Monday, August 24, 2015

You're Invited: Grape Stomps in the Luberon


There seems to be no limit to what Lisa and Johann Pepin will get up to at their pretty organic farm, Les Pastras, in the rolling hills of the Southern Luberon. First they started offering truffle hunts and tastings...then it was olive-picking parties. Next came an "adopt a tree" program, followed by foraging and fishing expeditions. And now--as you probably guessed---they're inviting everyone to come and stomp grapes.

Yep, throughout the month of September, you can immerse yourself in one of the world's oldest traditions, stomping away in enormous antique oak barrels. The barrels are waist-high, roomy enough for 4+ people and offer the added bonus of a view of Cezanne's beloved Mont Sainte Victoire.

"I Love Lucy-style grape fights are definitely encouraged," Lisa proclaims.

Over the course of two or 2.5 hours, you'll be regaled with harvest stories passed down from generations of local farmers including the dark side of wine making such as grape and vine theft. You'll learn the difference between local grape varieties and wine styles...and how traditional harvests were done, with horses, back in the day...and hear about the impact of modern technology and techniques on the wine-making process. And of course you'll be given a French harvest nickname, in keeping with local tradition. (Johann and Lisa's nicknames are in old Provençal. He's Lou Rabassié, "the truffle hunter." She's La Grumo, "the Champagne bubbles.")


Each grape stomp is followed with a buffet of cheese, paté, charcuterie, red wine and a tasting of Les Pastras' olive oil and truffle oil. 

"It's an authentic French experience that's full of laughter, fun for all ages and makes great photos you'll cherish long after your toes are no longer sticky," Lisa says. "You can go wine tasting anywhere, but this is the only place you'll learn to sing traditional French drinking songs while you taste!" 


Les Pastras sits on eleven hectares of rolling farmland, of which five are planted with grapes. The newer vines were planted by Johann's grandparents, beginning in the 1970s. Older vines (such as the varietal known as Muscat of Alexandria) were planted by the previous owners and are more than 60 years old. 

Like a lot of small farmers, the couple has been selling their grapes to the local co-op, to be blended with other farms' grapes; the wine is then sold at the co-op by the jug, box or bottle. (The Pepins also sell their organic table grapes to fresh produce co-ops that offer weekly delivery of organic fruit and vegetable baskets, depending on what's in season.) 

More recently, however, they've begun bottling their own wine right at Les Pastras. "We fill, cork, and seal each bottle by hand, using wax, the way Johann's grandfather used to when Johann was a boy," Lisa tells me. "We feel like the traditional method and the old-school look of the bottles give our wine a classic, authentic image that pays homage to the property's history and Provençal winemaking over the years."

Down the road, Lisa says the plan is to control the whole process from A to Z. "We'll press, age, bottle, cork, and label Les Pastras wine right here, ourselves," she says. "Some day!"

Les Pastras' wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. It's not sold in stores and probably won't be until production can be increased. Meanwhile, you can buy it at the farm, priced at 12€ per bottle. "It's a smooth, medium-bodied, versatile red that goes as well with steak or lamb as with a roast chicken or cheese course," Lisa says. "It has notes of black currant, raspberry, and pepper and has a balanced level of dryness. As a Luberon wine, it's more full-bodied and closer in taste to a Côtes du Rhone than a Côteaux de Provence." 

As always, 50% of the profits from Les Pastras' products (which include a variety of olive- and truffle-based goodies such as Black Truffle Salt) go to the One Family orphanage in Haiti.

And what about those grapes that you and other guests have so elegantly mashed? For hygiene reasons, they won't go into the wine...but they won't be wasted. Since Les Pastras is all organic, the grapes will be used as natural fertilizer.

Wanna stomp? Here are all the details. The price (60€ per person for adults, 40€ kids) includes the grape stomp, cheese and charcuterie buffet, all you care to drink of Les Pastras red wine, an olive oil and truffle oil tasting.  Minimum: two people. Weekend tours at flexible hours, weekday tours at 10:30 am. Plan to spend 2 to 2.5 hours. Please book at least one week in advance. The stomping season runs September 1 –September 30 and of course, it's weather permitting.

