“Another important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”

― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

 

Hans Silvester has been at it now for over fifty years: an intrepid traveler and fervent environmentalist who is ever contrasting other cultures with his own through his camera lens. His wide-ranging oeuvre of photography takes in studies of various regions around the world, including chronicles of France, Central America, Japan, Portugal, Egypt, Tunisia, Hungary, Peru, Italy and Spain.

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Opening at the Galerie Pascal Laine this week, Silvester reveals his recent anthropological etude in southern Ethiopia in a series of hauntingly beautiful images of the colorfully decorated houses of the Bench. He envisions his immersion into the lives and tradition of the Ethiopian tribes as an effort to “save…as much as possible of a truly living art, which is subject to infinite variation, and whose constituent elements form a link between man and nature.”

Silvester’s work has been exhibited at Marlborough Gallery, New York (2010, 2009); Marlborough Gallery, Monaco (2010, 2009); and Polka Galerie, Paris, France (2009). His work is the subject of almost 50 books, including a photo essay on Camargue in 1960, a well-regarded documentation of Europe’s nature preserves in 1982 and a series of books on Provence published throughout the 1990s. His most recent book is Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008).

The Bench

The Bench is an ethnic group of farmers living 350 miles south of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, in a mountainous terrain at altitudes ranging from 4000 to 9,000 feet. In a tropical climate, the Bench cultivates bananas, mangoes, and coffee, with a diet based on corn and sorghum.

They live in grass-covered huts built with wood and earth mixed with cow dung.  A number of the houses are painted on the outside and inside with natural colors are nearby. There are very few villages – the Bench reside in isolated houses or in small hamlets. The interior of the simple huts is divided into two parts: half for the family and one for the livestock: cows, sheep, goats, chickens.

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The farmers produce their own food. With very little surplus to sell, the lack of income and their isolation engenders an impoverished existence where the family income is around $100 a year.

As the largest ethnic group in the zone, the Bench have their own language with very few speaking Amaric, the official language of Ethiopia.  Communication is hindered by the lack of roads, the only one runs from Addis Ababa to the regional capital Mizan, which is the only city in the territory. Only about 7% of inhabitants have electricity. Of Christian faith, the Bench does not practice contraception and the number of children per women is ten, or more.

Women and daughters decorate some of the huts in colorful patterns, retouching the décor twice a year. As the huts are dispersed throughout the rugged terrain and miles from roads, it takes an effort to reach them.

Basics:

Exhibit: Hans Silvester, Photographs – “Les maisons des Benchs en Ethiopie”; April 12 to May 14, Vernissage Saturday, April 12 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

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Galerie Pascal Lainé, Rue Sainte Barbe in the center of Ménerbes. Tel: 04-90-72-48-30, Website

Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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In the pleasant verdant countryside of the Vaucluse, about a half-an-hour drive northeast of Avignon, stands a large proud stone edifice on the perched hill of a village in miniature, Crillon le Brave, which before it stretches out a commanding vista of the 6,000 foot limestone-crested Mont Ventoux.

Crowning the hill top, the eponymous hotel – Crillon le Brave – appeals to the smart and fashionable set for its remoteness and tranquility; the village of about 400 is veritable cul-de-sac bereft of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

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For its well-heeled guests, the feeling of the hotel is not that all dissimilar to the experience of members of a private club where a youthful well-mannered staff ‘cares’ for you and your every need. Almost as if placed there as a prop, the narrow driveway at the hotel’s entrance cradles a car that by its make and model is assuredly owned, not rented.

For those yearning to dine in the serene comfort of its premises, the Crillon le Brave moderates cost without sacrificing quality in its new Bistrot 40K, nestled on a small charming terrace, the Cours du Puit, and in an adjoining comfy dining room, the Reboul house, both archly removed from humming hotel activities.

With eight or so tables in the dining area and on the terrace, the ambiance is relaxed and the dress code is casual.

At first sight, you perceive that this is a place for couples of a certain genus – those who have that particular expression around their eyes that communicates a sense of emotional assurance; exchanged gazes creating an envelop of privacy around them, an atmosphere upon which it is presumptuous to intrude.

Local wine producers tipped off PVB to the Bistrot, which takes its moniker 40K – kilometers not thousands mind you – to indicate that all the ingredients, produce and wines originate within a radius of 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Crillon le Brave.

