Monday, April 11, 2016

Malaucène, a Gateway to Mont Ventoux

One of the great things about writing a blog is getting comments on the blog or emails from readers with suggestions for villages to visit or restaurants to try. That is why we headed to Malaucène one morning back in February.

Located in the Northern Vaucluse on the edge of the Drôme Provençale, Malaucène is a small typical Provençal village at 1,150 feet elevation on the north slope of Mont Ventoux. Malaucène is one of three villages where you can start an ascent to the top of Mont Ventoux.

We found parking and entered into the historic center of Malaucène through Porte Chaberlin seen below; It is also known as Porte de Roux. Both names come from important families that lived close by.

Porte Chaberlin (exterior side)

The door was built in 1363 and enlarged in 1742. Make sure you take note of the pretty virgin that sits in the nook on the interior side of the door.

Porte Chaberlin (interior side)

The Malaucène fountain seen below has a date of 1783 inscribed in the stone. While I was shooting the picture, a gentleman came out of the house and asked me if I had permission to take a picture of the fountain. I ignored him as I think he was just trying to be difficult.

Malaucène fountain

Malaucène's Medieval old town is quiet but very interesting. You'll find narrow streets, old buildings, ancient doorways, and quite a few old lavoirs and fountains.

Malaucène porte

The old Hotel de Ville seen below was built in 1741. It served as the seat of the mayor of Malaucène until 1966. Check out the magnificent door with the town's coat of arms. It was refurbished in 1995 by a local artisan.

Old Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) of Malaucène

The origin of the name “Malaucène” comes from an Occitan word, malaussena, which describes the sandstone rock of yellowish color which forms the subsoil of Malaucène.

Statue of the Virgin Mary on a Malaucène home

Fountain Picardie seen below was named after a local citizen named Picard. It was built at the end of the 15th century with a lavoir (laundry basin), now gone, and refurbished in 1770.

Fountain Picardie

Malaucène alley and arch entryway into courtyard

There is a Latin inscription, “porticus” (colonnades) on the door into Malaucène seen below which translates into an old Provençal word, “pourtègue.” This ancient local name, which later would be replaced by “soustet” or “saunarie”, indicates the presence of a salt store. The inscription at the bottom of the sign “ubi tenetur curia” (wherein is the court of justice) suggests that in the Middle Ages the court of justice was nearby.

Porte Saunarie

Malaucène Fountain and Lavoir

Malaucène House

Porte Bechon

Malaucène Mairie (town hall)

The Malaucène belfry was constructed between 1482 and 1532 to serve as a watchtower. The highest part was remodeled in 1762. The face of the clock was changed recently; the original can be seen in the Mairie.

Malaucène belfry

The ancient Porte Soubeyran was once the main entrance into Malaucène.

Porte Soubeyran

The fountain and lavoir seen below can be found near St Michel Church. It dates from 1839.

Fountain and lavoir near Saint Michel's church

In the 14th century, Malaucène housed the summer home of Pope Clément V. In 1309 the Pope built Saint Michel Church seen below. The Church has a fortified aspect and mixes Roman and Gothic styles and at the time was part of the village defensive walls.

Saint Michel Church

Porte Soubeyran and Saint Michel Church

Michael Bastow is an artist born in 1943 who lives and works in the South of France. In 2000 he bought the Saint Alexis Chapel in Malaucène seen below which over the years he has decorated with a series of frescos celebrating the seven ages of woman, work which Françoise Heretier described in an essay as Woman in all her Majesty.

St. Alexis Chapel

Inside Saint Michel Church, you will see its case organ in gilded wood (1639), its sculpted pulpit and its curious stone bench, 137 feet long, they say, the longest in France.

Interior of Saint Michel Church

Saint Michel Church

Saint Michel Church

Malaucène is only 20 kilometers from Sablet, so I am sure we will return as there was more to see than we knew. The Tour de France will be making the ascent to the top of Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day, July 14 this year. I believe this time again, the peloton will start the ascent from Bedoin. But in any case, I hear there are several nice restaurants in Malaucène we need to check out.

Have a great week. Chat soon.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Some sights of Vaison-la-Romaine and an excellent lunch at Bistro du'O Restaurant

We go to Vaison-la-Romaine frequently, usually with camera in hand, so we have similar pictures shot during various times of the year. A few weeks ago, we went for lunch at Bistro du'O. So besides telling you about our lunch, I thought I would share some of the better known sights in different seasons.

The main square of Vaison-la-Romaine is Place Montfort seen below, a large, open square lined with terrace cafés, bars, restaurants and shops. There is a fountain in the middle and Plane trees for shade during summer. This is one of the main locations for the weekly market on Tuesday morning, antique markets, art and pottery markets among others events throughout the year.

