Dear friends , clients , clients who have known us through all these years , new readers this post is more personal than usual, but this year is not a usual year . Today we should be flying back from Provence with tons of sunny photos of summer days , lavender fields in bloom and bustling farmers markets loaded with ripe fruits . But this year is not this kind of year . As many of us had to cancel our travels abroad and still have to shelter in place , I will bring you instead the last part of Alice and I trip to France in January …a bit of winter in the middle of summer ! We knew we were lucky to have gone then when Covid 19 hit us …but I did not know yet that this would also be the last time I would be with my mother , celebrating her 90th birthday surrounded by her entire family …the happiest of times … These memories fill my heart with so much love and I am so grateful to have had that time . As France got into a very tight confinement , nursing homes closed down to all visitors and as many other elderly through out the country , my sweet little mom started suffering from the isolation , eat less , lost her grasp on life , lost weight and within an unimaginable 4 weeks she was gone . I cannot lie that not being able to go and be with her hurt a lot until I accepted the circumstances and made the most of the last times I could speak with her and have a beautiful conversation that will stay with me for ever .
Provence was colder than Paris . The Mistral was blowing . We had flown down to Marseille at the end of our day at Maison et Objet Show and by the time we arrived home near Orange it was already 10.30pm …just to realize that the furnace had stopped working some time ago and the radiators were cooling rapidly . We immediately started working to prepare for the next day Birthday Party …Alice decorating , cleaning dishes and glasses while I was hauling wood up to the second floor to feed the fireplace first thing in the morning . We had 20 people coming over !
We played Bingo , eat delicious cakes , she opened presents and the 3 of us ended the day by the fire to recover from a busy , exciting day . Tomorrow Monday , I had to find a repair guy for the furnace …Well Monday turned into Tuesday , which turned into Wednesday late afternoon until someone could come and get the heater going again . We survived with an old electric heater , confining ourselves in the kitchen with my mum giving Alice her first cooking classes all in French ! Not only she was learning how to make a proper black truffle omelet but she also was getting a crash course in French ! We laugh , we eat and despite spending most of our time with our wool coats on , we had a great time ….maybe more than Alice was bargaining for but this was real life in Provence , Peter Mayle style more than Patricia Wells style …
Vaison la Romaine is a lovely Roman town as the name say … big enough but not too big very charming . I took Alice for a little hike up to the castle ruins one afternoon . The cobblestones were slippery , moss was growing everywhere , the light was winter grey just like all the stones …even the local seemed to be hiding !
Time flies …we drove to Avignon to buy some crepe pans at a big supermarket so i could ship them before to fly back to San Diego and took a quick tour of the city … L’Hotel d’Europe was quiet this time of the year …
I cooked one last Japanese meal with my mom , packed all the flowers , photos to decorate her room , took the chocolates and cookies left so she could share with her friends at the nursing home , her home away from home . We talked about her next big birthday party when she would turn 100 ; the sky was the limit … One last hug and I was gone once again . Love you Mom , you’re in my heart , always .
Can you believe we are on our 8th week of confinement ?! Things are easing up a bit , our door is open but we still cannot let anybody in and only take orders via phone or text on my cell ( 619 518 0401 ) Thank you for keeping us alive in this context ! Mother’s Day was a great day under this new normal ; we are grateful for your support , for having each other and just being healthy . Taking it a day at a time is all we can do and the best we can do sometimes …
I am taking a break from taking photos of products ( which I will post later to bring you more things that are hiding in here ) so that I can write this post to follow up on our trip to Paris . We thought January was not the best time to go when now looking back we realize how incredibly lucky we’ve been to have that time , totally unthinkable now …who knows when Maison et Objet will happen again or how ? Well , I am glad I can take you there now !
With the strikes going strong , we are lucky to even have a metro to take us to the show…it is packed like rush hour in Tokyo . First day and the world is coming to visit M&O …a scene from the past ?? This show is huge , many gigantic halls well organized in sections and despite not being able to see the end of it , we are planning to see it all in 2 days !
We start slow at the Object section where we can find things for our Maison …No matter if we carry the brand already or not , there is always something to discover . Tissages de l’Ouest is one of the brand we carry and we love to see what’s new !
There is a map for “Made in France” and we are following the thread …
Some ideas are very clever like these drinking straws being actual real straws !Some still clever but not for everyone …The French stationary line I fell in love with and that we will carry soon …a mix of Rifle paper and “Anthropologie” , a little bohemian “French style” !
