Menton is a colourful town on the French Riviera, very close to the Italian border. This town has been under the rule of Genoa, Sardinia, Monaco and finally France since 1861 (except the blip that was the Italian occupation of the area during WWII). Menton enjoys a special microclimate compared to the rest of the Côte d’Azur that is particularly favourable to citrus fruits. The lemon is the symbol of Menton and it’s said that the lemons here are so delicious that they can be eaten raw!…
Sanary sur Mer is a colourful town on the mediterranean coast, 35 minutes east of it’s more famous neighbour Cassis. We recently visited this region and here’s some tips for visiting Sanary sur Mer in 72 hours, or whatever time frame you like! We also explored the smaller villages inland, as well as an island just off the coast.
Sanary sur Mer
Originally a fishing village, Sanary sur Mer is full of charm. Colourful traditional fishing boats line the harbour and boutiques populate the winding streets. This town has a less-touristy feel than Cassis. It can brag that it’s one of the sunniest places in France though the Mistral wind is often here was well.…
CuriousProvence day out with the Luberon Tourism Office
Last month I was invited to attend a day out that was held by the LuberonCoeurduProvence Tourism office. The day was a discovery of well known as well as lesser-known gems of the Luberon. Although the schedule was a secret (I’m not keen on surprises!) I accepted and so glad that I did. If you’re curious, scroll on to see the places we explored.
Merindol – Gateway to the Luberon
Our first stop was in Mérindol, a village right on the eastern edge of the Luberon. It’s a village that I have to admit I’ve often passed but never stopped. Although, I had read about it’s history…
The Vaudois in Mérindol
As in many places in Provence, people have lived here since neolithic times. However, something that stands out in the history of Mérindol is a terrible event that occurred in 1545; Francis I of France ordered the Waldensians of the village of Mérindol to be “punished” for heresy.
These people had previously been welcomed into the village from the Italian Alps for purposes of repopulation and farming the land after a population shortage due to wars and plague. They were part of a very early protestant ascetic movement, and named Waldensians, or the Vaudois.
Mérindol was one of the forty villages in the Luberon that were brought back to life by the Vaudois. However, to condense it immensely, throughout time politics changed. In 1545, Provençal and papal soldiers massacred 2700 Vaudois villagers. If you climb to the very top of the ruins, just in front of the view of the distant Alpilles and Luberon mountains, you can see the memorial. If you’re interested in this history see Les Buoux Ruins.
La Bastide du Grand Tilleul
Forgive me for the sobering start to the day! We then were treated to breakfast at La Bastide du Grand Tilleul in Mérindol. This is a restaurant in a bohemian setting of a courtyard strung with twinkle lights and dominated by a traditional farmhouse. The parental home of the current owners, a local told us that this charming restaurant often has live music and is the heart of the village nightlife!
One of the local products featured at breakfast were juices by Kookabarra. We are absolutely spoiled here in Provence for excellent juices (I will NEVER drink Tropincana again!!) but this one I have to say is really excellent. They are generally a supplier to restaurants, bakeries and hotels so when you see it take advantage!
Next Surprise- our transport showed up as two Citroen Méharis offered by YesProvence. If you’re unfamiliar, this is a car first sold in 1968 until 1987. This plastic (yes, plastic) car is as much a lifestyle car in the south of France as is the 2CV or deux chevau Citroen. Let’s get that wind blowing through our hair!
We took the back roads past olive groves and vineyards to the little village of Vaugines where we had lunch with the mayor at Le P’tite Resto. This restaurant is an absolute gem. It’s located in the small central square of the village that overlooks a mossy fountain and is surrounded by stone buildings with colourful shutters.
This was our menu :
Lavender popcorn with red pepper gazpacho.
Agathes de crabe, fenouil, pamplemousse et orange.
Gambas poêlées, risotto de fregola, légumes et bisque.
Clafoutis d’abricots, glace calisson et crème citronnée.
The menu changes every week here. In order to reserve a table you’ll have to call in advance as many locals make standing reservations to eat here once a week.
A Famous Church
Opposite the entrance to the village you’ll see this charming chapel. Eglise Saint Barthélémy is framed by twelve stunning plane trees (meant to symbolise the apostles). The original church dates from 1004 in the Roman Provencal style. Not only is it beautiful, but this church is also famous. It featured in the wedding scene of Marcel Pagnol‘s Manon des Sources.