Perched on a stone wall of the Bistrot 40K, a blackboard announces the evening fare at 40€ per person, which changes every night, including a starter, a choice of a main course, and dessert, with substitutions upon request.

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Better yet, you can descend down into the Reboul Wine Cellar and pick out your own bottle of red, white or rosé wine for the evening.

For lovers of local wines, there are plenty of friendly faces such as the Ventoux reds from Fondreche, Olivier B., Unang, Vendemio, Pesquié, Valcombe, and Tix. Any questions, the engaging enthusiastic Benjamin Ruggiero knows his wine stuff (il est dans le truc).

In these times of recessionary pressures when there are so very few new restaurants that appear within the orbit of Mont Ventoux, it is a pleasure to discover a fresh small star on the horizon that shines brightly.

Basics:

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Bistrot 40K, Hôtel Crillon le Brave, Rue Église, Crillon-le-Brave, Tel: 04 90 65 61 61, Email: reservations@crillonlebrave.com, Open five nights a week from 7:30 pm until 9:30 pm. Website

At the Hôtel, lunch is served in ‘La Grange’ Bar or on the terraces from 12.30 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Le Restaurant offers seasonal menus from 60 Euros for four courses.

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Any place that you stay in Provence is only a hop and a jump to the wine cellars of vineyards and wine cooperatives, which are sprinkled about the countryside, where you can buy direct from winemakers for prices well under retail.

Now, when you are out and about in the region and require a quality bottle or a case of Southern Rhone wines – or one from another wine region – here are some fine wine shops where you will find a superb selection and advice.

Aix-en-Provence

Cave du Félibrige, Vins Fins & Spiritueux, 8, rue des Cordeliers, Aix-en-Provence, Tél 04 42 96 90 62, cavedufelibrige@orange.fr, Website

Top wine ship in Aix run by wine pros Francois Barre et Vincent Stagetti (photo above). Selection from all major regions in France. Enthusiastic service.

Arles

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Cave de Trinquetaille, 8 Av. de la Gare Maritime, Arles

Open Tues – Sat 9:00 a.m. – 12:30p.m. , 3:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., Sunday 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Email:contact@cavedetrinquetaille.com, Tél  04 90 96 64 34, Website

 

Elodie and Romain just celebrated their tenth anniversary as Cavistes in Arles. A superb selection of wines from southern France.  Try the Domaine de l’Oratoire St Martin (Cairanne) and the Syrah of Domaine du Tix (AOC Ventoux),

Avignon

Le Vin Devant Soi, 4 rue du Collège du Roure, Avignon, Tél  04 90 82 04 39, Email contact@levindevantsoi.com, Open Monday 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Tues – Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 7:30 p.m., Website

Offering more than 130 labels from the Rhone Valley and the Languedoc-Roussillon, Le Vin Devant Soi has 32 wines available for tasting during store hours.

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La Cave du Septier, Place du Septier, Apt, Tel 04 90 04 77 38, Website

Open Monday 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. to 07:00 p.m., Tue – Sat9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. to 07:30 p.m.

Best wine shop in the Luberon. Great selection of bottles from the Southern Rhone and all the major wine regions in France.

Ménerbes

 

Getting around the Luberon appellation for tastings at the farflung wineries can eat up days as well as petrol.

La Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon has a unique wine shop which offers only wines of the Luberon from about 50 vineyards for the same price that the wines are sold at the wineries. There is also a shop on the main floor offering olive oil and delicacies of the region.

Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon, Place de l’horloge, Ménerbes, Tél. : 04 90 72 38 37 Wine Shop open daily from 12:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Monday and Friday evenings. Website

 

Wine Tours – 3 to Pump Up Your Wine IQ

Aix-en-Provence / Marseille

Provence Wine Tours offers a range of full-day and half-day regular wine tours from Aix or Marseille with distinct itineraries to various wine appellations.

Tours include private visit to wineries, meeting winemakers and tastings. Transportation in a minibus.

Booking can be made online at Website. Facebook.

Avignon

From Avignon, the major appellations of the Rhone Valley - Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras, and Gigondas – as well as the Côtes du Rhône Villages are included among the six distinct wine circuits offered by Avignon Wine Tours.

