A picnic at St. Cosme

When I went to the South of France most recently, the group was led by an incredible guide.   Having lived in Paris and Southern France, K knows a ton about the food, wine and landscape of France.

One of K’s favorite spots in the South of France is the chapel of Saint Cosme in Gigondas, in the heart of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape country.

She had the idea that it would be nice for our group to see the chapel.   That morning, we stopped in Bonnieux for the morning market to stock up on more French cheeses, breads, olives, and tapenades.   We all shared our purchases in the form of a picnic to enjoy and experience the beauty.

Our picnic

This chapel is partly ruined.  In fact, we camped out in the nave with our picnic because of the intense wind that swirled around the chapel.  Luckily, there was a small bench that was useful as a “table”.

Seeking shelter in the nave

A special group of ladies

Luckily, we had a nice ‘community’ supply of wine from our stops at the L’Auchan grocery, Château Beaucastel, and Château de Ségriès.

Lining up the wine at Chapel Saint Comse

After tasting a few delicacies, I wandered around the stone path that led above the chapel.

Walking around Chapel St. Cosme

Beautiful pathway

Climbing into the vineyards above the chapel

The chapel is surrounded by gorgeous vineyards above.   It makes such a beautiful panorama in the Provençal sky.  Our group is grateful to K for taking us to this special place.

Château de Ségriès

A gem in the Côtes du Rhône / Lirac / Tavel wine region of France can be found by visiting the de Lanzac family’s Château de Ségriès.   Located off a dirt road in the little Provençal town of Lirac, the estate is run out of an old chateau.

Our group, on the grounds of the château

When we visited this Fall, Anne, her brother Laurent, and her husband & wine-maker Frederic taught us that making wine isn’t about making money.  In fact, not at all.

We tasted six of their wines, ranging from Lirac white, Vin de Table rosé, Tavel rosé, Côte du Rhône, Lirac red, and my favorite, Clos de l’Hermitage.

Frederic gaves us a taste of many different Château de Ségriès wines

Our group. Santé!

Every taste brings you a glimpse of what devotion they pour into their creation.   The care they take with the vines, the worry that comes with the changing weather, the joy and strife of the harvest, and the careful monitoring of fermentation.

Trying the 2012 – just harvested the week before

Between all the wines, they give the world 250,000 bottles a year.

In the cellars with Anne, visiting some of the vintages

Wine making is an art that leaves such a special legacy…for immediate consumption and for generations to come. However, a downside of providing such joy to others is the hard fact than in a small family run winery, there is not much time to vacation.  The group enthusiastically begged our gracious hosts to come to Virginia, yet they reminded us the vines know no break!

Their family home rests just a short walk from the chateau, surrounded by ancient trees and their vineyard.  They prepared an amazing lunch for us of traditional dishes.  We loved sitting on their patio and enjoying the autumn day. The family pets, Flash, Sara and cat came out to greet as well.

Our group at the farmhouse for lunch

The ladies enjoying the spread

Frederic preparing delicious grilled lamb & sausage

Our leader, K, and Anne

Cheese and fruit salad were the selections for dessert.

Château de Ségriès quickly became my favorite Southern France winery!

Thursday market day in Isle sur la Sorgue

While in Provence we visited the sweet town of Isle sur la Sorgue. The town literally translates to island on the Sorgue (river), and this riverside ambience plus cute French architecture is what makes the appeal.  It happened to be market day, full of fresh produce & foods as well as Provençal artisans.

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I got a few gifts in the form of soaps, tapenades, and herbes de Provence. Later, I walked the banks of the Sorgue river, enjoying the loveliness of this precious village.

The Highest Point in the Valley of Hell

Les-Baux-de-Provence, France, is known for its bloody and ruthless past.  Known for pushing individuals off the rocky cliffs, decapitation, and other cruel methods of death, the lords of Les Baux are not characters you’d want to cross.   Thus, the area was feared.

It is said Dante modeled one of his layers of hell in the Inferno off of the rocky landscape of Les Baux.

I am not sure which contributed to it, but area became known as “The Valley of Hell.”

