Sunday, June 3, 2018

Guest Post: What's Up This Month in Aix?


Erin Jordan is an American who's been lucky enough to have called southern France home since moving from Seattle with her husband and two daughters in 2010. Along the way, she turned her passion for the region into a successful business by providing personalized guided walking tours in Aix-en-Provence for English speaking visitors. Erin loves to keep up with everything going on in the area, of course, and when I asked her to share with us some of the cool stuff happening around Aix this month she generously sent this round up.  Some of these events are limited to just a weekend while others extend through the summer. "And this is really just a taste," Erin says. "I hope your readers can get out and enjoy some the wonderful opportunities that Aix offers!" To learn more about Erin's tours go to aixploringprovence.com. To reach her directly: aixploringprovence@gmail.com. And here's what she suggests...

One of my absolute favorite annual events is Salon Vivre Coté Sud, a home décor and garden fair celebrating the Mediterranean lifestyle. The exhibition will be held at Parc Jourdan, with lots of fabulous local and regional exhibitors to discover, from June 8 to 11. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this fun and well-organized event.

For outdoor music paired with a chilled glass of rosé, be sure to check out Les Musicales dans les Vignes de Provence. The program is hosted by different wine domains from May 11 through August 19, and includes live performances set in some the most beautiful scenery anywhere in the Provence.

Also not to be missed is Aix en Juin, a prelude to the famous Festival d’Aix in July, with exceptional artists, young talents and renowned world-class musicians. Aix en Juin begins on June 9 and offers everything from concerts and performances to master classes and public rehearsals, so there will be something for everyone to enjoy as a tune up to the main event next month.

The beautifully restored Hôtel de Caumont kicks off its Les soirées Jazz à Caumont concert series on June 16 with live evening performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer. The Caumont is a major art museum in Aix and if you haven’t experienced it, you must! The historic architecture of the mansion was meticulously renovated several years ago, while the sculpted gardens and intimate outdoor café provide an in-city oasis unlike any other in Aix. Currently on view is a show dedicated to Franco-Russian painter Nicolas de Staël, known for his colorful and highly abstract landscapes. With 71 paintings and 26 drawings from public and private collections, the exhibit focuses exclusively on the year he spent in Provence (1953/4). It opened in late April and runs until Sept 23, 2018. All the info is here.  

The "Picasso-Picabia" exhibit at the Musée Granet launches June 9, part of the international cultural event "Picasso Méditerranée" with 60+ museums celebrating his Mediterranean work. This particular show is the first to compare the work of Picasso to the French cubist Francis Picabia, who declared in 1922, "Picasso is the only painter I love." Through masterpieces and lesser-known works, it explores "50 years of rich, diverse and uninterrupted artistic production." The show runs until Sept 23. 

The 11th annual Flaneries D'Art Contemporain happens the weekend of June 16 and 17. It's a perfect opportunity to see some beautiful private gardens on the Cours Mirabeau and in the Mazarin neighborhood while taking in art exhibits, listening to lectures by several authors and enjoying opera, jazz and even tap dance performances. Entrance to the public is free.

And finally, the summer solstice festival on June 23, known as Le Feu de la Saint-Jean, culminates with the arrival of a flame that's come all the way from Catalonia. Spectators will be invited to write their “vows,” attach them to wood and place them in a pile near the Fontaine de la Rotonde. Around 9 pm, the flame will ignite the vows and wood into a blazing bonfire to release the magic of Saint John. Music and dancing will follow until 1 am.

Photos: (1-4) These shots from previous years show the range of activities and beautiful displays you'll see at Salon Vivre Côté Sud. Top shot © S. Spiteri.  (5, 6) Two paintings from the Nicolas de Staël in Provence exhibit at the Caumont Art Center in Aix. (7) The beautifully restored Hôtel de Caumont houses the museum. (8) The Caumont kicks off its evening jazz series on June 16 with shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer. (9, 10) Two from the Picasso-Picabia show at the Musee Granet: Picasso's Femme à la mantille (Fatma), 1917, and Picabia's Andalouse (Espagnole à la mantille), 1923-1926. (11) Pablo and Olga Picasso with Francis Picabia at the Château de Mai in Mougins, 1927. (12)  The Michel Pellegrino Quartet at the Château Thuerry in Flayosc, during the Music in the Vineyards festival. (13) Poster for this year's Feu de la Saint-Jean festival, celebrating the summer solstice.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Party Like a Shepherd on Monday


Wool you be there? Monday May 21 is the 35th annual Fête de la Transhumance in St. Remy, when local shepherds herd their flocks (roughly 3500 sheep and goats) three times around the village's circular "main drag" before taking them up to graze the green pastures of the Alpilles Mountains for the summer. It's always the Monday of Pentecost and if you haven't seen it, it's great good fun. An all-day flea market and goat-cheese fair starts at 9 am on the Place Republique; the Transhumance starts around 11 am but arrive by 9:30 to find parking. Other villages in Provence have Transhumance festivals but St. Remy's is one of the biggest and most popular.  

