Friday, September 30, 2016

Group Events with Space Available in October

 A free financial forum for expats will be held at Chateau La Coste, the very-unique, very-beautiful wine domaine not far from Aix. 

Two scenes from the market in Aix. Join a local chef/cooking instructor for an insiders' tour.

The Luberon village of Gordes at sunrise. Ok, so you won't see the sunrise on the Luberon Foodie Bike Tour...but you'll see tons of other gorgeous scenery...and taste some terrific artisan foods.

On Sunday Oct 9, there's a charity lunch and yard sale in St. Remy to benefit the Busoga Trust, which builds wells (like this one) in Uganda.

In an 18th-centry farmhouse in Tarascon, join an Oct 15 small-group cooking class followed by dinner.

In legendary Chateauneuf-du-Pape, learn about the local wines in this cellar dating from the 12th and 13th centuries....then enjoy lunch prepared by a top local chef. 

Two spots remain in a writers retreat taking place at Julia Child's former house in Provence. The dates are Oct 16 to 23.

Rosé wines and goat cheese: two of the four food groups in Provence! You'll enjoy both on the Foodie Tuesday walking tour in St. Remy, October 18 or 25.

In Uzes, who could resist a market-shopping trip with the chef, followed by a cooking class and lunch?

If you’ll be in Provence in October...or are still mulling on a are some special group activities (market tours, cooking classes, wine tastings, a writers’ retreat, a luncheon for a great cause and more) that still have space available. Joining a group gives you access to activities you might not be able to enjoy otherwise. Plus, you'll almost certainly pay less than you would if going it alone. And sometimes a group is just more fun, right? I also stuck in one free event (on Oct 6) that will interest foreigners already living part or full time in France...and those of you considering it. All of the events below are in English...I hope you find something you'd love to do!

Thursday Oct 6: La Tour de Finance, a free financial forum for expats, will be held at the gorgeous winery Château La Coste, in Le Puy Sainte-Réparade, ten minutes north of Aix. From 9:30 am to about 2 pm, five presentations will tackle how to make the most of your assets in France, international payments, mortgages, pensions, taxes and wealth management. The forum brings together key players who assist expats settling or already living here…and provides a nice opportunity to socialize and share your experiences with others. There will be a free buffet lunch and plenty of time for questions. The Tour de Finance is sponsored by Currencies Direct (FX currency brokers) and Spectrum (independent financial advisors), but they’ve promised me it’s not designed to overtly promote either company. Walk-ins will be welcome but reservations are appreciated. To book or for questions, click here or email: *Note: If you’ve never visited the 600-acre wine domaine Chateau La Coste, definitely plan to walk the grounds; see the privately commissioned collection of sculpture and architectural works; and perhaps even take a peek at the brand-new hotel Villa la Coste, with 12 of 25 suites now finished. Tickets for the art and architecture walk can be purchased on site. 

Thursday Oct 6, Tuesday Oct 11 or Wednesday Oct 12. A Luberon Foodie Bike Tour! Choose your bike--road bike, hybrid or electric bike--and then off you go on a glorious full-day adventure in the Luberon. Depending on the day of the week, your route might include a local market, an olive mill, a goat farm for a tasting of fresh goat cheeses, an ancient bread bakery still in use, a studio making superb confiture, the winery made famous in Peter Mayle's movie A Good Year and a tasting of truffle products. (Turns out our English-speaking bike guide is a chef too, with 20 years experience working in Provence and a Michelin star for pastry on his CV. So ask all the questions you like: he knows everything about the local foods!) Plus you'll experience some of the top sites in the Luberon such as the Abbaye de Senanque, The Chateau of the Marquis de Sade and the historic hilltowns of Gordes, LaCoste, Bonnieux, Menerbes and Oppede le Vieux. Taste wonderful artisan foods, go at whatever pace feels perfect to you and enjoy perfect fall biking weather. Total cycling is about 60 km or 38 miles but that's flexible. The day starts in Bonnieux around 8:30 am and ends about 5 pm. Price: Cost: 175€ per person. Price includes bike rental, helmets, market tastings, artisanal visits and tastings, restaurant lunch and any museum entry fees. To book:

Friday Oct 7 or Friday Oct 14: Join this popular morning walking tour to discover the hidden corners and wonderful food merchants of Aix. En route, you’ll learn a bit of history and find out what gives Aix its special personality. Plus, your charming guide, a local chef/cooking instructor, will also discuss the French way of life and art de vivre, bien sur! Indian Summer will be in full swing so the markets will be overflowing with late-harvest heirloom tomatoes and the sweetest Muscat grapes, for example. This 2.5-hour tour includes all tastings at historic food merchants and in the market, a stop for coffee, a cheese and wine tasting as well as seasonal recipes, a map and restaurant suggestions which are handed out at the end. Eight participants max. Price: 65€ per person. To book: 

