A Visit to Puyloubier and the Restaurant des Sarments

Puyloubier is an ancient Provencal village at the foot of Mont Sainte-Victoire. It is surrounded by vineyards and boasts several renowned restaurants.

Panorama photo of Puyloubier

Panorama photo of Puyloubier

New meets old and they coexist in Puyloubier.

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An ancient stone protects the corner of this house on a very narrow street.

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All roads lead to Mont Sainte-Victoire in this region.

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This house has sections added on in different centuries.

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Philip, our tour guide, arranged for a private lunch at the Michelin rated Restaurant des Sarments. This was our first experience of true gourmet food in France, and we weren’t disappointed. The restaurant opened just for us on a Monday, when it is normally closed.

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We followed Philip up the secret staircase…

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… and of course had to stop to take photos.

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Intrepid wine drinkers that we are, even the France Frolickers were eager to photograph the vast number of wine glasses awaiting us.

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The menu was written on chalkboards in French and I’m not even going to try to interpret them. I’m just going to link up photos of the fabulous food we had and let you enjoy them.

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The amuse-bouche

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We adjourned to the outside patio for coffee and pastries. As it was early in the season, it wasn’t particularly beautiful, but we could see how wonderful it would be when things were blooming.

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Another in my long arrange of toilette shots -- I'm just fascinated by necessaries.

Another in my long array of toilette shots — I’m just fascinated by necessaries.

The chef and owner, Jean-Sébastien Gentil, finally came out and allowed Jennie to get a photo with him as we were leaving — the waitress said that he is very shy.

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Unbelievably (or quite possible, depending on who you’re talking to), our next stop was to a winery after this three hour gastronomic extravaganza. Yes, Virginia, the France Frolickers do love France.

NEXT STOP: CHATEAU VIGNELAURE

Cezanne’s Atelier

Paul Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1829 and has become known as the bridge between 19th century Impressionism and 20th century Cubism.  Cezanne commissioned a studio/workshop to be built outside of town, on top of a hill over-looking the countryside he loved and had immortalized in his paintings. The studio and workshop, built in 1903 at the end of his career, still stands as a museum and is open for tours.

This was then.

That was then.

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This is now.

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The tour of the workshop itself is done by authorized guides, and Philip was not supposed to talk. Our guide was sensible, however, and allowed him to help her out with translations when she couldn’t express herself well in English.

The studio is full of objects that are easily recongnizable from Cezanne's works.

The studio is full of objects that are easily recognizable from Cezanne’s works.

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Artifacts appear to be just as Cezanne left them, including his tall easels and ladders used for creating large paintings.

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The photos in the section are from the Cezanne Atelier website. We were not allowed to take photos inside the workshop, but we took lots in other places.

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Our guide was the epitome of the classic French “woman of a certain age.”

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Lots of still life arrangements (and cloches)

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This is clever way to display photographs and memorabilia.

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Look! It’s a flowering tree! Let’s take a photo!

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We all gathered on the steps to try to get a “family portrait.” It almost worked…

The studio was saved by an American benefactor.

The studio was saved by a group of American benefactors.

Bernard drove us up to the top of the hill where Cezanne went to paint Mont Saint Victoire. Modern life intruded.

Bernard drove us up to the top of the hill where Cezanne went to paint Mont Sainte-Victoire. Modern life intruded.

We finally got a hazy photo.

We finally got a hazy photo.

This is what Cezanne saw — we didn’t have quite the same viewpoint that day.

You may have figured out that we are still on the morning of Day Two, and we’ve already sorted through hundreds of photos. France is beautiful and photo-worthy pretty much everywhere you turn. Stay tuned!

NEXT STOP: THE ROAD TO PUYLOUBIER AND THE RESTAURANT DES SARMENTS.

Dinner at the Brasserie les Deux Garçons

Our first official dinner in France was at the restaurant on the ground floor of our hotel.

