It’s time to start thinking summer 2017…but first, a look back at summer 2016. I should have posted this long ago… better late than never. After eight summers of renting our guest apartment to tourists, we officially closed last August – no more paying guests, but time and room for friends and relatives.
It was a rewarding experience. We met interesting folks from many countries. Some have become friends. We learned about their lands.
Austrians Klaus and Eva were our first renters of the season, as they have been every summer for the past six years. We have become friends and are delighted they will come back this year, not as renters, but house sitters when we travel to Germany.
They always arrive with bounteous gifts of Austrian delicacies. A roof rack on their car holds Klaus’ ample supplies for their stay, including Austrian beer and wine. Of course they appreciate Provence wine too, especially summer rose.
Isabelle, who works in a bank, and Jean Christophe, who is in the insurance business, arrived from the Paris region in a spiffy Mercedes convertible. They had been to our region many times and were happy to be back. After a day’s outing, they often played boule in our driveway, although it is definitely not the best terrain for this Provence favorite.
We enjoyed Belgians Jeroen and Anika, both teachers, and daughter Stans. They came loaded down with two bicycles, plus baby supplies: baby stroller, baby bed, a plastic pool, pool toys. They had fun introducing Stans to the big pool. They biked, too.
Jeroen is one of those super cyclists who have conquered Mt. Ventoux many times. “Any serious Belgian cyclist must climb Mt. Ventoux,” he said. He did, as well as the Mountain of Lure which he says is beautiful. “It’s only 100 meters less than Ventoux, but no one knows about it.”
Anika’s passion is markets. They visited six in the region. Her favorite: Apt.
Friends and family also visited in summer 2016. With my brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie we enjoyed a mini-trip to visit the fascinating Chauvet- Pont d’Arc Cavern with replicas of prehistoric cave art dating back 36,000 years. The original art was discovered in a nearby cave, but it is closed to visitors to protect the treasures. The replica cave and art are mind boggling.
Step-children Kellie and Rob with grandsons Lang and Sam joined us in June. Good times in the pool were enjoyed by all. Bob even joined in – a mini miracle. He is not a water person, and almost never goes in the pool. I make up for him.
Summer ended with a visit from Colorado friends Kathy and Bob, whom we know from our days n Germany long ago.
Now that I have finally put summer 2016 to bed, time to move on to new adventure and travel. Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and the Maldives – here we come! Watch this blog.
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In a word, it was HOT. Week after week of temperatures in the upper 90s (Fahrenheit), even reaching 100 and above a few times. My roses, geraniums and petunias had to be watered continually. The grass (what little we have) turned brown. The pool water has never been so warm – too warm for me, but finally warm enough for delicate BB/VR* who was brave enough to jump in. This was only the fifth time he has been in the pool in the 10 years we have lived here. (Thanks to my dear mother who insisted my brothers and I all learn to swim at an early age, I am a swimmer and love the water. BB was not so lucky.)
Fall arrived too soon and too abruptly – for me… One will never be content.
Despite the heat, we enjoyed some fun activities and the wonderful folks who rented our guest apartment at Les Rosiers.
The season kicked off with the arrival of Klaus from Austria, his car loaded with Austrian delicacies and beer. He always brings us a generous gift of goodies, too. This was the fifth season that Klaus and his wife Eva have spent a month in our rental studio. She is still working as a legal secretary in Graz, arrives a week later by plane and only spends two weeks here. Klaus likes to cook and grill – lamb is his favorite. They know the area well, take long walks, swim, and visit friends and flea markets. They have become friends, and it’s always a delight to have them here.
Then came the Belgians, Patrick and Chantal, with two motorcycles and two bicycles towed behind their car. We were amazed. Due to the heat, they spent most of their time on the motorcycles. One of the bicycles was electric, but since the terrain here is anything but flat, they preferred their motorcycles. They took long excursions, almost every day during their two-week sojourn.
Chantal said they have been vacationing in southern France every summer, but always camping. They especially enjoyed the tranquility at Les Rosiers. Camp sites can be very noisy, she said. And, they loved our town, Reillanne.
“It’s an authentic village, not a Disney village like so many in the Luberon,” said Patrick. “There are not that many tourists, not that much traffic.” They like to visit the village cafes and talk to the locals. And, they especially liked the Bar restaurant de la Place where they dined many times.