Departures Monday to Saturday, leaving at 9:00 a.m. and returning at 5:30 p.m., with lunch at a wine bistro restaurant. (Photo above: Avignon Wine Tours at Le Tourne au Verre in Cairanne)

Book by Avignon Wine Tours Website. Tel 06 28 05 33 84,

Malaucene

Rhone Wine Holidays: A unique all-inclusive package at La Madelène, an elegantly renovated priory where a single price covers tutored tastings, visits, accommodation, all meals at La Madelène and out at restaurants.

Your hosts are Philip and Jude Reddaway. Philip migrated from the corporate media world in London to studying wine and qualifying as a WSET approved wine instructor. He ran a number of successful wine courses in Brighton and London before moving to France.

Choose between a three-day tour (three nights lodging) of Selected Domaines of the Southern Rhone, or a one-day tour (one night lodging) of  “Rhone Stars.” Consult website listed below for details and pricing.

Rhone Wine Holidays: La Madelène, route d’Entrechaux, Malaucéne, France, Tel 04 90  62 19 33, Email rhonewineholidays@googlemail.com, Website

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The Domaine Le Murmurium under the gaze of the Mont Ventoux

Saved by the wind. A mild irony strikes you as you gaze northward from the wine cellar of the Domaine Le Murmurium toward the mythical Mont Ventoux when considering the furious measures taken in the region for protection against the Mistral winds that blow in from the north.

In the Southern Rhone the constant heat threatens to rob grapes of their freshness and acidity, yielding wines which are hot (high alcohol), jammy (compoté) or flabby (low acidity).

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Yet, it’s not the daytime heat but lower nighttime temps, the temperature gradient, which are of capital importance to induce freshness and acidity. At the Domaine Le Murmurium the vineyard’s northern exposure captures the breezes streaming down the Mont Ventoux which brings down temps four to six degrees (F) before daybreak, and after a rainfall the wind dries out the vines, preventing rot, while the soil maintains its moisture.

Now consider this: a cooler altitude of 1000 to 1200 feet and low yields at higher levels, organic farming without chemicals or pesticides with harvesting done by hand (at times at night), 100% destemming, late harvesting, and each varietal (cépage) vinified separately.

After more than a decade in the wine exporting biz, Marc Pichon purchased the 28-acre Domaine Le Murmurium in 2008, and a few years ago acquired another 10 acres of mature vines.

Two Brands – 15 Vintages

A wine is never more fully alive than when a winemaker’s expertise allows us access to the terroir, transcending flavors and aromas, and pure delight.

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Marc Pichon is a winemaker who delivers on this promise by combining passion with intelligence and imagination. No time for pretense, ostentation and vacuous marketing slogans, Marc takes an intense approach to the nuances of winemaking, turning out 15 vintages (cuvées) of varying styles from specific parcels including 6 single-varietals (mono-cépage) with two brands: Anne Pichon (his Danish wife) and Domaine Mur-mur-ium.

His wines are accessible to the palate and to the pocketbook – some cuvées rate at the top of the scale on quality / price, and are of great appeal to sommeliers who desire to please clients while maintaining margins at a reasonable price. (Mega wine reviewers ignore price by endorsing many flamboyantly over-priced vintages – anodyne commentary for ubiquitous shelf-talkers.)

Exemplar how wind and altitude manifest their effect in the bottle are two superb single-varietals – a honey-scented 100% Roussanne, fermented in new oak, with herbal and floral notes, perfectly balanced, and a 100% Syrah-Sublime, with rich fruits and smooth tannins which belies the hot high alcohol Syrahs produced at lower levels.

A Syrah-based (80%) blend with Grenache Noir (20% 34-year old vines), unfiltered, Anne Pichon ‘Sauvage” reminiscent of crushed fruits and light spices at 12.5% alcohol.

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The Ventoux Extrem is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% oak vat-aged Syrah, richly textured with black fruits and spices, a superb blend to pull out of your cellar.

Then a bit of trailblazing: two 100% Grenache vintages – very late green harvest where leaves are removed by hand to prevent rot – with natural residual sugar of 6 g/l for the Grandiose and 10 g/l for the Mammouth, the highest level in the Southern Rhone.

In effect, the intense pure richness assets itself in both of these vintages as the sugar level suffocates the high alcohol of 16%. Highly recommend the Grandiose with La daube provençale. The Mammouth would delight senior steadies.

With many projects in train and an ambition to expand his vineyard to cover another 25 acres with an additional 10 vintages, expect more imaginative styles along a range of price points.