Place Montfort, Vaison-la-Romaine - February 2016

Place Montfort, Vaison-la-Romaine - February 2016

Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth Cathedral seen below is a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral in Vaison-la-Romaine. It was formerly the seat of the Bishopric of Vaison, abolished under the Concordat of 1801. The structure of the cathedral in general dates from the 11th century, but the apse and the apsidal chapels are from the Merovingian period (500 - 750 AD)

Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth Cathedral - February 2016

Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth Cathedral Bell Tower - February 2016

Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine are spread over two sites; Puymin adjacent to the Office of Tourism with its Musée Théo Desplans (museum) and Théâtre Antique (Roman theater) which once held crowds of 6000 people, built in the first century AD and on the other side of the street La Villasse seen below which we pass on our walk to the Tuesday morning market.

La Villasse, Vaison-la-Romaine - February 2016

La Villasse, Vaison-la-Romaine - February 2016

There are quite a few eating establishments in Vaison-la-Romaine but not many that we think are very good. One restaurant we have frequented over the years despite several changes in owners is Bistro du-O.

Bistro du'O Restaurant, Vaison-la-Romaine

The restaurant is located in what is said to be a former stable belonging to Lords in the upper town near the Roman bridge. It has been under ownership of chef Philippe Zemour and his companion Gaëlle Renard who attends to service in the dining room since 2013.

Bistro du'O Restaurant Dining Room

The menu is not very big, 4 choices for starters, about the same for main courses. Prices are moderate, they offer three-course menus for 32 and 47 Euros and the restaurant has been recognized as a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin inspectors for the past two years. For those who don't know, Bib Gourmand are restaurants that offer "exceptional good food at moderate prices."

We got the server to take a "selfie"

I ordered the three-course "Menu de Saison" for 32 Euros and Shirley ordered the roast cod and cheese course "A la Carte."

Crispy prawns, with sautéed leeks and bisque

Roasted duck breast with carrots, orange and cumin

Roast fillet of cod, with fennel puree, aioli and black olives

Rocamadour cheese belongs to a family of goat cheeses called Cabecous. It is produced in the regions of Perigord and Quercy, and the name is derived from the village of Rocamadour in the department of the Lot. The cheese takes about 12-15 days to attain full maturity, but it can be ripened furthermore for several months to make it a bit stronger. It appears white, ivory cream with velvety skin. Because of a nutty flavor, it tastes great when consumed on hot toast or in salads.

Rocamadour Cheese from Josiane Deal

Chocolate cake and ice cream

The pictures which follow were all taken last October during our fall visit to Sablet.

Place Montfort, Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

Place Montfort, Vaison-la-Romaine - Octover 2015

Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

Hotel Dieu (old hospital) in Vaison-la-Romaine

Roman ruins in Puymin near Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

Roman ruins in Puymin near Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

Roman ruins in Puymin near Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

Roman statuary and ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

This old stone bridge was built at the end of the first century AD. It is a classified historic monument and links the lower town center and the upper medieval old town.

Vaison-La-Romain had a disastrous flood in 1992 which swept away the new bridge and several houses and killed more than 30 people. Amazingly the Roman Bridge withstood the flood and is still in use today.

Roman Bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine - October 2015

The entrance into the upper, heart of the Medieval upper town is through the deep, fortified gateway through the base of the belfry tower seen below. The lower part of this tower was built in the 14th century. The upper part and the ornate wrought-iron campanile were added in the 18th century.

Belfry tower with its 18th century wrought-iron bell cage - October 2015

Bistro du'O Restaurant
Rue Gaston Gévaudan
84110 Vaison-la-Romaine
Tel: 04 90 41 72 90
bistroduo@yahoo.fr

Our lunch at Bistro du'O was excellent, food was perfect and beautifully plated, service was attentive. We will be back and recommend you go there if you are looking for a place to dine in Vaison-la-Romaine. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Sunday stroll around Avignon and lunch at Italie là-bas! Restaurant

Avignon offers a great many dining choices for all tastes and budgets, in different settings from private gardens, below churches in 17th century dining rooms, in hidden courtyards to name a few. But like many towns in the South of France, there are not many options for Sunday dining, a day when many restaurants are closed.

One Sunday a few weeks back, I started checking to see which of our favorite Avignon restaurants were open on Sunday. Finding none, I started going through the big red Michelin Guide to see if any of the restaurants listed in the Guide that we had not already tried were open. I discovered that an Italian restaurant called Italie là-bas! was open. After making reservations, we took off for Avignon.

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. You can spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored.

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of dance, music and theater founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more Bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

We parked in our favorite parking lot near the Pope's Palace. Since it was Sunday and the middle of February, there was no shortage of parking spots. It was a beautiful day and I took pictures of some of the historical buildings as we walked to the restaurant which was just south of the Place de l'Horloge. If you have been a follower of the blog for a while, you may have seen some of these sights before.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the 19th century gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII (1334) is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral, it is a noteworthy example of 14th-century Gothic carving.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

The Popes' Palace is a historical palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important Medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palace, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.

