Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Win a Copy of the 2021 French Country Diary

French Country Diary beautiful photos France
Photographing a Christmas Meal for French Country Diary 2021
Bistro La Fontaine de Mars, Paris, France
Thatched-roof farmhouse B&B in Normandy, France near Honfleur.
Vintage sailboats to rent in Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
A restaurant and antiques emporium in Normandy, France
Umberllas on the beach at Deauville, France
A rustic French inn
Breads at Breakfast at Baumaniere

Every day I hear from people telling me how they can’t wait to travel again...and can’t wait to get back to France. Meanwhile, I thought the newest French Country Diary by Linda Dannenberg might take the edge off the cravings. So I dropped a note to Linda and asked if she’d like to offer me a copy or two of the 2021 edition, to give away here on my blog. In classic Linda style, she came back tres vite: “Oui, bien sur! How about three of them? And I’ll sign them, of course!” 

Linda is one of the biggest Francophiles I know, the author of 12 books on French design, lifestyle and food. She was bitten by the bug early, during a post-grad year in Paris spent working at a couture textiles firm. “I fell in love with the bistros and cafés on every corner, with the galleries on the rue de Seine, with the smell of Gauloises in the air, with the Paris Métro,” she remembers. When her Gallic escapade was over, Linda moved to New York and launched a media career, starting at CBS News and moving on to editorial jobs at Family Circle and Working Woman.

“The jobs were amazing and fulfilling,” she says, “but eventually the Lorelei call of France, and a book contract, proved impossible to resist!”

Linda returned to France to write The Paris Way of Beauty (Simon & Schuster) and more than a dozen books followed, including a quartet of iconic Pierre Deux French Country titles. Her Paris Boulangerie-Pâtisserie was nominated for a Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award while her book with 3-star chef Alain DucasseDucasse: Flavors of France, was nominated for a James Beard Award and went on to win the Versailles International Cookbook Award.

She’s also written on cuisine, design and travel for Town & CountryThe New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesTravel & LeisureHouse BeautifulHarper's Bazaar, Elle and Departures.

And every year, for 33 years now, Linda has published the much-loved French Country Diary, a weekly hardcover calendar showcasing sumptuous interior design, lush gardens, extraordinary landscapes and lots of “poetic art de vivre.” Published by Abrams Books with photos by the Paris- and Brittany-based photographer Guillaume de Laubierthe latest edition takes us to a thatched-roof farmstead in Normandy’s Marais-Vernier to the majestic Château de Montgeoffroy in the Anjou (a time-capsule of 18th-century style) to a gardener's cottage in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Among the amazing private collections featured are 19th-century faience in Bordeaux, Napoleonica in Paris and a home devoted to parrots (!!) near Dieppe. The Diary also notes nationally recognized holidays and observances, with ample space for notes, appointments, addresses and reminders. As in years past, the book is embellished with Provençal textiles from OlivadesIt has a cloth spine, a ribbon marker and 58 gorgeous photos.

“My readers tell me they use it as much for decorating ideas and planning French travel itineraries as they do for recording important dates throughout the year,’’ Linda tells me.

Madame Dannenberg, for her part, says the thing she misses most when she can’t visit France (she hasn’t travelled more than 10 km from her home in Westchester, NY since mid March!), is definitely the bistro cooking.

“I miss the ambiance and romance of an iconic bistro such as La Fontaine de Mars in Paris or Le Bistrot du Paradou in the Alpilles,” she says. In place of the real thing, Linda reaches for books filled with evocative descriptions of memorable meals, such as A. J. Liebling's classic Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, Amanda Hesser's The Cook and the Gardner and Martin Walker's Inspector Bruno series.

“And when I’m truly inspired and longing for Paris,” Linda continues, “I pull out one of my own early cookbooks, Paris Bistro Cooking, and prepare a family meal of classic bistro favorites: a Salade Verte au Chèvre Chaud (Wild Greens Salad with Warm Goat Cheese) from Michel Rostang's Bistrot d'à Côté; Boeuf à la Mode (Braised Beef and Carrots) from Benoît; and a Tarte au Citron (Lemon Tart) from Polidor."

Lucky family!

So speaking of luck...on to the contest! To win a signed, personalized copy of the 2021 French Country Diary, simply leave a comment below and tell us what you miss most about France when you can’t be here...and what do you do to visit virtually. Do you cook French? Lose yourself in French music, movies or books? Do you brush up your French skills with language-learning apps or an old textbook? We want to know! This contest is open to anyone in any country, including France.

