The Pyrenees and the Basque region

We bought this book to sell at the shop even though it was about  Spanish Basque recipes and not French Basque recipes …. I started reading it and then it began  …        We had to go !! We needed to see if it was as good as it looked !

IMG_0802 - Copy (Large)We decided that we needed to compare both regions , so we would drive from Provence along the Pyrenees on the French side all the way to the Atlantic coast , then cross into Spain and come back on the Spanish side . One week ,1400miles ,  no freeways , a dozen ” Tour de France ” Mountain passes per day , bucolic picnic sites , a whole lot of scenic roads and tones of beautiful photos that I have to share to hopefully inspire you . Summer is just around the corner and it is time to plan that next trip to Europe !

Battery charged , a full tank of gas and we are on the road ! Time to give our 1962  beetle some exercise again ! Even though it doesn’t seems like the ideal car to drive …remember that the speed limit in France has gone down to 49mph on highways and even we can get tickets in a beetle !IMG_0487 (Large)It is late June and the “genets” yellow flowers smell sweet all over Provence .

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IMG_0131 (Large)We stop near Ganges .It is warm and the perfect day to picnic by the river …first day of our meat, dairy and gluten diet ! For some reason we can eat it all in France without any issues  so we enjoy it breakfast, lunch and dinner !

IMG_0146 (Large)Le Canal du Midi . We are getting closer to our first stop in Mirepoix. Le Relais de Mirepoix was a 2 stars hotel but felt like 3 ! Wonderful stay there .

IMG_0176 (Large)Mirepoix is a town in  between Carcassonne and Foix. It is a beautiful medieval town and should not be missed if you are in this area.The highlight of this ancient bastide town is the central square – the Place des Couverts – which is surrounded by medieval houses and arcades (the covered walkways in front of the shops).

Little fashion shot to showcase our cross body paper bags ( my favorite to travel with ) and best selling scarves ideal for cool summer evenings .

We start bright and early and stock up some local specialties for the road ahead at a near by bakery .

Set deep in the outstanding scenery and lush green mountain pastures is the beautiful town of Foix dominated by its medieval castle .

From Foix we officially start our Pyrenees Mountain journey …

 

IMG_0272 (Large)We keep going up and down , through some legendary Tour de France passes : Col Portet d’Aspet , Col de Peyresourde ,  Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet … 300kms ,  2 dozen passes ( I barely exagerrate )  and 12 hours later  we reach the tiny village of Viscos our base to explore the “Parc National des Pyrenees ”

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We fell in love with Viscos  and La Grange aux Marmottes ! Not only it is a quaint comfortable little hotel but a wonderful restaurant and after all that driving , we deserved a real meal !  (https://www.grangeauxmarmottes.com/en )

 

https://www.grangeauxmarmottes.com/en/restaurant.html#cuisine

It’s been unusually warm for the season witch makes hiking in the mountains glorious. Tourists have not yet arrived as school does not stop until the 6th of July and most places have just opened up for the season . We are heading to Pont d’Espagne first to hike to the Lac de Gaube get our legs going before the main course this afternoon !

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IMG_0361 (2) (Large)The small thermal town of Cauteret

Garvarnie is just south of Lourdes and a popular destination with tourists . It is the most popular hike in the Pyrenees and there is a reason !                                                               The Cirque de Gavarnie is one of nature’s most unique and spectacular creation . It is described as a rocky cliff  wall that forms a curved amphitheater. Numerous waterfalls tumble down the wall to create the rushing Gave River. The highest falls, la Grand Cascade de Gavarnie, has two tiers, plunges 1,385 feet and is the tallest in France. In town , you can watch the soccer world cup , catch your dinner in the river or hire a donkey if you do not feel like hiking the trail .

IMG_0411 (2) (Large)IMG_0448 (2) (Large)It is actually not such an easy hike ….not very hard but the terrain is very rough and rocky . Thanks to the French who always think about these things…there is a cafe right there where you can have a refreshing lemonade and ice cream as your reward !

An other beautiful day is ahead and time for us to hit the road again

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300 Kms today and again a dozen passes on the program .

Le Col du Soulor is impressive . We “compete ” with the cyclists who are definitely beating us going down hill

IMG_0510 (Large)Cows and sheeps are free to roam. The valleys are deep and so green , we imagine Ireland or even New Zealand .  It is the vallee d’Ossau , then Irrati …our favorite cheeses …

We find the most romantic picnic stop we could imagine and enjoy again some simple cheese , bread and pate … shepherd’s style lunch .

All the sudden ….we are in the Basque region and everything is different …even the sheep !

IMG_0550 (Large)We are looking for traditional crafts , fabrics we could bring back for the shop …and stop in Espelette to check out the different products made with this prized pepper .

