A Gîte That Comes With a Dog and Two Cats!

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On our last visit to Provence, we stayed at a little oasis of tranquility tucked away just below the village of Bonnieux. Each day began with a short yet very steep five-minute walk up to the boulangerie for fresh croissants. Lazy afternoons were spent lounging by a pool gazing up at the enchanting rooftops of Bonnieux.

And in the evenings, it was hard to break away with a view like this from our rental terrace. Vineyards and the village of Lacoste illuminated on one side and the sun setting over the rooftops of Bonnieux on the other.

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But the best part of all was the lovable Bambou and her two companions who came to visit us each day. From the moment we got up in the morning, Bambou was anxiously waiting outside our door to come in. And each day when we returned, we were visited by Bambou and a cat or two. This all added to our French village experience. Warm memories that will stay with us along with our newfound attachment to the village of Bonnieux.

For those looking to find a nice gîte rental in Provence, we have had much success finding good ones on HomeAway, or VRBO, where you can search by village and see many reviews. It is also helpful that you can pay by credit card instead of by bank transfer. Additionally, the Luberon.com offers a very, very nice selection of rentals specifically in the Luberon area.

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À bientôt!

The Charismatic Provençal Village of Bédoin

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Bédoin is a village that grows on you. At first it may not appear to be as polished or refined as some of the other popular villages in the area. But give it a chance. Wander the streets and enjoy the atmosphere, the frenzy of excitement as cyclists come and go as they bike the iconic stage of the Tour de France—Mont Ventoux.

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The main street is lined with some very nice shops and casual cafés. For some of the best olive bread in the region, stop in at Boulangerie Olivero Ravel.

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On my last visit, I stumbled by chance on a marché artisanal taking place in the village that day. The stands were filled with everything from pottery to children’s books to gorgeous rings made of clay to the beautiful works of Christine Juillan, who makes interesting jewelry from recycled wine bottles and perfume bottles.

For complete solitude and outstanding views, venture off the main street and walk up to the top of the village, where the golden and ochre-colored houses lie clustered basking under the Provençal sky. Ancient fountains and lavoirs add to the character and charm as you meander the narrow streets.

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For an authentic French village experience, visit Bédoin. Take some time to sit at one of the café terraces to get the flavor of this village. And if cycling to the top of Mont Ventoux is not for you, why not drive to the top to be rewarded with some stunning scenery. You might even spot a wild goat on your way.

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À bientôt!

“I’m Never Doing This Again!”

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As I waited with anticipation at an ancient fountain in the village of Bédoin for my husband to complete his third ride of Mont Ventoux, I spotted him. Anxiously, I asked, “How did it go?”  Grinning but determined, he said, “I’m never doing this again!” Famous last words!

After unwinding for a few minutes in the bliss of a cyclists’ mecca, the next words uttered were, “Well, maybe I’ll do it again next week.” Yes. The love-hate relationship with the mighty Giant.

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In the Vaucluse department of Provence, the Giant does not go unnoticed as it looms, making itself visible as you make your way from village to village and from café to café. And so with each croissant, every scoop of nougat glacé, and every bit of bread and cheese, it’s as if Ventoux is taunting you saying, “Go ahead and eat that croissant, that pain au chocolat, those steak frites, that scrumptious piece of moelleux au chocolat because I’ll be waiting here to destroy you!”

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Thus, my husband decided that perhaps his diet of croissants, pain au chocolat, steak frites, and desserts was not working so well for him the week before a ride. Perhaps a better plan would be to conquer Ventoux as soon as we arrive before the gluttony begins.

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But what a thrill to finish such a challenging ride! As you get close to the finish, photographers cheer you on as they take your picture and tuck their business card into your jersey so that you can contact them later to purchase your victory photo. A bit of a tourist trap? So be it! It’s genius. And besides, how many tourists actually arrive at the top of Mont Ventoux by bicycle?

Later, I got a description of what each stage of the ride felt like as we drove to the top. What an amazing place! Such barren and different scenery than the land below. And naturally there were food and wine at the top.