The next stop was charming Lourmarin village. Well known, but always worth a visit for the boutiques, galleries, people watching in cafés, and winding medieval streets decorated with tumbling grapevines and roses from the shutters above. Lourmarin is considered one of the official “Plus Beaux Villages de France” (most beautiful villages of France) and with good reason. It’s believed that the name of the village comes from Laurus, a name often given to Roman soldiers that were stationed in the area. The village is located about 45 minutes north of Aix en Provence.
Château de Lourmarin
The renaissance castle of Lourmarin is a visit that I often recommend to my clients when I create personalised itineraries. The castle has a few salons that are decorated in the style of it’s occupancy and a view over the village. There are also many classical music events that happen here during the warmer months. In the summer, you’ll often see sunflowers in the field adjacent to the castle. In winter, grazing donkeys!
Château la Verrerie
Our final stop for our day out in the Luberon was at elegant Château la Verrerie. We first were given a tour of the winery and then tasted their delicious wines in a food and wine pairing (accord mets et vins en Français). Throughout the summer, Sunsets Vignerons en Luberon has been holding events at twenty-eight different vineyards in the Luberon. Each evening has a different gastronomic theme where the wines of the vineyard are paired with different foods in a tasting. Our evening was all about the truffles! The last of these evenings will be on September 8th at both Domaine de la Citadelle in Menerbes and Domaine de la Garelle in Oppede. The theme is spice! You can book online at Luberon Coeur de Provence.
Thank you so much to the Luberon Coeur du Provence Tourism office for inviting me on this day out in the Luberon !
Recently, we spent a long weekend in a stunning village house in Bonnieux. Maison Vue Provence is owned by an Australian couple, Jenny and Jonathan. Fellow foodies and curious travellers, the first thing that I noticed when we walked into their house was the astoundingly gorgeous view that you can glimpse as soon as you walk in and secondly was the piles and piles of books. I thought I was in Luberon heaven!
The house is located up a little cobbled road in the historic centre of Bonnieux village. When you walk in, you can see through the house to the Luberon valley. Think rows of Cyprus trees, vibrant lavender (in July), cherry orchards and hilltop towns. Bonnieux faces Lacoste village and is within 20 minutes of a few of the officially recognised “most beautiful villages of France”.
I have to say, I’ve always been partial to Bonnieux. When we first moved to Provence we would drive to the hilltop town even in the winter, eat a delectable almond croissant and sit in the winter sun with a coffee. Wonderfully, this village has a little bit of life all year round, unlike some more quiet Luberon villages. It’s an hour north of Aix en Provence and an hour from Les Alpilles. This is where you come to experience the ultimate relaxing holiday. I always say to my clients for my Provence itineraries, don’t try to do too much! The perfect recipe for a holiday in Provence, in my humble opinion, is this:
The Perfect Provence Holiday
Wake up early, drive (or even walk) to a nearby village. Explore the market (see list of local markets) and the winding historic streets. Sit in a café and people watch. Find the highest point of the village for the view and see if you can spot Mt Ventoux. Find a little restaurant and indulge in a three course meal (with rosé of course). Then, allow yourself a leisurely sieste and lazy afternoon followed by an evening apéritif. Then, repeat the following day.
Relax. That’s an Order.
Maison Vue Provence lends itself perfectly to this type of vacation because the view is so beautiful from the balcony that you really don’t want to go anywhere else. Have a BBQ, switch off your phone, thumb through a few cookbooks and art books. Dip your feet into the little plunge pool. Sigh. I didn’t want to leave.
If you want to really switch off, you don’t have drive once you’re in Bonnieux. There are several restaurants, a couple little wine bars, and some great walking. Jenny and Jonathan are avid randonneurs (hikers) and can help you with maps and instructions for some of their favourite walks in the area. There are also a couple companies that provide bike rentals (including bikes with sneaky little motors on them to help you with those Luberon hilltop towns.) In July, it gets hot very quickly but I have to say a walking holiday would be perfect in the autumn or early spring when you can see the cherry blossoms or poppies.