Whether we call the trend Bohemian or vintage , prints are everywhere from wall paper to slippers ! We are very tempted to start the trend here too !
The new and improved market rolling bag folds so you can carry it easily when on your way to the grocery shop or to store at home or in your car ….and it comes in fun prints bien sur !
Price was the only issue that was and is still making me hesitate to order some …same for the bow ties ( noeud papillon or “noeud pap” ) that also came in so many prints !
Time for a quick break and for Alice to finally have her first “jambon beurre” sandwich Color color color …rich and deep just like we’ve seen at Merci shop the day before ! Unfortunately these twin sisters do not want to export yet as they are already too busy with the European market or we would have these already !
The original lavender sachet , Made in Provence just like my mom taught me …I use to make and sell mine during the summer at my parent’s gas station . I have been trying to give a class to show how to make these special wands but have a hard time finding enough fresh lavender to buy from the local farms who want to keep their production for their own sales or distillation …maybe this summer ! Let me know if you would like to attend and I will start a list .
Everything is inspirational …so much creativity !
Day 2 …we made it again with our suitcases this time as we will fly to Marseille tonight . Air France had a counter at the show where we could check in our bags and avoid hauling them around from the convention center to the airport just 10mns shuttle away . This allowed us to stay at the show until the last minute without stress . We are starting with the Metiers d’Art which include artists as well as artisans perpetuating century old traditional crafts like the Anduze vases
Or contemporary expressions of French style
3D frame of Gustave Eiffel in his studio working on a big project …
Taking a quick break before to move to the home section of the show . The trend is very much into 20’s style …small rounded shapes , lots of velvet , brass , funky browns, dusty pinks and copper tones . Every living space has to look like a bar or boudoir , even the contemporary brands like Ligne Roset are showing it . It is not my thing but I can see young hipsters going crazy for it !
On the other side , natural , linen and soft pastels are still current
Poetic lighting by N- Lobjoy
Love how creative the displays are …Showcasing farm style dishes in matte finish and muted colors
Even the traditional cafe chairs are coming in pastels too
We cannot resist a little Christian Lacroix inspiration again …How cool are these platters !
Merci Louis is still for me THE brand with the most unique style and creativity keeping a French identity and giving it a twist “The brand’s concept consists in juggling with the classic style codes of 17th and 18th century France and using them to create contemporary objects ” We carried some of their trompe l’oeil candle holders , whimsical chandeliers , trays, file boxes when they first launched the brand in 2013
Just for Alice …
This is the inspiration for a window Alice did after coming back ! It is still up even though the leaves have started to wilt but it reminds me of Paris so I have a hard time giving it up . We might have to do an other fresh one for you to enjoy …soon we hope !
Already 4 weeks that our shop has its doors closed to the public …it is still surreal but we have been able to stay in touch via our social medias , emails , shipped birthday gifts and care packages to loved ones , have put in place a curbside pick up hotline on my cell ( 619 518 0401 ) and have received lots of heart warming support by our tight community of long time customers . It is overwhelming to feel so much love and we are forever grateful . In the meantime I will try to take you away from it all with this post ….lets walk and discover the hippest neighborhoods of Paris together. Sunrise from our room …traffic is already heavy as people cannot rely on public transportation and so can’t we . We’ll start with a nice breakfast at the hotel looking at Notre Dame before to head out . This hotel location has really been the best in these conditions , we can just step outside and stroll along the Seine . All of Paris is within reach !
Notre Dame reconstruction seems to be on the way We are crossing onto l’Ile Saint Louis oh so well known for its ice cream shop “Berthillon” but it is no weather for that right now and this little island has a lot more to offer ! We have just put a foot on the island and here is Alice’s favorite …Stationary ! I recognize some lines we sell and find a new one I love …reminds me of Rifle Papers with an “Anthropologie” bohemian look …
How cool is this “fan” journal ! So you can write in secret …
Fun old fashion surprise gift pouches There is even a Youth Hostel on the Ile and not so shabby too !
Around the corner some young high school kids are getting ready for some protest . In France you learn early to barricade and fight …it’s in your blood , our national anthem!