A talented winemaker in mid-career, Marc Pichon compels you to become a discerning taster of his wines. Put him on your watch list.

Basics:
Domaine Le Murmurium, route de Flassans, Mormoiron. There is no website. You can taste the wines of Domaine Le Murmurium only at:

Le Bistro Grenache, a wine shop and wine bar: 107 Place De Verdun 84200 Carpentras, Tel 06 09 48 17 42, Facebook,

Domaine Grange Neuve, Maison d’hôtes and restaurant, 436, chemin de la Grange Neuve, 84210 La Roque sur Pernes, Tél 04-90-66-55-27, Website

U.S. Importers:
Monsieur Touton Selection, New York, Website,
T. Edward Wines, New York, Tel 212-233-1504, Website;

Here is the lineup of the Domaine’s 12 vintages offered in the U.S. with PVB favorites in bold. Note: 2011 is an elegant vintage.

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White:

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Ventoux LE RETOUR, 2011/12, (70% old Clairette, 20% Grenache, 10% Viognier, hand-harvested at night )
VIOGNIER, 2012 , IGP. Vaucluse, (100% hand-harvested at night & fermented in steinless steel tanks)
ROUSSANNE, 2010/11 IGP. Vaucluse (100% fermented & aged 9 months in new oak barrels)
Rosé:
Ventoux LE RETOUR 2012, (Rosé Direct Pressing, hand-harvested at night, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache)

Red:

Ventoux LE RETOUR, 2011/12, (70% Grenache & 30% Syrah)
Ventoux CUVEE ANNE, 2009/10, (60% old Grenache & 40% Syrah vines, 1/3 aged in oak barrels)

IMG_6897Ventoux EXTREM, 2009, (50% old Syrah & 50% old Grenache Noir, fermented & aged 11 months in new oak)
MERLOT – ELIXIR 2011/12, IGP Vaucluse, (100% hand & late-harvested)
SYRAH-GRENACHE Anne Pichon ‘Sauvage, 2011 AOP Ventoux (80% Syrah steinless-steal , 20% Grenache Noir oak aged)
SYRAH – SUBLIME, 2009/10/11, (100% Syrah, 30% fermented & aged in new oak vats)
GRENACHE – GRANDIOSE, 2011/12 (100% hand-picked & late-harvested, 6gr. Residual Sugar)
GRENACHE – MAMMOUTH 2011, (100% hand-picked, & late-harvested, 10gr. Residual Sugar)

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 Plat: Bass with Little Vegetables at L’Auberge de Tavel

A major advantage for any wine enthusiast visiting an appellation in the Southern Rhone is to have a ‘point de chute’ (a landing place) from which to nourish the body and reinvigorate the spirit.

With the wine cellars at estates closed from noon to 2:00 p.m., your desire is to seek refuse at a restaurant in close range. Better still, you desire a spot that offers an excellent value in quality – price.

For a day of wine tripping among the estates in Tavel, an appellation producing only rosé wines, among the world’s best mind you, it’s not wildly unrealistic to lower expectations given the size of the place.  The notoriety of its rosés notwithstanding, Tavel is thinly settled – 2 inhabitants per acre as all farmable land is planted with vines; the appellation covers only 930 acres, a bit more than a quarter of the surface area of Châteauneuf du Pape.

After a morning of vinuous indulgence in Tavel, PVB wanders into, as if by default, L’Auberge de Tavel where on an unassuming tree-shaded terrace several out-of-the-region couples, informally dressed and in casual conversation, rest their arms on blue-and-white checkered tablecloths. On this serene sun splashed afternoon, a B&W Cocker lets out an occasional low-pitched whine to its master for attention or a snack.

In short order, one is bluffé (amazed). L’Auberge de Tavel is a culinary windfall that transcends your expectations for quality, and for value.

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Entrée: Cream of Avocado with Prawns

Throughout your sitting, the service is impeccable. Two graceful waiters attend to you, replying politely to your questions without being gastropedantic nor unctuous. When refilling your wine glass, they respect an imaginary half-full line.

For the menu of 25€ (pictured here) offering a choice of entrée, plat and dessert, the quality of preparation and presentation is Haute Cuisine Bourgeoise for a price of a Bonne Cuisine Bistrot pocketbook (see column for descriptions).  Moreover, how pampered you feel to be doted upon with amuse bouches and minardises.

