject yourself to the grueling pain that comes with learning the French language—the humiliation—and get to the point where you are fully conversational, you just might be French!

So are Keith and Val French yet? It doesn’t get anymore French than forming lifelong friendships with French people, characters such as Sophie and Jacques and Marie-France and Xavier, only these aren’t fictional characters but dear friends.

While Keith and Val’s life in Provence is what we dream of—outdoor markets, walks in the Alpilles, bike rides on lavender-scented country roads, and the best wine and food in the world at your fingertips—Keith takes us into a more in-depth look at the French culture and the people. We also get insider tips on the local region around the charming, lively little town of Saint-Rémy in the Alpilles—real Provence. Tips such as buying meat from a local butcher, where to buy good yet inexpensive wine, and the best picnic spots to enjoy the joie de vivre.

Are We French Yet? is filled with Keith’s usual wit and humor on the “idiosyncracies” of French life. But more than just fun, it inspires anyone trying to learn French not to give up but to keep working at it, even one word at a time.

What did I take away from the book most? I felt the hospitality of the French people as though I was experiencing it firsthand. It’s been said that “once a French person makes you their friend, you’re a friend for life.” And Keith and Val have certainly been enriched by that experience.

To enjoy the journey with Keith and Val, don’t miss out on this lighthearted yet inspirational read of Are We French Yet? here at Amazon.

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A charming village in the Alpilles – Maussane-les-Alpilles

 

 

Back in the Rolling Hills of Perthshire

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Perthshire with its stunning hills and mountains dotted with sheep and ancient stone walls and bridges is a place we just weren’t done with yet. So we made our way back to discover a little more and establish some roots. We returned to the region of Perthshire in Scotland to a small village called Killiecrankie, just outside the larger town of Pitlochry.

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But the main reason we returned was to bring my husband’s parents on a trip of a lifetime so that his mom could see where her mom had grown up. Upon finding what seemed to be the farm we were looking for according to Google Maps, something just didn’t seem right. The house was too new to be the original farmhouse from the 1920’s. We knocked on the door, but no one answered. So then we noticed across the street a long private driveway and sheepishly decided to drive down it to see if that could be the farm. After making our way down the long road, we arrived to find an older woman standing in the yard, and we nervously got out of the car to explain ourselves. Upon telling her that we were looking for a certain farm, she said, “This is the farm!” Delighted, she invited us to have a look around. It warmed our hearts for our mom to walk the grounds where her mom had once walked.

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Our time in Perthshire, exploring quaint villages and venturing to other parts of Scotland, was memorable indeed. Next time, I can’t wait to share the charming rentals where we stayed, overlooking the misty, rolling hills of Perthsire.

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The 42-Euro Omelette at la Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon!

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At the top of the dreamy village of Ménerbes within a 17th-century mansion is la Maison de la Truffe et du Vin de Luberon. Year after year upon visiting this village, we would peer curiously through the iron gate of la Maison de la Truffe into the most beautiful, intimate garden on the side of a cliff and would wonder what it would be like to dine there. Yet, we always walked away feeling intimidated by its elegance.

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This time we did it! And to our surprise, the restaurant, which is called la Cantine des Gourmets, even has a plate of the day at lunchtime that comes with dessert and a glass of wine for just 20-25 euros! The day we visited, it was cochon du Ventoux, which was excellent. My curiosity though was fixed on the 42-euro omelette. Why was it so pricey? The black truffle of Provence, which is also called the Périgord truffle and nicknamed the black diamond.

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The omelette was indeed delicious, and we would definitely return for the truffle-inspired dishes and the elegant setting at la Maison de la Truffe et du Vin de Luberon. There is also a cave for tasting the local wines of the Luberon along with a beautiful gift shop with books on Provence, truffles, and all kinds of regional products.

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But don’t forget that for just five euros you can get just as delicious of an omelette or a quiche just a one-minute walk down the hill to Chez Auzet.

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À bientôt!