Palais des Papes

The Palace is actually made up of two buildings: the old Palace of Benedict XII which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new Palace of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes. Not only is the final combination the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, it is also one of the best examples of the International Gothic architectural style

Palais des Papes

Near the Palais des Papes is the Opera-Theater seen below, built in 1825 on Place de l’Horloge. Rebuilt in 1847 after a fire, the Opera House offers music, dance, theater and opera performances throughout the year.

Opera-Theater of Avignon

Next to the Opera-Theatre on Place de l'Horloge is the neo-classical town hall known as the Hôtel de Ville built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. Only the 14th century clock tower remains from the original structure. The Gothic clock tower, which gave the square its name, was incorporated into the construction of the later Hôtel de Ville.

14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville

The City of Avignon sets up a traditional Provençal crèche with santons, in Provençal it means "little saint" in the Hotel de Ville every year. A santon is a small hand-painted, terracotta nativity scene figurine produced by artisans in workshops in Provence. The santons represent various characters from Provençal village life such as the baker, the winemaker, and a farmer's wife with eggs.

Hôtel de Ville

We found the restaurant a short distance from the Hotel de Ville on Rue Bancasse, which parallels Rue de la Republique, arriving on time for our reservations at 12:15.

Italie là-bas! Restaurant

We were the first to arrive that day, although the dining room did fill up completely before we left. We made our selections including wine and settled in to see what an Italian restaurant in the South of France that doesn't offer pizza would be like.

Italie là-bas! Restaurant dining room

As I said, we discovered the restaurant in the Michelin Guide. Prices were moderate and similar to Bib Gourmand price guidelines. The restaurant has been in business for 3 years

Brioche and cassis butter

Amuse bouche of cream of ricotta with tuna tartar and Japanese citrus

Shirley decided the egg below was not so perfect, barely cooked and very runny so we swapped our starters.

Perfect egg with Roman artichokes and butternut squash puree

We had Arancini earlier in the week made from leftover risotto which had more flavor and moisture than the ones shown below. These were quite bland and very dry.

Arancini's with sun dried tomatoes, olives, capers and a Sicilian fennel salad

Rabbit casserole with Pecorino cheese, potatoes, black olives and herbs

Beet gnocchi with Normandy butter, sage, and poppy seeds with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce

Tiramisu

Chocolate tart with pears

We enjoyed our lunch with the exception of the comments above. The menu was more French like in its limited choices than Italian which have quite a few options for starters and main courses. After we finished, we headed out to see a few more sights before we headed across the Rhône River to Villeneuve-les-Avignons to visit cousins Andre and Mauricette.

Saint Antoine Chapel and Hospital seen below dates from the 13th century. Pope Benedict the 13th took refuge here in 1403. The poet Alain Chartier, the father of French Eloquence was laid to rest here in 1449.

Saint Antoine Chapel and Hospital

The bell tower of the Collégiale Saint-Didier Church seen below is a 14th century Gothic church in the middle of Avignon. The current church was built over a period of three years and four months and consecrated on 20 September 1359. It stands on the site of a much older church which may date back to the 7th century though the first texts mentioning the church date back to 1068

Bell tower of the Collégiale Saint-Didier Church

Entrance to Collégiale Saint-Didier Church

Near the Hôtel de Ville is a bust of Frédéric Mistral, a French writer and lexicographer of the Occitan language. Mistral received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist".

Bust of Frédéric Mistral near Hôtel de Ville

Place de l'Horloge is a long square in front of the Hôtel de Ville with terrace cafés lining both sides. Streets at the top end of the Place de l'Horloge lead to the Place du Palais and the Palace of the Popes.

It was interesting that when we walked through the square on the way to the restaurant, the square was largely empty of people. On the way back to the car after lunch, the square was full of people enjoying the sunny warm day in February.

Place de l'Horloge

Pope's Palace

View of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and the Pope's Palace from across the Rhône River

View across the Rhône River towards Saint Bénézet Bridge, Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and Pope's Palace

Many of you know the French children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" (On the bridge of Avignon), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet bridge over the Rhône River of which only four arches remain. The bridge was initially built between 1171 and 1185 with an original length of 900 m (2950 feet) but it collapsed during floods and had to be rebuilt several times.

Saint Bénézet Bridge

The defensive walls seen below were built by the popes in the 14th century and still encircle Avignon. They are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The walls are of great strength and are surmounted by machicolated battlements flanked at intervals by 39 massive towers and pierced by several gateways, three of which date from the 14th century.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral and Pope's Palace behind the Defensive Walls

View of 14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville from across the Rhône River

View toward Mont Ventoux

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral from across the Rhône River

Italie là-bas! Restaurant
23 Rue Bancasse
84000 Avignon
France
Tel: 04 86 81 62 27

Have a great week. Chat soon.