For the History Buffs
Maison Vue Provence has three bedrooms, a dining area/kitchen, living room and a little bonus for the curious like me. If you venture into the basement, you’ll find two levels of centuries-old vaulted ceilings. If you’re interested in local history, you’ll be simply astonished. In the hills behind Bonnieux, such as at Fort Buoux, you’ll find troglodyte caves and dwellings that date back to at least neolithic times. Since then, there were of course the Romans (there is a Roman bridge nearby) and winding medieval streets and renaissance facades. You can stand here and just imagine what these walls have seen…
Book Maison Vue Provence
If you’d like to book Maison Vue Provence village house in Bonnieux you can contact Jenny directly via the Maison Vue Provence Facebook page, or book directly on AirBnB. Make sure to tell her that you found out about Maison Vue Provence here. I’m hoping she’ll invite me over again for that walking holiday…ha!
If you’d like to see more photos, check out the Maison Vue Provence Instagram Page.
Private Catering Delivered the House
Have a delicious meal delivered to you directly at the house so that you can enjoy the sunset. We did! See more here: My Catering Provence.
In addition to the many mysterious aperitifs we have in Provence such as Rinquinquin, Pastis and Vin de Noix (walnut wine), we also have a mysterious elixer or digestif. Frigolet is the Provençal answer to the more famous Chartreuse, a liqueur invented by Carthusian monks three hundred years ago. Frigolet is a secret recipe, as is Chartreuse which is only known by two monks at any time. Despite the secret recipe, we learned a lot about this delicious elixir when we visited the Frigolet liqueur distillery.
A Provençal Liqueur
Frigolet comes from the provencal word for thyme (farigoule/ferigoulo). The original recipe was made with wild herbs that grow in the montagnette, or hills, around the Frigolet Abbey. With time and the increase in trade from the mediterranean, spices were added to create a complex flavour and provide additional health benefits. If you’re not a fan of hard alcohols (like me) you’ll find this liqueur quite delicious in comparison to the stronger Chartreuse. The distillery adds three types of honey to the liqueur, making it more palatable for wimps like me. The local honeys used are thyme, rosemary and lavender honey. After the maceration of herbs, distillation and honey is added, the liqueur is aged in barrels for six months before bottled on the property.
Strong Alcohols Made by Monks?
Frigolet Liqueur is 43% proof. You may wonder, as I did, why these strong liqueurs were made by monks? Aren’t they meant to be pious and contemplative? Something that doesn’t quite go hand in hand with alcohol consumption (well in my experience anyways). Frigolet abbey used to receive an abundance of pilgrims; they needed the added commerce to support their community. For much of human history alcohol was instrumental in promoting health. With water sources unreliable and sometimes carrying carrying dangerous pathogens, small amounts of alcohol was often mixed with water to kill the possible germs. The various plants and spices macerated with the alcohol were also believed to have healing effects. Hence, the name elixir. The current owner of the distillery says that if you don’t drink the entire bottle at once, it’ll be very good for you! Ha!
« C’est une liqueur très digestive « Si vous ne buvez pas la bouteille en entier, ça vous fera du bien ! » – François Inisan
Father Gaucher’s Elixir- Made Famous by Alphonse Daudet
Alphonse Daudet, in his combined work of short stories from Provence titled “Lettres de Mon Moulin” made Frigolet Liqueur famous. Daudet’s short stories were first published in 1869. They recount bucolic tales, addressed to the Parisian reader, about Daudet’s life in Provence as well as Corsica and French Algeria. These stories are cherished particularly in the south of France where Daudet has become a symbol of provençal culture most likely because of his tender depiction of the locals. You can see the windmill in Fontvieille that has been named after the writer. Daudet visited the Frigolet abbey during his time in Provence and was inspired to write a fictional and humorous account of how the elixir was first created.
“DRINK this, neighbor; you’ll have something to tell me about it.” And drop by drop, with the minute care with which a lapidary counts his pearls, the vicar of Graveson poured out for me ten drops of a greenish-gold, sparkling, exquisite cordial. A flood of sunshine seemed to enter my stomach.
“That is the elixir of Father Gaucher, the joy and health of our land of Provence,” the good man said to me with a triumphant air. “It is distilled at the convent of the Prémontrés brothers, two miles from your mill. Isn’t that worth all the Chartreuse cordials in the world? And if you only knew how amusing the history of this cordial is! You had better hear it.”
If you’d like to read the story in English, you can read it here. Otherwise, the following is a short synopsis.