2nd on Alice’s list of favorites : Antique shops . L’Ile St Louis is also well know for that . You just wander and find hidden squares with shops everywhere but a whole remodel is going on right now , lots and lots of construction witch will make for an even prettier re-opening of all those shops . http://www.levillagesaintpaul.com/index-en.html
La Mâle d’Effeenne concept store , the concept of 2 very creative minds : clothes, jewelry, home accessories , part Couture , part steampunk , eclectic and probably the most unique, stylish beautiful shop we came across ( it was still closed when we walked by so google them to see photos of what’s hiding inside ) http://www.lamaledeffeenne.com/ One bridge crossing and we are stepping into the Marais . Fashionable Le Marais …little brother of New York SoHo, AKA SoMa ( South Marais ) versus even more hip Haut Marais / NorMa ( Northern Marais ) often compared to Nolita in NYC …you already get the picture !And here it is …my new favorite : combo chocolatier and patisserie , Japanese flavors and French know how !!! Never heard of them but it was love at first sight . You read about my love for Aoki patisserie in Day 1 blog post in Paris but this is the new updated and improved version of a French/Japanese patisserie . It has all the attention to details and finesse without the feeling of being overly fancy … totally approachable . You just want to eat that delicious cake !
http://les-trois-chocolats-paris.com/Yuzu lemon , Hojicha (roasted green tea ) , Sakura ( cherry blossom ) , shiso ( a leaf with very unique flavor used like cilantro garnish ) wasabi ?? so many discoveries to be made , if this does not excite your taste buds ?!I picked a bunch of chocolates for the road but I could seriously have bought the whole store ! How about these matcha “almond tuiles” . Tuiles are my mom’s specialty …no shop in Provence made better ones than hers …and she taught me how to …I just have to blend some matcha in mine now … Leaving inspired !
Popelini : I am not sure their Cream puffs are fabulous but the display was very clever and fun! We pass the elegant Place des Vosges and make our way up . Shops are getting interesting , more eclectic not that we would buy one of those shirts for our husbands but patterns , bow ties and old fashioned men’s underwear seams to be the new hype !
Made in France is also a big trend ! There is a “carte Francaise” that link all the small businesses who pledge to make everything in France to support french craftsmanship and old manufactures on the verge of closing . I will support France’s underwear industry and will buy a very well made old fashioned “slip” for my Valentine …after all why not ?!
Even the packaging is really well made ! But are American men ready to spend $40 for a brief to have ” La classe ” even under their jeans ??
Slowly but surely we are moving into the Haut Marais and you can tell . La rue du Pont aux Choux is where hip is starting to take shape . All the sudden you have an “appointment only ” showroom ; “Heureux les Curieux” a concept gallery that represent a new designer or artist every month http://www.heureuxlescurieux.com/ We miss the Made in France expo by a week but there is always something unique to see. Next door is an old shoe shop ” Cordonnerie” transformed into a coffee shop , a “Boulangerie” now a secret Boutique Hotel also designed by Christian Lacroix as the matter of fact http://www.hotelpetitmoulinparis.com/en/ and also what looks like the hottest place to eat some fried chicken Japanese curry bowls just by checking out the line of hipsters waiting … https://www.timeout.com/paris/en/restaurants/pontochoux
Merci is THE concept store that started it all , where trends have been made , where you see what’s in now , what’s cool . Despite having diluted the concept and becoming a bit more commercial due to its success , it remains a must go to .
My dream coffee shop ~ library
Recommended by the locals we keep walking north and encounter more professional showrooms where new up and coming designers are looking at making it in Paris fashion scene . But what made the Haut Marais a cultural destination is “le Carreau du Temple”. Once a semi-abandoned 19th-century covered market has now found new life as a beautifully redesigned center for exhibitions, performances, sports, exercise, eating, drinking, and people-watching ! And it just happened that there is a fashion show about to open …watching people waiting to attend the event is just as much fun as visiting the hall itself but I am too shy to take photos even though they all look editorial ready ! We figured out how to find a very coveted clean public bathroom without having to drink more or eat more … Public Administration Buildings ! City Hall , Libraries all have really nice ones and nobody goes there . We stop at the corner library which also offered a nice respite for our tired feet .Now we are on the hunt for one more specialty shop …a notion store because we both love to sew and get into craft projects of all kinds . Google shows one so we decide to give it a shot even though it had to take us back near the Opera . We sure did not regret… what a find !! Ultramod opened up here in 1832 and not much has changed . We are like kids in a candy shop but only have 15mns before they are closing for the day …
Actually there are 2 shops on each side of the street , the 2nd is all about hat making !
