Saturday, August 23, 2014

Les Baux de Provence, a Beautiful Village in the Alpilles

After a delightful lunch at Sous les Micocouliers restaurant in the village of Eygalières that I told you about here, we took off for Les Baux de Provence, a 30 minute drive through the scenic Alpilles countryside.

Les Baux de Provence is a picturesque village about 75 kms southwest of our house in Sablet. The village sits in a spectacular site on a rocky outcrop with ancient houses and a ruined castle perched on top of the village overlooking the plains to the south. The road to Les Baux from the south takes you past olive groves and vineyards.

The village is officially classified as one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France - one of the most beautiful villages of France. The beauty of the village and surrounding Alpilles, a small range of mountains, makes Les Baux de Provence a very popular place for visitors all year long.

The name Les Baux refers to its site - in Provençal, a baou is a rocky spur. Aluminum ore bauxite was first discovered near Les Baux in 1822 and named after the village of Les Baux de Provence. Bauxite was mined extensively in the area but by the end of the 20th century, the bauxite had been completely removed.

Les Beaux de Provence

You have to pay to park your car near the village but parking is allowed for free along the road leading up to the village. Just inside, is the Maison du Roy - King's House, built in 1499. The King's House now houses the Office de Tourisme - Tourist Office.

Les Beaux de Provence Office of Tourism

The Musée des Santons - the museum of santons (santons are plaster-moulded, kiln-fired nativity figurines dressed in traditional Provençal costumes) contains a large number of exhibits including some figurines made in Naples, scenes illustrating the traditions of Provence and Les Baux linked to the Nativity and a documentary film on the manufacture of these figurines.

Santon Museum

The town's finest Renaissance mansion was built in 1571 for a rich protestant family headed by Claude de Manville. The irregular frontage following the line of the main street contains many wide mullioned windows, ensuring plenty of light for the interior. The inner courtyard with its porticos repeats the same ordered layout as the Renaissance mullions. The mansion has been restored and is now the Town Hall.

Manville Mansion - Town Hall

Typical stone street in Les Baux de Provence

Les Baux de Provence Lavoir (laundry basin)

On Place de l'Église (church square), on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Fontaine Valley, stands a chapel built in the mid 17th century by the Brotherhood of White Penitents. It was rebuilt from ruins in 1937 by the Brotherhoods of Langue d'Oc and dedicated to Saint Estelle who has been asked to watch over the memory of the old penitents from Les Baux.

The huge doorway decorated with rusticated masonry and topped by a low relief showing two penitents kneeling and bearing the inscription, "In nomine Jesu omne genus flectatur" (In the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow).

Chapelle des Penitents Blancs

The interior of the chapel, which once had ribbed vaulting, is decorated with frescoes by Yves Brayer representing the Shepherds' Christmas in the Provençal tradition.

The interior of La Chapelle des Penitents Blancs

Wrought iron cross in Les Baux de Provence

Once a monastery dependent on Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy de Provence, the 12th-century Saint Vincent Church is typical of the buildings in Les Baux with its southern section built half into the rock. The nave, which has ribbed barrel vaulting, was extended eastwards in 1609 without breaking the Romanesque harmony of the building.

Above the doorway and a rounded window, there is a superb sculpture of a lion. On the south side, the Lantern of the Deceased is an elegant circular turret topped by a cupola decorated with gargoyles. Tradition has it that a fire was lit in the turret whenever somebody from Les Baux passed away.

Saint Vincent Church

Inside are some modern stained-glass windows by Max Ingrand, a gift from Prince Rainier III of Monaco. There is also the funeral chapel of the Manville family with flamboyant gothic vaulting and, in the chapel dug into the rock, the ceremonial cart used for the "pastrage" ceremony during midnight mass when the cart carries the newborn lamb offered to the Baby Jesus by the shepherds.