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Looking for a place to rent a bike in the Luberon? La Coquillade resort has a BMC Cycling Centre. The only sad part is having to return the bike at the end of your trip.

À bientôt!

Tourrettes-sur-Loup: The City of Violets

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The thrill of discovering new villages with the expectation that the next one will surely be more charming than the last is why my early trips to France entailed a five-page list of villages in alphabetical order to see. The sight of this list would often make my husband’s face turn pale from exhaustion at the thought of it.

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So while he was heading to the nearest bench or rock to relax, I was rushing around in the pursuit of more villages yet to be discovered. All that has changed. I still have my list but have learned to appreciate the value of slow travel and to enjoy the moment. For that reason, it it hard to venture outside of the Vaucluse department of Provence, an area that just forces you to slow down and take two-hour lunches and leisurely strolls as the sound of the cicadas lulls you into a trancelike state of relaxation in the afternoon sun.

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Yet, the Côte d’Azur was calling. On our way over, we stopped off at the village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup. And what a dream this medieval village filled with old-world charm, ancient walkways, cobblestone steps, and colorful flowers dotting a landscape of mountain and sea was!

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Situated high up some 27 kilometers from Nice, this perched village is considered to be less touristy than the stunning Saint-Paul-de-Vence and Èze, which we are saving for another time. I don’t know what the summer months bring, but Tourrettes-sur-Loup was a quiet place in the month of September.

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Known as the City of Violets, Tourrettes holds an annual Fête des Violettes in March. The whole village is filled with flowers. The cultivation of violets is used for the perfume industry in Grasse as well as for making local products such as crystallized flowers, candied fruit, and ice cream. The village is also home to many artisans, whose workshops are filled with pottery, jewelry, paintings, and sculptures.

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We found ourselves at the most adorable café called L’Epicerie that just called to us. Now, I know we were in France, but let me just say, it was some of the best Italian food I have ever had! So simple and so good.

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The gorgeous village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup is well worth a visit, especially outside of July and August when you can enjoy wandering the ancient streets and narrow passageways while the sight of the Mediterranean off in the distance just beckons you to come explore.

Looking for  a special little place to stay? Look no further. Histoires de Bastide is the perfect place to spend a night or two.

À 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!

An Alpine Village With European Flair

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Dreaming of getting away to a winter wonderland and being nestled in the snow-dusted landscape of a charming, remote French village—perhaps in Bourgogne, Alsace, or Annecy—with nothing but the sound of bells going off every hour and the crackling of a fire enticed me.

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Pure bliss. I almost had my husband convinced. If only the price of an airline ticket was not so high, perhaps my fantasy would have come true. Instead, close to home, we found Alpine charm with some European flair in the Adirondack Mountains—Lake Placid. What a delightful little mountain village!

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Lake Placid is well known for hosting the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980. It is a popular destination year round for outdoor enthusiasts, who enjoy skiing, hiking the 46 High Peaks, ice skating, rock climbing, and a host of other activities. The main street of the village is lined with shops and restaurants all along the smaller—yet oh so charming—Mirror Lake.

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The Mirror Lake Inn is the place to enjoy a meal in the most elegant setting with a view of the lake. There are two restaurants, the View and Taste Bistro, as well as an informal place right on the lake called the Cottage, which is a good place to get a snack or a light meal to warm up with after outdoor activities. We loved the elegance of the Taste Bistro and thought our meals were pretty good—not Fournil good of course, but still good. However, the atmosphere was five star.

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The Lake Placid Lodge, which is a member of the Relais and Châteaux association, looks like the place to go for a special meal or occasion. We stopped by for a glass of wine in order to check the place out and get a view of Lake Placid itself, since the lake is more hidden and secluded than Mirror Lake. Quite a special place! We had a peek in the wine cellar, which is used for private dinner parties. We were told that much of the woodwork was salvaged from Burgundy of all places.

We, however, stayed in the inviting Dartbrook Lodge in the scenic Keene Valley, not far from Lake Placid. Designed and furnished by local artisans, the lodge has beautiful, rustic cabins and suites in the style of the Great Camp tradition.

