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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Foraging in Provence

The recent rains have provided the perfect conditions needed for mushrooms to grow. You can play it safe and buy them on any market stall or you can take to the woods with other foragers.

The good news is you can have your harvest inspected by local pharmacist who has been trained in mycology (the study of fungi) who will let you know what you can eat and what you MUST not eat.

Or why not hire a guide at  www.provenceoutdoors.com who will provide you with knives and baskets and tell you all about the 10 local varieties you can find in the Luberon hills.

Squash Festivals of Provence

The villages of Rians, Lauris and Rognes all honour the pumpkin and other squash in the autumn. Festivities kick off in Rians on October 10-11th. Several varieties can be purchased in wedges by the kilo to make sweet and creamy soups and gratins at home. There are colourful and oddly shaped ones for sale as fall decorations.

Pumpkin carving contest, best tasting soup contest and most oddly shaped contest await. Great family outing and photo op. If you miss the event this weekend you can go to Rognes on November 8, 2015.

Cutters and Schooners in St. Tropez

On Saturday September 26th the 17th edition of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez kicks off with a selection of the finest traditional and modern yachts in the world. Over 300 sailboats will gather in this exceptional setting to race in the same zone for a week. Among the best known skippers and racers that will be competing in Saint Tropez are Marc Pajot, Bruno Peyron, and Marie Tabarly. This is an opportunity to witness the traditional yachts that are majestical “works of art” as well as new generation boats using cutting edge technology. www.lesvoilesdesaint-tropez.fr

 

Stars in the Cabbage Patch

 

The menus in Provence have always been market inspired. While the menu you order from may not seem extensive, it will always feature locally produced seasonal ingredients. Chefs pride themselves on working in rhythm with the seasons. But some have taken the words from farm-to-table a step further by growing their own fruit and vegetables. Farming does seem like the logical extension of cooking.

Armand Arnal of La Chassagnette (1 Michelin Star) in Sambuc, in the Camargue just south of Arles, not only grows his own fruit and veg but guests are invited to dine on large picnic tables in the heart of the veggie patch. There are over 2 hectares dedicated to growing over 200 varieties and last year they installed greenhouses in order to harvest 4 weeks earlier. Today 80% of the produce served in the restaurant comes from their own harvest. 

Gerard Passedat (3 Michelin Stars) has his own potager (the French word for vegetable garden) at the top of the Fort St. Jean in Marseille that supplies his new restaurant Le Môle with fresh white eggplant, zucchini and fennel – to name but a few. These sun-gorged vegetables enhance the flavours of every dish prepared.

And it seems this trend moved north a while ago where in Paris, Alain Passard’s Arpège (3 Michelin Stars), is entirely self-sufficient in terms of aromatic herbs, vegetables and red fruit. He even has a surplus for those special clients who wanted to receive weekly vegetable boxes from one of his three farms. After harvesting some young leeks in his farm in l'Eure he then prepared them in olive oil, fresh thyme, rosemary and verbena for a delicious and memorable lunch. 

And just this week we learned that the trend is moving further north where 37 year old chef of Noma (2 Michelin Stars), René Redzepi, just announced the closure of his restaurant that will reopen in as an urban farm in 2017. He too wants to adhere more closely to the seasons. 

 

European Heritage Days

Over 17000 monuments in France will be open to the public in the 32nd edition of European Heritage Day know in French as Les Journées du Patrimoine on Sept 19-20th.  Museums and churches will provide guided tours (in French) but private estates, remarkable gardens and private chateaux will also open exceptionally on these two days - for a small fee.

The complete programme is available on the Ministry of Culture and Culture website HERE. There are 6 pdf files for each of the 6 departments of the Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur (PACA) region (Alpes de Hautes Provence, Alpes Maritimes, Bouches du Rhone, Hautes Alpes, Var, Vaucluse) that you can download to select your destinations ahead of time.

My top 2 recommendations are for garden lovers:

Bastide de Romegas – located just outside of Aix-en-Provence (Bouches du Rhone) is set in a pine forest with beautiful bassins and fountains all framed by boxwood and roses. Lovely wells and a tiny chapel are also on the pristine grounds. Bastide de Romegas, 3992 Chemin St. Donnat, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, Open 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm, 4 euros per person.