The interior of Saint Vincent Church

Les Baux de Provence street and shops

St. Blaise's Chapel, once used by the wool combers and weavers guild as a meeting place, is now a theater where visitors can watch a free film entitled "A Bird's-Eye View of Provence" which runs non-stop.

St. Blaise's Chapel

The plateau on which the castle of Les Baux de Provence sits covers 17.3 acres. The castle contains an exhibition of siege machines including a trebuchet, a couillard (a form of trebuchet with split counterweights and a rotating beam), a bricole (a rotating-beam stone-throwing device), and a battering ram.

The machines are full-sized replicas and the catapults can fire to distances in excess of 200 meters or 650 feet. Firing demonstrations of the siege machines take place daily from April to September.

Siege weapons

The breath-taking views from the castle are worth the entrance fee alone. Its hard to believe that 4000 people one time lived on this desolate plateau.

A view from the Les Baux de Provence plateau

Charloun Rieu was a farmer from Paradou, a Provençal poet nicknamed "Charloun dou Paradou". He is considered one of Provence's most authentic popular poetic voices, he did much to revive Provençal language and culture.

His best known collection is the Chants du Terroir - Songs of the Land, published in 1897.

This monument by the Marseillais sculptor Botinelly was erected in 1930 to commemorate the man who immortalized Les Baux de Provence in verse.

The Charloun Rieu monument on Les Baux de Provence plateau

A view from the Les Baux de Provence plateau

A windmill was a feudal privilege, built and maintained by the Lords of Les Baux, it was accessible to all. In return for a small payment, farmers would come with their donkeys loaded with wheat, chat with the local folks and leave with their freshly ground flour.

The present day windmill was built on this windy hillside after the Maréchal de Vitry pulled down every windmill in the castle and village in 1632 and faithfully mirrors the image of Provence in the writings of Frédéric Mistral and Alphonse Daudet.

The windmill on Les Baux de Provence plateau

The upper town in Les Baux had neither well nor spring. The townspeople would collect their water from a place called Carita in the valley. In 1868 a cistern was built in the square in front of Saint Vincent Church. Rainwater was collected on this 3,000 square meter paved area known as an impluvium.

Impluvium for catching rain water

The battering ram was recently restored. 26 feet long, it was used to break down the gates of towns and fortresses, whilst protecting the assailants under its heavy wheeled framework from projectiles, even if they were on fire. Its framework was covered with flame-resistant materials: manure, earth, long grass, etc.

The battering ram

Les Baux de Provence village as seen from the plateau

Les Baux de Provence fortress on the plateau

Les Baux de Provence jewelry store

View of Les Baux de Provence fortress as you approach from the south

If you go to visit Les Baux de Provence, as with all cobbled hilltop villages, we recommend you wear flat shoes. Athletic shoes would be better than sandals for a visit to the fortress area, which includes some slippery rocks and steep steps and is partly covered with gravel. Les Baux de Provence is challenging for disabled visitors and parts of it would be difficult for families with toddlers and strollers.

The plateau where the fortress is situated can be very windy and cold as it is exposed to the Mistral wind when it blows. So be prepared, you might want to carry a light jacket with you.

À bientôt. Have a great week. Chat soon.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sablet 1900 - Provence Village Festival

As you know, we own a house in Sablet, in the Vaucluse region of Provence France. We think Provence is a magical place, especially our region. Throughout the year, there are various festivals around the region, lots of them during the height of the tourist season in June, July and August.

Last weekend was the 27th annual Journée du Livre (book festival) in Sablet which is the biggest festival of the year in Sablet. So I was super surprised to read on my friend Barbara's blog Cuisine de Provence that there was a "Sablet 1900" village festival in Sablet this weekend.

We did not go to Sablet this summer for lots of good reasons, including a month-long visit from Mathilde, the niece of Bruno and Sylvie who own Cafe des Sports in Sablet, and the arrival of a precious new granddaughter Jilian Kensie a week ago. If we were there, we would have shared pictures of the Sablet 1900 festival with you. Instead, I am sharing Barbara's post on my blog.

