Food is about pleasure, and nobody does food better than the French. Here is just a tiny sampling of actual dishes we swooned over on our various trips through France.Whether it’s a Michelin starred gastronomic experience, a country auberge or tiny inn, or even a bistro, every single item was authentic and the best of its sort. That’s what all of the dishes below have in common: authenticity.
Last year I printed the top 4 reasons to visit Provence in the spring. But, really, there are so many more things to explore than just 4, and so many wonderful things to do and see all spring and summer (and fall). Here are Bliss Travels top tips for Provence.
1. Stunning scenery bathed in light that made world famous painters like Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet …..swoon. In May, there are poppies, cherry blossoms, almond blossoms, and all sorts of spring flowers. In June, the cherries are in full bloom. In July and August you have Lavender.
2. The Provencal Markets. Whether it’s the first fruit and spring vegetable, or the late summer melons, peaches and figs, the produce in Provence is unrivaled –and the crafts, crowds and street life are all showcased at the colorful Provencal markets.
3. The Villages. They are beautiful and each one is a piece of art in its own right!
3. Food. Mouthwatering, amazing, real, local, sustainable, gourmet FOOD.
5. Wines. Provence is home to the Cote du Rhone and has many fine wines, Chateauneuf du Pape among them. It is home to Bandol, Tavel, Vacqueras, Gigondas and many many more.
6. Festivals. The festivals in spring and summer are wonderful. Everything from fancy markets, to bull fights to street music, to games, to dancing, tasting and more. There are cherry festivals in May and June. Village festivals from May through August. Music festivals in June. Melon festivals in July. Lavender festivals in August. Bastille Day festivals –on Basstille Day (see our earlier post about this.)
6. Time on your own with your family and friends--even with all the activity! Provence is a place with lots of beautiful little corners, fabulous walks, quiet beaches, empty mountain tops, miniscule villages –all where you can see something new, and be away from it all — Be with yourself, your family or your friends, or your thoughts.
One of the great things about French food is that it’s so seasonal….Unlike our large supermarkets where you can find “n’importe quoi, n’importe quand” (anything, anytime), that’s not the case in France. April/May are for strawberries and asparagus. July and August for peaches and melons, and so on. Well, the December holidays, though not during a “growing” season, have some of the most special culinary treats of any time of year. This is the time of year for….
1. Foie Gras. Too hot to keep well (and too rich) for summer. This is prime time for foie gras. Best served with dried fruits, fruit breads, chutney…Don’t miss out on this. There are even “stands” at some of the Christmas markets that serve this as street food. And also, there are fabulous specialty places that make or bring in the best of the best. We have a restaurant we frequent who does this beautifully.
Photographer Anthony B makes this foie gras with fig look as good as it tasted!
2. Oysters and Champagne. Yes, you can have this along the streets or by the river bank during the holidays only. The vendors are set up, and a heater or fire is not too far away. Contemplate the lit up night sky while having these treats. Best of the best, at the best time of year. Walk to find the best market streets or by the river bank, where the views are “manifique”.
3. Chestnuts. In many forms. Roasted, and sold on the streets, or pureed and served with lamb or venison. Or candied and soaked in cognac (and sold by the best gourmet shops. Try Fauchon for this special treat. They do it particularly well.) A nutty but sweet flavor, that can be an accompaniment to both savories and desserts (think, Angelina’s Mont Blanc)!
4. Anything…in a Truffle Sauce. (Still remembering that dish as it simmered for Christmas Eve dinner in a little –very little– bistrot we frequent, on the Left Bank). I met the chef that morning as I was out shopping and he was taking a cigarette break. When i commented on the heavenly smell coming from his kitchen, he invited me in. He showed me the boudin blanc and the truffle sauce he was making. Also cooking a stuffed game hen for the night, he gave me a personal recommendation –Get the hen, and then ask for the truffle sauce. It was sublime!
5. Warm Wines. As we stroll the Christmas markets, there are vendors who sell warm mulled wine, both white and red. They add calvados or cognac to them for an added degree of “warmth” and you take your cup and stroll along the miles of markets looking for your favorite artisan products or gifts. We visit several of the markets each year and highly recommend you too visit more than one. Because some specialize in art and antiques, some are filled traditional gifts and crafts, and others have the best foods…
6. Chocolates. This is the time of year the really fine, and very perishable chocolates come out of hiding–and in full view. Perhaps you’ve heard of the wonderful Maison du Chocolat. Truly a great place. But, there are some remarkable, amazing, smaller (lesser known outside of Paris, but feted as masters in Paris) chocolate houses….And dare I say, it’s worth going to Brussels to experience some of this magic. We often do day or overnight trips to Brussels for just this purpose (along with some mussels, or amazing savory waffles).We love these little holiday treats. Inexpensive and deceptively light. Try one!
October in Provence…
On our recent trip to Provence we visited the Luberon and Chateauneuf du Pape.
What was extra special about this trip though was that people had the option to participate in daily photography workshops/sessions before or after sightseeing, and also that we had professional photographer, Anthony Bianciella traveling with us full time. That meant that he was always there to offer help and advice, or simply take on the spot photos for people. (Isn’t it nice to be in your own vacation photos for a change?)
Of course, before we sped down to beautiful Provence via TGV train, we spent a little time in Paris. Walking, sightseeing, photographing…
One of the highlights is always the Provencal scenery. The ruins of Chateauneuf du Pape compete for our attention with the changing colored vines, and the gorgeous Medieval villages… Hard to choose which is the best view.
This particular trip included some light hikes through the countryside as well as the ocher mines, sightseeing in various Medieval villages, and a day trip to Chateauneuf du Pape for some truly remarkable wines from some pretty great vintages (Beaucastel, La Nerthe, Vieux Telegraphe, Barroche…to name a few). Click on the “wine” and watch the video Anthony Bianciella made of our trip so that you can take a “virtual vacation” in Provence.
Our next trip to Provence with Anthony is this May….Everything will be in bloom. Poppies, iris’s, cherry blossoms. It is a gorgeous time of year to go to Provence. Some of Anthony’s Spring photos are below. Click on any of the photos to learn more about our May 2013 trip to Provence. It’s small, custom and pure Bliss!
Please give us caption suggestions –either in comments or via email. We will post our favorites and give you credit –and link to your blog if you are chosen!
2. Painted buildings –from colors mined in Provence.
3. Color co ordinated flower boxes!4. Happy couples -dare we say “blissful“?
7. Wines, and where they come from!
It occurred to me the other day that all the experts and large publications rank vacations and destinations. So, I decided to do some research. And, you know what? Paris, Provence and the French Riviera dominate every list and every writer’s mind.
Here is how SIX experts rate France in 2012 (I had to narrow it down or I’d be writing all day!)
1. The New York Times writes about Provence regularly –several times a year, waxing poetic about its incomparable beauty and superior dining and lifestyle.
2. US Travel & News Report Paris #1 Best Vacations in 2012.
3. National Geographic Luberon (Provence) Top 50 Tours of a Lifetime in 2012