An omnious sky over Les-Baux-de-Provence

Gabe and I visited Les-Baux-de-Provence on our whirlwind trip to see the lavender this summer. However, short on time, we didn’t climb the entire way to see the castle & fortifications.  Instead, we wandered around the village checking out churches and views from the mid-heights.

However, this time, Mom & I were up for the adventure.

The wind was whipping at the top of Les Baux

Le Mistral, the fierce Provençal wind, also accompanied us.  However, pressing against the bursts had its rewards.  The top was very impressive with bell towers and rooms carved into the face of the stone cliffs.

Rocky facade of the castle

The sky definitely accentuated the scariness

If you go to Les Baux, don’t miss going to the top!

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Les Baux de Provence

Schwingen in Switzerland :  We Didn’t Know the Valley of Hell was So Beautiful – Les Baux

Gratitude Friday: Photos

This week, just wanted to reflect on my gratitude for pictures.

Sure, it might be because my iPhoto software just crashed and its fresh on my mind.   By the way , I am extremely happy I had a reliable back-up and that I can report they are 100% saved. Whew!!

But more spefically, for what pictures mean to us.  A way to hold on to a memory. A medium for preserving emotion. Something to look back on and [laugh-cry-smile-fill in the blank].

As I had to re-import and catalogue my photos from the last 6 years, it was endearing to watch the memories flash up on the screen as I processed them.  The thoughts kept coming to me constantly….I am lucky.  I am blessed.  That was so much fun.  Wow, I miss them. I am grateful.

Sometimes we need the photos to remind of us how full our lives are.

But if its nostalgia you are in the mood for, I’d recommend you review your pictures proactively on your own time instead of experiencing what I did – the scare off losing all my photos!   If you want to properly protect your images, here is my advice:

  1. Get into an operating rhythm for back-ups.  I use Time Machine which is compatible with Macs
  2. Don’t keep your back up in the same location as your computer. In the case of theft or natural diaster, both the computer and your back-up are likely to be gone.
  3. Keep a third source whether its another hard drive kept at a friends’, a Cloud, Dropbox, or Flickr pro.

A special thanks to my husband for putting up with me the last 2 weeks.  I have put at least 40 hours into saving and re-archiving the photos thus far.   I’ve kind of been a grumpy bear to say the least.

Bon weekend and memory-making, everyone!

Popping some bottles in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a wine region within Southern France.   The area became notorious in the 14th Century when Avignon, France, became the seat of the Pope during the Catholic schism.  The Popes were lovers of wine and in particular, of Burgundy wines.   However, they needed to find a closer source than Burgundy.  In 1321, Pope John XXII requisitioned wine from this particular area and the production became named ‘Vin du Pape’ for wine of the Pope.  Later the name evolved to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, referencing the wine of the ‘new castle of the Pope’.

The Papal Palace was located in nearby Avignon

I’m sure Pope John XXII was thrilled when the Beastie Boys crooned the verse,  “Like a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape / I’m fine like wine when I start to rap.”

The rocky terrain in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

In addition to its rich history and presence in Beastie Boys songs, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the wine king of Southern France, claiming price points similar to Burgundy and Bordeaux.  The region is known for the rocky terrain, many meters thick, which was created many years ago when the area was once the bed of the Rhone river.

Now the Rhone rests a few kilometers away and the rocks, galets roulés , serve as heaters and water insulators for the terroir.

I was lucky to get a special glimpse at this wine area with a group traveling from Virginia.    Our first stop on the wine tasting adventure was at Château Beaucastel, a lovely maker of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The view from Château Beaucastel

The morning we visited, I had just finished the book, Of Wine And War.  Wine was considered France’s national treasure, and the lengths to which the French winemakers went keeping their good wine from the Nazis was really interesting.   From sending the bad vintages, to building faux walls, and even burying in in the soil, they tried everything to preserve the historic vintages for France.   Our guide at Château Beaucastel said not many vintages had likely escaped Nazi hands as there were not many pre-war bottles left today.

Cellars at Château Beaucastel.  I was inspecting for pre-war bottles, but found none.

