Monday, November 30, 2009

The Rebirth of Mamounia

The legendary Mamounia Hotel re-opened in Marrakesh last month following an extensive three-year €120-million restoration by French architect and interior designer Jacques Garcia. The powerful Moorish architecture is unchanged but Garcia's signatures--strong use of light, color and theatrical perspective--are evident throughout. The hotel now looks like the gorgeous Oriental palace it once was.
Built in 1923, "Mamou" has hosted a global roster of the rich and famous; Winston Churchill declared it “the most lovely spot in the whole world” and regularly used it as his winter quarters. His granddaughter is still said to be a regular visitor.
In its newest incarnation, Mamounia has two restaurants headed by Michelin star chefs: L’Italien (run by Alfonso Iaccarino of Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant’ Agata, Italy) and Le Francais (headed by Jean-Pierre Vigato of Apicius, Paris). A third restaurant, Le Marocain, is set in a modern Moroccan pavilion within the hotel’s lush gardens. Mamounia’s exec chef is Fabrice Lasnon, former exec chef at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin: the GM is Didier Picquot, from Lyford Cay Members Club in the Bahamas.
The gardens, noted for their ancient olive groves and wide array of flora, cover almost 20 acres and date to the 18th century when they were given to the Prince as a wedding gift.
Rounding out the amenities are a pool and pool restaurant, five bars, a fitness pavillion, tennis
and a 27,000-sq.-ft. spa where you can indulge in 80 different treatments.
La Mamounia has 136 rooms, 71 suites and three Riads, each with three bedrooms and private pool. Rates begin at €512.
To get there: Ryan Air flies from Marseille to Marrakech. Easy Jet flies from Paris and Lyon to Marrakech. Royal Air Maroc flies from Paris direct to Marrakech and from Marseilles to Marrakech, via Casablanca. Transavia flies from Paris to Marrakesh.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

C'est Délicieux, Non?

I was poking around online, looking for a great photo of a macaron (don't ask), when I came across this mosaic and just had to share. It was made by a Dublin-based blogger who compiled it from photos found on (and she credits all the photographers, so I'm thinking I don't have to). I found it here:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Todd and Gina's Excellent Adventure: #3

Canadians Todd and Gina Babiak are spending a year in Provence with their young daughters Avia and Esme. Todd is writing about it for the Edmonton Journal and other papers. He's a terrific writer and we're following the family's adventures on Provence Post. In this weeks column, Avia (yes, she's named for a French gas station, sort of), starts school at age 3. Click
here to read it. But watch out--you might cry a little...
Photo: Classroom assistant Marie De Sousa, left, and École Maternelle teacher Amandina Doize (La maîtresse), right, with Avia at École Jules Ferry. Photo by Todd Babiak.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Looking for a Little Place in the Country?

Are you planning to buy a second home, holiday home, or permanent residence outside the U.S.? Pie Town Productions, the American producers of the hit show House Hunters International on HGTV, are looking for "lively and interesting English-speaking homebuyers from any country looking to buy outside the US...and animated, engaging English-speaking real estate agents who sell property to buyers anywhere outside the US." The company will send its crew abroad in early 2010 to tour homes with buyers and their agents. "The show will expose viewers worldwide to real estate opportunities on a global scale," says producer Holly Schwartz. "It’s fun to see all types of homes, small and large, old and new. We definitely want to give our viewers a chance to see the differences in home styles and real estate transactions. And of course, since it’s a TV show we want buyers and agents who are entertaining, fun and outgoing." Holly needs people who are seriously planning to buy in early 2010 and who would be available for filming in early 2010 for approximately 3-4 days. Buyers and agents who participate will be paid. For more info, visit the company's website here or email Holly ( or call US phone 1-818-205-0642. (If you're interested in the house pictured, it's located near Vichy and listed for $9 million here.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cocktail Drinkers' Guide to Gardening #2

In a post dated September 25th, I introduced you to James Clay and his new monthly column. And then I forgot to post October. So we'll pick it up again with November, and call this column #2. If you're dying to know what James wrote about in October, drop me a note or post a comment below and I'll happily send it to you.

First, a bit about James: Born in Hampshire, England, he's 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 everything about gardening in Provence. Plus, he likes to drink. So in this monthly column, he'll serve up essential month-by-month garden tips...with cocktails. It's a great idea, no? Without further ado, James tells us what's happening in his garden--and his glass--this month.

November: Olives and Martinis

Of course it was the Romans who brought olive trees to Provence (Provincia Romana) and how lucky we are that they didn't forget to pack them! Trees are my favourite thing on this planet (apart from my partner, who may or may not actually be from this planet). I believe olive trees to be mystical, magical and so reassuring. I say this as they live so long. Some are reputed to be 700 to 800 years old; the one picture above, in Greece, is said to be 1500 years old.

Here in Provence, I find olive trees are a much discussed topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the planting, pruning and harvesting to the extent that, when I first arrived here, I found it all very bewildering and somewhat off putting. If I had ever thought about olives then it was only as decoration for a martini!

