Sunday, April 29, 2012

Where to Stay? Provence Paradise

There's something very appealing about Provence Paradise, a hillside hamlet of six vacation villas on the outskirts of St. Remy. William Moore, an American from suburban Chicago, bought the property in 2005 and spent five years bringing its crumbling buildings back to life. (For 350 years, the Tourtet family had been making roof tiles and bricks on the property but the business fell apart when the men in the family went off to fight in WWI...and either died or came home disabled. How's that for sad?) 

The oldest home on the property is La Tuilerie, started in 1621 and added to, piece by piece, over the next 150 years. Today it's a lovely four-bedroom house (sleeps 12) that's loaded with mod cons (washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc.) but still has its evocative 17th-century walls, stones, beams and more. 

Among the many charms of Provence Paradise are the fully cooked meal you'll find waiting for you when you arrive (starter, main, dessert, bread and wine), the delivery at your door of fresh bakery each morning, the Tuesday night poolside cocktail party for all guests, the lovely landscaping, the pool and jacuzzi heated by hidden solar panels and the eclectic antiques and objets--gathered from all over France--that decorate every home. I like how guests are welcome to help themselves from the stash of local wine in every house...and are trusted to replace what they drink. I like how each house is supplied with basics: coffee, tea, granola, etc.

Above all, I like William's obvious willingness to go the extra mile for his guests, whether that means moving furniture around to make a play space for the kids or picking you up in town after dinner.

Virtually all of the guests here speak English (they tend to come from the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia and the Netherlands, to name a few), and a handful of families who met here now try to return at the same time each year. Provence Paradise gives you the amenities and privacy of your own house...but the community feeling of a resort. If you're trying to pick a place to stay in Provence, this is a unique and reasonably priced option. And the large number of return visitors--50% of the clients are repeats--is a strong recommendation indeed.
011-33/4 06 07 82 66 63 

*Note: If you contact William, please tell him you heard about Provence Paradise on Merci!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

This Post Has Nothing To Do With Provence

Anytime I come across something I think you might like, I try to find a French connection to justify posting it on my blog. If I can't, I don't. But these videos of Lotte and Vince growing up? I just had to. Their dad is the Dutch filmmaker and photographer Frans Hofmeester, who's been filming his kids since they were born and assembling the clips using time-lapse technology. Lotte is now 12 and Vince, 9. 

Hofmeester began the project when he noticed how quickly his first-born was changing...and he wanted to capture each and every moment. “I filmed Lotte every week,”  he told ABC News. “I felt the need to document the way she looked to keep my memories intact.”  When the kids aren't in the mood, he distracts them by asking questions.

Frans says he's always had a hunch that what he was doing was special but that he never expected the response: there have been more than 700,000 views on his Vimeo page to date. “I’m flabbergasted. This is overwhelming,” he said.  In the meantime, the proud papa continues to record his kids’ growth. “There will be a lot of changes in the coming years,” said Hofmeester.  “And of course I'll continue filming.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yes You Can Do Cannes...Sort Of

The 65th annual Cannes Film Festival is coming up May 16 to 27th and of course it totally takes over the town. Unfortunately, it's for industry insiders only...not for you. But there is one event that's open to the public and it's called “Cinema de la Plage.” It's a free, nightly outdoor movie screening held on Macé Beach, next to the Palais des Festivals. Shows begin around 9:30 pm (''usually'') and no tickets are needed. Yep, just show up. And because your comfort is paramount to me, I inquired about seats and blankets and was told that both will be available. A schedule for Cinema de la Plage will posted on the festival website shortly before the fest begins; you can see the site in English here. So get your most-gorgeous gown ready, then get down to the beach and be fabulous! And if you see Brad and Angelina, please tell them I can't wait to see them at the wedding...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The New Food Lover's Guide to Paris App