Domaine de Rayol – located in Rayol Canadel sur Mer (Var) – is a stunning garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The garden features varieties from all over the Mediterraen bassin as well as regions that have similar climates. You’ll see plants and flowers from the Canary Islands, California, Australia, South Africa and Chile that thrive in this location.  Domaine de Rayol, Avenue des Belges, 83820 Rayol sur Mer, Tel : 04 98 04 44 00, www.domainedurayol.org 1 euro per person.

 

 

Les Vendanges Etoilées

The 6th annual “Les Vendanges étoilées” (Harvest of the stars) takes place from September 26-27, 2015. It is a celebration between the public, Chefs of renowned restaurants and Cassis winemakers. 

Twenty seven French chefs are attending the event with a total of 14 Michelin stars. Included among them are 3 exceptional local chefs:

Lionel Levy - L’Alcyone* Intercontinental. Training with world class chefs like Eric Fréchon and Alain Ducasse he settled in Marseille in 1999 where he perfected regional cuisine which earned him his first Michelin star in 2005. Now he is at the helm of the recently refurbished Intercontinental Marseille Hotel-Dieu restaurants. 

Ludovic Turac- Une Table au Sud*. After training in Paris at the Bristol and Guy Savoy, this 27 year old Marseille native returned to his home town and earned a Michelin star making him the youngest of all Michelin Star chefs in 2015. 

Dimitri Droisneau - Villa Madie**. Originally from Normandy he worked at some of the best restaurants in Paris including La Tour d’Argent, Lucas Carton and L’Ambroisie before heading south to La Réserve de Beaulieu in the Cote d’Azur. He then took over La Villa Madie, that overlooks the sea and the Cap Canaille in Cassis, where he earned his second Michelin star in 2014.

You can sign up for the cocktail buffet (Stars & Chefs) on Saturday September 26th at 7:30 pm that will be served under a marquee on the terrace of the Oustau Calendal, overlooking the port of Cassis. It’s the perfect opportunity to taste the best Provence has to offer prepared by renowned chefs and paired with the world-class wines of Cassis. Price per person: € 60 including wine.Sign up

Fairways and Greens in Provence

The fall in the South of France is the ideal season for golf. There are over 40 golf courses to select from so I decided to help narrow the search by visiting and selecting three of the finest courses on offer that also provided accommodations and cuisine true to Provence. 

The Domaine de Manville, set in Les Baux de Provence, is an exquiste country estate with 30 rooms and 9 villas.  This eco-responsible 18-Hole course was designed to blend in with the landscape of olive groves, wild oak and majestical Cyprus trees. The Domaine also offers 5 star luxury hotel accommodations in the beautifully refurbished farm conversion with exceptional landscaping and the best of Provencal tradition.  domainedemanville.

Les Domaines de St. Endreol,  located half way between Aix-en-Provence and Monaco, has a spectacular sun-drenched 18-hole course of international renown. It has splendid views and varied landscapes that is perfect for all levels of play. The Domaine also offers a large choice of accommodation for 1 night or longer in this hidden oasis. st-endreol

The Dolce Fregate Golf Club overlooks the Mediterranean Sea in Saint Cyr sur Mer, between Marseille and Toulon. The resort offers a selection of accommodations from hotel rooms and suites to entire residences. The restaurants onsite offer great Provencal cuisine and exceptional regional wines from Bandol. dolcefregate

 

 

 

Musée d'Orsay and Paris in the 19th Century

After my invitation to review the Cezanne tour in Aix, I was offered yet another brillant tour by Context Travel. There were 3 of us on the tour. It is such a luxury to have small groups. We met our docent, Lorraine, a former student of The Louvre School who completed her Masters at Columbia University before working at the Guggenheim, across the street from the Musée D’Orsay. 

It was from this vantage point that our docent began the visit by giving us the history behind this train station built at the same time as the Eiffel Tour, using similar materials,  for the World’s Fair in 1900. The station provided rail service to Orléans for 39 years, stayed vacant for almost as many and became a musuem in  1986 with 19th and early 20th century collections.  The Gare d'Orsay also provided hotel accommodations and a restaurant for travellers. Luckily the restaurant located just behind one of the clocks is still open to the public as is a smaller cafeteria for those in more of a hurry. There is a spectacular view of the Right Bank if you look out from the clock.

