Hunting for treasure in the south of France
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Aix and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
Our hunts today will take us from the colorful markets of Aix to the remote countryside of the Luberon.
Passing through the Place d'Hôtel de Ville we enjoy the sight of masses of sunny mimosa, a reminder that spring is not far away.
We know just the right merchant to fulfill our first search: my favorite
tablecloth booth is close to the Palais des Justice, and this time I've remembered to bring our table measurements. It doesn't take long to choose a lovely linen cloth to take home.
Around 11 Xavier and Gloria pick us up to drive to pursue our next treasure - we're going truffle hunting in the Luberon countryside about an hour north of Aix.
We're scheduled to meet the hunter in the afternoon, and have left early enough to have lunch in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a former mill town with several charming waterwheels remaining, now a renowned antiques center.
Nearly all of our previous visits have been on summer Sundays, the main antique and market day
, as part of our Music and Markets Provence tour
, and it's quite different to see the town empty of booths.
The historic Café de France, where we always stop for breakfast, is u
sually hidden behind a flower sellers booth.
And I didn't even realize there were arcaded lanes around the main square since they, too, have been hidden behind market stalls.
Lunch is at a Bouchon, a typical restaurant of Lyon, where Xavier and Gloria have eaten previously.
Kirk surprises me by ordering andouillette, a sausage that he tried years ago, and said he was not going to order again, since it was "too close to the barnyard" for him.
He says this one is better, but he really won't order it again. He's braver than I am!
We walk around the town, sometimes called the Venice of the Vaucluse (this area of Provence) and admire the little bridges and water wheels around town.
On the edge of the village, where the Sorgue widens, a fanciful holiday decoration still floats in the water.
Then we're on our way to the hunt, driving out of town to meet our guide, Geo of Truffles of the Luberon
, and other treasure seekers. We rendezvous
at a roadside picnic area, meet and greet, and get back in our cars to follow Geo down a backroad out into the country.
There are about ten of us, all French except for Kirk, Gloria, and me.
Geo tells us about the fragrant black truffles of the area, prized by restauranteurs and foodies, and his two dogs,
one an Australian shepherd, and the other, who's just starting to l
earn the skills of the hunt, a Corsican hound.
The dogs bound off to sniff below the scrub oaks, and soon are scratching at the ground.
Geo hurries over as Beirut begins scratching in earnest, and
pulls the dog away as he carefully explores the area with his pick.
It's a big one!
And the reward?
Lots of affirmation and cuddles for Beirut...
But he does want something more concrete, and sniffs Geo's pockets. He knows what's in there! And soon gets his treat.
Geo passes the truffle around - aah - imagine it generously
grated over pasta, or risotto, or tucked under the skin of a roasting chicken.
I'm getting hungry...
What fun it is to tramp around the countryside, enjoying the views and the fresh air.
Across the valley is the pretty village of Saumanes,
tucked up against the cliffs.
One of the ladies, who knows the area well, tells us it's worth a visit, with a charming square and church.
There are so many beautiful places to explore in France - we could never run out of discoveries!
Another intriguing feature of the Luberon is the old stone shepherd huts, bories
, that dot the countryside.
No one knows how old they are, how long they've been here, and it's always a bit like finding another treasure when we spot one.
We all head back to our cars and drive to Geo's home, where he empties his pockets of today's "catch" and weighs the truffles. It's rather a slim haul today, as it has been this season, due to an extremely dry summer. For truffles to grow, there has to be enough rain from June to September, and this year there was almost none.
Back in Aix, we pack our bags to head to Paris tomorrow....where we'll arrive just in time for the Bonjour Paris
gathering at Karen Fawcett's apartment
We can't leave without one more stroll down fountain-
lined Cours Mirabeau,
where the mossy fountain, fed by a thermal spring, steams into the cool night air.
A little further down is the low fountain, designed for the flocks of sheep to take a sip as they passed through town long ago for the tranhumance
, when livestock was moved from mountain to plain a couple of times a year.
I'll be back next week, but Kirk flies home on Monday, so we say au revoir
together to evening on the Cours.
Labels: Aix en Provence, borie, Cours Mirabeau, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, truffles
A sunny Friday in Aix
Friday, January 22, 2010
Aix-en-Provence, FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
Another gloriously sunny day has us up and out enjoying the colorful lanes of Aix.
Up on our rooftop, it's even warm enough for an alfresco lunch on the terrace!
It's the kind of day that makes it difficult to stay indoors, so as soon as Kirk catches up with work, we head outside again, planning to walk outside of the center and into the countryside.
We're sidetracked by the Pavilion Vendome,
garden peaceful a
t all times of the year,
modestly adorned now with just a few bright pansies for winter.
When we were here for a day with our daughter, Sunshine, and her family in the spring, we flitted through the garden, overflowing with roses at that time
. We dream about living in Aix, taking time to just relax and enjoy the garden at will....maybe someday!
So our dreams and thoughts keep us inside the historic center, rather than wandering out into the countryside. We walk down one street after another, looking up for sale or rental signs in the windows.
There is no real estate multiple listing service in France, so the job of finding just the right place is left up to the buyer/renter.
As we're peering up high, we notice new charms -
an angel under a roof 4 or 5 stories above
a busy baker - was this a former baker's lane?
There's a for rent sign in a window - could this be OUR front door one day?
The Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau is flowing once again.
It must have been turned off while decorated with holiday lights.
Friends are coming for dinner tonight, and we have to pick up a few things. A nutella crepe keeps me going on those last errands.
