Monday, August 22, 2016

Posh and Becks are Selling in Provence


David and Victoria Beckham have listed their six-bedroom home in the Var region of Provence for €2.75 million. Marketed as "an exceptional estate in a pristine setting," the 200-acre property, Domaine Saint-Vincent, has three reception rooms, four bathrooms, staff accommodationan infinity pool and pool house, a two-story guest house, a chapel, various outbuildings "with additional potential" and far-reaching valley views. 

The Daily Mail reports that the Beckhams bought the 19th-century home for €1.74 million in 2003 and spent €5.7 million on renovation. If it sells for its asking price, that could represent a loss of €4.6 million for the couple, who are estimated to be worth more than €500 million. 

The Daily Mail also says that the house is reportedly haunted by the former owner, who committed suicide in the study.

The reason Posh and Becks are upping sticks, however, is said to be that the couple and their four children--Brooklyn, 17; Romeo, 13; Cruz, 11; and Harper, 5--prefer to spend their time in London (where they recently spent £31 milllion on a townhouse in Holland Park) and in Los Angeles.

Other reports suggest the Beckhams are offloading real estate because they're planning to divorce.

Either way, everyone seems to agree they've hardly used the house. A story in The Sun quoted "a source": "The locals won't miss them as they were hardly ever here. When they were, David signed the odd autograph and he once had a kick-about with the villagers, but that was their only contact with them. You wouldn't have seen Victoria queuing for a croissant in the boulangerie."

Domaine Saint-Vincent is 4 km from the village of Bargemon, 23 km off the A8 motorway (exit Le Muy) and 99 km from Nice International Airport.

For all the details see the listing here... 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Luminessences Opens Tonight in Avignon












Les Luminessences d'Avignon, a monumental 360°sound-and-light show at the Palais des Papes, is one of those annual spectacles (as the French call them) that seems to grow more and more popular each year.  This year's show, the fourth annual, opens tonight and runs until October 2, in the Palace's Honour Courtyard.

The Palais des Papes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was home to nine successive popes, considered the heart of the medieval Christian world and was the scene of several sieges. It played a very unique and vital role in European history...and Luminessences tells its story.  (For more on the Avignon papacy, click here.) The show--the same production as the one shown last summer--cloaks the four wings of the palace in enormous images and surround the audience "in a poetic fusion of architecture, light and music." Mostly everyone stands for the 35-minute show but small folding chairs and wheelchairs are welcome. 

This year, there will be three shows each week in English: at 10:15 pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Shows in French will be at 9:15 pm (every night) and at 10:15 pm (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday)

Tickets can be bought online in English here...or at the Palais des Papes during opening hours... or at the Avignon Tourist Office (see link and phone below). 

Prices are 11 € for adults, 9€ (reduced rate) free for kids under age 8. Info on group sales, private events, getting to Avignon, tickets and much more  is on the Luminessences website in English here.  They're also on Facebook For info by phone, call the Avignon Tourist Office at +33 (0)4 32 74 32 74. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Uplifting Voices in Lumières and Vaison

Every summer, a group of talented singers from Nice and the UK known as the Ristretto Choir arrives in tiny, charming Lumières in the Luberon to enjoy good food and wine, the beauty of Provence, lovely warm weather and a week of intensive choral singing. This year's program will be two challenging works: "Concerto for Choir" by Alfred Schnittke (sung in Russian) and "Spem in alium" by Thomas Tallis.  Their open-to-the-public concert will be Saturday August 13 at 6 pm, in the Chapelle des Missions of the Hotellerie Notre Dame de Lumières, a very-special hotel in a former 17th-century convent. Admission to the concert is free...just show up! For a casual dinner afterwards, stroll over to Le Garage, grab an outdoor table and tuck into a terrific selection of tapas, small plates and cocktails. Lumières is just off the D900, just below the village of Goult...about 15 to 20 minutes from Gordes and the 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque. And if you're planning an event of your own, the highly regarded Ristretto Choir and its musicians are 
available for weddings and other events. For more info: RistrettoVoices.comchoralsummer@aol.com, +33 (0)6-17-71-71-70. 

