Tour France: Provence is “heaven on earth”

In the New York Times article “Steal My Vacation: Norma Kamali’s Provence” , renowned fashion designer and dedicated olive oil conoisseur Kamali extols the wonders of Provence. She mentioned that “If there was a description of what heaven looks like, I would say this is it.” Tell us something we don’t know!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

Thankfully, Provence isn’t only visited for its (admittedly fantastic) olive oil orchards. Bakeries, farms, ancient ruins, resplendent cathedrals, and warm locals all beckon people from across the world to take a break underneath its spotless blue sky. It is one of the best places to visit in France! Period! Oh, and what about the wines? Chateauneuf du Pape wines, Cote du Rhones, Bandols….and Rose of all shades.

Provence is completely unique, with a relaxed pace that stems from each easy moment. The cicadas chirping in an ancient olive orchard, a secluded lavender field heated by the sun, and an incredible dinner made from fresh ingredients bought at that morning’s market. It is a retreat from stress, and a voyage into “bliss“. Parfait!

The list of our favorite places to visit in Provence could go for days. Luckily, Bliss Travels creates small group custom vacations in Provence at several points throughout the year, in MayJune, July, August, and October, so you can come up with your own list of favorites!  And do it with an insider. Exclusive access is the best part of what we do. (See what our clients say about that.) Escape to your own “heaven on earth” with us to see what Norma Kamali and the New York Times are raving about.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Check out some photos of our previous trips to Provence below!

Provence offers divine meals with incomparably fresh ingredients.

Provence offers divine meals with incomparably fresh ingredients.

Every corner offers a new view to take your breath away.

Every corner offers a new view to take your breath away.

Hiking to the Ancient cathedral on top of a perched village was one of the group's favorite moments in July!

Hiking to the ancient church on top of a 1000+ year old perched village was one of this group’s favorite moments in July!

Olive orchards are around every corner

Olive orchards are around every corner

Our clients loved to stop in the lavender fields when we passed them!

some very special return clients on an awesome trip. Summer is the time that everyone loves to stop in the lavender fields. We pass tons!

Our October trip also features professional photography lessons!

Our October and May (for poppies) trip also feature professional photography for those who want to capture the beauty. Poppy fields are astounding

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Tour France; New Van Gogh Painting Discovered!

After being stored in a Norwegian attic for over 100 years, “Sunset at Montmajour” has been officially declared a long-lost van Gogh original. The first van Gogh to be confirmed since 1928, it took two years of extensive testing before art historians accepted the hypothesis. Museum director Axel Rueger called it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” going on to effuse praise on his fellow historians and van Gogh experts.

"Sunset at Montmajour" was unveiled by the delighted  van Gogh museum director, Axel Ruetger.

“Sunset at Montmajour” was unveiled by the delighted van Gogh museum director, Axel Rueger.

Over a million people visit Amsterdam’s van Gogh museum each year. “Sunset at Montmajour” will only be on view until September 24th, as it is owned by a private collector, giving audiences even more incentive to visit the museum quickly!

Much of van Gogh’s adult life was spent in various facilities in Provence, France–even in the village that Bliss Travels visits each summer and autumn! Visiting the same sites that van Gogh painted has always provided Bliss clients an intimate link to the painter and his oeuvre.

Van Gogh's Provencal self-portraits provded a look at his tumultuous feelings.

Van Gogh’s Provencal self-portraits provded a look at his tumultuous feelings.

We hope that someday soon we will see “Sunset at Montmajour” on our summer or autumn trips to Provence. Come with us to get a unique look at his life!

This past summer Bliss clients explored van Gogh's favorite region.

This past summer Bliss clients explored van Gogh’s favorite region.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh's Provencal sanitorium.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh’s Provencal sanitorium.

If you want to know more about the esteemed artist, check out our previous blog, Vincent van Gogh’s Provence.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Tour France: The Must-Eat French Foods


Anyone who has toured France will tell you that it has some of the best food in the world, without question. But with so many dishes to try, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start! We’ve given you a list of Bliss Travels‘ favorite French foods to get you started. Do you have some favorite meals of your own? Let us know if you agree!

1. Fougasse

This bakery good is a specialty of Provence. With a focaccia-like texture and height, the fougasse has several deep cuts which allow the toppings to infuse their flavor throughout the bread. This could be anything from olives to fresh vegetables to ham and cheese.  Our favorite is une fougasse gratins, which is filled with chopped bacon. The bacon fat gives it an incredible crunchy crust and more flavor than one would ever think to find in an inauspicious loaf of bread–marveilleux!

