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!

 

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.

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!

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!

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!