The festival season is in full swing here in Provence. Last week it was figs, this week melons, and tonight Bédoin hosts the annual wine festival (a personal favorite). These are all part of the Fêtes de Terroir, a series of markets throughout Provence that began in April with the Strawberry Festival, and goes through mid-November with the Truffle Festival.
In Provence we literally celebrate everything from soup to nuts.
On Friday we drove to nearby Pernes les Fontaines for the melon festival -- what better way to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday than with fresh, ripe melons?
We love that each town takes pride in their local produce that they celebrate it with the community. People come from all around to enjoy the simple pleasure of being outdoors and savoring delicious food together.
And while the festivals are generally themed around one subject, they are also an opportunity for a wide variety of merchants to offer their goods. Along with beautiful ripe melons, there was honey, jam, soap, craft beer, and of course wine (always wine).
We can’t get enough of the summer food festivals. They are a chance for us to venture out in the Provence sun and explore. And eat, which is one of the things we have learned to do best!
As a Canadian friend who lives in France noted, "Only in France could we have a Brotherhood of the Fig." Today we visited our neighbor village of Caromb for the Fig Festival. Fig connoisseurs throughout Provence will tell you that Caromb figs are the best. Yes Keira Knightley, even better than Mazan figs.
Fig fans by the hundreds lined the village's main street, sampling all variety of products. There are white figs, striped figs, green figs, fig jam and fig wine, but the real star of the day is the Fig Noire de Caromb. It's distinctive long shape, black skin and sweet purple flesh makes it the perfect summer snack. We especially love them served on a slice of baguette with a bit of goat cheese on top.
Of course there is more to the Fig Festival than just figs. Jams, ice cream, cookies, pastries and more line the street. It takes an iron-strong will to walk the length of a market in Provence and not indulge in the endless variety of decadent goodies offered by the local producers. That's not us -- we try everything.
As we worked our way through town we heard the distinctive chatter of an excited French crowd. We had found the free aperitif table (merci Saint Marc Cellar)! Free wine is one of our favorite French market traditions. And we're not talking just free sips of wine; these are proper glasses of serve-yourself wine (along with water, fruit juice and chips for kids).
We are fortunate that we have discovered a few locations where Caromb fig trees go unharvested. When the figs are ripe and falling off the tree we fill bags with plumb black fruit that we eat, freeze or give to friends. When we have more than we can manage we make them into a delicious Fig Tart.
Sipping our complimentary rosé we walk through the market and munch on a few ripe black figs while a traditional Provencal band plays our soundtrack. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
We always try to get out the door early on Monday mornings, though we are rarely successful. Our destination is the Bédoin market, which we know will be crowded with tourists this time of year. Parking will require creatively wedging our Prius into some tiny available space, probably not actually meant for a car, followed by a long hot walk, bags in hand, on our way to the town which has been blocked off to vehicular traffic. It's always worth the trouble.
The markets of Provence are a sensory overload of fresh produce, spices, cheese, meats, colorful fabrics, clothing, antiques, and really just about everything one could need in life (but really, what else is there?). Many villages have had their weekly market on the same day for hundreds of years. We've seen many of the same vendors for 10 years or more.
Bédoin's weekly market is on Monday mornings, from about 7am to 1pm. The village is transformed into a bazaar that attracts tourists from all over the Vaucluse. Buses drop off loads of sightseers, and parking lots are overflowing with rental cars.
We have mixed feelings about the influx of crowds as our normally quiet town is jam packed with sunburnt strangers, but we know that the local businesses depend on the income from "the season" as their main source of revenue for the entire year. A successful tourist season means that our favorite shops can afford to stay open during the slow winter months (there is nothing more depressing during the winter than driving into a village where every shop is closed for business).
For us the market is the perfect time to people watch and catch up with friends over a café and a decadent buttery croissant. Sitting at our little table we can often make out half a dozen different languages being spoken. It's a wonderful reminder of the cultural diversity around us.
The french have an expression to "passer un bon moment" which means to have a good time -- the Monday market is always an opportunity for us to slow down and enjoy the best that life in Provence has to offer. It is always a bon moment.
Have you been to a Provence market? What was your favorite? We would love for you to share your experiences in the comments below.
Au revoir, and à bientôt!