If you can't visit the farm in September,  consider a truffle hunt instead; all the info on that is here. Truffle hunting at Les Pastras was recently named the #1 activity in the Luberon (out of 84) on Trip Advisor.

For more info or to book, email or call: pepin@lespastras.com,  +33 6 26 05 30 49. You can also find Lisa and Johann on Twitter and Facebook

Photos: Come Stomp With Me! Lisa Pepin is barefoot and ready for September; her old Provencal harvest nickname translates as "Champagne bubbles."  The Pepins (she's American, he's French) grow grapes, olives, nuts and fruit...and harvest truffles....on eleven hectares in the Southern Luberon. Johann (in the hat) is pictured strolling with guests.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Annual ABBYAC Show Starts Aug 26


Every summer, the multi-artist show ABBYAC takes over the beautiful gardens and interior of the Abbaye Saint-André, at the hilltop Fort Saint-André in Villeneuve Lez Avignon (yes, they spell it Lez not Les). This year, 22 artists are participating, showing sculptures, paintings, engravings, ceramics and installations...with Galerie 22 in Coustellet as the co-curator. The vernissage (opening) will be Wednesday Aug 26 from 6 pm to 9:30 pm and all are welcome; admission that evening is free. The show runs until Sunday Sept 6 and is open from 10 am to 6 pm, every day except Monday. Admission is 6€ for adults, free for kids under 8 and discounted for groups and families. In conjunction with ABBYAC, a nine-artist show called "Grandeur Nature" is ongoing at the Domaine Dalmeran in St. Etienne du Grès until August 29. For general info, go to the websites linked above. For specific questions, contact Marion Lamy, 06 12 51 15 80, marionlamy6@gmail.com. 

Photos: Bas-Relief Angle in marble by David Logan.  A mixed-technique painting on canvas called Filet, by Enrique Mestre-Jaime. Corbeau by Christian Armandy, in painted steel. Horseman, a painting by Patrick Loste. Flottement, a sculpture in wood by Bruno Bienfait. The Abbaye and its garden.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Avignon Sound + Light Show Starts Aug 12


In Avignon, the monumental 3D sound-and-light show called Les Luminessences d’Avignon, is back in action as of this week. Performances are each evening, from Wednesday August 12 to Saturday October 3. New this year are three shows per week in English (10:15 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays); otherwise the narration is all in French. The show tells the story of the Palais des Papes in 360 degrees, projected on the medieval walls of the Honour Courtyard. For info in English on the story, schedule, ticketing and more, click here

Friday, July 31, 2015

Inn and Cooking School for Sale in Provence

After almost 25 years of running a very-successful, very-beautiful private country inn and cooking school in St. Remy, my friends David and Nito Carpita have decided that this year will be their last. Although St Remy will remain their home base, they want to travel more, spend time with family and friends and pursue new projects. Which means that their fully restored 19th-century property, Mas de Cornud, is for sale. 
St. Remy is a charming, historic village in the Bouches-du-Rhone department of Provence, roughly three hours south of Lyon and one hour north of Marseille. Hugely popular with travelers and second-home owners, St. Remy is known for historic sites (including the excavated Greek/Roman village called Glanum), its appeal for artists of all types (Van Gogh painted 150 canvasses during the year he spent here), a vibrant summer events calendar, its traditional Provencal festivals, the quality of its produce and the natural beauty of the landscape. Paris can be reached in roughly three hours via the high-speed TGV train station at Avignon, 20 km from St. Remy.
Located on a lovely country road just three kilometers from the village center, Mas de Cornud (and the Seasons of Provence cooking school) is virtually a turn-key operation. It has a large, professional kitchen with ten stations at a granite center island...and a traditional farmhouse kitchen...and an outdoor kitchen with a 17th century-style wood-burning fireplace and pulley-driven rotisserie. The outdoor kitchen also has a professional Viking gas grill and smoker as well as a wood-burning feu de bois.
Most importantly, Mas Cornud and its cooking school have a great reputation and a huge loyal clientele: many groups and individual travelers return year after year. Over the years it has been the venue of choice (for meals and cooking classes) for many tour operators including Backroads.  Guest chef/instructors over the years have included Jacques Pepin and Jean-André Charial of the Oustau de Baumaniere, to name a few.

