Weekend in Provence

Franck & Paco, (Les Garçons), friends from Mexico and Paris, have a home in Fontveille, Provence and each year in June they hold a party that extends over three days. We drove down from Nice on Friday and stayed close by with friends at their lovely farm house on the outskirts of the village. Friday night was a served dinner for 16, Saturday night was a themed (Black & White) party of about 50, and Sunday afternoon was back down to 16, before we headed back to Nice. Most who attended held in common that they spend time in Mexico, actually that’s where most of us met. As June is quite hot in Puerto Vallarta, Provence was a much better choice of venue for the event!

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Avignon and Montpellier

Montpellier didn’t do much for me. The hotel was stayed at, The Royal, was decent and the location was good. Its a short walk to the train station and the main square of La Comedie. But there being so many wonderful towns in France, I felt this one lacking. I think if one is limited on time, skip Montpellier and move on to other towns, such as Aix-en-Provence and Avignon. It seems to be a town for young people, coming to life especially after 9PM. Been there, done that, moved on. But we did enjoy the small squares of plazas squeezed in amongst a few buildings, usually with shade from large trees; they are scattered throughout historic Montpellier. A nice shopping walk is ??? with its marbled walkways and high-end boutiques.

However if you are going to go, the Royal Hotel is a great place to stay, especially if you are arriving by train as it is so close to the station. Its also very close to the main plaza Comedia and all of historic Montpellier.

On the way up to Avignon we stopped in to Tavel, having heard so much about its rosé. Not much to the town, except the Caveau San Vicente which has samples from 27 local wineries, and a cooperative store at the beginning of town where you can sample its wines. Personally, we prefer the lighter rosés of Provence. We purchased a few bottles, but felt they were too close to reds, and if we want a red, we’ll drink a red. So unless you are a really big fan of Tavel wines, not really worth the stop.

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Provencal Markets

Market day at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Going to a market in Provence is a must as there is just so much to see and Provence has so much to offer with herbs, flowers, fruit, vegetable and handicrafts. We went to the market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Sunday and it was packed with both people and stands. L’Isle is also an amazing town for antiques, not just on Sundays at the market but all year round with many, many antique stores. I’m sure much of what ends up decorating the newly purchased homes of expats comes from here. If you go, make sure you also visit Fountaine-de-Vaucluse, which is at the base of the mountain where the Surge river begins. Very cute town with the river running through it, and a great place to have lunch, especially if its hot out. Route de Fountaine, which takes you from Sorgue to Fountaine, is a beautiful drive, lined with tall, shading Sycamore trees.

Here’s a list of the some of the markets and the days on which they happen:

Monday: Bedoin, Cavaillon, Mazan Tuesday: Avignon, Beaumes de Venise, Gordes, Vaison-la-Romaine Wednesday: Avignon Thursday: Avignon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Orange, Robion, Roussillon Friday: Avignon, Bonnieux, Carpentras, Cavaillon, Chateau-Nuef-du-Pape Saturday: Avignon, Cadenet, Menerbes, Mirabeau, Pernes-les-Fountaine Sunday: Ansouis-Avignon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Maubec

Learning about wine in Provence

I very much enjoy searching for great places to stay when we have decided where we want to go for our next trip. There are just so many wonderful places to stay, to experience. So when looking for a place in Provence, in Vaucluse, when I saw the name of this place–Auberge du Vin–well, I was more than intrigued. The Auberge is operated by Linda and Chris, a couple who not only operate a wonderful Auberge, but also are certified wine instructors. All we were looking for was a nice place to stay. Well, we got that and a great mini course on wines in the Vaucluse region.

The Auberge is nestled in the middle of three wines vineyards (grenache, syrah and viognier), in between Carpentras and Mazan, making it strategically located for visiting all parts of the Haute Provence and the Rhone region. Nice accommodations, wonderful pool and garden area, and very hospitable owners.

Auberge du Vin wine course

We’ve taken numerous courses and tastings before, but this was the best yet. Linda knows her stuff, and she doesn’t have to go far to provide product for her course on Rhone wines. After talking a bit about the history of wine in the region, the types of grapes available, and the concept of the appellations, we then stepped right outside the Auberge and see firsthand syrah, vionier and grenache growing on the vines.

Our course involved eight tastings of wines; two Viognier whites (the “new” Chardonnay), two cru reds from Beaumes de Venise, two desert wines (a red and a white) and a Chateau Neuf de Pape with a surprise bottle of 2001 Domaine la Tourade that was simply amazing.

A few interesting things were learned were:

  • While in the Americas we tend to classify wines by the grape type (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, etc.), in France it is by region (Bourgogne, Cote de Rhone, Bordeaux, etc.). Which can explain why I’ve always had trouble finding a good selection of Pinot Noir wines in French wine stores; all Bourgogne red wines are Pinot Noir!
  • While I knew that keeping wine in oak barrels helps the wine live longer, I discovered that is also provides the tannins in wine, and that when a wine is is strong in tannins it tends to dry out the mouth, while a wine with a good acidic balance will make the mouth watery.
  • The Rhone region produces more than 370 million bottles of wine a year, more than a million a day.
  • While most wines today are picked by machines, the higher quality Cru wines have to hand-picked, so limit damage to the grapes.

If you are looking for a wonderful place to vacation (Provence) and also learn a little more than about French history, The Auberge du Vin may be the place you may want to consider for your next stay.

Provence: Vaucluse


Provence consists of three departements: Bouches-du-Rhone, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and thirdly Vaucluse, which is the region we were about to visit and tour. Within Vaucluse there are also three sub-regions, called Luberon, Mont Ventoux and Avignon and we did our best to get in a little bit of all three.

We left Avignon and headed south to Cavaillon, passing through, taking highway D2 towards Menerbes. This was beginning of our tour through small Provencal villages until we made our way to our stay at Auberge du Vin just outside of Carpentras. Wonderful countryside, a lovely drive and numerous hilltop villages to stop at and walk through, such as Menerbes, La Coste, Bonnieux, Gordes and Venasque. All cute and quaint, but Gordes stands out and is really quite something to see from the viewpoint when you arrive from the south on D2. And you will immediately know you are getting close to Gordes because of the unique walls or fences along the highway made solely of rock, flat, shale-like rock, starting with them placed horizontally up to about three meters, and then a top row placed vertically. Very unique.

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