Ken & Felicia
Little House in France
When the temperature climbs in the Vaucluse, it's time to head to the water. The tourists may head to the crowded beaches of the Côte d'Azur, but we prefer to stay closer to home. A popular local destination is Le Toulourenc, a meandering river filled with cool swirling pools and shady spots for a picnic. Relaxing by the water with a cold rosé with friends and family seemed like an ideal way to spend Fathers' Day.
The 30 minute drive from Bédoin takes you to the north side of Mont Ventoux along a motion-sickness inducing twisty mountain road. Our friends had texted us directions to a "secret" location along the river known only to a few select locals. The key signpost that would signal our turnoff was a hand drawn kangaroo on a piece of cardboard.
We passed through numerous lovely villages, then realized that we shouldn't have passed through quite so many lovely villages. We had obviously missed the damn kangaroo sign.
Only slightly lost and 30 minutes late (which is still early by French standards), we turned around and backtracked to find the elusive turn. Fifteen minutes later we were there.
In the US if you picnic in a public space you have to stash your wine away like you're a prohibition bootlegger (assuming the concept of a meal outdoors without wine is unthinkable). But the French (and in this case the British) know how to put on a picnic where a glass of cold rosé is as natural as topless sunbathing. There was wine, cheese, bread, homemade cakes, pasta, fruit and vegetable platters, and even pancakes with jam.
Food is a big deal here.
If you're planning a trip to La Maison Rose this summer we would be happy to share our secret sunbathing location with you. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the kangaroo sign.
At the beginning of each summer, the shepherds move their flocks from the pastures in the warming valleys to the more moderate temperatures of the mountains. This ritual, called the transhumance, is celebrated by the running of the area's combined sheep down Bédoin's main street.
On June 11th at about 6pm, locals and tourists by the hundreds gathered in anticipation of the spectacle. Thinking ahead (which is very unusual for us) we had reserved a sidewalk table at our favorite boulangerie so that we had a prime viewing spot.
Armed with cold Orangina, ice cream and poo-resistant footwear, we waited for the big moment.
At about 7pm the faint sound of bleating could be heard approaching from the south, and moments later a fresh breeze confirmed it: the sheep were on their way.
Led by a team of noble shepherds and a few kids with donkeys, a river of sheep baa-baa-baaaa'ed their way through downtown Bédoin. They seemed markedly uninterested in the people who jockeyed for position with cameras to capture a lifetime of mutton memories.
I can't be sure, but it may have something to do with the fact that these sheep are destined for dinner plates -- I suspect they were in a hurry to get the heck out of town as quickly as possible. Only one word can describe the aroma of a thousand sweaty sheep: "Ewe."
Do you like sheep? Perhaps you dream of one day having a flock of your own. Or maybe you just like to drink wine while watching a river of wool and lamb chops. Whatever your passion, join us at La Maison Rose in June 2018 and witness Bédoin's version of rush hour traffic for yourself!
As springtime arrives in Provence, life moves from inside to the outdoors. One of the things we love to do is take a nice hike with friends. Well-marked trails crisscross the french countryside, and there is always somewhere new to explore.
A typical afternoon hike will range from 1-3 hours, and is a great way to catch up with friends while burning off a few calories from a two-hour lunch!
Our walks invariably lead to some interesting discovery -- fields of blooming flowers, pre-roman ruins, or just an amazing view that shows off the landscape in a new light.
The way this landscape affects us is always inspiring, and often deeply personal. There is something about being in nature with friends that leads to openness and honesty -- personal exchanges that bring people together.
Provence is the ultimate social media.
One of the first food festivals of the season is the Fête de la Fraise (Festival of the Strawberry) in the town of Carpentras (about 10 minutes from Bédoin). Carpentras is famous for its delicious strawberries, and after a long winter indoors, all of the local residents are ready to come out and celebrate.
The festival features lots of fresh strawberries for sale, cooking demonstrations, live music, and activities for the children.
It was a fun (and tasty) way to celebrate the coming of spring, and share in the bounty of the local harvest.
Le Quatorze Julliet (July 14th) is a day of celebration in France. Fête Nationale (aka Bastille Day) marks the storming of the Bastille in 1789, as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unification of the French people in 1790.
In our region of Provence (the Vaucluse) there were fig, melon and apricot festivals. In Coromb at the Fig Festival, local producers were selling all things fig--fig confiture (jam), fig crêpes, fig trees and fig tapenade.
