French Riviera: Magnifico Menton

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.coast.7

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.coast.1

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.coast.4

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 coast.3moisture. 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.coast.5

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.coast.12

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.coast.6

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.coast.9

We’ll be back in Menton at the end of February for its Lemon Festival (14 Feb.-4 March) www.fete-du-citron.comcoast.8

More on Menton: http://www.tourisme-menton.frcoast.13

American Club of the Riviera: americanclubriviera.com

Restaurant Coquille d’Or: xx 33 (0) 4 93 35 80 67coast.10

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.coast.11

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Incredible Iceland Part II

 Merry Christmas to Tales and Travel fans. For all about Christmas in southern France, see my previous post, “Noel en Provence,” Dec. 2010. And, just in time for holiday reading, more Iceland:blog2.16

“Of Horses and Men,” a strange but captivating movie about Iceland, piqued our curiosity about the country.   We saw the movie several weeks before departure for our Icelandic adventure. The horses were sensational. I knew I would have to ride an Icelandic horse.

I did earn a Girl Scout badge in horsemanship at the age of 12. Too, too long ago. But, I have always been enamored of horses and have ridden off and on (mostly off) since my childhood.   I am definitely not an accomplished rider, but riding an Icelandic horse seemed so easy in the film.blog2.1

It’s the tölt, the fifth gait of these small, sturdy horses which were originally imported by the Vikings.   A trot? A running walk? Whatever, the tölt is amazing to watch. The horse moves at a gentle speed, precisely, rhythmically moving legs up and down, while the rider seems frozen to the saddle. No bouncing, jolting, posting.   “You can drink a glass of champagne while the horse tölts,” it is said.blog2.17

Forget the champagne, let’s just ride. And, we did, with Andres and Luka, a young couple who have 25 horses at their riding company in northern Iceland.    Husband VR (Vino Roberto) is (or was) dedicated to a bicycle saddle. He is not thrilled about riding a horse, but he put up a brave front and joined me and Karen, a woman from our conference group. We followed our leaders up and blog2.19down rocky hills, through fields, with superb views of the non-too distant sea. VR was not at ease. Those steep downhills freaked him out. He was all too happy to dismount so Andres could take Karen and me to flat land for at try at tölt.

We charged along, but I was bouncing, painfully jerking up and down, to and fro. I tried to post. No go. This can’t be the tölt. After about just 10 minutes of this agonizing experience, we gave up. Apparently it takes skill to get the horse to switch to this gait. Even Karen, who is a riding instructor in the US, was only briefly successful.

I am still happy that I rode an Icelandic horse. It is one of the many adventures touted in the tourist brochures.blog2.8

Along our drive in the north country we encountered more horses, a roundup – exactly like the scene in the movie. Icelandic horses are driven up to mountain pastures where they roam freely during the summer. In the fall they are driven back to the lowlands. We stopped to watch the horses, corralled in different pens, being claimed, and then separated, by their respective owners. All the horses are micro chipped, we learned. Many wanted no part of leaving their summer friends and gave their owners a challenge, resisting attempts to move into different pens. It was an exciting spectacle.blog2.3

A few sheep were held in other pens . Sheep are as prevalent in Iceland as pigeons in Venice. They, too, spend the summer in the mountains. Most had been rounded up earlier. Those we saw were stragglers left behind who joined the horse procession to the valleys.blog2.2

Horses and sheep are important to the Icelandic economy. But, not nearly as important as fish. Today the fishing industry accounts for about half of the country’s GDP. We joined a whale watching cruise but saw only a few tails of distant whales for nano seconds. Fishing was offered on board. It did not excite me, but I did brave the cold winds on deck to take photos of the fishermen and women.blog2.21

Incredible! Almost as soon as they would throw a line into the choppy sea, a bite. They hauled in fish after fish, sizeable critters, mainly haddock but some mackerel. One woman caught six in less than a half hour. This did excite me. I had to give it a try. Too late. All the hungry fish had been caught, or the word had spread underwater that this was a dangerous offering. No matter. A chef on board instantly cleaned and grilled the fish – fabulous.blog2.10

A word about whales. Iceland, despite global condemnation, is engaged in commercial whaling. The country did respond to diplomatic pressure in 2012 and renounced hunting of fin whales. Minke whale hunting continues, mainly for export to Japan. I did see whale on some restaurant menus, but Icelanders are said to eat little whale.