You probably know of the Jardin du Palais Royal right by Le Louvre Museum because of its “Instagrammable” striped columns courtyard . Yes this is the way some people travel …in search of Instagram spots !! I always walked through the Jardin not the covered alley surrounding the garden but at night only the Gallerie is open to foot traffic witch led to more discoveries . This is where the famous perfume creator Serge Lutens perfume house is …mysterious and enchanting …https://www.sergelutens.com/us/ And next door a costume jewelry boutique It’s been one of those extra long and exciting day and as we make our walk back across the bridge we know there is more excitement to come with dinner at this little Bistro On L’ile St Louis …We eat in one of their sister restaurants the day before …but this one is a step up ! Normally we would have had to make a reservation , specially for a Friday night , but the transportation strikes have hit restaurants hard …people just try to get back home somehow and eating out is not on the schedule . Tonight we will eat at “Les Fous de l’Ile ” Bistronomy is an etymological blend of “bistro” and “gastronomy” , a new breed of bistros run by creative young chefs with formidable haute cuisine training serving quality food at gentle prices instead of reaching for Michelin stars. Tonight will be all this and more . A casual cozy setting , tight seating so you can start conversation with the eater next to you ,wonderful food for an unbeatable price compare to anyplace in San Diego . For the 2 of us , the bill came up to 66E tax and tip included , that is barely $75 US . OK we did not drink wine just bottled water but still…I would drive miles for the same meal here !
beef bourguignon style with seared foie gras , whipped creamy mash and confit onions
Dessert was incredible as well !
The place is filled with locals and our only wish is to eat tomorrow at their other sister restaurant just a 10mns walk from our hotel too . Le Christine is more Gastro than Bistro , a casual elegant place witch 3 course menu will cost you 46E /$50 taxes and tip included Still a Steal ! https://www.restaurantlechristine.com/en/ Eating in Paris has been surprisingly reasonable if you avoid the tourist traps or tourist places in general …ask your hotel always and people in surrounding shops , they know best !
Tomorrow is a big day . We are going to Maison & Objet , one of the largest and most influential home and gift show in Europe …but this will be an other post on its own !
Merci for reading ! Until next post please Stay Safe and Stay Home !
To all of you who take the time to read my blog I wanted to thank you for doing so . I enjoy sharing our culture , our experiences , a bit of France with you . The hardest part for me is always to find the time to do it….and then overnight , here we are , confined at home with all the time in the world …Pascal and I are very fortunate to be able to take this pause and try to make the best of it . Is this a preview of what retirement could feel like ?? We love having this time for us , time to rest , to connect with friends in France via video chats , repaint the shop …but we realize that for many it will be a period of stress , pain , financial struggle so we will keep bringing you some happy images to brighten your day during this time of turmoil . Stay Safe Stay Healthy Stay Home please .
Philarmonie de Paris and Saint Germain :
I always look for special installations when going to a big city …I got to see some fabulous photo exhibitions : Richard Avedon in New York , Helmut Newton at the Grand Palais and these have made lasting memories . So going to Paris I was hoping for something special again . L’atelier des lumieres ( the Parisian version of the Carrieres de Lumieres we have in Les Baux de Provence ) was closed in January to prepare its new show . This is always fabulous and I would recommend you to see it https://www.atelier-lumieres.com/ or even better in the quarries of Les Baux . https://www.carrieres-lumieres.com/en/whats-on
The Cité de la Musique “City of Music” known as Philharmonie is a group of institutions dedicated to music and situated on the outskirts of Paris . It consists of an amphitheater, a concert hall that can accommodate an audience of 800–1,000, a music museum containing an important collection of classical music instruments dating mainly from the fifteenth- to twentieth-century and a music library . The architecture itself is worth going and the exhibition they have now is right up my alley !
Next to the concert Hall is the Music Museum
The exhibition from Pierre et Gilles is designed as a musical and visual installation through an assembly of more than a hundred of their photo-paintings . The 2 French artists have a vision that is unique to them . Since 1976 iconic musicians , singers or actors have come to their studio . Pierre takes the photo in a set they create , then Gilles paints over it ….all over it ! The final image float in between photo and painting in a bright color haze with crazy frames they also make. I’ve been a fan since the mid 80’s and always thought these were collages, mixed media when in fact it is all real props in a studio set up . What was so cool for me is that you would listen to the music from the artist photographed at that time . It gave a whole other dimension to this pop culture exhibition .