Back in the day, when sightseeing or visiting a new city for work, I'd head out in the morning carrying a guidebook, a list of things I wanted to see and do, assorted scraps of paper scribbled with who knows what, restaurant names and addresses and, if it was an eating trip or I was interviewing chefs, the Zagat Guide. Plus, of course, a notebook, a camera and a map. Hardly what you want to schlep around with you on a full day of touring. Add to that all the little things one picks up along the way on a day out...and that makes for a heavy tote bag indeed. Then came digital and everything changed. Now when traveling, I hit the street with little more than my iPhone. And I'm always looking for ways to streamline the process further still, talking to other travelers and travel writers about what gadgets, apps, sites, programs and services they find most useful. Since many of these tools are free or cheap, it's tempting to grab them all...and some people do. But for me the key is to find the best option, master it and move on. (Still, I have three GPS apps on my phone and no real idea how to use any of them.) Whether I'm on my tablet or my iPhone--or at home on the desktop researching--I'm always hunting for a quicker, better way get the info I need on the road, without getting bogged down, digitally, by everything that I don't.

That was a very long winded way of saying: check out Patricia Wells' new Food Lover’s Guide to Paris app, which came out this week. I haven't played around with it yet but knowing Patricia, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t great. She and her team spent well over a year visiting and revisiting, tasting and retesting, writing and fact-checking, while her tech experts were  busy developing and designing an impressive compilation of 350 of the city’s ultimate culinary destinations. You’ll find old favorites and scores of new discoveries, from sushi spots and creperies to mom-and-pop bistros to extravagant Michelin three-star restaurants. Also included are Patricia’s favorite wine bars, bakeries, pastry shops, chocolatiers, fromagiers, markets and specialty shops. Bookmark your favorites for a personalized list.

The $4.99 app is in English and compatible with iPhone and iPod Touch, running at least iOS 5. It will also work on iPad running iOS 5, but in a smaller iPhone format.

When Patricia first published The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris in 1984, it was called “the book that cracks the code.” It has sold 300,000 copies, been updated four times and was published in five languages. (A new version is in the works but won’t be out for about two years.)

“Much has changed on the Paris food scene since the latest edition of the book was published in 1999,’’ Patricia tells me. “There’s a whole new group of energetic young cooks, expanding the culinary ‘musts’ into upcoming neighborhoods. A fresh generation of bakers, pastry chefs and chocolate makers is bringing us all new looks, flavors and excitement.’’

Wherever you are in Paris, the app’s map will show you (with color-coded pins and GPS coordinates) the closest recommended restaurants, shops and markets. Each selection includes commentary, address, phone, opening hours, web site and email addresses where applicable; photos are included for many of them. You can call numbers directly, click through to web sites and get directions too. Contents are browsable by category or neighborhood, or by restaurant specifics such as price, cuisine, specialties of the house and details such as vegetarian- friendly or Michelin-star rating. The app also contains Patricia’s dining dictionary, an A-Z glossary of French culinary terms to help you translate menus on the spot.

For those who don’t know Patricia’s background, she was global food critic for the International Herald Tribune for more than 25 years. She’s a former New York Times food writer and the author of 15 books, including her upcoming Cooking With Patricia, out next year. With her husband, Walter Wells, Patricia has lived in France since 1980 and runs the popular cooking school At Home with Patricia Wells, with locations in Paris and Provence. 

For more info on the new app, click here. For Patricia’s website and blog, click here. You can also find her on Facebook  and Twitter. And for some of Patricia’s Provence restaurant recommendations, click here…but please note the story is two years old so some info may have changed.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

One Restaurant I Love in the Luberon


Late last year, Sébastien Aringhieri , the owner of the building that houses the Restaurant de la Gare de Bonnieux, sold it to designer Pierre Cardin, who has been buying up lots of property in the Luberon. Cardin, in turn, asked Sebastien to stay on and run it for him. "We renewed and refreshed everything," Sebastien tells me,  "putting in a new kitchen, new bathrooms, a new terrasse that fits 60." But my guess is that those who've been eating here and loving it for years won't notice much least I hope not. The charming old building dates to the early 1900s and it's been a restaurant since the 1950s. It draws a heavily local crowd...and the few tourists intrepid enough to find it. This neighborhood--a charming little quartier with an old train station--is like a wonderful step back in time

They still serve lunch only (every day but Sunday) and it's still one of the very best deals around. First, you serve yourself ("à volonté") from a buffet of starters, then they bring out the main course, which changes every day. Last time I went it was beef stew in red wine sauce, served with a potato gallette; other days you might find a navarin de veau, sauté de canard or poulet rôti, sautéed lamb with tagliatelles...that sort of thing. Friday is usually fish. Included in the price is a basket of bread and your choice of cheese or dessert, all for a whopping 14€. There's also a new, second menu option available at 28€.  The previous chef's hearty, homestyle cooking was perfect for the setting and I assume the same is still true. One small difference is now you have to pay for your wine, but don't worry you can handle it: it comes from the nearby wine co-op and it's just 3€, 6€ or 8€ per carafe. 

