Venasque Newsletter

Sunflowers

Fountain

 

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Restaurant reviews or to the
interview with Peter Mayle

 

Caretakers Taking Great Care

       We are delighted to introduce you to our caretakers, Martine and Jerome Maret. Many of you know this elegant couple as the owners of Le Maison aux Volets Bleus, or The House of the Blue Shutters, which is just up the street from our apartments.
Martine and Jerome are former Parisians who settled in Venasque over 30 years ago.

Le Volets Blues

    Their first venture in the village was Les Ramparts, where Martine was the original chef. They sold the restaurant years ago to become innkeepers.
     The night we dined chez Volets Bleus, we were shown to a round table on the inn's outdoor terrace, which offered a panoramic view of Mt. Ventoux. The Marets have their own house wine, a local Cotes du Ventoux, which perfectly complemented our duck confit and tasty asparagus soup.
     The meal finished with a superb cherry clafouti, a masterpiece made with dark, sweet cherries plucked from local trees. Such a meal is not to be missed
. Better yet, you feel a part of this very close knit and happy family.
     
The Marets manage several properties in the village, including ours. This is wonderful for many reasons: they have at their disposal a professional cleaning staff, we get to send all our linens out with their linen service, and-best of all-they are only a short walk away should you have any problems with the apartments.
     Martine is a superb cook and while she only does meals on weekends, and only for her guests, she has offered to invite our renters to join her on nights that she has an open table. We urge you to take advantage of this generous offer.

By Train To Avignon

     For renters flying into Paris, we often suggest they travel south by train - specifically the TGV (Tres Grand Vitesse), the speedy train that leaves directly from Charles DeGaulle Airport and arrives in Avignon a magical 2 hours and 38 minutes later.
     We do want to warn you, however, that there's a new TGV station in Avignon. In the past, visitors arrived and departed from a terminal in the center of Avignon, just across from the old, walled city. The new train station (Gare TGV) is located 3 km from the old station, on the southern edge of the city.
     We've known of several renters who went to pick up visiting friends at the old station, only to realize they'd gone to the wrong place. There are regular shuttle buses between the two stations, but if you're aware of the possibility of confusion, we're sure you can avoid it.

TVG fast train

Fifteen Things To Do Near Venasque

Pad offers this list of favorite things to do when in Venasque. Please try them all and add your own.

Olives on the market

1. Friday morning market in Carpentras (for being authentically French)
2. Quiet afternoon at Abbé Senanque (with its elegant simplicity). The lavender fields bloom late June through July.
3. Evening walk through Gordes (arriving there from Abbé Senanque as sun sinks).Try dinner at Le Bouquet de Basillic (see restaurant listings).
4. Day in Avignon (Palais des Papes) with lunch at L'Isle Sonnante.
5. Dinner or lunch at L’Auberge du Beaucet (for the food and village charm)
6. Sunday morning market in Isle sur la Sorgue (for beauty of town & antiques)
7. Vaison la Romain for the Roman structures (market on Tuesday; remember to visit the medieval village too)
8. Arles for the Van Gogh views and Saturday market; lunch at Le Bistrot du Paradou.
9. Les Baux on the way back from Arles if there are not too many tourists
10. Stroll the lovely, ancient town of Lacoste where Marquis de Sade lived

Bonus ideas:
11. Gorges de la Nesque for variety and scale of landscape (with lunch in Sault at Restaurant le Provençal)
12. Evening walks through arch in center of Venasque up to Chemin de Peiriere, making a circle around highest point in the town
13. A picnic at Pont du Gard, ancient Roman aqueduct. Bring your bathing suits for a swim in the river.
14. Drive up Mt. Ventoux (unless you want to cycle up) and see 360 degree view from 6200 feet
15. Head west from Carpentras to Orange to see impressive Roman amphitheatre and arch.