*If choral music is your thing, you probably already know about the International Choral Festival, which happens every three years in Vaison-la-Romaine...when the streets literally are filled with the sound of music. It happens every three years, in early August, and it's happening now, until Aug 11. There are classes, free concerts, paid concerts, street performers bursting into song...and much more. Check out the daily free concert at 6 pm on the Place Montfort...free concerts in the place in front of the 15th-century cathedral in the Medieval village...and the 8:30 pm paid-entry concert at the Roman theater, with sing-along. For info: choralies.fr 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Friday: Food, Friends, Fireworks, Fun...


After the Bastille Day atrocities in Nice, the City of Cannes cancelled the fireworks scheduled for July 21. Shortly thereafter, the Mayor of Cannes announced that the International Fireworks Festival--a hugely popular annual event that welcomes pyrotechnic teams from all over the world--would resume this Friday, July 29, "with new security arrangements, a specific tribute to the victims of the Nice terrorist attack, and affirmation, by the renewal of the world’s largest fireworks festival, of our resilience and defense of our way of life as the Riviera spirit." There will also be fireworks on August 7, 15 and 24...more on that below.
The American Club of the Riviera has also rescheduled the party they had planned for July 21...now it's this Friday as well. ACR president Burton Gintell tells me they have a few spots left and they'd love to have you! For this popular annual event, the ACR booked one of Cannes' finest beach restaurants, the  3.14 Plage, located very centrally on the Croisette just opposite the Carlton Hotel. The fireworks are launched from several barges moored in the Bay, just opposite the restaurant, and are beautifully choreographed to music. 
The ACR evening begins at 8 pm with a welcome drink and nibbles, followed by a three-course dinner with wine, and fireworks set to start at 10 pm. You must reserve ahead...walk ins won't be possible.  The evening is €85 for members; €90 for non-members; €40 for kids.
For reservations, parking info and more, see the ACR website here.
Questions? Contact Burton: +33 (0)6 20 40 11 28  or bgintell@aol.com.
The Fireworks Festival will continue with shows on August 7, 15 and 24th. The festival website in English is here.

Photos: Past fireworks in Cannes...and the restaurant called 3.14 Plage, where the American Club of the Riviera will host their party on Friday July 29.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Postcard from the Edge: A Guest Post

The approach to the Calanque de Sormiou, where chef Andy Floyd and his family had a great afternoon at the restaurant Le Chateau. His guest post about it appears below. Click any of the photos to enlarge.
On the Edge: Sormiou is one of the lesser known calanques, considered something of a locals' secret.
After a somewhat tense 4 kilometer drive down a narrow, winding road...you'll arrive wanting wine quickly. Note, the parking lot is filled mostly with small cars.
The cove and beach that beckon you before and after lunch. Andy says the kids didn't want to leave.
Chef Andy and his wife Lucy both had fish soup followed by grilled dorade. The kids ate shrimp and pasta. The meal was excellent...and expensive.
The entrance to a private little cabanon, off the beach.
On the way home, Marseille (and civilization) loom in the distance.
The Floyd Family's Excellent Provence Adventure included this photo opp in the hills facing Les Baux de Provence. Clockwise: Lucy, Paris, Andy, Sophia and Soleil.



A note from Julie: Every now and then I ask foodie friends in France...or just back from France...to write about one restaurant in Provence they love. When my chef pal Andy Floyd mentioned he had just been to the Le Château de Sormiou, I was all over it--I've wanted to go there for years.  As the GM of KitchenTable Cooking School and the Academic Director of the Professional Culinary Arts Program at Colorado Culinary Academy (Denver), Andy has been teaching budding chefs for more than 20 years.  For 10 of them, he directed professional programs at Culinary School of the Rockies (Boulder) and took groups of students for month-long trips to cook and to stage in some Provence’s finest restaurants. As a result, he remains intimately connected to the food world in the South of France. After a few years away, Andy recently returned for vacation with his wife Lucy and their three kids. And here's his report about their day at the Le Château...not just a restaurant but a true adventure...

