Ménerbes, Peter Mayle’s Captivating Hill Town

weather MenerbesProvencal weather today was delightful, sunny and blue skies, but cool and a little windy. A day trip to Peter Mayle’s Ménerbes, seemed just the ticket. There is a grand wine co op at the top of the village that we had visited before with friends and beautiful views out into the vineyards, but I particularly remembered approaching the town via Rue de la Fontaine which is lined with gorgeous shady plane trees.  The first charming building across from the parking lot is
La Vie Est Belle. We stopped to view the wares and to speak with the owner. John found a cave in the rear of this historic shop that was up to his standards of a true man cave. Lots of eclectic things to acquire…and an inviting patio.

chairs La Vie Est Belle

We made our way to the top of the village, stopping to take photos of whatever caught our fancy and checked out the store at
Maison De La Truffe et du Vin du Luberon.

It was very quiet for a Saturday, and today we seemed to be attracted to doors…symbolic? Hope, opportunity, opening, passage from one state or world to another, entrance to new life…retirement and new beginnings….

Menerbes secret garden

Kathy Menerbes
another secret garden Continue reading

Adventure in the Ventoux Vineyards

Villes sur Auzon entrance to town

He had me at moped and wine…and lunch clinched the deal.  My husband has been throwing about the idea of a moped wine tour for a bit, and just came upon an ad for Real adventure in the Ventoux vineyards!

wine tasting Flasson

Husband from this point on may be referred to as Le Grand Patron as we are trying out nom de guerres for him. Today he feels like the big boss, which I guess makes me La Petite Patron, but we’ll see, it may just be his unrivaled success in planning this adventure…now back to the wine story.

Le Patron had us up early today to reach
Cave TerraVentoux in Villes sur Auzon by 9 am for our mythical ride on an E-Moped. As it turned out, there were a group of people signed up today and the transportation of choice was electric-bikes, which I found are just as wonderful as mopeds, especially in the hilly Mount Ventoux terrain after tasting generous glasses of wine.

cerises on the tree

After being sized up for bicycles and meeting our delightful guides, Ann, Suzy, Gabrielle and Tomas, we were off as a group of about a dozen, or douzaine as they say.
les cerises

The first stop was a cherry farm (ferme cerise) where we liberally tasted ripe cherries off the trees and met the farmer and his quality control staff. Each cherry is hand picked off the trees and sorted for quality. There has been a lot of rain lately and not enough wind, resulting in the cherries cracking a bit. So these sweet cerises were available for us to munch as much as we desired, since they would not make it to market.

cherry picking

 

cerises

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomas

Back on the bikes, we cycled higher to Flassan, a quiet little village of about 400 inhabitants.  By now it was late morning and time for our first tasting which was a feast for the eyes as well as the tongue. Tomas was waiting for us and had set up the glasses at the village fountain. This stop we tasted Terres De Truffles by Terraventoux, along with an amuse bouche of slivers of soft bread topped with fromage chèvre and Acacia honey drizzle. Delicious!

 

Terres De Truffles is of the AOC Ventoux classification and made with Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Viognier grapes. Impressive information, right? That’s because it was so good, we bought a couple bottles and I can read the label here in the comfort of our home away from home.

Flassan fountain

On we cycled in the shadow of Mount Ventoux, which if you are familiar with Tour de France, is a very high and difficult mountain stage and usually alternated in the Tour with Alpes D’Huez on one of the mountain days. Ventoux blue sky

We stopped here and there for lessons on agriculture and discussed the winemaker’s co op which includes approximately 600 hectares of vines. Eventually we found ourselves stopping in a small sandy clearing in a cutout of a vineyard.  Everyone was instructed to lock their bikes to each other’s, so we had a mass of a dozen bicycles attached. No one was leaving this party if anyone lost their key. We hiked down a leafy sandy path, over tree limbs and rocks, where the sand reminded us of the Roussillon ocre. Soon we found ourselves in a clearing where Tomas was again waiting for us with another picnic table covered with delights.
ocre hideaway repartWe found four more TerraVentoux wines, a Rosé and 3 reds, as well as jambon, saucisses, local artisinal pâtes, four cheeses, and more cherries…oh my. Only chocolat was missing from this feast.
fromage cave terraventouxThe reds were light for pairing with summer foods and whereas I mostly turn to whites, I thoroughly enjoyed the red tastings and Le Patron picked up a bottle of his favorite, Château Bonadona 2012, which is a Grenache-Syrah. While the tour was mainly in French as the other guests were Swiss, Tomas and Gabrielle both spoke excellent English and would stop here and there to speak with us about other topics. Tomas is an intern with the winery and working on his Masters in Hospitality, so we discussed sustainable tourism. ocre hideaway 2The canyon where we had our picnic was on private vintner property. It was carved by a stream running through the ocre sand over time and then the stream was diverted for agriculture, leaving the canyon in it’s wake. Unfortunately, tourists and local youth have carved and defaced the walls, but rather than closing it to the public, the owner wants to leave it open for people to enjoy walking through the cool shade as he remembers doing in his youth. ocre stream bedAfter a lovely hour where we socialized with the other guests, we reluctantly trooped back up the path to sort out the transportation. This is where the electric bikes were most welcome as we still had quite a few hills to climb before finding our way back to the cave and wine shop. It was a relaxed drive back home through the winding road, full of sun, wine, and the good life.

