Gordes—The Jewel of the Luberon

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Placed in a commanding position with all her majestic glory is a village that shines like a jewel above all others. She wears her crown well as visitors flock to capture her image from the valley below.

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The best time to see Gordes is when it’s calm in the early morning or in the evening as the sun is setting and the light is magnificent for photos. It’s never been too busy when we have visited, since we always go slightly off season. But I would stay away in the prime of summer or only visit in the early morning or in the evening when the tourists are off having dinner and you can have the place all to yourself.

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Wandering the narrow cobblestone streets and taking in the simple charms of flowers in terracotta pots, colorful shutters, and sparkling pools high up above the valley is the best part of slow-pace travel, immersing oneself in the moment.

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It’s also relaxing to sit and people watch at le Renaissance, a very classy café/restaurant, where there are often musicians playing in the square.

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And, of course, the nearby notorious Sénanque Abbey is a photogenic dream.

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There’s no denying that Gordes is the jewel of the Luberon. Stunning indeed. There are other villages though that call to me more, having that special je ne sais quoi that is the essence of French village charm. But I always make time for Gordes.

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À bientôt!

Villa Ephrussi—Am I in France or Italy?

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Located on the gorgeous Cap Ferrat peninsula, overlooking the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, is an Italian-style villa built during France’s Belle Époque by Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. The mansion, with its nine exquisite gardens, was bequeathed in 1934 to the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France. With its priceless works of art, the villa is a site dedicated to art and gardens. While walking the grounds, one can’t help but stop and wonder if they have somehow crossed the border into Italy.

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Being that we only had an hour before continuing on to explore the peninsula, we spent our time wandering the gorgeous gardens and gazing through vistas that beautifully framed the blue water of the Côte d’Azur.

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The Cap Ferrat peninsula and the stunning Villa Ephrussi are well worth a trip when exploring the French Riviera.

À bientôt!

An Enchanting Evening at Hôtel Crillon le Brave

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Tucked away in a small hilltop village overlooking a landscape of vineyards and olive groves, lying in the shadow of Mont Ventoux, and practically bordering the villages of the Côtes du Rhône appellation is an intimate gem of a resort intertwined in the streets of the village. Hôtel Crillon le Brave consists of just 36 rooms tucked away in 8 old village houses connected by secret alleyways and hidden courtyards, along with two beautiful restaurants, terrace lounges, and a small yet gorgeous spa.

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While not staying there ourselves, we sure don’t mind stopping in for a glass of wine, a cup of tea, a massage, or a special meal under the Provençal sky. Bistrot 40K hit the spot! Our evening unfolded as with an artist’s stroke the color of the sky changed moment by moment over the valley.

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Bistrot 40K and its gourmet neighbor, Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, are passionate about using local, seasonal produce. From the fresh baked bread to the tapenade to the amuse-bouche to an amazing bottle of local Ventoux wine, we were off to a good start.

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From there, we enjoyed appetizers and a delicious le côte de cochon du Ventoux rôtie along with gratin d’aubergine and a cherry tart for dessert.

For an enchanting evening under an intoxicating Provençal sky, we recommend a meal at Crillon le Brave. Other options for extreme ambience are three favorites: Bistrot la Terrasse in Joucas, la Bergerie in Maubec, and le Petit Café  in Oppède-le-Vieux.

À bientôt!

Les Bories & Spa Hidden in Gordes

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Secluded in a 20-acre aromatic park of olive and cypress trees, lavender, rosemary, and thyme is a hidden little retreat called les Bories, which is located on a quiet road across from Gordes. Les Bories is a five-star luxury hotel with a beautiful spa that offers extensive treatments.

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So in keeping with my tradition of getting a massage while my husband is biking away in a cyclist’s paradise, I just can’t get enough of les Bories! Being able to wander around Gordes afterward is a plus.

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Funny story though. My first time to les Bories, I felt a little out of place since I wasn’t use to luxury resorts and had never even had a massage before. In fact, in our early travels, we use to travel on $30 a day for two people. Now on $30 a day, you can still eat like a king in France—the outdoor markets, the bread, the cheese, the everything!

So I am dropped off at les Bories, planning to meet up with my husband later in Gordes. My plan was to walk the hotel’s gentle fitness trail that takes you from the resort right into the village. Graciously, the five-star resort offered to drive me to the village after the treatment, but I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone since I already felt out of place. So I said: “That’s okay. I can just walk the trail down. No problem.”

Problem! With my inherent lack of sense of direction, somehow I got off the short trail and was completely lost. Perhaps it had to do with my not understanding French signs. So after just enjoying the most relaxing massage of a lifetime, I am now wandering around in the intense heat of Provence completely lost in the garrigue on a very secluded dirt road. On top of that, bees are swarming me as I am covered in honey and other concoctions from my massage. I walked and walked in the blazing sun, occasionally passing gated mansions and thinking that sooner or later I would have to ring someone’s intercom for help. Somehow I kept going. After quite some time, I made it out onto a main road. At this point I sensed I was well above the village and started to make my way down the road, relieved that at least I had made it to a main road. Long behold, a happy biker goes whipping by with delight. Yes, my husband is having a grand old time while I am now a disheveled mess of sweat and dehydration and terror!

Yet, none of that has stopped me from returning to les Bories—a beautiful, secluded retreat with treatments such as the Egyptian Beauty Therapy, the Greco-Roman Therapy, and the Coeur de Provence Therapy that will keep you coming back again and again.

IMG_5381IMG_5386À bientôt!

