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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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!