Sunday Oct 9: Lucy Bakr holds regular fundraising events in Provence for the Busoga Trust, a UK-based charity building wells in rural Uganda, providing clean water for drinking, cooking and sanitation. Lucy’s next event is an all-day yard sale/brocante from 10 am to 4 pm, with a homemade lunch for anyone who wants to join in at 12:30. She hasn’t chosen the menu yet but her meals are always simple, colorful and delicious. Over the years I’ve made some great new friends at Lucy’s table. Lunch costs 20€ per person; all revenues from the sale, raffle and lunch go to Busoga Trust. For the yard sale, just show up at 1 ave. Baltus in St. Remy. To reserve your place for lunch—or to donate something for the sale-- email: 

Saturday Oct 15. Meet in Châteauneuf-du-Pape at noon for an introduction to the wines of the region with a master sommelier. It's held in a vaulted cellar dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, located at the top of the village, right by the a magical, candle-lit space that once stored wines for the Popes when they were based in Avignon. Your host is a charming raconteur who speaks terrific English…and he loves to make the wines come alive with tasting tips and tales about the personalities behind each domaine. The tasting is followed by lunch, prepared by one of the top chefs in the region. The lunch ends around 2:45 pm and the package costs 100 € per person. The vibe is good fun...not serious! If you need transport, I’m happy to try to arrange it for you. To book:

Saturday Oct 15. In Tarascon, 15 minutes west of St. Remy, a small group will gather at 5 pm for a cooking class followed by dinner with wine in a beautifully restored 18th-century mas (farmhouse). If you wish, you can meet at the Hotel Gounod in St. Remy at 4:45 pm and follow the others to Tarascon. The evening ends at roughly 9:30 pm and the class/dinner costs 120€ per person. If you need transport, I’m happy to try to arrange it for you. To book:

Sunday Oct 16 to Sunday Oct 23. Due to a cancellation, there are two spots left in this food-writing retreat, to be held at Julia Child's old farmhouse, between Valbonne and Grasse, 30 km from the Nice Airport. Your instructor will be Betsy Andrews (poet, writing teacher, former executive editor at Saveur and current editor-at-large at Organic Life). Price: $2550 per person includes instruction, mentoring, housing and all meals except two dinners. To learn more about the workshop, click here or inquire directly to: For more about the house and its new owners, see my recent story here. Food writer Julia Moskin recently spent a week cooking in the house and wrote about it for the New York Times here.

Tuesday Oct 18 or Tuesday Oct 25
. Foodie Tuesday! St. Remy is filled with artisanal food producers, working in traditional ways, keeping local food traditions alive. And luckily many of them have shops and workshops, right in the heart of the village. Rendezvous at the Tourist Office at 10 am...and then we hit the rue running! Staying in the heart of the village (with minimal walking) we’ll roam from shop to shop, tasting homemade chocolates, cookies, nougat, flavored salts, honey, olive oils, tapenades, confitures and more. Then we'll move on to a cheese tasting, enjoyed with a glass of one of one of our favorite local wines.  Along the way you'll get a taste of the rich history of this cobblestoned village ...and a glimpse into real local life from your charming and knowledgeable guide. The tour ends around 12:30 and we'll happily recommend a restaurant for lunch. Price: 70€ per person for adults, 50€ for ages 12 to 18 and 30€ for kids 6 to 12. Kids under 6 are welcome to join the party free, as long as they're fearless and willing to taste! To book:

Wednesday Oct 19 or Wednesday Oct 26.  This popular cooking school in the beautiful village of Uzès has a few spaces available in their “French Market Class.” The day starts at the glorious outdoor market, with the chef as your guide. Learn to select seasonal produce, enjoy chatting with local producers and be part the atmosphere of a typical French market. Back at the school, you’ll create a three-course menu with the chef’s guidance and instruction. Wine and cheese will round out the meal...and a perfect day in Uzès. Price: 150€ per person. To book:

Sunday Oct 23 and Sunday Nov 6. Popular cooking classes in English are offered at the Les Halles indoor food market in Avignon, by an American chef with 20 years of experience cooking in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in Provence. Class starts at 9:30 am when you'll shop the market with the chef and buy the ingredients for the menu, always based around Provencale dishes but with lots of improv. Around 10:30 am, you'll start preparing the appetizer, main course and dessert. At noon, you'll be ready for a nice glass of local wine, followed by lunch...the meal you've prepared, of course! The class ends around 1:30 or when the market shuts down shortly thereafter. Price: The market tour, class, meal and wine  is 100€per person. To book:

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Until Sept 25: The Paris Pop-Up in Arles

In the food world, pop-up restaurants are all the rage. The idea is that a chef moves into temporary quarters in a new space, city or country, allowing him to share his cuisine with a new clientele while drawing inspiration from local chefs, new ingredients and unfamiliar culinary techniques.