To comment, click where it says COMMENTS just below. If your name comes up in the little box, choose that. If it doesn’t, choose NAME/URL from the drop down. (If you don’t have your own website or blog you can leave URL blank.) Please be sure to leave us your email or we can’t contact you if you win. If you have any problem commenting at all, drop me a note (provenceblog@aol.com) and I’ll help. Or send me your name and your thoughts and I’ll be happy to post them for you. Linda and I will choose three winners, confirm your mailing address and send your beautiful Diary right off. (I told Linda I’d be happy to help with shipping and she said “Oh don’t worry...just send me some Herbes de Provence!”)

For those of you who prefer to enter on Instagram, the contest is on my page here. (To follow Linda, her page is here.)

Bonne Chance! And if you'd like to just go ahead and buy the Diary, you'll find it on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Calendars.com and in English on Amazon.fr.

Photos: (1) You deserve to win this more than anyone! Actually if you win and want to give the Diary as a gift, Linda will inscribe it to your giftee and ship it directly to them. (2) Linda and her photographer Guillaume de Laubier shooting a holiday meal in Paris. Photo by Françoise Hontebeyrie. (3) One of Linda's favorite Paris bistros is La Fontaine de Mars. (4) A thatched-roof farmhouse and B&B called Les Cigognes, in the Normandy countryside near Honfleur. (5) Vintage wooden sailboats, for rent at Le Grand Bassin in the Luxembourg Gardens, have been delighting Parisian children for over a century. (6) Le Perche, a bucolic region tucked into the southeastern corner of Normandy, makes a perfect destination for a weekend trip from Paris. An essential stop when you're exploring the area is the lovely hilltop village of La Perrière, where you'll find La Maison de L'Horbé, this restaurant and antiques emporium. (7) Linda writes: "At sunset, when Deauville's vast white sand beach is tinted pink in the rosy light, the large, vibrantly-hued parasols are closed and wrapped with swaths of contrasting canvas. It's a gorgeous time to be on this iconic beach." (8) Hôtel d'une île is a small rustic inn set in the deep woodland of Le Perche, near the town of Rémalard. (9) On a sun-dappled terrace, crusty breads await you at breakfast at the three-star L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux. * All photos, except as mentioned above, are by @guillaumedelaubier and appear in either the 2020 or 2021 edition of the French Country Diary. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

My Big Expat Gardening Gaffe


The following story might seem familiar to some of you but I hope to many of you it won't! I originally published it on October 31, 2011 about something that had happened nine years earlier. Normally, I don't republish old content. But tomorrow is Toussaint (when the French visit the graves of their loved ones) and the stores and garden centers are once again filled with gorgeous chrysanthemums (meant to be placed on graves) and even though I still get teased about this little incident all these years later, why not? Today is a strange day all around. It's Day #2 of our second lockdown in France and there's a full moon tonight for Halloween (which won't happen again until 2039) and our normally buzzing little village is completely, eerily silent.  Earlier this evening I bought myself a large, beautiful chrysanthemum to celebrate the weirdness and also to honor those who've died and tomorrow I'll plant it in my garden. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy this little tale, whether it's your first or second time around!

All of a sudden, the stores were filled with mums. Every market, every roadside stand, every InterMarché parking lot--overflowing with mums. Fat, healthy, brilliant mums, just 35 francs per pot. It was late October, 1999, and my little garden was calling out for color.
Having left Manhattan (and my one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side) for Provence just four months before, I was ecstatic about having a house. A real house! With thick stone walls, heavy shutters, a traditional tile roof and wooden beams. I had colorful neighbors who left homegrown grapes on my table and tomatoes dangling from my front door, just like in the movies. I had an olive tree! 
And for the first time in my life, I had a garden. But it was definitely looking drab.
So I called the family's guru of greenery, my dad in Wisconsin, to talk about mums. Though not a mum fan himself, Dad got behind my plan in a big way. "If that's what the stores are selling," he said, "then it's a good plant for the season. They're cheap. Put a bunch in and see how they do."
Just to be sure, I called my friend Carol, another American here in St. Remy. Was this the right time to plant mums? Would they make it through the winter? How deep should I plant them, how long would they bloom, how much water did they need?
Off we went to the garden center, and after much deliberation--such beautiful colors, such variety!--Carol and I settled on three rosy pinks and three brilliant whites.
And into the ground they went. My neighbors smiled as they strolled past and I basked in their approval, pawing around in the dirt, lovingly planting my mums. Some people paused to chat but moved on quickly when they realized I spoke no French. Didn't matter: I was happy. I had a house--and a garden--in Provence!
The next day, my friend Philippe stood in my yard and stared, grinning. I'd grown accustomed to his teasing about my American-in-France faux pas, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what was so frigging funny about mums.
"Did you notice that the stores had mums for just three days?" he asked, "and that they disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived?" I confirmed that I had found that odd, and that I was thrilled to have slithered through that narrow window of horticultural opportunity just in the nick of time.
"Yesterday was Toussaint," he explained. "It's like your Memorial Day."
Mums, it seems, are the traditional flower for graves. The reason they'd all disappeared overnight from the stores was that they were now in cemeteries all over Provence. Save for the six in my yard, of course. 
"You've made a nice little graveyard in your garden!" Philippe giggled.
So I decided that my mums would be a memorial to the people I'd loved and lost, including three grandparents and a brother. All of them are buried at home in Milwaukee, 5,000 miles away. And my mums thrived. Then the famous mistral blew down from the mountains and caught St. Remy in its grip. My mums were buried under a mountain of branches and crunchy, golden leaves. Then it snowed, and I left the country for a time, and that was pretty much the end of the mums.
When I returned in spring, I planted lavender, rosemary and other things more conducive to the climate and culture. And now my garden looks pretty much like everyone else's: lush vines, hardy perennials and hardly any color left as we head into November.  But tomorrow is Toussaint and the sun is shining and the shops are full of mums. They're cheerful and so fresh looking and just 7€ or 9€ per pot...

