David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Short Week in the Vaucluse, October 2006

We arrived back in Nice from Chicago on October 17, 2006. The first few days back were a bit rainy and we slowly settled in. The next Sunday, the 22nd, we packed our bags and left for the Vaucluse, the area of France near Avignon and including the Cotes du Rhone. Assuming that it would be cooler there than in Nice, we packed a few sweaters and corduroys. It was a nice, easy drive up to Avignon along the tollroads ($25 in tolls each way!), about 2 ½ hours. Then we headed to Carpentras, through Beaumes de Venise, and to tiny Lefare where we had decided to have lunch at the Restaurant le Redortier. The entrance was up a dirt drive by the vineyards and the old building was attractive and welcoming. The new building housed the restaurant, with a glass wall looking out to a pleasant terrasse. We ordered the specialty of the house for an entrée – lamb terrine with eggplant and a fresh tomato sauce. David had cod with a white wine sauce for his main course while I had another specialty of the house, the duck leg daube with fresh tagliatelle. After a cheese course which included a delicious bleu, David had the fig flan and I had a chocolate cake. The menu was 24,50 euro each. Wines were extra and we chose a different glass for each course from their own vineyard.

After lunch, we drove up to Gigondas, about 15 minutes away. We felt as though we had arrived in the real France – all vineyards and tiny towns. Gigondas is a village of about 650 people, the town built on the north side of the hill. Our exchange is part of the ancient ramparts (16th century), near the 12th century church, with great views of the vineyards. There are old tiled floors and heavily beamed ceilings and it is furnished nicely with an antique armoire and comfortable furniture, and updated with a TV with satellite. The apartment had 2 bedrooms and bath, a kitchen/dining room upstairs and a sitting room downstairs. Our hosts live next door.

Monday we headed for Vaison-la-Romaine. We had visited this town 19 years before but didn’t remember it at all. We visited the archeological digs of the Roman town, including the theater (6,000 seats, one for every one in this Roman town), the baths, and several houses. There is a nice museum on the grounds. Later we walked to the Roman bridge which is still used for daily traffic. Apparently the upper part, added in modern times was washed away in a big flood, but the Roman part is still there!

We found a nice place for lunch, Le Clos St. Germain. Ginna had a salade with lardons while David started with a terrine of rougets (fish). We both had the filet St. Pierre roti in lemon butter, which was outstanding. Ginna had the profiteroles while David had the tarte de pommes. The whole menu was 11 euro each plus a carafe of wine for 6! After lunch we explored the church, Notre Dame de Nazareth Cathedral, and cloisters in the Provencal Romanesque style.

En route back to ‘our place’ we visited Seguret, one of the “prettiest villages of France”, and Sablet, another charming perched village. We’d had a bit of rain for just a few minutes, but most of the day was warm and nice.

Tuesday we headed back through Carpentras, with its delightful smells of plane trees, and on to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, as the name tells, an island in the Sorgue river. This town is in the Luberon area of the Vaucluse. There are little canals everywhere and many waterwheels from the 1200s when they were used for grinding flour. Later they were used for the woolen mills, making this the center of Provence’s cloth-dying and textile industry. We visited the Cathedrale, Notre Dame des Anges, with its golden altar and enjoyed the beautiful buildings in the surrounding square. We chose a wonderful place for lunch – Lou Soloy (The Sun) and ate on a tiny bridge spanning the Sorgue with ducks clucking and diving beneath us. We each enjoyed the delicious quail and rabbit terrine, served with a sweet confiture and salad; then David had the pork and Ginna the faux filet. The desserts were fabulous, Ginna’s chocolate terrine and David’s raspberry filled Napoleon served with vanilla sauce. We had a nice rose, “cuvee speciale” de Luberon. The menu was 16 euro. We really enjoyed the meal, sitting in the warm sun, probably 75 degrees; quite idyllic.