Fashion Designer Jean Paul Gauthier and his boyfriend below :
Some of the props from their studioThe exhibition is following us back to Paris It took time and some help from the locals to figure out how to get back “intramuros” The line we took to come had closed until 4pm due to the strikes , the other we could take just 10mns away was not stopping to all stations right now and not going all the way to the left bank …a couple of hours later we were finally in St Germain ! We had missed lunch but thought there would be plenty of temptations along the way…
Now is actually time to confess …that I delete ALL my photos from that day except for one I took with my phone .Why is the trash button next to the import button ? and why did it never asked if “I wanted to delete all 86 items” ? It only took 2 breaths to realize the check marks were not turning blue a usual when importing but just checked and all had vanished from the memory stick of my camera within 4 seconds . So now i will have to rely on my poor writing skills and a few photos that thankfully Alice took !
I always love St Germain . It has historical cafes , brasseries , bookstores as well as chic boutiques , designer shops big and small , Le Bon Marche department store , La Grande Epicerie de Paris , The Conran shop and many of my favorite patisseries from Pierre Herme to Angelina and Pierre Conticini’s Patisserie des Reves . But Pierre Herme fell short for me this time . His encyclopedia of pastries recipes is my bible but the shop felt corporate ,the half empty cases had pretty generic macarons …so we kept on going but we needed something to fuel up . Nothing better than a hot chocolate from Angelina . It is pretty small but I promise there is no way you can drink more . It is that rich , thick and creamy ! https://www.angelina-paris.fr/en/homeI discovered Angelina when I was modeling for a couture line showing during Fashion Week at the Intercontinental Hotel rue de Rivoli ( now the Westin Vendome ) I did not care for macarons much and sure had to stay away from them at the time… that was until I tried the XL version from Angelina . It was the smoothest texture with more ganache or creme au beurre, a real cake , decadent and addictive ! Now when I make macarons at home , I make them large as well …not to mention it is also easier to pipe Wondering through Le Bon Marche in search for products for our shop …I was happy to see that we sell some of the Brands they carry .
Their coffee shop had a real impressive table .
Wondering through the Conran Shop is always interesting .A lot of my favorite shops have changed style, some have closed like Blanc d’Ivoire (we sold their quilts and beautiful candles for years) , Christian Tortu the famous florist had closed and La Patisserie des Reves had closed just a few weeks ago …Things are changing and evolving … you can never rely on your success and let your guard down … people move with the flow and you have to be able to bring it or stay behind where you may die . Out the blue we stumbled onto this new store : Des Gateaux et du pain . A breath of fresh air in this world of traditional pastries . We are tempted by every single cake and after much deliberation , we finally settle for this beautiful and delicious one combining pistachio and rose . It was as delicate in flavor as it looked ! https://www.desgateauxetdupain.com/We walked 25 000 steps with a matcha latte , 2 croissants for breakfast , half a coke at noon to get some more caffeine , a hot chocolate at 4pm to warm us up as it is rainy and chilly … We are jet lagged , pretty drained and we need some dinner witch we found by accident along the way . Across an Alain Ducasse restaurant ( serving all things Alice will not dare to eat) Le Colvert is a tiny little bistro bustling with local patrons . We are happy to just seat down and enjoy some simple comfort food casseroles . The young couple who owns it also owns 2 other restaurants nearby .This one is the most basic , the others are bistronomie and gastro-bistro . We are intrigued and happy to think that we could have some real good food close by . Many of the places I wanted to go are way to far to walk to; taxis and Uber are slammed and it takes twice longer to drive than walk with all the traffic ! https://lecolvertbistrot.com/
We crash in our comfy pad with pretty fantastic views . Paris will always be Paris !The next day will bring a lot more fun and exciting discoveries as we spent the whole day in Le Marais and Haut Marais , the SoHo of Paris , the brewing area for new designers, small brands and shops , trend setters …we’ll have the best meal of the trip and I have ALL the photos !! Next post will have more visual and less talking so I hope you will stay tuned .
Summers in Provence are the best ! Most people fear that it will be packed with tourists and avoid that season … And yes the coast is crowded specially in August but let me tell you why you should rethink about it :
The lavender is in bloom , the countryside is finally alive and buzzing with activities ! There are Festivals everywhere , flea markets , “vide grenier” , “Fete votive ” , the roman theater of Orange plays operas from mid July to mid August , the roman arena in Nimes has concerts , the entire town of Arles put on the largest photo exhibition of the country , my own home town host a popular ” rose wine ” celebration …there is something for everyone !
