Journées du Patrimoine
This wonderful event takes place this weekend (September 14 and 15) in cities and villages all over France; a few villages have Patrimoine activities on Friday the 13th as well. The event is actually happening all across Europe (it's also called European Heritage Days) and this is the 30th year. The idea is that many historic sites, monuments, buildings, estates and domaines are open for visits...along with many private sites that are normally, um, private. Most sites have a guide on hand to enhance your enjoyment of the visit and most (but not all) offer free entry. Some may require you to sign up in advance...but for the most part, you just show up. The website with all the sites is here but you'll do much better checking in with the Tourist Office or the tourism website of the village or city you want to visit. For example, the main website lists just three sites in St. Remy. But the Village of St. Remy published its own terrific guide showing 21 participating sites and a map, which you can see here. Click here for the program in Aix; here and here for what's happening in Marseille. Arles is here and Avignon is here but for the rest of it, you're on your own. To help, here's a list of links to most of the Tourist Offices in Provence.
Tous au Restaurant
The popular annual restaurant promotion Tous au Restaurant is back for the fourth year. From September 16 to 22, restaurants all over France will offer a special three-course prix-fixe menu: appetizer, main course and dessert. The theme is ''Your Guest is Our Guest'' and it's basically a two for one: The first guest chooses this menu and the second guest gets the same menu free. Sometimes drinks are included, sometimes not. The dishes, the choices and the price are all at the restaurant's discretion but I've seen some wonderful meal deals in years past. Some restaurants will invite their purveyors in to meet customers; others may offer kitchen tours or special wine events. This is a great opportunity to try a new restaurant or one that always seemed too expensive.
Some restaurants will offer special kids menus on Wednesday at noon (because many kids have that day off school). In Valence, for example, Anne-Sophie Pic, the only female Michelin three-star chef in France, will base her dishes on her own treasured childhood memories while chef Frédéric Vardon in Paris will be whipping up some of his kids' favorite dishes.
Tables can be booked on the Tous au Restaurant website, or by calling the restaurant directly. Reservations began on Monday September 9 and the most popular restaurants sell-out quickly, so scan the list and book soon. The website will require some patience so be forewarned. If you click English, you'll still get French. You can't initially search by the name of the town you want; you have to start with the region. (Provence can be found here.) Then, you have to know the department within the region (Bouches du Rhone, Vaucluse, Var, etc.) Only then can search by the name of the town. If you don't find the city or town you're looking for, try spelling it another way. For example, St. Remy only comes up as Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Aix doesn't work, neither does Aix en Provence; it only comes up as Aix-en-Provence, with hyphens. But if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded with two very nice meals for the price of one. The Tous au Restaurant website is here but do check back because in previous years, some restaurants got onboard late.
Another nationwide food promo is the third annual Fête de la Gastronomie, September 20 to 22. This event is international but the French version is meant to celebrate the quality, diversity and rich history of French cuisine...and its recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Last year, roughly 6000 different events and activities took place, ranging from special menus in restaurants, wine tastings, lectures, street food festivals, cooking classes for kids and adults...and much more. Once again, if you click English you'll find most of the event info is in French. But give it a shot anyway. To see what's planned in your area, click here but check back often because new listings are being added daily; there were 6,861 events posted (in France and beyond) last time I checked.