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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The Domaine de Beaurenard (www.beaurenard.fr) which had been a family run estate for 8 generations is holding an open house this weekend. In addition to visiting the wine cellars and taking part in a wine tasting you can also sign up for a visit of the grounds with one of the Coulon Family members.
The village of Allauch, located on the outskirts of Marseille which was made famous by Marcel Pagnol in his novels turned movies « Manon des Sources » and «Jean de Florette», is hosting their tradition La Journée de l’Ane. Roughly translated it’s Donkey Day - a day when the villagers pay tribute to the animal that the ancestors most relied upon to haul water, merchandise and building supplies up the rocky slopes of the surrounding hills.
If you have always wanted to have your own truffle reserve here is your chance - and it's hassle free. The Martino family have been working with INRA The French National Institute of Agricultural Research (www.international.inra.fr) to perfect growing techniques.
My friend, Jill Steenhuis, an Atlanta native, who has lived in Aix-en-Provence for 30 years, is on her way to Jackson, Dallas, Houston, Austin and Atlanta for a few shows. Have a look at her website to view the locations and times of each exhibit: www.jillsteenhuis.com In 1980 it was Cézanne’s Mont Sainte Victoire paintings that inspired Jill to go to France. And she's been painting Provencal scenes and teaching ever since.
Corsica, the Var and the Ardeche have the largest production of sweet chestnuts in France. The chestnuts can be ground into flour and used in the preparation of local specialties. Historically not all regions of France had access to wheat flour so the chestnut was one of the few sources of carbohydrates.
Just above Nice, in the village of Saint Jeannet, vines have been grown for centuries. It is believed the purpose of planting vines was initially to stop rockslides and mudslides. The Vignoble des Hautes Collines, the oldest vineyard in the Cote d’Azur, has lovely silvery olive trees and ancient Cyprus trees overlooking the valley below.
Although there are little remnants of the forced labour camps known as the Bagne in Toulon, their history remains a fascinating and integral part of the city’s identity. The Toulon Bagne were established in 1748 and abandoned in 1873. The French penitentiary system which was managed by the Navy built labour camps in Toulon, Brest and Rochefort before moving overseas.
Absinthe is making a come-back. The anise flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including wormwood, was banned in France in 1914. It had been portrayed as a dangerously addictive hallucinogen because of the presence of the chemical thujone. A revival of absinthe began in the late 1990s and today there are several dozen brands manufacturing and selling in France.
The French Foreign Legion recruiting office happens to be down the road in Aubagne, just east of Marseilles. Young men from around the world can be seen lining up with their duffle bags in the morning in hopes of making the cut. If you’re a man between the ages of 17 and 40 and in incredible physical condition you can give it a go. Keep in mind your first mission is for 5 years.
The small Provençal village of Vallabrègues located on the shores of the Rhone (near Tarascon) has been hosting a basket festival "Fête de la Vannerie" for the past 15 years. Over 80 basket weavers from across Europe are scheduled to attend the 2010 event scheduled for Saturday August 7th through Sunday August 8th.