Tag Archives: France
La force d’aimer
In many windows, both in France and Spain, you’ll see the insides lined with lace curtains. Many are floral patterns, or highly repetitive designs, but some have complete scenes with people and places. Here are two of my favorites from my walks around little towns.
A window in Apt
Hot air ballons over town
A window in Bonnieux
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Bonnieux: 12th Century Church
The old, old church is a hearty eighty-six steps up a steep hill from the village. Even with our daily five miles, I started to feel winded. This is no gentle slope. Did there used to be more dwellings that high up in Bonnieux or was that all part of it? In the 12th century was this just what you did every Sunday? Or several times a week for that matter? And just as Gothic cathedrals’ heights help bring their congregations closer to heaven with their arches and steeples, are these steps supposed to signify a journey towards communion with God?
Of course in my state of rapture, in reaching the top, in Provençal July heat, and in Christian ruins, I didn’t bother to take any pictures of the church itself. There’s hardly enough room at the top of the hill to get far enough away from the wall of the church to capture it all in one shot anyway, and the church itself was locked (though it isn’t used as a church, classical music performances are held there occasionally).
There’s a little bench up there at the top under that big cypress tree that’s obscured by the tree’s shadows. It’s so quiet up there, and windy too. In a way it’s soothing to sit on that bench, and in a way it’s very eerie, being so high up, and so dwarfed by everything around you–the church, the trees, the vista, and time itself.
Sitting in the shade and peering through the big dark cypress branches makes you understand Cezanne and the awe he obviously felt a bit better (think Forest 1894 and Landscape Near Aix, the Plain of the Arc River). I have such a different perspective on Cezanne than I used to. In college I fought one of my art history professors constantly about him–I just never felt the still lives and thought he was over-credited for his perspective. Now looking at his landscapes that once seemed so benign to me, I see much more of the turbulence that I feel is the essence of Provence–it isn’t that calm lavender scented-rosé filled country the Brits, or whoever else might think it is–it’s thick and heavy. Life is really felt here. As the French say, it’s sauvage–wild.
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Bonnieux: Le Fornil
I know it’s a lot on Bonnieux, but I really think Bonnieux is worth it.
Le Fournil is one of the restaurants featured in Gilles Pudlowski’s guide to Provence and the Cote d’Azur. This place is an absolute pleasure. It fits in perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere and beauty of Bonnieux. The food is refined yet unpretentious. The service is friendly and on the lively side, which gives the place a bit of a younger vibe–totally welcome after a week at Mas de Guille (“Relais du Silence”) where we were the youngest people by twenty years. And judging by the stares I got when I was taking pictures, this place is equally appreciated by tourist and locals alike, which lends credence to the chef’s work.
Le Fournil at 7:30pm
We’re early eaters at home, it’s no secret. But I swear we were eating at 9 and later in Guethary! But during that first week away in Provence, we were still adjusting. Add to that the heat and our minimum of five miles of walking per day (assessed by pedometer no less) and we ended up really needing that first reservation of the night. Plus it made for good pictures right?
Le Fournil’s menu
Fish paté amuse bouche
I’m a little bit of a wuss when it comes to something like fish paté (and I. even more so) but this was absolutely delectable. I never expected such a texture to work–but Le Fournil made it so.
Petits farcis provençaux servis tíèdes
I have no translation for “petits…” but based on the little I know about Provençal cuisine, stuffed crudité appears to be somewhat of a tradition. We had several incarnations of this dish at different restaurants and this was indubitably the best. The stuffing is bread crumbs, herbs, and other fabulous Provencal things. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but aren’t the colors great?
Bouquet de haricots vert et cocos frais, ris d’agneau poêlés vinaigrette d’herbes
If only this could be recreated. I’m not sure what the cut of lamb was, but it was so tender. Perfect with vegetables and some aged balsalmico.
Contrefilet de beouf poêlé, chutney de cerises, blettes au jus
The pièce de résistance: contrefilet. Although my favorite steak of the trip was at Le Madrid (Cote de Beouf with Bearnaise) due to its total simplicity and melt-in-your-mouth qualities, this contrefilet is a very, very close second. The cherry confit had the perfect balance of sweet and tart to the meat. Every bite was a pleasure.
As we left everyone was still enjoying.
Bonnieux: Abandoned Hotels
There are two very beautiful and grand hotels in Bonnieux that appear to have been closed and then abandoned.
One is on the main road across from the wall in the photographs in the previous post.
peering inside the window from the courtyard
bas relief bust in the courtyard
There’s another old empty hotel on the steep walk up to the 12th century church at the top of town.