We arrive in Biarritz late afternoon …it is muggy .The weather looks unpredictable but we still decide to walk down to eat at our favorite table on the old port.

The hydrangeas are in full bloom and just gorgeous …this was the inspiration for us to grow them around the shop .

IMG_0582 (Large) (Large)Casa Juan Pedro is owned by 2 brothers and serve “a la plancha” grilled prawns and sardines . But our favorite thing here is the dessert : La Mamia local sheep milk “yogurt”…it is set like a custard but light like milk with a sweet taste like whipped cream …there is nothing like it . It’s one of those thing that you can only eat there because it’s fresh for just 2 to 3 days so we order 2 each !

We barely finish dinner when a huge thunderstorm strikes, flooding the streets . Rivers are coming down and we are soaked from head to toes !

After the down pour …lots of sunshine . It is a fantastic day to go to the beach but we are not staying here . We have been to Biarritz many times and want to spend more time to explore Spain. Still , we have to walk around town before to leave .

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In Hydrangea’s heaven !

We take the cornice road …it is picture perfect . The coastal villages are even more stunning than we expected . The typical Basque architecture of the houses , the small narrow streets are filled with cute shops and restaurants . It is charming , alive but not cheesy touristy . We are in love with St Jean de Luz and sad not to be able to spend more time here …but San Sebastian is our destination tonight .

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This is espadrille paradise ! The shop is packed , nobody can help me and after waiting a while , I finally give up thinking I will find many other shops if not here , in Spain …this won’t be the case ! But I have not given my last word and am in touch with the manufacturer to hopefully import some for our shop at some point !

We arrive in San Sebastian just in time to take a walk in the old part of town and catch a beautiful sunset with green flash  ! It is 10pm …IMG_0721 (Large)

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San Sebastian is a beautiful town ,  “La Concha” beach is very nice , the old town is typical but it is also dirty and all together we didn’t find the charm…  it is too big for us . I am sure the food is spectacular if you go to one of those Michelin restaurants but we have a hard time planning so far in advance and we were not hungry enough to have a full meal either . A few tapas watching some more soccer with the locals will do it that night and we cannot wait to get away to explore the Spanish Basque area the next day !

We left San Sebastian and drove along the coast to Guetaria . Nature is beautiful but it is surrounded by big industrial areas , lots of concrete , old ugly buildings with terrible architecture …it is grey , brown and not picture worthy . Guetaria saved our day ! It is a very small port village and we would love to come here once a week just to eat !

Just above the old port are a few restaurants with nice outdoor patios . We are going to Txoco , our friend Enrique Fleischmann’s restaurant . The cuisine is simple , the best ingredients are sourced  and prepared with perfection , knowledge  and great technique .  To us , there is something  about recognizing the fish you are about to eat that makes you salivate and makes you crave it .  We never experience that with nouvelle cuisine / haute cuisine / fusion or molecular cuisine …Everything is interesting , taste great , look wonderful but we have come out of those experiences short somehow . You do not know what you are actually eating anymore …

We asked Enrique to give us his chef’s selection as we could not decide … and we did not regret it .This will be a 3 hour lunch and the best meal of the trip !  I would have not chosen prawns again even though this is one of my favorite thing to eat in Europe , specially if I had seen them looking so plain …but those were THE best prawns I ever had . The flounder was exceptional , grilled to perfection , the pulpo with saffron and potatoes tender and tasty …IMG_0827 (Large)

Enrique sent us to a small shop where they process anchovies and we discover that canned “fresh” anchovies are soft and not that salty at all …we leave with some goodies !

Driving back to San Sebastian on the back roads of the Basque region will take us by Enrique’s other fine restaurant set in an elegant four-star luxury hotel where tradition and design come together naturally. I wish we were staying here tonight even though there is no way I can eat anything at this point !

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What struck us was how massive the houses were in the Spanish Basque country . No little individual home here …everything is 2 to 5 story high in the villages or its surrounding .

Biggest regret was to leave the region without having a taste of its famous beef : Txuleta or beef from old cows with a more mature and buttery taste …Instead we pack some cured meats and hard paste cheeses for tomorrow’s road .

Tucked high in the Pyrenees, San Juan de la Peña monastery is one of the most important religious sites on the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela . Just 30mns south of Jaca .

This is the new Monastery :IMG_0876 (Large)The old monastery IMG_0879 (Large)IMG_0898 (Large)

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A surprise encounter with a shepherd and his herd on the move …we see them coming and go around our car

We continue on along the Pyrenees for the rest of the day . The villages lack charm  and the scenery is not spectacular . Worse is the urbanization of the area …you are driving in a very remote part of Spain but there are tones of unnecessary signs, posts, big bridges , tunnels ….makes you feel like you are on a freeway in the middle of town when you are indeed in the middle of nowhere ! We arrive at Seo de Urgel just south of Andorra where we found a  “5* ” Relais and Chateaux  for the night ! IMG_0965 (Large)It is quiet , the view is typical of a Spanish village ( lots of social apartment buildings ) . We take a walk in town but cannot seem to find a restaurant other than pizzerias and return to our “chateau” for dinner…witch despite the very dated look of the place was really delicious !