Afterwards, everyone flocks to the Plateau de la Crau for sheep-herding demos (starting at 12:30-ish) and the Repas des Bergers (Shepherds' Lunch). The event has become super popular and it sold out weeks ago but--lucky you!--my friend William in St. Remy has six tickets to sell at face value (30€ each, cash only please). If you want them, call him quickly +33 (0)6 07 82 66 63 so you can set a time and place to meet. The feast will include grilled lamb chops and gigot, stewed beans, green salad, cheese, dessert and all the wine you care to drink...but don't forget: good shepherds don't let other shepherds drive drunk!

To get to the Plateau de la Crau: leave St. Remy on the D571 direction Eyragues/Avignon; turn right on the D99 (direction Noves) which you'll find at the first rondpoint (roundabout) just outside town, then pass the BricoMarche and turn left at the next rondpoint. The street will be blocked so park at the soccer field or by the school and walk up the gentle hill about 10 or 15 minutes. Or, just walk from town, which takes about 20 minutes.

For more info on Transhumance, call the St. Remy Tourist Office at +33 (0) 4 90 92 05 22.  And don't miss their lovely Transhumance video here.  


Photos: (1) Courtesy of Philippe Donnart. (2-4) Photos courtesy of Guy Butterssee more of  his work here and here. (5) Photo courtesy of weloveprovence.fr(6) Shepherds' Lunch under the trees, courtesy of St. Remy Tourist Office. (7) This year's poster.

Monday, May 7, 2018

You're Invited: A Day for Food, Wine & Fun

Image result for envie Epicurieuse 2018

The 7th annual Envie Epicurieuse happens Sunday May 20...a day devoted to nature, hiking, food, wine and music. I went with friends last year and it reminded me of one of those weddings where everyone's all pretty and proper at first, sticking with their family and friends, and next thing you know no one's in his original seat, dogs are sneaking cake off tables, people are napping under trees and Grama's dancing with God knows who. Loved it!

This year there's a new venue, the Domaine La Réaltière in Rians, an historic village in the northwestern Var, not far from Mont Ste. Victoire. 

Just like in previous years, the day starts with a guided group hike for those who want it; my contact Aurelie says it's a fairly easy hike that should be do-able for just about everyone. If you want to hike, meet at Domaine La Réaltière at 10.30 am. If you don't, arriving at 11:30 or 12 should be fine.

Following a post-hike apero, everyone will settle in at long communal tables for a fantastic afternoon celebrating local food and wine: five courses paired with eight wines. The day should wind down around 5 pm but if last year was any indication, it won't.

Wines this year will be poured by four of the best winemakers in the area: Peter Fischer (of Château Revelette in Jouques), Christian Valensisi (La Chapelle Saint Bacchi in Jouques), Bengt Sundstrom (Château Vignelaure in Rians) and your host Pierre Michelland of Domaine La Réaltière.

Lunch will be prepared by top chefs Nicolas Monribot from Le Millefeuille and Ludovic and Laura Aillaud of L’Épicurien, both of them restaurants in Aix.

And once again, award-winning boulanger Manu Barthélemy will be on hand bearing baskets of his superb breads. And once again he'll serenade the crowd, singing traditional Provencal songs in his magnificent operatic voice.

The master of ceremonies this year is sommelier Hakob Yessayan, who has worked with some of the top chefs in France including Alain Ducasse, Michel Trama and Georges Blanc. Today Yessayan runs the wine program at chef Gilles Goujon's Auberge du Vieux Puits, the Michelin three-star in Fontjoncouse, over in the Aude.


Kids are welcome from age 6 or 7. There will be babysitters and a special lunch for them.

Tickets are 110€ per person and 25€ for kids, the max is 180 people and the event will sell out so book right away if you plan to. It's best if you book through the website here but you can also call or email: +33 (0)6 11 53 27 01, envie.epicurieuse20@gmail.com. Dress is extremely casual, particularly if you plan to hike. Hotel suggestions and lots more info are on the website. Hope to see you there! 

Photos: Scenes from last year's event. All photos by Sophie Bourgeix except the last two.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A New Foodie Hangout in Avignon


This winter, my chef friend Jon Chiri realized a dream he's had most of his adult life: he was finally able to open his own place. Called Cuisine Centr'Halles, it combines a cafe, a cooking school and a catering kitchen...smack in the heart of the bustling indoor Les Halles food market in Avignon.

