Friday, March 30, 2012

What Are You Doing This Weekend?

The weather is gorgeous in Provence and it looks like it will be a perfect weekend. If you're around, here are some things that might interest you...

This is the launch weekend for Sun-e-Bikes in the Luberon. They've got 200 new electric bikes for rent and you can pick them up and drop them off in any of three villages. There are battery charging stations along the way and rates are very reasonable. To get all the details about the new Sun-e-Bike program, click here (French only; English coming soon) or call 04-90-74-09-96. To see their great multi-day packages that include hotel stays, click here. And to read more about electric biking in Provence, click here.

Saturday and Sunday is Les Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape up in--you guessed it--Châteauneuf. Seventy-eight wineries will be pouring; tickets are 7€. Get all the info here.

The Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light) officially opened today in Les Baux. You may remember it as the Cathedrale des Images. It's been closed for more than a year and it's now being managed by the folks at Culturespaces. It's a dramatic sound and light show in a vast bauxite quarry. The new 35-minute show is called Gauguin and Van Gogh: Painters of Color and it runs until January 6, 2013.  Rumor has it that more than €2 million was spent to refurbish the 5000-square-meter site and launch the show, which uses 70 video projectors, 3,000 images and high-tech audio adapted specifically to the site.  Friends who saw Gauguin and Van Gogh last night say it was terrific. The Carrières de Lumières is located in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw from Les Baux. Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; the Val d'Enfer provided the setting for Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Gounod created his opera “Mireille” here. Later, Cocteau came to film “The Testament of Orpheus” in these very quarries. The Carrières du Val d’Enfer has been awarded Natural Monument status in France. For all the info, click here.

Finally, there's a picnic happening on Sunday, up at the Lac des Peiròu in St. Remy. The idea is to bring together French, American and English folks of all ages, just for fun. Bring a blanket, bring your own food (and supplies), bring something to share if you like...and call Magali on Saturday, please, if you plan to come. The picnic starts at 11:30. Magali's phone: 06-49-58-33-75. Don't know the lake? It's an historic reservoir and one of the prettiest places around. You can read about it here.

Photos: The reservoir in St. Remy by De Crig; images from "Gauguin and Van Gogh" at the Carrières de Lumières.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mama's Coming to Marseille

The owners of the quirky and wildly popular Mama Shelter hotel in Paris will open a Marseille outpost on April 12. The new 127-room hotel has rates starting at €69 (single), iMacs in every room and food by French superstar chef Alain SenderensAs of now, the restaurant opens April 12 as well.

Created by the Trigano family (co-founders of Club Med) and French philosopher Cyril Aouizerate, Mama Shelter was designed by Philippe Starck, who created the Royalton in New York, St. Martins Lane in London,  the Delano in Miami Beach and scores of other hip hotels, restaurants and products. 

When Mama Shelter opened in Paris in late 2008, the press was beyond effusive, calling it “One of the Eight Best New Hotels in France” (Frommers) and “Best Business Hotel in Europe” (CNBC). Today rates Mama Shelter Paris one of the “Top 25 Trendy Hotels in Europe.” The New York Times reviewed the hotel here, saying “the location gives you a new perspective on Paris; the design gives you a new perspective on the world. This is a fabulous place to stay, especially if you nab a room for €79…”
OK, so that’s Paris. The Marseille hotel is located right in the city centre at 64, rue de la Loubière. That’s near the Cours Julien district, an area known for urban art, concert halls, young designers and sunny terraces (see it on the map here
). The hotel is 25 km south of Marseille Provence (Marignane) Airport and is easily accessed by the metro (Baille, Castellane and Notre Dame-du-Mont stations).

And what about the goodies? Every room gets a multimedia iMac, which allows you to watch TV, listen to the radio, connect your iPod or watch DVDs and the latest films (free). And of course, it's also a computer. Mama Shelter offers free WiFi throughout the hotel, in rooms and public spaces. Amenities are by Kiehl’s.

Other hotel features include a shop, concierge services, a list of babysitters, a business center and meeting space. 

But the best thing of all may be the Mediterranean restaurant overseen by legendary chef Alain Sendererns, who had three Michelin stars at Lucas Carton in Paris for 28 years. Then he changed the name and famously “gave back” his stars, making him even more famous. "I was done with the tra-la-la, chi-chi, bling, crystal goblets, and glamour," he explains on the website Grub Street here. "I wanted to, of course, keep my purveyors and quality of ingredients, but without any of that nonsense! Nobody understood. Michelin certainly didn't understand." (As a result, the 73-year-old chef has said that customers at Senderens in Paris pay a third of the former prices and return more often, and that profits are nearly four times of what they were.)