 

our cottage

 

 

 

C’est tout!  Well done my Grand Patron.

 

Roussillon, Plus Beaux et Plus Ocre Village

Roussillon, the ocre-red village and one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, is a tourist and artist destination on the southern edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse. We had last visited Roussillon in 2010 but had not tackled the ocre cliffs that time, so we started this adventure with the hike right out of the parking lot so that we would be fresh for the hour long trek.start

Ochre is a natural pigment in the sandy soil that makes up the cliffs around Roussillon. Iron oxides color shades with the sands ranging from yellow to purple. The mineral landscape today reflects the effects of erosion and mining work. Informational signs along the trail describe the geology, the flora and the history of the ocher deposits in the Luberon. ocre hike 4 ocre hike 3 ocre hike 2 ocre cliffs 2 ocre 7 ocre 5 Continue reading

Tour of the Armée de l’Air Base Aérienne 115 Orange-Caritat

We just had the opportunity to visit one of the French air force bases nearby to the village where we are staying. The French air force is referred to as Armée de l’Air. We found that they have a historical Armée de l’Air museum at the Base Aérienne 115 Orange-Caritat that civilians can visit with advance permission. John wrote to them with our personal information and we were approved within a few days to visit on a particular date, that being yesterday.  It was a short drive to the Orange area, although Madame GPS as usual likes to test our patience, directing us to the smallest country lanes as possible, quite frequently leaving us (read: me) breathless as the driver chooses between driving into a ditch or canal or losing a mirror or headlight to an oncoming speeding truck…but I digress.

After navigating around a road closure with no apparent detour route, and finding the actual air base with minimal signage and no address, because of course, why would top secret information such as location of the air base be readily available on the internet…we found our way to base and to the sentry post. Luckily John speaks French very well, and he quickly understood that we must back up out of the secure gated sentry post into the civilian parking lot to present our identity papers in exchange for our museum ID passes. air force paradise After we took care of paperwork, our guide Maurice, walked us through the park filled with one of each of the historical French Armée de l’Air aircraft.

 

Mirage IV Mysterefighter jet Continue reading

Rainy Day in Provence

It looks stormy back in the US and we have not escaped rainy weather in Provence. Yesterday we had torrential downpours off and on, but when you are retired, un jour de pluie (rainy day), does not matter in the least. It was not a market day but plenty of locals found their way down our street to the main square to pick up a baguette for déjeuner, to have a cappuccino at Café de France, or to buy a Euro Millions ticket at the Tabac. Continue reading

Lourmarin, A Day in Provence

Lourmarin, of Peter Mayle and A Year in Provence fame, is approximately a 45 minute drive from our home base in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue. We had somehow missed visiting this beautiful Vaucluse town in previous holidays, so today was the day. It might be blasphemy to admit, but we are starting to schedule visits around the markets so as to avoid the tourists in the heat. Lourmarin market is held on Friday mornings and today is Thursday, so we thought we would be safe for a relaxed outing. The drive is scenic and awe-inspiring through the Luberon (for the passenger). For the driver, it is constant attention to miles of twists and turns and switchbacks on smallish roads, avoiding cyclists and speeding vehicles coming around the odd blind corner, through the area of Bonnieux and beyond to Lourmarin.

le petit chat noir

this way

Soon after parking our car on the main route into centreville, a little black cat crossed our path and darted into the shadows.  Throughout our rambles, he would pop out unexpectedly and lead us down another picturesque chemin

une verre de vin?

restaurant flowers

First on the agenda was déjeuner at Restaurant La Récréation, which serves guests on a charming flower filled terrace.  Misters cool the heat weary patrons every 30 seconds or so. We enjoyed a huge fresh salad, salmon tartare, soft decadent bread, and un verre de vin.