No trip to Provence would be complete without a visit to the Calanques between Marseille and Cassis. The white limestone cliffs and inlets that begin in the heart of Marseille and follow the coast to the picturesque port town of Cassis are the summer playground of the Marseillais.

Over the years, I'd visited Cassis many times with my culinary students.  A bouillabaisse in the port followed by a boat trip to the awesome Calanque d'En-Vau is de rigueur for anyone visiting the area. But I'd often heard of another very special Calanque, a well-guarded secret of the locals called the Calanque de Sormiou and I was determined to explore this little gem on my recent family trip. But--understatement here--it's not easy to get to. If you want to avoid the hour-long hike in, your only choice is to rent one of the tiny seaside bungalows or to make reservations at the Le Château Sormiou, the little restaurant with a “to die for” view of the Sormiou Calanque and a fresh-out-of-the-water seafood menu. It's open from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in September and has been serving customers since 1948.

If you plan to go by car, make sure you reserve way ahead, as you're vying for access to this amazing spot with quite few others. When you call Le Château for reservations they'll ask for your car’s license plate number; this is mandatory or “le gardien” won't let you through the gate that takes you up and over the limestone mountain into the tight, steep descent into the Calanque.  If you don’t know your rental car’s license plate number when you make the reservation, just explain that you'll provide it closer to your arrival date. (Need I point out that good command of the French language, as well as being able to decipher the subtleties of the Marseillais patois, are a pre-requisite to making your reservation?). Once you've booked your table, you've overcome the major obstacle to getting to this little gem. Well, one of them at least.

I've been to Marseille many times and though I can easily find my way to the main landmarks, I could never have navigated my way to the entrance of this Calanque without a GPS. I felt like I was in a scene from the The French Connection as I exited from a major highway onto an elevated single lane that led me into a construction area and then into an eight-lane boulevard. Then finally, after many disorienting directional changes, I began to see signs for the Calanque de Sormiou. Much relief! We began to leave the bustle of the city into a forested area and then finally the GPS said we had reached our destination...even though we were still 4 km from the entrance. 

Once we arrived at the gate, the gardien looked from our car to his clipboard and back. No match, he proclaimed. We weren't on the list! 

Actually, we had planned to come with a friend in her car and when that plan fell through, I called to make the change....but I guess the gardien didn’t get the updated license number.  We managed to convince him that we were legit restaurant customers with a reservation and eventually he relented and lifted the gate. 

Now we started to question what kind of drive we were about to have, if such a careful selection process was required...and then a few clicks in we began to understand. But we really got the picture once we arrived at the top of Calanque and began to make our way down a one-lane road with pot holes and certain-death drop offs.  We prayed that no vehicles would be coming in the other direction and I surveyed the options ahead for any slight widening of the road. We made it down to the parking area (4€ charge) in a state of high stress and in desperate need of a glass or two of rosé.  We gathered our beach bags and gear and headed to the restaurant. 

We sat outside on the covered terrace with a gorgeous view of the sea and the Calanque.  Within minutes the empty terrace filled with clients.  It's very important to note this is a strictly cash restaurant and there are no ATMs or electricity or running water for that matter. Be prepared! We ordered up a bottle of rosé which came in a cute little plastic bag filled with ice. Lucy and I both settled in on soupe de poisson and a grilled whole dorade with vegetables and potatoes. The kids chose shrimp and pasta but there were a few meat dishes offered as well.  If you call ahead, you can order bouillabaisse, the local specialty, priced at 45€ per person, minimum two people. The food was excellent and unquestionably fresh though clearly priced with the captive audience in mind. Our lunch for five, with one bottle of wine, came to around 250€.  We changed in their restroom and after giving them a big wad of cash, headed to the beach.  Pleasantly, it was a real beach with sand (not rocky, like many coastal beaches here), and the water was perfect.  This day was without a doubt the highlight of our trip and the kids really didn't want to leave.   

The drive back up the Calanque was little less stressful though a lot busier and we did have to negotiate cars coming down at the same time. As we crested the top of the entrance to the Calanque we were presented with a stunning view of downtown Marseille and reluctantly we drove toward it, tucking away the experience of the special gem we had just uncovered. And yes, we would absolutely do it again!