Hotel Deville’s (de Ville’s?) overgrown garden
Bonnieux: Home Away From Home
A big part of my trip to Provence was a pilgrimage to Lourmarin, the town where my grandmother lived the last quarter of her life. Lourmarin has changed significantly in the past 20 years though (my grandmother died in 90’s). What was once nothing more than a small town surrounded by old farm houses is now a chic getaway, easily accessible from Paris by the TGV to Aix–and even closer than Peter Mayle’s famous Menerbes (although Mayle has purportedly relocated to Lourmarin). Boutiques and restaurants abound where there used to be nothing. As I told my mother this morning, Lourmarin in July isn’t the most relaxing place to sit back and relish an afternoon at a cafe–there are just too many people. And the commerce is practically overstimulating. Next time I go it’ll be in spring or fall.
But a twenty minute drive west and north along a beautiful narrow uphill road lies Bonnieux, which I considered our home away from home for our time in Provence.
This picture was taken at the end of the first night we spent in Bonnieux. Those tiny yellow lights in the distance (middle horizon) are the town of Lacoste. It looks much closer when you’re there.
Here you can see Bonnieux’s 19th century church below us in the centre ville.
If Bonnieux was our home away from home, Les Terrasses was our living room. Really lovely, kind people and a terrace (not pictured) on the opposite side of the street overlooking the village. A great, very casual place for coffee, dessert, an afternoon snack, or even a complete dinner.
The rooftops of Bonnieux, seen from Les Terrasses
When you enter Bonnieux from the direction of Lourmarin, you enter the village at its highest point (the village itself runs along the side of a rather steep hill). The main road leads you into the centre ville in a zig zag fashion.
The old, old wall alongside the road down into town
Looking up from the road to the awning of Les Terrasses
Narrow little street
Early summer evening in Bonneiux
More early summer evening
Bonnieux is pretty sleepy, and everyone seems to like it that way. There are a handful of restaurants, a gallery, a tabac, and an old antique store. It’s certainly nowhere to go if you’re looking for action. The antique store was full of very old treasures, the store itself little more than a musty stone cave. It’s dark and cool in there, and the owners sit outside on chairs that are for sale. My husband found a dead scorpion under an old kitchen weight. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen one up close. I told the owner and he came over, just in time for us to figure out the scorpion wasn’t dead after all. We all had a good scream about that.
Maison Roumagnac, a Biarritz Florist
I love looking at florists in different places. Maison Roumagnac is a beautiful shop in Biarritz that does expert design and carries a variety of unusual cuttings in addition to the usual roses, hydrangeas, and freesias.
The storefront on Avenue Victor Hugo
Moby Dick Asclepias (Gomphocarpus fruticosus), and hanging amaranth
detail of Gomphocarpus fruticosus
Beautiful (fully evolved) pincushion protea
Wireless in the countryside is a silly pursuit. Will be taking notes to potentially post later, but there is too much beyond the computer screen to be wasting time connecting…think you’ll understand. There is somewhat of an update in the comments section of the last post. In the mean time some pictures to spark your imagination (nonsensically but chronologically arranged) (small because uploading is a nightmare–sorry).
So Much To Catch Up On…Nothing To Do But Start At The Beginning…
Can it be that I’ve only been in the south for three days? It feels like a lifetime. On Wednesday we woke up very, very early and took a taxi to Gare de Lyon, a very beautiful Paris train station in which zero of the automated kiosks work at printing e-tickets purchased with a U.S. credit card on the internet. After using up our lengthy hour of leeway time for such an emergency that I never really believed would take place (but did), I managed to get our tickets re-printed and we boarded the TGV for Marseille.
We arrived in Marseille in one piece, and even found the shuttle at the Marseille train station that takes you to the Marseille airport, where our car had been reserved (not without having to wait in several lines…one in which the Frenchman behind us got so annoyed with waiting that he cut us and ran up to the window only to be shut down by his own countryman, whereupon he commenced to complain about the French to us in English–how horrible and stupid they are…then he rode the same shuttle bus as us and when we disembarked wished us good luck with the assholes).
Once at the Marseille airport, the rental car was no problem. Aside from both having developed a full-blown flu, we were super excited to get on the road. We didn’t want to go back to Marseille (even for Bouillabaisse) since the town is south of the airport, so we decided we would eat lunch in Aix; a/k/a our first error. Aix was BESIEGED and an absolute nightmare. We ended up being forced into a subterranean parking garage that my husband later described as a trip through his nightmarish subconscious, and in doing so stalled the manual transmission many times and scraped some paint off the side of the car (the jetlag, the jetlag). My husband kept on saying, “it’s O.K. honey, neither of us is very good at driving stick,” [all the while never offering to drive and ignoring the fact that I learned to drive on a vintage 325i with the worst clutch in the history of man]. But I was so exhausted and flu-ish I didn’t even remember to get annoyed at this. After the worst niçoise salad I’ve ever tasted, we managed not only to make it out of Marseille but onto the freeway and into the “petit Luberon,” not by using the Michelin directions I had printed off the internet, but by using simply “the force” as I. calls it.
