Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening: February

Born in Hampshire, England, my smart (brainy) and smart (elegant) friend James Clay is an artist and sculptor who settled down (somewhat) in St. Remy close to 20 years ago. Over the years, he lovingly created a gorgeous one-hectare garden, filled with fruit, palm, pine, and olive trees (he has 60 olive trees, all of them transplanted), plus many varieties of bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James knows pretty much everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. Plus, he likes to write. So each month here on, James serves up some essential gardening secrets...with appropriate drink suggestions. But it's February, and our intrepid garden columnist is traveling--not toiling in the soil. So this month he shares one of his favorite getaways...

February tends to be the dreariest of months and there is little to do in the garden except ponder what you might do once spring bursts through. The best thing for a dose of the February blues is to seek inspiration elsewhere.

If you haven't already--and really you have no excuse--you simply must give yourself a break and take a trip. There's no better time of year to visit the Cote d' Azur than right now. It was the northern Europeans that made the area fashionable toward the end of the 19th century, during la Belle Epoque, seeking a haven from the harsh winters. Set off to explore the beautiful coast with its many little harbours and bigger towns. Perhaps I'm a romantic but I love coastal towns out of season when one really experiences these places for oneself without the hoards that invade from May on. There's sense of melancholy in the air, a world of closed shutters and forlorn window boxes, empty bars… and yet the locals repainting and repairing for the coming season gives life to this gentler time of year. Better still, it gives one the chance of finding 'that perfect' restaurant, impossible in season.

Now is the time to take your seat at the table in the window overlooking the water, to enjoy some of the best seafood in the world and to kick off your holiday break with a Mimosa as a delicious start to lunch!

You can serve this favourite as a milder cocktail (or with breakfast the next morning). A touch of orange-flavored liqueur makes the drink extra special.


* 4 ounces chilled Champagne or sparkling wine
* 2 ounces chilled freshly squeezed orange juice
* 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur (Triple sec)
* Fresh mint sprig for garnish (optional)

Pour the Champagne, orange juice, and Grand Marnier into a chilled Champagne flute. Gently stir, serve immediately, garnished with mint if you wish.

If you haven't got the whole month free to meander and enjoy this stunning part of the world then here's an idea for a day trip you might like to take. Starting off as early as you can, head straight for the wonderful Villa Ephrussi (above), built as a home for the Rothschilds, and now opening its gates and doors once again to welcome visitors into its fantasy world. I remember the first time I visited this pink pile built on its own isthmus--I was astonished by the beauty and grandeur of the place. The villa sits as if it were the bridge of an ocean going liner with the decks created into the many terraced gardens laid out in front and to the sides; one truly has the impression of being at sea. The villa is a composite of shopping on a grand scale rarely, if ever, seen these days.

The Rothschilds sent their 'personal shoppers ' throughout Europe in search of whatever delights could be incorporated into their new home, including entire rooms, buildings and many fascinating architectural elements. The local railway track was even extended and a small depot built so that they could take delivery of their purchases. One amusing item I must mention is that the couple could not visualize the house completed so the architect had a mock-up of the facade painted and erected on scaffolding so they could get an impression of their future abode. Having done that, a mistral promptly blew it down.

Above all, it's the gardens and setting that make this a truly remarkable place to visit. The villa itself, albeit a wedding cake of a mansion, is an eclectic mess, with evidence of too much money and not enough taste! Dubious though the taste may be, it's fascinating in the way all the elements have been incorporated to create it.

On arrival, get some coffee in the restaurant within the villa before setting off on your tour (guided or not as you wish). It's time to get inspired and if the Rothchilds little extravaganza doesn't set you dreaming then I would be amazed.

Should you have any time left after the visit and lunch then I would suggest a visit to the Villa Kerylos. Although there are no gardens as such, the villa is truly amazing and a very different experience from that of the Villa Ephussi. I won't write about Villa Kerylos as I wouldn't like to ruin a delightful surprise!


  1. this is a lovely, melancholy, evocative post that just makes me long to be in Ramatuelle

    :) Kit

  2. This is so wunderful. It looks like a painting that could bee a foto, and vice-versa! I still don't know which is real, and which is an illusion...

  3. Love this post! Have to try that drink! And what a lovely house and garden...:)

  4. Ciao Julie,
    j'adore ton blog!!! très magnifique et Charmante et j'adore la Povence!!!
    Bonne soirèe,

    à Bientot

    "DREAM SHABBY CHIC" from Milano



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