Have you noticed the olive trees in our area and how many seem to be made up of four or five smaller trunks forming a circle at the base? This, in fact, is unusual, as like most trees they should start growth from a single trunk. The reason they are like this is because in 1956 there was a tremendous frost and at the same time a mistral; the temperature plummeted and thousands of trees were killed over just a few days. Fortunately, all was not lost and over the next few years these trees began to produce shoots around the dead trunks (which were then cut down to ground level). As a result of careful pruning, these shoots are now what we see today, 50 years or so later, happily producing tons of olives every year.

Before I start on about Saint Cecilia (Ste. Cecile), it's time to knock together quickly a dry martini. Pour one and a half ounces of gin and the same of dry vermouth into your shaker (or very large glass) already full of ice, leave for a few moments to chill, then serve into a V-shaped cocktail glass, adding an olive to finish.

You can't escape Saint Cecilia and neither can I, as she is the patron Saint of music and my partner always honours her with non-stop music throughout the day. But also her name day falls on November 22nd and this, by tradition, is the date when one is supposed to begin harvesting olives. Have you ever picked olives? Doing so on a cold, bright, sunny November day, it often strikes me what an ancient, timeless occupation this is. There is a feeling of time standing still and forming a mystical link with our ancestors. I do wonder at times whether it is the beauty of Provence that makes me a poet manque or just many years of cocktail drinking.

Once your crop is in, then it's off to the mill. Some mills actually ask you to make a reservation. I found a very good one some years back (no appointment required): Moulin Saint-Michel in Mouries (Cours Paul Revoil, 04-90-47-50-40). They're very friendly and well organized. It's a great experience to take your crop along and line up with all the other harvesters to have the olives weighed in. Last year I arrived late in the evening and there was a crowd waiting, everyone chatting away and swapping advice. You can collect your virgin oil after mid January.

If you're thinking of planting olives at this time of year, it's possible but better to leave it ‘til the spring as at times there can be early frosts. It is said here that you "plant olives for your grandchildren" (considering the time they take to grow) but if like me you are somewhat impatient you can buy more mature trees. I often see trucks carrying huge olive trees, which are being transplanted, and would like to follow them to see their new homes. (I wonder if I am alone in this?)

I hope now, while enjoying your dry martini, stirring it gently with an olive on a stick, that you’re able to remember all this trivia that I've imparted!

Chin Chin!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Feel The Love

Jynell St. James is a Melbourne-based artist and designer who creates small highly graphic posters and sells them through the online retailer Etsy. (If you don't know Etsy, it's great fun--check it out here.) Jynell says France is her "favorite place in the whole world" and you'll see many French-inspired designs in her collection. This poster, called Paris City of Love, is available 8" x 10" ($20) or 16" x 20"($40). It's printed onto A4 (8.26x11.7") Premium Ultra Gloss paper with Ultrachrome K3 Pigment Inks and shipped in a sturdy "stay flat" mailer or tube. (You can also order it printed archivally, in cream-on-black or black-on-cream.) Shipping ranges from $5 to $12, depending on the size and destination. For more info or to see more of Jynell's work:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Want to Talk About It?

If you live here in Provence and have ever felt the need for some professional counseling, but the idea of sharing your confidences in French gives you the horrors…help is at hand.

Dr. Tracy Cooper is a British counselor and psychologist now living in Malaucène in the Vaucluse. Tracy has a PhD in Psychology and holds a BACP-accredited postgraduate diploma in counseling. She worked at the Tom Allan Counselling Centre (Glasgow) before moving to France, and set up Provence Counselling specifically to help ex-pats.

Tracy explains her particular approach: “My clients come with the problems that occur wherever one lives, e.g. depression, anxiety, bereavement, relationship difficulties, and alcohol problems. However, expats also encounter additional difficulties such as isolation from friends and family, and lack of the usual support networks that we rely on in our home country. I believe that when clients experience warmth, empathy, and a non-judgmental attitude, within a safe and secure environment, it can be pivotal in effecting personal growth and change”

Tracy works in Avignon and Malaucène with individuals and couples from around the Vaucluse. For clients who live further afield she can conduct sessions via webcam, Skype, Windows Live Messenger or phone.

Individual sessions last about an hour and Tracy charges 40€. For couples, a typical session is around 90 minutes, and the fee is 65€. To learn more about Tracy’s approach or for contact details, visit:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kinder, Gentler French Food

What's the big trend in Parisian restaurants these days? Bistros, of course, run by top chefs who are cooking great food and serving it in a casual atmosphere at reasonable prices. Christian Constant, former chef of the Crillon, is one example: with two Michelin stars, he left the ritzy hotel and now runs four of his own bistros, all of them small and relatively inexpensive, on the same Parisian street. National Public Radio (U.S.) just did a nice feature on this trend. You can hear it or read it by clicking here:

Photos: Many meals at Constant's restaurant Les Cocottes are served in homey, oven-to-table casserole dishes.Chef Christian Constant (left) and chef de cuisine Stephane Schmidt in the kitchen of Le Violon D'Ingres — one of four small, lively restaurants that Constant has opened on rue Saint-Dominique in Paris. Photos by Clay McLachlan via