Thursday, 30 June 2011


Check out these photos from the opening.


The bigger risk? Painting in the lands of a rain forest tribe in Borneo or opening a new art gallery in these recessionary times. That question came up at a pleasant function in Kinsale last evening when Fishy Fishy’s Martin Shanahan opened a third Cork gallery for Buckley Fine Art

Martin hangs art in his restaurant and at home and one of his favourite artists is Philip Gray who may well succeed the restaurateur as Mr Kinsale. Buckley presented the Kinsale Collection by Gray as their opening offering and it certainly went down well.

Gray revealed that he feels at home in Kinsale. And the series of pictures of the town, and of the seas in general, underline this affinity. Not many inland people would have experienced a scene like The Velvet Night. 

Many of the sea pictures are large but there are some smaller works on view including those of local familiar foodie landmarks Fishy Fishy and The Bulman.

The quiet Kinsale works are somewhat surprising for Gray, now well known for his extreme painting. He has worked on Everest, in hot and close proximity to an Icelandic volcano and underwater on a wreck where some large hungry looking sharks circled.

Gray though will soon again leave behind the peace and quiet of Kinsale and his Cork Dockyard studio to head to the rain forests of Borneo to once again paint in extreme conditions.

At a recent exhibition of his in the Cork Vision centre, members of the opening night audience each had a chance to put their mark on a canvas. Gray finished it off and it now hangs in Cork Airport. A similar plan is in train for Borneo. A blank canvas will be set up for the villagers with each individual asked to make his mark. 
Gray will then finish the work which will later be auctioned off in aid of the rain forest.

Best of luck with that Philip and best of luck also to the Buckleys, Ken and Mark, who will hope to be kept very busy with their galleries in Clonakilty, Cork City (Fenns Quay) and now Kinsale.

Saturday, 25 June 2011



Many Irish people, driving down to the south west of France and the neighbouring area of Spain, will know the Charente town of Saintes as a name on an autoroute signpost, north of Bordeaux. Which is a pity really as it is very nice small town with highlights such as the massive Abbaye aux Dames and its Roman remains: Arc Germanicus and the Arena.

I found another couple of good reasons to like the place last Thursday, namely the 2 star Hotel Au Terminus and the nearby restaurant called La Taverne de Maitre Kanter. Had driven without a bother from Arles to Saints and while booking into the hotel, near the Railway station, I met the lovely couple of Catherine and Jean Jacques who own and run this small old-fashioned establishment.

Jean Jacques was very helpful in helping us unload and in parking the car in a private garage behind the hotel. At this stage, we also became acquainted with their dog called Speed. Later on we met Catherine who has excellent English and is also very helpful. We saw her in action directing a couple and their children how best to spend their few hours in the town.

We were familiar enough with Saintes but did ask about the restaurants – the hotel doesn’t have one, though the beautiful 1920s room where we had breakfast the following morning used to be one and is also used for the once monthly (last Friday) Jazz Night. Catherine recommended a few eateries including one about 200 metres away who do excellent French food and give a free drink to customers of Au Terminus.

We had a bit of time to spare before eating so adjourned to the small hotel bar which prides itself on local aperitifs. Catherine was delighted when I ordered a couple of Pineaus and, while pouring, told us it came from a top local producer who has been doing it for generations. It was gorgeous for sure.

At the restaurant, our free drink turned out to be a glass of quality rose each and we followed that up with 50cl of Bordeaux red (Bellevue) for €9.00. The three course fixed price meal was €22.00. My starter was a trio of tomatoes  (yellow tomatoes, red and a cold soup) with mozzarella.  The mains was a millefeuillie of very tender beef served with shallots and chips and dessert was crepes with mandarin sauce. Very satisfactory indeed.

The following day, Friday the 24th, was also quiet on the roads towards Nantes. We had quite a bit of time on our hands and decided we’d check out the Nantes-Brest alternative to Nantes-Rennes as a way of getting to Roscof. But, up by Lorient, we cut across the countryside on a single carriageway road. It wasn’t bad at all and had a few dual carriageway pieces for overtaking. Generally though it was quiet ad we arrived in Roscof in good time.

Ferry left on time and after a rough enough journey, perhaps our worst in over 30 years, we were happy to arrive back in Cork at the scheduled time of 10.00am on Saturday even though temperatures were about half what we could have been enjoying in Provence. No complaints though after 28 days and over 5,000 kilometres! 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Lavender in your dessert? Sounds strange to Irish ears but it is gorgeous. At least it was today at Auberge de l’Amandin in Beaucaire.

It was our last big meal in Provence so we skipped the Menu du Jour and went for a set menu priced at €23. Starter was a local speciality, a Franco-Italian dish: a Pissaladiere, with aubergine caviar and grilled Tuna Fish. Mains was an excellent pan-fried Duckling fillet with an orange caramel sauce.

Then came dessert, a blackboard full of choices. I went for apricot with a honey and lavender sauce and served with vanilla ice-cream. Brilliant. Was tempted to ask for a second.

Earlier, we had visited the Chateau de Provence at Tarascon, a very impressive building, began by Good King Rene in the 15th century. It is largely intact, though unfurnished. We were able to see the private quarters of the King, his own dressing rooms, chambers (including toilet arrangements), also his confessor’s room adjacent to the church.

