Behind the Scenes in Provence

Provence Confidential has been blogging about restaurant launches, cooking classes, food festivals, Provençal wines and spirits as well as tradition and folklore since 2008.

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Saffron Season

crocus

After harvesting grapes in September for the wine industry, late October marks the season for saffron which lasts 3 to 4 weeks.

The hand-harvested and dried pistils of the Crocus Sativus is where saffron comes from. It takes about 200 flowers to produce 1 kilo of saffron. This explains the high cost of the spice.

The Saffron Association of Provence was created in 2006 to relaunch the cultivation of an ancestral product first grown by the Romans in the region. These hardy crocus bulbs can withstand variations in temperature from -15°C to 40°C.

There are now several local producers in Provence. Some sell their saffron on the local markets like Safran du Cativel and others online Couleurs de ProvenceL'Or des Trois Rivières, Terra T'Air. You can also sign up for a visit and workshop Safran de Provence located north of Aix en Provence in the Alpes de de Haute Provence.

Dozens of recipes call for saffron including bouillabaisse, Marseille’s signature dish but I recently discovered that the spice is used for medicinal purposes and in aromatherapy.

Art & Wine

066 vendanges bonisson

Combining Art & Wine has been a growing trend in Provence.  Chateau Vignelaure, Commanderie de Peyrassol, Chateau La Coste and more recently Chateau de la Gaude all feature monumental sculptures from world renowned artists.

Chateau Bonisson, the new player on the block, located in Rognes north of Aix-en-Provence, not only offers award-winning organic wine made from hand-picked grapes but soon a contemporary art center will be open to visitors as well. The domaine offers two ranges: La Petite Causerie and Opus 1619 both available in red, white and rosé. Among the numerous distinctions this new winery obtained in 2020 are the silver medal for  La Petite Causerie rosé 2019 and the gold medal Opus 1619 rosé 2019 at the prestigious Concours Général Agricole de Paris. 

In 2017, the La Dorze family purchased the domaine where the date 1619 is visible above the entrance to the superbly refurbished bastide. Tasks are shared between father and daughter. Victoire has taken on the management of the  winery where grapes have been grown since 1791 while father Christian pursues his  passion for contemporary art. His private collection is beyond impressive and I was unexpectedly invited in for a sneak preview.

When I recently visited the domaine, the Bonisson Art Center was in the final phase of construction. A two-story building will open in time for the end of the year holidays. The first exhibit will feature the works of the French award-winning photographer, George Rousse, who invented a unique approach that led to the creation of artwork that transforms sites into pictorial spaces.

Sweet Scented Dreams

The lavender harvest is coming to an end in Provence. I was able to view them again this year, both on foot and on horseback, before the long stems were cut and the lavender buds distilled for use as fragrance in soaps, candles and perfume.

The tourism industry is at a bit of standstill this year and there are far fewer visitors. But you can travel to the lavender fields by listening to “Blue Gold” narrated by Stephen Fry (story by Phoebe Smith) that takes you on a calming journey through the scented lavender fields of Provence. 

Even if you are not right here in Provence, it's pretty close.

 

 

 

 

 

Farm to table experience

What better way to spend a Sunday then dining on perfectly prepared local produce with friends at a 300 year old sheepfold overlooking the Luberon mountains?

I've been to the restaurant before and raved about it. But it got even better. The new owner re-opened Le Castellas in May 2019 after investing in some very elaborate renovations to both the kitchens and the hotel orginally built in 1720 as a sheepfold. He also recently had the country road between the hamlet and the domaine paved making it far less treacherous to drive up if you don't have a four-wheel drive vehicle. 

Rove goats with their lyre-shaped horns welcome you to the domaine set above the hamlet of Sivergues. Be on the lookout for a small white free roaming goat by the name of Vivi who like the contents of women's handbags or check out what she's up to now on Instagram @vivi_la_chevre .

Large picnic tables are set up at three locations: at the foot of the building, under the giant oak tree for shade in summer, and inside the building for colder autumn and winter days. On Sundays Chef Julie has a set menu starting with 4 different fall vegetable salads (beet, chickpea, tomato and spelt) accompanied by a kale quiche as an appetizer. The main course was an entire roasted free-range chicken cooked with wild rosemary and served with cauliflower in creme sauce, parsnips and potatoes cooked in the roasting juices. Dessert was the lighest cheesecake (marcapone is the secret) on a bed of homemade red fruit coulis. Menus will change with the seasons but are sure not to dissappoint. 

