Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter Fun for Foodies in Provence


I'm from Wisconsin where winters can be brutally cold...very snowy...and gray for days on end. I once heard a great line: that summer in Wisconsin is just three months of bad sledding.  

So winter in Provence always seems quite tame to me...with some days bordering on balmy. Yes, it gets cold...but not cold cold. Every couple years we get a real snowfall but more likely it's a light dusting, once or twice each winter. December is extremely festive here, with villages all lit up beautifully, colorful Christmas markets on town squares, holiday concerts in churches everywhere and shops and stalls overflowing with seasonal foods: oysters, foie gras, confit, Champagne, truffles (both kinds) and the ingredients for hearty winter dishes such as daube and cassoulet. On sunny days you'll see people still eating on cafe terraces. Things quiet down in January: hotels close up again, shops and restaurants go on limited hours, and the locals who can go off seeking sun or skiing in the Alps. But with fewer crowds, lower prices, plenty of sunny days and lots of outdoor activities still possible, winter can be a wonderful time to visit Provence. 

That said, here are a couple really nice winter packages for foodies...and some great hotel discounts...and few a la carte ideas for winter foodie fun.

Madeleine Vedel--who hops back and forth regularly between Provence and the US--has a charming old farmhouse on the island of Barthelasse, smack in the center of the Rhône River opposite the history-rich city of Avignon. And once again, she's welcoming food and wine lovers with a decadent winter package.  Called the Winter Provence Truffle Tour (this year's dates January 24-31), it includes truffle hunting, duck confit and foie gras, wine tasting at Châteauneuf-du-Papes, chocolates, hill towns, feasts and your own personal guide to take you to to experience it all. For the details, click here

Philip and Jude Reddaway have a B&B and wine school called La Madelene, where they base their year round business called Rhone Wine Holidays. This winter, they're hosting a three-day Truffle and Wine Tour, January 20 to 23.  It includes truffle hunting in the Luberon hills; a truffle-and-wine pairing at a Châteauneuf-du-Papes estate; four top winery visits with tastings led by the winemakers; a visit to the famous truffle market at Richerenches and of course truffle-based dishes to savor in restaurants and back at La Madelene. For all the info, click here.

In Tarascon, Catherine Burtonboy is offering a special winter package at her foodie B&B Le Mas de Lilou. Rooms begin at 90€ with breakfast; book two nights and get a third free. Or, for groups of four or more staying a minimum of three nights, get a free gourmet dinner and a 10% discount on your stay. Cooking classes are also offered at a discount. 

At Provence Paradise in St. Remy, there's a winter special designed to encourage longer stays. Book a week at the B&B rate (two people minimum) and you get subsequent weeks at 50% off (up to a four-week stay). The winter special B&B promo includes breakfast Monday to Saturday, a wine-and-cheese welcome and a romantic dinner for two in St. Remy, for each two-week stay. When booking, use promo code: ProvencePost. 

The gorgeous Relais & Château hotel Crillon le Brave offers truffle-and-wine weekends, with some led specifically in English, in February and March. Click here for info.

In the Southern Luberon, truffle hunting continues all winter at the farm Les Pastras, run by the adorable Lisa and Johann Pepin.  Their 11-hectare farm produces grapes, olives (they have 600 trees!), a wide range of fruit and--wait for it--black winter truffles. Yes, they also have a a stand of oak that regularly produces the prized tuber melanasporum, AKA truffes noires, AKA Black Gold. Sign on for their truffle tour and you’ll learn how truffle trees are cultivated, the signs indicating your trees might have truffles beneath them, the lengths people will go to in order to steal or even sabotage truffle hunters, how to clean and prepare fresh truffles, what dishes taste best with them and much more. You'll tag along while a duo of dogs dig for the hidden treasure and then tuck into a sampling of fresh truffle hors d'oeuvres, with Champagne, and a tasting of Les Pastras' organic olive and truffle oils. In winter, two-hour weekday tours are at 3 pm; weekend tours are at flexible hours. For 2-12 people. Cost per person:  70€, with a 20€ reduction for children, age 10-17. To book: pepin@lespastras.com.

