International “ladies squad” explores L’art de Vivre in Provence
Note: My summer writer’s retreat 2016 in France takes me from Burgundy south to the heart of Provence for magical four days. Our international “ladies squad” explored three of the seven most beautiful villages in France: Lacoste, Lourmarin, Ansouis and the town of St.Remy-de-Provence. For one year, Van Gogh made his home in St. Remy inspired by the Alpilles.
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Provence, FR- Provençal bastide no.23 sits on Chemin de la Font du Pin between the villages of Cheval-Blanc and Merindol. The mansion with seven bedrooms nestles at the foot of a beach pine forest.
Typical architecture for this southernmost region of France embraces traditional elements of stone washed walls with tall French doors, large gathering places on the main level and sleeping quarters on the second level. Arches instead of doors open the space between different rooms.
The yard with the garden caters to relaxation and function with a cafe-style gazebo lit by sun energy lamps, a large dining table and an iron wrought bed. White Mandeville plants and Hydrangea decorated the gazebo.
The large pool with a colorful cabin is near the house on a cleared terrain in the white pine beach forest with rosemary shrubs.
Our international “ladies squad” found their bedrooms each equipped with a bathroom and a view into the morning sun bathed beach forest. Tiles are a must in the hot dry climate of Provence.
I shared room no.7 dipped in hues of purple and decorated with butterflies with granddaughter Ella. After a recent conflict, I find solace in the peaceful Provençal atmosphere of farm markets, wine caves, cafes, cobblestone streets, olive groves and deserted châteaux lit by magnificent sunsets.
The first night we picked ripe grapes in the front yard. Vendange or wine harvest has already started in this part of France. There was also a lime tree and plentiful rosemary shrubs that grew both at the base of the beach forest and in it. To my surprise, on my “balades” through the forest, I also found shrubs of holly.
One morning In the middle of my walk, I stopped dead when I heard a rattling sound.
“A rattlesnake,” I thought and hurried back to the bastide.
Two days later by the pool, Claude pointed out the rattling sound.
“C’est une tone de Cigale de olive,” she said. “That’s the sound of the cigales.”
I laughed at my paranoia originating in my early childhood years while living in Texas.
Mornings, before the heat of the day breaks, are fresh. You wake up to the roosters’ crowing and to the sound of the Cigale in the olive groves and in the rosemary bushes.
Instead of a Provençal breakfast of hard-boiled eggs with figs, we ate Lyon festive brioche with pralines, compliments of Mrs. Claude Chavent, Emma’s mother-in-law.
Each lady from the squad contributed her own tastes and flavors to the full gourmet experience. The traveling squad consisted of Captain Dr. Emma Palova of Fixin, Chef Selene Alvarez of Veracruz, Mexico, former anesthesiologist Mrs. Claude Chavent of Lyon, FR and journalist, writer Emma Palova of USA. Both Emmas were born in former Czechoslovakia.
On a late Saturday morning, daughter Emma and I headed out to the Merindol market.
Instead of a marche extravaganza, we only found an olive and cheese merchant along with a straw hat and a bag vendor.
“It’s the summer break,” said the olive vendor.
“It’s all about the love for life here in France, not about money,” Emma educated me. “It’s called l’art de vivre.”
For our apero that night, Emma bought an olive spread “olivenade”, a dried tomato spread, cheese, spicy olives with pimento and olives in brine with Provençal herbs at the market in Merindol.
Walking a narrow street up the hill, we stopped at a local hangout spot for coffee and tea on the sidewalk. I love watching people in these quaint villages not occupied by tourists. The locals were already drinking wine and beer.
A woman wearing an apron dress with a large grocery bag hurried past the abandoned tobacco shop. A chic woman overdressed in a black T-shirt with long sleeves pedaled uphill, while a youngster on a bike with fresh bread in his backpack closely followed her.
I wasn’t alone watching the action. A Provençal old-time villager was sitting in his chair right in front of his house on the street. Of course the woman haltered her hurry to exchange gossip with the old-timer. There’s always time for gossip in these villages.
We also came across a reformed church, an anomaly in the mainly catholic France.
We stopped at a farm market on our way back to the bastide to get fresh strawberries and mangoes for the planned Daiquiri drinks by the pool.
We tasted wine from a local wine caterer stationed right by the market stand.
Even though pink wine known as rose is the wine of choice in the Provence region, I bought a bottle of white wine for the apero. Nothing like Burgundy whites, but it tasted better than the rose.
To be continued…………………The most beautiful villages of France
Leelanau Peninsula, MI-Between family gatherings, shopping, holiday baking, this time of year can get extremely hectic. However, the first two weekends of November, the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula have the perfect antidote for all that holiday stress. Toast the Season features tastings and pairings at 25 wineries throughout the area and showcases the incredible diversity among reds, whites, rose, and cherry wine, not to mention hard cider, all made in the same region. At $50 per person or $75 per couple, you can hardly afford not to embrace your inner sommelier. Tickets also include a bag with a Toast the Season glass to be used for sampling wines, a Christmas ornament, and other goodies.
Even on a dreary, wintery day, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the panoramic views of the hills, lakes, and fields of grapevines in picturesque Northern Michigan, though when it comes to aesthetic appeal, Aurora Cellars was one of the most unique.
The exterior beckons you to imagine that you are no longer outside Traverse City, but rather have been transported to a centuries old Tuscan villa. In addition to delicious wines, Aurora rents its facilities for weddings and other events. Of the dozen wineries I experienced over the weekend, one of the best whites had to be Blustone Vineyards two time gold medal winning Reisling. While most vineyards are known only for red or white, Blustone has both award winning Reisling and Pinot Noir. For lovers of rose, 45 North, named for the line of latitude on which it sits, has a delightful Rose of Cabernet Franc that is sweet and fruity while still maintaining an elegant sophistication.
As for reds and cherry wine, my personal favorite was Black Star Farms. Their Artisan Red has the richness of a red with the sweetness of a white so that lovers of both colors of wine can be satisfied. The Vinter’s Select is also excellent if you prefer something a bit more dry, and a cup of their hot mulled cherry wine is perfect on a chilly day. Black Star also doubles as a charming inn. For the eco-conscious wine lover, Good Neighbor features organic wines and ciders. Possibly their most unique offering were the coffee and chai flavored hard ciders. Sparkling wine lovers can’t go wrong with L Mawby/M Lawrence. Their tasting room has a fun, almost rock and roll feel to it that matches well with the creative names and luscious tastes available there.
Since not everyone is a wine connoisseur, many of the wineries offer a range of hard cider options as well. Verterra Winery’s apple pie flavored cider is just the thing for the adults’ table at Thanksgiving dinner. The notes of cinnamon and sugar are the perfect complement to turkey and stuffing. If you prefer something a bit more dry, Tandem Ciders is the place to be. Their ciders are vaguely reminiscent of what one could find in Normandy, France as opposed to the light sweetness of many of the other hard ciders available in the area. While you can get bottles of Tandem Cider in stores around Michigan, It is most definitely worth stopping in for a visit. In addition to the regularly available ciders, you can buy a custom blend of any or all of the options on tap.
Wine and cider loving Michiganders, forget flying out to the Napa Valley for tastings; you need go no further than your own backyard to Toast the Season at the spectacular Leelanau Peninsula.
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