“It’s all emotional. The countries who criticize us are doing far worse,” said a worker at a fish factory.blog2.11

We had another fishy outing, joining a “Sea to Table” excursion. First stop, a smelly factory where fish are prepared for export. We were suited up for the tour – white plastic coats, blue hair nets, shoe cover-ups. A perfect Halloween costume.blog2.12

Much of the fish processing is automated, but we did watch skillful employees undertake the initial step – off with head, out with the guts – at record speed.

The best part followed, a “grand crab feast” at a nearby restaurant, Vitinn, where mussels and other sea creatures are kept in live holding tanks. The restaurant’s claim to fame is rock crab, a marine delicacy found only in Icelandic waters and off the east coast of North America. The meal began with an exquisite crab soup, then a buffet of an overwhelming assortment of shell fish.blog2.13

In the town of Höfn, I savored another sea delicacy, what Icelanders call “ lobster,” but is actually langoustine. Pricey, but delicious.

VR is not a vegetarian, but much prefers fish to meat. He was in his element in Iceland where fish is on every restaurant menu, usually many different kinds. Atlantic char is a favorite and tasty. What about all those sheep? Lamb, too, is on many a menu. Because the lamb graze freely all summer, chowing down on chemical-free grass and herbs, the meat is extra tender. We met an American woman, a frequent Iceland visitor, who takes large quantities of vacuum packed lamb home with her.

blog2.22Fish and lamb aside, my favorite Icelandic food is skyr, a yogurt like concoction made from skimmed milk. It’s extra creamy , rich, decadent – but low in fat. It is often mixed with fruit flavors. Since food in Iceland is very expensive (see previous post “Incredible Iceland”) we often bought containers of skyr to have in the room for our after dinner dessert.

Iceland is paradise for adventure seekers with a laundry list of offerings: glacier hikes, trips inside volcanoes, scuba diving and snorkeling, caving, rafting…. We went for an ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) outing. These were heavy, monstrous vehicles. Again, a uniform was required: Bright orange coveralls, boots, gloves and helmet. The how-to briefing was that — brief. I let VR take the wheel, but had intended to give it a try during the ride.blog2.14

I quickly changed my mind. We were a large group, about 18 vehicles, with a leader in the front vehicle and another bringing up the rear. Just 10 minutes into the ride, an abrupt stop.  We waited and waited, then got off and walked ahead to investigate what the holdup was.

A vehicle was overturned at the bottom of a cliff. Fortunately the driver and passenger had been thrown off and were lying on the ground above the crashed ATV.   It took time for assistance and medical personnel to arrive. The victims were taken to a hospital. Both suffered severe injuries, complicated bone breaks. After a stay in a hospital in Iceland, they returned to the U.S. for surgery.

The ride continued. My desire to drive was quashed.  VR said it was fun, but I found the journey too long and too cold. The scenery, like much of Iceland, was barren, bleak. It quickly became monotonous.blog2.15

Never mind, we all went on for a soothing afternoon at Iceland’s number one tourist attraction: the Blue Lagoon, an enormous outdoor pool of geothermal water. There is even a bar in the center offering cocktails. And, a station with silica mud deposits to smear on your face – good for the skin and wrinkles.

I am a swimmer. I like to move in the water. These warm spa pools bore me after about 10 minutes. But, one cannot visit Iceland without a soak in the Blue Lagoon. A fitting way to end our two-week journey in Incredible Iceland.blog2.7

Horseback riding with Andres and Luka, a delightful couple who invited us for refreshment in their home after the ride, www.Icelandhorsetours.com

Whale watching and fishing: Elding Whale Watching, www.elding.is

Vitinn Seafood restaurant, www.vitinn.isblog2.4

No new recipe this time. But, the grape salad (top right) is fabulous, a perfect accompaniment to a holiday dinner.

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Food for Thought

I know. This is supposed to be Iceland Part II. Stay tuned. More Iceland will appear very soon. But, since this blog is about more than travel, namely food, and since that topic has been hot recently (think Thanksgiving), this is a blog post on cuisine. Non foodies can tune out.

I celebrated the turkey day twice – before the actual holiday in northern Italy with friends Carol and Noel, then again last weekend with friends here.

Noel and Carol
Noel and Carol

Carol’s feast was excellent, the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, two different sweet potato dishes, Waldorf salad, broccoli casserole and peas. For dessert, pumpkin pie (a Thanksgiving must) and an apple/pear pie.