It is quite a tall building and, from the huge roof, we had fine views to the chateau of Beaucaire, just across the Rhone, over the town of Tarascon and of traffic on the Rhone. There is also a courtyard and garden on the lower level.
But there was no sign of the Tarasque, the legendary terror of the area. He was man eating monster, half-lion, half armadillo and it was St Martha who came to the rescue, the event still celebrated each June. Posters up around the place suggest this year’s is a Tribute to Buffalo Bill!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Nod to Van Gogh. Candid camera: Heron goes to lunch. Ragondin close-up

21.06.11 Nod to Van Gogh. Candid camera: Heron goes to lunch; close up with a Ragondin.

Sky changed from blue to grey as we headed towards the Parc Ornithologique at Pont de Gau, 4 km shy of the Camargue coast. Wasn’t expecting too much for my seven euro but it turned out to be of the best visits of the holiday as 2.5 kms of paths afforded close-ups of many birds and animals including the previously elusive flamingos, herons and also a close up of the non-native Ragondin, who we first met a few days ago in Roquemaure.
There is a series of enclosed eagles at the beginning but soon we are in open country, ducks, swans, and egrets among the first local birds seen as the temperatures remained high despite the cloud here. Then we arrived at the lakes and here there are hundreds of flamingos, some very close to the shore, obviously more used to people (but far from tame) than elsewhere in the area.
There are hides and viewpoints along the way but none where we came across the Ragondin. He was eating at the edge of a lake and wasn’t inclined to move so I got in close for a shot of an animal I hadn’t seen up to a couple of days ago. Apparently they are native to South America and imported to Europe at the end of the last century.
Herons are seen throughout the walk, usually standing in the shade of tall plants at the edge of the water. But I spotted one stalking his prey in the middle, not that I knew that until his head sped underwater and he emerged with a fish in his beak. Lighting strike!
Loads of other birds including egrets (and seagulls of course) as we headed back to the exit. Very enjoyable visit, aside from one or two bites from the local insects!
Took the opportunity to make a final nod to Van Gogh in sunny Arles. Thanks to Susie, our GPS “lady”, we found the Langlois Bridge, painted at least ten times by Van Gogh. However, like much of Van Gogh here, we were not looking at the original. It was destroyed in 1926 and was reconstructed slightly nearer to the centre of Arles. Still, the city is looking after it as council workmen were working on it when we arrived.
Original or not, it was nice to visit today and remember the man. Nice too to have been in Arles this past few weeks and seen the places associated with him. Lovely town.
Staying in for dinner to-night. That hadn’t been the plan but spotted some really inviting stuffed squid at the traiteur and that is now the centrepiece of the menu!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Name dropping: Russell Crowe, Pierre Cardin, Albert Camus, Marquis de Sade, Peter Mayle

20.06.11 Name dropping: Russell Crowe, Pierre Cardin, Albert Camus, Marquis de Sade, Peter Mayle, Ridley Scott, Lacoste, Jesus Rafael Soto.
De Sade bust and ruins of his chateau. More photos here 

Lourmarin and Lacoste,  two villages in the Luberon area of Provence, link the names on my title list. Visited both today, and Bonnieux in between, but none of the “stars”, past or present, was there to greet me personally.
An hour’s drive took me from the Alpilles to the Luberon where the first stop was Lourmarin, the village made famous by the books (also follow ups via TV and film) of Peter Mayle. But there were some serious writers here long before the popular Englishman and they included 1957 Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus.

Camus was killed a car accident soon after the award and is buried here. Football followers may have seen this quote of his: "After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA."  Camus had played in goal for the Racing Universitaire Algerios (RUA) junior team.
We took a stroll through the village, which still has quite a few estate agents, and also visited the château.
Another of Mayle’s books was made into the film was A Good Year (2006), directed by Scott and starring Crowe. An enjoyable enough tale, set in a local vineyard and surrounds. And indeed, some of the scenes, including the cafe ones, were filmed in Lacoste

Must admit, I didn’t search out the cafe, indeed hardly saw one at all, as I made my way up the rough cobbles and then an even rougher path to the Chateau de Sade, now owned and being restored by Cardin!
De Sade  is best known for his erotic works, depicting bizarre violent fantasies. He lived in the 18th century castle overlooking the village. The castle was partially destroyed in an uprising in 1779 and was later looted and plundered by locals. Cardin has partially restored it and holds cultural events there.
There is a big show coming up next month but I enjoyed a foretaste with a ramble through the thin blue tubes of the “penetrable” structure by major Venezuelan kinetic artist Jesus Rafael Soto. Quite a bonus, I must admit.
And another bonus were the fine views from the top, 360 degrees, including a clear view of Mont Ventoux (teasing me again). Tough walk down to the parking space at the start of the town but enjoyed a lovely drive back through the hills, the vineyards and the olive fields. Looking forward to dinner in Fontvieille this evening. Gotto go get ready.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