Jon is a native Californian who worked in Napa Valley, Seattle, New Orleans, Berlin, Barcelona and the Black Forest before landing in Provence more than 20 years ago. Since then, he's run some of the top restaurant and hotel kitchens in the region including the Chateau de Massillan (in Uchaux) and the luxurious wine estate Domaine de la Verriere (in Crestet).

Jon also oversaw the highly regarded cooking school at the five-star Hotel La Mirande (in Avignon) for a number of years and still steps in as a guest instructor there from time to time.

With the opening of Cuisine Centr'Halles, Jon is thrilled to have a home base for his various culinary activities which include private and group cooking classes, market tours, daily market-fresh lunches, unique culinary events and chef-at-home services. Jon also leads week-long bike tours for Gourmet Cycling Travel, the company he co-founded in 2010, and day-long bike tours whenever he gets the chance. (Together, Jon and I offer a half- and full-day Foodie Bike Tours in Provence; contact me at WhatToDoinProvence@gmail.com for details).

For the time being, however, Jon's focus is Cuisine Centr'Halles, which has pretty much been packed since it opened. Here's what Jon's offering now:

* Cooking Demo with Market Visit available Wednesday to Sunday, from 9 to 11:15 am. Begin with a tour around the market with tastings, then return to the kitchen for a demo of three items: two of Jon's unique tapenade preparations and a third dish which changes daily. This is followed by a tasting of all three, with wine, for 40€ per person. Lunch is available afterwards at an additional cost (see below) and demo guests get priority reservations.

* Cooking Class with Market Visit available Tuesday mornings (except in July) and on demand. Class begins at 8:45 am, includes market shopping to buy the ingredients for lunch (with tasting, of course!),  a cooking class and a seated lunch with wine. Price is 85€ per person.

* Every day except Monday and Tuesday, Jon offers a market-fresh plat du jour lunch at roughly 20€ person, with a homemade dessert, coffee and water. Wine is available at an extra charge. Lunch is served from 11:30 to 1 pm Wednesday through Friday, until 1:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday. (Les Halles is closed in the afternoon and evening.) The dish of the day is on the blackboard.

* Jon also offers special themed menus and holiday meals. So far these have included  a Mardi Gras party, a truffle festival and a special asparagus menu...all of which he tells me were "totally rocking." To get on the mailing list, email Jon at the address below.

* The space is also open for private parties and cooking events. Last week, for example, Jon (and our sommelier friend Kelly McAuliffe) welcomed 20 members of my ladies club for a private market tour, wine tasting and lunch.

"As a chef, I can't think of many things better than this," Jon says. "I work in the heart of a fantastic food market, where I have a never-ending supply of the best, freshest, most-local ingredients. I get to meet the coolest people--locals and travelers--while we cook, learn and laugh together. And then we share a meal, connecting all the dots. The bonus is I get to see my chef friends regularly, because everyone shops at Les Halles, and get to spend evenings with my family. Seriously, I couldn't have dreamed it any better." 

While Jon's website is still under construction, you can find him on Facebook here. To book meals, classes or special events, email: contact@jonathanchiri.com. And to see what else is happening at Les Halles, click here.

Cuisine Centr'Halles
Marché Les Halles
18 Place Pie
Avignon, France
+33 (0)6 46 89 85 33

Photos: (1) It took many months, many euros and mountains of paperwork for Jon to get his new space in the Les Halles market...and he's been pretty much packed since he opened. (2) Market stalls overflow with prepared foods and ingredients of all types. (3) Jon makes lunch. (4) Friends relax after lunch at Jon's place. But don't get too relaxed...the market closes at 1:30 on weekdays and 2 pm on weekends. (5) Jon serving lunch on Thanksgiving day. (6) A cute charcuterie! (7)  Jon sharing lunch at the market with his daughter Milena, who just turned 2. "I love how she's telling me what to do with the food!" he says. (8, 9) The market as it looked in 1900...and today, with it's "hanging garden" on the north facade. The garden was the work of botanist Patrick Blanc, who used a metal frame, PVC films, an irrigation mat and 20 plants per square meter (including flowers) to bring nature to the heart of the city. (10) Jon with his wife Katrina, when Milena was about a year old. The couple met on the Paris metro, when Jon stood to offer Katrina a seat.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Big Châteauneuf Wine Fest April 7 & 8


The weekend wine festival called Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, now in its ninth year, is a festive rite of spring here in the South of France. This year (April 7 and 8), more than 85 domaines and châteaux will be represented...a great opportunity to meet local producers while tasting their latest releases and a few smashing older vintages. It’s also an easy way to buy the wines you love, some of them normally quite difficult to get. I'm told roughly 300 wines will be featured.

