Thursday 1 October 2009

‘P’ is for Provence, ‘Y’ is for Yummy

One day later than planned, I set off on my road trip. (Does it count as a road trip if it’s only 100km each way? Well it’s the spirit of the thing that counts). The itinerary: St Remy de Provence and Les Baux.

It was a beautiful autumn morning – a little bit misty as I left Aix behind on the Autoroute du Soleil, but promising to be hot. I exited the A7 at Cavaillon and took the D99 to St Remy. I’m offering the geographical detail because the D99 is a picture perfect French road. It is lined with plane trees whose top branches reach over to touch the trees on the other side. (You can see the trees in the wing mirror.)

I arrived in St Remy at 10, found a free parking space (good omen!) and walked into the centre of the small town. There were many signs warning of taureaux, but there were no bulls running while I was there.

St Remy is very pretty – like Aix, it does a very nice line in expensive shops, but it’s much, much smaller and the stone – which I think gives the character to the town – is pale yellowy grey in contrast with the orange-yellow of Aix. I walked through the little streets with no particular plan in mind but was pleased when I passed the house where Nostradamus was born.

(I'm not exactly sure why I like this image so much - I just do!)

I had good coffee and an excellent croissant at the Café des Arts and a quick flick through the guidebook told me that one of the best chocolate-makers in France (or perhaps in the world?) has a shop in St Remy.

I didn’t set out with the intention of going to this shop, but as it was there and so was I, I thought it would be negligent not to visit it. Well, it was nothing special.

Yes of course I’m joking. Oh, my dears. Joel Durand has conceived a whole Alphabet des Chocolats. Each letter corresponds to a different flavour and I spent a very happy while working through the alphabet as I made a selection to take away. I tasted ‘V’ for violet, ‘U’ for Szechwan pepper, but the one that knocked my socks off was ‘P’ for Provence – filled with a tapenade of Provencal almonds and black olives. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that, afterwards, I bounced down the street promising to be a better person because there is such goodness in the world. Just to crown the moment, there was a woman standing on a traffic island outside belting out Edith Piaf songs.

Since nothing could add to my St Remy experience, it was time to head to Les Baux. Les Baux is a medieval fortified town hanging from a cliff in the Alpilles. It is crammed full of tourists, though I imagine my experience was pretty quiet compared with, say, a Saturday in July. Though touristy, it is interesting. It is petrified (pun not entirely intended) in the sense that it isn’t really a living town any more. But you do get a feel for what it might have been like two, three or five hundred years ago. Staggering views down to wide stretches of olive trees in the valley below.

With it being Tourist Central, I wasn’t expecting anything special for lunch. But at the Café des Baux (lured in by the sign that proclaimed the chef as winner of the prize for best desserts in France – not sure if this is a real prize or a pretend one) I had an excellent formule. First of all I had a feuillete de volaille: pastry stuffed with chicken and tapenade, accompanied by rosemary-flavoured pommes dauphinoises, ratatouille and a roast tomato. Then I had a clafoutis with plum and apple and a café.

I rolled down the hill back to the car and headed to the Cathedrale des Images just down the road. This, I think, deserves its own entry – tomorrow!



Ro and I have just sampled ‘F’ (Corsican honey) and ‘R’ (rosemary). Weak at the knees.

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