Secrets of St.-Rémy: The Best Place for a Picnic

Just ten minutes from the center of St.-Rémy is a shady picnic spot known only to the locals. It sits along the shores of a lake created thousands of years ago by the Romans.

When hordes of tourists crowd into town, it’s nice to take a break in a quiet spot. So grab some wine and cheese and let’s go!

The Lac du Peiroou is a small reservoir, the result of a dam that spans two rocky outcroppings near the ancient city of Glanum. While the present dam was built a century ago, the original dam dates back to the first century B.C! The Romans put it there to supply water to Glanum and it may have been the first vaulted (curved) dam ever built.

The dam is at the bottom of the V

The lake has a wide, grassy area at one end, with trees that provide welcome shade on a sunny Provençal day. It’s the perfect place to spread out a blanket and enjoy a lazy afternoon. And stocking up for your picnic is easy – you can get everything you need at St.-Rémy’s Jardin des Alpilles. 

Dogs love it, too!

You can splash around in the small beach area to cool off, but don’t try catching any fish – you need a special permit for that.   So just relax, read a book and think about where you are going to have dinner.

 Is that a fish?

 

Getting There

Head south out of St.-Rémy in the direction of Glanum. About half a mile past the Tourist Office make a right turn onto Avenue Antoine de la Salle. There’s a small sign marking the route to Lac du Peiroou but go slowly and look carefully because it’s easy to miss.

After about a quarter of a mile, the road will fork and there won’t be any signs telling you which way to go. But have no fear! Turn left and go about 2/3 of a mile. At this point there will be a little road leading off to the left and you’ll see a small parking lot. The lake is just beyond.

If you drive, be careful along the last stretch because the road is narrow and a bit twisty. You can also bike or walk to the lake but beware – there are some hilly spots that you might want to avoid on a hot day!

What Would You Like to Read?

Hello!

One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence has been out for six months and has been gratifyingly well received.  Thanks to everyone who has read it and an extra-special thanks to those of you who have written a review.  I really appreciate it!

I’m planning to write a second book, continuing the story of the adventures Val and I have been enjoying in France.  Before I do, I would love to get your thoughts.  I have a few questions and would be very grateful if you would let me know what you think.

 

What did you enjoy about One Sip at a Time?

What would you have liked to be different in the book?

What did you expect but not find in the book?

What would you like to see in a second book about our life in France? How would you like it to be different from the first book (if at all)?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.  Or you can email me directly at author@keithvansickle.com.

Thank you!

Keith

The Best Value Wine in France? (and a secret picnic spot)

Just ten minutes from one of France’s most famous sites, the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard, sits the tiny village of Estézargues.  There’s not much there – no charming cafés or famous monuments.  But on the edge of town you can find some astonishingly good wine— wine that you might consider the best value wine in France!

You can read the full article at France Travel Tips.

The Alpilles from the Air

Many of us love the Alpilles, the “little Alps” that rise between the famous Provençal towns of St-Rémy and Les Baux. Their craggy beauty dominates the surrounding landscape. But outside of taking a plane ride, it is impossible to appreciate them from the air.

Until now.

Gilles Lagnel’s new book, Les Alpilles Vues du Ciel, includes over 100 magnificent photos of the Alpilles and their many attractions.

You can read the full article at Perfectly Provence.

 

A Story of Franco-American Friendship

Today is Bastille Day, with presidents Macron and Trump joining together to recognize America’s entry into WWI a century ago. No matter what you think of the politics of these two men, it is heartening to see this recognition of the long friendship between our two countries.

It reminded me of a story from a few years ago, when my wife and I were living in France…

We were walking through town with our dog Lucca when an older gentleman asked what breed he was. We stopped to talk and he quickly figured out from our accents that we are not native French speakers.

“Are you English?” he asked suspiciously. Relations across the English Channel are not always the friendliest.

His frown became a smile when we explained that we are Americans. He shook our hands warmly and thanked us for “saving” France in 1944.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened. It was always gratifying to know that American sacrifices during the war are still remembered and honored.

When someone thanked us for 1944 we always tried to return the favor.

We would express our gratitude for France’s essential support during our war of independence. We would point out that France is America’s oldest ally.

And we would tell them something that even most Americans don’t know.

There are only two portraits in the House of Representatives, one of the centers of American government. These large paintings hold pride of place, flanking the Speaker’s rostrum. On the left is the father of our country, George Washington; on the right, French general Lafayette.