Monday, September 28, 2020

20 Questions for: Alexandre Lafourcade

Architect Alexandre Lafourcade is an expert in historic renovation and restoration

A book available in French and English features Lafourcade projects, family history, gardens and more.

In France, when you hear the name "Lafourcade" what comes immediately to mind is the impeccable restoration of gorgeous, historic estates, usually in an aristocratic, 18th-century style. But the company also builds from scratch and does contemporary projects too, on sites ranging from run-down farms to abandoned industrial sites to stunning vineyards. So I thought it would be interesting to chat with Alexandre Lafourcade about how this specialty came to be, what he’s working on now and what it’s like being entrusted to create--or bring back to life—some of the most-magnificent properties in Provence (like Le Mas des Poiriers, an expansive private estate near Avignon, pictured just below).  

Les Mas des Poiriers in Provence, France

Alexandre was born in 1973 in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in the Gironde. His mother Dominique is a painter and garden designer; his father was the self-taught architect Bruno Lafourcade, who developed an expertise in historic restoration and opened an office in St. Remy in 1977. Alex left school at 15 to work with his dad and, by age 20, had his own clients and projects which he managed from A to Z. He was named director of the company in 1997, by which time father and son were handling an average of 15 large-scale projects each year, from Narbonne to Monaco, many of them with sumptuous Mediterranean gardens designed by Dominique Lafourcade. The company took on its first hotel clients in 1998, with two projects for the owners of the five-star Relais & Châteaux property Baumanierethe restoration of  La Guigou (a mas in the hills with a view on Baumaniere) and Le Manoir (below the village of Les Baux). Seasoned by 25 years of experience, Alexandre took the reins from his father in 2012; Bruno Lafourcade passed away four years later. In 2014, Alex transformed two luxurious hotel properties--the Château de Berne and the Domaine de Fontenille--then expanded further into wineries. Today Lafourcade Architecture employs a team of ten, which includes designers, decorators, interior architects, a PR director, support staff and more. With budgets ranging from €1.5 to €2 million euros, current projects include the restoration of Château Primard near Paris (former home of actress Catherine Deneuve). A 210-page hardcover book (available on Amazon) was published in 2018, in French (Lafourcade: Magiciens en Provence) and in English (Lafourcade: Magic in Provence). In his down time, Alex collects and races cars; he developed a passion for motorbikes at age five and by age 20 was winning prestigious auto racing competitions. Alex and his wife Céline met in the office and married in 2012; today she is the director overseeing coordination of all the company’s building sites. The couple lives in St. Remy and has five children, ranging in age from 11 to 23. So read on for my Q&A with Alex...and more stunning photos of course!

Farmland "before" shot at Les Confines in Provence
The gorgeous "after" at Les Confines in Provence.
The gorgeous gardens by Dominique Lafourcade at Les Confines in Noves, Provence, France.
Before...and two afters at the home and garden called Les Confines, just outside the village of Noves.

Hi Alexandre! So...what are you working on today?

Each Monday, I try to stay at the office to meet with my employees. Today, I’m working on two wineries: Château de Mille in the Luberon and Château d’Estoublon in the Alpilles. At Estoublon we’re creating a new winery, a new olive mill and a sheepfold with agricultural outbuildings. Also I have an administrative file to supervise, dealing with the restoration of a huge mas in the Camargue.

And what about the rest of the week?

I’m working on eight architecture projects (in the studies stage) and five architecture projects (in the building-site stage). I’m checking the good progress of building sites in St Rémy and in Eygalières. Also I’m going to fly near Paris to have a meeting at Château Primard. It was the magnificent home of Catherine Deneuve and we’re transforming her château into a deluxe hotel.