Midi is time for déjeuner and nothing but relaxing, so most of the stores were closed for a couple hours.  I wonder who planned our schedule? There were many cute shops with tempting window displays so that we could faire du lèche-vitrines which means “window-licking” in French… the expression for “window-shopping”.

smorgasbord of shopping

Lourmarin’s historic winding streets are filled with innumerable picturesque maisons to photograph and dream that you might live here amongst the flowers and vines and lavendar shutters. We did not find Peter Mayle as he moved on to another small town nearby a few years ago, but we did enjoy his muse. C’est tout.

picturesque storefront mas Maison cafe

 

Chateau Fontvert


le chien gorgeous home blue shutters

lourmarin lavendar

leaving Lourmarin

lavendar Lourmarin

Bedoin & Mont Ventoux

It is Monday here in Provence and so the market has moved to Bedoin, a lovely agricultural town at the foot of Mont Ventoux. If you follow the Tour de France then you are familiar with Mont Ventoux’s status as one of the most feared and mythical climbs in world cycling. Nicknamed the Géant de Provence, it surges out of a largely flat landscape and can be seen for miles around as you drive the switchbacks, its white-topped summit dominating the surroundings like a hill-top fort. John climbed Mont Ventoux in 2-1/2 hours back in 2010, so we decided to visit the scene of his accomplishment again. The Bedoin market has grown immensely in the past 5 years and there is a new vélo rental shop in town for those strong enough for the climb.

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John reliving his glory day

Mont Ventoux

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german faeries

The temps today are 95 degrees, so we opted for cold drinks and a meander through the market.  We ran into the faerie vendeur from L’Isle Sur La Sorgue.  John whisked me away before I succumbed to an addition to our faerie family.

head glass balls

 radis et des fraises

Next on our planned journey was a visit to the Gorges de la Nesque near Monieux for a picnic and a walk around.  We passed some early lavender on the way.  C’est tout!

lavandre early
Gorges d l nesqueKathy Gorges de la Nesque
John Gorges

L’Ambiance de L’Isle Sur La Sorgue

chataigniers

cerise

beauty everywhere
dates

 

 

Sunday, le dimanche, in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue…we are one week into our vacances français, and just settled into our charming apartment at L’Ambiance in time for the traditional weekly market.

Whereas Belgium is chocolat and beer, Provence is all about the colorful flowers, fruits and vegetables.  The chocolat leftover from our first few days in Brussels and Brugge would soon melt here and must be consumed immediately! Quel dommage…  Now we must search for vin, fromage de chèvre frais, and sample endless varieties of saucisse.

man servant

tomates

Loup's buddies

Ooh la la!

peonies or les pivoines

Lavande

site of future biere

purple flower

Porvoo Finland: An Inviting Old Town

The distance from Helsinki to Old Porvoo is approximately 30 miles east, or 40 minutes back in time by bus. Helsinki is the capital of Finland and a delight in itself, but Porvoo, (pronounced pour voh with rolled r), is famed for its “Old Town” (Gamla Stan in Swedish).onion bulbFounded in 1386, it’s medieval streets are filled with mostly picturesque wooden houses. I recently had the opportunity to visit Old Porvoo on a bus tour with a group of friends and would highly recommend it as a scenic day trip from Helsinki whether by bus, or in summer by boat from the Helsinki market square. It’s charming little boutiques, antiikki shops, street market, and cafes will entertain for hours.Porvoo shop

Cafe Helmi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start at the bottom of Valikatu Street with an unlimited chocolate tasting at Brunberg’s Chocolate Factory, which is right where our guide dropped us off with maps of the old town.

BrunbergsBrunberg’s has a wide selection of truffles, toffees, and pistachio bark (which my husband loves).

After sampling a little of everything, pick up a little truffle selection for someone back home or chocolate medicated relief for those occasional stressful travel moments.

 

 

 

As you continue up Valikatu towards the cobbled market square, be sure to stop in Riimikko Toy Shop to check out the innovative and endearing toys for boys and girls, and for those of us who never grow old.

When you reach the market square, check out the stalls of typical Finnish souvenirs of furs, leather, trinkets, and winter hats. From here, you can walk back down Jokikatu, which is a parallel street to Valikatu.  Jokikatu will take you back to the starting point near Brunberg’s and the public restrooms. There are of course many side streets of shops and photo opportunities, but these two main streets are jam-packed with cute shops for a first visit to the old city.

 Hanna Maria man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After some dedicated retail-therapy, lunch reservations beckoned our group up the hill to the very top of town at Wanha Laamanni restaurant where our group took over two floors. Wanha Laamanni is located in a charming 18th century log building next to a medieval cathedral, and has an inviting outdoor patio as well.  We rejuvenated over a relaxing meal of wine, artisan bread (notable for the indulgence), prawn skagen for starters, and a tender lamb artfully presented for mains.  As with every meal on this Scandinavian adventure, an enticing dessert was offered as well.

I suggest packing forgiving waistbands, comfortable shoes for cobblestones, and definitely your camera, as the storefronts in Old Porvoo are extremely photogenic.