Monday, December 29, 2008

Provence by Bike

Andy Levine, founder and president of DuVine Adventures, is offering the readers of Provence Post a great discount on two of his all-inclusive Provence bike tours this spring. Book before the end of January and he’ll knock $500 per couple off the price, plus he’ll throw in two Duvine bike jerseys. Choose either May 17th to 22nd or May 24th to 29th and mention Provence Post when you book. The Provence itinerary takes in all the top sites and the most popular villages, including the Pont du Gard, Glanum, Avignon, Uzes, Les Baux, St. Remy, Paradou, Eygalierés and Maussane. The group will ride an average of 20 miles a day on brand-new 27-speed Scott bikes. Lodging is in small but deluxe villas, châteaux or inns, most likely Le Castellas Provence, Hameaux des Baux and Mas de la Rose. Meals are in restaurants considered among the best and most authentic in the region. Wines are included with all dinners and there will also be organized wine tastings of Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Yoga Bike Trips, Walking Tours and Luberon itineraries are also offered but not at the discounted price. For 14 years, the Boston-based Duvine Adventures has offered deluxe bike tours in France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Austria, Argentina, Napa and Sonoma; they now have 19 different trips in nine countries. Last month, the editors of National Geographic Adventure selected DuVine as one of the Best Adventure Travel Outfitters for 2009; the complete article will appear in the Feb. 2009 issue. For info: www.duvine.com, info@duvine.com, 888-396-5383, 617-776-4441.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Girl Scout

If you have a nice garden, patio, terrace or pool, Tricia Harris wants to know.

An Englishwoman living in Paradou since 2007, Tricia has a successful company that offers painting- and French class-holidays in Provence. And now she’s started a side business scouting locations for photo studios, ad agencies and magazines. “They’re not always looking for a ‘Homes and Gardens’ look,” she says, “but often something surprisingly modest.”

A former account director for ad agencies and photo studios in Manchester, Tricia says the unpredictable English weather often made it difficult to plan photo shoots back home. After moving to Provence, she began getting requests for locations, “but I’ve never had the time to go out hunting for them at short notice,” she explains. So now she’s putting together a portfolio of possible sites so she can respond to these requests quickly.

Tricia’s clients pay between €200 and €500 a day; she gets 15 percent. She says there’s generally little or no inconvenience to the home owner because, more often than not, they don’t enter the house and “they leave everything as they found it.” Harris expects her clients will primarily want locations for spring, fall and winter, because finding them in England is relatively easy in summer months. “Evergreen planting is quite important,” she says, “so the shots don’t reflect any particular season too much.” Tricia will be the go-between to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Interested? Call Tricia: 04-90-97-07-18.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rhone Alone

La Madelène Rhône Wine Holidays tells me there are a few places left in their very-affordable three-day wine course, taught in English and focused on the best of the Southern Rhône. Classes are held in a 12th-century priory and include tastings, lunches (with great wines, bien sur!) and private visits to seven domaines. The course is offered on consecutive Tuesdays in February (3rd/10th/17th) or March (3rd/10th/17th) and each class will have no more than eight students. Your host will be Rhône wine expert Philip Reddaway, who left a media job in London to pursue a wine-tourism career. He holds a three-year diploma from the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust, where he was also approved as a wine instructor. Philip ran successful wine courses in Brighton and London before moving down to Provence. La Madelène is located between Malaucène and Entrechaux, in the foothills of Mont Ventoux. It’s 10 minutes south of Vaison-La-Romaine; 30 minutes from Orange and Carpentras. Throughout the year, Reddaway and his wife, Jude, offer a range of programs including a full-on week-long wine tour and shorter three-day trips. The three-day winter wine course is €95 per person, all inclusive. For those who’d like to stay over, rooms are available at La Madelène for €130 per night. For info: www.rhonewineholidays.com, rhonewineholidays@googlemail.com, 04-90-62-19-33.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Postcard from Châteauneuf