Lunch is served in a large convivial dining room--with a hodgepodge of art on the walls and a huge fireplace--or on the terrace overlooking the fields and hills. The welcome is warm, the food is great and the plat du jour formula makes everything super easy. Better still, the set price makes this a total no brainer if you go with a group. 

Lunch is served every day except Sunday, from noon until roughly 2:30... or until the food runs out. And just FYI, Pierre Cardin also bought the old wine co-op next door, and has been busy transforming it into a conference center/movie theatre. Opening night was  in mid May and it will start showing movies to the public in September 2014. 

The only problem with Restaurant de la Gare is that it’s hard to find the first time you go; it's in the countryside outside Bonnieux. Heading east on the D900 towards Apt, turn right (south) on the D36 towards Bonnieux. After 500 meters or so, take a right at the third road, at something called Odalys Residences. (If you see the big Cave de Bonnieux on your left, you've gone too far). If you're coming from the other way, meaning from the village of Bonnieux heading north, take the D36, pass the Cave de Bonnieux on your right and take a left at Odalys Residences. 

Restaurant de la Gare 
Quartier de la Gare, across from the old train station

Photos from top: You've arrived! Daily specials and desserts are posted on blackboards. The old train station, across the street from the restaurant. *Note these photos are old; I'll post new ones when I can.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Out on a Limb: Tree Houses in Provence

Above: Le Clos Saint Saourde
Above: Bastide du Bois Breant
Above: Orion
Above: Le Pavillon Vert
Above: Maison Valvert     
Above: Chateau Valmer

Above: Figues & Fugues

Over the years I've seen a lot of fabulous places to stay in Provence: hotels of all types, chateaux, country inns, gites, guesthouses, hotel barges, riverboats, cottages, platform tents,  campgrounds, gypsy caravans and even yurts. Yep--thought I had seen it all. And then I started coming across tree houses, which seem to have become a trend. How fun! If you’re itching to get in touch with your inner Tarzan, you’ll want to check these out…

Le Clos Saint Saourde is a gorgeous ‘designer B&B’ in the heart of Beaumes de Venise wine country, 30 km from Avignon. There the tree house is actually perched on stilts. The large bay window and deck offer fabulous views of  poplar, oak, the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range and vineyards as far as the eye can see. There’s a Jacuzzi on the terrace (a first in France) and all the best modern amenities (flat screen TV, mini bar, WiFi, heat and A/C) inside. Take your breakfast at the pool or owner Jérôme Thuillier (a former interior designer in Paris) will bring you a tray to enjoy in the privacy of…your tree. Le Clos Saint,  04-90-37-35-20  or 06-99-41-44-19.

At Le Pavillon Vert, five km from Avignon in Vedene, you can sleep five meters off the ground in “La Cabane Perchée,” which the owners call "25 square meter s of love nest.” It’s a rustic but lovely light-spilled space, with a double bed, bathroom, kitchen and table for dining on the deck. Le Pavillon Vert,,  06-11-49-49-19.

In the Luberon, La Bastide du Bois Breant in Maubec is a lovely three-star hotel  in a beautiful  five-acre setting. The main building dates to 1825. For nearly a century, the property was a truffle farm; hence its thick forest of white and green oak. Deep within that forest are two hidden tree houses, where nothing but the soft swoosh of leaves will disturb you. When you’re ready for civilization again, you’ll find a shimmering pool,  breakfast on a sun-splashed terrace and other small-hotel services. Hôtel La Bastide du Bois Bré, 04-90-05-06-78.