The ancient city of Arles has had its own pop-up since late April, on the terrace of the historic Nord-Pinus Hotel. Since I've been travelling I haven't had the chance to go but my foodie friends tell me the food is really great. If you haven’t been, the Paris Pop-Up will stay open until September 25 so you still have the chance to experience it. The concept plays on the success of the first Paris Pop-Up, which took over the hotel’s terrace last summer.

And having fallen in love with Arles and Provence, the folks behind the Paris Pop-Up have now opened their own place in Arles, where they’ve turned the tables and are playing host to a roster of other “nomadic” chefs. More on that is below.

The Paris Pop-Up is the brainchild of British chef Harry Cummins and Canadian-born sommelier Laura Vidal, who hatched the plan while working together at Frenchie Restaurant in Paris, he as head chef and she as GM and wine director. In December 2012, Harry travelled to London and attended a pop-up dinner. Back in Paris, he and Laura decided to launch their own pop-up, inspired by the “bistronomy” movement...meaning innovative, gastronomic cuisine served in a casual, bistro-style atmosphere. 

Thanks to the generosity and willingness of their fellow Parisian chefs, restaurateurs and assorted friends, they were able to “play restaurant” by occupying empty spaces and restaurants on closing days.  They offered what has now become their formula: seasonal menus of creative dishes crafted from locally sourced ingredients, paired with wines or other interesting drinks.

Getting a great response, the two started thinking about opening their own place in Paris but decided they’d rather travel and not be tied down to the demands of a traditional restaurant. So since January 2013, they’ve been popping-up in Montreal, New York, California, Kyoto, Quebec City, Fez, Barcelona and London. A full list is here.

Since September 2014, Julia Mitton (another Canadian...from Nova Scotia) has joined them; they say Julia brings with her “world-class organizational skills, a love of well-sourced product, an international expertise and the entrepreneurial spirit that fits perfectly with our vision.”

Sometimes the pop-ups are inspired by a wine region that Laura loves; other times, by a type of cuisine that Harry already enjoys cooking or wants to explore in more depth. From there they create a tasting menu and select appropriate wines. Winemakers, sommeliers and brewers are often invited to participate, allowing them first-hand interaction with guests.

In Arles, the menu has been changing every ten days or so.

Starters currently include pineapple tomato gaspacho with yellow peppers, peaches and nectarines; and grilled mackerel with green beans and homemade pesto.

Popular main courses have been duck magret with a ragout of lentils and duck hearts, roasted figs and balsamic; and homemade hand-rolled tagliolini laced with fresh courgettes, chili, crab meat and fresh herbs.

The tapas menu offers six selections, including duck parfait, cured pork belly with fried rosemary and a whole barbecued quail with a miso condiment, along with simpler things such as flatbreads with homemade hummus.

Wines come from France only and start at 6 by the glass or 25 by the bottle.

All food allergies, intolerances and other special requests are met to the best of the team’s abilities.

Having spent the last two years working in other people’s kitchens—and having fallen in love with Arles and Provence--the trio decided to open a bistro/bar in Arles called Chardon, in May 2016. There, Laura explains, they’ve reversed the pop-up idea and are hosting other chefs who choose, like they do, to be nomadic.  Chardon serves small plates, a selection of wines and an imaginative cocktail menu. The focus is local products with ingredients coming from the region’s best farmers, fishermen, breeders and other purveyors. 

You can try the cuisines of various “chefs in residence” until October 31st. After that, Harry, Laura and Julia will be taking back the reins, until December 19. 

“The idea behind Chardon is that that we can be there sometimes and we can also travel at others and be elsewhere,” Laura explains. “We want to have a touch base in the South of France where we can hop down to from wherever we open our next project. We currently have our eye on Paris or London, our two favorite cities!”

And now that Arles has been their home base for two summers, I asked Laura what she, Julia and Harry have found most appealing about the region...and what local restaurants have become favourites.

“We loved exploring the surrounding Camargue and the seaside close to Arles,” she told me. “It’s a cool little town and it’s really central to all these awesome places like Marseille, Sainte Marie de la Mer, Nîmes, Montpellier, Aix, Avignon and Cassis.