19.06.11 STEPPING BACK IN TIME: SPRING OF A CELTIC GOD. Gauls, Greeks and Romans.
Glanum. More photos here
Walked through this main street a few hours ago. Past the Market Pace. The Town Hall. The Church. Finally came to the sacred spring, named after a Celtic god, Glanis. Quite a few people about but there was no trading on the market, no business being transacted in the hall. This is the Gallo-Greco-Roman town of Glanum, over 2000 years old. In particular, it is the Glanum archaeological site, a city rediscovered after 17 centuries.
But back in the year dot, they had running water and also a system to take it away, running the full-length of that main street; they had hot baths, cold or lukewarm, depending on your preference. The Gauls, this Provence branch known as the Salluvii were here about 600 years before Christ. Later, the Greeks, who founded nearby Marseilles, were trading with them, and soon settling in and improving the place (about 200-50BC).
But Glanum really took off in the first century BC when the mighty Romans conquered the Galls. They built some very impressive buildings here, including temples by the sacred spring, a spring that still exists today, even has some fish in it.
Also here is the 2nd century BC Dromas Well. It has a new see through cover and the water, ten metres below the Hellenistic (Greek) ground level, may still be seen.
It is an eye-opening visit. This and the trip to Point du Gard the other day, makes one think if civilisation has advanced or not. And what we were doing in Ireland where many rural areas only got running water in the second half of the last century.
Also a lesson that you can be up there with the best of them and then drop down rapidly. Greece is hanging on today, Italy still have Berlusconi while other great civilisations (the Mayans, for instance) have vanished!
They don’t advertise it much but there is a fantastic viewpoint over the site, overlooked by the Alpilles (the little Alps) and especially by Mont Gaussier. From this viewpoint, you not only see the site itself but will also see nearby St Remy (Glanum’s successor town), Avignon in the far distance and even the white top of Mont Ventoux and more. Very good visit indeed.
Didn’t expect to get culturally excited earlier in the day. Then the aims were simple, the main one being to secure this evening's dinner as most restaurants were booked out for Father’s Day. French traituers usually open for a few hours on Sunday morning and our guy in Fontvieille obliged. Back then for a brisk walk along the banks between the rice fields before a lovely dip in the pool.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


More photos here
This afternoon in Saintes Maries de la Mer.. Neither man nor beast was physically hurt here..


Eleven euro bought me a ticket for the 2 hour bull fighting display in the arena at Saintes Maries on a very hot Saturday afternoon. The contest here, bloodless (at least for the bull), is between a succession of bulls going solo against the same set of 14 young men, known as raseteurs. The raseteur uses a small tool to snatch a band or rosette which is tied to the base of each long horn.
One of two of the men attract the sometimes stamping bellowing bull while the runner makes his usually curved move hoping to surprise the bull but the bull gets up enormous speed over a matter of metres and usually the runner makes his jump out of the arena with inches to spare, sometimes with nothing at all! It is spectacular and skilful and the moves by the runners and even the bulls are quite athletic.
There is a roughly similar form of entertainment over on West Coast (in the Landes area). This is much more varied, more entertaining, with clowns involved and the more serious players jumping over the charging animal. But the big difference here is that cows are used instead of the bulls of the Camargue.
For more on bull fighting in France, which also includes (at the bigger arenas such as Arles) the Spanish style fight to the death, see here 

Bull breaks into "safe" area

Friday, 17 June 2011

Chateauneuf du Pape, tasting Tavel and lunch where Hannibal marched

17.06.11 Chateauneuf du Pape (the village, and the wine), tasting Tavel and lunch where Hannibal marched
Papal ruins overlook Chateuneuf and its grapes. More photos here

Maison Brotte was our first port of call in the small French town of Chateauneuf du Pape. Mainly because it was easy to find but also because it is recommended in the Michelin Green Guide to the Wine Regions of France.
The charming lady who met us at the door –I  had euros in hand – explained that the visit to the very interesting wine museum is “gratuit” which means free (for nothing). Libre also means free but you might still have to pay for that unused parking space! Don’t worry. I got caught once or twice myself with those two.
The museum is quite informative and they have some old implements in-house and in the surrounds. After that, you get to taste their Domaine Barville products. Not just Chateauneuf but also wines such as Gigondas and other Cotes du Rhone. We enjoyed our samples of their white and red Chateauneuf. The red was 2009 but we picked on the 2007 when buying.
After that we visited the Chateau (or at least its ruins) that gave the village its name. The popes, then living just a few miles away in Avignon, decided they needed a summer residence and picked on the hilltop here. Now just one huge wall remains intact but from here you have a very impressive view. Of course the chateau dominated the town which is, appropriately, twinned with Castelgandolfo, the current summer residence of the popes.
Our first tasting of the day had been not too far away in the village of Tavel who make the “best Rose in France”. The town’s other claim to fame is that it supplied the stone for the Statue of Liberty.
Met a very pleasant lady here who first plied us with the Tavel 2010 which was excellent. Next came the 2010 Cuvee Royal which was even better and which formed the bulk of our purchase here. For a few Euros more...
In between the wine visits, we stopped at Roquemaure, also a wine town (scene of the St Valentine’s Day Festival of the Kiss and where Hannibal crossed the Rhone).Hardly a sound as we arrived at lunch-time but we did find a little restaurant, called L’Ecole Buissonniere (school of truants), very small and not in the  main area. But we had a lovely lunch of Chicken fricassée, served with rice and a shallot and thyme sauce. Brilliant dish for just 9 euro; my glass of local rose came in at 2 euro.
Took a stroll to the river after that and, on some kind of small platform, saw a few ducks and an adult and baby otter. That is what I thought at first but soon began to have my doubts. Does anyone recognise the furry animals from the photo?
After Chateauneuf, we headed back to Fontvieille where we found a boules tournament being played out all over the car parks. Might well have been an international as Italian flags were flying in front of the town hall. Our mission was to the traiteur and he didn’t leave us down with enough of a prepared beef dish (in the style of the Camargue cowboys, the Gardians) for two for just over a tenner. Should go well with a bottle of that Chateauneuf or will I keep it all for Ireland. Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, 16 June 2011