On the Riviera: the Calanques of Cassis Cassis on the sea

     A view of the Mediterranean is a great temptation for anyone who visits the south of France. Venasque is a mere two-hour journey to the seaside village of Cassis. Should you have only one day to spend on the Riviera, we recommend you spend it here.
     The main attraction of Cassis, other than the charm of its tiny streets, is access to the calanques, mini-fjiords that line the coastline from Marseilles to Cassis. Whereas much of the Riviera is overbuilt and modern, the shoreline here is pristine, mainly because it's sheer, rocky and inaccessible.
     The best way to see the calanques is by boat. Parked along the quay of the Cassis marina, there must be at least a dozen boats that carry tourists to these narrow grottos of turquoise blue water. The boats vary in size from about 30 feet to over 70 feet (small ferries) and leave the harbor every 30 minutes or so. The cost is dependent on the number of calanques you want to visit: 3, 5, or more. (Five calanques costs about 12 Euro.) But the most impressive calanque is further from the port, so buying more stops is probably your best bet. Some of the boats will drop you off at tiny beaches and pick you up on a return trip. If you take one of these, bring lunch, or at least something to drink.
     An added suggestion from recent renters Tom and Andréa St. Clair: rent sea kayaks to visit the Calanques. There are several outfitters on the quayside, and if you're sporty, this route gives you the freedom to explore sans company.
     Two caveats: parking is difficult and in summer, the crush of French sun worshippers can be overwhelming. Don't visit on a weekend and never leave anything in your car. You might think about taking the train from Avignon to Cassis (change at Marseilles). This would eliminate car worries and some rather tiresome driving, placing you in the center of Cassis with no hassle. In fact, consider staying overnight, which will allow a leisurely dinner and some casual sightseeing on the way back to Venasque.

Pont du Gard:
A Daytrip Avec Bathing Suits
Pont du Gard

     Just across the Rhone River, not far from Avignon, is the world's greatest Roman aqueduct. The Pont du Gard was built shortly before the Christian era to ferry water from Nîmes across the river Gard. The Roman architects and hydraulic engineers, who designed this bridge on three levels, created a technical as well as an artistic masterpiece that inspires to this day.
     When we visited one hot, summer afternoon, we wisely carried bathing suits along with a picnic lunch of bread and cheese. Lucky us. After walking across the bridge, we joined the French families picnicing on to riverbank below. Like them, we dipped into the cool waters of the River Gard between bites from a fresh baguette.


A Summer Tip: Beating The Heat

Shutters

Olive branch

     What if you run into a heat wave? How do you keep cool in a land with precious little air conditioning?
     This past summer, some of our guests were confronted with that challenge, as they faced a record-breaking season of heat. Fortunately, an old stone building, like Chez Kubik, is your best defense against high temperatures.
     Chez Kubik's brightly painted shutters are more than merely decorative. Used properly, they can catch and store cool air with great efficiency. When it's hot, rise as early as possible in the morning, and fling open every door and window to admit what cool air the early morning provides. Then, as the sun begins to climb, close and fasten the shutters on every window and switch off the lights. But don't close the windows behind the shutters - you need currents of air to move in the darkness of the house. We've provided fans for every room, which keeps the air circulating.
     It helps having stone walls that are three feet thick, of course. On a particularly hot day, the French do their errands early, then retreat indoors to their shuttered, darkened homes to wait out the heat. When cooling breezes come with the evening, you can open the shutters, and head to our upstairs terrace, for sunset drinks and tapenade.

The Tondu Tapenade

     No visit to the L'Isle Sur la Sorgue market is complete without a visit to the stall of Brigitte and Daniel Tondu, a colorful collection of tables arranged alongside the majestic cathedral, in the heart of the old city. The Tondus sell the best olive oil in the region. We buy it by the liter and carry it home instead of wine. We are also exceedingly fond of the Tondu's tapenade and their specialty Provençal olives, marinated in garlic, and a must-have for any cocktail hour. Brigitte comes from a long line of olive sellers. She and Daniel met at university and have been selling in the local markets for more than a decade. They use local olives and import others from around the Mediterranean. But the recipes for preparing their olives and tapenade are their own, and the reason so many shoppers return week after week.

Tapenade

Weekly Markets

Apricots at the market

Strawberries

Monday
Bédoin/ St Didier
Tuesday
Gordes/Sault, Vaison la Romaine

Wednesday
Arles

Thursday
Orange
Friday
Carpentras
Saturday
Apt

Sunday
Isle sur la Sorgue

Cherries

To Market, to Market      Whenever possible, you should shop at one of the many open air food markets that are the essene of the Provençal experience. Our favorites are the large markets at Carpentras on Fridays and Isle sur la Sorgue on Sundays. For smaller markets, we particularly enjoy Bedoin on Mondays. And the largest market in the area in Avignon is open every day, but Saturday and Sunday are the best.
     Don't worry if you French is limited or non-existent; the sellers are great at sign language. Do try the many varieties of cheeses you'll find in the markets, especially the local chèvres. You can also buy many varieties of tapenades as well as cold-pressed olive oil by the gallon jug. The larger markets are also a good source of Provençal linens, either by the yard or made up into tablecloths and napkins.
     As one of our tenants remarked: "The Carpentras marked is the largest in the area after Avignon, but somehow remains intimate, perhaps because parts are held in the narrow winding streets of the old city. What can you buy? Anything from portable generators to lace and paella."