More bicycles next – a Czech family of four with five bikes. Jakub and Katarina and children Lara, 9, and Luka, 5, were back for the second time. We were overwhelmed with their bicycle prowess two years ago when they set out day after day, all day on bikes, albeit Katarina towing Luka in a carriage and Lara’s bike sometimes attached to her father’s bike. Lara now rides on her own, and Luka rides the bike that can be attached to Jakub’s . We rode with them one day – lots of fun.
They arrived a day late after participating in an orientation competition in the Jura where Jakub took first place in one category. Here he conquered Mont Ventoux for the fifth time. That was the reason for five bikes – a super bike for the challenging climb.
“We always like to come back to Provence, the terrain, the living historic villages that are not just for tourists,” said Jakub. We were happy to have them back.
Wine was the focus for Patricia and Serge, visitors who come from Brittany. They traveled far and wide to buy Provence wine, driving 1,700 kilometers in the region, visiting six wineries and ending up with 14 cases of wine to take home.
Each evening when they returned from a buying trek they shared their adventures and raved about places they visited – some we had not known about. Serge says they always buy the wine of the regions they visit. They live in an area of vineyards near the Loire where he helps harvest the grapes.
They presented us with a bottle of Grand Reserve Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie which we tasted when they invited us to a super fish dinner Patricia prepared. She served the fish with beurre blanc, a well known sauce for fish in Brittany. She shared her recipe which I have tried to master. Mine could not hold a candle to hers, but I will keep trying. When I am successful, we will open the precious bottle of Muscadet.
We visited the US this summer (see previous post, “USA: Summer 2015,” July14) and the Mediterranean coast (previous post: “Cannes: Far from the Madding crowd,” Aug. 20).
We recently went back to the coast for a gala evening at the Hotel Belles Rives in Juan les Pins/Antibes. Our Finnish friends, Terttu and Mikko, have a rental apartment which they generously offered us. In addition to dining and dancing, I swam in the Med which sure beats a pool, and we took a short but scenic hike around Cap d’Antibes.
We are not sorry the heat has subsided, but sorry that summer is over. The days are getting too short. Some restaurants will soon close for the season. No more concerts and village festivals. Winter can be bleak here, and it’s a long wait for spring.
Photos of other summer activities follow.
*Bicycle Bob/Vino Roberto
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Fruity floats, gigantic citrus creations, fabulous flowers. The annual Menton Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron) is an explosion of color, scents, and scenes in honor of the city’s prized small yellow fruit.
We were enthralled with it all during a visit many years ago, and returned a few weeks ago to survey the scene of dazzling orange and yellow sculptures once again.
This Riviera city, the lemon capital of France on the border with Italy, has been celebrating the lemon with festivities every year since 1929. The festival attracts some 230,000 visitors who come to admire 145 tons of citrus fruits which make up the creations and exhibitions.
This year’s theme, the lemon in China, featured a mammoth dragon, a pagoda, a temple, animals and more all made of lemons and oranges.
The exhibits are set up along the Jardin Biovès, a long promenade lined with the colossal fruit constructions. An elevated ramp in the middle is especially popular with the camera crowd who line the steps for overall shots of the scene. Stands selling the fruit, citrus liqueurs, soaps, jams and postcards do a brisk business.
Menton’s microclimate with more than 300 sunny, temperate days per year is ideal for growing the tangy fruit. There are some 80 varieties of lemons, but it’s the Menton lemon that is prized by chefs for its perfume, distinctly flavored zest and pulp, and high sugar content. While the lemon gets top billing, oranges play a leading role in the gigantic creations.
We had previously visited Menton, my favorite coastal city, in January. See post, “French Riviera: Magnifico Menton.” The city, which was originally part of Italy, became the property of Charles Grimaldi, Lord of Monaco, in 1346. In 1848 it broke away from Monaco, becoming a free city, and in 1860 it became part of France. By the late 19th century it was on the map as a popular tourist spot on the French Riviera.
This time instead of staying in Menton, we crossed the border and spent three nights in Sanremo on the Italian Riviera. It’s just a 45 minute drive from Menton, and a lovely town on a coastal bike path. That was our plan – get back on the bikes.
