The “Other” South of France

The “Other” South of France

July 2017
the Languedoc region of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

It’s been over 13 years since we purchased La Belle Cour in the village of Vias, in the Languedoc region, the “other south of France”.Everyone knows about Provence, on the Mediterranean Coast towards Italy, but this coastline, towards Spain, is much less on traveler’s radar…and as we pause on our drive southwest we’re inundated in a memorable sound – the cicadas of summer!

Others have been taking care of the property, a charming village house that sleeps 8, for us for a few years, and it’s time for us to spend some time there, making sure that it is still a delightful holiday rental for savvy travelers in search of a different take on southern France. We walk into the sunny “beautiful courtyard” mid-morning, drop off our luggage and walk through the property to get an idea of what we need to purchase for needed upkeep and replacement of items, then head to the waterfront for lunch.
Just east of Vias, Grau d’Agde is another pretty village, set where the Herault River meets the Mediterranean. Walking on the jetty of familiar black stone of the area (the church in sight of La Belle Cour is constructed of that same basalt from a long vanished volcano) out towards a lighthouse, we marvel at the vista – blues of all shades to the horizon and beyond, above the hazy Pyrenees near the Spanish border.A delicious lunch awaits us, water lapping underneath our feet – under 20 euros for three courses and a glass of wine. That fish couldn’t be fresher! And as we finish our dessert we see the evening meal on its way in – seagulls circling and diving above the boat as fishermen prep their catch and toss the inedibles out for the birds.
Ready to shop, we pass a roundabout with a replica of the basalt church in Agde and head for a Bricoman, where inside it’s just like being in the Home Depot down the street in Virginia – even to the orange decor and aprons on the staff! Of course it’s a little more challenging to choose the right painting and hardware supplies in french!
The next day we’re warmed by the sun as we do errands in the village – paying the water bill at the town hall, checking out shops and sights to make sure our House Book is up to date.
We sample a new restaurant, Remise de Christian, in the center of the village – a welcome pause in the hours of cleaning, repairs, multiple trips to the trash collection center, and painting.
Our friend Anne, who took such good care of La Belle Cour for a couple of years, has moved back to the area and is living in the elegant city of Beziers, north of us. Paul Riquet, the genius behind the Canal du Midi (which passes right through Vias), constructed in the 1600s to connect the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, is honored in his home town. Anne has found a gorgeous apartment in one of the most beautiful properties in Beziers – we’re so happy for her!
Wednesday’s market day, added during the season to the all-year Saturday market, and oh has the market expanded! We hear the vendors setting up early in the morning, and walk through the swimsuit and beach blanket laden stalls (the beach is about a mile away),happy to see how popular our little village is….and well-taken care of too, with some lovely additions like abundant flower boxes scattered through the lanes, and an update for the ancient market hall in the center of town.
We pick out a few lunch items to enjoy in the courtyard, then spend the rest of the day painting and prepping the house for the next renters.
One more visit to Grau d’Agde for dinner – if we had time we would join the crowds for the Sardinade, so much fun to watch as the fishermen toss down a blanket of fish on a grate, top them with another grate,

and char those sardines. They’re done in just a few minutes, shoveled off the grate onto plates handed off to the servers, and the line of hundreds inches along, balancing sardines in one hand, wine in the other.
What a pleasure to be back in the Lovely Languedoc – we look forward to returning with friends! Let us know if YOU would like to book a week or two – although La Belle Cour is full for the rest of the summer, we highly recommend a fall visit – September and October are particularly lovely, with weather warm enough to enjoy the beach too!

Impossible Blues!

Impossible Blues!

Easter Week 2017
The South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

It’s the battle of the blues today – between the sky and the sea, it’s a toss-up as to which is the blue-est!
Fisherman are already back from their early morning hunt, and speedily filet their catch for savvy shoppers – get here early for the freshest lunch in town!Before we head out to sea ourselves, we can’t miss the Friday market – one of the prettiest in the region, scarves wafting in the breeze, and more blues vying for our attention. The day couldn’t be better for our sail to three calanques, fjord-like inlets along the coast towards Marseilles. A few hardy souls are sun-bathing and swimming – it’s still a little chilly, in mid-April, for my taste.
But not too chilly to for an al fresco lunch of Moules- Frites (Mussels and Fries) by the port. Cassis, you’ve shown off superbly today!

A Day in the Luberon

A Day in the Luberon

Easter Week 2017
The South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

We’re sharing some favorite villages of the lush Luberon region north of Aix with our Aix Easter Festival tour guest today. And as she collects artisanal pottery, we’re seeking out more than just fabulous vistas. At the top of the russet-hued village of Roussillon is a tiny boutique specializing in local ceramics – and now Janice has a few choice pieces that will wing their way to her US home! From atop the Castrum we take in the views – the shocks of red clay amidst the dark green of the pines, a lone poppy in the grass,a chateau nestled far below. It’s a perfect day to take in all the colors of Roussillon. In the parking lot below, market stalls cluster among the surrounding colors. Beside the cliffs, scraped in decades past for their ochre pigments, we pause for lunch, then we’re off to our next village, Lourmarin. On the way we pass Bonnieux, tumbling picturesquely down a hillside – it always demands a photo stop!
After zigagging through the Luberon range, we coast down to Lourmarin, with its elegant chateau, and wander through the peaceful lanes for a bit before returning to Aix.
This evening’s concert is in the historic Jeu de Paume, a restored handball court originally constructed for the entertainment of the nobility in the 1700s. Beneath this elegant ceiling we listen to tenor Mauro Peter sing Schumann, Strauss and Liszt, ably accompanied by Helmut Deutsch on the piano, before completing our day with a Moroccan feast at Le Riad – the best tagines in town!  Our waiter effortlessly pours tea from yards above the cups – that takes some practice, I believe!