The main house has seven bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a guest powder room. The pool house and a separate stone cottage each have one bedroom and bathroom.  Besides the kitchen herb garden, there are 40 types of trees including apple, cherry, plum, fig, almond and walnut.  There are front and side terraces for al fresco dining and a boules court with overhead lights allowing games to continue past dusk.
The property has an ample ½ hectare of land and is buffered by another seven hectares of farmland, upon which construction is prohibited due to agriculture zoning.
For anyone interested in continuing the cooking-school business, David and Nito will do whatever they can to make the transition seamless.  They'll pass along their client list, their helpers and their vast network of local farmers, producers and purveyors.
If a cooking school isn't in your plans, it could be run as a traditional country inn...or as a splendid summer or year-round home. The property is being sold completely furnished.
Over the years I've been a guest at many fantastic meals and parties at Mas Cornud, where I've met wonderfully interesting people from all over the world. It makes me sad to think that St. Remy might lose this important part of our community...and the wonderful way it connects travelers to our Provencal farming, wine and culinary traditions. There's always something fun happening at Mas de Cornud…and David and Nito's warm hospitality and energy will be greatly missed. 

“To live here full time is to live a dream,” David says. “It’s like heading for your very favorite vacation place...and never having to return home.  Provence is a perennially popular destination. And with the ever-growing interest in culinary travel worldwide, the potential to expand on what we’ve created at Mas Cornud is unlimited. Our hope is just to pass it on to someone who will cherish it as we have."

For a detailed prospectus, pricing or questions, contact David: mascornud@live.com or +33 (0)4 90 92 39 32.

Photos: (1) Nothing like a little place in the country! The house was built in the early 1800s; the Carpitas bought it in 1985. They did a total renovation and made it their full time home in 1991.  (2) David and Nito will stay in St. Remy but want more time for family, friends and travel. (3) Huge old trees shade the property. (4) The pretty pool and pool house. The pool house has a bedroom, bathroom, outdoor shower, wet bar and six-person hot tub/Jacuzzi. (5) Nito loves to do her shopping at St. Remy's Wednesday market, one of the largest and best in the region. (6) Fruit trees include apple, cherry, plum, fig, apple and pear. (7) Students at work. (8) Homegrown! (9) The party's over for this lamb "à la ficelle"...but just ready to begin for lucky guests. (10). One of seven bedrooms in the main house. (11) Lovely Provencal bathroom fixtures. (11) Just another day at Mas de Cornud: a lunch for 14 that stretched out all afternoon.

Note: David and Nito are fully booked and taking no new reservations (for lodging or cooking classes) for 2015. If you're looking for cooking classes in the region, with or without lodging, I'll be happy to help. Email me: provenceblog@aol.com.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Calling All New and Recent Expats in France


The other day I got an email from Joe Pinzone, who's casting an international travel show about moving abroad that will air in more than 100 countries. Joe writes: "We'd love to film in France and we'd love to find English-speaking expats who've moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for three to four years, but recently moved into a new home. The show will re-enact their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The contributors on the show would also receive compensation if they're filmed."

Interested or know someone who might be? Contact: joepinzone@leopardusa.com.

France pillow available here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cannes Fireworks Festival Starts Tonight


The annual Cannes International Fireworks Festival kicks off tonight, to celebrate La Fête Nationale or Le Quatorze Juillet. As in years past, the huge display will be launched from three barges in the bay facing the Croisette and I hear that the synchronization of music and fireworks is extraordinary. Shows begin around 10 pm and last 30 minutes. The fest is run as a competition among top pyrotechnic teams from around the world.

Six shows will be featured throughout the summer. To open the competition tonight, Azerbaijan will be represented by the Baku Firework Group. The festival continues on Tuesday July 21st (Poland), Thursday July 30th (France, the group called Intermede), Friday August 7th (Great Britain), Saturday August 15 (Argentina) and Monday August 24 (France again, with the company called Prestatech). For all the info including an access map, click here.

