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!

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!

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!

 

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.

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!

Sometimes It’s All About the Frites!

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The truth is it doesn’t cost much to eat like a king in France. Though there are many Michelin-starred restaurants and fantastic dining experiences to be had, often it’s the simple café and bistro food that’s the best. The scrumptious buttery omelettes, the quiche, the crêpes, the freshest of salads—of which the lettuce was no doubt just picked from a garden within the village—and let’s not forget the frites! After we first tried the frites in France, we understood why they are called “French” fries. Amazing! Although the Belgians might beg to differ.

Many cafés and restaurants also offer a plat du jour for just 10 to 12 euros. This could perhaps be a steak, pork, chicken, or rabbit dish with potatoes and vegetables. Throw in a carafe of local table wine, often for just six to eight euros, and you will have yourself the most delicious yet affordable meal. These simple, slow cooked meals of the freshest ingredients—exploding with flavor—are why I can barely go out to eat anymore back home.

Here are some favorite cafés in the Vaucluse (Luberon) department of Provence based on the quality of food and the view.

Bistrot la Terrasse in Joucas. Fantastic food and view. Only open for lunch. If it’s ever open again in the evenings, this is the number one enchanting spot for ambiance at sunset. (phone: +33 4 90 75 17 98)

Café de France in Lacoste. Great food. Quiche is excellent! View to die for. (phone: +33 4 90 75 82 25)

Chez Christine in Saignon. Very good food, and the most authentic, charming village to sit out in under the shade of a tree. (rue Saint-Louis; phone: +33 4 90 04 50 10)

Chez Auzet Biscuits du Luberon in Menerbes. Excellent omelettes for five euros! All kinds of tartes and pastries. Great view. (52 rue du Portail Neuf; phone: +33 4 90 72 37 53)

Café du Progrès in Menerbes. I have not tried the food, but there is a small terrace that has the most amazing view overlooking the valley on which to enjoy an apéritif. (rue Raoul et Raymond Sylvestre; phone: +33 4 90 72 22 09)

Le Tinel Crêperie in Bonnieux. Very good crêpes as the cook is from Brittany. Great view. (place Gambetta; phone: +33 6 12 27 23 85)

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Chez Auzet in Menerbes

Bon appétit!

A Discovery at the Top of Bonnieux

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One day while taking a walk up the very steep road behind Bonnieux, I saw signs for la Bastide de Capelongue and Édouard Loubet, Relais and Châteaux. Curious, I kept walking. I continued up past the village and onto a side road. I soon came to the grounds of a gorgeous resort. As I discreetly explored the grounds, I saw across from the bastide a sign for la Bergerie.

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The electronic gates were open, so I made my way in. What I found was a cozy, intimate restaurant set on the beautiful grounds of la Ferme de Capelongue, which is a more informal part of the bastide. La Bergerie restaurant looked outstanding! I excitedly made my way back down the hill below the village of Bonnieux to share my discovery. I made a reservation and back we went.

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Not only are the grounds beautiful but the inside of the restaurant is gorgeous, rustic, and inviting. Arriving at 7:00 p.m., naturally we were the only ones there. This is France of course! The waiter was hysterical as he told us that he still needed to get dressed but to go ahead and have a seat on one of the cozy couches and he would bring us an apéritif shortly.

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While we enjoyed our apéritifs with delicious tapenade and bread, we were brought two chalkboards showing both the menu of the day and suggestions of the day.

At 7:30 we chose a table and ordered a bottle of wine from the domaine of Édouard Loubet, which we thought was wonderful! For our first course, we chose le melon de Bonnieux et jambon and sardinillas de Galice à l’huile. Now, I don’t normally like melon, but this salad was delicious! Provençal melons of course!

I guess I got distracted and forgot to photograph properly our main courses and will spare you the photos of half-eaten plates, but we chose la belle entrecôte Charolaise and pavé de saumon. The salmon rated highly with the dish I had at le Petit Café. Along with our courses, we were served a side of ratatouille and gratin de pommes de terre. While the chefs cooked right in front of us, baskets of freshly baked bread were being brought out from a separate kitchen.

We certainly didn’t need dessert. But with an ambience like this, we were in no rush to leave. So we ended the night with la tarte du jour and tiramisu.

La Bergerie was a highlight of our recent trip, and we hope to return again.

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À bientôt!

Le Petit Café in the Majestic Oppède-le-Vieux

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Some things just don’t change. Don’t you love it when you return to a place and it feels like nothing has skipped a beat while you were gone? Like le Petit Café located in the breathtaking Oppède-le-Vieux. The same white dog sitting on a spool in the center of it all.