Husband, formerly known as Bicycle Bob (BB), was an avid cyclist. He seems to have lost interest in pedaling, even though he invested in a snazzy, expensive bicycle a few years ago. His passion has become wine, so I call him VR (Vino Roberto). I miss biking and the great rides we have taken over the years — in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Holland and France.
Let’s not give in to old age. Let’s get moving again. He agreed and we had a wonderful, easy ride on the bike route from Sanremo to San Lorenzo al Mare, about 18 kilometers, then back to Sanremo and another 4 kilometers in the other direction to Ospedaletti.
Old railroad tracks were converted into the wide coastal trail, used by walkers and roller bladers as well as bicyclists. It meanders through Sanremo then down the coast. No hills. No need to downshift. There are plenty of spots along the route complete with benches where you can rest and enjoy the scenery. And villages (Bussana, Arma di Taggia, Santo Stefano al Mare) for a refreshment stopover.
We had a fantastic and bargain lunch at Café Emy by the beach in San Lorenzo al Mare. The insalata frutti di mare (seafood salad) was huge – a meal in itself. My spaghetti frutti di mare was the best I have ever eaten (see photo).
A unique aspect to this bike route is tunnels – several. The most famous and longest is the Capo Nero tunnel along the section Sanremo-Ospedaletti, 1.75 kilometers long. It has been converted into a memorial of sorts to Sanremo’s most famous sporting event, the cycling classic Milan-Sanremo. For more than 100 years, the race has been the first important contest of the cycling season. It will take place on March 22 this year.
Every bay of the tunnel is dedicated to a specific year in the history of the race, with some basic facts about that year’s event written on one side, with tidbits and anecdotes on the other, in both Italian and English. I was too busy pedaling to read it all, but did try to catch some phrases to break up the monotony of the dismal tunnel trek.
Total ride: 45 kilometers. It was a success. And, so was the hotel where we stayed. Fabulous. With just four rooms, the Villa Rita can’t really be called a hotel. The house sits just above the beach within walking distance of the town center. Our room had a large terrace and lovely views. I was in heaven, lying in bed, enjoying the sea view from the window while listening to the restful sounds of waves slapping the shore — and contemplating future bike rides.
It’s easy to understand why artists, film stars, royalty, politicians, Russian oligarchs – and plain old folks like us –are enamored of the French Riviera. The scenery, that seductive combination of mountains and sea, is the stuff of glamorous coffee table books. Add to that plenty of sunshine, good food and happy faces.
VR and I would like to join those happy faces someday, downsize and move closer to the sea. With that long range goal in mind, we set off to Menton last week. It is the last city in France on the coast before the Italian border. At times, you’d think you were in Italy. Lots of Italian spoken, restaurants featuring Italian specials, more joie de vivre. Even though that’s a French term, the Italians seem to have lots more of it than the too-often dour French – in my opinion.
Menton has a lovely stretch of beach (stones not sand) bordered by many turn of the century mansions, not unlike Nice, just smaller. Skinny streets in the Old Town, as well as long sets of pebbled steps, climb to an imposing Italian Baroque church, then onwards to a chapel and even higher to a cemetery. There’s a busy pedestrian shopping street, an old covered market hall, and a well known museum dedicated to the works of artist Jean Cocteau. The city is also known for its gardens which we will visit next time.
We found many restaurants closed for the season in January, but thanks to the advice of a woman at the tourist office, we had a wonderful fish dinner (Branzino sotto sale). Sea bass baked under a mound of salt which locks in all the moisture. Owners of the Coquille d’Or restaurant, the chef and his wife, are Italian. Our waiter was Italian. The fish – maybe it came from the Italian Med.
Ventimiglia, the town just across the border in Italy, has an enormous Friday market, a source of fashion bargains and more. Parking is always a nightmare, but our Menton hotel desk clerk suggested we take the train. Perfect and only 11.20 euros round trip for both of us. This time the market was a disappointment, perhaps because it’s too early for spring fashion, too late for winter?? I did find a few cheap treasures.
Then, a return to a waterfront restaurant we had found on a previous visit for another amazing meal. VR went for grilled fish. I chose spaghetti frutti di mare, chuck full of mussels, clams, a few shrimp and some unknown critters.