Waldorf salad, a mixture of apples, celery and walnuts, was one of my mother’s specials. I had forgotten how tasty it is. All loved Carol’s version, which, I learned, she is often asked to bring to pot luck dinners. Her turkey was terrific, so moist and flavorful. I copied her roasting method (read on) with a winning result.

Carol's spread
Carol’s spread

Carol and Noel entertained 13 (Italians and Americans), all seated at a long table in their living room. The table décor was fit for a decorator magazine:

Carol's table
Carol’s table

Strands of fall leaves, colorful gourds, flower arrangements, plus a party “favor” for each guest to take home (a pilgrim figure with a small candle).

The afternoon of the evening event, the hostess was calm, relaxed and even had time to sit and chat. I was in awe as I am usually a total wreck, madly dashing to and fro with lots of last minute prep before guests arrive. Carol had prepared much in advance.

I tried to emulate her for my Thanksgiving dinner, from the turkey to the décor to her calm, cool demeanor. (I failed in the latter category.)

“The United States of Thanksgiving,” a New York Times (NYT) food feature with recipes from all 50 states was my inspiration. I pored over all the recipes and chose several, some a bit challenging.

I also relied on a few of my recipes from past years. First, Cranberry Chutney. I was never a fan of the obligatory cranberry relish (Ocean Spray from a

Go for the real berry.
Go for the real berry.

can) served with the holiday bird. Some years ago I came across a Cranberry Chutney recipe in a newspaper. “A pleasant relief from the standard, cloyingly sweet cranberry sauce usually served at Thanksgiving.” Indeed, and my preferred take on the cranberry.

Sweet potatoes, another Thanksgiving requisite and yet another I never liked, with the possible exception of my mother’s Brandied Sweet Potatoes, no doubt thanks to the brandy. (See Helen’s Brandied Sweet Potatoes in Recipe column at right). Instead of the sacred potato I made Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Apples, colorful, festive and delicious. I followed an old recipe for mashed potatoes with cheddar and scallions. Good, but too runny. I always seem to have this problem with mashed potatoes. Must stop adding so much milk.

My spread.
My spread.

Then, the NYT recipes. The Minnesota Grape Salad caught my eye. My mother (family traditions are a big part of this American meal) always served a fresh fruit salad at Thanksgiving. I was going to copy Carol and do a Waldorf salad, but why not grapes? The recipe calls for seedless grapes. I went to four different stores before finding them, but the hunt paid off. This was the easiest of all, and the favorite of my guests. “You could serve it as a dessert,” one commented. The recipe is featured in Today’s Taste, upper right.

I like to begin the meal with a soup. My recipe repertoire includes several that are appropriate for the holiday, mainly different versions of squash or pumpkin soup. Time for something new: Illinois Pumpkin Soup with Ancho Chile.

Canned pumpkin and dried ancho chile are not found on supermarket shelves in France. Thanks to Carol and Noel, I had these key ingredients. Noel is a retired Air Force colonel with base privileges at Aviano Air Force Base, Italy. He purchased both for me at the base commissary.pumpkin

Alas, this was an experiment that failed. I found nothing exceptional about this concoction and regret not having served one of my tried and true standbys.

Connecticut Quince with Cipollini Onions and Bacon. I had to try this and conquer the daunting quince. Back during my years in Germany, it seemed most of my German friends made quince jelly every fall. I love to cook, but don’t do jams, jellies, nor do I can. Yet, I felt the need to somehow incorporate this fruit in my cooking.

Quince is not for sissies, I learned. Peeling this rock-hard fruit was tough enough. Cutting it into chunks required a cleaver and the muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I let VR attack the stubborn quince, but all those tiny onions had to be peeled.

Nasty quince
Nasty quince

“Cipollini” in Italian means small onion. The NYT title for this recipe is thus redundant. I felt triumphant at discovering an error made by those gods of journalism at the NYT.

Verdict: Good, but definitely not worth all the intensive labor. The Germans and those cooks in Connecticut can have their quince.

