9 Reasons Why Provence is the Best Part of France

Everyone wants to go to Paris when they go to France. It’s one of the world’s great cities, with the Eiffel Tower, romantic cafés, great museums… what’s not to like? (Okay, the Parisians not so much, but the rest is great.) But you’d be wrong to put Paris at the top of the list. Instead, you should follow the insiders who know better and head south to Provence. Here’s why.

Read the rest of the story at Frenchly.

 

How to Make French Friends

Val and I are lucky–some of our best friends are French, people we’ve met while living in Provence.

We are sometimes asked, “How did you do it? Aren’t the French kind of standoffish?”

The answer is Non! There are wonderful people in France just like everywhere.

Having lived abroad twice now, we’ve learned a few things about making friends in a new country. Anyone can do it! If you’d like to know how, check out my article at The Planet D.

Book Review–Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands

SYNOPSIS

The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself.

Sixty-two-year-old Arianna arrives in the South of France for a two-week artists’ workshop full of anticipation but burdened by guilt. Back home in Toronto, she has been living with the devastating diagnosis of her husband’s dementia and the heartbreak of watching the man she has loved for decades slip away before her eyes. What does her future hold without Ben? Before her is a blank canvas.

Encouraged by her family to take some time for herself, she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh. Gradually, she rediscovers the inner artist she abandoned long ago. Drawing strength from the warm companionship and gentle wisdom of her fellow artists at the retreat (as well as the vitality of guest lecturer Jacques de Villeneuve, an artist and a cowboy) Arianna searches her heart for permission to embrace the life in front of her and, like the sunflowers, once again face the light.

MY REVIEW

At an artists’ retreat just outside of the ancient Roman city of Arles, Arianna begins to rediscover her love of painting…and of life. She is helped along by her fellow artists, a colorful crew that becomes a supportive family over the course of the book. My favorite character was Bertram, a rather pompous Englishman who reveals surprising depth as the story unfolds.

This is a tale of love, grief and renewal, brilliantly told. All of us who have lost a loved one can understand the confusion and darkness that cloud Arianna’s mind. But slowly, petit à petit, she opens herself to new possibilities, connecting with her newfound friends and allowing the artist within her to reawaken. It’s a beautiful book, a mix of sadness, joy and discovery, as Arianna “reaches for that light in Provence.” By the end, her life has begun to move forward again.

I live part of the year in Provence and I tip my cap to Patricia Sands for her magnificent descriptions. She does a masterful job of capturing the glorious colors, sights and smells of this most beautiful part of France. From the weekly outdoor markets to the charming hilltop villages to the wild horses of the Camargue, Sands makes you feel as if you are in Provence. And she gives the mouth-watering Provençal food a starring role, reflecting the way that so much of French life revolves around the table.

Highly recommended.

Drawing Lessons is available from Amazon.

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.

 

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