The ancient village of Richerenches  has the largest black-truffle market in Europe.  It’s in the department of the Vaucluse, which produces more than 90% of the black truffles sold in France.  The Saturday morning market runs from mid-November to late March…and attracts restaurateurs, exporters and truffle lovers from far and wide. The best way to do the market is with an expert tour guide…and I’ve got just the gal. She lives nearby, knows the market in and out, often cooks with truffles…and loves to share her passion. As you poke amongst the stalls, you’ll learn how to choose, clean and preserve them, what wines pair best with them, what local restaurants specialize in them…and much more.  You may even meet some trufficulteurs (truffle hunters), who work the market with their bulging linen bags, meeting discreetly with “courtiers” who evaluate and buy their precious “black gold.”  You’ll break for coffee at the locals’ favorite café and visit a few historic sites too. You may even get to enjoy a festive communal lunch of truffled omelettes (with salad, cheese, bread, wine and dessert) served in the village hall. Tours are 3 hours (longer if you have lunch) and cost €150 for the first person, 75€ for each additional person, lunch is extra. Available: Saturday mornings, mid Nov to late March. To book: whattodoinprovence@gmail.com.

In honor of the Fête de la Truffe in Uzès (Jan 16 and 17, 2016), chef Eric Fraudeau of Cook’n With Class Uzès is offering three workshops themed around truffles. Together you'll create seven different preparations, which will be paired with perfect wines. The class is offered in English January 15, 22 and 29; there are other dates for French speakers. For more info on the classes and to book, click here. Or, email: info-uzes@cooknwithclass.com.

Many of the tour guides, wine guides and cooking instructors I work with are happy to cut their prices to build winter business...some as much as 50%. If you're interested, have a look at WhatToDoinProvence.com and let me know what interests you. Everything there is customizable. (My email: whattodoinprovence@gmail.com). 

For info on seaside seafood festivals in winter, see my friend Sheila's website here

For more about truffles in Provence--including markets, tours and restaurants that specialize in them--see my story from last year here but be sure to check for 2015/2016 dates. 

For truffle festivals and markets in Languedoc-Roussillon, click here.

Looking for Christmas markets in Provence? See my growing list here...

And a really nice list of winter events in Provence here.

Photos: (1) Happy truffle hunter Pierre Sauvayre at the Richerenches Truffle Market. (2) Delicious truffled omelettes are served up on most Saturday mornings in Richerenches; check the schedule here and be sure to reserve ahead. (3, 4) Cooking classes at Mas de Lilou are discounted in winter, for two people minimum. The foodie B&B, in a restored 18th-century farmhouse in Tarascon, is also offering the third night free. (5) Prized black winter truffles from Provence--truffes noires--are also known as Black Gold. (6, 7) La Madelene, home to the company Rhone Wine Holidays, is hosting a three-day Truffle and Wine Tour in January. (8, 9) Madeleine Vedel's charming farmhouse sits on an island in the Rhône, opposite Avignon. Madeleine is a professional cheesemaker, a goat-raising expert and a passionate foodie...the perfect host for a winter food tour.  (10, 11). The village of Crillon le Brave and the Hotel Crillon le Brave; both are gorgeous. (12) The winter sea urchin festival in Carry le Rouet, along the "Blue Coast," is usually held in early February. Check with the Tourist Office for 2016 dates. (13) One of the pretty antique-filled bedrooms at Provence Paradise offered in the winter B&B package.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Anybody in France Want Free Help?


Hi Guys...I received the following email this week but can't take advantage of this nice offer myself. So I'm passing it along to all of you. Thomas seems like a stellar young man and I'd love to help him land the perfect internship, stage or volunteer experience in France. If you have something to offer him, please feel free to get in touch with David directly.