Market

     Our routine at the Isle sur la Sorgue market is to begin with a grand crème or café au lait at Café de France in the middle of town opposite the church. Across from the café we make our first purchase--a half kilo of Provençal olives with loads of garlic and pimento. Then we pick up a bidon of Les Eysserides rosé of red table wine, an especially good buy if there are many of us and the wine is going too fast to permit more expensive alternatives. Michel Aguillon offers his selection next to the church and the cost for the bidon--the equivalent of five bottles--is anywhere from 48F to 84F.
     Our last purchase before heading home for lunch is Cantonese rice and a rotisserie-cooked chicken from a Vietnamese family (be sure to get lots of gravy with the chicken).
     And do make an early visit to LeClerc, the mega-supermarket in Carpentras. As you drive the circuit around the centre ville, follow signs toward Avignon, turning to your right. Approximately a quarter of a mile later, you will see a relatively small sign announcing LeClerc and indicating a small street to your left. Proceed down that street and you will see LeClerc on you right. We always stock up on essentials like cereals, spaghetti, or toilet paper. It's also the place for everything from flashlight batteries to clothes to film.

     At LeClerc you can buy wonderful cheeses and patés, good wines at good prices. The meat and fish are also excellent and you can buy a warm baguette any time of day.

bread at the market

     Venasque's boulangerie has all the essential treats, from croissants and pain au chocolat to small squares of pizza and sausages wrapped in pastry. And best of all are the warm baguette and tarte aux fruits for breakfast. ( The boulangerie is closed on Mondays; you will have to go to St Didier for your croissants.) The little alimentation in Venasque is fine for afterthoughts: lemons, sliced ham, a quart of milk, items you have forgotten. It's a bit more expensive than the supermarkets, but it's nice to support the local stores, and you can always find bread here when the boulangerie is closed.
     For the occasional purchase of groceries, the neighboring village of St. Didier is excellent--two greengrocers, a good butcher, and two bakeries.

Our Favorite Cheeses
                             Provence is a cheese lover's paradise. In all seasons, one can discover the complexity of flavors that come with a good selection of French cheeses. Of course, this region specializes in chevre, goat cheese, in countless varieties. Shoppers may be overwhelmed by the choices, but the man behind the counter may be your best teacher.
     In nearby St. Didier, where there is a small market on Mondays (when the shops in Venasque are closed), we met a charming cheesemonger who parks his van in the central square. Loquacious and friendly, he was only too eager to educate us. (This, by the way, is the pleasure of tiny markets like St. Didier; there are few tourists and especially off-season, sellers have time to chat.)
     With goat cheese, as with all cheeses, the younger the cheese, the milder the flavor. Fresh, white cheeses aged for only a day have the consistency of cream cheese and an equally soft flavor. Those aged for two or three days are semi-fresh and creamy, which is how we prefer them. Those with a darker rind are older cheeses and therefore stronger-flavored.
     Here is a list of the simply perfect cheeses we selected on our visit to St. Didier, plus the names of others that always please: St. Felicien du Cremier: a rich and creamy cow's milk cheese
     Perail: goat cheese that melts like Camembert, Roquefort: the familiar blue-veined cheese, but entirely different when cut from the wheel rather than packed in supermarket plastic. Spread on a pear, it's heaven. Banon: wrapped "a la feuille," in chestnut leaves, this goat cheese is easy to spot in the markets. Better when slightly aged and springy to the touch. Pouligny-Saint-Pierre: Nicknamed "the pyramid," this is another easy-to-spot cheese, with its triangular shape and slightly blue rind. The goat cheese is fine-textured, white, and crumbly.

Cheese

Olive branch

Letter we recently received:

Pad and Julie,

Back home in San Clemente and mostly recoverd from jet lag, I can respond a little more coherently to your kind reply.

We bless you for your recommendation of late April.  We arrived on the 17th and the first morning took the circuit walk along the Rte d'Appie down to the D4 and up the front road.  The Berkshires in Spring could not have been better:  warm sunshine but just a nip of cool in the air, and all the cherries in full white blossom, with that fleeting moment of pale green on the trees coming back into leaf after winter.  Less than a week later the white blossoms were all gone and early summer had started.  We arrived at just the right time.