My friend Jancis Robinson, wine writer extraordinaire, is one of the most accomplished people I know. Not only is she the editor of the award-winning Oxford Companion to Wine and co-author, with Hugh Johnson, of The World Atlas of Wine (both standard references worldwide), she has written 20-plus other books, many of which have won major awards. Her column appears weekly in the Financial Times. An award-winning TV presenter and producer, Jancis travels the world conducting wine events, judging competitions and tasting. In 1984 she passed the “fiendishly difficult” Master of Wine exam and, in 2003, was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, on whose cellar she now advises. As a consultant to British Airways, she treks out to Heathrow every few weeks to taste up to 100 wines blind. And she does charity work…lots of it. Jancis grew up in a tiny village in northern Cumbria, just south of the Scottish border, studied math and philosophy at Oxford and fell in love with wine during a year spent in Provence. She and her husband, food writer Nick Lander, have three children (“vintage-dated 1982, 1984 and 1991”), live in London and summer in the Languedoc. Her “obsessively updated” website, www.JancisRobinson.com, has subscribers from 80-plus countries. So as though she has nothing better to do, I asked her to contribute to Provence Post. Just back from the southern Rhône Valley, she sent this…

I've started to make a habit of visiting Châteauneuf-du-Pape in early winter to taste the vintage that’s 15 months old. It's a great time of year to escape London for somewhere pretty reliably warmer, or at the very least, sunnier.

Tasting nearly 300 Châteauneufs in three days (blind, thanks to the super-efficient Federation des Syndicats des Producteurs de Châteauneuf-du-Pape) was much less taxing than I expected, mainly because they were so delicious (despite being so young), and partly because they managed to disguise their high levels of alcohol and tannin so well (because the tannins and fruit were so delightfully ripe). Throughout the southern Rhône, 2007 is a great vintage.

The mistral was particularly keen when I arrived to taste in late November, and I was unable to stay at the Château des Fines Roches, with its exceptional view across the plain towards Marseille, since it was closed. The Federation, one of far too many wine growers' syndicates in this compact appellation, recommended I stay at La Sommellerie, just west of the village, and I would recommend it to you. It must be especially pretty in summer, with tables on a terrace by the pool, but I felt very well looked after, even in temperatures so low that the serving staff huddled around the open fire.

I was particularly impressed by a dinner that I (and my laptop) enjoyed in a nearly empty dining room. A lack of customers can instill apathy in many a chef but my foie gras several ways--best with figs and balsamic vinegar--was inventive and well executed. I didn't really need pigeon, and cheese, and a chestnut mousse with almond milk ice cream, but am a sucker for those inclusive menus. The breakfasts were good too. The rooms were spacious and individual and, most important for itinerant website proprietors, there is free WiFi on a mezzanine overlooking the reception.

The wine list looked good but after tasting as many young wines as I had, all I could manage was a glass of white Châteauneuf 2007 to add to my notes. My all-inclusive bill for a two-night stay with one dinner was about €250.

La Sommellerie
Route de Roquemaure
Châteauneuf-du-Pape
www.la-sommellerie.fr
la-sommellerie@wanadoo.fr
04-90-83-50-00