North Carolina Sweet Potato Cornbread. This was easy and good. Since French bread is tops, I never bake bread here. But cornbread is so American; I decided it would be a nice addition to my meal for British and French guests

Tennessee Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Peanut Vinaigrette. I like most all veggies, with the exception of peas – and Brussels Sprouts. So, why did I prepare this? Because sprouts always seem to be included in those magazine

My table, festive thanks to decorative elements provided by Carol. elkements Carol sent me home with the decor
My table, festive thanks to decorative elements provided by Carol.

features with Thanksgiving menus. I have tried so many versions over the years – with maple syrup, bacon, apples, walnuts, pecans, dill, lemon. I hated them all. I decided to give the B.S. one last chance due to the peanut (actually peanut butter) in this recipe. A new twist. I have always found recipes with peanut butter to my liking. Forget it! Even yummy peanut butter could not save the horrible sprout. A Brussels Spout is a Brussels Sprout is a Brussels Sprout. Never again will a sprout be found in my kitchen.

Arkansas Roast Heritage Turkey and Gravy. Perhaps the best turkey I have ever prepared. The recipe calls for brining. My friend Lynne, a cook extraordinaire, turned me onto brining the bird several years ago. It definitely makes for a moister turkey. This recipe goes one step further.

Carol's handsome turkey,
Carol’s handsome turkey,

It basically utilizes the same cooking method Carol follows. Her turkey was an American Butterball from the commissary and she did not brine. But, she enveloped the bird in layers of heavy duty foil with a cup of water added to the bottom of the turkey foil package. No basting. The turkey is essentially steamed. Her method specifies a higher temperature than the Arkansas recipe. I followed the latter, tightly covering the turkey in two layers of foil.

The only disappointment with this method is the appearance of the cooked turkey. Not a beautiful golden brown bird to present to guests, but instead a very sickly, pale, almost white fowl. I kept it hidden in the kitchen as VR carved it. Carol’s bird, since it had cooked at a higher temp, was presentable. Perhaps I should have removed the foil for the last half hour to allow for browning? But, wouldn’t it dry out the turkey?  It’s the taste and texture that count. “Succulent” proclaimed Lynne. I will definitely prepare future turkeys this way. Thank you Arkansas – and Carol!

Pumpkin Pie and Apple Cranberry Pie – my desserts, but most guests had no room for them. VR is enjoying the leftovers. The filling for my pumpkin pie includes a healthy dose of brandy. I love those recipes with a bit of alcoholic content.fblog.5

For your holiday cooking, you may want to try these and other NYT Thanksgiving recipes. http://cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/603426-the-united-states-of-thanksgiving

If you’d like some of my recipes not found in the column at right (Cranberry Chutney, Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Apples, Pumpkin Pie with Brandy), let me know. I will be glad to supply. The Grape Salad recipe is Today’s Taste (upper right).

Casa Parks (left) with the Domolmites.

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Provence for Visitors

With its gorgeous landscapes and numerous attractions, Provence is a Mecca for tourists. French. British. Dutch. Belgians. Asians. Russians, and many more.

Hilltop Gordes -- the quintessential Provence perched village.
Hilltop Gordes — the quintessential Provence perched village.
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.carriers.3

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.carriers.4

“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 carrieres.2Hundertwasser, 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.lesB2

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.lesbaux.

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.rou.fb

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.

Carol and Noel and Bouillabaisse.
Carol and Noel and Bouillabaisse.
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

Bouillabaisse is much more than fish soup. A plate brimming with different kinds of fish comes with the soup.  Carol ordered the deluxe version with lobster.
Bouillabaisse is much more than fish soup. A plate brimming with different kinds of fish comes with the soup. Carol ordered the deluxe version with lobster.
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

Selfie, of sorts, under the new, giant mirrored canopy at Marseille's Vieux Port.
Selfie, of sorts, under the new, giant mirrored canopy at Marseille’s Vieux Port.
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).cassis.2

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.cassis.boats

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.)

Although photos are "interdit" at the Vence chapel, many manage to get a shot.
Although photos are “interdit” at the Vence chapel, many manage to get a shot.
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.nice

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.

John, Mickey and VR.
John, Mickey and VR.
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

Marie and I with one of her father's sculptures.
Marie and I with one of her father’s sculptures.
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)

Noel and Carol treated us to lunch and some fine wines at Le Bistrot de Lagarde which now has a Michelin star.
Noel and Carol treated us to lunch and some fine wines at Le Bistrot de Lagarde which now has a Michelin star.
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 .

Clean plates after an Italian feast.
Clean plates after an Italian feast.
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.”

Dolceacqua
Dolceacqua
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.me.b.nice

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.