The monks at Frigolet found themselves in a dire position. They were so poor that some of them considered leaving the abbey. A monk named Père Gaucher, who was an odd character, presented himself in front of the congregation and proposed a solution. He had been raised by a drunken aunt who made a delicious elixir in Les Baux de Provence. It sold very well. If he could experiment and try to recreate her recipe, the Abbey’s troubles would be over. They agreed to try it. So the monk experimented and experimented until the other monks came to revere him as knowing the secret to the mysterious elixir being produced in a back room. One day, Père Gaucher came in for Vespers absolutely drunk.
He was told that if he absolutely had to taste the liqueur that he should only do so in small portions, or 20 drops at a time. However, he couldn’t resist and came to be drunk every night as the elixir was so delicious. Wracked with guilt, he confessed this to the head monk and begged to be done with the concocting of this drink. However, the abbey was now making money and wouldn’t let him quit. They decided to say a special prayer for him so that he may receive absolution for sacrificing himself for the others. In this way, the brothers said a prayer every night for Père Gaucher, who could be heard drunkenly singing his aunt’s songs in the back room.
Of course, the abbey released a statement after the story was published that no such monk existed. Ha!
Marcel Pagnol and Père Gaucher
Marcel Pagnol, a beloved Provençal filmmaker responsible for my man’s love of Provence, made a film titled Lettres de Mon Moulin in 1954. In this film, The Elixir of Father Gaucher is one of the four stories depicted. This further helped the reputation of this provençal liqueur.
Frigolet Liqueur Distillery History
In 1860, the Prémontré monks (White Cannon monks) at Abbaye Saint Michel de Frigolet in Provence shared their liqueur recipe with a distillery in Chateaurenard. One hundred years later, the recipe and distillery were bought by the Inisan family. The third generation is working at the distillery today. The same style of bottles and same label have been used since the beginning. Wild herbs are still gathered in the hillsides by an arborist. I love that this specific profession of foraging lives on. The distillery is steeped in Provençal tradition. To attest to this, the owner, Francois, is the head of the Charette Confrerie federation. This local federation organises traditional events where decorated carts drawn by horses are paraded around local Alpilles towns to commemorate Saint Eloi.
Visit the Distillery
At the Frigolet liqueur distillery you can admire the old machines used for macerating and distilling the liqueur, see how it’s bottled on the property and of course taste the liqueur. The distillery is open from Monday to Saturday all year 9-12, 2-6pm.
Address: 26 Rue Roland Inisan, 13160 Châteaurenard
Other Products Sold at the Distillery
Visit Frigolet Abbey
You can visit the abbey in Tarascon all year round. There are many trails that start from the abbey in the montagnette, or surrounding hills. Visit the beautifully decorated church and admire the guard towers on the road to the parking lot.
How to serve Frigolet Liqueur
Rather than sip a little shot of this liqueur at the end of a meal, they gave us some more inventive ideas for drinking Frigolet liqueur. One of them was a drink of half cognac and half Frigolet…wow! You might only need one of those to last the night…ha! Other ideas: in coffee, on ice cream, instead of cassis in champagne (for a Kir Royale), on your breakfast cereal?
The Marché Flottant, or floating market, is an annual market in Isle sur la Sorgue. It’s every first Sunday of August. Locals in traditional dress load up their “Nègo Chin” (traditional Provençal boats) with olives, lavender, truffle products and all sorts of provençal specialties. You can stand on the side of the river or docks and buy directly from the boats. The small floating market is visually stunning; it transports you to another time. See pictures below.
Because the annual event is in August, the riversides get very busy. The Marché Flottant is also happening during the large weekly Sunday market. I would have it another day of the week but that’s just me! If you’d like to witness this stunning floating market, I suggest you go as early as possible, watch for 15 minutes or so, and then move on to a café down the river to give other people a chance to buy their tapenade. The boats are selling on the river from 9am to 1pm. You’ll find the market on only one part of the river, behind the town hall (Marie).
This little boy selling the local La Provence paper was just too cute!
The Sorgue River
The beautiful clear water of the Sorgue river used to serve as an important part of local industry. Not only was there a lot of fishing here but you’ll notice moss-covered water mills throughout the town where all kinds of products used to be milled such as olive oil or chickpea flour. Visit the nearby Fontaine de Vaucluse to see the mysterious source of the Sorgue river. Fontaine de Vaucluse is the biggest spring in France. Despite being part of a trade route used by the Romans, the picturesque town was also made more famous by the poet Petrarch, who lived in Fontaine de Vaucluse in the 14th century.