The Domaine de Fontenille, a hotel and winery, in the Luberon region of Provence, France

Winery at Domaine de Fontenille in the Luberon region of Provence, France


Hotel, winery and property overview at the Domaine de Fontenille in the Southern Luberon

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The discovery of THE IDEA of the house transformation project...and the enchanted surprise of my clients astonished by the final result.

And what is the most difficult part of your job?

Modern technology in ancient buildings. It is, for example, very difficult to place an invisible elevator in a château. The administrative obligations related to town planning in France are daunting!

What project are you most proud of...and why?

The complete transformation of Le Mas des Poiriers, for the attention to detail and exclusive top-level finishing work. It was a huge building site! Fifty people were involved on the site, plus all the craftsmen working in their own studios: stonecutters, iron workers, wood carvers, cabinet makers, etc. The entire restoration (there are several buildings on the property) lasted a year and a half.

Describe your dream project. 

I’m immediately passionate about the challenges that clients entrust to me. A dream project is one where the owners are confident in me. Mas des Poiriers was a dream project because the client, Shauna Varvel, confirmed our plans very quickly and did not change her ideas. She was very enthusiastic.

Le Mas des Poiriers

What’s one job/project you didn't get...but wish you wish you had...and why?

An inspiring winery project ordered by a famous movie star. But finally, I did not have regrets because the man gave up the idea.

What's your best advice for anyone starting their own renovation/restoration project?

Make a list of your dreams, the ideal way you would like to live in your future house.

What’s the wildest, most-expensive or most-unusual thing a client has ever asked you for? Did you do it?

Our clients are reasonable and they love following my ideas. The only thing they must let me know is number of bedrooms. Then, I draw a pilot study of the property. And most of the time, they confirm. Once I was asked to design a bathroom for a dog (!) but ultimately we didn’t finalize the project.

What are three things you absolutely couldn't work without?

My faithful team at my office, since decades. And of course my wife Céline, who is director in charge of the coordination of the different firms and craftsmen involved in every architecture project.


The summer dining room and the wine-and-cheese cave at Château de Berne, the five-star resort and wine domaine in Flayosc, in the Var. 

What's it like working with your mom?

Lafourcade is a family business and I’ve been working with my mother for decades. It allows us to remain close. Her beautiful garden creations blend perfectly with my architecture.

Tell us one shop you love in Provence that sells beautiful things for the home.

La Maison F in St. Rémy.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the area for a quick lunch?

I’m always delighted by the food at the restaurant Aux Ateliers chez Franck et Flo in Maussane.

And how about your favorite restaurant for a special occasion?

The Michelin three-star L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux. The food is excellent and the view on Les Baux is breathtaking.

What’s one place in Provence that you suggest all visitors must see?

The beautiful road through the Alpilles leading to Les Baux – the D27.



Sainte-Marie-de-Pierredon Abbey is a unique private property where a group of Chalais monks lived in the 13th century. The property, with its Romanesque chapel, is set on a vineyard and olive/almond grove in the Alpilles Mountains, near Maussane. Alexandre rehabilitated the home, chapel and outbuildings while Dominique Lafourcade did the gardens. 

What haven't you accomplished yet that you'd like to?

The transformation of a huge ship, such as an Antarctic expedition ship. I’d like to work with a naval architect. The challenge would be to transform an ancient paquebot (a ship or liner) and to modernize it, to make it cozy. So...the same work I'm doing with my buildings.

Where was your last great vacation and why was it great?

Carqueiranne, in the Var on the Mediterranean coast...and “Les îles d’Or,” off Hyères. When we're there, we feel as if we're in Corsica.

Where would you like to travel next...and why?

I’d love to see Iceland because I’m fond of wild dramatic landscapes.

What do you wish you had more time for?

Driving racing cars.

Alex, ready to race in the Circuit de Ledenon, in 2017. He drove a Proto CN.

If you hadn't chosen this career, what might you have liked to do instead?

I would make my passion for car racing into a profession.

And if you won the lottery next week, what would you do?

I’d give more support to a number of charities, especially to the Institut CurieAnd I’d buy a race circuit!

Photos: (1) Portrait of Alexandre Lafourcade by Mathieu Garçon. (2) The Lafourcade book is available in French and English on Amazon. Many of the projects mentioned here appear in the book. (3) Mas des Poiriers photo by Bruno Suet. (4-6) At Les Confines: Before photo courtesy of Lafourcade. After photos (house) by Clive Nichols and (garden) by Bruno Suet. (7-9) Domaine de Fontenille photos by Bruno Suet with drone overview by Filmatik Production. (10) Le Mas des Poiriers interior photo by Bruno Suet. (11, 12) Château de Berne photos by Bruno Suet. (13-15) Pierredon photos by Bruno Suet. (16) Alex in racing clothes, photo by Bruno Suet.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Peony Confetti: Made in Provence with Love