And bless you again for providing that profoundest of mysteries that the cultures which invented the rest of civilization have yet to comprehend:  the washcloth.

Gorgeous weather, against the AccuWeather historical statistics:  our only day of rain was May 1--the day we left. 

After three weeks in "if it's Thursday it must be Cordoba" Spain (which we nevertheless loved), we really enjoyed the small town experience of Venasque, where I asked Peggy the first night, "What can you hear?" and she replied, accurately, "Nothing."  We did some of the obligatory tourist things:  Avignon and Arles and Orange (I'm a classicist), but we also did St. Didier (Desiderius, the given first name of Erasmus--sat next to, at dinner at the cafe-restaurant opposite the Mairie, a classic Hollywood break up between the ageing British scholar lady and her dark and handsome peasant lover of the winter, complete with tears and classic lines) and Le Beucet and La Roque sur Pernes and even St. Gens.  The last was strangely moving for a Cathoic who has for a lifetime been revulsed by the more gross folk tales in Catholcism.  Domesticting wolves.  Hmmm.  A proto-St. Francis?  Whatever the reality, there really was a strong and prepossessing character who lived up in that box canyon, and his personality has survived a thousand years in the vicinity.  I know mine will be vanished within a century.

Jerome and Martine were unfailingly charming and helpful. We enjoyed two meals at Les VB.  Their ambiance has Les Ramparts beat hands down and their more traditonal cooking has a real charm.  But what can one say about meals where every greasy spoon harbors budding Escoffiers and every half-acre producesa diffferent and wonderful wine?

Blockbuster:  we enjoyed a spectacular lunch at the hotel-restaurant just below the chateau in Le Barroux.  Since you are presumably back in McDonald-land, I'll only mention an entree of slices of smoked breast of duck on salad greens with as pungent terrine of yellow vegetables. 

Blockbuster:  we enjoyed a spectacular lunch at the hotel-restaurant just below the chateau in Le Barroux.  Since you are presumably back in McDonald-land, I'll only mention an entree of slices of smoked breast of duck on salad greens with as pungent terrine of yellow vegetables. 

As to wines, I had an epiphany. I had concluded firmly, many years ago, and reverified the conclusion frequenty and unfortunately, that any wine from the south of France should not be bought. It would always be disappointing junk.  It seems that I have been mistaken.  They produce excellent wines, but they are smart:  they drink it all at home and send us the junk, because they know we will drink it.

Wine tasting at Domaine Les Flauzieres (just south of Vaison la Romaine, about a mile down the D54 to the east at the town of Le Crestet).  Peggy has to go to the bathroom, so I suggest stopping at a wine-tasting place, since they must provide bathrooms for people who have been drinking.  We see the sign to Les Flauzieres and head down the road.  We come to a typical mas enclosed farmyard, which has not changed since Roman times.  A dog and a couple of cats wandering around the square.;  Piles of old oak barrels on one side.  An old guy in bib overalls and a straw hat shuffling around, white haired, wire-rimmed glasses, and the round,block head and honestly rednecked skin of the peasant farmer.  "Etes vous apert pour degustation?"  "Certainment," he says, betraying a mouth half empty of teeth.  He, it turns out, is the owner of the domaine that has been in his family for generations.  His son, who is a degreed oenoligist who did an apprenticeship with Sterling up in Napa in the 1990's, is away at a conference today, but Idon't think son has ever got his hands as dirty or wore out his back as much as dad did.

Dad (Jerome Benoit) can get by in some English and I can do some French, so we get along.  When he washes his hands he asks us int he tasting room what we would like.  Everything he has is local, from Vaison, or from other villages just about within sight.  All at 5 or 6 E the bottle.  Top of the line is a "grand reserve" of Gigondas.  He opens whole fresh bottles for us.  He shares a tasting glass or two.  We buy four bottles.  He has to ask his wife the price of each since, though he can tell us the names of the snails that crawled over those grapes, he has no idea of what they cost retail.

We say good-bye.  Peggy has almost forgotten about the bathroom, and before we leave he is struggling to back off a truck bed a small tractor that someone has lent him.

The cheapest of the wines (6 E) is about as good as Franciscan or Chateau St. Jean.  The grand reseve (12 E) is to die for.  We drive back the next week just to get two more botles to bring home.

I'd like to see the day up in Napa when either Ernest or Julio--let alone Charles Shaw himself--would stand at the tasting counter to pour us a glass and discuss how he had grown it.

Sigh!

Thank you again for making this beautiful experience possible for us.

John Madden 

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Julie Michaels
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