Once inside we were introduced chronologically to the major art movements by showing us examples of both paintings and sculptures. We learned what the academics declared to be acceptable in the art world and the evolution of the various movements.

On our 3 hour tour we received in depth background into the Barbizon School and Realism to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. We learned about the new techniques and subjects that strayed from what academics had previously decreed. We were given explanations and viewed works on Neo-impressionism, Fauvism, Pointillism and Cubism by painters who were influenced by earlier movements. This is the perfect tour to understand the major art movements in the evolution of French art. And of course for lovers of Provence the Musée D’Osray is home to some exquisite works by Cezanne.  

I'm not sure I can visit another city without taking a Context Travel tour - as the name implies the tour gives you the added details that make the difference between simply seeing and understanding and admiring even more.  www.contexttravel.com?ref=provenceconfidential

 

 

 

The Calisson Cure

During the 17th century calissons, diamond-shaped almond based sweets, were believed to have banished the plague from Aix-en-Provence. In keeping with tradition a special mass is held on the 1st Sunday of September at the Church of St. Jean de Malte for the benediction of the sweets. In 2015 the benediction will be held at 3 pm. 

Orginally made by hand these sweets are now manufactured on a large scale using molds and cutters. When in Aix do visit the newly built Calisson Roy René factory that houses the Museum of the Calisson. http://calisson.com/en/content/8-visit-of-the-confectionary

 

In the Shadow of Mont Sainte Victoire- Cezanne and Aix

I have been on many and even led tours of Aix-en-Provence but what a treat to have California born Pamela Morton, expert in all things Cezanne as our docent on this Context Travel walking tour. Pamela, a long-time resident of Aix, artist and senior lecturer of Painting and Drawing, met our 4 person group (ideal for asking questions) in front of the chapellerie -the French word for hat shop- that once belonged to Cezanne’s father on the Cours Mirabeau.  After some insight into his childhood, education -he attended law school before pursuing his true passion-and aspirations we then headed to the outskirts of town. 

Pamela guided us to the Terrain des Peintres, on aptly named rue Paul Cezanne. It was from this very location that Cezanne painted one of his favorite subjects -Mont Sainte Victoire- over 80 times.  A handful of his most famous works in poster form have been laminated and set up on metal pedestals so that we could see how he treated the subject that so fascinated him and find out which museum has the joy of owning these masterpieces today.

We then descended to Cezanne’s Studio, the refuge from which he painted many of his still lifes. Restored to perfection you can see the workshop as it was during his lifetime. The plaster cherub featured in Still Life with Cherub and the skulls seen in Pyramid of Skulls are items that are still in his studio along with earthenware pots, vases, carpets, his satchel, easel and ladder.

And then onto the Musée Granet in the Mazarin district of Aix-en-Provence to view some of his works by following a trail of brass studs imbedded into the sidewalk with the letter C for Cezanne that led us to his place of birth, his favorite café and his school. Viewing the architecture, the warm tones of the pink and yellow stone of the buildings, and our docent’s in-depth knowledge helped us understand how  influential both the landscape and the colours of Provence were to Cezanne’s work. 

This is a MUST DO tour on your next trip to Aix-en-Provence.  Book here www.contexttravel.com?ref=provenceconfidential 

 

 

In Pagnol's Footsteps

Marcel Pagnol, regarded as one of France’s greatest 20th century novelists and a pioneer in French cinema is being honoured in 2015 in and around Aubagne. His autobiographical works based on his childhood experiences are still featured on the mandatory reading lists of school children throughout France. French director Claude Berri’s 1986 adaptations of Jean de Florette and the sequel Manon des Sources, with exceptional performances by Yves Montand, Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil, received several BAFTA awards.

The breathtaking scenery of both those films are now part of a 3 separate walking tours organised by the Tourism Office of Aubagne. Walk in the footsteps of the young Marcel until September 15, 2015 by signing up at excursions-strolls