Thursday, April 23, 2015

Networking Party April 30 in the Luberon

Network Provence will hold their second meeting Thursday April 30 from 5 to 7 pm in the Luberon village of Maubec, about 15 minutes east of Cavaillon and an hour north of Aix.

This is a loose organization designed for business and social networking, with English-speaking members drawn from all over Provence. A 15€ fee for the event includes wine, soft drinks and nibbles provided by Sandra Nguyen of SandKitchen.

The group was the brainchild of Rebecca Ronane, who moved to Provence from London in the mid ‘90s. Professionally Rebecca wears a number of hats, including working as a tour director throughout Europe and, more recently, providing life and business coaching to women over 50. (She works with individual clients and also offers what she calls Cappuccino Group Coaching Sessions on a monthly basis.) Her husband Alain (half French and half Dutch) works in the travel industry as well, when he’s not busy with his pet project: reviving an olive grove abandoned in 1956.

“I was looking around for opportunities and events where I could meet other English speakers, with the goal of promoting my coaching business,” Rebecca tells me. “I looked at the various groups in the region and didn’t find one that seemed like what I wanted. So I thought, ‘why not start one myself’?” The first meeting drew 26 people--25 of them women--and a mix of nationalities including French women who speak just a bit of English. “It was a nice multi-cultural mix,” Rebecca says, “and some really interesting things have already developed from it. Sometimes a bridge between cultures can be difficult unless you’re put in the right circumstances.” 

For the time being, the get-togethers will be held in Rebecca and Alain’s home and are therefore limited to 30 people max but as interest grows, different venues could be used. “Our house is rather convivial which adds a nice dimension,” she says.

At each meeting, anyone who wants to present their business or activities to the group is welcome to do so, for a minute or two each. Everyone is also encouraged to bring flyers, business cards or other promo materials.

While men are welcome, the group is really designed to help English-speaking women of all nationalities make business contacts and new friendships. “I’m not eliminating men but my goal these days is about women power,” Rebecca says. “The idea is to enable networking focused on that. And the women come because they like that idea.”

If you’re interested in attending the April 30 event, being added to the mailing list for future events or receiving info on Rebecca’s coaching: or 06 41 80 21 72. Her website is and you can follow her on Twitter here. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Caumont Art Center Opens in Aix May 6

The new Caumont Art Center opens in Aix on May 6, with a major show featuring 60 works by Venetian master Canaletto (1697-1768). The show, called Canaletto--Roma, London, Venice: The Triumph of Light, runs until September 13, 2015.

Sixty paintings and drawings from international public and private collections will present the artist through all the different phases of his career. 

The Caumont Art Center (officially called Caumont Centre d’Art) was conceived to celebrate and promote a wide range of fine arts and is a major opening for this city of of 143,000, the birthplace of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906).

Each year, the Center will stage two major temporary exhibits devoted to the grand masters of art history from the 14th to the 20th century.  A summer exhibit will be dedicated to the re-discovery of great masters from a new angle. A winter exhibit will reveal treasures from private collections or from internationally renowned museums. The exhibit space comprises eight rooms, totaling 400 square meters.

The mansion itself, known as the Hôtel de Caumont and built in 1715, is located in the Mazarin neighbourhood, the southern, aristocratic quarter of Aix. Built "between court and garden,” it represents an architectural style that first appeared in Paris in the 16th century…a château and park on an urban scale. Four elements characterize the layout: the gate, the courtyard, the main building and the garden, taking visitors from public to private spaces. It was built on a square plot, with the main building to the northeast, the cour d'honneur to the northwest, an enclosed garden on the southeast and servants quarters (with an outer courtyard) on the southwest. In Aix, this type of construction disappeared in 1680, after which mansions were built on street-front sites, distinguishing them from the Parisian style.  The Hôtel de Caumont’s design, unlike anything in Aix, is considered an excellent example of French 18th-century architecture. The carriage gate, façade and wrought iron bannister are of such high quality that they were listed in a supplementary inventory for Monuments Historiques in 1925. The entire mansion was listed in 1987.

Compared to the exterior façade, the interior is much more elaborately decorated and demonstrates a mix of the Regency and Louis XV styles. More info on the architecture, design and furnishings appears on the Caumont website.

In addition to the temporary exhibits, a 20-minute film dedicated to Paul Cézanne (1839- 1906) will be screened daily in a 100-seat auditorium.  "Cézanne in the Aix Region" follows the career of the great Post-Impressionist painter who died of pneumonia in Aix in 1906 and is buried in the Saint-Pierre Cemetery.