And the painting of Lafayette came first.

 

20 Books That Have Changed French Lives

France is one of the most literate and literary countries in the world – the average French person reads 15 books a year and French authors have won more Nobel Prizes than those of any other country.

But what if it’s all an act? What if, instead of reading Proust and Zola, the French are really binge-reading romance novels while eating pain au chocolat?

I decided to investigate.

You can read the rest of the article at Frenchly.

Secrets of St.-Rémy: Parking

The Wednesday morning market in St.-Rémy is one of the best in Provence. And it is very popular, which makes parking a challenge. There are a few spots available in the pay lots and on the street, but they tend to fill up early. So most people have to park far from the market.

This is fine on the way in, but trudging back to your car with everything you bought at the market can be a pain. Isn’t there a better way?

Happily, the answer is yes, and most people don’t know about it.  And it’s free!  It’s a series of parking lots that you wend your way through and you can find parking even on busy market days.

The series of lots is called Parking de la Libération. It’s on Avenue de la Libération, just off Boulevard Mirabeau. But it is not well marked and can be hard to find, even with a GPS.  Here’s how to find it.

If you are coming from out of town, you will probably find yourself on the D99 at some point. This is the East-West road between Cavaillon and Tarascon. Get off the D99 onto the D99A on the East side of town (there are two such intersections.) Go 1.5km, until just BEFORE you dead end onto Boulevard Mirabeau. On your left will be something that looks kind of like extra space between buildings but is actually a driveway. Here’s what it looks like.

Alternatively, if you are coming from St.-Rémy itself, you will probably be on the ring road that circles the downtown. It changes names several times and at one point becomes Boulevard Mirabeau. When you get there, stay in the right lane and take the exit towards Cavaillon.

After 70 meters, at the crosswalk, the parking lot entry will be on your right. Go slowly or you will miss it! Here’s what it looks like.

Turn right and go slowly. You’ll end up in a small parking lot that is always full. Don’t worry, go to the far end of the lot and follow the “Sortie” sign.

Now you will be in a larger parking lot that is also probably full. Drive out the exit on the far side (that is, to the right as you first enter the parking lot.) As you drive through the parking lot, keep your eye out for this sign on your right – it’s the walking path into town.

As you exit this second parking lot, going up a little ramp, you will enter a third parking lot that looks like the second one. On market days it is usually full. Never fear! Keep going, out the far side of this lot and up another ramp.

Now you’ve hit the big lot, with lots of dirt and grass and plenty of parking. I’ve seen it get crowded but never full. You will almost certainly be able to park here.

Now go back to the walking path into town and enjoy the market. But be sure to note the end of the walking path so you can find it on the way back. The path is on Rue Marius Jouveau and here’s what it looks like from town.

When you go back to your car, don’t try to exit the way you entered, as this is a “one way” parking lot. Instead, continue on the dirt road in the parking lot to the far side and go out that way.

When you exit, you can go right (towards Maussane), left (back to town) or straight (other directions). If you go left, be aware that this is a narrow road with two-way traffic and periodically one car will need to stop in a wide spot to let another pass.

Enjoy St.-Rémy!

Going to the Butcher in France

A French town without a baker – can you imagine such a thing? Everyone would move away!

A butcher is almost as important to French village life. The butcher will sell the usual roasts and chops and chickens, as well as a variety of prepared foods. These really help when you are hosting a dinner party or are too busy to cook.

My wife Val and I live part of the year in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, a charming town between Arles and Avignon. We love going to our favorite butcher shop, a place that has been serving the good people of St.-Rémy for decades.

It is run by a husband and wife who take great care in the quality of their products and service. When you order a piece of meat, the butcher will ask you how you plan to prepare it. Then he will slice off any extra fat, trim around the bone and cut it into the size you want.

If you want hamburger, he will take a piece of beef, run it through his grinder and form it for you. Burger by burger.

Our butcher offers many things fait maison (home made) like patés, ratatouille, stuffed vegetables, salamis, and at least four kinds of sausage. The butcher’s wife dishes out the prepared items and runs the register while the butcher handles all the cutting.