As for the wine, L’Auberge de Tavel has an excellent selection of regional wines, with numerous obligatory rosés. Given the day’s rosé tasting binge, PVB opted for a Lirac Blanc 2010 Le Domaine la Genestière. Note: Many of the estates in Tavel have parcels in the neighboring appellation Lirac.

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 Dessert: Prune Crumble and Sherbet with Elderberries

Consider this: A stay in Tavel, located in the Department of the Gard 9 miles east of Avignon, puts you only 15 minutes from Châteauneuf du Pape, and beyond the Côtes du Rhône Villages of Cairanne and Rasteau.

Basics:

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L’Auberge de Tavel Hôtel – Restaurant, 7 Route Romaine,  30126 Tavel, Tel: 04 66 50 03 41, Rooms from 85€ for a single to 180€ for a suite in high season, 80€ to 150€ respectively in low season.

Menu 25€ for entrée, plat and dessert, w/amuse bouches + mignardises served daily lunch and dinner, other menus at 39€, 42€ and 57€. Superb selection of regional wines.

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At Le Bistro Grenache in Carpentras, the simpatico owner / sommelier Christian-Paul Peyron knows how to liven up a set, having worked as a location and set manager in the French film industry.

For the evening of International Grenache Day on Sept. 20, Christian recruited an animated cast that had the terrace and sidewalk of Le Bistro Grenache heaving with merry wine lovers celebrating Grenache and a good bit of other French grape varieties; the evening kicked off with oysters and Sancerre, and then moved onto charcuterie and the hearty Grenache blends of the Rhone Valley.

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This wine shop and wine bar is a swell place to hone your palate on the various appellations of the Rhone Valley, including the often overlooked vintages of the Ventoux.

Christian launched his wine bistro last year in Carpentras after rounding out his passion for wine by completing studies in 2011 at the Wine University in Suze la Rousse, an esteemed school that organizes technical, oenological and commercial training for all professions in the world of wine. A native of and a huge supporter of everything Carpentras, he spent seven years in 1980’s in Los Angeles teaching at the Lycée Française.

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The wine cellar has a selection of wines from the Rhone Valley, Languedoc Roussillon, Provence, Bourgogne, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, the Southwest and Champagne. The Grenache Bistro is the only wine shop in France to offer the wines of the Domaine Murmurium in Mormoiron. The bar is also stocked with whisky, rum, Cognac, Armagnac, Porto, beer, Eaux de vie and liqueurs.

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On Thursday to Saturday evenings, the Grenache Bistro serves charcuterie, cheeses, antipasti, tapas, tomatoes, olives and other delicacies to pair with wine. There are accessories for wine drinkers such as the snazzy decorated small metal barrels that hold replaceable 3 litres of bag-in-box wine (see photo below).

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Wine enthusiasts visiting the Southern Rhone can familiarize themselves with local wines at the Grenache Bistro, which also serves as a launching pad for sorties into the wine country north of Carpentras – Beaumes-de-Venise, Vacqueryas and Gigondas.

And the Grenache Bistro offers one other thing in sort supply in busy Carpentras: free and easily-accessed parking.

Basics:

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Le Bistro Grenache, a wine shop and wine bar: 107 Place De Verdun 84200 Carpentras, Tel 06 09 48 17 42

The ‘Cave” is open Tues. 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Wed – Sat, from 10:00 am. to 1:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.; The Bistro-Restaurant open from 8:00 p.m. until midnight. Wines by the glass during regular hours. Reserve for evening servings.

Directions: The Place De Verdun is located on the eastern side of Carpentras, Ave Jean Jaures intersects with Ave du Mont Ventoux (D942) Google Map

Facebook, Email: cavelegrenache@gmail.com,

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Shes as sweet as tupelo honey
Shes an angel of the first degree
Shes as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee

- Van Morrison -

Spend some time tasting samples in the shiny boutique of Silvain frères and you will develop the jones for nougat, the authentic Provencal kind mind you, assuring yourself that in your search for the very best nougat in Provence you have reached the highest peak for consistency in texture, flavor and pure artistry.

Not a second more wasted glancing at nougat bars on tourist shop counters or in supermarket isles. At Silvain frères, you are in gnarly nougat heaven.