The Art Center will also host concerts, dance performances, readings and lectures. It’s also available for private functions, meetings and social events.

Facilities include a bookstore, the ground-floor Café Caumont (open daily for breakfast, afternoon tea and sweets, with a terrace overlooking the French gardens) and the Lounge Bar Caumont, open Tuesday to Saturday evenings.

Caumont is operated by Culturespaces, which oversees 14 important French sites, museums and monuments such as the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (Saint Jean Cap Ferrat),  the Carrieres des Lumieres and Château des Baux (Les Baux)  and the Roman Theatre in Orange.

Located at #3, rue Joseph Cabassol, the Caumont Art Center is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (October to April) and until 7 pm (April to October).

For all the info, click HERE.

Photos:  (1) The mansion housing the museum was built in 1715. (2) Canaletto's "Le Bucentaure de retour au Môle, le jour de l’Ascension." (3) Canaletto's "Caprice avec des ruines classiques et des bâtiments de la Renaissance
." (4) Restoration work on the mansion took 18 months. (5) Detail of ironwork adorning the balcony. (6) Cafe Caumont. (7) The "Chambre de Madame." (8) There are three paintings in the show not by Canaletto: two by Bellotto and one by Guardi. This is Bellotto's "Venise : Caprice avec une maison sur la lagune."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Do Good...and Win A Week in Provence!

My friend Lucy is a tireless supporter of a charity called Busoga Trust, which builds and maintains wells in rural Uganda. 

Since 1983, the group has created more than 2000 sustainable sources for clean, safe water...used by villagers for drinking, cooking, sanitation and hygiene. 

Lucy often stages benefits for the Trust here in Provence and many of us love to support the group. 

Lucy's latest project is a glorious week in Provence that the Trust will be raffling off as a fundraiser....and it's only £10 (roughly€14 or $15) to enter.

The Week in Provence contest includes accommodation for two in a charming private house in St Rémy de Provence, plus a guided mountain hike, a full day tour of Marseille and a 50€ food and drink credit at our favorite local hangout, Cafe de la Place. Plus, Lucy will be on hand to offer lots of local expertise. 

The prize package does not include flights or transport to Provence...and black out dates are June through mid September. Otherwise the winner is free to come anytime in 2015.

All proceeds go directly to Busoga Trust’s water and sanitation projects in Uganda.
To enter simply follow this link to make your £10 donation. Enter as many times as you wish to increase your chances of winning. The competition closes at midnight on April 26th and the winner will be announced on the 27th. 

If you prefer to enter with a UK check, send it to: Busoga Trust, 1 Creed Court, 5 Ludgate Hill, London, EC4M 7AA. Please write "Provence Experience" on the envelope and  include a way for the charity to reach you if you win.

If you have questions or want to be added to Lucy's mailing list for future fundraisers in Provence:

Bonne Chance!

Photos: A typical Provencal street scene...a video about Busoga Trust...and the charming bungalow in St. Remy that's yours for a week if you win. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Another Fine French Book Giveaway!

I’ve been wanting to write about Elizabeth Bard for a while now and her new book gives me a perfect excuse. It comes out on April 7 and it looks every bit as delicious as its predecessor, Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, which was a New York Times bestseller, an international bestseller and winner of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Cookbook (USA).

And, because I live to please you, I’ve asked Elizabeth and her publisher Little, Brown and Company, for three copies of Picnic in Provence to give away. Of course, they said bien sur!

Elizabeth is an American journalist and author, born in New York City and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. She graduated summa cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in English Literature and later earned a Masters degree in Art History from The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Elizabeth’s articles on food, art, travel and digital culture have appeared in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post, Wired, Marie Claire and Harper's Bazaar.

Since 2009, she and her husband Gwendal have lived in the tiny Provencal town of Céreste, where they own and operate the artisanal ice cream company Scaramouche.

The first book, Lunch in Paris, told Elizabeth’s story of cute-meeting the perfect Frenchman at a conference in London, and chucking her life plans to move to Paris to marry him. 

Picnic in Provence picks up where Lunch in Paris left off, or, as the author says, “it’s about all the things that happen after the happily ever after: marriage, motherhood, entrepreneurship...and in our case, ice cream!”

It’s about unexpected choices and how they can be the best choices we make,” she continues. “There’s no five year plan in the world that would have gotten me here. And yet it’s exactly the right place to be.”

The 336-page hardcover has 60 recipes and is also available in ebook and audiobook versions.

You can see a trailer for it here.

Elizabeth first met Gwendal at an academic conference when she was a student in London.  “I asked what his research was about,” she recalls, “which is as good a pick-up line as any in academia. He was finishing up a PhD in computer science and I was just starting a Master's in Art History. So anyone who says you can't meet the love your life in a lecture on a Hypertext Version of Finnegan's Wake is wrong...”