Flower farmers have created new company selling dried peony petals
Logo for new company selling dried peony petals
Field of peonies at flower farm in Provence
Workers harvest at flower farm in Provence
Large bunch of just-picked pink peonies
Peonies drying, to be turned into flower confetti
Flower buds, leaves and stems in basket
Cream colored confetti made from dried peony petals
Bright pink confetti made from dried peony petals
Soft pink confetti for weddings, made from dried peony petals
Multicolored confetti made from dried peony petals
Flower farmer on a peony petal pathway, a great idea for parties
Selling peony-petal confetti at a wedding expo in Provence
Samples of flower confetti can be shipped to future brides and wedding planners worldwide.wide.
Dried petal confetti, made in Provence, France, can be shipped worldwide
Flower-petal confetti in personalized cones at a recent wedding in Washington, D.C.
Guests throw peony petal confetti at wedding
Boutique selling just-picked flowers on a farm in Provence, France

My friends Debbie and Marcel van Eenennaam are the owners of Ferme Fleurie, a large, wholesale flower farm just outside Tarascon, between Avignon and Arles. They grow a wide range of flowers from October to June but they’re particularly well known for their peonies: gorgeous fluffy blooms in colors including Sarah Bernhardt, Duchesse de Nemours, Coral Sunset and many more...in both “simple” and “double” varieties. 

The farm’s 130,000 stabilized peony bushes will produce roughly one million stems this year.

Deb and Marcel export 95 percent of their harvest to Holland, sending huge refrigerated trucks packed with blooms--all measured, clipped, bunched and boxed—two to seven times a week in season, to be sold at auction. But they always hold back plenty of reasonably priced bunches and bouquets to sell in their small farm shop. I have friends who “go to Deb” every week, keeping their homes filled with gorgeous fresh flowers all fall, winter and spring. Many local florists, hotels and restaurants also buy regularly at the farm.

And now Deb has launched an exciting new venture all her own: producing dried-peony-petal confetti for weddings and other special events, from peonies grown and hand-picked at Ferme Fleurie.

Called Pétales de Provence, the new confetti company currently offers eight colors, ranging from rich cream to coral to deep red. The petals are 100% natural, 100% dye-free and 100% biodegradable. The most-popular use, Deb says, will be as loose confetti to throw at weddings, but they’re also perfect for flower girls, table decor, petal paths and more. Prior to lockdown here in France, Deb was making the rounds of the Provencal wedding expos and she says the response so far has been super. Samples are available and the company ships worldwide.

“Pétales de Provence was born in 2018, after an extremely hot peony season with lots of open flowers in the fields,” she explains. “And rather than see them go to waste, I had the idea to turn them into confetti. Now three years later, we’re finally ready to share our fluttering petal-confetti clouds with you! From the planting to picking to drying to packaging...it’s all done right here on the farm. We package them with love and post them to you wherever you are in the world. We like to think we’re selling smiles in a box."

In France, people traditionally throw rice at weddings so this is a new concept here, Deb explains. And most of the petal confetti already produced elsewhere comes from delphiniums,and cornflowers, which have much-smaller petals and no particular significance with regards to weddings. "Peonies have long symbolized romance and happy marriage, in both ancient and modern cultures," Deb tells me. "So in addition to being beautiful, they really do add special meaning to your day. Plus, they just look so amazing in photos!”

For more info (including prices and suggested quantities), visit the Pétales de Provence site here...and follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

To learn more about the farm and boutique, read my recent blog post hereThe shop is now closed for its summer break (it’ll probably reopen in mid October) but after they reopen you can see shop hours and what flowers are available on the Facebook page here.

Photos: (1) Petal Pushers! Deb and Marcel met at a dinner party in Provence and quickly grew deeply connected. She's English, he's Dutch. They married on the farm in 2015. To learn more about the farm itself, click here. (2) The logo for the new company. (3) Peonies ripe for the picking; Deb and Marcel grow roughly one million stems each year. Marcel knows more about peonies than anyone. Many of his plants may very well outlive him...peonies can live to be 100 years old. (4) In peony season, the farm employs roughly 40 workers to get the flowers out of the field at just the right moment, then processed quickly for shipping to Holland. Marcel's brother receives them on the other end and does a final quality check before they go on to the Flora Holland Auction and world wide sales. Deb hopes that each year, more and more of the crop will become dried-petal confetti. (5)  Lily De Plano, who's studying immunology at university in Glasgow, helps out each year during peony season. Her friends think she has the best job in the world. (6) The first step is drying. (7) Beauty shot! Petals, leaves and buds in a basket. (8-11) Peonies come in every color but blue...who knew? Pictured are four of the eight varieties currently available as confetti: Duchesse de Nemours, Paula Fay, Sarah Bernhardt and Coral Sunset. (12) Deb made this petal path for a recent photo shoot at the farm. (13) Our favorite flower girl and her helper, Rejanne Havond, at a January wedding show in Aix-en-Provence. (14) You want samples? Just ask. (15) Deb says she feels like she's selling "smiles in a box" and will ship worldwide. (16) Personalized paper cones filled with confetti, ready to throw at Stephanie and Josh's recent wedding in Washington, D.C. (17) Pretty sure you get what's happening here. (18) The shop at Ferme Fleurie will reopen in October with the first flowers of fall: lillies. Then watch for anemones right though until peony season. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Just Opened: The New Paradou

*All photo captions appear at the end of the text.