Next day we decided that we were done with Spain and were dreaming about some serious food again ….time to cross over to France asap !

France …now it is time to plan lunch ! Stopping in Carcassonne is not even a detour so we cannot pass a cassoulet specially since it got a bit cooler  ! IMG_0975 (Large)Carcassonne …a Unesco World heritage: It is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Despite the mob of tourists witch is to be expected , it is totally worth going in the old city and wonder all the way to our best kept secret : “Le Jardin de la Tour” is tucked back and only  locals know about it . We’ve had wonderful dinners here and today’s lunch in the Garden by the tower is no exception !

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In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the registration of the Cité as a Unesco site , the artist Felice Varini was asked to create an artwork that make a dialogue in between the heritage site and contemporary art .

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This was just yellow tape that has been removed since then

IMG_1012 (Large)Cassoulet with duck confit is a must …but I cannot resist today’s special of razor clams….these are hard to find and just delicious !

Back to the parking lot , we have to laugh at the sign with the rates ! Why make it simple when you can make it that complicated !!!IMG_0981 (Large)We are giving in and jump on the freeway for the rest of the trip back home in Provence . But there is still one last thing we want to do :  Nimes is on the map !  They host concerts in the roman arenas all summer  and this is a fabulous way to enjoy this amazing historic site . Every year has different venues …2019 will see Elton John  ! https://www.festivaldenimes.com/ IMG_1247 (Large)

Provence in June

Provence is home …the place where we grew  up and we love going back to visit in June when days seam to never end , nights are warm and everything is in bloom! Not even mentioning that after May-Gray , it is June Gloom in San Diego and we are done with it …we need summer !

We drove from Strasbourg through the Parc National du Vercors …very twisted roads , very very tiny even for our small VW beetle !

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No AC , No radio , No wifi ….we are free and connected to nature surrounding us and enjoying each other !IMG_1687 (Large).JPG

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That was quiet a tunnel ! IMG_1695 (Large).JPG

Pitch black , one lane …that went on for ever ! IMG_1697 (Large).JPG

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As soon as you come down a bit , the landscape start to change . It is less green and the rolling hills are covered with wheat …IMG_1746 (Large).JPG

And lavender ! IMG_1741 (Large).JPG

It’s been an unusually hot beginning of June with temperatures soaring in the mid 90’s so by the 3rd week of June we could smell lavender everywhere as they had already started harvesting it . Normally the pick blooming season is July and the lavender Festival in Sault is not until August 15th when they celebrate the new harvest !

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IMG_1744 (Large).JPGPoppies are over already but sunflowers are still around …

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Villeudieu is one of those tiny village where all the businesses have closed except for the cafe restaurant and it is keeps the town center alive and well . We love going there for dinner as most of the locals …nothing fancy but a good steak tartare and a crepe ! What else ?!IMG_6713 (Large).JPG

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At home with Mum now 87 …IMG_1924 (Large).JPG

My grand parents home is like suspended in time , untouched with lots of patinaIMG_6692 (Large).JPG

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Sainte Cecile Les Vignes , my home town !

Bustling on Saturday morning Farmer’s MarketIMG_0248 (Large).JPG

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Do French people eat anything else than saussissons ?? Seriously 😉

Oh yes ..cheese of course !IMG_0243 (Large).JPG

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It’s funny how some things never change …I’ve seen elder folks wearing these back when I was a little girl but they seams to still be in “fashion” now ! I wonder if I will be considering wearing them in 35 years or so ?? IMG_0251 (Large).JPG

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In case you did not get enough saussissons before …IMG_0253 (Large).JPG

My favorite stall : Monsieur Lafont for fresh sardines, crab , “brandade” or cod creamed with olive oil ….yum ! IMG_0250 (Large).JPG

And of course espadrilles …a must to go play Petanque on a dusty court !

IMG_0254 (Large).JPGI even found a pretty linen dress for my mum at the market and she loves it!