The frères have introduced this saison three new exquisite nougats (pictured above) offering a melange of flavors ‘en bouche’: fig, abricot and pistachio; red fruits, and pistachio, saffron and cranberry.

It’s the almonds – the essential ingredient in making high-quality nougat. Silvain frères puts a heaving 40% into their Nougat Blanc (photo below) along with 25% honey heated in a copper kettle until white. The tender Nougat Blanc, which is wildly popular with visitors, leaves no sweet aftertaste.

Nougat Noir (photo below), the traditional Provencal nougat served at holiday time among 13 desserts, is caramelized, flambéed in cognac with orange flavorings. Hard or crunchy. As slicing the hard bars is tricky, pick up the wrapped pre-cut Noir pieces.

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Children go for the nougalettes, small pieces of caramelized honey and crushed almonds with notes of vanilla and rhum. For high tea, grab their pain d’épices.

This is homegrown homemade stuff: the brothers Pierre and Philippe are almond growers and beekeepers as well as nougat artisans.
 

By the way, the tightly-sealed nougat makes for swell gifts or souvenirs to take home as it keeps its freshness for a year.

You may remark that the color of Nougat blanc bears resemblance to the distressed white limestone crest of the iconic Mont Ventoux. Memories in a mouthful.

Basics:

Silvain frères is located in Saint Didier on the Route to Venasque, a three-minute walk from the center of the village. Open daily. Guided tours on Wed. at 10:15 a.m. Tél. 04 90 66 09 57, Email: infos@nougat-silvain-freres.fr, Website

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It began with a walk on a hot bright afternoon, before seeking shade to share a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape.

On a high wooded mountain top, which before it stretches across a valley the village of Gordes, stands a small colony of bories: ancient huts and cabins fashioned out of dry stones (pierres sèches), carefully stacked without any adhesive or binding, a practice dating back to the Bronze Age and enduring until the 18th Century.

Now, among the cluster of bories and fences scattered amidst a 35-acre plot of oak trees, the artist-owner of this property leads PVB to a borie designed uniquely for winemaking, the colony being of sufficient number to merit a dedicated unit for vinification.

Wine tanks hollowed out of rock are one of the original structures for making wine. The most numerous vestiges of this winemaking method are found in the Vaucluse in the appellations of the Ventoux and the Luberon where about 80 rock-carved wine tanks were identified in research carried out by Regional Service of Archeology in Aix-en-Provence between 1983 and 1993. The owner dated this particular wine borie from the 16th century.

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Harvested grapes were brought to the mouth of the borie and placed in a hollowed out rectangular basin (photos above), which served as a wine press (un fouloir). Crushed by feet or by the use of planks, the grapes released their juices and skins which flowed through a hole into a hollowed out vat for fermentation.

Research revealed that the rock vats had a standard size: 5 feet deep, a volume of 110 cubic feet, holding about 88 gallons of wine must.

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Once primary fermentation was complete, the juice was released through a hole at the bottom of the vat where from narrow trench on the outside the wine was collected in containers and bottles, and carried off to homes (bories). A head stone make for a roof covering the collection area (photos below).

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The clandestine location of this winemaking borie – tucked away on a mountain top far from any village or vineyard – was a common tactic to avoid paying the tax on wine (les droits de souquet) or other taxes levied on wine.

The wine tanks hollowed out of rock were identified in the following communes in the Vaucluse: Venasque, Le Beaucet, Saint-Didier, Saumane, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Cabrières d’Avignon, Lagnes, Ménerbes, Murs, Gordes, Saint-Pantaléon, Goult and Bonnieux.

Standing in the stocky sturdy borie makes you a little dreamy, as there is some retrograde part of your brain that imagines perfectly how tidy and unalloyed the process of making wine naturally was way back when.

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The urge to indulge oneself in the delights of everything Provence is symptomatic of the impoverished assumption that everything in the region is authentic, e.g. made in Provence. Not so.

Market day somewhere in Provence. You approach a stand displaying a sunburst of colors: the many hues of locally-grown olives, the warm beige of honey, the black night of tapenade, the deep ruby red of cherry or strawberry preserves.  You grab that bottle of olive oil with a pretty provencale design.

Now, read the label.

NPR ran an interview  with Tom Mueller, an Italy-based contributor to the New Yorker and the author of  Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, which documents a sunny business with shady practices.