Sunday Market All Year Round
If you can’t make it to the marché flottant, the Sunday market in Isle sur la Sorgue is an excellent market and goes all year round. This is also the town where you’ll find the third largest antiques market in Europe. If you’d like to book a foodie market tour with me, see Curious Provence Provence Market Tours.
Recently, I spent a day out in Sete with Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France. She was excited to show me around her adopted home and I, ever curious, was happy to come along a day with her. We actually found that that we have common very close family friends, but that’s another story!
Lous XIV chose Sète as the place that the Canal du Midi would join the Mediterranean. In addition to the important port, Sète is also known for the jousting tournament that takes place every July since 1666. The town has always piqued my interest because of this special tournament.…
Cooking Classes in Uzès
I’ve been to about six local cooking classes offered by cooking schools in the Luberon, Alpilles and the Languedoc. I have to say, Le Pistou Cooking School, owned by Petra, is one of my favourite cookery schools in Uzès.
Petra’s kitchen is located down a little road in the centre of the medieval streets of Uzès, which is in Occitanie, just west of Provence. Uzès is a great stop if you’re visiting the amazing Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct or pottery town of Saint Quentin la Poterie. As cooking classes are held in the mornings, you can visit these places after lunch… that’s if you aren’t too in need of a sieste after all that delicious food and wine…
Petra is an experienced chef informed by her experiences living all around the world including Nairobi, the Netherlands, Ireland and France. That’s quite the mix! A woman of many talents, she has re-invented herself numerous times. After running gourmet retreats in the B&B that she renovated herself in Narbonne, she has now moved to Uzès where she specialises in cooking classes.
Fort Buoux Ruins in the Luberon
Fort Buoux, in the Luberon, is an ancient site that is definitely worth a visit. Close to Bonnieux and lesser known than some of the main attractions of the Luberon, you’ll find yourself on a winding road, at this time of year in the fog, that feels a little like the middle of nowhere. But this site was inhabited by pre-neathderthals, then Celtic peoples and the the persecuted Vaudois from Piemonte. The site hasn’t been inhabited for about 300 years. The layers of history are fascinating even though all you can see now are remnants.
Located in the Aiguebrun valley, the fortress remains were built in the early middle ages on top of a Ligurian-Celtic oppidum (fortified Iron Age settlement). You’ll find the ruins on top of a plateau high in the Luberon mountains about 10km south of Apt. Follow the signs for Fort Buoux that will take you to a parking lot, and from there it’s a 15 minute walk to the house where you can buy a ticket.
Hot Air Ballooning in Provence: The Ultimate Day Out?
A couple months ago we were invited on a hot air balloon ride with AeroProvence. I think Tom, the owner, felt obligated with my enthusiastic likes and comments on all his Instagram posts of fields and fields of lavender. His little hot air balloon business has become quite well known now from all of his Instagram posts, he told me he’s had to get an instagram manager now so they can manage his account whilst he takes people on trips. That’s the thing about social media, it can transform businesses by giving them so many more clients. This just proves that social media marketing can work for any business. If you’re dreaming of being as busy with your business as Tom is, it might be worth creating an Instagram account for your business. When creating an Instagram account, it’s important to grow your followers. This is often one of the most difficult parts, which is why so many other businesses look for the best instagram growth service to help them start building an online presence. With a growing audience, more people should be able to find your page and view your products. Maybe your business will need an Instagram manager soon after. For Tom, it’s fair to say that social media marketing has changed his business for the better.
Due to how much I commented on his posts, he invited us for a hot air balloon ride. We slept for about 3 hours after a crazy week before driving the 1.5 hours to our liftoff spot. We arrived, amazingly early, and ate croissants in the car in the pitch black parking lot while watching the others arrive, equally a little confused in the darkness.
The experience is only possible if you leave very early in the morning. This is to take advantage of the best meteorological conditions. I can say it doesn’t hurt either that as soon as you’re in the sky you’re treated to the sunrise from behind the mountains. If you are interested in taking balloon rides, you might be interested in trying something like Napa Valley Balloons as the ultimate day out.