We arrived in Lourmarin, the town in which my maternal grandmother inhabited for the last twenty or so years of her life. There are so many new buildings that the town was virtually unrecognizable to me upon arrival, but the surroundings remain beautiful. We found the road to Vaugines, and then our hotel, the Mas de Guilles, a beautiful and converted farm house. The woman who greeted us was very hospitable and showed us to our room. I scanned the perimeter and wondered…where is the climatiseur…the air conditioning that was the sole criteria of my hotel search? I asked, “Excuse-moi, ou est le climatiseur…?” “Oh madame, vous reservez le chambre ‘charme’ et le climatiseur est seulement en le chambres ‘deluxes’…but…I emailed with the owner who confirmed that the room had air conditioning…
but hey, lest we forget the words of our wise friend– “good luck with the assholes, et bons vacances!”
to be continued…
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I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here. Even though it’s late in the three o’clock hour and I have a 5:30 wake-up call for a early high-speed train to Marseille. With all the passport drama I began to lose faith that I’d never get here.
I love love love Paris. We are staying at Hotel Verneuil in Saint Germain des Prés, which is a lovely little place, though I’m convinced we got the smallest (/least desirable) room (the only one on the ground floor). Still it’s charming and has a really great shower. And tripping around the bed, which takes up most of the room, sort of reminds me of staying in a really expensive hotel room in lower Manhattan–you know the kind–practically $500/night and the only place to be is on the bed? Like I said, for one night, c’est trés amusant non? Anyway…
[also to the hotel’s credit, the service is impeccable. To answer the mighty question of tripadvisor.com, yes, I would recommend this hotel to my best friend]
But the best part about Hotel Verneuil is the fact that it is right around the corner from one of my favorite florists in Paris, Olivier Pitou. I couldn’t believe it when I walked out the door and found it right there. It is a beautiful place to visit. This time they had out of this world peonies of course, but also hydrangea that I couldn’t believe–like nothing I’ve seen in the States. The roses weren’t necessarily designated “garden” roses, but they all smelled beautiful–like real roses!–not like the farmed scentless variety you find even at the most beautiful florists stateside.
Above you can see some of the most wild hydrangeas in the upper left-hand corner–bright pink and green! I actually though they were silk…and of course luscious Sarah Bernhardt peonies in the foreground.
I love this little arrangement with the mint leaves emerging from between the roses. The little store was a cool reprieve from the street affected as much by air conditioning as the scent of mint from a huge urn filled with it in the front of the space. mmm…
After a visit to Olivier Pitou we walked, and walked, and walked. First across the Sienne, through the Jardin des Tuileries (stopping for iced coffee), along Rue St. Honore, past the Louvre, up Boulevard de Sebastepol (little seedy, not my favorite), and up to the 10th to visit some friends in their new office. By five thirty I was having a hunger crisis and we’d logged 6 miles on the new pedometer (thank you Brookstone Logan Airport). We cabbed it to the Ile St. Louis knowing for sure it would be a welcome reprieve.
My mother lived on Ile St. Louis for years as a young adult. This tiny little island on the Sienne was her home, with its charming narrow street running from one end to the other and of course the original Berthillon. The charm is still there, one hundred percent, though the real estate has skyrocketted since those bohemian days in the late sixties and early seventies. Ile St. Louis is a super chic place for an apartment, but the tourists traipsing over from Notre Dame keep it down to earth. We went to one of my favorite restaurants, Brasserie de L’Ile St. Louis, which has been on the island as long as anyone living can remember. It is the perfect, perfect place to sit, relax, watch the world of Paris stream by in front of you, but without the noise and congestion of so many of the city cafés.
watching the sun get low with a little glass of Chablis
frisée aux lardons
steak au poivre
Not pictured here is my husband’s favorite–the cassoulet. I thought it was crazy to order cassoulet on such a hot day, but he did, and it was delicious as always (though I have to admit to preferring eating it inside the old brasserie on a chilly evening). But it was worth it–the cassoulet really is excellent here.
Off for a nap till Gare de Lyon in a few hours, then onto Provence. Vive la France!
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