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Early morning drive …the road to Nyons village is just beautifulIMG_0286 (Large).JPG

Les Genets ( yellow flowers ) sent the whole country side IMG_0298 (Large).JPG

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Unexpected beautiful scene …just out of a Marcel Pagnol movie …IMG_0303 (Large).JPG

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Breakfast time ! Oh yes we eat other things than saussissons …IMG_0306 (Large).JPG

Lots of bread and pastries !!!! Out the door gluten free/dairy free diet  IMG_0310 (Large).JPG

Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our little vintage car club with childhood friends who have not left . We used to organize a car show in our village that attracted over 100 cars every June …It was the most popular car event in the area . Looking back I am amazed still how great this show was : the formula  was different every year : picnic contest , gimmick rally , concours d’elegance , we even gave a car in raffle ! IMG_1872 (Large).JPG

Pascal and his childhood friend Michel in my dad’s old mechanic shop …lots of souvenir here for me too …IMG_1790 (Large).JPG

“UPS ” ( looks like any delivery truck ) did found our house and finally delivered our passports with new working visas at 2pm the day before we were leaving ….that was close ! Time to go home sweet home in San Diego 🙂 IMG_1934 (Large).JPG

Strasbourg

Strasbourg is a very walkable city and a wonderful stop for a day . The European Parliament having their meetings there for a week or 2  each month  make for really exceptional accommodations . You just have to be careful when you plan to go ….if the Parliament is in session that week , rooms are more expensive and harder to come by …the rest of the month you can stay in a special place for a more than reasonable price ….

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L’Hotel des Haras de Strasbourg is in an outstanding setting, in the heart of the city , on the banks of the “Petite France” historical district , a  prestige hotel with a contemporary flair. We stayed and highly recommend this place . It is a short walk from the cathedral but away enough to have a quiet stay AND they have parking witch is a very rare thing that close to the town center ( our little VW Beetle is here parked next to the big sedans … ) 

http://www.les-haras-hotel.com/?lng=en#header_top

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Built in the middle of the 18th century, Strasbourg’s former National Stud Farm represents an outstanding estate. Its fronts, roofs, monumental gate and the Royal Stables, all achieved according to tradition, are classified as historical monuments.IMG_0949 (Large).JPG

As the headquarters of the city’s horse riding academy from 1752, the site was occupied by the Royal Stud Farm in 1756, . In front of the Grand Stables, the esplanade of the open air riding arena stretches out, to provide sufficient space for cavalry horse riders.IMG_0951 (Large).JPG

The LobbyIMG_0956 (Large).JPG

The Brasserie in the back has an incredible wooden architecture and delicious menu . We did not eat there but friends who did praised the food just as much as the decor IMG_0950 (Large).JPG

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Cross over the “Ponts couverts” into the “Petite France “IMG_0958 (Large).JPG

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All the bridges were covered with flower BoxesIMG_0971 (Large).JPG

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Improvised outdoor terrace IMG_0973 (Large).JPG

The whole town is getting ready for tonight “Fete de la Musique”  a celebration for music that is held every year on the longest day of the year June 21st IMG_0974 (Large).JPG

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La Maison de la Choucroute !!! I’ve been dreaming of having choucroute here ever since we decided to stop for a day . It is the specialty of the area …a simple peasant German inspired dish of sauerkraut and potatoes upgraded by the French to a real feast with lots of cured smoked meats and sausages on top eaten with hot mustard. As much as I wanted to eat the real thing here , there is no way today …. a heat wave is soaring and temperatures are over 90F.IMG_0978 (Large).JPG

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All I want is to drink cold and have an ice cream …it is so hot !IMG_0991 (Large).JPG

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Eating along the river banks sound ideal tonight IMG_0980 (Large).JPG

La Maison Bollinger is a landmark and a gift shop for all things  Alsacien IMG_0989 (Large).JPG

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This was the most typical house near the cathedral with amazing details all around its facade IMG_0998 (Large).JPG

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And then here she was …the Cathedral !IMG_0999 (Large).JPG

This shows the different stages of its construction starting in 1015 until its completion in 1439 IMG_1006 (Large).JPG

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The Fete de la musique is not just a celebration with bands on large stages hosted by each city and even small villages in France  …anybody who wants to play is encourage to do so , dancing is all over town and music goes from folk to pop …each restaurant is having their own live band and when it all started … well , it kind of became this huge cacophony as each place was trying to cover the sound of the next door concert ! Still it was fun to see people enjoying this special day !IMG_1018 (Large).JPG

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We eat , drink , danced, listen to music and are making our way back to our hotel …it is past 10pm and the sun is still pretty high up ! IMG_1039 (Large).JPG

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11pm …it is finally night…we love traveling trough Europe in June because of those long days …you can do so much more ; We miss  the warm nights in San Diego so there are all the more special  for us !IMG_1042 (Large).JPG

One last stroll along the canals early the next morning before to get on the road to Provence …the light is beautiful and the canal is very alive !IMG_6749 (Large).JPG

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We are heading down to Provence in our slow little car …enjoying small country roads like in the past . No freeway just scenic way ! 

Planning a summer trip to France ?