Before heading back to our abode in the hinterlands, we joined members of the American Club of the Riviera for an outing in Nice. A guided visit of the Musée Masséna preceded a gourmet lunch at the Hotel Negresco. The museum, a sumptuous Belle Époque villa on the Promenade des Anglais, was built between 1898 and 1901 by Victor Masséna, grandson of one of Napoleon’s marshals, and a collector of precious objets d’art.
More opulence next door at the Hotel Negresco, another Belle Époque gem (1912). According to a guidebook, it is “one of the great surviving European palace-hotels.” I was delighted to see a gigantic Niki de Saint Phalle Nana adding a whimsical touch under the Baccarat chandelier hanging from the dome in the Salon Royale which was built by Gustav Eiffel’s workshops.
By the time our excellent lunch (gazpacho, lamb and apple crumble) ended, clouds put an end to the sun’s rays. No chance for good photos of Nice’s new addition, the Promenade du Paillon, a strip of parkland between the city center and Vieux Nice (Old Town). We did saunter down the Promenade des Anglais, along the sea, then crossed over for a walk to the giant Ferris wheel at the end of the new reflecting pool.
We’ll be back in Menton at the end of February for its Lemon Festival (14 Feb.-4 March) www.fete-du-citron.com
American Club of the Riviera: americanclubriviera.com
Restaurant Coquille d’Or: xx 33 (0) 4 93 35 80 67
More on Nice www.nicetourisme.com Nice’s Carnaval celebration, lots of fabulous flowers on parade and more, takes place from 13 Feb. – 1 March. See my previous posts: “Nice Carnaval,” Feb. 23, 2009 and “Nice- Enchantment on the Riviera,” Jan. 12, 2012
Since I am in an Italian mood, and since a hearty soup is perfect for these cold winter days, Today’s Taste features one of my favorites, Minestrone. See Recipe column at top right.
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With its gorgeous landscapes and numerous attractions, Provence is a Mecca for tourists. French. British. Dutch. Belgians. Asians. Russians, and many more.
Friends and relatives who come to visit us in the Luberon hills also enjoy the allure of Provence. Carol and Noel, friends from Germany who have retired to northern Italy, arrived in early October. Soon after came John and Mickey, VR’s (husband Vino Roberto’s) brother and sister-in-law from northern Ohio.
We kept on the move and had fun showing off our Provence favorites. A hit with all was Carrières de Lumières in Les-Baux-de-Provence. Words fail to describe this amazing place –vast caverns, formerly quarries, where a unique multimedia presentation enthralls all. The show changes every winter.
“Klimt and Vienna” is this year’s show, ending Jan. 4, which features the works of turn-of-the-century artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, plus Fritz Hundertwasser, projected on the walls and floors. Wander through the immense space, engulfed by the gigantique tableaux. Enjoy the mesmerizing musical background.
“Klimt is now one of my favorites. The show is awesome. I could have just sat there all day looking at the images,” said Carol. We, too, are overwhelmed with the production and return every year to see the new show.
The ancient town, Les-Baux-de-Provence, with its medieval château, spectacular views and boutique lined cobblestone streets, is also captivating. ”I’ve been to a million of those cutesy towns that have become little more than amusement parks. Les Baux seemed, to me, to have retained some of its soul,” commented Noel.
Mickey was especially intrigued with the site where the ruins of an 11th century citadel dominate a plateau perched on a rocky spur. She listened to the explanations on an audio headset at each numbered stop throughout the historic site. “I love castles,” she said.
Carol and Noel were also impressed with Roussillon, a touristy town whose attraction is its Sentier des ocres (ochre footpath). A trail descends into a gorge of orange/yellow walls, then winds through the woods bordered by these exotic, colorful cliffs. The area was also formerly a working quarry.
Noel had made a special request . He remembers a scene in the movie, “In Like Flint” with James Coburn, during which Coburn savors Bouillabaisse, Marseilles’ signature dish. He had to eat this legendary fish soup in Marseille. I did some
restaurant research to find a place serving authentic Bouillabaisse. Many restaurants have a version for tourists. My find, Le Ruhl, has a perfect setting on a hillside just adjacent to the Mediterranean. Great views – but the food? OK, but not great. Next time I’ll try another restaurant for Bouillabaisse
Before lunch we had hoped to take a boat ride of the calanques (dramatic fjord like inlets in the limestone cliffs between Marseille and Cassis), but due to the fierce Mistral which blows too frequently in these parts, the boats were not running. We braved the winds and took a long walk through the Vieux Port, then on to the J4 Esplanade, Marseille’s swanky new addition for 2013 when the city was the European Capital of Culture. I never tire of admiring the dazzling architecture of the new Villa Méditerranée and MuCem ( museum of Mediterranean and European culture).