Photos here
When in France, we eat out quite a bit. But we also eat in quite a bit and when we do we call to the Traiteur, usually a butcher, who prepares cooked dishes that just need micro-waving or a few minutes re-heating in the oven.  I have gone miles out of my way here on previous occasions to call to a good traiteur and this time we have a good one on our doorstep in Fontvieille.
Called there a few minutes ago to pick up enough Veal in a Provencal Sauce for two and also a couple of scoops of mixed marinated olives, all for about ten fifty. I’m touting the traiteur cause here as I find quite a few Irish people don’t know about him! He makes it easy for the cook – an extra half hour in the pool!

And that extra half hour was badly needed today after a hard enough slog though Arles, searching for Van Gogh. Not easy! There are some obvious reminders. One of the cafes in the very popular Place du Forum has been renovated to look like the Cafe at Night Painting. Oh Yeah!

Thought I might have hit on something good when I eventually found L’Espace Van Gogh, a cultural centre that looks big on the town map. It is the old Hotel-Dieu, with a library and exhibition place. Aside from the fact that this was then the hospital that aided the artist after his ear incident, there is just one effort with re-connection and that is the courtyard garden which is said to look like it did back then.

The trouble with Arles and Van Gogh is that he is gone and they missed the boat. You’ll find none of his work here. But, if you are prepared to look, you’ll see how much of the work was inspired. Look at the wind, especially the Mistral, the clear skies, the crows and the cornfields and you’ll have more of an insight than available at the souvenir ships of the Espace.
And you may also look at Les Alyscamps, the subject of a few (three, I think) of his paintings. A visit here costs €3.50, slightly overpriced I thought. This was, for a long time, from Roman times to the late Medieval times, one of the largest graveyards in Western Europe. People were dying to get buried here for 1500 years! Forgive the morbid pun but check out the fascinating facts here
On the way back to our parking, close to where the Rhone cruise boats dock – a huge Swiss one had just been replaced by a giant German – we came across the site of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over the Rhone” (top pic). He still tempts the people of this lovely town but you won’t find him hanging on any wall here. Look to the wind and those small black crows!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Roman Engineers and French Flair combine to make great visit

15.06.11 Roman Engineers and French Flair combine to make great visit: 2000 year old Pont du Gard.
More photos here
Highlight today was a long awaited visit to Pont Du Gard. A brilliant site and not because of the 1st century engineering that supplied the then Roman city of Nimes with water but also because of the way the French have presented it.
Not just because of the usual car-parking facilities. There are two, one on the left bank, (800 places), one on the right (600). It doesn’t really matter which one you use as the viaduct is a short walk from either.
All the other facilities are there: shops, toilets, cafes and so on. But the really big thing here is the underground museum on the site. Here you will be amazed as you wander through the 2500 square metres “synthesing the Roman world through the history of the Nimes aqueduct around reproductions, full scale models, sound animation and multimedia kiosks”.  For my money, and it is only 15 euro per car (up to five people, tough on singles), this is the best attraction visit in France.

The aqueduct was begun around 19BC, the aim being to carry water from near Uzes the 50 kilometres to Nimes. It had its faults – there was a snag list – but yet it brought good water to Nimes for about three hundred years. Even then, for another three hundred or so, it supplied agricultural demand along its route
Most of the aqueduct is now in ruins, much of the stone used to build Catholic abbeys and so on, but the remains at Pont du Gard, then the tallest aqueduct in the Roman Empire, still make an impressive viewing.
After the three hours, mostly in the 31 degree heat, we headed for “home” and a spell in the pool. Took it easy for a while then before making a reservation for dinner at Auberge de l’Amandin.   Had a very enjoyable lunch there the other day.
Tonight’s dinner was superb. My starter: mixed salad with red prawns wrapped in kadaif (a very fine spaghetti like pastry).Very fine starter indeed. My mains was superb and so was hers. Mine was Creamy Risotto with Parmesan and Cray-fish while hers was Pan Fired Duck fillet, served with an orange caramel sauce also with vegetables. Very happy with both desserts. The excellent three course meal  at the side of their pool, cost us €23.00 while a 50cl bottle of Costières de Nimes Rosé came in at €15.00. Will have to call again!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Dip in the Med, then off on the Costieres de Nimes wine trail

14.06.11 Dip in the Med, then off on the Costieres de Nimes wine trail

Another warm day (mostly around the 30 mark) in Provence begins with a reasonably brisk walk through the nearby rice fields. Rubbed on the anti-insect spray and kept the long pants on and it seems to have worked. Headed down to St Maries at the coastal edge of the Camargue for a swim in the still surprisingly cool waters of the Med.
Walked into the town then for a nibble or two, including the obligatory ice-cream. Then paid two euro to climb the church tower. That wasn't the end of the climbing. The roof tiles are more or less concrete slabs and you can climb to the very point (see pic) to get the best views over the town, it arena and beaches.
Church viewpoint in Sts Maries. More photos here