Each year the Printemps festival invites special guests from other regions and this time it's a group of winemakers from 
Germany.

As in years past, there will also be special tasting workshops (called Master Classes or Les Ateliers Dé
gustation). These require an additional fee and need to be booked in advance. You can see this year's offerings to the right on the website here but sign up early as they always sell out quickly. Note some are in different locations that the festival itself. 

Eighty-two years ago, Châteauneuf was designated as one of the very first AOCs (Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée) in France.  The AOC decree was first created by Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié (aka baron Le Roy), a winemaker at Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Château Fortia). The first year, there were five villages named: Châteauneuf, Monbazillac, Arbois, Cassis and Tavel. And as the European designation AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) is slowly replacing the French AOC for agricultural products, you can expect to see more AOP on wine labels in the months to come.

Les Printemps is organized by by The Young Winemakers Association of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and takes place at the Salle Dufays on the Place de la Renaissance in Châteauneuf. Hours are 10 am to 7 pm (Saturday) and 10 am to 6 pm (Sunday). Entry is 10€ per person per day; you can pay at the door. There will be free parking...indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids...and food available on site.

A list of all participating domaines is here.

For all the details click here and follow the festival on Facebook  and Twitter. If you have questions, you can email: contact@lesprintempsdechateauneufdupape.fr.

For nearby hotels and other lodging options, click here

For general info about the wines of Châteauneuf, the village and the region, click here. Or, reach out to the lovely folks at the Châteauneuf Tourist Office: +33 (0)4 90 83 71 08.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Fundraiser for Camargue Cowboys March 18


Let's give it up for the Gardians! On Sunday March 18, 2018 at Domaine Paul Ricard de Méjanes in the Camargue, the Rotary Club des Baux de Provence is hosting a full-day event to raise funds for the Mutuelle des Gardians, which supports the men and women who work the manades (ranches) of this legendary "Wild West" region of Provence. The mutuelle is a supplement,  not unlike the one used for mountain guides, which helps families with expenses following a serious work accident or a death.

"This 'day in the country' will help all of us to better appreciate these amazingly passionate and devoted people," says Larry Ware, vice president of the Rotary.  "It will also help visitors discover the Camargue 'profonde' and hopefully create a closer bond with this remarkable and authentic region and its people.

"We're hoping it finds a place on the Camargue calendar every year," Larry continues. "Two years ago, on a rainy day, we were still able to raise 3000€. This year the weather promises to be wonderful and we hope to do even better."

Larry advises turning up at Méjanes before 10 am. The program begins in the Arena (plaza) at 10:30 with a demo of the "Course Camarguaise," the traditional bull games. This will be followed by a demo by a traditional Camargue bullfighter; neither bulls nor men will be hurt! Then there will be a display on horseback of how the Gardians work with cattle...cows not bulls this time. 

An apéritif and lunch will be served in the restaurant at 12:45. 

After lunch, everyone is welcome to join a roundtable discussion with Camargue residents, dignitaries, ranch owners and Gardians. "This is an important opportunity for the Camarguais to voice their concerns and for participants to ask questions," Larry says. "The roundtable will be in French but I'll be on hand to translate if needed." There will also be activities for kids such as rides on the train to see bulls, horses and birds and a tombola (raffle) for the adults. And all this will be set to the wonderful music of gypsy musicians...signature sound of the Camargue.

"The Gardians are very hardworking, passionate about where they live and work and uniquely authentic." Larry says, "They're truly the soul of the region. This  is such a worthy cause and a gesture of recognition. My club, the Gardians and I  really hope we'll have the pleasure of seeing a number of your readers on March 18th!"

Tickets are 30
€ adults and 15€ kids, which includes all events plus lunch with wine and coffee. All entrance fees and raffle earnings go directly to the Mutuelle.

For questions and reservations: ware42larry@gmail.com, +33 (0)6 19 05 31 90. Or, send a check directly to Etienne Pirot, 89, Chemin des Oliviers, 13750, Plan D’Orgon, France.

Larry asked me to mention that the Rotary Club Des Baux de Provence is always looking for new international members, both expats and part-timers, both men and women.  "We have a number of English speaking French, German and Belgian members, so language won't be too much of a problem."

Photos: A few of my favorite Gardian shots (courtesy of the Manades Jacques Bon and Hotel Mas de Peint).  The map shows where in the Camargue the March 18 fundraiser will be held. The poster is easier to read if you click on it. 

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