Crestet—On the Route de Charm

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Crestet can be described as what I like to call Burgunesque, a word I made up for places that remind me of the rural charm of Burgundy that I first fell in love with. This village is not in Burgundy but in the gorgeous Provençal countryside with a view of Mont Ventoux and the Dentelles de Montmirail.

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Winding streets, vaulted passageways, cobblestone steps, flower boxes, and stone archways lure you in to have a wander.

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After an ordeal getting to Provence, with a ten-hour delay in Munich that caused us to arrive at our rental in the mountains at 2:00 a.m., I was coming down with a cold on the day we visited Crestet. My husband, however, persisted on having me climb these narrow, steep steps, which I couldn’t resist myself.

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If visiting the nearby most-stunning village of Brantes, be sure to stop off at Crestet as it really deserves to be on the Route de Charm. In fact, there’s a collection of small villages in this area of the Vaucluse that have that specific charm factor: Aurel, Brantes, Monieux, Séguret  and, of course, many more to be “discovered.”

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À bientôt!

Chez Auzet at the Top of Ménerbes

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Hungry during the afternoon when restaurants and grocery stores are closed in Provence? Then head up to the top of Ménerbes for the most delicious quiche for just five euros! If you want to splurge, you can spend seven euros and get salad with your quiche.

There are two choices—either quiche Lorraine or quiche Provençal—along with a selection of croissants, pain au chocolat, and biscuits to choose from.

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After two weeks of frequenting Chez Auzet, I guess we were accepted as locals. Each day, we saw the owner cooking omelettes and other delicious looking dishes for his family. So on our last day there, my husband decides to ask if he can have an omelette even though it is not on the menu. A young cook of the family who was cooking that day says, “OK.” My husband asks for champignons, but the cook says, “No champignons.” He comes back in a few minutes and says, “We have onions.” So for just five euros, we receive an award-winning onion omelette from a kitchen that looks like it is right out of a cooking school.

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Little did I know till now, the owner, Gerard Auzet, has been a famous baker for quite some time. He had a bakery in Cavaillon with a cult following for years, which was written about by Peter Mayle in his first book. Because the bread was that good, Mayle and Auzet joined together in publishing a book all about breadmaking called Confessions of a French Baker

The village of Ménerbes, where Chez Auzet is now located, is a village of dreams. Here is some of what you will see as you make your way up the hill to this salon de thé.

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I know I write a lot about omelettes. But the French omelettes are just that good! So soon I’ll have to tell you about the 42-euro omelette. Yikes!

À bientôt!

Brantes—This Is the Village to Beat!

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Suspended across from the mighty Mont Ventoux is a village that can only be described as jaw-droppingly stunning, as it is surrounded with breathtaking Alpine scenery and filled with rustic charm.

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Brantes has been on my list for years to visit, as it was described as a place of total peace and serenity and a home to artists and craftsmen. And I have to say, it is the most stunning of them all. So much so that we went back a second time.

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This quiet village has two wonderful casual places to eat. On our first visit, we ate at la Poterne, which has a stunning view of the village and Mont Ventoux. The omelettes were delicious, the kind of French omelettes we crave when we are back in the States. What a deal to have a delicious omelette, a grain and carrot salad, and local beer and wine—all with a view to die for—for under 15 euros! I’ll take it over any Michelin-starred restaurant any day. Again, it doesn’t cost a fortune to eat really good in France with the focus on fresh and local ingredients.

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As we meandered the streets, we stumbled upon a local artisanal beer brewery—la Géante de Provence la bière du Ventoux—owned by a couple from London who craved the slow-paced life of rural France and left behind the hustle and bustle of the city to start a business of their own and raise their daughter in a remote village with a school of just 11 students. Both restaurants in the village serve this local beer, or you can taste and buy some from the brewery.

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As we continued to wander the cobblestone passageways, we saw an interesting stone bridge off in the distance to go investigate. We found ourselves at les Gorges du Toulourenc and enjoyed cooling off with a wade in the river before heading back to the Luberon.

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If you are looking for a remote place with breathtaking views and the rustic and charming character of rural France, this is the place. This village and the surrounding villages, especially Aurel and Crestet, are remote and peaceful and of course just filled with charm.

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