Following the Michelin Green Guide Wine Regions of France, we headed for Gallician “a classic wine-making town”. Didn’t try too hard to find the recommended Cave before ending up in Cave Pilote where we tasted both white and red before buying a few bottles of the white. Better luck with the red in the next stop: Vauvert.  Here, in Les Vignerons, we were happy with our samples of the 2005 Noble Gress.
Had thought we’d missed a local viewpoint, Pont des Tourradons, but re-discovered the trail by chance. Not overly spectacular but worth a detour nonetheless and yet another example as to how the French use their resources with walking paths and cycling paths running across and in some cases alongside the canal (The Rhone-Sete).
We ended our afternoon (it was about 6.00pm) in St Gilles, in a supermarket of all places. It was our first visit to a real one as the Eco, in town, is more a mini. And so ended our hunt for some super-glue, to repair the Sat-Nav's position in the car!
At the traiteur, we picked up some Gardienne beef, a prepared dish of the local bull meat. It is proving very tender and that Costieres de Nimes is going well with it.
A bientôt!

Monday, 13 June 2011

France's Reddest Town + Penance at the Abbey and Pretty Villages on High

13.06.11 Tough Guide at Abbaye Senanque, great pics (I think!) of hilltop villages of Gordes & Roussillon (reddest town in France), then late dinner at Adam’s Table.
It is 10.30pm and 22 degrees Celsius as I write this.
Been quite a day, finished just now with a superb “accidental” meal at La Table d’Adam in the town, accidental because our first choice was closed, our second full but the proprietor there kindly sent us 500 metres up the street to Adam’s.
For €23.00, I enjoyed a classically balanced cuttlefish salad, followed by gurnard (maybe red mullet) with a beautiful rice and tapenade accompaniment, polished off by a Raspberry Tiramisu. For Amuse Bouche, we were served tapenade with little rings of toast and the wine was an excellent Rose from the nearby Mas de la Dame.
Great stuff all round, finished off as a little lizard raced up and down and across the white wall behind me!
Roussillon. More photos here

The day began in sombre circumstances, in the cool rooms and chapels of the 13th century Cistercian Monastery of Senanque. Our guide had us for an hour and, though she lost the dressing room after a nonstop 20 minute opening lecture in French to the largely foreign group, she kept going and kept us under thumb until the last minute of the hour. The best views of the abbey are from the hills as you dip down into the valley and the austere rooms have little of interest to the layman, except maybe for the cloisters.
This is the place regularly seen on postcards with neat rows of lavender in bloom. But today’s lavender was well off that stage and that was another let-down.
Back then to the fantastic town of Gordes which clings to the hilltop. Lovely village, parking €3.00 (which is standard enough around here). Again though, the best views are as you approach; that is the time to take your pics, if you can find a safe place to park, not always easy on the narrow roads.
One more village to see today and that was Roussillon, not too far away. This is the town of ochre and they say 17 shades have been used in and around the village. And that seems to be confirmed by a walk-around. One of the few hilltop villages best seen close-up and there are also views of the cliffs from which the many coloured stones have been hewn.
Not sure that Rosé is one of the shades but I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of the local wine from a lovely young man who assured me it was his favourite. It is now in the fridge!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

A Famous French Literary Landmark; mainly a Day of Rest

12.06.11 A Famous French Literary Landmark; mainly a Day of Rest

The Moulin de Daudet is one of the most famous literary landmarks in France and is right here in Fontvieille. We were taking it easy today, so drove the couple of kilometres to the town and then struck off up the path to the mill. Alphonse Daudet (b. 1840 in Nimes) “observed local characters and wrote about their lives with irony and pathos”*.
More photos here

He is less famous aboard than Marcel Pagnol (also born in this department, Bouche du Rhone) but is the number one man here. For €3.50, we were able to visit the windmill, the little museum underneath and the Chateau de Montauban where he stayed as a guest and which has rooms full of interesting exhibits on Daudet and Provencal life (including the Santons).
Temperature was at about the 25C mark. Called to an ice cream parlour in the town and, for the same price as the Daudet trail, bought a really tasty coneful, one boule of strawberry, the other of blackcurrant. Very enjoyable stuff.
Today was mainly a day of rest. Having returned from the town, we hopped out to the back of the gite to the deserted pool for a dip and a rest on the loungers. It was our second visit of the day to the pool and I made some progress with literature of a different kind: John Grisham’s The Confession. Tough going, isn’t it?
 *Provence and Cote D’Azur, DK Eyewitness Travel.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Nature Walk; The Mobile Home Beach, Salt Industry plus Snakes and Spice

11.06.11 Nature Walk; The Mobile Home Beach, Salt Industry plus Snakes and Spice at the Saturday Market
Let me start with a walk on the wild side. Missed the pony rides at Domaine de la Palissade in a place about as far south as you can go in the Camargue. So settled for a walk and then added another one in this nature reserve which includes many hectares of typical Camargue countryside.