The shape varies with each bakery that makes it, but every one is delicious!

The shape varies with each bakery that makes it, but every one is delicious!

2. Duck- Canard

The French rarely “do” beef. Instead, they specialize in what we would consider “alternative proteins”– and boy, do they do them well! Duck in France is incredibly tender, with a rich, buttery, and unique flavor that simply can’t be copied. In general, the French do not complicate this dish- it will be cooked perfectly and served with potatoes and perhaps some sauteed vegetables. They know a good thing when they have it! The Burgundy region especially has a reason to brag– clients who tour France with us are always ecstatic about this dish!

With a drizzle of balsamic oil and sauteed vegetables, this is divine!

With a drizzle of balsamic oil and sauteed vegetables, this is divine!

3.  Lamb- Agneau

Speaking of these “alternative proteins,” French lamb is consistently out of this world. One of the reasons these meats are so incredible in France is the way they were raised. Lamb roam the countryside, literally dining on herbs de Provence. Thus, they are flavored with rosemary, thyme and the like –naturally! Raising animals using methods that are considered “organic” in America, with fewer hormones and better quality food– they raise happy lambs! Any version of lamb you get will be to die for. Bliss Travels‘ favorite place is in a small bistro on the Left Bank of Paris, which specializes in an mouth-watering shoulder of lamb for two!

A shoulder of lamb for two? S'il vous plait!

A shoulder of lamb for two? S’il vous plait!

4. Napoleon- Millefeuille

This classic French pastry is crumbly, messy, almost always falls on your lap, and is totally worth it. It has gained notoriety across the world, but France is still the clear winner when it comes to making it. Literally– it’s name in French means, “1000 sheets/layers). And so true! Layers and layers of flaky pastry are interspersed with creamy custard, finished with a distinctively patterned top glaze. Parfait!

Does it get better than this?

Does it get better than this?

5. Any and All Breads- Tous les Pains!

Nothing in France opens before 10 AM, with the exception of the local bakery. And they certainly give you a reason to wake up early–the open storefront fills the street with the heavenly and comforting scent of warm bread. Most of the time, you can find the nearest bakery by following your nose! Baguettes and brioche are always great options. If you feel like branching out, try something with olives or noisettes (nuts), or pain aux cereales, which has whole grains and an pleasant texture.

How can you choose?

How can you choose?

6. Warm Goat Cheese Salad- Salade du Chevre Chaud 

This is a summer favorite! A simple, fresh bed of lettuce provides the counterpart to the the tangy, partially melted goat cheese served on toast that surrounds it. Light and refreshing, yet completely satisfying, every restaurant has their own spin on this dish, usually using local goat cheese. Whether in Provence, Paris, Burgundy or Bordeaux, this is always a great option. As it is summer, a glass of rose is essential to finish off the meal–bien sur!

Fresh bread, fresh goat cheese...what's better?

Fresh bread, fresh goat cheese…what’s better?

7. Chocolate Lava Cake- Chocolat Fondant

This is France’s gift to the chocoholics of the world. America has tried to copy this classic dish by dousing it in sugar, but the French know that the chocolate should take center stage. Here, the cake is made using dark chocolate, butter…and that’s about it. Rich and almost bitter, these tiny cakes will almost assuredly make you put your fork down after the first bite to shout a happy, “Mon Dieu, c’est incroyable!”

This is perfection.

This is perfection.

8. Melon and Prosciutto

Going without this dish on a trip to France is like visiting America without getting French Fries. It is a staple in the spring and summer months, especially in the Provence region, and starts off just about every good meal. The prosciutto’s smooth, mellow flavor is always appreciated. But the melon is what steals the show! The trick here is to look for “Cavaillon” melons, which is the Provencal town where they are grown. These are to die for!

The perfect blend of sweet and savory.

The perfect blend of sweet and savory.

Feeling inspired? Come with Bliss Travels to taste your way across France! Our spring and summer trips to Provence are the perfect opportunity to try Cavaillon melon at it’s finest, while our upcoming September trip to Burgundy gives you a chance to sample the heartier fare of the wine region!

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Tour France; A Michelin-Starred Evening

Bliss Clients Create their Own Gourmet Meal

The chef shows us the ropes

The chef shows us the ropes

One thing Bliss Travels prides itself on is giving our clients unique insider experiences on our journeys through France, Spain, and Belgium. Since we customize each trip to suit the interests of the group, these experiences are always a little different. From private wine tastings in 800 year old cellars in Burgundy, to painting lessons in the lavender fields of Provence with a professional artist, to private tours of the Sagrada Familia Basilica of Barcelona with a seasoned art specialist as your guide, Bliss always leaves you with unforgettable memories.