Who knew that there are over 500 varieties of fig? Black figs, white figs, striped figs--all ripe and sweet, and ready to eat! Fig trees grow wild in Provence and it is not uncommon to see huge trees bursting with fruit on the side of the road.
In Bédoin, the village square was filled with dining tables, live music and dancing, carnival rides and even a roulette table! The party went on into the late hours of the night. Here kids and adults alike party until 2am. Seeing toddlers out with their parents at 1am is a concept that took some getting used to, but they seem to have a great time and no one is worried about getting up early the next day.
And while it is always fun to participate in another culture's holiday, we have the happy coincidence of also being able to celebrate my wife's birthday on the same day. To celebrate her birthday we had a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant called La Colombe that we have been wanting to try. We highly recommend it if you are here for a visit--great food and lovely ambiance.
As we close in on our first year in Provence we continue to be amazed at the abundance of the land, the welcoming nature of the people, and the joyful simplicity of life. It feels at once new and timeless, but most of all, it feels like home.
Did you celebrate Bastille Day? Let us know how!
All photos © 2015 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.
I'm very excited to announce the start of a new adventure! Fellow expat Bill Flanagan and I have partnered to create a new video web series about life in the south of France.
We call it "Lost in Provence."
Why "Lost?" Well, we think it reflects our philosophy about travel and adventure. We prefer taking backroads and wandering through small villages to being herded around by organized tours through crowded tourist towns. We like to meet quirky artists, eat at family-run cafes, and buy food from local farmers. When we travel we stay in one area for weeks rather than hop from one big city to the next.
Our desire is to share the people and places in Provence (and beyond) that we find fascinating. These won't be the big tourist destinations, but rather places off the beaten path; places you would likely never hear about unless you live here.
We're looking for people who share our passion for knowledge, and have a desire to delve deeper. A typical Lost in Provence episode lasts 20-30 minutes because we believe digging beneath the surface is ultimately the most satisfying way to travel.
And if you don't have 20-30 spare minutes, don't worry! We also have a special section called "Side Trips" dedicated to 2-5 minute segments we think are fun.
We hope you will find Lost in Provence interesting, and most of all, entertaining. So pour a glass of wine, grab some cheese and bread, and allow yourself to be transported away.
To check out "Lost in Provence" go to: http://www.lostinprovence.com
Ten months ago we made the move from California to Provence, giving up the pressure and stress of life in the Los Angeles suburbs for a home in the countryside of Provence. Like the south of France, our blog has been a bit quiet lately. Winter was a time of hibernation. When you are accustomed to sunshine 364.5 days a year, four months of wind, rain, cold and even a bit of snow took some serious getting used to. I can’t say we ever acclimated to the winter weather, but we learned that Provence is definitely a place where the pace of life is driven by the seasons.
Provence is largely built around sunshine. It is one of the most prolific producers of agricultural products in France, and the tourism industry runs a close second. With few mountains for winter tourism, Provence lures tourists with picture perfect villages and sunshine. When the sun goes away, so do the people. Shops close up, and many people (especially expats) head to bigger cities or warmer weather. We hunkered down, warmed ourselves in front of the fireplace, and surrendered to the new experience.
Le printemps brought with it a burst of color to the monotone landscape of winter. The pink and white blossoms of the almond and cherry trees appeared first, followed by patches of yellow wildflowers growing between the rows of dormant vines, and patches of purple irises. Red poppies sprung up here and there, and then took over entire fields, and in just a couple of short weeks the leaves on the vines reappeared and the valley was soon blanketed in wash of color.
Our village of Bédoin is fortunate to have a year-round market, however in the winter the market contracts to just a few vendors in the village center. Throughout the spring the market gradually expands again, eventually taking over the entire town, until it is in full swing again in June. The fruits of spring—cherries, apricots, melons, early tomatoes--begin to appear and our meals change from soups and stews to salads, fresh fruits and grilled vegetables.
The other thing that starts appearing in the village in the spring is a constant stream of cyclists up Mont Ventoux. Since the summit is closed during the winter (due to weather conditions), when spring arrives and the snow melts, it’s game-on.
And now summer is upon us. The days are long and hot, friends and family visit. We dine under the stars, wander the shady streets of medieval villages and sip a chilly glass of rosé. And with each new season we marvel at how much this land has remained the same over the centuries, and yet how much it has changed us in such a very short time.
All photos © 2015 Ken Wallace Films LLC. All rights reserved.