For anyone who asks me where to eat in Provence, the Bistrot du Paradou has been my secret weapon for years. (Around here the big question is not Is there a God? or What’s the meaning of life? but rather, Where should we eat?) Not that it’s secret by any means—Paradou is one of the most popular places around—but it’s a no brainer, a guaranteed great experience at lunch or dinner, year round. The food at Paradou is hearty, homemade, Provençal rustic, perfectly prepared, comforting...and superb. Plus, it’s different from just about anywhere else...in the concept, service and vibe. “We’ve never found anything like Paradou, anywhere in the world,” says my friend Sandra Peskin, who calls it her go-to, her local, her home away from home. When she has guests, Sandra always takes them or sends them to Paradou, calling it “not a maybe but a must.” A couple years ago I had clients (a large group of food pros from New Orleans) who ate at Paradou three times in one week, asking me to cancel two other dinners in order to make that happen. Nobody doesn’t like Paradou!

So we’re all pretty excited that Paradou owner Vincent Quenin has finally opened his second restaurant, this one in St. Remy. It’s called Le Bistrot de Saint-Remy and it’s on the site of the former Cafe du Lezard, on avenue Gambetta or what locals call “the bottom of the circle.” It opened for lunch and dinner on Monday.

While no restaurant opening is easy, this one was probably harder than most. Renovation of the space began last year but came to a screeching halt on March 14 (when Covid shut down all non-essential business in France), and couldn’t resume until June 2, the day our restaurant lock down was lifted. Vincent completely gutted and rebuilt the interior, replicating the charming old Provençal ambiance of its predecessor but with all new furniture, fixtures and equipment. “When you come, you’ll remember what was here before—the decor is similar,” Vincent says. “But everything was very very old. And now everything still feels old but it’s completely clean and new.”

The new restaurant seats 40 inside and another 40 or so on the terrace.

Vincent’s partner in the venture is Bastien Maltagliati, who was a server at Paradou for many years...and who’s just as beloved around here as Vincent is. Bastien will run the Bistrot and continue to run the Le Bar Divin next door, the popular St. Remy hangout that he and Vincent also took over last year. “I wasn’t planning to buy two places but when they both became available, I knew I should,” Vincent says. “One bar, one restaurant, one big terrace...right next to each other....it made sense.” Bastien and his father did much of the renovation work themselves.

The Bar Divin specializes in beautiful, classic and creative cocktails made from fresh and unusual ingredients. The beauty of the space is that the comfy terrace tables can easily be used for drinks both before and after dinner. There’s live music on Friday and Saturday nights and the crowd often spills onto the street.

Now that word is spreading that Vincent has opened in St. Remy, I notice the first thing people ask me is “Is it like Paradou?”

What they mean is, is it that same wonderful food, at one set price for everything?

The answer is yes, sort of...at least at dinner, where for €49 (compared to €60 at Paradou) you’ll get a starter, main course, cheese course, dessert and all the wine you care to drink. Coffee and bottled water are extra.

At Paradou, the main dish at dinner alternates between lamb and chicken. Here, it will change daily but choices will be limited:  two starters, two mains (one fish and one meat) and a handful of desserts. You can always call ahead to check what the plat du jour is...and eventually there may be a weekly rotation just like at Paradou at lunch, where it’s usually tête de veau on Tuesday, chicken on Thursday, soupe au pistou and aïoli on Friday, lamb on Saturday, a fantastic cassoulet on Wednesday in winter... and so forth.

Just like at Paradou, the house wine in St. Remy is Château Mont-Redon from Châteauneuf-du-Pape (one of the oldest estates in the Southern Rhône); it’s included in the set price at dinner but not at lunch. They put the bottle on your table and replace it whenever its empty. It’s nice to know you can have as much or little red, white or rosé as you like...and for those who don’t know the wines of the region it eliminates having to choose. Plus, people know that if it’s the house wine at Paradou, it’s going to be good. For those who want a different label, there’s a full list and you pay accordingly.  