The restaurant at Mama Shelter Marseille is large, with 132 seats inside and 60 out. No word yet on who will be doing the actual cooking but Senderens is creating the menus, writing the recipes, sourcing the ingredients--and will be of course be making frequent trips south to keep everything running just so.  He also oversees food at the hotel in Paris and is involved in a new Brooklyn, N.Y. restaurant as well.

So with their central location, state-of-the-art amenities and superstar consulting chef, how can Mama Shelter’s  rates be so low? Is this one of those places that gives you a great, cheap room but then nickels and dimes you with hidden charges? It doesn’t appear to be—and all fees are posted clearly on the website. Meanwhile, the hotel hasn't even opened yet but the local paper, La Provence, is calling it ''l'hotel le plus funky de la ville.''

Want to come to Mama? For more info or to book, click here. Or email: Or call 01-43-48-48-48. To see job openings at the new hotel, click here

Above: The Mama Shelter logo and the hotel company's founders: Benjamin Trigano, Serge Trigano,  Philippe Starck, Cyril Aouizerate and Jeremie Trigano. The team has announced they'll open another hotel, in Bordeaux, next year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another Fine French Book Giveaway!

In his new book French Flair: Modern Vintage Interiors, author and photographer Sébastien Siraudeau has compiled a gorgeous selection of intoxicating interiors from all across France. From more than 100 locations come hundreds of stunning images of rooms decorated in an array of styles.  The 736-page hardcover book, originally published in France by Flammarion, was released in the U.S. last week. And of course I was right on it, telling the publisher that I simply had to have a few copies to give away to my readers.

The Daily Mail calls French Flair "The ultimate guide to achieving effortlessly chic and stylish interiors à la Française with an authentic vintage feel."

The book contains a wide and eclectic mix of themes, designs and inspirations. You'll find a B&B in the backcountry of the Côte d’Azur; a hôtel de charme in the Alpilles, filled with furniture picked up from Provençal markets; a furniture-designer’s studio on the outskirts of Paris; a château-turned-guesthouse complete with secret passageways--and much, much more. Through his evocative text and 959 color photos, Siraudeau lets readers explore French guesthouses, antique shops, hotels and private homes, and provides a charming commentary on each setting and its owners. The properties are also listed in an address book at the end--and many are open for visits. 

Chapters are themed around seven styles: Authentic, Traditional, Romantic, Elegant, Eclectic, Contemporary and Natural.

“French design is all about juxtaposing unexpected and unconventional combinations to create a unique home," the author/photographer says in the introduction. "Any style can be adapted to a house in the city or the country, to an apartment or a château; it just calls for imagination and an approach free of preconceived notions.”

The prolific Sébastien has produced numerous books in both French and English, including four specifically about French design: French Seaside Style (2011) French Country Style at Home (2010), French Style at Home (2009) and Vintage French Interiors (2008). You can find many of his titles, including books on Provence, Brittany and brocantes, on Amazon here. His photos also appear regularly in decor and design magazines worldwide. If you'd like to see more of his work, his website is here and his blog is here.

Ok, on to the giveaway. The gracious publishers have generously offered me two copies of this beautiful book to give away. To enter, simply leave a comment below. Please be sure to leave your email address or we won't be able to reach you. (Signing in with your Google or Blogger account is not enough.) Unfortunately, you must be able to provide a U.S. mailing address if you win this contest. But those of you who don't live there are welcome to have the book sent to a friend who does.

Meanwhile, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here. Bonne Chance!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Big Châteauneuf Event Coming Up...