Dear Provence Post, 

I have a highly talented student that would like to volunteer/intern with you from January 17-April 14, 2016. Thomas Leaycraft (above) graduated high school with the highest GPA possible and is enrolled at the University of North Carolina this fall. Thomas is passionate about working with those in need and hopes to make social service work a career. He has worked with migrants before as well as Habitat for Humanity. He has completed multiple volunteer programs which make him well suited to your organization. He has long term aspirations to work in France and this will be an important step in that direction.

Thomas would like to intern/volunteer 25-40 hours per week. No payment is needed and we will set up Thomas’ housing for him. Your main duty is to provide a minimum of 25 hours per week for him. Thomas is open to various job duties and is eager to lend his skills to your organization. We would be happy to set up a Skype or phone interview with him if needed. As his resume attests Thomas has shown exceptional initiative. We believe he is truly a special young man and would be a delight to have in your workplace. If you think you may have a position for him please provide a brief and informal list of job duties. Thomas speaks some French but is not fluent and his resume can be seen here.
Regards,

David Adams, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for Global Studies
gointern.com
1-202-557-8182

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Provence Prestige is Nov 26 to 30 in Arles


The 21st annual Provence Prestige show opens Thursday November 26 at the Palais des Congrès in Arles and runs through Monday November 30. This festive holiday-theme "salon" fills a number of vast indoor expo halls with 3,500 square meters of holiday goodies, gifts, home decor, food and wine, clothes, accessories, books and much more. And it's all made in Provence by exhibitors who agree to the terms of a special ''locally made'' charter. Some 30,000 visitors and roughly 150 exhibitors are expected.

As in years past there will be Christmas workshops for kids on Saturday and Sunday, from 2 pm to 7 pm. You can see a full schedule of events, background on the exhibitors and more in the press kit.

Tickets are 6 € (adults), 3 € (ages 12 to 18 and groups of 20 or more), and free for kids under 12. 

Your ticket for Provence Prestige also entitle you to free and discounted admissions at three of Arles' most-prominent museums: the Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique (MDAA), the beautiful art-filled Musée Réattu and the Van Gogh Fondation...but only November 26 to 30.

Provence Prestige hours are from 10 am to 7 pm, with special late hours (until 11 pm) on Friday November 27, when it’s open until 11 pm. All the info is on the main website here.  

Photos from 2014 courtesy of TheProvenceHerald.fr

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Elegant Provencale Townhome for Sale



Looking for the perfect Provencal vacation home, my friends Bill and Lorna Ramsay bought their first property in Tarascon in 2001. Five years later, they purchased the adjacent building--a "total ruin" according to Lorna--did a full renovation and seamlessly connected the two.

Then, after retiring from their longtime foreign-service careers with the US State Department (in the Congo, the Côte d'Ivoire, Saudi Arabia, Brussels and Paris) they decided to make this their permanent home in 2011. 

And now the Ramsays are downsizing...so they've put this very-special, historic home on the market. I think it's magnificent and thought I'd help them spread the word.

Located in a quiet square in the city center, the house is part of an ancient convent dating from the 11th century...and many 13th- to 17th-century architectural details remain. With 480 square meters (5,165 square feet) of living space on three levels, it includes five bedrooms, large and small living room/salons, a large dining room, a sophisticated and fully equipped kitchen with professional stove, a large laundry room with storage, and front and interior courtyards suitable for outdoor dining.  Numerous fireplaces, high ceilings with exposed pine beams and thick stone walls contribute to the authenticity and warmth. Bill and Lorna tell me the house is in perfect condition and knowing them, I'm sure it's true! Asking price is 845,000€. 

Tarascon is a medieval town on the Rhône River, in the Alpilles region of the Bouches du Rhône department of Provence. It's 15 minutes from St. Remy, 30 minutes from Arles and Avignon and roughly 1.5 hours from Marseille. Paris is less than three hours away on the high-speed TGV train from Avignon.