Clients working hard for the perfect meal

Clients working hard for the perfect meal

For our clients touring France this May, this proved to be exactly the case! On our journey through Provence, this group of foodies were taken to a renowned restaurant to meet the head chef, a Michelin-starred creative genius and enthusiastic lover of cuisine. But of course things didn’t end there. The head chef led the group to the restaurant’s kitchen for a private cooking lesson, where they chopped, sautéed, and laughed their way to a gourmet meal.

You can practically smell it from here!

You can practically smell the ripe melon it from here!

Under the guidance of the engaging chef, who is also a TV personality here, the meal came out stunningly. It was promptly enjoyed with bottles of local wine hand picked by Bliss (Who turns down a local wine when the area includes Chateauneuf du Pape and the other great Cote du Rhone wines?)  Of course, it’s not all food and wine. It’s also a great (and small) group of eight fun loving, interesting people that make these sorts of events a success. And this group laughed and enjoyed themselves late into the night.

Pure Bliss? We would say so. Come tour France with us and decide what your next adventure will be!

A Bientot!

Bliss Travels

Vincent van Gogh’s Provence

One of several self-portraits van Gogh painted in Provence.

One of several self-portraits van Gogh painted in Provence.

The Bliss Travels trip to Provence is coming up soon, and it is one of our favorites. The untamed, easy beauty of the region is like no other in the world. Something about the rolling lavender fields, the ancient stone villages, and the smell of pure sunshine just diminishes your worries and makes your stresses seem silly.

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

It really is no wonder that Vincent van Gogh escaped here from the hustle and bustle of life in Paris. In February 1888, the painter moved to Arles, one of the larger towns in the area, to work on his fragile health and to rid himself of the ever-increasing modernity in the cities—the same reason his friend and fellow painter Gauguin left. For a while it even soothed his artistic needs—he had been surrounded by too much gray in the city for an artist whose very essence relied on vivid colors, used with the utmost intention. In Provence, the colors he saw in his head were reflected by nature.

(I sometimes think we give the Impressionists and other revolutionary painters of this time too much credit. Though their work is gorgeous, they did not need to strain themselves much to paint it—the south of France really does have that incredible brilliance to it!)

It was during this time that van Gogh’s inspiration struck. In 15 months, he created over 300 paintings in his “Yellow House” and the sanatorium he lived in after suffering a mental breakdown (culminating with a fight with fellow artist Gauguin and the infamous lop of his ear). This sanatorium can actually still be visited, as Bliss does regularly, and maintains a lovely flower garden similar to the one van Gogh took flowers from to paint.

"The Evening Cafe" looks the same today!

“The Evening Cafe” looks the same today!

Arles was the location of many of his most famous works, in fact, such as “Starry Night”, “The Evening Café” (seen here), “The Hospital Garden”, and “Trinquetaille Bridge”. Many of his floral and landscape pieces are from the time period as well, since he did not know many people to act as models in the new town (and those who saw his unconventional pieces were quite hesitant to be a part of them!)

For even more incredible examples of van Gogh’s work, click here.

It is incredible to think of all that was accomplished for art in such a sleepy town (that Bliss is lucky enough to visit each summer.) Not much has changed since van Gogh’s time there—Arles is still built around stunning Roman ruins, filled with markets and friendly folk, homemade olive oil and soap shops, warm terracotta roofs and lavender wooden shutters, and a deep, innate respect for the beauty of the land itself.

One of the most popular parts of Bliss’ French tours are our picnics out in olive tree orchards. The cicadas chirp lazily—a sound the region is never without—as we snack on typical Provencal food like figs, fresh fruit, and baguettes with locally made goat cheeses and tapenade. Sitting in the dappled sunlight, everything feels easy and utterly timeless, as if van Gogh is just beyond the trees, bringing us a tarte Tatin from his favorite bakery. Provence has an ageless beauty that connects old and new seamlessly.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

One would hope that van Gogh had found as much inner peace in Provence as he did artistic inspiration.  Though sadly that wasn’t the case, we do know that he was in awe of the vivacity of the region. Now it is our turn to love it as much as he did! Come with us to experience his life in a completely unique way.

See you there!