At lunch, Vincent will veer further from the Paradou format, in the style of cuisine, the timing and price. “That format, that country cooking, has been working at Paradou forever,” he says, “and people don’t want that to change. They know what we serve and that’s what they come for. Early on I tried to change the food there and my regulars were like, ‘Vincent, what the f*ck?’”

But Vincent knew that the “long lunch in the country” idea isn’t the best for a setting in the heart of a busy village.  “Here we need more choice, something lighter, faster and cheaper,” he explains. “This menu’s designed for people who are working in the bank, the insurance office, the shops...lighter, fresher, more brasserie-style. We’ll do tomato mozzarella salad or a tomato filled with straciatella,” he says, referring to the soup and not the ice cream, of course. “We’re doing homemade gazpacho, a proper carpaccio, a proper tartare we make ourselves.”

The lunch menu yesterday also showed foie gras stuffed with truffles, a homemade terrine, quesadillas (with tomato, pepper, avocado and cheddar), a croustillant of boudin noir and those fabulous snails in garlic butter that everyone goes crazy for at Paradou.

Vincent loves the famous Bouchon-style restaurants of Lyon and will pull some lunch dishes from those menus as well: duck pâté, roast pork, sausages and the like.  A three-course lunch (starter, main, dessert) is €29; cheese, wine and coffee are extra. Or skip the starter and have a main, dessert and glass of wine for the same €29 price.

If Paradou had a signature dish it would have to be the spit-roasted poulet de Bresse...and you’ll definitely find it here, circling in and out of rotation. My friend Philippe Goninet calls Paradou “my Madeleine de Proust” because it reminds him of family dinners as a kid. And he gives the chicken his ultimate compliment, calling it “almost as good as my grandmother’s!”

Born and raised in Arles, Vincent went to London after high school, primarily, he says, to learn English. Then he lived for a while in Thailand before coming home to Provence to stay. In 1997, he went to work at Paradou as a waiter, for then-owner Jean-Louis Pons; the two became like father and son. When Jean-Louis decided to retire in 2010, Vincent bought the restaurant...and has run it with his brother Pierre ever since. The two are extremely close.  

Set in an 1832 relais de poste or relais de diligence, the Bistrot du Paradou was originally built to accommodate travellers with horses and stagecoaches, a stopover on the route from Salon de Provence to Arles. “It was a place for people to eat, sleep and dance,” Vincent says, “a crossroads, a rest along the way. And later it was a village bar, a place to buy drinks and cigarettes, a place where people were looked after. Pierre is more mystic than me and has always said there’s a special energy there.”

Once he bought Paradou, Vincent decided he better learn how to cook. “I realized if I ever lost my chef, I’d be in serious trouble with no one to look after the kitchen,” he remembers. “So I started to work with Marie (chef Marie-Laurence Souici.) I really didn’t want to leave the front of the house—I loved the atmosphere in the dining room—and back in the kitchen I was a bit sad! Luckily Marie never left but I got used to the kitchen and stayed, working with her side by side.”

In St. Remy, Bastien is the operating partner, overseeing both bar and restaurant. But until the new restaurant finds its footing, Vincent will be at the stove, with a young Paradou chef named Joan Laget as his #2. “We need to learn who our customers are, figure out what works best,” Vincent told me. “And of course I want to be there.”

And while Vincent gets St. Remy off the ground, Pierre's in Paradou running the show. "If he weren't there," Vincent says, "I could never have opened in St. Remy."

One of the many reasons we all love Paradou is their “whatever, whenever” attitude. There’s one seating a night, starting at 8 pm, so you stay as long as you like. You want to start your meal inside then move out for dessert, coffee, Cognac, more wine? No problem! You want seconds? If they have enough, you can. You want to bring in a cake, send in a stripper, belt out a song, get up and dance? Seriously, nothing fazes anyone here. The servers are all fast, efficient, charming, funny, handsome and unflappable.

“I’ve definitely got a dream team,” Vincent says. “They always do a great job.”

Arriving at Paradou, you’ll smell the intoxicating aroma of good cooking wafting from the open kitchen. And you’ll find a nicely dressed, refined-looking crowd: couples on dates, families with kids, ladies who lunch, winemakers from down the road. There’s often a celebrity or two, who everyone pretends to ignore. But soon any semblance of French-restaurant formality falls away as people start greeting friends and making introductions, table hopping and switching seats, ambling in and out to smoke, gesturing for more wine. The music gets louder, the staff gets looser and that low-level buzz of polite conversation becomes more like a full-on party.

While writing this story I reached out to a few friends, all of them big Paradou fans, asking why they love it so much. My friend Neassa Grennan Hunt texted back quickly:  “Can’t talk now...I’m having dinner at Paradou!” I asked what was happening there and she said “not much yet...but it’s early!”