                              It’s not too late to plan that summer trip to Europe  !!

Paris is always a great idea !IMG_1603 (Large).JPG

Strasbourg was a wonderful day stop IMG_0970 (Large).JPG

Provence is home …IMG_1736 (Large).JPG

San Diego has now some good non stop flights not only to London on British Airways but to Germany on Lufthansa as well . Avoiding LA nightmare or a connection is the way to go when you are not 25 years old anymore :  11 hours trip versus 25 hours …I’ll fly non stop !  My recommendation would be a night flight so you can rest and relax in the plane as you are already tired from your day , you arrive late afternoon in Europe and it is time to sleep again . Next morning you are ready to explore and enjoy your vacation . The opposite is flying during the day time from SD , witch mean you cannot even snooze for an hour . When you arrive in Europe , it’s morning  again and you have to go on for the second day in the row without sleep …the next day you are totally pooped !

We went last June and it was unusually warm for the season …they had already started harvesting  the lavender !! It is with July our favorite time to go because the days are super long and you can do so much more than in the fall season … like go out late for an ice cream on a balmy night …

Here are some photos to inspire you ! 

First stop breakfast …This is anywhere and everywhere in Paris !

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When you match your guidebook and you did not even plan it …this is Parisian chic  😉

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Morning walk from the Invalides IMG_0110 (Large).JPG

Pont Alexandre III , The most beautiful bridge in Paris

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Walking along the Seine IMG_0132 (Large).JPGWork out time

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A fleet of Bateaux Mouche is lining up the Seine …a great way to see the city .

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Le Jardin des Tuileries …perfect place to take a break

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The window display of La Duree pastry shop and their world renowned macarons

Its too early to start a sweet binge so we just pass…but the shop is already packed !

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Place Vendome …where the serious jewelry shops are …you can do some damage there ! Creativity is at its best and it is fun to just do some window shopping AKA in French  “lèche vitrine” witch translate literately as “licking windows”….we are drooling !IMG_0171 (Large).JPG

Place Vendome is also the home of the Ritz . Tell the majordome at the entrance that you want to go to the “galerie” , this is your way to sneak in …Behind these doors is a garden, a  world of peace and quiet like suspended in time . The “galerie” is just incredible : a very narrow hallway with small shops with the most fabulous fashion and jewelry of course …

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IMG_0181 (Large).JPGThat morning we saw a couple seating quietly in one of the hall …they were in formal black tie, long evening gown , loaded with the type of jewelry we had seen in some of the fancy stores just minutes ago …like they were going to  “Oscar night” ….Only at the Ritz Hotel…

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You are then just a short walk away from the Opera Garnier …We have yet to go when they have a Ballet or Opera but I would highly recommend to book your stay around that …the right way to experience this incredible place .

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You can also just get in to visit the inside on days where there is no rehearsal …witch is not today so we go across the street to “Repetto” the authentic ballet store …the one where the ballerinas go to to buy theirs outfits and where we can get real ballet flats or the most comfortable dancing shoes to wear everyday …

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Rainbow ! I can’t decide ….IMG_0203 (Large).JPG

Time for lunch …

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With dessert of course !

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 A quick look at the Gare de Lyon train station …where you should get a coffee at “Le train Bleu” upstairs …this is how traveling must have been like before …

IMG_0233 (Large).JPGIt’s a restaurant, bar, lounge , a salon where to smoke …

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Heading back to Saint Germain where we like to hang out , shop for Mariage Freres teas or traditional Petit Bateau t-shirts for example

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Lots of great food to buy and take for a picnic on The Champs de Mars near by with the view of the Eiffel Tower aka  ” La Grande Dame de Fer ” IMG_1593 (Large).JPG

Hotel du Champs de Mars …steps away from the Eiffel Tower ; the rooms are tiny but it is very Parisian anyway and the best deal in this neighborhood .

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Very close to so many great restaurants …like the famous” Fontaine de Mars” , but we are not looking ; we know we want to eat at “Les cocottes ” tonight …updated comfort food executed perfectly in a more contemporary setting …

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At les Cocottes IMG_1595 (Large).JPG

We crave their simple desserts like ” mamia” a Basque type sheep milk “yogurt” that taste so sweet and is lighter than air …and there is always room for a rhum baba too …

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One last morning walk today before to head to the American Embassy for our Visa interview ( here we go again …gotta do it every 5 years …) Paris is such a walkable city …you do not need special shoes and you do not want to look like a tourist either 😉 Just wear flats to be comfortable all day , a light purse and off you go !

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Isn’t Paris the most romantic city in the world ! IMG_1604 (Large).JPG

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Le Grand Palais …they usually have temporary exhibits that are always worth going …specially to be able to check out the inside of this place built at the same period as the Eiffel tower .