To learn more about the village of Tarascon, see my blog story from a few years ago here.


To learn more about the history of the Ramsay's home and the buildings surrounding it, click here.


For all the house details, the real estate agent's website is here...but please send all inquiries direct to Bill: wcramsay.tarascon@gmail.com.


Photos: Click on any image to enlarge. (1) One pretty guestroom has beamed ceilings, original 13th-century stone walls and a slipper tub with bathroom beyond it.  (2) Bill and Lorna are moving on but have very heavy hearts about leaving this beauty of a home behind.  (3) The entry hall has a a spiral staircase with a wine cave below it.  (4) A fountain on the front terrace. (5, 6) The kitchen has a professional Viking eight-burner stove with warming oven, a De Dietrich microwave/convection oven, another convection oven, a built-in Neff refrigerator-freezer and a working 18th-century fireplace.  (7) Pretty wall sconces and chandeliers are everywhere. (8) One of two living room/salons. This one has a tile floor made from the original stone "dalles," a working fireplace and built-in floor-to-ceiling storage. (9) The interior courtyard, off the kitchen, has a fountain and more original stone tiles. (10) Back in the day, the 44-square-meter main living room was a stable underneath the hospital of the Templar St Nicholas chapel complex. (11) Front courtyard. (12) The formal dining room has 11-foot ceilings and large graceful doors letting in lots of light. (13) The pretty tile roofs of medieval Tarascon--and its castle--sitting right on the Rhône River.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You're Invited: Thanksgiving in France

Where to go for Thanksgiving? I wasn't planning to do a round up this year--as I've done in the past--but some of you have been asking for info and far be it from me to deny my peeps. So here are a few ideas...plus some sources for turkey (cooked and uncooked) and trimmings if you're doing it on your own. 

On the Cote d'Azur and in Provence...

Once again the American Club of the Riviera will hold its gala Thanksgiving lunch at the five-star Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo. The event is Thursday November 26, starting with a Champagne reception at 12:30. As in year's past, members of the US military (this year it's the Air Force) will be the invited guests of honor. Full details and contact info are on the ACR website here

MonacoUSA is hosting Thanksgiving at Stars N Bars in Monaco on Thursday the 26th at 7 pm. If you come alone, you'll sit with other people so everyone is included in the celebration. On the all-you-care-to-eat buffet will be turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, creamed onions, sweet potato, peas, corn-on-the-cob and corn bread. For dessert there will be apple, pumpkin and pecan pie...and brownies. You must reserve and pay ahead: MonacoUSA members pay €40, non-members €45 and kids under 12, €18. All the info is on their Facebook page here.  

The Nice chapter of France-Etats-Unis will host their Thanksgiving "dinner" at noon on Thursday November 26th, at the restaurant Koudou in Nice. On the menu (in French because it's fun): velouté de courge de pays, belle grosse dinde fermière farcie avec cranberry sauce et servie avec son maïs doré et ses “sweet potatoes” followed by Café Gourmand.  The price (31€ per person) includes wine and mineral water...and everyone is asked to leave a 2€ tip. Organizer Jacquie Berben says "We try to stay in the true American tradition: family and guests, locals and visitors. We usually have more Frenchies than Americans, and the former keep asking how to meet the latter!" To book: jacquie.berben@wanadoo.fr or  +33 (0)6 08 36 67 58.  

The Anglo-American Group of Provence (AAGP) will hold their Thanksgiving in Aix on Sunday November 29th, with the apero at 4 pm and dinner served around 5 pm. All are welcome. The cost is 35€ for adults and 18€ for kids under 12. The venue is the same as last year: Le Verguetier, at #7 Chemin d`Eguilles in Celony, opposite the Maison de Ste. Victoire. Last year, 72 people attended and the turnout this year should be similar. For more info or to book: mlmchugh1@aol.com

The Marseille Chapter of Democrats Abroad is hosting a Thanksgiving buffet dinner on Thursday evening November 26 at 7:30 pm at La Coumpagnie Restaurant in Aix...and it's all organic, made from all local products. €20 for adults includes hot wine;  kids under 12 pay €12. The restaurant is located at 840 ave. Camp de Menthe, 13090 Aix, between La Pioline and Club Hippique. Seating is limited and they expect a large response, so please reserve by email as soon as possible to: parisrick@me.com.