More information:

www.carrieres-lumieres.com

www.chateau-baux-provence.com

www.roussillon-provence.com

www.cassis.fr

www.domaineduparais.monsite-orange.fr

www.lalocandadegliulivi.com

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Les Rosiers Renters 2014

blog.lede.2Luberon weather during summer 2014 was not the stuff those vacationers from the north expect. The glorious sun that normally blazes every day in July and August, and most days in June, was too often on holiday, taking a rest behind massive clouds. Nonetheless those who rented the apartment at Les Rosiers, our home, did not complain.   When the sun appeared, they were happy to plunge into the pool. They also hiked, biked, explored the region and discovered interesting sights. The season got off to an early start with our first renters who arrived in late April for a week, a young French family: Anne, Armand and precious Clement, a blog.guests.1veritable model baby. We never heard a whimper. We rarely saw them as they set off early each morning and returned in the evening after a full day of sightseeing. Clement was no problem, his mother told me, as he was accustomed to being in the car for long periods. Amazing! Back for the fifth season, Austrians Klaus and Eva again spent four weeks with us, from early June to early July. Eva is a legal secretary, so Klaus, who is retired, arrives for the first week with his car and roof rack packed to the brim with beer and Austrian blog.guests7delicacies. He always presents us with  generous gifts of the latter. Eva flies in for the middle two weeks. They lounge poolside, read, walk in the countryside, revisit favorite places and friends.blog.guest.7a Klaus also likes to do battle with those nasty wasps that like to drink from the pool and zap you with a painful sting if you are in the way. While in the water, he often walks around, fly swatter in hand, striking the enemies with vengeance.  And, he loves to grill. He treated us to a fabulous meal of his specials one evening. Before leaving, he gave me a list of items needed in the apartment, something he has done in the past. This time he said we needed a fire extinguisher, salad spinner, blog.guests.7band quality clothes hangers. He showed me one of the metal hangers from the apartment closet. “These are Alcatraz hangers,” he announced, and then explained that at home they use wooden hangers. Rest assured Klaus, all have been purchased. No more Alcatraz hangers. Machteld and John from the Netherlands arrived for three weeks in July. They were content to rest and relax poolside. Machteld came with 20 books. She read 16. blog.guests4John was often on his computer, or photographing butterflies. They raved about Bacchus, a restaurant in nearby Pierrevert that John had found on Trip Advisor. It was so good, they went three times. And, they shopped. Machteld loves to cook. She went home with a car full of French goodies, including plenty of wine. “We love France, the food, the wine, blog.guest4athe people,” she said. They spend a summer holiday in a different part of France each summer. This was their first time in the Luberon. Fortunately, they and the other summer renters like cats. We have three, as well as many feline visitors. Machteld showed me photos of her two, one a Maine Coon, and we shared cat stories.blog.guest.3 Marco and Mireille from Alsace joined us for two August weeks. Marco was smitten with Filippo, a feisty feline who amuses with his antics, often chasing blog.guest.3aimaginary butterflies. A DJ  in the evening, by day Marco manages his clothing stores. In his younger days he was a ski instructor at Val d’Isere. We had some serious ski talk. Mireille works with the elderly in a hospital.   Their passion: hiking. They drove to different areas each day from where they set off on long, long treks. Wynand and Evelyn, another Dutch couple, began everyday with a poolside breakfast and swim. They were lucky — there was morning sun. Then, on to the bikes, which they had brought with them, for cycle excursions.  ”We enjoyed having a coffee everyday at the Reillanne (our village) cafes,” Evelyn said.blog.guests.6 They also vacation in France every year, but usually camp near Mont Ventoux, the legendary mountain Wynand has conquered on his bicycle five times. Stef, Ninon and adorable Lise, 1 1/2 years old, came from Lyon where Ninon works as a “chef de cuisine” in a restaurant and Stef is in the communications industry. They did not venture too far, but did walk into Reillanne almost every day, about a 25-minute jaunt, at first up a very steep hill on a bumpy road.   Stef pushed Lise in her baby carriage. She was another model infant — always smiling or laughing, a joy to admire.blog.guests.5 “Thank you for the welcome, the cats for their company, the flowers for their colors, the pool for its freshness and the road for its sweat, “ Ninon wrote in our guest book.

If you’d like more information about the rental apartment, see http://www.les-rosiers.com

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