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Provence on Paper

Some years ago, after finishing the book "French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France," I did something I’ve never done: I wrote a fan letter to Richard Goodman, the author. He and I went on to become friends and, because I admire his work so much, I asked him to pen something for The Provence Post, on any subject of his choosing. This is what he sent. What I miss in most of the books and articles I read about Provence is not the food, the wine, the light and so on. It’s books. It’s the literature. I miss the recognition, praise, and the kind of understanding of this culture that can only be gained through its authors. Yes, food and wine and light will tell you quite a bit about a people, but if you don’t know what its sons and daughters have written about the place, if you haven’t seen its spirit distilled and energized and poeticized through their hearts and minds on paper, I don’t think you can truly claim you know Provence. To me, asserting you know Provence without having read Jean Giono, Marcel Pagnol, Frederic Mistral, Colette and others is like claiming you know America without having read Twain, Melville, Dickinson, Hemingway and Faulkner. It’s an incomplete claim.I distrust any person who writes seriously about Provence who does not at least glancingly refer to its writers. Two figures stand out. Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono. Pagnol is the far better known of the two. But Giono, a very different writer, deserves at least as much fame. Giono and Pagnol were almost exact contemporaries. Giono (1895-1970) lived his life in the town of Manosque in Haute Provence. Pagnol (1895-1974) spent his youth in Aubagne, near Marseille. Even in such a geographically limited area as Provence, there are major differences in landscape, such as these, and they encouraged very different kinds of writing. Pagnol was a dramatist, memoirist, novelist and filmmaker. He made films out of several of Giono’s books, and they are wonderful to see; La Femme du Boulanger is exquisite and deeply moving. Many people have read Pagnol’s memoir of growing up in Aubagne, My Father’s Glory, and it’s delightful, but I like Pagnol’s plays best, particularly, Marius, Fanny and César. Set on Marseille’s Old Port, they are compassionate, funny, touching, sweet and powerful. It doesn’t matter that that world no longer exists. The hearts of its people do. Giono is, to my mind, a mystical writer. I’ve never read anyone like him. Not all of his books have been translated into English, but enough have, and you can always start with his famous short book, The Man Who Planted Trees. One of his other better known books, Joy of Man’s Desiring, is available in English. I love Les Grands Chemins, which I do not think is available in English. He loves and respects the farmers and shepherds in his books, the everyday man and woman, so you might compare his work to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, though Giono is more poetic, and closer to the earth. In any case, I would say: if you truly want to know Provence, to feel close to the place in a way you just can’t otherwise, read. Read its great authors. Begin with Giono and Pagnol. There are no greater spirits who have walked and loved this land. Richard Goodman lived in Provence in 1988-'89, in a small village near Nimes, and again, in 1991-'92, in Sanary-sur-Mer. In addition to "French Dirt," he’s the author of "The Soul of Creative Writing." Today he writes for the New York Times, Harvard Review, Vanity Fair, Garden Design, The Writer's Chronicle, French Review and others while conducting writing workshops throughout the U.S. He lives in New York City and can be reached at: www.richardgoodman.org, rgoodman71@hotmail.com. To buy French Dirt: French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France To buy The Soul of Creative Writing: The Soul of Creative Writing

Monday, December 8, 2008

Where to Eat in Avignon

Originally from Illinois, Kate Schertz has eaten her way around the world, a task facilitated by her former profession as an American diplomat. She studied cooking in France, Tuscany and Sicily and counts Turkish cuisine among her star feats. For the past 4.5 years, Kate has been living in Avignon, where she dines out frequently. We asked her to pass along some of her favorite addresses. Bon Appetit!

Le Chapelier Toque. This is my favorite little restaurant in Avignon, not just because of the constantly changing and imaginative menu but also because the chef/owner Joseph is such a delightful person. Originally from Ghana, he trained at La Mirande many moons ago. His tiny restaurant is decorated with pizazz and his presence radiates. Be sure to reserve. 71 rue Guillaume Puy, 04-90-82-29-01.

Bistrot des Arts. Non smoking before it was mandatory, this small restaurant is notable for its excellent art exhibitions and fine wine selection. The owner/maître d’ is the son of a French diplomat and speaks fluent English. He buys quality products at Les Halles but still manages to produce plates under 20€. 24 rue des Lices, 04-90-85-67-21.

Terre de Saveurs. This mainly vegetarian and fish restaurant is run by two women who regularly produce high-quality food at amazingly low prices. Gets full quickly at lunch with regulars. 1 rue Saint Michel, 04-90-86-68-72.

Le Riad. The best Moroccan restaurant in Avignon. Lovely setting, really nice people and service and truly yummy tajines, just a few steps from the Place de L'Horloge. 17 rue Galante, 04-90-82-10-85.

Le Caveau du Theatre. This very Provencal restaurant is consistently good and consistently packed. They offer a wide range of local wines and are well located. 16 rue des Trois-Faucons, 04-90-86-00-34.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oh Shoot!

James Desauvage grew up in England’s Lake District and moved to France at age 10. He worked in marketing and communication before making a career switch and opening his own web design and technology business, which is thriving. But a lifelong passion for photography recently blossomed and he’s now shooting professionally, doing weddings, parties, portraits and other jobs for clients of all types. He shoots digitally, in black-and-white or color, and is skilled at Photoshop. He’s very much looking to build his photo business and so I’m spreading the word. To see samples of James’ photo work, go to www.carbon-copy.eu. For info or rates: thejampot@mac.com, 06-76-64-77-05. For more info on his web design and tech work: www.latouchefrancaise.com. Below are a few recent photos.

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