As in years past, the American Club of the Riviera will host a reception and dinner during the festival...this year it's August 15. They've reserved at one of Cannes' best beach restaurants for the event, the 3.14 Plage Beach, located very centrally opposite the Carlton Hotel. The evening starts at 8 pm with a welcome drink and nibbles, followed by a three-course dinner including wines, mineral water and coffee. Prices: 90€ for members; 97€ for non-members;  40€ for children. This event will almost certainly sell out so reserve your spot early by clicking here. No payments will be accepted at the door. Questions? Contact Burton: +33 (0) 6 20 40 11 28 or president@americanclubriviera.com.

Finally, if you're just looking for a place to have a drink and watch the fireworks, the 3.14 Plage Beach offers a lounge chair and a welcome drink for 15€ per person. They're fully booked for tonight but may have space for future evenings. You need to call +33 (0) 4 93 94 25  a couple days in advance to reserve and arrive by 9 pm to get your spot.


Photos: Scenes from fireworks past...and the restaurant called 3.14 Plage, where the American Club of the Riviera will host their party on August 15.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A French Mega Market in Lower Manhattan

Beverly Stephen, the former executive editor of Food Arts magazine, is a journalist and consultant specializing in food, travel and lifestyle. A lifelong Francophile, Bev lives in New York but jets off to France every chance she gets. She was thrilled when this new French food hall opened recently, not far from her lower-Manhattan home...so I asked her to tell us all about it. 

Can’t make it to France his year? Pas de probleme! Francophiles on the East Coast have a great new way to get their fix at a sprawling French market in lower Manhattan called Le District.

The just-opened 30,000-square-foot Gallic fantasy, located in Brookfield Place (the former World Financial Center, recently redone at a cost of $250 million), is divided into four "districts": restaurant, café, market and garden.  Within these districts, all culinary needs for eat-in or take-out can be met, from poisson to  patisserie and fleurs to fromage. Tourists seeking a respite from the somber 9/11 Memorial Museum nearby can happily sip a rosé from Provence, take a bite of ratatouille, and feel transported to the South of France...never mind that the sweeping views are New York Harbor and not the Mediterranean. Workers from nearby Goldman Sachs and Condé Nast are likely to eat-in at one of the restaurants, at one of the counter seats scattered throughout, or on the 7,000-square-foot plaza looking out to the Statue of Liberty. Everyone can buy plenty of ingredients to make dinner back at home...along with a chic bouquet for the table from fleuriste Yasmine Karrenberg.

Dessert  comes first at Le District.  Commanding attention at the entrance is the riotously colorful French  candy store La Cure Gourmande which offers an astonishing array of nougats, caramels, biscuits and even olives au chocolat (chocolate-covered almonds in disguise), all available in gift-worthy tins. This is the first U.S. outpost of the store that originated in the Languedoc-Roussillon and now has 45 locations around the world.

Across the aisle is a crêperie, a waffle station and a patisserie displaying jewel-like French pastries. And of course a coffee bar. 

Other temptations follow—freshly baked breads, cheese, charcuterie, salads and sandwiches (I chose a delectable roasted lamb sandwich with ras al hanout and hummus white sauce), brasserie-style meals, wine and beer. Packaged foods to take home include Provencal olive oils,  Les Comtes de Provence jams, argan oil, mustards, spices, salts and sausages.  If you prefer to avoid temptation, graze before 4 p.m., when the salad bar transforms itself into a chocolate mousse bar offering eight different varieties of white and dark with toppings such as orange confit and speculoos cookies.

Le District is the brainchild of restaurant impresario Peter Poulakakos of the HPH Group, a restaurant and development company, and his business partner Paul Lamas; together they pretty much have downtown Manhattan cornered with Harry’s Café and Steak, The Dead Rabbit, The Growler and Financier Patisserie among others. They took their inspiration from Parisian markets such as La Grande Epicerie and from other countries touched by French culture such as Morocco and Vietnam. Chef Jordi Valles, an El Bulli alum, was recruited to be culinary director of the whole project. Under him is an army of chefs and cheese mongers, butchers, bakers and sausage makers.