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We are going to Angelina for a real Parisian breakfast in a real Parisian institution . We have had tea and deserts here but never experience their famous hot chocolate . Today is the day ! 

IMG_1624 (Large).JPGDelicious croissants, pain au chocolat with extra butter and jams , a St Honore just because we are not coming back for lunch and THE hot chocolate ! So thick and creamy , you probably won’t need the extra rich whipped cream on top …but after all why not !? We are walking this off on our way to the Embassy and doing some more shopping !

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French women do wear sneakers and a baseball hat …IMG_0166 (Large).JPG

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New Visas granted , we can now settle down for dinner with good appetite ! La maison de la truffe sound pretty good but we feel like meat from one of our favorite place in France . We are going to  “La maison de l’Aubrac” . Here they serve  beef from cows they raise in their own farm in the region  of Aubrac where famous Laguiole village is . It is flavorful beyond imagination .I never had ribs like this…dry aged and slow cooked to perfection , bone marrow with fleur de sel, rib eye and potatoes….no guilt …it is perfect for my paleo diet !

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IMG_1650 (Large).JPGWith 2 desserts and a drink …88E service compris !

IMG_1652 (Large).JPGTomorrow we are driving south waiting for our passports to come back with our visas …

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Next stop Strasbourg !

Winter in Provence

From the dry countryside to the Black truffle market …this is Provence in February !

As hard as it is to imagine Provence to be cold when you are visiting in the hot summer months, I can tell you that indeed it can get really cold ! The light is low , there is no leaves on trees , the landscape is in shades of grey-brown , there is frost in the morning , snow close by and pictures of a sunny day do not make you feel the burn of the Mistral blowing at 60 miles/hours on a 28F morning. It is not the colorful Provence postcard people dream to visit but just as real.  

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Today is not too bad , somewhere in the 40 F . With thermal leggings and  t-shirt , 2 sweaters and a well heated car , I can handle it ! The top of the Mont Ventoux is  hidden by a hat of clouds meaning that it will rain tomorrow…

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Vaison la Romaine and the Roman bridge that survived the massive 1992 flash flood when all other modern structures down stream were taken away leaving only foundations from many houses and a whole supermarket ! We were there that day ….rain was so hard we thought the roof was going to blow away , so much water coming down our chimney , it was flooding our living room but in the end we were safe and our old house made it through …while many died and hundred of bridges collapsed cutting us off from many routes for months . 27750760_10203737612517680_5117080481834565173_n.jpg

People back then knew better and built their houses way up above the river.27657539_10203737612757686_5949325789729599305_n.jpgVineyards are all trimmed back …It is an ongoing process that take most of the fall and winter months ; very hard work in this harsh weather .

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Les Gorges du Toulourenc at the bottom north of the Mt Ventoux are wonderful in summer .You can bath in the river and cool off when temperatures reach 95F …in winter the romantic village of Brantes remains beautiful with the snow in the back drop . The cafe terrasse is waiting for spring and visitors to start coming again …27858321_10203737609717610_1950962916205174475_n.jpg

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Today is an other story : 28F this morning and the wind is blowing at 60miles/hour . Not a day to put your nose out but I have to go to the market… At first it looks just like a winter farmers market….but soon you realize it is no regular market….it is the black truffles market held here in quaint Richerenche village from November through March….and February is peak season ! IMG_9255 (Large).JPG

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Special baby truffle oak trees for sale . Then all you need is a good truffle dog

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Most everything is truffle related and even the food truck sells truffle omelets ! 

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1200euros/kilo that’s about $700/pound….people were buying a small truffle for $70 ….27751952_10203734622402929_5240726031905201313_n.jpg

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You have the street for regular shoppers or “tourists ” and then the one where the real deals happen at the back of a truck ….dealers buy from farmers and negotiate with their big wholesale accounts….

 

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And there it is …black gold , the beloved “Rabasse” ( the name in Provencal dialect for truffles) , bags of them !

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My mum use to have a dog and truffle oak trees . I grew up with the intoxicating smell of the tiniest truffle…Even in a Tupperware…the whole house was smelling …there was no hiding you had found some black gold ….nowadays they do not come even close to what I knew ;  i find these truffles pretty tasteless in comparison…Even with my nose on it , all i smell is earth , dirt and a faint truffle aroma but still there is something special about this mushroom…

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The village restaurant sure serve some truffle dishes !27867088_10203734626643035_7412392283844714471_n.jpg

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With this weather , you have to eat something that stick to your ribs ! My favorite is a platter of “Quenelles de Lyon in a Nantua sauce / crawfish sauce”27332491_10203731826573035_3190423110314237772_n.jpg

Also the time of year to cook some orange jam , quince paste ….

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And  bien sur ….eat some crepes !