PVB’s survey of olive oils sold in the Vaucluse resonates with Mueller’s what’s-in-that-olive-bottle warning.

A French TV Channel 5 documentary ripped into the olive oil biz and the slights-of-hand and dodgy product labeling that infantalize consumers.

The FR5 video with sub-titles would be riveting entertainment on Air France’s inbound flights rather than those dull movies that you never dared place in your Netflix queue.

French regulations demand that the origin of the olive oil must appear on the bottle. Look closely. At times, such info appears in mouse type. The FR5 sleuths embarrassed one shady vendor at a market in Aix-en-Provence who was selling olive oil from Spain.

Take the generic phrase “a product of the European Union” that appears on the back-of-the-bottle label of the popular French supermarket brand Puget. Origin of this olive oil: Spain. The French company refused an interview and visit from the truculent FR5 reporters at their bottling facility in the south of France.

No different in Italy as Mueller surmises that “4 out of 10 bottles that say Italian olive oil are not actually Italian olive oil.” The gimmick: import olive oil from another country and have it packed in Italy, or ship it via Italy. These are not illegal practices mind you, but the consumer is being defrauded.

A quick primer. Virgin olive oil is harvested by hand or machine to preserve the integrity of the fruit, and undergoes no chemical treatment.

In the bottle, virgin olive oil possesses an acidity of not more than two grams per 100 grams; extra virgin olive oil has not more than .8 grams per 100 grams of acidity. Spain produces about a third of world production. Boutique olive oils in Provence can run from 15 to 40 euros a liter.

Pictured above is an authentic Olive Oil  “etiquette”: Huile d’Olive Vierge, Recolté et Mis en Bouteille par le Producteur Catherine et Serge Constant, Earl La Rambaude, 339, Chemin de Saint-Roch 84210 Saint-Didier, Origine France. This olive oil is on sale at the Monday Morning Market in the village of Saint-Didier.

Repeat: Inspect the label, carefully at a market or a shop / supermarket to verify the producer and the origin of the olive oil before purchasing.

So if you have come all this way, why not splurge for the real Provencal stuff and buy direct from a producer like Catherine and Serge Constant.

For buying direct from local producers, here are some “Moulin à huile” (Producers) in the Vaucluse:

gamme-HBIO

Moulin Saint-Augustin, Oppède. 04.90.72.43.66, Website

Moulin Mathieu, Oppède. 04.90.76.90.66, Website

Moulin Dauphin, Cucuron. 04.90.77.26.17, Website

Moulin du Clos-des-Jeannons, Gordes. 04.90.72.68.35, Website

Moulin à huile de la Chartreuse, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. 04.90.25.45.59, Website

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Gîtes are the ultimate visitor experience in Provence. A gîte is where you can indulge in the Provencal lifestyle, taking your leisure in the shade of olive trees or at poolside, and grazing on a fresh vegetable-garlic-olive oil-based cuisine. Neither an unstructured peripatetic tourist nor an agoraphobe, you are a transitory participant in a sensual mode of living. And you’re lov’n it.

A gîte is a generic term for any kind of self-catering weekly or monthly rental, usually a standalone structure or an apartment in a Bastide.  Gîtes are fully furnished and most have sheets and bedding. Most have a pool or access to a shared pool.

As you are renting space on a private property, your experience may be colored by the personality and tastes of your landlord-landowner.  Some are gregarious and helpful, even generous with their time, while others hand you the key on Saturday and disappear for a week.

Luxury apartments and rooms can be found in a Bastide, a Provencal manor house. Here in the ambiance of a country hotel you are pampered, yet you may pay more for a week than the rental of a gîte where the bond to the countryside is palpable.

The amount of space (square footage) that owners can rent on their properties is established by each village / commune, thus there is usually only one gite per landowner.

Rental Periods

The gites are booked from Saturday to Saturday. Travelers from the U.S. prefer to arrive on a Friday with a booking at a local hotel to allow for a day to adjust to jet lag and to assure a timely arrival at their accommodations.

Reservations / Financials

Reserve early – January and February. Upon making a reservation, a deposit (called an “arrhes”) is required. As most gîtes are the only rental on the owner’s property you may be requested to pay the full amount within a month or two of arrival date. Additional charges may include a commune tax (taxe de séjour) of about 80 cents to 1 euro per day per person, and a cleaning fee.