Before I do that, I should tell you that if you live in the Vaucluse or are visiting the area and you want to increase your repertoire of Provence dishes or you want to learn how to cook Provence dishes to impress your friends back home, you should take a class from Barbara. You can find all of the information on her website.

We almost missed it - there were no flyers distributed and no posters advertised this lovely Provençal village fête "Sablet 1900" this morning in our neighboring village of Sablet. And although it is the height of the tourist season in Provence we heard no Dutch, no English, no German - it seems the Sabletains (as the inhabitants of Sablet are called) wanted to keep this true village fête for themselves.

A magnificent Gallic Rooster

 Très chic - very elegant ladies

 L'accordéoniste - accordion player

 This is how coffee was cooked in 1900

 Monsieur le Curé - the Village Priest

 Le Berger - The Shepherd

 Traditional Provençal Dance

Le Facteur - the Postman

You can see why we love Sablet. The Sabletains love to have a good time and put on great festivals. Thank you so much Barbara for taking the pictures. Have a great week. A bientot.

A delicious lunch at Sous Les Micocouliers in Eygalières

By the time we finished strolling around the market and walking up and down the small streets and through the pretty squares scattered about the historic part of Saint-Remy-de-Provence as I told you here, it was time to get on the road for lunch. Thankfully, lunch was going to be close by.

Eygalières is a small village located a few miles southeast of Saint-Remy-de-Provence about 1 hour south of Sablet. The village is in the heart of the Alpilles, an extension of the larger Luberon mountain range surrounded by olive groves, green valleys with grazing sheep and vineyards dotted here and there by restored residences.

As you get close, you can see Eygalières perched on a hill with an ancient castle tower at the highest point. As you approach, you can see the small houses which make up the village. I had been to Eygalières before and walked the streets ducking in and out of shops and up to the castle ruins to see the view from the top of the hill.


Sous Les Micocouliers restaurant is in a restored house built in the 17th century with a large fenced courtyard for dining when the weather is nice, just a few steps from the center of the village. The restaurant gets its name from the majestic Micocoulier trees that adorn the courtyard.

The restaurant is owned by the chef Pierre-Louis Poize and his wife. His interest in cooking began at L'Auberge du Mas de Nierne, where his mother and grandmother ran the kitchen. From there, he apprenticed with Alain Assaud, Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, and Alain Senderens, all renown names in the French restaurant world.

Wife Shirley and Kari in Front of Sous Les Micocouliers

Although the sun was shining, the Mistral was blowing and it was cool so we chose to sit in the dining room. After considering the various menu options, we all chose the three-course Menu Matisse for 31 Euros. You can see the dishes we selected off of the menu in the pictures which follow.

Amuse bouche of sardines and crackers

Starter of pumpkin puree, mesclun salad greens, puff pastry with gratinéed Swiss chard, foie gras with fig marmalade and rolled smoked salmon with avocado cream

Kari contemplates the coming lunch

Pan roasted venison over braised leeks and roasted potatoes and cippolini onions

Macaroni topped with braised leeks and cheese, butternut squash puree, and cauliflower flan

Dessert of fruit salad, chocolate and roasted apple

Orange, vanilla and caramel ice creams with fruit

Palette of desserts including brownie, almond, sable and nut cake

The food was excellent, every bit as good as it looks in these pictures. We had eaten at Sous Les Micocouliers Restaurant a couple years back because Michelin Guide had named it a Bib Gourmand every year going back to 2008 as a place where you can eat well for a good price.

But the current edition of the Michelin Guide had excluded it from its list of Bib Gourmand restaurants so I was a little worried as we walked in, wondering what might have changed. But no worries! The food was as good or better and the prices were still very reasonable. Don't hesitate to go as long as chef Poize is in the kitchen. You will be glad you did.

Sous Les Micocouliers
Traverse Montfort
13810 Eygalières
Tel: 04 90 95 94 53