We chose the South Center House, which was very nice and cozy. Since we were the only ones staying at the lodge, it was perfectly quiet. I would probably pick the Halcyon House next time, which is detached and thus more private. The Ausable River runs right along the property, making for dreamy winter walks.

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There truly is much beauty to be found and appreciated in all parts of the world. No blue shutters here. But a lovely Adirondack color!

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À bientôt!

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!

The Most Romantic Village of the Luberon

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Here’s a tip! When your husband asks if you would like to be dropped off in the village of Lourmarin for the day, you just say “Yes!” You don’t question it. You just go. You won’t be disappointed.

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Romantic is the best word to describe it. Classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France, Lourmarin is intoxicating. It’s a place that instills a need for one to return to again and again, each time discovering a little more. Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves along with shady plane trees and charming cobblestone streets filled with cafés, restaurants, and boutiques, it is pretty much every female’s dream.

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If you can break away from relaxing and people watching at one of the many enticing cafés spilling out onto the streets to walk up to the Château de Lourmarin, otherwise nicknamed the Villa Medicis de Provence, you will be rewarded with gorgeous views looking back on the village. This picturesque Renaissance château offers tours and has many art exhibitions and concerts in the summer months. Gorgeous olive groves are behind the château and country lanes to meander.

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On the way up to the château, why not stop off at les Caves du Château to taste the wonderful regional wines of the Luberon. The Château Fontvert is also located right nearby for tasting.

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An absolute must is to visit Lourmarin on Friday—market day! This is perhaps the best market in the Vaucluse department of Provence. Live music in the streets and adorable baby goats to pet all add to the excitement as well as gorgeous linen aprons and fabrics and stand after stand of deliciousness.

Visit the village of Lourmarin and experience the intoxication yourself.

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À bientôt!

Histoires de Bastide—A B&B With a View

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On our recent two-day French Riviera adventure, we stayed at the amazing Histoires de Bastide in the most charming of villages, Tourrettes-sur-Loup. After much online searching and scrutinizing of every bed and breakfast in the Côte d’Azur, we settled on this one, and boy was it a find! I selfishly don’t want to share but want to keep this all to myself because it was that good.

Histoires de Bastide is a guest house on the side of a cliff with a stunning view of the village and of the sea off in the distance. It is made up of four guest rooms, two on the second floor and two on the first, all with the same amazing view that will make you think you have crossed the border and gone over into Italy.

The gracious owner, Sandrine, who lives just a short distance away, comes over in the morning to prepare a delicious breakfast with fresh croissants, breads, homemade jams, and fresh-squeezed orange juice all served on the outside terrace with a view that makes it hard to leave. Yet, the sea beckoning in the distance awaits.

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Histoires de Bastide was a perfect base away from the hustle and bustle to further explore the French Riviera. And the village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup? A medieval dream we’ll talk more about next time.

À bientôt!

Goult—A Secret Luberon Gem

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While most tourists visiting the Luberon head right for the spectacular villages of Gordes and Roussillon, there lies tucked away in a world all its own the quiet, refined, and classy village of Goult.

Classy is the word to describe this quaint little village with its photogenic little square of plane trees, ancient buildings, and the lively Café de la Poste.

As you make your way up from the village square, you will pass a beautiful boutique, an antique shop, a fromagerie, and the most adorable épicerie with a separate fruit and vegetable room across the street.

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From here you can continue to wander the charming streets and narrow passageways filled with elegant intricacies as you find your way to the windmill at the top.

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There are at least three popular restaurants in the village, which are usually fully booked by locals. So reservations are a must. La Bartavelle, on a narrow street above the main square, seems to be the most popular with locals and foodies alike. In addition, there are le Carillon and la Terrasse, which are always booked. Another casual yet enjoyable option is to order a pizza from the pizzeria directly across from the Café de la Poste and take it to the café to eat while ordering drinks.

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Yes, Goult is still a bit of a secret from the mass crowds. In fact, one gite rental binder recommends Goult with a big “Shh!” Meaning, don’t let the secret out.

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À bientôt!