A Provençal Oasis in the Luberon Valley

IMG_4313.JPGI really don’t want to share this one, I really don’t. But it’s pure kindness that makes me not withhold. In the Luberon valley, just below Bonnieux and Lacoste, lies an oasis of perfection called Mas des Sens. Le mas is a gorgeously manicured property in a quiet, rural location and is made up of three rentals along with two private lavender fields. Our rental was Suite Gordes, my favorite due to its being completely private and in a separate building away from the other two rentals that face the pool.IMG_4293.JPGIMG_5559.JPGIt was a Provençal dream to awake each morning to the sight of a hot air balloon over the valley. And each day I watched as my own private lavender field turned more vivid in purple. From my bedroom, I had a view of Bonnieux from one window and of  Lacoste from the other. And each night, I watched a spectacular light show as the sun set over the valley, the light changing minute by minute. As never before, I sensed just why this place is so special.IMG_4845.JPGIMG_5505IMG_5570.JPGThe English caretakers of Mas des Sens are an absolute delight. They prepared a gorgeous breakfast for us on the first morning of our stay. Breakfast can be requested for an additional charge and delivered to your own private terrace outside your door.IMG_4289.JPGThe bike path passes right by the rental, making it a perfect location to rent bikes. In fact, the bike shop in Bonnieux will deliver bikes and pick them up for your convenience.

What a peaceful place to stay! Staying down in the valley instead of up in a village was a whole new delight, surrounded by farmhouses and quiet country lanes. Here are a few photos of the surroundings.

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À bientôt!

Allergic to Provence?

IMG_4378Please no! Anything but that. Upon visiting Provence this past June, with the unusually high temperatures of 95-100 degrees, my pasty white, sun-deprived skin went into shock. I developed hives or eczema all over! What to do?

I finally stopped in at the pharmacy in Bonnieux—the French pharmacy is the know all cure all—and was told, “You need to stay out of the sun!” Stay out of the sun? That’s not good! I will just have to live with leprosy. Continuing on one day, while hiking to the calanques in Cassis, I felt this intense burning on my lower legs like they were on fire. I looked down to see, this time, large red patches. What was that? Psoriasis?

Thanks to the French pharmacy and the special cream prescribed to me, I continued on. I’m nervous to come back to you my dear Provence, but I can’t help myself.

IMG_5544À bientôt!

Monieux: A Hidden Gem Near the Gorges de la Nesque

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One day while driving through the Gorges de la Nesque, we “needed” a place to stop to have an apéritif before heading to Venasque for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, les Remparts. My husband suggested Monieux, since he had passed through the village on his bike in the past. I, on the other hand, was hesitant, thinking that perhaps Sault would be a better choice. I had never heard of Monieux. Well, as it turns out, Monieux was a dream! Charm for days! The type of village that tops my list.

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After venturing around the village, with its Bourgogne-like charms, we relaxed by a beautiful fountain for apéritifs at a place called les Lavandes. The inside restaurant looks quite beautiful and no doubt would be worth a return for dinner.

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After discovering Monieux, I wonder how many more “hidden” villages are waiting to be discovered in this area of Provence. I definitely have Brantes and Crestet on my radar as villages having charm for days.

À bientôt!

Le Petit Café Takes the Cake

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There’s no doubt that the food in Provence is amazing. So each year, we like to award a restaurant for the best food of the trip. We have our favorites—Le Fournil in Bonnieux, les Remparts in Venasque, la Bergerie in Maubec, and la Terrasse in Joucas. But this year, le Petit Café wins for most delicious meal of the trip!

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This restaurant has been one of our favorites for some time. For one thing, it is located in the enchanting village of Oppède-le-Vieux, where the evening ambience is captivating to say the least. Yet, the food is downright delicious! Here’s a sample of the menu, which changes weekly.

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We had the tagliatelle with artichokes, tomatoes, ham, and pesto, as well as the beef with tomato, arugula, and Parmesan, accompanied with potatoes.

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The biscuits with chocolat, caramel ice cream, and sea salt were a hit. And the tiramisu was perhaps the best ever!

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We were really looking forward to seeing our majestic canine friend sitting on his spool. But apparently, he was confined to his room, as we caught sight of him from his window above.

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Le Petit Café is a characterful little find that won’t disappoint, especially at night. Reservations recommended, as it books up fast.

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À bientôt!

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: A Slice of Quiet on the French Riviera

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After much research on where to go for a “taste” of the Côte d’Azur—while wanting to avoid the crowds—we resolved that Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat was what we were looking for. After all, it is apparently a place for millionaires and European aristocracy, according to one source. Sounded good to us!

As we made our way to the village along a corniche road, passing Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer, we caught glimpses of sparkling blue sea with yachts scattered about and private gardens nestled in the hillside. Something told us that this was a place we could get use to. There was an old-world elegance from the days of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, and not much had changed.

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Upon arrival, we started out on the Promenade Maurice Rouvier, in the village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and made our way to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild for our first stop. (More about Villa Ephrussi next time.)

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From the villa, we proceeded on to Paloma Beach, with its stunning view of the cliffs of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Eze. After a dip in the Mediterranean, we continued on the beautiful walkway that goes around the peninsula. We stuck to the Plage de la Paloma loop trail, which takes about 45 minutes. If you have time, the entire walk around Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat takes about two hours on the Tour du Cap trail. There is also a walk called the Promenade de Saint-Hospice, which starts around the port and takes you past Paloma Beach, circling back to the port in about an hour and a half.

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In the month of September, the Côte d’Azur was really quite peaceful. But now, after a wonderful day getting a taste of the Côte, it’s time to make our journey back to our rental in Bonnieux.

À bientôt!

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!