Bliss Travels

Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli

Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli

Tour France: Vacations in Provence and the Mediterranean

One of the best warm weather traditional Provencal dishes is the Aioli. Named after the garlic mayonnaise like sauce used as the centerpiece of the dish (the word Aioli comes from the words for ‘garlic’ and ‘oil’), this is quintessential Provencal fare. It has it’s roots, like many dishes of that region, in Roman times. It has been revered as a symbol of Provencal life for hundreds of years.

 

“Among the peoples living around the Mediterranean coasts, the use of garlic dates back to the very beginning of cooking itself. But as Leon Daudet observed, with the aioli it attained its peak of perfection, ‘the very highest degree of those truly civilized customs and habits that until health with well-being.’ So that we need feel no astonishment at learning that when the poet Mistral founded a Provencal newspaper (this was in 1891), he called it L’Aioli. The sauce had become a symbol. And he wrote of it with justice: ‘It concentrates all the warmth, the strength, the sun-loving gaiety of Provence in its essence, but it also has a particular virtue: it keeps flies away. Those who don’t like it, those whose stomachs rise at the thought of our oil, won’t come buzzing around us wasting our time. There’ll just be the family.’ And elsewhere again: ‘The ailoi goes slightly to the head, impregnates the body with its warmth, and bathes the soul with its enthusiasm…”
—The Hundred Glories of French Cooking, Robert Courtine [Farrar, Strause and Giroux:New York] 1973 (p. 137-140) 
[NOTE: This book offers a recipe for Aioli de Morue. We can scan/send if you like.]

another home made aioli served with tapenade

It’s served every Friday at the local cafe (because the fish monger comes on Fridays, and that’s the day of the Provencal market). It’s served at group meals –those community meals offered at village fetes and fares during the spring and summer months. This dish is a market fresh favorite.

There are many variations, but the mainstays are this:

Aioli sauce (recipes below)

Hard boiled egg

Boiled potato

Haricots verts (the thin French green beans)

Tomato (raw)

and steamed cod.

Then, the other items you might see are:

sea snails

cauliflower

zucchini

artichoke

mussels (along the Mediterranean)

 

Everything is served room temperature (unless you have steamed mussels, which of course, are served warm). The sauce is cold. You dip each item in the sauce to flavor it.

How to make a quick and simple Aioli:

Take mayonnaise (1/2 cup) and mixed with crushed garlic clove (4-6), a squeeze of lemon, a few tablespoons of white wine (you can determine how thick or thin you want the sauce by how much wine you use), sea salt –and optional flavors such as saffron or herbs de Provence.

Mix well, cover tightly and let sit for at least 3-4 hours. Best if left overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

For a traditional Aioli, this is what Escoffier says:

 

[1907]
“Aioli, or Beurre de Provence
. Pound 30 g (1 oz) garlic as finely as possible in the mortar, add 1 raw egg yolk and a pinch of salt and gradually mix in 1 1/2 dl (9 fl oz or 1 1/8 U.S. cup) oil allowing it to fall drop by drop to begin with, then faster as a thread as the sauce begins to thicken. The thickening of the sauce takes place by turning the pestle vigorously whilst adding the oil. The consistency of the sauce should be adjusted during its making by adding the juice of 1 lemon and 1;2 tbs cold water little by little. Note: Should the sauce separate it can be reconstituted by working it into 1 egg yolk as for Mayonnaise.”
Le Guide Cuilinaire, Escoffier, first translation into English by H.L. Cracknell & R.J. Kaufmann, 1907 edition [John Wiley:New York] 1979 (p. 29)

As the spring and summer seasons in Provence swing into action, you can be sure that people will be dining on Aioli, sipping rose, and enjoying the sunshine.  It’s Bliss!

Hope to see you there!

Wendy Jaeger

Owner, Bliss Travels

A Photographic Tour of the Best of Provence (One of the Regions of France)


Top 6 Reasons to Visit Provence

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.bill m france 2008

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Our class topped the tart with cherries -not fresh like the ones here, found in June in Provence

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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.

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3. The Villages. They are beautiful and each one is a piece of art in its own right!

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3. Food. Mouthwatering, amazing, real, local, sustainable, gourmet FOOD.

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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.

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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.)

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Taken by TourEiffel Fireworks

Taken by TourEiffel Fireworks

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.

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If you’d like to learn more about Bliss Travels, small, custom trips –and how we provide exclusive access to things your typical traveler never sees, please  look at our website at www.blisstravels.com or our testimonials and  email us or call us at 609 462 6213. We have limited spring and summer trips available.