 

 

 

Organic Olive Oil Tour & Tasting

After nearly 20 years in Provence I'm still amazed at how many fabulous new places I have yet to discover. Seeing as we are at the start of the olive harvest what better time to share. 

Yesterday I was introduced to Roland and Carine Coupat who purchased olive groves and built an olive mill in Cadenet about 5 years ago. Now they sell their award-winning organic olive oil (AOC Huile d'Olive de Provence) in a state of the art facility nestled in a valley surrounded by olive trees. There are 4000 olive trees on the 37 acres of land surrounding the property. A stream flowing from the Luberon hills provides the much needed water. 

The olives are hand-harvested using nets and special harvester combs. Roland estimates it takes on average 6 kilos of olives to make 1 litre of olive oil. Three fruity oils are produced at the mill: green fruity, using olives harvested early in the season; ripe fruity, using slightly more mature olives and dark fruity, using black olives harvested late in the season. In addition they produce aromatic oils using local basil, organic lemon and truffles. Chef Guillaume Gomez who has been at the Elysée Palace (home to the French President) for 17 years and recently named head of the kitchens is a regular customer. 

Free olive oil tastings and visits of the mill. Audioguides available in English, German and French. And if you can, take time to follow the olive grove trail (short version 30 minutes,  long version 1 hr) for specatcular views of the Luberon Regional Park. 

Bastide de Laval

Open Monday-Saturday  10 am - 1 pm and 3 pm- 7 pm

 

 

 

La Nuit des Châteaux

For one night hundreds of chateaux around France will open their doors. In nearby Puy St. Reparade Bruno Pascal, the owner, has the following programme set out for the evening of Saturday October 19th:

 

An evening dedicated to the discovering of the family estate, from the 17th century country house and gardens to the 19th century factories.

  • Discovery- game on Arnajon
  • Aperitif and history of the estate
  • Lantern walk in the gardens
  • Candlelit walk through the ground floor of the bastide 
  • Snacks and dinner outside by the fire

The Château d'Arnajon is best known for its 17th century bastide and park, which has long been recognized as one of the outstanding examples of a Provençal bastide garden with a strong Florentine influence. It extends its regular terraces lined with Rognes stone balusters to the main road that linked Aix and Cadenet, with the Luberon as a backdrop. Water plays a major role, animating the fountains, running on the terraces, filling two large basins in which the architecture of the bastide is reflected. One of the two dovecotes houses an astonishing nymphaeum, a cave of freshness with an octagonal plan, vaulted, fully decorated, absolutely exceptional in Provence for its state of conservation.

To the west of the bastide, several 19th century factories provide an equally prized ensemble with a more rural atmosphere and another universe less majestic but rich in details, with varied corners where it is pleasant to stroll: washhouse, pigsty, hutches, henhouse, orange grove and its different species of citrus fruits.

Château d'Arnajon

Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

Time: 18h to 21h30

30 €

Reservations: https://www.dartngo.fr/public/experiences/moment-privilegie-au-chateau-darnajon#

 

2CV Easter Egg Rally

Join in the fun on Easter by renting a 2CV for an Easter Egg hunt around Fontaine de Vaucluse. Promoting the event with the Tourism Office in Fontaine de Vaucluse is the company 2CV en Provence.

The company  rents the vintage cars for half days or full days. Located in Ilse-sur-Sorgue, it's the perfect place to start your journey to discover the Ventoux, Luberon and Alpilles regions of Provence.  And if you are staying within a 20 km radius they'll even deliver the car. 

For the Easter egg rally budget  58€  for a 4 passenger convertible, a road map, some chocolats and 2.5 hrs of fun on April 2, 2018

Reservations a must : email : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call  06.45.61.38.63.

If you won't be in Provence until later this summer and you are planning a party or a wedding, they can have a whole fleet available for you. 

Designed in the 1940s by French car manufacturer Citroën the 2CV (deux chevaux or two horse power) has become synonymous with vacation and holidays. Often referred to « La Deuche »a play on the word deux (two) Citroën stopped manufacturing them in the 1990s but vintage car buffs continue to collect them.  No electronic features on these minimalist light-weight cars that make for an entertaining drive and what better place to try them out but Provence?