The crafty American soon made an excuse to come to Paris for the weekend. Next thing she knew she was back and forthing on the Eurostar--they wouldn't be married if it wasn't for the Eurostar, she tells me—and soon Elizabeth had a decision to make: go back to New York to pursue her dream of being a museum curator...or take that flying leap and move to Paris for love.

She chose Paris, of course, and the couple married in 2003.  Those first years in Paris, she worked as arts journalist and as a private museum guide.  Eventually, she realized that “everything I'd learned about France I'd learned autour de la table –around the table. So I decided to write about my experiences from the ‘market’ point of view, and include recipes with every chapter. That's how Lunch in Paris was born.”

On a last romantic jaunt before their baby arrived—he’s now five –the couple traveled down to the Luberon in Provence... and a chance encounter led them to the wartime home of the famous poet and WWII Resistance leader René Char, whom Gwendal had long admired.

“In what felt like a brush with fate, the house was for sale,” she remembers. “Something about it felt perfect--inevitable.” Under the spell of the house and its unique history—Char buried his most famous manuscript there--Elizabeth and Gwendal decide to up and move--lock, stock and Le Creuset--to the French countryside.

The full story of how they found their house is here.

‘’Almost as soon as we arrived in Céreste,’’ she continues, ‘’we knew we wanted our careers to become more local. Gwendal was working as an executive in Digital Cinema. In the spring of 2012, he got a call about a job with Warner Brothers. He’d never really wanted a studio job...he was more of an entrepreneur. We had a long think about what we really wanted and we realized we wanted to do something that would be fun for us and good for the town, something that would allow us share the amazing local flavors we’d discovered here: melons so juicy they drip down to your elbows, strawberries that taste like sunshine.” They spent a year getting things together--six months of vanilla testing!--and opened Scaramouche on a rainy day in April, 2013.

Word spread quickly and in August 2014, TripAdvisor published their list of the top ten ice cream parlors in France: Scaramouche was tied for #5.

Scaramouche is now a local mainstay and a destination. People come for classics like salted caramel ice cream and bitter cacao sorbet and come back for the odd ones: 1001 Nuits (Raz-el-Hanout ice cream with grilled almonds), Pastis sorbet, Rose geranium ice cream with pistachios, and a brand-new black truffle ice cream made with truffles from the nearby farm Les Pastras.

Elizabeth, Gwendal and their team make all their own ice creams and sorbets in a lab on the outskirts of town. They use raw milk from a dairy in Volx (don’t worry, the milk is pasteurized during the ice cream making process), organic eggs, and the best local fruit they can find. Flavors change with the season...and there’s always a line in June when the first tubs of cherry sorbet arrive.

For those who can’t make it to Cereste, the products can be found at La Bris de Glace in the center of Bonnieux, an ice cream shop launched a year ago by the owners of the restaurant Le Fournil next door. It’s also available at Luberon Paysan in Apt and Naturellement Paysan in Cousellet.  For more places, check the Scaramouche website.

And you can look for their ice cream truck--the "Scaramobile"--in and around Banon this summer.

Ok so what about the new book? Filled with recipes such as stuffed zucchini flowers, fig tart, and honey and thyme ice cream, Picnic in Provence is about love, family and building a business but also about a cook’s initiation into classic Provencal cuisine. Throughout, Elizabeth reminds us that life--in and out of the kitchen--is a rendezvous with the unexpected.

“If you had told me on my wedding day that, ten years later, I’d be standing in a field in Provence making small talk with skinny cows,” she writes on page 1, “I would have nodded politely and with a twist of my graduated pearls, said that you had mistaken me for someone else.” The skinny cows produce the perfect milk for the ice cream, by the way.

In advance of the book’s April 7 launch, positive reviews are streaming in. Kirkus Reviews said: "Like the Provençal food and lifestyle it celebrates, Bard's book is one to be savored slowly and with care. Delectable reading.”

Ok on to the giveaway! To enter to win a copy, just leave a comment below, under COMMENTS. Tell us about a lifelong dream of yours (fulfilled or not), or perhaps about your own experience taking a big leap of faith. Tell us your favorite summer ice cream story...or about the book you’re writing...or anything you feel like sharing! Just please be sure to leave us your email so we can reach you if you win. Bonne Chance!

If you’d like to go ahead and buy the book, it’s on Amazon here.

To contact Elizabeth, email her at: You can also find her in the following places:

Photos: The book, the shop on opening day, the happy couple.