IMG_7411After being seated at a long table in the glassed-in section of the restaurant, we discovered that we were sitting in what might be an enclosed smoking section. Thankfully, the smokers stayed outside at the cafe tables on the sidewalk, and most of the smoke stayed out there, too.

IMG_7397We started by perusing the menu and choosing our drinks to start our meal. The linked menus give you an idea of what we had available.

We started with a local wine from Provence.

We started with a local wine from Provence.

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We had to try the French Onion Soup!

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Jennie was excited to sample four different types of oysters.

Suzanne went for the lox plate.

Suzanne went for the lox plate.

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I’m not sure who ordered the beef, but yes, they do serve fried potatoes with meals in France, and not just to Americans.

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Terri had this fishy thing, which she claimed was very good. Update: Terri said it was Jon and he liked it.

Somebody HAD to order desserts — we were in France, after all — so we shared these delectable goodies.

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IMG_7403 IMG_7404As we began to collect photos of our meals, we began to use the term “food porn” to describe our habit of taking photos of everything we ate. We hope you are not offended by our frivolous use of this term — we are all totally politically correct about the real thing.🙂

Fodors says the food is not memorable at the Brasserie Les Deux Garçons, but for tired and hungry travelers, it served us well for our first night in France!

NEXT STOP: CEZANNE’S ATELIER

Walking Tour of Aix-en-Provence

After an early, hearty breakfast at Les Deux Garçons (“the most famous brasserie in Aix. Built in 1792, it has been frequented by the likes of Paul Cézanne, Émile Zola and Ernest Hemingway”), Philip met us with a cheerful walk about Aix.

We started our morning with a visit to the nearby Marché Place Richelme, a local producers’ market on Place Richelme near the city hall, which is open daily 9:00AM – 12:30PM. Jennie blogged about our visit to the market on her blog, The Seasoned Dish. You can see her story by clicking here.

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This market was in the plaza in front of l’Hotel de Ville (town hall).

l'Hotel de Ville

l’Hotel de Ville

Leaving the market, we all had to stop and take a photo of this coffee shop with a clever name.

Aix-presso

Aix-presso

We visited the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour.

Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix

Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d’Aix

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Colloquially translated, this poster says, "We haz a Pope."

Colloquially translated, this poster says, “We haz a Pope.”

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These little markers are in the sidewalks all around Aix; some point out key sites from Cezanne’s life…

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… and some tell dogs where to go.

The streets are flushed out in the mornings and dog refuse is supposed to be in the gutter.

The streets are flushed out in the mornings and dog refuse is supposed to be in the gutter.

Some other lovely objects from our walk around Aix:

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Our hotel was just a block away from this huge fountain in “La Rotonde” (roundabout).

“La Rotonde” fountain, built in 1860

NEXT STOP: CEZANNE’S ATELIER

Aix-en-Provence and the Hotel de Gantes

After two days of travel and sightseeing, we arrived in Aix-en-Provence, our base camp for two nights. We were staying at a lovely hotel right on the main square of Aix — seems fabulous, right? Unfortunately, the first thing we had to do was unload all of our suitcases and carry-ons off the bus and drag them down two blocks of the oh-so-fashionable Cours Mirabeau, in full view of all the beautiful people sitting outside at the sidewalk cafe tables.

Although this photo was taken later in the season than our early April trip, it was a beautiful day and the cafes were full of beautiful people.

Although this photo was taken later in the season than our early April trip, it was a beautiful day and the cafes were full of beautiful people watching the tourists being tourists.

Fortunately, the story quickly got better. We found the hidden entrance to the Hotel de Gantes

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That’s Suzanne reflected in the glass doors.

… and were checked in and ushered to our beautiful and spacious Aix-en-Provence-themed rooms. Each room is decorated to represent an important figure in Aix history or an artistic or literary figure who frequented the restaurant at the street level of the hotel — the Brasserie Les Deux Garçons.