And yes it can be hot too … but it is a dry heat ( not dry as desert dry but enough to be more comfortable ) It makes finding a river to swim a fabulous excursion , floating under the roman aqueduct of the ” Pont du Gard ” a much more special visit to this site , visiting the year round cool quarries “Carrieres de Lumieres ” wonderful ….not even mentioning taking an afternoon nap ! Daylight last for ever and everybody enjoy being out late when the temperature is just perfect for that strappy summer dress I can never wear here in California ! If you are done with May gray – June gloom that linger until late August …head to Europe for a real summer time !
This year we decided to stop over in L’Isle sur la Sorgue on our way from Marseille Airport …immerse ourselves in this wonderful ” Venise Provencale ” and all its antique shops and Sunday flea market . The flea market starts at dawn along the Sorgue river…
By the time we get there , the bustle is over and the merchants are waiting for clients , playing games while their bottle of rose stays cool in the river …It’s like a Pagnol movie !
Art is everywhere !
Antique installations in every shop …
Cafe nested in a small courtyard if you need to rest before to discover some more …
We need a break too … Le Jardin du Quai is just across the road and its garden looks very inviting !
Refreshed and rested we go for more !
Some real traditional antiques from Provence are being rare these days …the owner of that booth told us closing down at the end of the season …People search for industrial or mid century not XVIII century old furniture as much Even found a Jardin public / “skate park” ??
The heat wave even made the news all the way here in the US … we hit 43C / 110F witch even I have to agree is really hot when you do not have AC anywhere ….even in your car ! So we took off at sunrise for the most beautiful drive just outside of my home town of Sainte Cecile les Vignes . Hard to believe that you just pass the exit sign and this is it … beautiful rolling hills !
The good side of driving an old beetle is that we have less chances to go over the speed limit of 49mph on highways …or this is what you could end up driving !
The Tour de France went right by these roads this year …leave vaison la Romaine and keep going on the higher hills where the lavender grows.One last turn and here it is ! White butterflies were all over the lavender in the early morning hours We grew up here but this scenery never cease to amaze us
On the way back we stopped in Nyons where the farmer’s market is going on on Thursdays …pick up some of our summer favorites : salade de museau ( cheeks in gelatine , sliced super fine ) fromage de tete ( head pate ) and maybe a slice of terrine de campagne …forget about the same ol same ol tomato mozzarella or prosciutto and melon that we can get back home ! We crave for these classic basic appetizers that are complete delicasy for us . We always wonder how come NOBODY make some in the US
Then a quick stop to say to a friend who runs his parents Citroen garage…in the back there is always a bunch of real French cars !! My favorite : Ami 6 …the perfect car for the area Pascal’s father or his brother sold that one at the time !
Probably the best option to bet the summer heat
But today is our 27th wedding anniversary and we are going out to dinner …no way I am cooking with this heat anyway ! Pascal has booked at Maison Prevot in Cavaillon the city of the famous melon . The owner and chef Jean Jacques Prevot has a seasonal menu highlighting the fruit of his town so we are going to have some melon …just not with prosciutto 😉
Warm melon filled with a bouillabaisse soup of maine lobster and melon balls …light and delicious !They have AC …in case you really missed it …and I froze in my summer strappy dress !
I don’t think I ever posted a photo of my mum’s house …here we are in front of it …aka our “chateau” because it is so big and needs a lot like most chateaux 😉
What is an other wonder to us is how good the food is EVERYWHERE and how wonderful it is to get there ! Just hop in your car and enjoy a wonderful 15mns drive on scenic roads …no traffic , no problem to park … a little stroll in the village of Seguret and we are set for an other wonderful dinner …with a view ! People cooling off at the fountain
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 !
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 !It is late June and the “genets” yellow flowers smell sweet all over Provence .
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 !
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 .
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).
Time for a little “fashion”shot to showcase the scarf and paper bag that we carry at the shop !…
Relais de Mirepoix …2 stars but felt like 3 at least !
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 .
Old Michelin “borne” These are being preserved and even restored now
From Foix we officially start our Pyrenees Mountain journey …
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 ”
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 )
Jambon cru , foie gras and boudin noir for appetizer
Best salad ever ! warm sheep milk cheese, apples, warm charcuterie and a tab of honey ….part of the 22E menu with the duck and dessert !
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 !
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 .
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
Who needs a GPS !??
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
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 !
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 .
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 .
This is as close to the beach as I will get 😦
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 .
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 !
This is espadrille paradise !
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 …
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 …
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 !
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 :The old monastery
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 ! 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 ! 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 !
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 .