At Mas du Figuier in Bevons, 5 km west of Sisteron, this tiny (6 meter square) pine hideout was built by the previous owner to fulfill a childhood dream. But new owner Marion Stutz says she—and her clients--are enchanted by it. It sits 10 meters off the ground in a 100-year-old oak, overlooking a lavender field and the Lure Mountain beyond.  Probably the most rustic of the bunch,  it’s insulated with sheep wool and lit with solar power.  The treehouse has no running water or bathroom so you’ll have to go in the woods. Just kidding—you have your own private facilities in the main building, 50 meters away. Also on the property are three gites (separate cottages) and five guestrooms, all reasonably priced.  Mas du,  06-82-60-14-39. 

Snuggled in the woods near St. Paul de Vence with views of that famous hilltop village, Orion has five—count ‘em--five tree houses. All have bathrooms and WiFi and breakfast is included. Plus, there’s access to a kitchen if you want it, a sauna, massage, yoga…and a pool that’s kept healthy with gravel and plants instead of than chlorine. Orion B&

At Maison Valvert in Bonnieux, Cathy Herssens offers guestrooms, suites and a rustic-and-romantic tree house called La Cabane. The treehouse was built by Alain Laurens (of La CabanePerchee), whose philosophy dicates that not a single branch may be cut off, not a single nail driven into the tree. With views of the Petit Luberon Mountains and “the interior design of a five-star hotel,” this elegant treehouse sleeps two and rents for 275€ per night in high season. The price includes daily cleaning, breakfast, WiFi and use of the heated swimming pool. The 15-hectare property is planted with truffle oak trees, lavender, cherry and olive trees, and sits just 800 meters from the historic hilltop village of Bonnieux. Picnic baskets and table d’hôte style meals available upon on request. Maison Valvert,,  04-90-75-61-71.

Chateau de Creissauds is a 16th-century castle on a sprawling estate in Aubagne, nine miles east of Marseille. There the tree house sleeps four and has a small kitchen, TV, air-conditioning and of course, a terrace. The resort itself has tennis and squash courts….and a golf course over the hill. Another treehouse called Dans les Arbres houses the hotel bar. Château de Creissauds,, 04-91-24-84-45.

Chateau de Valmer, near St. Tropez, is a four-star hotel with 42 rooms and  two intoxicating treehouses, the newest of which was created especially for families. There’s a winery on the property and beach access. The hotel itself is nestled in the heart of a five-hectare park, with a 100-year-old palm grove, a vineyard and a spa. Chateau de Valmer,,  04-94-55 15-15.

Don’t see what you’re looking for above ? They also have tree houses at:

Figues and Fugues, between Lourmarin and Aix. 
Reve en Luberon in Apt. 
Les Ecuries in Brittany. 
Bois de Vins in the Dordogne.
La Cour de Remi in Pas de Calais. 
Domaine du Chalet in Chigny les Roses, between Reims and   Epernay. 
Mamouna et Cabanotte, 30 km west of Lyon. 
A Pignata in Corsica. 

**Note: More than 50 treehouses from around the world are featured in the book Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air by Philip Jodidio. Tree Houses is a tour of the beautifully designed tree houses featuring a variety of architectural styles from romantic to modern, published by Taschen and available from Amazon...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Insiders' Guide to Tarascon

Born in Tunbridge Wells (Kent, England), and raised in a village in Sussex, Angela Billows  and her husband, artist Jake Paltenghi, have had a home in the medieval town of Tarascon for eight years and have lived there full time for four. Angela works as a costume designer for film and television…and blogs about her life in Provence at Provence Calling. Like its sister city Beaucaire, just over the Rhône, Tarascon is close to Arles, Avignon and St. Remy, but remains undiscovered by many Provençale travelers. Angela recently gave us an insiders’ guide to Beaucaire here; now she takes us around Tarascon to share some of her favorite addresses.

People often ask how it is that we came to live here. The answer is that I had friends who lived outside St. Remy, whom I used to visit. One day over a glass of wine, I was saying how much I would like to buy a house nearby, not thinking for a minute that I would be able to afford one. My friend suggested I should look in Tarascon, as it was about 1/3rd the price of a house in one of the popular towns like St. Remy (15 kms away), Maussane (17 kms), or Uzès (35 kms)—all of them well-known destinations for visitors. Tarascon, however, has somehow missed its mark on the tourist map, and yet it sits in the heart of Provence--at the apex of the “golden triangle” of Arles, Avignon and Nimes. 