Poulakakos himself was standing in the aisle munching on a crêpe when I stopped him to ask about his vision. “I’ve always been thrilled with French cuisine,” he said. “It’s the backbone of precision.”  As for the customers. “I want to be there for everyone. People who live and work here love it.”  Of course, he’s not oblivious to the fact that 12.4 million visitors were counted in downtown Manhattan in 2014 with more expected this year.

Little more than a decade has passed since the area suffered the devastating 9/ll attacks. And then there were the angry flood waters of Hurricane Sandy. Now FiDi (the Financial District), arguably the hottest real estate in the overheated Manhattan market, has literally risen from the ashes. 

Comparisons to Eataly--the insanely popular Italian food hall on Fifth Avenue, with 26 other outposts worldwide--seem inescapable. Le District has already been dubbed the French Eataly. But who’s complaining?  Eataly has become one of the top tourist attractions in New York City behind the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Last year, seven million shoppers crowded its aisles while the cash registers rang up $85 million in sales. Should Le District be far behind? Mais non!

Le District at Brookfield Place
225 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10281
+1 212 981 8588
ledistrict.com
info@ledistrict.com

Photos:  (1) The Fromagerie at Le District features nearly 200 varieties of cheese, from France, Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec and American producers.  (2) The Pavilion is the "front door" of  Brookfield Place. The dramatic entry hall was created by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. (3) The layout. (4) Sweets from the patisserie section. (5) The dining room at Beaubourg, Le District’s flagship restaurant. (6) At the Boulangerie, at least 12 types of bread are baked fresh daily on site. (7) Catch of the day at La Poissonnerie. (8) A macaron tower in the Cafe District. (9) French mustards, jams, oils and condiments in the Market District. (9) Brookfield Place, formerly the World Financial Center, is just south of Tribeca, along the Hudson River waterfront. Originally built in 1985, the complex became Brookfield Place in 2012/2013 and is a five minute walk from the 9/11 Memorial.  (10) Click on map to enlarge. 

Photos by Jeff Thibodeau (1, 4) and Daniel Krieger (5, 6, 7, 9).

Beverly Stephen, who wrote this guest post, can be reached at bstephenwest@gmail.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

17th Annual Country Fest This Weekend

This looks like fun. It's all weekend and all the concerts (country, blues, Zydeco, bluegrass, honky tonk, etc.) are free.  La Roque d'Anthéron is 15 minutes south of Lourmarin, 35 minutes northwest of Aix. For the schedule and all other info: countryroque.com

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Rencontres Photo Fest Starts Mon July 6


The 45th annual Recontres d'Arles, the large international photo festival, will run July 6 to September 20, spread out over 35 different sites in Arles. As in years past there will be themed and stand-alone exhibits, panel discussions, lectures, book signings, open-air screenings, workshops for kids and adults, guided tours and more. Last year, almost 100,000 people attended.

Most but not all exhibits stay up until the end of the festival, on September 20.

The exhibits, sometimes co-produced with French and/or foreign museums and institutions, are staged in various galleries, museums and purpose-built sites around the city. Some sites (for example, a 12th-century chapel or 19th-century industrial buildings) are open to the public only during the festival.

This 2015 Rencontres is being staged in honor of Lucien Clergue, the Arles-based fine-art photographer who died last year.

Opening week (June 6 to 12) is always the busiest of the festival...and it’s the week that many industry professionals attend. As always, it features a number of special events, which you can see on the schedules here and here.

Highlights of opening week include:

*Photography Nights at the Théâtre Antique, July 7, 8, 10 and 11 at 10 pm. These evening screenings present the work of photographers or photography specialists to an audience of up to 2,500 people.  Each two-part evening beneath the stars begins with an award ceremony...and then moves on to a screening of photos or film designed specifically designed for the stunning, 2000-year-old amphitheater.  The schedule and details for these special evenings are here. Separate tickets are required and more info is here.