Le Château Sormiou
Tel: +33 (0) 4 91 25 08 69
GPS: 226 Chemin de Sormiou, 13009 Marseille
Open seven days, first weekend in April to last weekend in Sept.
Lunch served 12 to 3; dinner 7:30 to 9:30.
Reservations required, no email, no credit cards.

All photos by Andy Floyd. To reach him: chandy80027@gmail.com.

Friday, July 8, 2016

This Sunday: The Big Fig Shindig!

The 10th Annual Fig Festival of Caromb is an all-day celebration of food and wine, with top chefs and winemakers coming out to fête the luscious local fruit by crafting all sorts of figgy dishes and matching them with labels from local vintners. 

This year, the focus is on gastronomy. Ten chefs will be cooking, all of them big names in the region: Christian Etienne, Franck Jacquier, Alain Burnel, Michel Meissonier, Tony Tichant, Richard Bagnol, Pascal Poulain, Camille Stabholz, Thomas Richard (who won the French TV show Masterchef in 2012) and the famous nougat maker Sylvain.

You'll also have the chance to taste and buy figs directly from producers, along with fig-tree seedlings and a wide range of foods made from figs and other local produce. 

The village of Caromb, in the foothills of Mt. Ventoux, expects roughly 100 exhibitors and 6000 fig fans to attend.

The Fête de la Figue Longue Noire de Caromb runs from 9 am to 6 pm. The chefs will be at their stands from 9 to 4, cooking with figs and offering tastes.  At 11:30, there's the procession of the officials of the Confreries de la Figue de Caromb. At 12:30, everyone will be offered an apéritif by the Cave Saint Marc.

For lunch, reserve ahead (call 06 75 44 13 04) for a special menu of fig-based dishes prepared by Camille Stabholz of Restaurant Camille in Carpentras and Pascal Poulain of the brand-new restaurant Le 6 a Table in Caromb. Lunch is 15€ per person.

There will also be raffle, a jam-making contest and a "discovery of the senses" for kids at 3 pm. Entry to the festival, parking and shuttle service are all free.
                          
The fig fest is hosted and staged by the Confrérie de la Figue Longue Noire de Caromb, 06 80 75 21 18, confreriefigue.caromb@orange.fr, confreriefigue-caromb.com. You can also find them on Facebook.

If you need info in English: florence.levasseur@gmail.com, 06 18 71 36 24. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Big Music Fest in Arles July 11 to 17

Every summer...for seven days and six nights...from 10 am to 4 am...the city of Arles welcomes Le Suds à Arles, a festival of world music that grows in size and reputation each year. This year (the 21st annual), 60 or so performances are scheduled and roughly 60,000 people are expected. The dates are July 11 to 17.

Venues around Arles (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), include the majestic Théâtre Antique (where evening concerts will be held July 12, 13, 14 and 15), the Cour de l’Archevêché and the former SNCF railway site known as the Parc des Ateliers (or just "the Ateliers"). See more info about the Ateliers below.

In addition to performances by artists from all over the world, there will be master classes (41 at last count, from beginner to professional), workshops for young people, stages (in music, dance and voice), opportunities to meet the performers and more.

Some special dates to note: On the 11th, there are free concerts in museums; on Saturday the 16th, the whole night (from 9.30 pm) will be held in the Ateliers; and the 17th is a special day in Salin-de-Giraud, in the Camargue.

All the info is on the festival website, with a complete schedule, background on the performers, ticket info, sound clips, maps, etc. The schedule in English is here

If you have questions and can't find what you need on the site, the kind folks in the festival office said you can reach out by phone or email and they'll be happy to answer in English.

Maisons des Suds
66, rue du 4 Septembre
13200 Arles
Tel +33 (0)4 90 96 06 27
contact@suds-arles.com

Note: The old train buildings mentioned above are currently being rehabbed by the Luma Foundation, as part of the biggest "patronage" project in Europe, the centerpiece of which is a new building designed by FrankGehry. I'll have all the details on this in a future story but if you are going to Arles for music festival, consider exploring the Luma construction site with a "virtual tour" in French or English. Tours are  just over an hour and all the info is on the Luma site here. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Come Out and Play: It's Fête de la Musique!