 

Antiques - Spring 2018

Not to be confused with a brocante or les puces, which are synonyms for a flea market, the Avignon International is a huge trade fair that draws exhibitors from across Europe.
It's a morning only (8am - 1pm) antique fair. Numerous stands are sprawled out in both indoors and outdoors at the Exbibition Centre located south of Avignon. Easily accessible with loads of parking. You can sign up ahead of time online as a buyer or just bring a business card if you are in the antique business.

Avignon International

March 29
April 23
May 21
June 18

But if you have time to root and rummage the following 3 towns have their own fairs on a regular basis :

Ilse-sur-Sorgue :

This Provençal town, which has an impressive number of antique stores open year-round including the Hotel de Donguier , L'Ile aux Brocantes and Les Villages des Antiquaires de La Gare  hosts 2 antique fairs a year and numerous flea-markets from April through September. The 104th Antique Fair March 30 to April 2, 2018.

Villeneuve-les-Avignon :

Located across the Rhone river from Avignon town centre Villeneuve-les-Avignon will host a brocante in Charles David Square on the following Saturday mornings : 

March 24
March 31
April 7

Carpentras :

Every Sunday from 10am - 6pm outdoors on the Allées Jean Jaures next to Parking 'Les Platanes'. Many stalls close in early afternoon so best to go in the morning.

 

Camargue Festival

Looking for something to do in May ? The Camargue Festival takes place from May 7 -13th with dozens of tours and workshops to select from.

Wood sculpting for kids, kite building, birdhouse making workshops, nature walks, bird watching expeditions and horseback rides through the salty marshes of Rhone River Delta to name but a few.

If you have not yet been to the Camargue region of Provence- it's a step back in time. This is rural Texas à la française, 300 square miles of sparsely populated marshlands home to the local cowboys known as gardians and ranchers called manadiers, along with otters, muskrats, horses, bulls, flamingos and other migratory birds.

Reservations online  HERE

Visit Lafayette's ship that sailed for independence

An 18th century replica of LaFayette's three masted frigate, L'Hermione,  left La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, last week and is headed into the Mediterranean. The ship is a copy of the 1780 that transported the Marquis of LaFayette to the States in support of their fight for independence from the British Crown. 

Lafayette, a French aristocrat and a friend to both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, fought in the American War of Independence (1775–1783). He went on to be a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789. He was made an honorary citizen of the Unites States of America. Upon his death he was buried in Paris with soil transported from Charlestown Massachussets, the location of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. 

Stops in Provence include :
Sète from March 27- April 2
Toulon from April 5-9
Marseille on April 12 -16

Below is a map of all the stops.
Route

You can visit the ship while it is in one of the ports. Tickets are available online
Tickets

Provençal Cuisine during the Grand Prix

Just a few months before the Grand Prix takes to the Paul Ricard Race Track, Christophe Bacquié of the Hotel du Castellet just received his third Michelin star. Using only locally sourced produce including fresh fish from the daily market in Sanary-sur-Mer Bacquié's cuisine offer a variety of flavours and textures. Reservations mandatory. The restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday.

With the acquisition of a third star reservations may be hard to obtain but there is an alternative choice for fine dining in the near-by village of La Cadière d'Azur. Chef Jean-François Bérard, who grows his own herbs and organic vegetables and has an extensive wine cellar can not only offer you a wonderful Provençal meal but it can begin by a cooking class. Classes are held in a 19th century Bastide in the heart of the vines and olive trees.

 

Michelin 2018 today at Awards Ceremony

Seine Musicale

200 (of the 616) Michelin starred chefs have been invited to the Seine Musicale  today to an Oscar awards-like ceremony for the unveiling of the Michelin 2018 France Guide. French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, will also be attending.

Michel Ellis, director of Michelin guide, confirmed Michelin star recipients will be informed live during the ceremony of the distinction they have been awarded.

The printed hard-copy version of the guide will be available in bookshops as of February 9.

Le Seine Musicale, which opened in April 2017, is an egg-shaped performing arts centre located just west of Paris,  designed by Jean Nouvel that can seat 1150 people.