Things were quite different in earlier times when the Popes lived up the Rhone in Avignon (1309 – 1377) and built their Palais des Papes: The French Cardinals didn’t back the election of Pope Urban VI in Rome and elected instead Clement VII; setting him up in Avignon.  Two consecutive popes reigned on until 1423, causing what is known as the Great Western Papal Schism.

In 1449, Le Bon Roi René or Good King Rene, the last ruler of Provence, chose Tarascon for one of his homes and built the maginificent castle on the banks of the river. It was lovingly restored in the last century and the vastness of it--it has an apothecary garden within its walls--still causes wonder today. You can walk through the grand ceremonial halls, peer into what was once the privy and tempt vertigo on top of the ramparts as you look down on the ancient steeples and roofs of the town on one side and the river on the other. Château de Tarascon, 04 90 91 01 93. From April 1 to September 30, the chateau is open every day, from 9 am to 7 pm.

Opposite the castle is the Église Collégiale Ste. Marthe (St Martha's Collegiate Church), which dates to the 12th century and is supposedly where St. Martha is buried. It was believed that she came to Provence by boat, arriving in the Camargue (Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer) with Mary Magdelene, Lazarus and other Saints to spread the word of Christ. Martha travelled inland to Tarascon where at the time, a monster-- half beast half fish called the Tarasque--was terrorizing the locals.  The story says that she managed to tame the monster and tied him up with her girdle, enabling the townsfolk to kill him.  She died in 68 AD and her relics were kept safe until they were found and enshrined in the Church in 1187. The church is open from 8 am to 6 p.m.  Place de la Concorde,  04-90-91-09-50.

Tarascon became an important place of worship with many pilgrims and Kings coming to the town to pay homage to St Martha and up until the Revolution, the town had as many as 15 convents. A lot of these have since been adapted for other uses and some became grand private houses or hôtel particuliers as they are called in French.

One of these is the now the headquarters of Souleïado and also houses their museum and a shop.  In the museum you’ll see the collection of rare and old Provencal fabrics and costumes, and learn how they were printed with wooden blocks and cylindrical copper plates. In the shop, you can buy Souleïado clothing, shoes, bags and linens made with their iconic fabric. A recent addition to the store is the Ciergerie des Prémontrés, traditional artisinal candlemakers  who supply many of the local churches.  There is also a salon de thé and you can sit in the beautiful courtyard and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee with a pastry and muse on times gone by. Souleïado , 39 rue Proudhon, 04-90-91-08-80.

Further on down the same street is another former church, this one dating from the 15th  century and rebuilt in 1825 to become a theatre. It burnt down and was rebuilt in 1888, with a Rococo-Oornamental 19th century European-style façade of stone-carved cherubs. It was again renovated 100 years later (1989) and has been entertaining people with its repertoire of comedy, opera, drama and musical evenings during winter months ever since. Theatre Municipal, 2 rue Eugène Pelletan, 04-90-91-51-02.

Opposite the theatre is the Le Theatre Restaurant. The food is traditional Provençale, made from ingredients such as taureau (bull meat), local goats cheese and black Camargue rice. The owner and chef,  Ariana Guilmain, uses only locally sourced organic produce and most of the vegetables come from her own garden. In the summer you can eat out on the patio but make sure to book if you want to eat on a theatre night. Le Theatre, 4, rue Eugene Pelletan, 04-90-91-41-44.

Outside the city walls in the train station square (Place Colonel Berruier) are a number of other restaurants. My favourite is Le Terminus, which serves Provencal fare such as pieds et paquets (lamb trotters and tripe tied into a ‘package’ a local delicacy) and brandade a la morue (salt cod in a white sauce). Menus start at €9.50, definitely a bargain!  And for the film buffs amongst you, the restaurant is part of the Terminus Hotel (though under different ownership), whose lobby appeared in the very-entertaining film Parlez-Moi de la Pluie (Let It Rain) by Agnes Jaoui, filmed in and around Tarascon. It’s worth watching if you live in or are planning a trip to the area. Le Terminus, 6, place Colonel Berrurier,  04-90-96-53-01.  