The next day she came back with this: “Paradou is our #1 restaurant by far and we tell all our clients it’s a must-do. But we never go on a ‘school night’ because the next morning can definitely be a bit rough!”

More than once my friends and I were still hanging out on the terrace when the staff was ready to head home after lunch service. They brought wine and water, said a bientot, locked the doors and left. (Where else would that ever happen?) And there were definitely times when we were still there when they came back to set up for the evening.

When the summer crowds converge, Paradou is packed, inside and out. On a typical summer day they’ll serve 100 at lunch and 100 at dinner...or more. In winter they’ll do half as many; everyone eats together inside and the crowd is heavily local. Vincent tells me that winter is his favorite season and that's when he feels his restaurant is at its finest. “Winter is when that energy Pierre talks about is the strongest,” he says.

One evening at dinner this winter, Jean-Baptiste Bert—who worked at Paradou for many years but left to open his own place a few miles down the road—came through the doorway and the whole room burst into applause. Again, where else would something like that happen? (Read my story about Jean-Baptiste's Le Relais du Castelet here.)

Earlier that same winter evening I saw Sandra Peskin hobble in, having had serious foot surgery just a few weeks before. “This is my first night out!” she said, sounding sort of guilty. “But I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to get out and of course it had to be Paradou! “

Just like at any super-popular restaurant, getting a table at Paradou takes a bit of strategy. If they happen to have space they’ll happily seat walk-ins but it’s always best to book. Reservations are by phone or Facebook messenger and you may have to try more than once. And very soon at the Bistrot de Saint Remy, I'm sure it will be just the same.

“Paradou is my favorite restaurant on the planet,” says Sandra’s husband Andrew, who could have easily bought the place with what he’s spent there over the years. “The welcome, the escargot, the value for money, the staff, the attention to detail, the buzz. I can’t tell you how excited I am about Vincent opening in St Rémy.”

The Bistrot de Saint-Remy & Le Bar Divin
12 blvd. Gambetta
13210 St. Remy de Provence
To reserve: +33 (0)4-90-21-11-59.
Lunch and dinner daily, except Mondays.
Three-course lunch €29. Four-course dinner with wine €49.

The Bistrot du Paradou
57 ave de la Vallee des Baux
13520 Paradou
To reserve: +33 (0)4-90-54-32-70. 
Also find them on FacebookTripAdvisor and Instagram.
Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday in Summer; closed weekdays for dinner in Winter.
Four courses with wine: €55 at lunch, €60 at dinner.

Photos: (1) Bastien Maltagliati (left) and Vincent Quenin in St. Remy. Bastien is the operating partner and he oversees both the Bistrot de Saint Remy and the next-door Bar Divin. Vincent will be in the kitchen, at least for the summer, while his brother Pierre runs Paradou. (2) Seating in both the bar and the restaurant spills out onto the street. Pictured here, the new restaurant at dusk. (3) Before the restaurant opened this week, large "planchas" of nibbles, served in the bar and designed for sharing, could easily make a small meal. (4) The Divin crew with Bastien at the center back and Vincent's sous chef, Joan Laget, second from the right, in black. (5) Divin has happy hour with drink specials daily and live music on weekends. (6) I had to try the cocktail called Passion à Saint Remy: rum, lemon juice, passion fruit purée, fresh coriander and fresh ginger. Excellent! (7) Dining tables in St. Remy are well spaced to allow for distancing...and the servers are all in masks. (8-10) Lunch dishes include caviar of aubergine, pasta pesto with gambas roti and a dessert that looked amazing on a hot day. When I popped in today, they were also serving chicken with mashed potatoes and artichaux barigoule...and gazpacho. (11-15) Paradou's greatest hits will be part of the dinner rotation in St. Remy but not so much at lunch. Pictured: salade frisée with lardons, snails in garlic butter, soupe au pistou, Bresse chicken with fresh pasta and morel sauce, cassoulet. (16) Save room for cheese! Paradou's famous serve-yourself tray (with accoutrements) is plunked down on every table at lunch and dinner, always eliciting lots of ooh-la-la!  (17) A battalion of bottles, open and ready for action. Mont-Redon is the house red, white and rosé at both restaurants. (18) Vincent and longtime Paradou chef Marie-Laurence Souici, photo courtesy of Via-Selection. (19, 20) The terrace at Paradou (ready for action in summer) and the dining room filling up in winter, when Vincent says the restaurant is its best version of itself. (21) Foodies love the kitchen table at Paradou. (22) Kids welcome! A pretty Provencal mural at Paradou, with high chairs at the ready. (23)  Everyone loves Paradou aprons! These aren't for sale but newer ones, with the escargot logo, are €30 at the restaurant. (24) Vincent calls the staff at Paradou "a dream team." (Thanks to Michel Augsburger for letting me pull some of the photos above from his blog.)

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