Mickey and John did get to see the calanques. On a delightfully calm day we boarded the sightseeing boat in the enchanting port town, Cassis, for the excursion through parts of this dramatic coastline. It was market day in Cassis with vendors selling clothing, food, purses and all manner of souvenirs.
Markets are a major Provence attraction. Mickey accompanied me to Forcalquier, a town near our home known for its big Monday market. “I loved the shopping you did at the outdoor market,” she later said. “ I really liked that you were able to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, produce, eggs, fish and sausages direct from the farmers the same morning they were picked. I enjoyed listening to you get a better price for the shawl/cape you purchased, especially after the seller informed you this would be the last time he was going to be at the market with his items.” (It was a coat I could have done without. But when my bargaining was successful, I could not resist.)
VR and I recently joined the American Club of the Riviera. Their October agenda included an event during Mickey and John’s visit I knew we should not miss – a tour of the Henri Matisse Rosary chapel in hillside Vence above the Riviera. A documentary, basically an interview by American Barbara Freed with the late Sister Jacques Marie, the nun who played a major role in the realization of this unique structure, preceded the tour. Freed has translated the nun’s book about her relationship with Matisse into English and served as director of the documentary. She was on hand with more fascinating commentary. It’s an unbelievable story – the deep friendship between this renowned artist who was not religious and the Dominican nun, and how she influenced, inspired and encouraged him on the chapel project.
An overnight stop in Nice, my Riviera favorite, preceded our trek to Vence. We strolled along the seaside Promenade des Anglais and wandered through Old Nice.
Then back into the hills to Sospel, a town VR and I had visited many times. We had even considered moving there. We became friends with Marie Mayer who
runs a chambre d’hote (bread and breakfast), Domaine du Paraïs, where we always stayed. Her late father, Marcel Mayer, was a well known sculptor. She invited us for an aperitif in her living room filled with some of her father’s remarkable art works.
Noel and Carol are foodies like VR and I. ”Food, of course, is always high on our list,” Noel said. “The afternoon at the Dutch guy’s place was unforgettable… everything about that afternoon was wonderful – the intimate setting, the company and the food, which really was excellent.”
He was referring to Table du Bonheur, a special eatery in the hinterlands where we had an excellent lunch. (See previous post, Table of Happiness, Sept. 2, 2011)
Our food extravaganza with John and Mickey was an over-the-top meal in Italy – a lunch of multi courses at an agriturismo (farm inn), La Locanda degli Ulivi, hidden up a very long, very narrow, very windy road in the hills above Dolceacqua, a small, picturesque town just north of Ventimiglia. This was a first for me and VR. We will return, but VR said I can drive up that taxing hill next time. We must have had at least six different antipasti before two different types of pasta followed by the main course, rabbit, and the dessert. Not gourmet cuisine, but a fun experience in a livey, cozy – and very Italian — ambiance .
Throughout our drives, Mickey, who is very interested in vegetation, often asked me the names of different trees. I failed . All the lavender fields fascinated her. She’d like to come back to see them in bloom (usually July). Olive trees were another favorite. ”The olive orchards were amazing to see. It might be interesting to see the trees when in bloom or when the farmers are harvesting the olives. I noticed olives were served at all the meals.”
I asked her what was most memorable about her visit. “The view of the mountains was unbelievable, and the winding roads took our breath away. What a wonderful trip and fantastic weather! The sight reminded me of what heaven must be like. Not a lot of noise, heavy traffic, or trucks unloading but just a peaceful, restful vacation place.”
Not quite heaven, but Provence has its charms.
Like my blog? Tell your friends. If you are not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up with your email address at upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared. Please comment, Leave a Reply below. I love feedback. Coming next: Incredible Iceland Part II –horses, fish, food, adventure. And, for a taste of fall, try my recipe for Spaghetti Squash Gratin — above right.