The Young Winemakers Association of Châteauneuf-du-Pape will host the third annual Les Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Saturday and Sunday, March 31 and April 1, from 10 am to 7 pm.  More than 75 domaines and châteaux will be featured. Meet the producers, taste the wines, get a feel for the variety and quality of this historic appellation--and perhaps win a few bottles as well. For French speakers, there will be tasting workshops. Plus, this year there will be a Master Class in English (Saturday, 3 to 5 pm), in which you'll learn all about the terroir and of course, taste some terrific vintages. The Master Class is 25€ per person and you must book ahead, by email (see below). Admission to Les Printemps is 7€ per person, which gives access to the lounge and all tastings.  For the venue and other info, click here. For questions and Master Class registration:

*Want more wine? Then read about my new favorite rosé here, the top ten wine drives in Provence here, five Provence restaurants for wine lovers here, a new château hotel in the Languedoc that offers wine classes here and an expert's tour of his favorite Rhône wineries here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guest Post: Le Comité de Reception

Well-known St. Remy resident Paul Taylor has been a foreign correspondent with Reuters, the international news organization, since 1977. Today he is Reuters' European Affairs Editor, leading coverage of the Eurozone crisis. Originally from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, Paul first came to France as a high school exchange student in 1970. He studied history and French at Balliol College, Oxford, and wrote his masters dissertation on the French revolutionary terror in Poitiers. Paul met Catherine Maier in St. Remy in 1976, when her parents, who ran an antique shop on the Rue Carnot, picked him up hitch hiking. They married in 1983 and now divide their time between Paris and Provence. Paul's first foreign posting as a Reuters correspondent was to Paris in 1978-9 during Giscard d’Estaing's days, and his 11 years as a Paris-based journalist include six as chief correspondent for France in the 1990s, covering the late Mitterrand and early Chirac eras. In his long and stellar journalism career, Paul has covered many major global events: the Iranian revolution, the Cold War and the first Reagan-Gorbachev summit, the first Palestinian Intifada, the Maastricht Summit, the birth of the European single currency and the Camp David peace negotiations. I've read many of Pauls news and analysis stories over the years, but never anything personal. So  I asked him to share a great Provence snapshot or memory...and this evocative piece is what he sent.

They were as Provencal as garlic, lavender or olive oil. Sitting across our back alley shaded from the afternoon sunshine like a picket line on strike against the heat. For years, we ran the gauntlet of our next-door neighbours each time we entered or left our house in the old centre of Saint-Remy-de-Provence. We dubbed them “le comité de reception” -- the receiving committee.

There was Louise, a cheery, plump woman whose kitchen door on one side of our alleyway was aways open, exuding enticing smells of fried onions, garlic and tomato as if she only ever ate ratatouille. Almost always dressed in a stained blue apron, Louise loved to tempt us in to see what was on the stove. She never had children but doted on ours. Then there was Mme. Brini – we were too polite to ask her first name – a slight, dark-haired lady with a black spot on one cheek, always dressed, or so it seemed, in the same light blue striped nylon garment that doubled as a dressing gown and a kitchen overall. Sometimes Mr. Brini joined them. A dapper fellow with a bad back which curtailed his petanque-playing, he didn’t say much. Not that he got a chance. Louise and Mme. Brini kept up a steady chatter in a mixture of Provencal and French that was impenetrable to outsiders.  

They had been there long before we arrived in Saint-Remy thirty years ago and it seemed we almost needed their permission to cross our own threshold. Like a Greek chorus, they gave us a running commentary on our own lives, punctuated by sighs of “pardi” or “peu chere” (“by God” or “poor dear”).

“So we’re coming home, are we?” Louise would say, using the versatile French pronoun “on,” which could refer to us, or to herself, or both. Not so much a question as a statement of fact. “Been shopping?” she would observe as we schlepped baskets of food from the market. “Haven’t eaten yet?” she asked almost reproachfully if we arrived after 1 p.m.  Before we could answer, she would say “We’ve had ours”, patting her ample belly contentedly with both hands over the stained apron.

One day my wife told Louise she had been shopping in Avignon. To our astonishment, Louise said had never been to Avignon, the main town just 20 km (12 miles) from Saint-Remy.

“He rang the bell but we told him there was nobody there,” Mrs Brini would chime in, reporting the unsuccessful passage of a tradesman.

Sometimes, they would sound as if they were commenting on our private life. “She’s gone,” I was told on coming home one day. The word “partie” sounded more final than “sortie” and carried an undertone of commiseration. When my wife returned as I was chatting with the reception committee, Louise piped up “La revoila” ...“There she is again."  In retrospect, it reminded me of Ronald Reagan’s killer line in the 1980 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter--“there you go again”--implying a relapse into some unhealthy habit.

Perhaps unfairly, I imagined them gossiping disapprovingly about our lifestyle, the length of my hair or our unorthodox late eating hours. It was my wife’s second marriage. The reception committee had seen her tread the same alleyway and enter the same portal with her previous husband. 