As our spare room has become The Artist’s studio, our guests often stay at Hotel Provence, just a few minutes from our house. We like to join them for breakfast or a bottle of rosé on the terrace in the evening. The owners are friendly and helpful. Rooms begin at €69 for two people or €85 for a room with a terrace. Hotel Provence, 7 Boulevard Victor Hugo, 04- 90-91-06-43

Another lovely place to stay is Rue du Château where for €75 (single) or €85 – €95 (double), you can stay in the heart of the old town in a hotel dating to the 16th century. The B&B has five bedrooms and Martine Lavraison is very welcoming and generous with local information. We stayed here when we were buying our house. Don’t forget to tell her I sent you! Rue du Château B&B, 24 Rue du Château,  04-90-91-09-99,

My favourite thing about Tarascon is the Tuesday market, which, in my opinion, is one of the best around. You can get everything you want here, from olivewood spoons and spatulas to fabrics, shoes and, of course, food.  I buy most of my week’s food from the market, getting it directly from the producers themselves and paying non-tourist prices!

In May there’s a flower market (Foire aux Fleurs), where plants are sold all the way down the main street. On the last weekend in June (June 22 - 25, 2012), there’s the four-day La Fête de la Tarasque, which celebrates the myth of the Tarasque and the history of Good King René.  On the third weekend in August is Les Médiévales, with pageantry, jousting, falconry and fireworks.

So next time you’re driving past Tarascon, why not explore a little, get lost among the the Medieval cobbled streets and stop for a bite to eat?

The Tarascon Tourist Office is at Le Panoramique, Avenue de la Republique, 04-90-91-03-52.

While Angela and Jake are traveling, as they are now, their home in Tarascon is available for rent, by the week or month. For info, click here.

Photos: Tarascon from the Château. Cobbled streets. The B&B called Rue du Château. Gardens inside the Château walls. Poster for the film shot partly in Tarascon. The Theatre Municipal. Van Gogh's "Painter on the Road to Tarascon," from 1888. A classic Souleiado fabric pattern.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kissed in Provence + More Photo Workshops

Oakland, California-based photographer Elizabeth Opalenik (who took all the photos above) will lead a ten-day photography workshop in Provence from September 1 to 11, 2012. Called Provence, Kissed By the Light, the workshop will allow students to shoot in a variety of locations, creating intimate portraits while enjoying the gorgeous September weather. The group will also take in festivals, harvest time, daily markets, ancient ruins and much more. 

Elizabeth has been leading workshops in Provence since 1983 and says it's one of the very best for locations and ambiance. She will be assisted by local photographer, Emilie Ballif, who will help with digital editing and restaurant selection! 

The group's base for the first five days will be Le  Clos du Buis at the entrance to Bonnieux in the Luberon. On the itinerary are tme to view the unique work,  in their homes,  of French photographers Claudine and Jean Pierre Sudre in Aix and Denis Brihat in Bonnieux, both strong influences to Elizabeth in  the mordançage process. After daily field trips to the hill towns,  the group will move to Arles, where the festive Féria du Riz will be taking place. They'll stay at the Hotel Constantin for five nights while exploring the Camargue, St. Remy, Les Baux and other villages. Among the many activities planned are night shoots at the roman ruins and a visit with photographer Lucien Clergue.

The week will finish with discussions on how best to present your work and the group will collectively create a book on their Provencal journey.

Tuition is $3395 which includes ten nights shared accommodation with private bath, breakfast and one other meal each day, model session with dancers, visits with three famous French photographers, all instruction and critiques. Transportation is by shared rental cars. Non-photographing companion fee is $2700. Class size is limited to 12.  For more info see Elizabeth's website here or email:

*Note: Posts about other upcoming Provence photo workshops are here and here. Spring workshops through the Rencontres d'Arles are listed here. Talented Frech food photographer and cookbook author Bea Peltre is leading a workshop in the Languedoc; I wrote about it here and more specific details are here. Here's a photo tour in Provence in June 2013. Finally, one more French photo workshop to consider is here; this one is not in Provence but up in the equally gorgeous Dordogne region.