How to Drink Like a Roman

Near the town of Beaucaire is something unique in the world. Built on the site of a Roman villa, it is a faithful reconstruction of a Roman winery. Visitors learn how winemaking was done back in the days when Rome ruled the world, and sample wines made using ancient recipes—fenugreek, anyone?

Fine wine has been made on the site of Mas des Tourelles for millennia. They have been praised by Rabelais and served by French kings. Such fine wines are still made at the Mas des Tourelles, but one day owner Hervé Durand decided to try something new.

Working with archaeologists, he recreated a Roman vineyard and wine cellar and decided to try Roman winemaking. Today the Mas showcases Roman winemaking techniques, along with those “interesting” samples. There are Roman games to play and grape juice for the kids, so it’s a place the whole family can enjoy.

Learn more about it at Perfectly Provence!

Cold Case Solved!

Jean-Paul Marat was a leader of the French Revolution, along with other famous names  like Danton and Robespierre. In 1793, he was assassinated while soaking in a bath—one of the most famous murders in French history. While there is no question about who killed him, the reason he was in the bath has confounded historians for centuries. And this mystery may have just been solved.

Marat started out as a scientist, but as France entered into political crisis in the 1780’s, he joined the radical forces calling for the downfall of the monarchy, and later emerged as one of the leaders of the revolution. But he was a divisive figure, who bitterly denounced his enemies and called for heads to roll. He battled the revolutionary group the Girondins, and it was the Girondin sympathizer Charlotte Corday who fatally stabbed him.

But what was he doing in a bath? It’s known that he frequently soaked because of a painful skin condition, but no one knew what it was…until now. French scientist-sleuths (CSI Paris?) think they have figured it out. It’s a fascinating tale.

Read all about it at The Good Life France!

Visiting Maussane-les-Alpilles

Just south of where Val and I live in St-Rémy sits a charming town that more people should visit, Maussane-les-Alpilles.

Maussane is in the middle of olive growing country, and local producers occasionally take home “Best Olive Oil” awards in world competitions. So if you want olives, olive oil, tapenade, or anything olive, you definitely want to come to Maussane.

The town has a comfortable central square, lined with cafés around a big central fountain. It’s a great place for a meal or a drink. Just off the square is an award-winning chef at one of my favorite restaurants.

Maussane has one of the area’s best boutiques selling Provençal foods, a wine shop with a multilingual owner (try to stump him!), and three medieval towers that used to protect the southern edge of the Alpilles Mountains.

For more on Maussane, including some fun pictures, read all about it at Perfectly Provence!

The Best View of Avignon

Avignon is a distinctive city. Sitting on the banks of the Rhône River, it has some of the most extensive medieval fortifications in Europe and is dominated by its massive Papal Palace. There is so much to see! And if you want the best spot to view this beautiful city, it’s not in Avignon itself, it’s across the river on Barthelasse Island (Île de la Barthelasse.)

Barthelasse Island, one of Europe’s largest river islands, is just minutes from Avignon by ferry, foot, or car. From there you have a clear line of sight to Avignon, with nothing blocking your view. You can see the stone cliffs that protect the city and the thick walls built in the Middle Ages. And above them all is the Papal Palace, topped by its golden statue of Mary, sparkling in the Provençal sunshine. If there’s a better view of Avignon, I haven’t found it.

Barthelasse Island is easy to reach and is a great place for eating, biking, and tasting eau de vie. And it is the place where people actually danced in that famous song about the Pont d’Avignon!

Read all about this little-known corner of Provence in The Good Life France!

Driving in French

France is an easy country to drive in but, like every country, it has its quirks. So I’ve written a guide to French driving, including these helpful topics:

  • How to avoid disaster at the pump
  • A special leasing program that can save you money
  • How French toll roads work
  • An important setting on your GPS
  • French traffic circles
  • And, of course, French drivers

Read all about it at My French Life!