Yet looking back, I find no trace of hostility or intrusiveness, only the conviviality of outdoor Provencal life, which we didn’t truly appreciate until it was gone. Having lived in Germany, I have experienced nosy neighbours. One complained to me that my car was dirty. Others had a friend fined by the town hall public order office for failing to clear leaves and snow from the sidewalk outside his house in winter.  He was out of the country at the time, but was fined anyway.

By comparison, our reception committee was a model of benevolence. After they died, we felt a real sense of loss. Sometimes, as if their ghosts still haunted our empty alleyway, my wife and I exchange glances as we approach our doorway. “So we’re coming home, are we?” she says to me. And I reply, “We’ve had ours” patting my stomach. And we chuckle with fond nostalgia. -- Paul Taylor

The painting above is "Place Favier, St Remy de Provence," a 20" x 30" oil on canvas by artist Jack Morrocco, who divides his time between Fife (Scotland) and the Cote d'Azur. This small, peaceful square is very near Paul and Catherine's house.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Above it All in Provence

The website has a sensational series of photos by French aerial photographer Frank Mulliez, depicting the dramatic perched villages of Provence. Start here and make sure to scroll left or right to see them all. On the same site, you may also enjoy Frank's photos of Corsica, Brittany, Upper Normandy and the French Riviera. Born in the north of France near Lille, Frank still lives up that way, when he's not flying around the world with his wife Caroline, renting planes and helicopters to capture these dramatic images. Frank is one of those lucky folks who found his calling early: he dreamed of flying helicopters at age 10; knew exactly what he wanted to do, careerwise, by age 12; started pilot's training at 19 and got his license one year later, while enlisted in the Alpine Hunters Division of the French Army.  Since then he has worked in Madagascar, the USA, Croatia, Sénégal, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Reunion Island, Mali and Tanzania, and spent much of the past two years hanging out of planes and helicopters over Kenya. "This year I'll be shooting in China and Bora Bora, which should be cool," he tells me. "But I particularly like Provence--I've been spending my vacations there for 40 years." To learn more, you can visit Frank's website here and see a lot more stunning Provence images here. To see some of his 30 books, click here; you can order them on Amazon or, if you'd like them signed, direct from the photographer. To contact Frank directly: Meanwhile, click the photo up top to see it enlarged in all its glory.

Photos: The perched village of Peillon, roughly 20 kilometers northeast of Nice, shot by Frank Mulliez in 2008. The photographer, who is 41, began his pilot training at age 19. Among the 30 books he has published are "La Provence En Plein Vol" and his most recent, the best-selling "Sublime France," which he describes as "4.5 kilos of my best pictures of France."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A New Restaurant in St. Remy

All of a sudden the small towns of Provence are coming out of hibernation. The sun is shining, people are returning from winter getaways, road work is happening everywhere and new businesses are springing up left and right. Yay! One of the newest arrivals in my village is a restaurant called Cuis'in and it's owned by Charles Nasser (a former partner at St. Remy's popular Bar Tabac des Alpilles), chef Jean-Pierre Caillon and Guillaume Nipote. The three partners opened on March 1st and definitely seem to have a hit on their hands.  This is a bright, simple dining room in a large, comfortable space, with a small bar in front at which a couple people can eat. For now, Jean-Pierre is offering just four main courses (18€ and 19€), plus a plat du jour (yesterday it was a lamb confit with rice and vegetables for 12.90€) and a choice of six crunchy open-faced sandwiches. Known as tartines, the sandwiches are served warm on Poilâne bread and come with a crisp mesclun salad and a cup of homemade soup (12.90€, or 15.50€ with coffee and dessert). For nibbling, there's a charcuterie plate (two sizes, 9€ and 16€), a cheese plate (4.80€) or fries, soup or salad (3€). Kids can have 1/2 tartine with salad, a drink and ice cream (9€). If you're looking for a place for a private party, they can accommodate 70 people. I like everything about this restaurant: the food, the space, the welcome, the price. (If you go, please tell them I sent you!) Winter hours are: lunch only during the week; lunch and dinner on Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday. To find it, take a right off the main traffic circle, onto the D99A, as though you were heading to Cavaillon. You'll see the restaurant a few doors in, on your right. Just past it, turn right to find parking lots. 