Next we went on to trendy Roussillon, famous for its stunning ochre cliffs of red, yellow and orange. The whole town existed on ochre for 2000 years. After WWII, when the ochre market dried up, the town slept until it was rediscovered by tourists. This day it was filled with busloads of Americans. It’s always startling to hear Americans! But the town does have nice shops. We drove home over the mountains, the “route touristique” (meaning, no one in his right mind would take this route?), which was very windy but thankfully without a lot of traffic and gave tremendous views. By 6:30 PM we were home and sitting on our terrace, watching the sun go down, and sipping aperitifs. A really perfect day.

Wednesday we decided to stay fairly close to home, just exploring the route that circles the Dentelles de Montmirail. Our first stop was the Domaine les Girasols winery, suggested by Rick Steves. The tasting was hosted by Marie-Elizabeth Joyet, a beautiful and friendly woman. We went through aperitifs, main course, and dessert, all by 10:30 AM! But just the wines. Mme. Joyet’s daughter is married to a Californian who was studying wine-making in the Napa Valley and they now live here in this gorgeous place.

Our next stop was Le Crestet, a tiny place with fabulous views. Next came Malaucene where we shopped at the weekly market. We bought sausage with nuts, grapes, and then a terrific blue cheese and a sheep’s milk cheese from a darling cheeseman, wearing a cowboy hat, who proudly told us about his 600 sheep. As we drove over the mountains we saw orchards of almonds, figs, and cherries. The medieval castle of Le Barroux was in the distance. We stopped in Beaumes-de-la-Venise where we had another wonderful lunch under the trees at Le Relais des Dentelles. The starters were salade chevre chaud and terrine de campagne; we followed up with saumon with riz forestiere (with mushrooms) and rognons (kidneys!); then a pear charlotte and gateau with raspberries. We had a nice rose with the meal and a glass of the local Muscat with dessert. A 19,50 menu.

In the evening Ginna met an artist from Belgium, Hugo, who lives in nearby Sablet, while climbing back up to the house from the village. He joined us for an aperitif. Our hosts, the Vander Putts, were surprised to see us with a ‘friend’ and to learn that we had just met him. We all enjoyed an aperitif on the terrace, getting to know each other. Our hostess was raised in Belgium so there was a lot to talk about.

Thursday we spent in Avignon and visited the Palace of the Popes, a gigantic place covering 2 acres! The popes were in residence here for most of the 14th century, moved here by Clement V, a French pope, at the urging of the French king. By 1378 there were 2 popes, one in Avignon and one in Rome. The Palace itself is not overly interesting, as it is mostly empty of furnishings. We also visited the gardens and walked on the ramparts and had many views of the famous St. Benezet Bridge – “Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse …” - remember that childhood song? The Cathedral predates the Palace and is small.

Then the highlight of the whole week: we had lunch at the sumptuous Hotel La Mirande, eating on the lovely terrasse under a tree and surrounded by roses still in bloom, morning glories, and other beautiful flowers. In such a setting we had to start with a coupe de champagne! As we sat enjoying our lovely aperitifs, one of the chefs came out and picked fresh herbs from the garden. The bouche-amuse was cepe mushroom soup with foie gras, smooth and heavenly. The first course was marinated scallops with apple, sundried tomatoes, presented beautifully and tasting delicious. Then David had seabass while I had medallions of veal, both perfect. The breads were fabulous and the ½ bottle of white - delicious. For dessert we had chocolate terrine, which was out-of-this-world, accompanied by a local red dessert wine. The menu, available only at lunch, was 33 euro each plus all the drinks, but worth it. The service was impeccable (about 6 people taking good care of us!) and friendly. We could have stayed forever.

Then we went to the Fondation Angladon-Dubrujeaud Museum, a small but very nice place in the private home if the Angladon-Dubrujeauds. It contained work by Cezanne, van Gogh, Daumier, Degas, Modigliani, Picasso, and works by the patrons which were quite good. The house itself and the furnishings are very interesting.

The whole week could not have been better – whether weather-wise, food and wine-wise, or places visited. We loved our exchange place and hope to exchange with the Vander Putts again, maybe for a long weekend in the spring.


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