Temperatures this afternoon were about 25 degrees as we strolled out. Took in three hides but not much luck, spotting just an avocet and an egret at the first one, a family of swans at the third and a view of the Grand Rhone at the second. In between, a startled pheasant crossed our path and then a family of goldfinch displayed their considerable style in flight. All in all, an interesting walk, or two!, through the scrubby Camargue, all for just 3 euro.
Earlier we had halted at a view point for the salt industry, and it is an industry. The view was close to a village called Salin de Giraud. Flat shallow lagoons, all of a pinkish colour, full with sea water which then evaporates in the hot sun, leaving behind huge salt deposits, seemingly easy pickings for the industry.
We finished the trip a few miles past the nature reserve on a wild beach, huge and surrounded by hundreds of mobile homes. Sun, sand and waves all over the place and just one bar cum restaurant cum shop: Chez Cathy. Otherwise, no facilities whatsoever but the mobile home owners were having a ball in this free-for-all, some settling in for the season by building semi-permanent surrounds. Remember the Ford boxes in Crosser?
In the morning, when the temperatures were about 22 degrees, we visited the Saturday Market in Arles. It was big last week, even bigger this time. Won’t bore you with the shopping details but in addition to the mundane essentials, we stocked up on spices and herbs and this time bought the smaller mussels, always a better tastier bet than the big ones!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Lunch in Gigondas and some serious tasting in a Rasteau paradise!

10.06.11 Lunch in Gigondas and some serious tasting in a Rasteau paradise!
The Dentelles overlook a planting of Plan de Dieu
More photos here
If you ever visit Hennessey’s distillery in Cognac, you will be shown an area called Paradise, where they keep their oldest brandies. Was reminded of that today in the Provencal town of Rasteau.
Didn’t make the brightest of starts today. Even the squirrel was knocking on our door or at least on the mosquito door shield and then two horsemen on the white Camargue ponies came riding down between the rice fields.
In any event, we didn’t reach Gigondas until about one o’clock. The local Caveau had already been closed for an hour and wouldn’t open for another hour.
If you can’t beat them, join them. So we got one of the last tables at De Verre a L’assiette in the village centre and spent the next hour sampling the wines and eating a salad. I kid you not. Salads here are huge and these were also gorgeous. Mine was Endive with Blue Cheese and nuts (and loads more) while Clare enjoyed Maigret de Canard with Parmesan (and loads more). Olives were supplied while we waited and plenty of bread followed.
Wines were a local Rose at €3.50 a glass and a Fruity Red Gigondas at €4.00. Total cost €31.00. We had to wait a while for the bill and when we got to the Caveau it was packed. From a huge list, managed to taste a few including some old vine Domaine du Grand Montmirial, found it excellent, so much better than the stuff in the nearby restaurant, and bought some.
Headed on then through the Cotes du Rhone scenic routes, calling to pretty villages such as Sablet and Seguret, before hitting the jackpot in the Cave de Rasteau.
This fairly newly built showcase shop for the Cave (itself established in 1925) was one of the best I’ve come across: loads of advice, bags of choice and no shortage of tastings. We needed some “house” wines for the rest of the holiday so started with some “lowly” whites before advancing through some gorgeous local reds before moving on to the fortified sweet stuff which comes in both white (gold) and red.
Their Cotes du Rhone Villages Tradition was very impressive and found its way in some numbers to the boot along with the sweet stuff. Then we drove back along some beautiful countryside, vines in the flat fields and village higher up.
Suddenly, our GPS lady Susie had us on a three lane autoroute. Up goes the speed and up go the tempers. Just missed, by inches, being pranged by a kid driver, madly upset when a automatic toll collector failed to function and tried to force his way across the queues. Lucky escape there, considering all that Rasteau in the back. Whew!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Full house in Roman Arles (then and now)

Arles arena. More pics here
09.06.11 Full house in Roman Arles (then and now); the river that springs from deep down and a town of waterwheels.
The Arena is Arles  is one of the best preserved of the many Roman remains in Provence. It attracted crowds of 20,000 at the start of the first millennium and does the same today for Spanish and Provencal bullfights. It was our first visit of the day and we had some great views over Arles not to mention a bridal party (fantastic dress!) arriving at the arena, presumably for photographs. 

Next stop was the nearby Theatre Antique, another Roman remain. This attracted 10,000 for each performance. Like the arena, it fell into decay, but was resurrected and today attracts big crowds for theatre events. Many other remains dot the city and after a visit to the Place du Forum, the social centre of the town, we saw a few more before ending up at a cafe near Les Thermes de Constantin, the remains of a palace, for lunch.