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Easter Week 2017
The South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

Come along for a day filled with provençal delights, beginning with the Wednesday market in St. Remy de Provence…stalls fill the charming squares,their colorful produce enticing – how about Kristin Espinasse’s (of French Word a Day) Tarte à la Tomate with a few of these beauties? 
Palest blue shutters whisper “south of France” on this boutique, one of the many enticing home-goods shops worth a visit.
Sated with sights and smells, we’re ready for lunch at Kirk’s all-time favorite, Bistro du Paradou, down the road towards Le Baux de Provence. It’s Wednesday, and rabbit is today’s main dish, but the meal begins with MY favorite of their first courses – meltingly succulent aubergine, with a side of rich tomato coulis. After the remarkable cheese basket, a meal in itself, we finish with dessert and coffee, then trundle out to the car to make our way to an olive oil mill.
With the hilltop ruins of Le Baux in the distance, we walk through the mistral-tossed olive groves before purchasing a tin or two of some award-winning oil.
Beneath that menacing fortress are the towering rooms hollowed out from bauxite quarries, now the Carrières de Lumiéres – Quarries of Images, a sound and light spectacle that is a highlight of our Provence tours. This year (the spectacle changes yearly) the artists Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo are featured – a more gruesome, at times, focus than we’ve ever seen here. Not one of our favorites – but worth a visit regardless to be surrounded by art and sound – a unique experience.
Senses sated, back to Aix we go – more Provençal delights await us tomorrow!

Gardens from Cannes to Grasse

Gardens from Cannes to Grasse

Thursday, April 6, 2017
The Riviera, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

I just popped into the library today, here at home in northern Virginia…and remembered THIS library we stopped by in Cannes. A romantic neo-classic villa, surrounded by a lovely park (where creatives have designed some interesting garden features), it was originally built for the Baronne de Rothschild in 1881. Now THIS is a library where I’d linger, spending time in one gorgeous room after another!
Our final garden-filled day begins in Grasse, where on a hillside near town Lady Fortescue wrote Perfume from Provence as she designed a garden, Villa Fort France, with more than 500 varieties of plants and trees in the 1930s. The De Courcel family have lived in Villa Fort France since  1992, and this lovely property, more than any other we’ve visited, gives the feel of a warm and welcoming home, surrounded by beauty….oh for a chance to sit and enjoy! But of course we’ve much more to see today.
Grasse is renowned for its perfume industry, and a stop at the Fragonard Perfumery begins with a guided walk through the garden of sources for the fine fragrances produced here. Several of us don’t depart from the boutique adjoining the workrooms empty-handed! Peony is the 2017 flower, and adorns one tempting item after another.
The last garden of this wonderful tour provided by Cote d’Azur Tourism is La Mouissone. Olive groves spread across the terraced property and form the backbone of the garden, which is dotted with inviting sitting areas (and some large areas perfect for events such as weddings) and creative designs. Lady Lockett, whose family has owned the property since 1998, shows us around the gardens, then shares a delicious picnic with us, French wines and produce mingling with Melton Mowbray Pork Pies from her British home.
From every terrace there’s a fabulous view  – yet more temptation to just relax and stay a while! Speaking of which, there’s a lovely guest house for rent on the property! And lots of enjoyable activies – how about a bounce on the trampoline?!It’s time to say goodbye to France, as we head to Barcelona for the weekend so we stroll along the beach in Nice before flying away….we’ll hurry back to France next week!

Riviera Beauties – from Towns to Gardens

Riviera Beauties – from Towns to Gardens

Wednesday, April 6, 2017
The Riviera, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Menton’s cheery yellow market is the first stop of the day. With the colorful town rising behind, the mountains beyond, flowering lemon trees (Menton is proud of its lemons and has a fabulous festival celebrating them every February – a terrific winter trip!) and fresh produce show off in a beautiful setting.
Our tour continues with picturesque squares, perfectly shabby shutters, and steep vaulted passageways. We’ve been told that “Riviera” signifies mountains meeting the sea, and Menton’s built right into this abrupt rise from the water.Outside of town near a hilltop village, the Val Rameh gardens offer a round-the-world botany tour clustered around a lovely home. From jasmine draped bridges to bamboo forests and even a unique specimen of the Toromiro tree of Easter Island, it’s a fascinating wander.
The one garden and villa we’ve visited before, when we hosted a private tour of Provence and the Riviera in 2010, is the fabulous Villa Ephrussi-Rothschild. We’re invited for lunch and a quick tour of the interior before entering the gardens, fragrant with wisteria and in full spring bloom.My favorites of the 7 gardens are the Florentine, with azalea draped architectural beauties, and the Spanish, golden arches beside an Alhambra-like rectangle of water.
With views across the bay to Villefranche-sur-Mer, I can well understand the choice of this perfect peninsula for the majestic home and gardens.
As on our previous visit, I could spend hours by these musical dancing fountainswhat a delight!