*The Night of the Year ("Nuit de L'Année") takes place on Thursday July 9, from 6 pm onwards at Papeteries Étienne in Trinquetaille. The format of this popular event has changed from previous years. Visitors are invited to walk across the Trinquetaille Bridge, from La Roquette to Trinquetaille, and on to the former paper mill, which will be open to the public for the first time. En route, you’ll see photos on the bridge and on screens. At the mill, images will be casually displayed by a group of photographers who’ve been invited to “BYOP” (Bring Your Own Paper).  There will be food, drink and a DJ on site; admission is free.

This year, the Night of the Year has been organized in collaboration with the Nuit de la Roquette, a large, annual neighborhood party organized by the folks who live and work in La Roquette. There you’ll find outdoor bars, food, music and more. Again, admission is free.

* During opening week of the Rencontres, many of photographers who have exhibits will be offering tours of their shows to festival-goers. From July 13 to September 20, Rencontres staffers will step in to offer daily guided tours through the exhibit sites.

As in years past, the major Recontres exhibits will grouped into loose themes.

One is “Rereading: The History of Photograph Revisited,” focusing on masters Walker Evans and Stephen Shore.

Another theme is “I am Writing to You From a Far Off Country” which spotlights particular parts of the world.

A third is “Platforms of the Visible: New Approaches to Documentary Photography.”

Yet another is “Odd Collectors.”

New this year is Arles Books, a satellite event which will take place at Le Parc des Ateliers SNCF. The 1000-square-meter space will be dedicated to the book, in every shape and form.

A list of all the 2015 Rencontres exhibitions is here. Start in the left hand column where they’re organized by theme and click the name of the show to see the specifics. Over on the right, you’ll see the venue, show dates, single ticket price and photographer’s bio.  A map of all the exhibitions is here.

Tickets to all events may be purchased online or at five ticket offices, which you can see here. Exhibit tickets may be purchased individually or in multi-day passes.  Single exhibit tickets start at 3.50€. A pass that gets you one entry into all exhibits, good for the entire festival starting July 6, is 37€.  A seven-day pass for opening week (July 6 to 12) is 49€. One-day passes are 29€. Info on all passes is here.

Groups of 10 or more get special rates as do students, jobseekers, large families and companions to the disabled.

Free entry is granted to anyone under age 18, all citizens of Arles and the disabled.

Please note that some shows/venues are not included in pass prices and must be paid for separately. Make sure to get a map to all exhibits when you stop by a ticket office. They should also have them at the Arles Tourist Office.

The Rencontres also presents summer and weekend workshops; info on those is here.

To see the Rencontres press kit in English, click here.

The full Rencontres website in English is here.

The festival office/headquarters is located at 34, rue du Docteur Fanton in Arles and remains open throughout the fest.  Help in English may be available by calling: +33 4-90-96-63-39 or +33 4 90 96 76 06.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Whale and Dolphin Cruise Season Has Begun


Did you guys know there were whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean? Me neither...until I learned that every Sunday, Decouverte du Vivant offers Naturalist Discovery Cruises aboard the boat La Croix du Sud V to get up close and personal with them. During the nine-hour voyage you're likely to see striped dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Risso's dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales and the second largest animal on the planet, the fin whale. You can also expect seabirds, sunfish, loggerhead turtles, bluefin tuna, bonito and swordfish. Last Sunday, guests on the cruise saw eight whales. The season ends in October.

Cruises depart from Sanary sur Mer in the Var at 8:45 am and return at 6:30 pm. Prices are 55€ (under 13), 66€ (students and teens), 78€ (adult) and on demand for groups.  The same company also offers cruises from Canet-en-Roussillon (whales and dolphins, April to October, Saturdays only), Port Vendres (dolphins, July and August, Wednesdays only) and La Grande Motte (sea birds, September to May). 

Découverte du Vivant is an eco-responsible whale-watching operator, involved in the long- term preservation of the cetacean populations of the Mediterranean Sea. For more info or to reserve, click here, call +33 6 10 57 17 11 or email: info@decouverteduvivant.fr

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