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.

 

 

Art and Beauty in Provence

Tucked into the mountains north of Nice sits an arboretum unique in the world. It mixes exotic trees, rare flowers, and “no-made” art in a mountain park overlooking the wild Tinel Valley—a perfect day trip for nature lovers and art enthusiasts alike.

The Marcel Kroënlein Arboretum stretches over 17 hectares along the flank of a mountain, rising from an elevation of 1300m to 1700m and creating “a green cathedral. It is home to many mountain flowers and it has assembled a complete collection of the wild roses of the Alpes Maritime region, a feat which garnered it the prestigious Henry Ford Environmental Award.

Besides the protection of flora, the arboretum’s mission is to serve as a place of artistic expression. Every year, artists worldwide gather to display their Land Art among the trees and turn it over to the elements. The forces of nature refashion these pieces over time, as each is sculpted by the sun, wind, rain, and snow.

Learn more about this unique and beautiful place in Perfectly Provence!

And on the subject of beauty, the Rhône River is one of the world’s most majestic. It begins in the Swiss Alps and flows into one end of Lake Geneva, then emerges from the other end and runs all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Noted photographer Camille Moirenc has now captured the Rhône in a series of 80 magnificent photographs, on display in Paris. You can see the photos from the comfort of your own home, along with an explanation of each one. They are stunning!

See the photos and learn more about the exhibition at Perfectly Provence!

 

Swirling 70s Architecture at Villa Benkemoun

Just two miles from the center of Arles sits the Villa Benkemoun, a magnificent estate designed by a disciple of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Visiting it is like stepping back in time.

The villa was the brainchild of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun, who enlisted their friend Émile Sala to design their dream home. Sala took an unusual approach.

Instead of creating an initial set of architectural drawings, Sala began by asking the family to jot down, day by day, how they lived their lives. Where did they take their meals, how did they entertain, did they spend time indoors or out? Then he used this knowledge to design a home that fit their needs, as well as Pierre’s desire to have a home that was “open and transparent.”

The Benkemouns liked Sala’s initial design but thought it had too many sharp edges. They suggested rounding a corner here, creating a curve there, until the house took the form they wanted. The final design was made up of round and elliptical rooms, “full of sensuality,” that seemed to swirl from one to the other. The result is a triumph of 1970s design, a masterpiece of modern architecture.

Read all about it, and see some beautiful photos, at Perfectly Provence!

 

Roman Provence

Way back around 50 B.C., Julius Caesar conquered Gaul (now France) and the area remained part of the Roman Empire for the next five centuries. Today there are Roman sites all over France, but the best are in and around Provence. In fact, ‘Provence’ comes from the Latin ‘Provincia Romana’, the name of the large Roman province along the Mediterranean coast.

Whether it’s Nîmes with its magnificent temple, Arles with its arena, or Orange with its theater, you can find many reminders of the greatness that was Rome. And let’s not forget the Pont du Gard aqueduct, as tall as an 18-story building!

Follow me as I take you on a tour of Roman Provence in My French Life!

Discover Socca, the Delicious Specialty of Nice

“The culture of Nice is based on three things: the sea, soccer, and socca.”

In a city famous for dishes like pan bagnat and ratatouille, socca holds a special place in the hearts of the niçois. A thin, deliciously crispy bread made from chickpea flour, socca was first brought to Nice by Italian dockworkers in the late 1700s. Cheap and filling, it became known as “poor people’s food,” a favorite of workers and fishermen.

Eventually, all of Nice discovered the dish, helped by a socca maker named Thérésa. She began with a pushcart near the beach before opening her own restaurant, Madame Thérésa. Today, niçois of all ages love socca’s rich, crispy taste. You’ll find cafés full of these locals, having a chat over a plate of socca and a glass of wine. It is so popular that some call it “the national dish of Nice.”

Socca’s ingredients are simple—chickpea flour, water, oil, and salt. Its distinctive crispiness comes from the wood-fired ovens where it is baked at a roaring 750 degrees. The secret ingredient—you might call it the magic—is the loving care with which Nice’s chefs make it.

Award-winning filmmaker Scott Petersen now shares a bit of that magic with us in his short documentary We Eat Socca Here. Read all about it and watch the fun trailer at Perfectly Provence. Warning: it might make you hungry.

 

The Animal Kingdom of Provence

Let’s say you are strolling through a French village and come across thousands of sheep bleating in the streets. Or maybe you see horses with flowers in their manes. Or perhaps you are startled by French cowboys charging past with a bull in their midst. Where might you be?

You are probably in Provence.

The people of Provence have a deep respect for nature and for the animals that have long been integral to their rural life. And they maintain their traditions, many of which have to do with animals. Enjoying them is one of the most interesting parts of a visit to Provence.

What are these traditions? Let’s look at a few in My French Life!

Legends of Provence

The world is rich with legends. We still dream of Camelot and King Arthur’s court. We hope to one day find El Dorado and its streets paved with gold. And who wouldn’t love to take a dip in the Fountain of Youth?

Provence, too, has its legends.

Is it true that a terrible monster once lived in the depths of the Rhône River? Did a saint poke his finger in a rock and cause wine to pour forth? And what’s this about Mary Magdalene living out her days in Provence?

Read about these and other legends in My French Life!

Living in Provence and Why We Love It

Annette Charlton is an Australian woman who bought a house in France on her very first trip to the country–true story! Now she’s a part-time Frenchwoman, as she and her family spend part of the year in Brittany. If you haven’t already visited her wonderful website A French Collection, I encourage you to take a look.

Annette asked me to write about what Val and I love about our part-time life in Provence. There was so much to say that I had to keep myself from running on and on–there are the markets, the charming villages, the stunning landscape, and so much more. Best of all are the people, some of our best friends on earth. Whenever we are away from Provence, we long to return.

If you’d like to know what we love about Provence, take a look at this article that I wrote for Annette.

Carrières de Lumières—Only in Provence

Imagine walking into a massive cavern inside a mountain. The walls shoot straight up and the ceiling is high above your head. Here and there are side chambers, and rough-hewn benches are carved into the walls. The whole place looks drab in the dim light—you wonder why your friends keep saying “You can’t miss it!”

Even after having looked at the photos and having viewed the promotional video, the actual experience of the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) is almost impossible to describe. But once the lights go out and the magic starts, you just know you have to tell your friends, “You can’t miss it!”

Read all about this unique Provencal spot in My French Life. It’s part of my “Only in Provence” series and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Hilltop Villages of the Côte d’Azur

When most people think of the Côte d’Azur, they think of glamorous spots like Cannes, Antibes, and Nice—beautiful cities, all of them. But this glorious corner of France is also home to charming inland villages that are well worth a visit.

There’s high Gourdon, the Eagle’s Nest. And Saint-Martin-Vésubie in the so-called  Little Switzerland of Provence. And let’s not forget the “Tibetan village” of Saorge.

You can see a garden designed by the same architect who designed the famous gardens of Versailles, a monastery famous for its ancient sundials, and visit a park where wolves roam free. It’s a fascinating region of France.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!