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I also discovered the French version of sushi . Here we have California rolls with avocado and crab meat …the French who have to put Foie gras everywhere have managed to do foie gras sushis with fig jam , rolls of Seabass tartare with grapefruit , Salmon with mango and rose petals, beef carpacio with arugula and pesto…adapting this fashion phenomenon to French taste buds !

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A last stop before to fly home . Even the French Riviera is pretty bare .

These rose fields are grown specially for Chanel #5 perfume …we are just a few kilometers from Grasse , the capital of perfume making !

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The mimosa is in full bloom everywhere , hills covered , sides of the freeways , growing wild and making the countryside smells like heaven in the dead of winter ! Brings sunshine to your home but unfortunately only last 1 day in a vase

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The town plaza of Valbonne is buzzing with people enjoying lunch even on a cool day

IMG_9166 (Large).JPGJust out of a magazine …my architect friend’s home is a dream

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I wish it was summer ….

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The best thing about February is that you can find Crepe Pans everywhere !

I sure did and shipped a bunch that will be available at the shop along with our magic crepe batter shakers !A new Crepe demonstration/tasting will be coming up very soon ! Stay tuned on Facebook , email or call us to find out date !

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Making some Crepes flambees for breakfast !

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Best crepes ever ! I think it is the La Cornue stove …I need one of those too !

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Yvonne Angyal’s Provence photos

Yvonne is not only a friend , part of our ” Maison en Provence” little team  but also a very creative and talented photographer . We sell some of her art , postcards and today I wanted to share few of her images taken in Provence on her last trip .

Yvonne Angyal’s photography is about spontaneity, living in the moment and trying to capture something interesting that catches her eye . She believes that aiming for balance, interesting colors and shapes  make up for beautiful compositions.  http://www.yaphotos.net/blogger-feed

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Fall in Provence

Provence in the fall can really be a beautiful time to visit . If you lock in a perfect week without the treacherous Mistral or any rain you can experience all the golden light in the trees and vines , the leaves changing color and some balmy temperatures .

Not that I am a chauvinist when it comes to our area in Provence but I will say it again : it is more untouched , not as famously touristic and so worth exploring the northern part of Provence ! There is no hip restaurants or shops but there is no tourist trap /Disneyland of Provence either …it is the true land , its culture, produce and people …and yes it is remote but that’s what I like about it . It’s real farmland , olive groves and cherry trees , vineyards , sheep or goats  grazing on a hillside , a tractor going by on a Sunday afternoon and no chic Parisian with high hills and perfect manicure to be seen ! It can be a very harsh environment but this week happened to just be perfect . As I am meeting my potter and other craftsman making some real treasure soon to be in our shop , I took the tiny windy roads detours so I could share some beautiful fall scenery with you and maybe make you want to check out the Drome Provencale …

Tulette , Pascal’s home town . Nothing special about it but I love the little Cooperative where I can find all local products under one roof , specially the most delicious sheep milk “cailles” much lighter than yogurt non acidic and the only thing I’ll eat for dessert all week !  IMG_8836 (Large).JPG

Far in the back ground : The Mont Ventoux nice and clear . There is no rain in the forecast or it would wear a hat of clouds .IMG_8839 (Large).JPG

Plane trees growing sideways because of the Mistral IMG_8843 (Large).JPG

Nyons is a cute little town very well known for its olive oil . The olives are very specific and only grow here …not very meaty , with a big pit but they make a very fruity olive oil that is our favorite ! IMG_8846 (Large).JPG

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Le Col de Valouse is the most narrow road ever …it goes from Saint Ferreol Trente Pas to Dieulefit . I stop for lunch at the only restaurant but found it totally booked for a private party . Good thing I have plan B : a picnic emergency basket  . My mum and I are back on the road looking for that perfect spot …..Below is the view from the restaurant .IMG_8867 (Large).JPG

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We back track a little and take the Gorges de Trente Pas …IMG_8877 (Large).JPG

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…and found the perfect picnic spot with an incredible view !IMG_8889 (Large).JPG

The lavender fields have been trimmed down already but this area is so beautiful in summer too !IMG_8890 (Large).JPG

What else can we ask for ?? A fresh baguette , some saussison , my favorite sheep cheese and a caillette ( a specialty from Provence made with spinach , herbs and a little grounded “mystery meat ” …I’ll leave it like that or I’ll scare you  ! ) IMG_8892 (Large).JPG

Fresh Chouquettes that we stuffed with some chocolate pot de creme and topped with fresh raspberries . It does not get better than that !IMG_8899 (Large).JPG

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Down the hill : Bouviere where we stop for a coffee in the other restaurant that got fully booked today …some other people know the good spots of the back country ! From there you could keep going north to Bourdeaux and Dieulefit or make it shorter like we did going back down to Gumiane , Arnaillon, Villeperdrix and back to Nyons .IMG_8904 (Large).JPG