The group also visited  domaine de la Mordorée, Domaine Grand Veneur, and  La Bastide St. Dominique, all which produce Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

My graduation year

Related Links:

Schwingen in Switzerland: Wine Museum in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Châteauneuf-du-Pape rocked us….literally

Art therapy at St-Paul de Mausole

Just south of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence are groves of olive trees and rows of cedars. Driving along the D5 highway, one might miss the Maison de Santé Saint-Paul de Mausole which rests back from the highway. I know our first trip to St-Rémy, we certainly did.

The olive groves off of D5

However, back in the surroundings of this traditional Provençal landscape is a special place of rest.  It is a home for psychiatric patients, individuals with special needs, and the elderly. Art therapy is used with the patients as a method of healing.

Cloister at St-Paul de Mausole

Grounds at St-Paul de Mausole

And one of the patients…Vincent Van Gogh.   The courtyards and grounds are filled with scenes familiar to many.  From an art standpoint, his time in Provence was his most productive period.

Scene for Les Oliviers

Vincent Van Gogh’s, Les Oliviers, image courtesy of Google Images

Scene for Le ravin des Pairoulets

Vincent Van Gogh’s Le ravin des Pairoulets, image courtesy of Google Images

Van Gogh lived here after his stay in Arles, and after the loss of his ear, committed himself.  It is evident the staff appreciated Van Gogh as they let him paint alone outside, a designation not given to many.   In St Rémy, Van Gogh created 143 oil paintings and  100 drawings within one years’ time.

My aunt, Miss Talent, enjoying the grounds at St-Paul de Mausole.

Still today, patients create masterpieces in the form of painting and sculpture. They are for sale in the small shop that sits below Van Gogh’s old room.  It makes you wonder about undiscovered potential, perhaps within one of today’s artists living there.  After all, Vincent maybe earned $100 as an artist before he died.

The Irises, was also painted by Van Gogh at St-Paul de Mausole.   In 1987, it was the most expensive painting ever sold. Image courtesy of Google Images.

Our leader Kay read this quote as we pulled away from the site,

“The world concerns me only in so far as I have a certain debt and duty to it, because I have lived in it for thirty years and owe to it to leave behind some souvenir in the shape of drawings and paintings – not done to please any particular movement, but within which a genuine human sentiment is expressed.” ― Vincent van Gogh

I for one am very glad for his souvenirs.

The Swiss: They are just like us!

You hear so often from us what is different in our ex-pat lives compared to our previous life in America.  This week, I thought it would be funny to do a spoof on US Weekly’s “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” column to show a few everyday examples of the similarities in American and Swiss citizen’s day-to-day life:

When their cats go missing, they post signs! This reads “Little tricolor cat lost. Please call # if you find it. Thank you.”

They don’t like junk mail. This sign reads “No ads/junk mail in this mailbox”

Baby on board sign

They have troops of Boy Scouts looming around town, saving the day.

They have dollar stores. Sort of. This is a 2 Franc store in the Italian part of Switzerland. So, its more like $2.25 store. Close enough.

They send spam on phones too. Not cool.

They advertise about going green.

Their youngsters play beer pong.  Article / photo courtesy of 20 Minutes.

I’ll keep on the hunt of more examples…..stay tuned!

Pumpkins Galore at the Fête de la Courge

The Sunday after our guests left we went into withdrawal.  We’ve been traveling non-stop for what seems like 4 months.   So what should we do?

Luckily, the small commune of Corsier was holding the annual Fête de la Courge.   Courge means pumpkin in French.  We didn’t quite know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by the sweet little festival.

The pumpkin was certainly in the spotlight.  Farmers were selling every variety of gourd….from pumpkin, to squash, to small decorative ones.  They had pumpkins from Switzerland and pumpkins from Provence.

Lots of little pumpkins

A very attractive line-up

They had pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin quiche with bacon.  Pumpkin soup.    We even found the “great pumpkin”.

Delicious pumpkin treats

Gabe with the Great Pumpkin

However, sorry to report that there were no pumpkin spice lattes.

They also had a ton of local merchandise: sausages, macarons, wine, and Gabe’s favorite: Brasserie des Murailles beer.

A nice spread

Homemade macarons

Sausage

Brasserie des Murailles beer

We enjoyed the revelry and even bought our own pumpkins to decorate our flat.  They are not the traditional Halloween kind….more natural and lopsided, but they will do!

For more on the festival and dates for 2013, check out the Corsier website.