Nine euro bought me a plate of melon and ham, with salad and some tapenade on toast and, while waiting, we were served with a glassful of marinated olives. Not a bad lunch at all though the location was bothered by a capricious breeze.
Back to the gite then before heading off to two towns in the Vaucluse (to the east) with strong water connections. First stop was the attractive L’Isle sur la Sorgue. The river once powered 70 watermills. Nine idle wheels remain today and we saw a few as we enjoyed our stroll around, a stroll that included a stop at very tempting local patisserie.
Soon after we came to the town of Fontaine de Vaucluse. Here is the source of the Sorgue* which begins underground and then, in a natural amphitheatre of rock, erupts from an unfathomable depth and within a few hundred yards forms a fully fledged river.   
Nearby, is the Moulin a Papier Vallis Clausa which produces handmade paper, using a river powered waterwheel. The method is the same as that used in the 15th century. This is on the path up to the source as are many souvenir stands but they have their uses on a hot day as a bottle of coke or an ice cream is always appreciated! The town, like L’Isle de Sorgue, has quite a few riverside restaurants and each town is well worth a visit.
*In Switzerland, there is something similar though not the same. At the spectacular Trummelback Falls, melt water tumbles down from the mountains to start a river in the valley. Check it out here 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

08.06.11 Van Gogh at the Clinic; Olives, Wine and Lunch at Amandin’s

08.06.11 Van Gogh at the Clinic; Olives, Wine and Lunch at Amandin’s
The credit card didn’t know what hit it this morning. First call was to the nearby Castelas, an olive oil maker’s shop on the road to Baux de Provence.  A couple of tastings and soon we were filling a bag with different types of oil and also quite a few cosmetic products made from the olive.
Minutes later, we were at Mas de la Dame. Mas means farmhouse in these parts and this is an old one. It was painted by Van Gogh during his stay at nearby St Remy but the painting is lost though a “likeness” appears on the winery’s bottles some of which,  again after a few tastings, we bought. Coming home to Ireland are some Stèle blanc and Stèle rouge.
Peace in the clinic. More pics here

The card wasn’t needed at all at the next stop, the Clinique St Paul, across the road from the Roman Antiquities featured earlier. The charge to enter this famous establishment, famous because Van Gogh spent an extraordinary productive year here from May 1889 to the following May, was just four euro. The clinic was operating in the same field for hundreds of years before the distraught painter arrived and is still catering to the needs of patients today.
But there is enough of the place open to the public, including the artist’s bedroom and studio (the place wasn't full in his time, hence the studio availability) and also the 12th century cloisters, and there is some guide to the scenes he painted in and around the clinic. It is a very special visit with, at this time, lavender and poppy flowers in bloom.
We were following the blog advice of well known Irish wine writer Mary Dowey  for our first two stops of the morning and also took her advice for lunch. A quick dash though grassy lanes and modern dual carriageways brought us to the doors of the lovely Auberge de l’Amandin near Beaucaire.
Here, by the small pool, we were seated and  presented with a few menus but didn't get past the Menu du Jour. Three excellent courses for €15.80.
Starter: Smoked Salmon with an acidic dip and a lime piece to squeeze.
Mains: A stuffed duo. Not us. Not yet! The duo on the plate was a round courgette and tomato, stuffed with a high class mince (no fat) and served with a tasty couscous.
Dessert:  Clafoutis with red cherries.
Now, we were the stuffed duo as we paid up and headed back to the gite for a rest!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cruise on the Med and King Louis the Saint

07.06.11 Cruise on the Med and the small Rhone to meet a handsome cowboy; the French King who launched two crusades and became a saint.
Let me start with a small piece of advice. If ever you come to St Maries de la Mer in the Camargue intent on a boat cruise, then be sure to get a seat on the right hand side. The cruise we took this afternoon takes you out on the Med for 15 minutes and up the Petit Rhone for 30 minutes to see the wild black bulls (with their ear tags!) and horses.
Camargue cowboy. More pics here
And you do get to see them – all arranged. A small herd is driven to a clearing on the bank where you have a good view of animals and the cowboy (known here as a Gardian). You will also see a share of bulls and horses at rest in the scrubby riverside pastures and some birds, mainly herons, on the wide river. The return trip costs a reasonable 12 euro.
In the morning, we had visited the 13th century fortress town of Aigues Mortes, originally fortified to increase trade. That didn't work and so there was no real incentive to maintain the sea access as the Rhone silted up and the town became somewhat detached from the sea. Nowadays, many private boats use the Rhone-Sett? Canal and tie up alongside!
Saint Louis, as he was to become, built it as his only port on the Med; he didn’t command all of France at the time. It was an inhospitable spot and people had to be bribed to come. But the king did launch two crusades from here. Neither crusade could be called successful but his efforts and, in between, in the Holy Land, earned him the gratitude of Rome.
Despite being breached once, during the 100 Years War, the ramparts are intact and you may walk them as we did. The distance is about a mile and there are some great views. You start the tour at the Tour de Constance, the biggest and most impressive of a string of towers which have seen much history. Now they see many tourists.

Being Tuesday, some of the local restaurants were closed for the day but Le Moulin de la Grasiho was open again. Started with a tartare of Advocat and Salmon Thai style, with lime (9.00). Delighted with it and happy also with the main course of Lamb Chops with a Pistachio and Pinenut Crust (20). The Chocolate Mousse (7), with a cocoa sauce and broken bits of white chocolate, was okay but nothing to write home about, so I won’t. A pichet of very good Cotes du Rhone cost me €6.50. Quite happy overall.

Monday, 6 June 2011

06.06.11 Mont Ventoux, a cycling mecca; Beaumes de Venise, Vacqueyra, wine heaven

06.06.11 Mont Ventoux – Beaumes de Venise – Vacqueyras
Just finishing off a basic Cabernet, quite a nice one by the way, from La Citadelle. That’s the end of the day.