Tonight is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and it's also the 35th annual Fête de la Musique. Sunset in Paris will be at 9:58 p.m. tonight, a full 1.5 hours later than in New York.

All over France--all over the world, in fact--musicians of every type will be performing, in every venue imaginable: from public parks to cafe terraces, from elegant châteaux to village squares. Anyone who wants to can come out and play: soloists, full orchestras and everything in between. I read that almost 8% of the country, some five million people, have played an instrument or sung in public at Fête de la Musique! The rules state only that all musicians must donate their time and that all concerts should be free. The event was launched in France in 1981 and this year, 700 cities in 120 countries will participate. (For the program in countries other than France, try here. In the US it's called Make Music and you'll find all the info here.)

To find out who's playing where in France, don't bother checking the festival site. Instead try a local listings site like Time Out (for Paris and Nice)...or Le Parisien Etudiant for Provence and other regions. If you Google search "Fête de la Musique" and your village, you'll get lots of good results. Or, ask at the Tourist Office, check out the signs around town or just grab your friends and go...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love Lavender? Try This!


Game on! The lavender is finally in bloom in Provence and over the next month or so I hope to share with you a couple fun ways you can experience it. Here's one...

Born in Paris, Elsa Lenthal now lives in Les Baux de Provence where, for 10 years or so, she's been making fresh lavender wands every summer. She sells them in local markets (see schedule below), in luxury hotels and on her website. And she's just written to tell me that, for the first time this year, she's offering workshops for people who want to make their own. 

The wands--known as fuseaux--are an 18th-century Provencal tradition still popular today. Used to perfume drawers and linens while keeping moths away, they were a popular part of the bridal trousseau, representing love and happiness. They're handmade with fresh lavender, from mid June to mid September, and they keep their natural aroma for years. (Gently squeezing the wand from time to time releases more fragrance.) Lavandin is the preferred variety of lavender, because of its high essential-oil content.

After harvest, the flowers must be worked quickly while they're still supple. The stems are folded back to make a protective case for the fragrant blossoms...and the weaving of the ribbons requires great dexterity.

Sign up for a workshop and Elsa will show up at your hotel or rental villa with her basket of freshly cut lavender and lots of colorful ribbons. "At the workshop's end," she says, "you'll have a souvenir of Provence which for many years will scent your home and revive your memories." Or, if you prefer, you can request your workshop outdoors overlooking the olive trees at Elsa's house, five minutes from Les Baux.

Lavender wand workshops are offered mid June to mid September and last about 2.5 hours. Price: 45€ per person, three people minimum.

As of about June 25, you'll find Elsa making and selling fuseaux in the following markets: Tuesday in Gordes, Wednesday in St Remy, Thursday in Maussane, Friday in Eygalières and Saturday in Uzes. 

Elsa Lenthal
+33 (0)6 13 17 46 46
elsa@fuseauxdelavande.com
facebook.com/fuseauxdelavande

Photos: Elsa's promo piece shows her out in the fields gathering lavender, a fuseau being carefully woven and finished fuseaux in various colors.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Magical Evenings at the Pont du Gard

The 2,000-year-old aqueduct called the Pont du Gard is one of the most magnificent sites in Provence; I never get tired of tromping around on it, photographing it, splashing in the river beneath it or just hanging out enjoying the scene. In the 15 or so years I've lived in Provence, the Pont du Gard site has changed dramatically, with a new visitors' center, museum, cinema, kids' play area, expanded hours, tour offerings, night lighting, hiking paths and much more. One of the biggest changes is the number of cultural events that are now held here every year: art exhibits, museum shows, live music, dance evenings (more on that below) and annual spectacles such as Les Féeries du Pont’’ (Fairies of the Bridge), which takes place this weekend and next. 

Every year when I write about Les Féeries du Pont, I try to get my story posted a few weeks in advance of the first performance. This year,  I totally blew it...the first show should be ending in a few minutes. But there's still tomorrow night and next weekend...so here's what you need to know.