Once again, the charming restaurant L'Epicerie de Cécile in the village of Beaucaire will be roasting up big juicy birds with all the trimmings on November 26. For 25€ per person you get a welcome Kir and an "all on the table" dinner with turkey, vegetables, sweet potatoes, pecan pie and live music (blues).  Located on the Place de la République. Reservations required: +33 (0)6 80 04 09 04.

Le Bistrot de Pierrerue (in Pierrerue, five minutes from Forcalquier in the eastern Luberon) has hosted Thanksgiving every year for the last ten years, usually on Thursday and Friday. This year it will be Friday November 27 only. The menu is turkey, stuffing, potato gratin, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and apple crumble; the price is 25€ per person and reservations are required. To book:  +33 (0)4 92 75 33 00. 

In Marseille, the restaurant Burger's Banquet (9 rue Moliere) may be hosting Thanksgiving...check in with them for details.  burgersbanquet.fr, +33 (0)4 91 93 32 40, contact@burgersbanquet.fr

In Paris...

The Texas-style BBQ restaurant The Beast (27 rue Meslay, 75003 Paris) will be offering "low and slow" smoked turkey, with cranberries and sweet potatoes, as a dinner special on November 26. Pecan pie (a year-round menu mainstay) and Brooklyn Brewery's Pumpkin Ale will be in abundant supply. Owner Thomas Abramowicz--a Frenchman who spent more than a month eating his way through the most serious BBQ joints in Texas before he opened The Beast last year--tells me the full menu will also be available that evening and there will be lots of specials. Reservations are accepted for groups of six or more, for both the first seating (7 to 7.30 pm) and the second (9 to 9: 15 pm). For info, call +33 (0)7 81 02 99 77 but to reserve, please text instead. Whole turkeys--brined, seasoned, stuffed and smoked--are available in various sizes for pre-order, until Saturday, November 21st. To order whole birds in advance: info@thebeast.fr

The American University Clubs of France (AUC) will celebrate the holiday this year on November 24th, at Joe Allen's, at 7:30 pm. The menu looks terrific...see it and all other details here.

The Hard Rock Cafe Paris will celebrate Thursday the 26th, serving up NFL football on the large screen along with your traditional turkey dinner. The price is 35€ per person and a portion of proceeds go to WhyHunger. To reserve:  paris_events@hardrock.com

The restaurant called Breakfast in America will be serving Thanskgiving on Thursday Nov 26 at one of their locations, at 17 rue des Ecoles in the 5th arr. All the info is here.

You can buy uncooked Thanksgiving turkeys, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and all the ingredients to make your favorite sides at the Paris shop called Thanksgiving. They also sell online.

To find other Thanksgiving events in Paris, click here and here.

Shipping Anywhere in Europe...

MyAmericanMarket.com sells pretty much everything you need to prepare your Thanksgiving feast except the turkey...and lots of other ingredients and treats for other holiday meals too. They are 100% online and will deliver to anywhere in Europe. You can order right up until noon on November 25th and get your goodies on Thanksgiving Day. "But then you'll need to be a very fast and efficient chef!" Fanny at the company tells me.  Specific Thanksgiving foods are on a special page here.

Finally...

If you know of other Thanksgiving celebrations in France, feel free to leave the info in the comments section (click "comments" below). Or, send it to me at provenceblog@aol.com and I'll add it here.

Above: The much-loved, often-parodied painting is Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" from 1942. Everyone in it was a Rockwell family member or friend; they were photographed individually and painted into the scene. Learn more about the painting and artist here.

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