“In terms of other restaurants, we love La Chassagnette,” she continues. “We often go and have a tasting menu with delicious natural wine. Another favorite is definitely Le Gibolin, a local bistro with frank French fare.  Nothing fancy, just delicious and well-priced.”

Paris Pop-Up Details

The Paris Pop-Up runs until September 25, 2016, on the terrace of the Hotel Nord-Pinus in Arles. Weather permitting; you’ll be seated outside, overlooking the famous Place du Forum. In case of wind or rain, seating moves inside.

Thursday through Sunday, from 12:30 to 3 pm

Wednesday to Sunday, from 7:30 to 11 pm

Monday and Tuesday

Prix-Fixe Menus
32 (starter and main course or main and dessert)
36 (starter, main, dessert)

Tapas / Small Plates
From 5  to 20  

Wine List

Bottles from 25 to 300 
By the glass priced from 6 to 13 

To reserve:, +33 (0)7 62 23 46 43.

Chardon Details

37 rue des Arènes
13200 Arles

Friday to Monday 12:30 to 3 pm

Thursday to Monday 7:30 to 11:30 pm

Tuesday, Wednesday...and Thursday afternoon.

Info is here

To reserve:, +33 (0)9 72 86 72 04, 

Note: If you have space and might want to welcome Harry and Laura for their next pop up, they’d love to hear from you. They’re open to collaboration with all chefs, sommeliers, winemakers, foragers and producers of any kind or walk of life, etc. They’re also open to sponsorships and to creating Paris Pop-Up events based on specific products or brands. “The possibility to create a concept for one day (or more), inspired by a feeling, music, culture or a theme, is a rare freedom,” Laura says. “The goal is to share, learn, enjoy and have a good time. There are so many ways to collaborate that fit with this spirit of generosity and fun.” For more info:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Journées du Patrimoine is This Weekend

It's that time again: The wonderful annual Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days) event takes place September 17 and 18 in cities and villages all over France; a few have activities on Friday the 16th as well. The program was started by the French Ministry of Culture in 1984 and has since spread all over Europe (where it's also called European Heritage Days). This is the 33rd year. 

The idea is that a wide range of historic sites, monuments, buildings, estates, gardens and domaines are open for special visits...along with many sites that are normally closed to the public. Most sites have a guide on hand to enhance your enjoyment of the visit (most tours and talks are in French) and most offer free entry. Some may require you to sign up in advance...but for the most part, you just show up. 

The website with all the participating venues is here but you'll do much better checking in with the Tourist Office or the tourism website of the village or city you want to visit. For example, the main Patrimoine website lists just seven participating sites in my village of St. Remy. But as in years past, the village has published its own terrific guide and map featuring 22 participating sites. You can download it here or pick up a printed one at the Tourist Office or at most of the participating sites.

The best idea is to choose the village you wish to explore, pick up or download their schedule as early as possible and map your route, because some events happen only at certain times.

Here are some additional city and village Patrimoine schedules that I was able to find online: Aigues MortesAvignonAixArlesBeaucaireCannesCassis, Chateauneuf-du-Papes, Fontaine-de-VaucluseGordes, Isle sur la SorgueLauris, the LuberonMarseille, Nice,  Nimes, Orange, TarasconUzes, Vaison la Romaine and Valreas 

And here are listings for various Provence departments: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-MaritimesBouches du Rhone, the Gard (not really Provence but never mind), the Hautes-Alpes, the Var and the Vaucluse

Beyond that, you're on your own...but here's a list of most of the Tourist Offices in Provence and they should be able to help. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Extras Needed: Eat Free and Be On TV!

First Dates is an award-winning dating show on UK television that aims to bring singles together to find true love. 

According to production researcher Leonore Raab: "Our casting team carefully and considerately matches these people. We've had a wedding, a baby and a lot of lasting couples from this--so in a lot of ways it has been a success!"

Now Channel 4 and Twenty Twenty TV are working together to launch a summer spin-off series called First Dates Hotel, being filmed at Le Vieux Castillon, a four-star hotel in Castillon Du Gard, near Uzes. This time, Leonore tells me, "we'll be bringing singletons down from the UK and helping them find love in the most romantic country on earth... in France!"

And that's where you come in. The producers are looking for extras to appear in the background while they film restaurant scenes. While they were hoping for real couples on real dates, they'll be happy to have people who simply come in pairs: husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, just friends.

Everyone who participates will get a 30€ stipend, which will pay for a special three-course menu or a two-course meal with a drink.

Extras are needed at lunch and dinner every day between Sept 12 and 18. To request your spot, email Leonore right away ( with your name, age, address, phone number and photo. Sorry for the short notice but the deadline to reach out is Thursday Sept 8th.