On the hillside of Nyons is where my cousins have their Olive groves . I am stopping to pick up some goodies and say hello. IMG_8909 (Large).JPG

It’s been so dry and hot this year again that the harvest will start mid November instead of late December /January . The olives are starting to drop so it is time ….IMG_8908 (Large).JPG

Beautiful view from the patio . Nyons nickname is “Le Petit Nice” referring to the mild climate of the French Riviera …and is spared by the Mistral most of the time …Palm trees grow in Nyons !IMG_8911 (Large).JPG

Not only their olives are totally organic but all the food my cousins eat is home grown in their large vegetable garden ! IMG_8913 (Large).JPG

Every country has their own tradition when it comes to the Day of the dead . In Mexico there are big celebrations and in France even though now days kids dress up and trick or treat too , the tradition is to remember your loved ones who have passed and bring them flowers …not any kind of flowers but Chrysanthemums . We picked some at the farmer’s market to bring to my family and Pascal’s family’s grave.IMG_8784 (Large).JPG

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My mum’s back yard IMG_8782 (Large).JPG

Japanese Cosmos Flowers are in bloom right now !IMG_8780 (Large).JPG

My mum enjoying some nice weather in her back yard jungle …IMG_8781 (Large).JPG

Today is a rainy day so I planned a special cooking class at my aunt .IMG_8751 (Large).JPG

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I’ve asked my aunt to teach me how to make “Pieds Paquets”  translate as “feet and Bags”. It is a very old traditional recipe in Provence and one of my favorite but nobody makes them anymore and what you find at the butcher is never quiet as good as what I remember my aunt making . So today is a special day as my cousin Francoise and I will get a hand’s on class ! The recipe start like that :  ” les pieds paquets de Meme Lucienne  / the feet and paquets from grandma Lucienne ( who was my aunt’s mother )  . You will need time and patience and also make some for at least 10 people ! We are on for a challenge for sure …but we have all afternoon !

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 All you need is : a dozen lambs feet , grounded “farce fine ” a fine grounded meat stuffing , salted pork belly , 8 lambs stomachs , garlic and parsley …Good thing is the butcher supply us with clean , already blanched parts. We’ll wash and clean them again but there’s no smell 🙂IMG_8727 (Large).JPG

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No gadgets , no ceramic knifes …we use the same cooking tools as Meme Lucienne did !IMG_8742 (Large).JPG

Lots of garlic and parsley to mix in with the stuffing as well as some of the cuts from the lamb stomach that we ground . This is the secret that will make the stuffing smooth and not hard …IMG_8746 (Large).JPG

The hardest part ! Figure out how to cut a stomach pouch into something that we can stuff, roll up , that won’t come undone while cooking without using tread or picks ….we’ll cheat and attached a few like tiny little “rotis” and manage to make 50 bags …enough for 10 people ! While we are struggling with our bagging ….our home made sauce is slowly simmering : a fragrant mix of onions, pork belly cubed , tomatoes, bouquet garni , leeks and carrots . We lay some pork “couenne” or pork skin at the bottom of the pot , the 12 feet on top, our paquets and top off with our broth ….it will then cook for a good 3 hours …..and we’ll have to wait until the next day to savor our work !IMG_8759 (Large).JPG

Our stew will cook an other 3 hours before we can taste it….but this was so worth it ! There were just like I remembered : soft , tender , melting in your mouth little bundles of flavor and the feet just falling off the bone with a sweet gelatinous texture so gooeyly delicious !IMG_8769 (Large).JPG

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A ray of sunshine after the rain on my childhood playground IMG_8754 (Large).JPG

From my aunt’s house you can see way far in the back ground Saint Roman de Malegarde …a village of some 100 people where Pascal and I leaved for 10 years before we moved to San Diego IMG_8757 (Large).JPG

Back yard fall magic …makes everything look beautiful !IMG_8775 (Large).JPG

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Today , I am on the road again , an hour and a half away and a speeding ticket later ( can’t go to France an not get your speeding ticket …..) I reach the famous Luberon area ! I stop for lunch in Cucuron , drive by Bonnieux, Menerbes …IMG_8700 (Large).JPG

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The village of LacosteIMG_8712 (Large).JPG

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Some of the treasures that will be in our shop soon ….the original lavender sachet is still being made here in Provence ! I grew up weaving lavender wands when the lavender is fresh and you can bend the stems to enclose the flowers . I would sell them at my parent’s gas station every summers when I was not picking up melons , peaches or apricots !  It takes for ever to make one but the scent will stay inclosed for years . Gently press the wand to release the best lavender scent  !

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