#2, ave de la Liberation, St. Remy

Photo: Jean-Pierre Caillon, Guillaume Nipote, Charles Nasser and Jean-Pierre's wife, Nicole. *Note, another nice place for tartines is Le Cuisine de Comptoir in Arles; you can read about it here. If you're looking for burgers rather than tartines, the laid-back Mirabeau in St. Remy has some of the best ones around. If you're after something more formal, an update on the new Michelin Guide Rouge 2012 is here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Happy Trails

Summer travel-planning season is in full swing and if you're thinking of coming to Provence, you better get crackin' because the best places (and many of the crummy ones) are filling up fast. From the number of calls and emails I'm getting from people looking for travel-planning help--and from my conversations with hoteliers and the owners of villas, gites and B&Bs--this season is looking to be one of the best in years. (If you're coming to Provence and could use some help sorting out the details, click here.)  In the meantime, I wanted to share something that could be very useful if you're planning a trip or you're already here. Relais & Chateaux has asked some famous foodies and other travelers to create itineraries for some of the most-popular tourist regions in the world, which of course include Provence and the Cote d'Azur. It's all part of a new program called the Routes du Bonheur (Roads of Happiness) and you'll find some great ideas for Tuscany and Napa Valley as well as the South of France. Most of the folks featured are members of Relais & Chateaux, meaning they run restaurants or hotels that belong to the prestigious group, and most of their suggested hotels are members too. But these travel experts also propose lots of fantastic things to do, see and eat along the way. So without further ado...

First we have a five-day itinerary created by Jean-Andre Charial, chef/owner of the Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux. Charial suggests a tour and tasting at a local olive oil mill, a visit to the gorgeous Italianate Villa Gallici (Aix), a calisson tasting at the famous Confiserie Léonard Parli (Aix) and much more. Take Jean-Andre's route and you'll take in Tarascon, Boulbon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape for wine tasting (of course), a hilltop village in the Luberon, a gorgeous hotel in a historic abbey, Cezanne's studio in Aix and much more.

The sommelier at Oustau de Baumaniere, Gilles Ozello, also proposes an itinerary. His,  called My Wine & Vineyards Tour Through Provence, takes you through some of the prettiest villages of the Côtes du Rhône region and into some of his favorite wine domaines. 

Jacques Chibois is the well-known, much-loved chef/owner of the five-star Bastide Saint Antoine in Grasse, and his itinerary is here. It includes gorgeous scenery, history, perfume (make your own scent!) and one of my favorite places in Provence, the Gorges du Verdon, known as the Grand Canyon of France. I love this itinerary!

Jean-Paul Passedat's suggested trip--rich in history,  gorgeous scenery and of course, great food--is here. Jean-Paul represents the second generation of the famous restaurant Le Petit Nice in Marseille, now one of just three Michelin three-star restaurants in the Provence region. His son Gérald has been at the stove since 1990.

Another well-known chef, Stephane Raimbault (who runs the marvelous L'Oasis in La Napoule, near Cannes, with his brothers Antoine and François) created a delicious three-night itinerary for the Cote d'Azur here. His route starts you at the celebrated Chateau de la Chevre d'Or then sends you down the coast, dipping up into the hills and back down to the sea. Suggested stops include the Matisee Museum, the Forville Market in Cannes, the pottery village of Vallauris, St. Tropez, the Cap d'Antibes Beach Hotel and a winery he loves in Bormes-les-Mimosas. And that's just for starters!

And for bikers, we have an itinerary created by none other than Cadel Evans. He suggests staying at Crillon le BraveLa Coquillade and Le Couvent des Minimes (with its L'Occitane spa), while visiting Mont Ventoux, the Nesque Gorges and some of our favorite Luberon villages such as Roussillon, Gordes, Ménerbes and Bonnieux.

All the details on the Routes du Bonheur are hereAnd you can see the full list of the Relais & Chateaux properties in Provence here.

Photos from Top: L'Oustau de Baumaniere, at the foot of the hilltop village Les Baux. Vendor in the Forville Market in Cannes. The stunning Gorges du Verdon, where you can canoe, kayak, raft, swim, fish and more. Roussillon's lovely color comes from ochre, which is mined to make pigments for paint. Grasse's favorite chef Jacques Chibois. Truffles in the Forville Market, priced at 800€ for 2.2 pounds; they're known in the region as "black gold." The hotel Villa Gallici sits on a leafy hilltop overlooking Aix. The Abbaye de Senanque near Gordes. Picasso made pottery in Vallauris from 1946 to 1973. Click any photo to enlarge.