Wine Tasting in Provence

Provence is a wine lover’s paradise, and wines have been produced here for thousands of years. Val and I live part of the year in St-Rémy-de-Provence, near many excellent wineries.

I’ve written an article about some of my favorites (all with English-speaking staff.) Would you like to sip some wine near a medieval Court of Love, where noble ladies once ruled on “questions of gallantry”? Or perhaps at a winery that the famous seer Nostradamus said would be the edge of the earth when the seas rose to great heights. And then there’s the place where you can drink like an ancient Roman! (toga not included)

Read about my favorite wineries in France Today!

Gigondas: Wine Village with a View

Are you looking for a place with beautiful views, excellent food, and fabulous wines? Then consider Gigondas in the southern Rhône Valley.

This region has been producing excellent wines for over 2,000 years, from when it was part of the Roman Empire. The Romans liked the wines from Gigondas so much that they named it Jocunditas, or “delight,” and the name evolved into the modern Gigondas. Gigondas wines are similar to those of its famous neighbor, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but much more affordable.

Perched on a mountainside, the village overlooks its famous vineyards. Above it are the jagged, rocky crests of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a small mountain range. Even in a region known for its natural beauty, Gigondas stands out. There is a walking trail above the  town, with a viewing platform, and the views from it are spectacular.

The town hosts special artworks every summer, and has excellent restaurants and one of the best wine-tasting centers anywhere. Find out what to see and do, and where to eat and drink, at Perfectly Provence!

This article is taken from my upcoming book An Insider’s Guide to Provence, available for pre-order on Amazon.

 

 

French Universities are Moving Up!

French universities fare poorly in world rankings. In 2019, for example, the country’s highest-ranked university came in at a mere #37. This was below schools in the US, UK, Switzerland, Canada, Japan, and even Denmark. Why is this?

The best-known ranking is the Academic Ranking of World Universities. It considers a number of factors, including the number of Nobel laureates a university has, the number of papers it has published in prestigious scientific journals, and how many highly-cited researchers it has.

These criteria have attracted a number of criticisms. First, while a university’s primary mission is to teach, the quality of teaching isn’t considered. Second, the liberal arts are barely noticed, with most emphasis placed on the sciences and particularly the hard sciences like physics. This results in rankings based on unbalanced criteria.

Despite these limitations, France has reacted, and in 2021 its top university shot up to #14. How did they do it? Find out in My French Life!

Favorite Restaurants of St-Rémy

My wife Val and I live part-time in St-Rémy-de-Provence, and over the years we’ve discovered lots of wonderful places to eat, including some that are off the beaten path. And, of course, we have our favorite boulangerie, cheese shop, and all the rest.

Would you like to dine while gazing at the Alpilles mountains, with horses in the field next door? Or while sitting under leafy sycamore trees in a beautiful park? Or maybe you’d like to try the specialities at Provence’s best chocolatièr.

I share my insider secrets with you at The Good Life France!

This article is taken from my upcoming book An Insider’s Guide to Provence, available for pre-order on Amazon.

Leonardo da Vinci Sparks a Diplomatic Tug-of-War

How did a painting that was practically worthless find itself at the center of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Saudi Arabia and France? It’s a fascinating tale.

The struggle surrounds Salvator Mundi, believed by many to be a lost masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci. After going missing for centuries, the painting reappeared in 1900 in the collection of Englishman Francis Cook. It then passed through several more hands, before being sold at a New Orleans auction in 2005. Described as “a wreck, dark and gloomy,” it went for just over $1,000

An expert art restorer, Diane Modestini, was then brought in. Over the next few years, she slowly cleaned and restored the painting, and became convinced that it was a work of Leonardo da Vinci himself. But not everyone agreed, and the question of “who painted Salvator Mundi?” divided the art world.

The controversy continued when the paining was auctioned in 2017, fetching $450 million, by far the highest price ever paid for a work of art. The buyer, anonymous at the time, was later revealed to be Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. And then things got complicated.

Read all about the diplomatic tussle between France and Saudi Arabia in France Today!