We had another amazing meal at this restaurant. It really is an extremely enchanting place in the evening, located in the very ancient village square. This time we parked our car a good 15 minutes away so as to enjoy a surreal walk before dinner with a backdrop of vineyards, the Luberon mountain, and the ruins of Oppède. This made for a romantic yet scary walk back later in the dark, all the time wondering if a wild boar would present itself.

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Being that le Petit Café is a Mediterranan-inspired restaurant, what better way to start our meal than with the most delicious olives and bread! For our main course, we chose the côte de veau with lemon and vegetables and the pavé de saumon à la plancha with risotto and ratatouille. The food was so fresh and delicious that this restaurant is now number three on our list of Provençal favorites.

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And for dessert, crème citronnée sur lit de fruits and tiramisu maison. Voilà!

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Happy and content, we must now venture in the dark back to our car through the enchanting Oppède-le-Vieux. Can’t wait to return to le Petit Café.

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À bientôt!

Le Fournil—The New Gold Standard

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Over the last few years, I’d been hearing mention of le Fournil in several gite rental binders, and it had been on my list of restaurants to try. It did not disappoint! In fact, with each bite we were asking, “How soon can we get back?”

Le Fournil is located in the center of the beautiful village of Bonnieux and set in a natural troglodytic cave. The menu is Mediterranean inspired with the freshest ingredients and the most simple yet refined dishes.

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During the summer months, it is absolutely enchanting to sit at a table outside in the evening by the 17th-century fountain.

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For our menu, we chose the poisson du jour and the porc du Ventoux with pommes de terre. Both were outstanding!

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And for dessert, the chocolat du jour with apricot sauce was crazy good.

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Thanks to le Fournil, nothing tastes as good since returning to the States. Now, we can’t help but compare everything to it. It’s hard to choose between le Fournil and our other favorite restaurant in Provence, les Remparts, written about here. But I think you will agree that le Fournil deserves to be the new gold standard.

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À bientôt!

How Not to Go Hungry in France

IMG_3406Hungry in France? Wait a minute! Isn’t France all about the food? Isn’t it known for its boulangeries, pâtisseries, cheese, bread, croissants, steak frites, Michelin-star dining? Don’t people go to France for the food? Yes, yes, and yes. There is wonderful food everywhere, as long as you play by the rules.

On one of our first trips to Paris, we woke up late in the morning on account of jet lag and the time difference. We went down to the hotel breakfast room and asked if we could get croissants or breakfast. The distinguished Madame attending the desk replied, “No! Now is not the time for eating. Now is the time for shopping!” Well, OK then. If we must. Shopping it is!

Another evening we found ourselves staring in the window of a restaurant at 5:00 p.m. wondering why it was not open. A kind tourist explained to us that restaurants do not open until 7:00-7:30 p.m. Starvation it is!

On further trips, it didn’t take us long to discover that if we didn’t establish a spot in time for lunch, we were probably going to go hungry. One time we were bicycling our way to a recommended bistrot for lunch only to get lost and not make it before 1:30 to be served. Disappointed and hungry, we decided to cycle to an épicerie (small grocery store) to get some nuts or something to hold us over until 7:30 p.m. only to find that it was closed from the hours of 2:00-4:00. No food now whatsoever, only alcohol or espresso. You can get that any time of the day at cafés. Thank goodness!

IMG_1059Now if you are hoping to eat at a restaurant for dinner and you don’t have a reservation, you better just pray you can get a seat and that there is no sign that says “complet” when you arrive or that the restaurant is not closed that particular day. Otherwise, you will truly understand the meaning of why French women don’t get fat. You can’t get any food!

All kidding aside, we finally have learned to play by the rules and things have run pretty smoothly in recent years. There still is the occasional arriving at a restaurant in the evening to find it is closed and rushing like crazy to the next village hoping that something will be open. By the way, we did make it back to the above mentioned bistrot that we got lost trying to find on bicycle that day, and it was great! We asked the owner what day of the week he was closed because we wanted to return. He responded, “I am always here. I’m never closed.” We went back another day with anticipation, and naturally he was closed.

Thus, some people have asked me, “Why do you keep going back? Why don’t you go somewhere else where you can eat whenever you want and there aren’t so many rules? Well, maybe they haven’t experienced the je ne sais quoi factor of France that makes one want to return, need to return, be willing to forgo food at times just for the extreme joy of being in such a delightful place.

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À bientôt!