Photo by Jusben at Morguefile.com

We love shopping there because the butcher takes the time to chat with every customer – waiting in line is kind of a free French lesson. How is the family? Are your bunions bothering you? How will you prepare the stew? For how many people? Do you salt your food? Here’s what my doctor says about salting food. Let me tell you, your husband puts too much salt on his food (then the butcher’s wife adds in that all husbands salt their food too much.)

It’s like watching a French sitcom.

Sometimes the phone rings and the butcher answers it – it’s usually an order for a big meal. This leads to a long discussion between the person on the phone and the butcher and his wife. How many people do they need to feed? What spices will they use? Should they pick it up at 11:00? No, maybe 12:00. No, 11:00 would be better. Okay, they’ll come at 12:00.

Once we went to the butcher to get a gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb.) We were having some friends over and figured a gigot would be easy to make in advance and would feed a large group.

We explained what we wanted. For how many people, the butcher asked. Ah, the gigot in my case is not large enough for your dinner for ten, he said.

So off he went to the back to get a larger one. He appeared two minutes later, not with a larger leg but carrying the entire back half of a lamb. Oh, my. But at least the wool had been removed.

This doesn’t happen where we live in California.

The butcher turned on his electric saw and in a couple of minutes the lamb was cut in half, feet removed, trimmed of excess fat, deboned, and tied with string.

Then came the cooking discussion. How were we preparing it? Our marinade and roasting met with his approval, but under no circumstances were we to use a temperature higher than 180 degrees Celsius. The butcher looked at us gravely to make sure we understood this important point.

And did we want the bones he had just removed? We should place them next to the lamb, cover them with some olive oil and butter, and add a full head of garlic, herbes de Provence, and salt. It would make a nice jus for the meat. This kind of advice is common in France.

If you are in a hurry, don’t go to a French butcher because you’ll be there for at least a half an hour. But if you do, the food will be delicious and the floorshow can’t be beat.

Secrets of St.-Rémy: Best Fruits and Vegetables

One of the glories of Provence is the fresh produce. And in St.-Rémy, the best place to get it is at the Wednesday market. Every week, dozens of vendors set up shop throughout the charming town center, selling fruits, vegetables, olives, cheeses, lavender – you name it. It is one of the best markets in Provence and a lot of fun.

But what about the other six days of the week? Where do the St.-Rémois shop?

Here’s their secret – Le Jardin des Alpilles at 8 Avenue Frédéric Mistral. It’s an unassuming place but the produce can’t be beat, with much of it coming from local farmers. And it’s open seven days a week!

We went there today and here’s some of what we found.

If you are staying in a place where you can cook, or if you just want some succulent fruit to enjoy during the day, it’s a great place to stock up.

And what’s better than a picnic in Provence? You can get everything you need here – breads, cheeses, olives, snacks and a nice selection of local wines.

For those of you on the other side of the Alpillles, there is a sister store in Maussane-les-Alpilles with an equally great selection.

Bon appetit!

For more information: http://tinyurl.com/m6bdech

Hold on to Your Hat!

There’s a mistral raging here right now, that powerful wind that blows from the north. How strong is it? Let’s put it this way – if Julius Caesar had invaded France during a mistral, a lot of centurions would have ended up in the Mediterranean Sea.

A mistral usually blows for several days, getting stronger and stronger. Today is the third day and it’s fierce. We weren’t sure we wanted to go outside, but there were chores to be done so off we went.

We went to the phone store in Cavaillon and decided to have lunch in town. A favorite restaurant of ours looked like it was closed because the heavy outdoor furniture was all pushed together. But when we got closer we saw people eating inside and went in. We were lucky to get a table by the window.

As we ate, I watched a big plastic garbage can across the street. First the wind blew the lid off, then a few minutes later it knocked the can over. Then a big gust blew it into the middle of the street, where it disrupted traffic for a while. Finally another gust blew it back across the street and into an alley.

As we were finishing our meal I saw one of the heavy chairs from our restaurant’s terrace go skittering down the street. The two waitresses dropped what they were doing and ran out the door. After all, it just wouldn’t do to have the restaurant’s furniture injure one of the good citizens of Cavaillon. That would be a tragedy. And bad for business.

After a long chase, the waitresses captured the wayward chair and wrestled it back onto the terrace. As they came back into the restaurant, I happened to catch the eye of one. I raised my eyebrows as if to say, “Wow, that was something!”

She replied with one of those classic Gallic shrugs. “C’est le mistral, monsieur,” she said. “C’est normal.”