Tuesday, May 31, 2011

31.05.11 Les Baux – Montmajour – Bull’s Meat

31.05.11 Les Baux – Montmajour – Bull’s Meat

Action on Les Baux. More pics here
Not the best of weather today. Twenty degrees yes but generally cloudy and often windy. Still, we were out and about.

We became statistics at the amazing hilltop fortress of Les Baux de Provence, joining the two million visitors per year. The site dates back to the 10th century and is a lively visit with some tough walking required and ancient war machines in action. Views are fantastic here. Here also we had our first view of the region’s Santons, handmade figures usually in local costume, particularly famous for their crib scenes.
Our afternoon visit also has 10th century links. The Montmajour Abbey is massive, very impressive indeed and just about 3 kilometres from our base. Admission is 7 euro a head and well worth it.
There are many highlights in this imposing place but the one that really engaged me was the burial places in the rock (see photo).  Fascinating. Also great views, just like Baux. Got my first glimpse of a bunch of Camargue ponies from here and Arles was also clearly visible.
In between, we had visited a Roman Aqueduct. No. Not the famous one at Pont du Gard but one just down the road from us in Fontvieille. Indeed, the road is called the Aqueduct Romaine. It is not in anywhere near as good condition as Gard but quite an impressive reminder nonetheless.

After all the walking, hundreds of steps in Baux and Montmajour, we were hungry and decided to head out to the nearby town of Maussane. Two restaurants on our shortlist were closed and another had a later opening so we settled for a corner spot, suitably entitled Le Coin Gourmand.
It was tiny and we were squeezed in with other diners and here I had my first taste of the Camargue bull. Tough enough I must say as was my seat but generally the meal was excellent. Enjoyed a goat’s cheese starter and a huge salad. The other main dish was a very satisfactory pair of lamb chops served with (same as the beef) ratatouille and a tasty piece of a pasta tart. Desserts weren’t bad at all. Mine was a Soufflé Glacé with Calissons d’Aix and hers was a really moist Fig and Almond tart, better then anything in the dessert line that we ate in the Dordogne last year.
Wine had to be local. For some strange reason, lost in translation, I was refused a 50cl pichet (think it was only available at lunch) and was “forced" to settle for a tasty spicy bottle of local Vin de Pays from the surrounding Alpilles.

PROVENCE DAY 3

30.05.11 Moissac-Arles
More pics here
Easy enough drive today. First through the 3 lane ring road of Toulouse and then on the motorway past Carcassonne, Beziers and Montpellier before skirting Nimes and heading for Arles. A few kilometres later, we turned right onto the D82 and minutes later (1250 or so km after leaving Roscoff) we turned in the gate of our gite. Thanks a million, Susie, our GPS hostess!
Sylvie is our hostess at the gite and she take us though the various bits and pieces we need to know, including the address of the nearest supermarket, just about a mile away. The gite booklet has loads of info on the area.

Sylvie’s mother turns up with some fruit and veg to add to the bottle of wine gift from Sylvie. We get a bit of unpacking done and have a cup of tea before heading for the Ecomarket in Fontvieille.

Just a few essentials bought, not a major shop at all. But we do get some wine and have our first taste of the local stuff at a late dinner. It is a bottle from the historic Mas de la Dame, once the subject of a painting by Van Gogh. The wine is a Rose de Mas, Le Baux de Provence, 2010. Went very well with the melon.
Am typing this as darkness falls amid a chorus of cicada calls.

Monday, May 30, 2011

PROVENCE DAY 2

29.05.11 Roscoff-Moissac (1250kms)
View from hotel. More pics here

Up early on a dull morning. The sun came out as we drove the 800 plus kilometre stretch to
Moissac and to the hotel Moulin de Moissac, a gorgeous old riverside hotel.  Our room overlooked the river Tarn. In a park on the bank, an unlikely country and western festival was taking place with Ghost Riders in the Sky welcoming the western clad visitors. A nearby canal, Canal de Deux Mers (?), was full of boats.
Had booked dinner in the hotel, not realising it was French Mothers Day. We had a special menu for the event and again hit the jackpot. We had a choice of three dishes for each course and these are what I choose. Absolutely no regrets – really classy food.
Asparagus in light crispy pastry with Morille mushrooms.
Medallion of fried veal with creamed artichoke cream and black truffle.
Raspberry Clafoutis with a raspberry sorbet.
The wine was a George Deboeuf Brouilly, the wine for any meal according to it publicists. Don’t know about that but sure went well with this one and we finished it out on the terrace as the country music faded for the night.

Motorway tips:
Driving down to Bordeaux from Roscoff, you could well be ready for a stop when you reach Aire du Rennes, about the only decent motorway station on this section. It is about 13 kms west of Rennes. Once you go past Rennes, and more so, after passing Nantes, you are well supplied with very good stations;  one of the best is the Aire de Vendee.
If you follow my route to the sun and turn east at Bordeaux, one to watch out for is the Station Carrefour Aire du Mas D’Agenais on autoroute A62. It is close to Agen.

PROVENCE DAY 1

28.05.11 On Board
Onboard dining. More pics here

Brittany Ferries advertise that your French holiday starts the moment you step aboard the Pont Aven in Ringaskiddy. Ours started just after the Carrigaline/Ringaskiddy roundabout when three fellows, from a French registered car, stopped and relieved themselves on the side of the road. Not quite Oh-la-la! More like Eau-la-la.
Continental class returned on board where we enjoyed a superb meal in the main restaurant Le Flora. Starter was Crevettes en Cage (see photo), or Prawns entwined in a cage (twine like pieces) of grated deep fried potato. New to me, very inventive and a great match with the braised artichoke and a salad.

Main course for me was the Roast Fillet of Beef served with artichoke and potatoes a la Chatelaine. A superb meal as was the other main course: Viennese style Sole served with white beans and a Matignon of vegetable with mussels.
A plate of French cheese followed and the highlight for me was the Bleu d’Auvergne. Dessert was something else: Soufflé Grand Marnier. Well worth a try if you are ever on board. Wines, from a long French list, were Ch. Noaillac Medoc 2006 Cru Bourgeois and Laroche Bourgogne Chardonnay Tete de Cuvee 2009