Les Féeries du Pont combines video, light, flame, fireworks, original music, narration and more. There's always a theme and a loose story line and, each year, some new over-the-top special effects. This year's show is called Feux Galois and you can catch it tomorrow night, next Friday or next Saturday. Showtime is 10:30 p.m or at dusk. But definitely arrive early as there are "animations" before the main event, starting around 8 p.m. 

Once again, the producer is Groupe F, the internationally acclaimed pyrotechnician group known for their shows at the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Olympics. If you want a smile, have a look at their website; their work is technically dazzling and incredibly beautiful. 

On show days, the Pont du Gard site will be open all day but only until 7 pm, after which special show tickets will be required. After a certain hour it will be impossible to cross the bridge from the left bank to the right--where seating is for the show--so check the website for specifics. Be sure to bring cushions, chairs and blankets or you'll be sitting on the ground; the shops on site should sell seats if you forget. My best advice is sit as close to the bridge itself as possible for maximum impact.  ''And don't forget to bring also warm wears,'' my contact at the Pont du Gard sweetly tells me. 

Tickets for Feux Galois range from €15 to €25; kids under six are free. You can buy them at the Pont du Gard anytime including the day or evening of each show, as long as there are still places available. You can also buy them online here (if you have a French credit or bank), at FNAC stores and on FNAC.comFranceBillet.com and Ticketnet.com. Group rates are available (call 04 66 37 51 10). If you have an annual pass to the Pont du Gard, you get a discount; an annual pass is 26€. Parking these evenings is free. 

So what about dinner? Casual food will be sold on site or you can bring a picnic in with you. There's also a restaurant called Les Terrasses that serves excellent Mediterranean cuisine (04 66 63 91 37). A special Féeries du Pont menu will be offered at Les Terrasses but definitely reserve ahead. 

If you can't go to the show but plan to visit the Pont du Gard at another time this summer, it's open in summer until midnight and it's illuminated beautifully. The museum and shops close at 7 or 8 pm, depending on the month. 

The Pont du Gard is a highlight in the region...a must-see for anyone visiting this part of Provence... a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard. Built around 19 BC, it was the critical link in a 30-mile canal that supplied nine million gallons of water per day to Nîmes, one of ancient Europe’s largest cities.

As you're planning your site-seeing days, I suggest making it your morning or afternoon. That leaves ½ day for exploring Avignon (on its own day, below) or for Uzes, the first Duchy of France. Uzes is a beautiful village with pretty architecture and history, narrow traffic-free medieval streets and shops both elegant and artsy. If you love pottery and ceramics, tack on a visit to the tiny village of St. Quentin la Poterie, where 20-plus potters have open studios and shops.

In July and August, guided half-hour tours through the water channel at the very top of the Pont du Gard (third level) are available. 4€/adults and 2€/children. No reservations are required or taken...just ask for this at the welcome desk.

Also in July and August  you can "Dance at the Bridge" every Friday "with live music from an orchestra and a very  jazzy atmosphere." 

You can also see the Pont du Gard by kayak; the outfitter is KayakVert and you leave from the town of Collias. You can keep the kayak all day if you like but most people like the basic two-hour paddle, taking them 7 km on the Gardon River, up to and under the Pont du Gard. What a fun way to see this magical relic up close, particularly on a hot day. The two-hour trip is 23€ for adults, 11.50€ for kids...info in English is on their site here.

The Pont du Gard is located between Remoulins (RN 100) and Vers-Pont du Gard (D 81).  Its 40 km from St. Remy, 27 km from Nimes,  21 km from Avignon and 19 km from Uzes.  

For info on the Feux Gaulois show or on visiting the site at other times, click here. For historical info, click here. To contact the Pont du Gard directly: contact@pontdugard.fr or 04 66 37 50 99....and yes, they speak English. 

If you want to catch a Groupe F show at another time, check their schedule here. On Bastille Day (July 14), they'll be doing the fireworks in both Paris and in Arles. And once again they'll be staging their musical fountain display called ''Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes'' at the Chateau de VersaillesAll the info is on the Versailles website here. 

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