Tom and Jennie stayed in the Rene Roi bedroom, with its funky king chair and canopied bed.

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The bathroom in the Rene Roi bedroom. Yes, those are glass windows and doors.

The Les Deux Garcons cafe has been an Aix landmark for over a hundred years.

The Brasserie Les Deux Garçons has been an Aix landmark for many years.

Our tour included continental breakfast in the brasserie, surrounded by the elegant gold-ivory style Consulate decor, which dates from the restaurant’s founding in 1792.

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Behind the menu, the two real brothers are hiding.🙂

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Our wake-up call came pretty early on Monday.

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It was easy to convince Jennie to get an omelette to go with the pastries.

IMG_2818NEXT STOP: WALKING TOUR OF AIX-EN-PROVENCE

The Marcel Pagnol Pilgrimage

Two members of our touring group (Jeff and Deborah) are fans of the writer and filmmaker Marcel Pagnol, and all of us have seen at least some of his movies, so we decided to take advantage of the proximity along our route from Nice to Aix-en-Provence to visit some key sites from his life and films.

We met our tour guide MaryJane at the birthplace of Marcel in Aubagne.

The Birthplace of Marcel Pagnol in Aubagne

The Birthplace of Marcel Pagnol in Aubagne

 Closeup of the plaque

We then traveled to Le Treille, where much of the childhood of Marcel Pagnol took place.  We were delighted to spot a few familiar locales from the movies “My Father’s Glory” and “My Mother’s Castle“.

One of the mansions along the canal, seen in "My Mother's Castle"

One of the mansions along the canal, seen in “My Mother’s Castle”

Fountain from "Manon of the Spring" and MaryJane, our tour guide

Fountain from “Manon of the Spring” and MaryJane, our tour guide

Marcel Pagnol's Gravesite

Marcel Pagnol’s Gravesite

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To wrap up the Marcel Pagnol bit of our tour, on Tuesday, Philip surprised us with a visit to the church where the Manon character was married in the 1986 version of Manon of the Spring.

Scene from the movie "Manon of the Springs"

Scene from the movie Manon of the Spring

The church, as we saw it (Eglise Saint Barthelemy)

The church, as we saw it
(Eglise Saint Barthelemy)

NEXT STOP: AIX-EN-PROVENCE and the HOTEL DE GANTES

Arrival in Nice and Our First French Meal

We came from Seattle, Sacramento, and Chicago. We flew through O’Hare, JFK, and Frankfurt, with surprising and stunning views of the Alps sticking up through the clouds.

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The Alps sticking up through the clouds somewhere between Frankfort and Nice.

The Nice airport is right on the Mediterranean and we appeared to be going to Africa in order to make the tight turn onto the runway.

The Nice airport is right on the Mediterranean and we appeared to be going to Africa in order to make the tight turn onto the runway.

We arrived at almost the same time in Nice, even though we were scheduled to arrive an hour apart. Nice welcomed us with sunny skies laced with a light wind for the start of our glorious adventure.

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Philip Haslett, of Unique Provence Travel

We were met by our tour guide, Philip Haslett of Unique Provence Travel, and our driver, Bernard.

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Bernard, our driver

Our beautiful Mercedes bus was brand new and we traveled in stylish comfort to our first stop in France — the rest area and comfort station!

Bernard's new bus

Bernard’s new bus

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Deborah and Jeff posed with the lovely background of the truck parking lot.

Since we were on a mission to get to the first planned activity, a tour of Marcel Pagnol sites, we had asked Philip to provide a quick lunch — perhaps even a picnic. Our first lunch was totally Philip, and totally charming with our “bits and bobs” picnic.

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Terri, Brent, and Jeff enjoying the Provencal sun.

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Philip setting out our bits and bobs picnic.

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Jon getting the drinks ready.

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Our first Provencal wine

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Jeff managed to take fabulous photos with his iPhone — everywhere!

NEXT STOP: AUBAUGNE and LA TRIELLE