Hard going. More pics here
But let me tell you about the start, not quite the start maybe, I do keep some things to myself, but a sunny midi-morning found us on the way to Malaucene, a little town at the foot of Mont Ventoux (1912m), the windy mountain, best known to us in Ireland as a stage finish in the Tour de France.
As we began to climb from the town, the temperature began to plummet, a degree for every ten cyclists we passed. By the time, we reached the famous summit, it had dropped from 22 degrees to six and visibility was poor because of fog and rain. But that did nothing to dampen the spirit of the bikers, young and old, who’d made it to the summit.
Luckily we parked right alongside the summit marker and took a picture there as did all the cyclists. Bought a souvenir or two in the shop and headed back down through the mist and fog, all the while the valleys below enjoying the sunshine. We stopped and took a few photos on the day down.
From Malaucene, we took a beautiful country road through the vineyards to Beaumes de Venise, passing close to the mountains called the Dentelles (lace). Could perhaps have sought out the Cooperative but settled for the shop of Domaine des Richard in the centre of the hamlet where a lady, with two year’s English, took great care of us.
Her tasting samples were generous to say the least and we left well stocked with the famous fortified sweet wine called Beaumes de Venice and also the producers’ own Plan de Dieu, a lovely red.
Just a few kilometres up the road, we called to Vacqueyras. Oh. Forgot to say it but the sun was out down in the valley all along and temperatures were in the mid 20s and the day bright. Not so here. Hot for sure but it was almost dark in the middle of the village where the plane trees meet and provide a natural umbrella for those imbibing in the cafes.
Here, we found the shop of Chateau Montmirial. Not quite the same rapport here as earlier. They produce Gigondas, Cotes du Rhone and Vacqueyras. It was the latter we were after. The tasting sample was fine and we went off with a pack of Cuvee des Saints Papes!
Temperatures hit 26 degrees on the way home past Avignon and were still high at the gite where we dined on the terrace. Tip: if you are travel up a mountain in summer, make sure you have loads of tee shirts and a windbreaker. On the way up, add a tee-shirt as necessary and reverse the process on the way down!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Delta Day: Black Bull, White Horse, Pink Flamingo and a black Gypsy Saint


The Rhone Delta is best known as the Camargue, marshy land of the black bull, the white horse, the pink flamingo and the gypsy.

Sara. More pics here
Once the weather picked up around mid-day, we headed for the area’s top town:  Saintes Maries de la Mer. The three Marys and a bunch of others, including their servant Sara, were set adrift after the Crucifixion and landed here. Sara is the patron saint of the gypsies and her statue is paraded in a huge procession in May (and another large one in the autumn). Back in 1948 the man who would be pope, then Papal Nuncio Roncalli, said mass here for the pilgrims.

See the brand!
Beautiful beaches here. Boat cruises too which take you up the Petite Rhone to see the flamingos, bulls and horses. We saw some from the road, especially the horses that were carrying tourists to see the others. Live Spanish style music, clicks and all, drifted from the full cafes and restaurants as we strolled in from the beach. Red and black rice were among the souvenir purchases.

Aigues-Mortes, the other biggish town here, is not too far away and was once a fort to guard against invaders from the sea. It is now some distance from the sea though canal boats park by its side. As this was just a “reccie” tour, we didn’t do the ramparts and so on – all the walls seem intact – but enjoyed strolling through the streets and squares.

Walked into a colourful sweet shop. Loads of samples were proffered by young assistants. We just couldn’t resist and loaded up with nougat and some surprise bits and pieces for friends and relatives at home.
Drove back then through the low flat fields – many planted with vines near Aigues-Mortes – to join the Sunday traffic as it returned to Arles and beyond. 

Loads left from yesterday’s market raid on Arles for dinner tonight. Main dish is cod and the wine is from Cassis on the Med (bought from a local wine shop with a very musty but rather rich cellar).
Clouds are back but we are glad to have had our hours in the sun today. Maybe more tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

04.06.11 Arles Market

More pics here

04.06.11 Arles Market

The Saturday market in nearby Arles is one of the biggest I’ve ever come across: two kilometres of stalls, four deep for most of the way, stretching from the start of Blvd des Lices to the end of rue de la Republique.

We were late arriving, the overnight thunderstorm didn’t help, and had to park a fair bit away from the market. But the walk in gave us a close-up view of the main attractions here:  Les Arenes (a very well preserved Roman monument) and the nearby Theatre Antique, another elegant Roman building. Both are still used today and we will visit them in the near future.

While there are many stalls selling leather goods, handmade jewellery and clothes, the vast majority are in the food business. I saw at least five or six stalls selling shellfish and only shellfish while just as many were selling all the other fish.
Strolled down one alley made by two sets of stalls and then up the other. The weather was quite fine at this stage and the cafes were full and quite a few also at Mullins Irish Bar. A brass band played and it was hard enough to make progress such were the crowds out shopping.

But it was tough enough going as our bags filled up and we just about made it all the way. Purchases included cod, mussels, marinated olives, olive tapenade, melons, asparagus, strawberries, and the famous local and rather expensive Banon cheese (wrapped in chestnut leaves). But we’ll be back again to browse through other stalls, including those selling spices, soaps, perfumes, and more...

Just made it back to the car before the heavy thundery rain returned.