I find the napkins and appetizer picks we need, and walk down the street to meet Kirk, who's at Cave du Felibrige (Vincent, the owner, taught his wine appreciation class
last year at IS language school) choosing wines for dinner.
We can just squeeze six people into our little place - first in the living room for appetizers.
The apartment boasts a cuisine americaine
, French for an open kitchen, which is sure nice for not missing any of the conversation as I prepare the main course.
Then one or two steps and we're at the dining table for ravioli with sage and butter.
Xavier and Gloria brought yet one more Galette du Roi for dessert
(just a few days left in January, so we're all happy to continue the tradition that the six of us enjoyed at Anne Marie and Oscar's earlier this month), along with some juicy orange slices topped
with candied orange peel.
Guess who found the fêve
Yes, Kirk's crowned king.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Aix en Provence, FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
to your gate" is not what you want to hear over the loudspeaker as your delayed flight lands at Frankfurt airport, early in the morning after a night over the ocean.
At least our flight wasn't on the list they read of ones that travelers shouldn't even try
to make (those had been rebooked). We've only got a short time to spend in Aix and we don't want to dribble away most of the first day at the Frankfurt airport!
Please rush? They meant
what they said - what a stop-and-go sprint it is, starting with our aircraft pulling into a remote parking place, then a slow shuttle bus to the terminal, rushing up the stairs, waiting at passport control, rushing to security, waiting to go through, and then finding that the way to our departure gate is a looooong
Run, run, run, and we make it to the gate at last call, gasping for breath as we ask for our boarding passes (which they could not give us when we departed from Dulles last night).
We slump into our seats, so relieved to be on the flight....but will our luggage make it?
Soon we've crossed the snowy alps, and before we know it we're circling out over the bay of Marseilles, the Château d'If, site of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo
, a dot in the bay below, then over the Vieux Port to the airport on the west of town.
There come our bags, trundling out onto the luggage belt - yeah!!
We have a few minutes til the shuttle bus to Aix departs, just time for a restoring coffee at the bar.
We're grinning with pleasure as we walk from the
bus-stop to the rooftop apartment on rue Venel. While we've been gone some dear friends who minister in Paris have stayed here for a few days - the sunny and warmer south a nice break from gray Paree.
Up the 68 steps with our suitcases, a peek out to the terrace, and out the door as fast as we can.
We don't even need our coats as we dash out to pick up some things at the Thursday market before it closes after noon. We're looking for the pasta lady, but she's not here today, and tomorrow is not a major market day here in Aix.
Pasta's our plan for a little dinner party tomorrow night, one of the few things we can pull together in our rental kitchen. One of the things that people often comment on about our house in Vias, La Belle Cour
, is how they enjoy cooking with all of the supplies we keep on hand. That's the difference between a vacation rental, and a lived-in (even if not very much) house.
We've seen one or two Italian specialty shops, so stop by one of those to see if we can get some fresh pasta tomorrow. And what intriguing fillings they have - we decide on the rabbit and rosemary ravioli, which we'll serve with melted butter and sage.
Back to the market to find fresh sage. Who knew it would be such a rarity? Finally, after searching three market squares,
we find the one vendor among dozens who
Whew - don't have to change our dinner plans!
And for some pre-dinner nibbles, a couple of dry sausages - one with olives, and one of Sanglier
We're getting hungrier and hungrier as we shop - it's definitely lunch time!
We had peeked in the window of Chez Feraud,
a place we'd enjoyed last year
, earlier this month,
but they were closed every time we stopped by.
Today they're open, and the peaceful and inviting space, along with the friendly proprietors, mother and son, make us feel like we're in their own lovely
Kirk's first course of grilled peppers
and eggplant recalls the colors of the market we've just strolled through.
The chef pokes the logs topping the old oven once in a while to keep them burning, and as Madame and her son serve us,
they stop and pluck a few sprigs from the bunches of herbs to garnish the plates.
Aah, Aix - we're so glad to be back!
A Snowy Day in Aix
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Aix-en-Provence, FranceInterested in a Music and Markets Tour? We'd love to hear from you!
A lovely sight out of our bedroom windows when we wake up - a light snow has fallen, and it continues to drift gently down from the sky.
The snow doesn't keep the vendors or buyers away from the Saturday market, and even though we're leaving tomorrow, and don't want to buy much, we still want to
enjoy the market bustle one more time.
The white frosting just adds to the charm -
snow on the peppers
snow on the cheese stall
snow on the sanglier in the fishmonger's square.
We enjoy a terrific lunch at le Zinc d'Hugo
, platefuls of tender rare gigot d'agneau
(leg of lamb), served with white beans and roasted cherry tomatoes. Kirk asked the friendly waiter for a suggestion of a local wine with a bit of oak, and he suggested a Coteaux d'Aix from Chateau Beaupré. We swirled and sniffed - and the smell took us right to a chai
, the cellar/aging room of the vineyard! And it tasted terrific too ;0
Le Zinc is named for it's zinc wine bar, and is a cozy unpretentious place with really good and well-priced food. We saw lots of things on the menu we'd like to try. It's been a couple of years since
we've been - and we're looking forward to going back!
We took our time strolling home,
It was just the right amount of snow -
enough to make everything look even prettier than usual,
but not enough to stick on the streets and sidewalks.
Sunshine and family really liked the cookies from Cure Gourmand when they were here,
and she's asked me to bring a bag of her favorites when I visit next week.
Xavier and Gloria stop by to see our apartment, and we make plans to get together when we're back in Aix.
We'll make the best of our short return visit -a dinner party here, a truffle hunt the next day, and then up to Paris for the Bonjour Paris
So it's goodbye for now, but we'll be back soon!