Think Local in Your Search and Look at Exterior

In addition to the websites referenced below, the sites of some city halls (google “Mairie” + village) or of the tourist bureau (google ‘bureau de tourisme + village) contain vacation rentals of gites, houses and apartments. The village of Gordes has numerous rural gites and numerous houses listed on its website.

If you connect with an owner by phone and wish to exchange emails for pictures and information, the term in french for @ is not ‘at’ but ‘aerobase’ (air-ro-bas).

When you are inspecting gîtes online, make sure to consider the exterior amenities such as a terrace or veranda, tables for dining, grill, lounge chairs, and a parasol.

Geography Matters

“Provence” has more efficacy as a brand than a place these days and you will rarely if ever hear any locals say that they live in “provence.’ The word is heard frequently in its adjectival form: provencale.

As geography, the term “Provence” suffers abuse. The French consider contemporary ‘Provence’ to take in three administrative department: the Vaucluse, the Bouches-du-Rhône, and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

Within the Vaucluse, there are three regions to conduct your search for a gîte:

- The Comtat Venaissin, referred to as the “Comtat,” which is the western part of the Vaucluse stretching from the Durance river in the south to Mont Ventoux in the north, a wine-dominated region encompassing the AOC’s of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhône-Villages and Ventoux.  The name derives from when the Comtat was an enclave under Papal control within the Kingdom of France. The towns of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Pernes-les-Fontaines, Saint-Didier and Venasque are in close proximity to the Luberon either via L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or from Venasque through a mountain gorge to Gordes.

- The Luberon/ Calavon Valley: the ‘heart of Provence,” a farmland-park cradled by rugged low lying mountains and sprinkled with the perched villages of Gordes, Menerbes, Lacoste, Roussillon and Bonnieux.

- Lourmarin and eastern Vaucluse: part of the Luberon region without the renowned perched villages

Mind The Routes

The heart of the Luberon is accessed primarily by a two-lane highway D900, which has a center line unlike most roads in the Luberon that have lines on their edges, running from Coustellet to Apt, and connecting to roads to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon and Cavaillon. The Avignon TGV or Marseille airport serve for arrivals and rental car pickups.

In the Comtat and the northern Vaucluse all roads lead to Avignon, with efficient access to the Avignon TGV station, or to the Marseille airport ranging in time from 50 to 90 minutes depending upon location. In addition to reaching the Luberon via L’Isle-sur-La-Sorgue, there is a road through a mountain gorge from Venasque to Gordes used mainly by visitors in the summer as people living in the Luberon seem to be psychologically blocked from using this route frequently, preferring to travel via D900.

Lourmarin and its environs are accessed from Aix-en-Provence and the 35-minute trip has made Lourmarin a favorite of the BOBO’s of Aix. Avignon is 55 minutes in smooth traffic. Yet the AIX TGV station has no rental cars, therefore someone has to fetch you or you have to take the dedicated express bus service to Aix to rent a car, a time-burning excursion. There are rental facilities at the Avignon TGV and the Marseille airport. From Lourmarin, passage to the heart of the Luberon is through a mountain ravine to Bonnieux.

Restaurants / Wine

Inquire with your hosts about restaurants in the area. If you are planning on dining at a Michelin star establishment, book your table weeks in advance of your arrival. The local wine cooperatives offer good bargains on rose. Patronize the cellar of a winery near your gîte for dinner wines. At restaurants, try labels that you can not find at your wine shops or supermarkets in the U.K. or the U.S. such as those from the Ventoux and the Luberon.

Farmers Markets

The Vaucluse is a plentiful land, the soi-disant garden of France, and the most crowded space you will ever encounter there is in the aisle of a Farmers Market. Avoid visits to towns on market days unless you are going for the market. Local producers sell at “marchés paysans,” whereas other “marchés” such as those at Carpentras and L’Ilse-sur-la-Sorge have diverse products as well as produce. The Velleron market (pictured above) is open six evenings a week, closed Sunday.

Basics

 

For luxury rentals, try Just Provence.

Websites mentioned in an informal survey of gîte owners in the Vaucluse:

www.gite.com/holiday-homes/index.php

www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/France/r31.htm

 www.provence.guideweb.com/

www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk

This website focuses on the Comtat:

 www.avignon-et-provence.com/location-gites-vaucluse.htm

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