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.

In the Pursuit of Provençal Honey

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Need a break from wine tasting? How about honey tasting? Although, I don’t think anyone tires of wine tasting, especially when in Provence and having access to Côtes du Rhône wine in abundance. But the honey in Provence is divine, with hints of lavender, thyme, rosemary, chestnut, acacia.

Scattered throughout the region are honey farms, where the local honey can be tasted and purchased. Local honey can also be found at the outdoor markets held each day throughout the villages. Here are two producers that we have enjoyed.

Miellerie Lo Brusc: Located in the rural village of Viens is a honey shop run by the Bresc family. These honeys are perhaps the best of the region. You can also purchase gorgeous soaps, candles, sachets of lavender, lavender oil, and other specialties. (Rue de la Porte Neuve, 84750 Viens; Phone: +33 (0) 4 90 75 24 42)

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Produits de la Ruche by Marc Agnel: Next stop is a farm located near Gordes in the countryside of Murs. Here there is another lovely shop to taste and buy honey. We were even able to have a peak into the workshop. (la Charlesse – Route de Gordes, 84220 Murs; Phone: +33 (0) 4 90 72 05 82)

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Do take a break from wine tasting and taste some honey. Local honey and goat cheese together on a salad will not disappoint.

À bientôt!

La Bastide de Marie Nestled Among the Vines

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Just outside the village of Ménerbes lies an 18th-century residence nestled among 57 acres of vines, surrounded by cypress and olive trees, and scented with rosemary and lavender bushes all around. La Bastide de Marie is an intimate, luxury farmhouse—a Provençal oasis in the Luberon to be discovered.

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I had heard mention repeatedly that dining at the bastide was an experience not to be missed. So finally, we decided to splurge and experience this hidden retreat for ourselves. I must emphasis the word “splurge,” as this was not our usual bistro or café dining. So to justify, we decided we would celebrate our anniversary a few weeks early just to make ourselves feel better.

The evening menu consists of a prix-fixe selection. It starts with an open bar on the outside terrace overlooking the vineyard, offering wines of the Domaine de Marie, kir, pastis, or whatever you choose. Along with that a delicious buffet of appetizers is laid out in the inside dining room. As we sipped our apéritifs, a waiter came over to review the evening menu. We then moved inside to the gorgeous dining room to choose our table. In the summer months, tables are set up outside in view of the vineyard. But on the cooler evenings, the inside dining room offers beautiful views as well.

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The menu includes an entrée, a plat, cheese, dessert, and coffee. You also have your choice of limitless wine from the domaine. Your waiter returns again and again to refill throughout dinner. With the unlimited wine, we reasoned that we were actually saving money with our splurge. If only! The red wine of the domaine was outstanding and was our favorite of the trip. It is well worth stopping by the cellars for a tasting and to buy a bottle or two, since it is very reasonably priced.

Here is a little view of the food at the bastide. We thought it was quite good. It didn’t surpass our favorite restaurants of the region, but the atmosphere is enchanting indeed.

La Bastide de Marie is part of a small group of exclusive destinations of Maisons and Hôtels Sibuet. I would imagine the rooms are just as inviting as the grounds. I’m always nervous to stay at hotels, fearing that noise may be an issue. However, I asked an older gentleman who was staying at the bastide if the rooms were quiet. He looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said that he normally suffers with a sleep issue but had the best sleep of his life while staying there.

Dining at la Bastide de Marie is indeed a special treat. But as most would agree, all of the Luberon, all of Provence, and all of France is one big treat!

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IMG_3650À bientôt!