Our Vacation Rental Homes in Sablet, Provence

Sablet Village, Vaucluse, Provence, France
Maison des Pelerins and La Baume des Pelerins, or "les Pelerins" as we affectionately refer to our dream come true, of owning our own homes in Provence, are located in the heart of the Vaucluse. We thoroughly enjoy hearing from our guests to "les Pelerins" that they feel they are spending time in their own home in Provence. To be a part of village life, Sablet is the perfect place. "Les Pelerins" dates back to the time when the Popes administered the Catholic Church from Avignon, with a Papal Vice-Legat having a residence right here in Sablet. Our neighbor's home was the Vice-Legat's residence. Ours was one of the buildings that housed visitors and pilgrims and was connected to it, as we can see from the internal portals, and the front door of Maison des Pelerins. Hence the name - Pelerins is French for pilgrims. I hope this Blog will help you get to know Provence and live your Provencal Dream.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Going With The Flow ...

                                        ...... Ambling along on the canals in France.

The locks along the canals, with their beautifully cared for lock keepers residences.  Many of the lock keepers sell local or home produced items, such as jams, honey and freshly made breads and pastries
My thoughts of a perfect "sightseeing plus relaxing," two week vacation in France is, to spend the first week at our Sablet home in Provence, and the second week winding our way through some part of the 3,800 kilometers of canals or 2,900 kilometers of rivers in France on a self drive canal boat, visiting French towns and villages as we go.

Peace and serenity on the Canal du Bourgogne
Over the years, we've enjoyed cruising on the Canal du Midi in the south of France, the Canal du Nivernais in the Loire Valley and the Petite Saône River in the Burgundy region.  Cruising down the canals, you see a different side of France, one that is off the beaten path and very relaxed.

Looking along the Canal du Nivernais - note the tow path to the left of the picture.  These old tow paths are great walking or biking paths.

Boats moored by the banks of the Canal du Nivernais at Villiers sur Yonne
Our first trip was with our two college aged sons, (whom we thought would be bored to death going on vacation with their parents). To our surprise, they thoroughly enjoyed the experience, from working the locks (and it always seemed to rain as we pulled into a lock - June on the Nivenais - but it was warm),  meeting a bunch of  French kids their age - also students who were working some of the locks; making their thoughts of who was the best boat driver well known; trying to figure out the best spots to go exploring; and what days and times the shops were open, in various towns and villages.

The Welcome Committee

Since then, the canals of France have become old friends - ready to go with the flow, when you really want to spend some time traveling at your own pace - which is hopefully no more than about 5 knots per hour - the max speed of many  boats.

Auxerre on the Yonne River with the Abbey of St. Germain in the background

Approaching the village of Trebes on the Canal du Nivernais
 You find many villages and towns along the waterways, which makes it very easy to pull up for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, visit to a village for shopping, sightseeing or an overnight that includes a wonderful meal at a very nice restaurant. 

Cassoulet - a hearty dish which is a  rich combination of Confit Canard, local sausage and white beans, is a specialty of the Beziers area
You can sample the food specialties of the region or in some cases, a particular village, and lock keepers often stock or make local specialty items for purchase.

Boats in a lock on the Canal du Midi waiting for the water to rise
Over the years, I have bought fresh local honey, freshly made fruit pies (at a lock where the keeper milled the flour and grew the apples!), home made jams and mustard, freshly baked bread, wine and pottery - all while waiting for locks to fill or empty.

A quiet spot along the canal

A boat waits for the water to come down to the lower level - as water is pumped out of the lock
Each area has its own characteristics from the largely rural countryside of the Burgundy area where the canals wind their way through quaint little villages and past beautiful chateaux, to the Canal du Nivernais which is more rural and the landscape is one of rolling hills with vineyards and forests.

The tower of the medieval Chateau Chenonceau with its protective canal in the Loire
Villages and towns on the Canal du Nivernais are a little further away from the canal, and give you the opportunity to get out for a walk or bike ride for visits.

A lock on the Canal du Nivernais shown with a tow path to the right. This canal runs through a more rural part of the Loire Valley
One of the advantages of the canals is the tow path beside them.  When they were first constructed, the tow path was for the horses that pulled the barges along the canal.  Today, these paths make perfect walking/gogging paths or bike paths so that you can ride along beside the boat.

The boat company that we rented our boats from, offers bike rental for a small additional fee, and we usually take advantage of this. 

The Canal du Nivernais in Auxerre
The Canal du Midi is perhaps the most well known of the canals in France, as a designated  UNESCO world heritage site. This canal has a very interesting history and was considered quite a feat of engineering at the time of its construction, but relating its history requires a separate blog all of its own.  The Canal du Midi runs through miles and miles of vineyards and stunning medieval towns such as Carcasonne......

View of the old "Cite" as you walk from the mooring point across the bridge to get to
 ........Where the old "Cite" looms over the river, the canal and the City of Carcassonne which is clearly visible and gives you a very impressive welcome,  as do all the town's ducks who swim out to meet the boats, as they slowly travel down the canal to moor up near the bridge.

The 11th Century Cite is a major attraction in this area

The Canal du Midi is lined with shady Plane trees in many places
 .....Beziers which was the site of one of the bloodiest battles between the Crusaders and the Cathars on July 22nd 1209......

In Beziers, the Cathedral of St. Nazaire overlooks the old bridge

The gothic style Cathedral of St. Nazaire in the city of Beziers on the Canal du Midi
.......and Narbonne (once the Roman Capital City of the area), as it makes it's way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Canal du Midi as it flows through the center of Narbonne

On the city of Narbonne, the Canal du Midi runs under town houses built across the canal

The Capestang Bridge on the Canal du Midi

One of the Embarkation points on the Canal du Midi - Castlenaudary
At the end of a day driving the boat, taking a walk or riding into the countryside or a nearby village, it's time to tie up the boat, light the barbecue and relax with a glass of local wine and some olives and cheese that you bought at the market..... and start it all again the next day.

At the end of another boating day as the sun sets gently on the Canal du Midi on a warm evening is early September
A Votre Sante!

Here's to another great trip on the Canals in France
There are lots and lots of Canal Boat rental companies in France with boats available, but we started with Crown Blue Line, because it was the most convenient for booking from the US.  That company has now merged with two others and is called LeBoat - still very easy to book online and lots of choice.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Provencal Cuisine - "la Cuisine du Soleil"

The sun is shining ... birds and cigales sing .... this means breakfast, lunch and dinner in the courtyard at Maison des Pelerins and thoughts of cooking in Provence.

Lunch under the parasol in the courtyard at Maison des Pelerins - Tarte Provencale followed by a green salad,fresh Chevre and Cavaillon Melon ...
La Cuisine du Soleil - with its intensely sunny and natural  flavors of Provence - rosemary, thyme and other herbs growing wild in the fields, that sheep graze on; Fish straight from the Mediterranean - caught daily; fresh tomatoes and garlic - green and mild in the Spring, but stronger when it is dried, the way we see it throughout the year; intensely sweet melons, strawberries and figs ...  the bright colors reminding you of their freshness and their rich flavors which have drawn food lovers to this part of France for a very long time.

Succulent figs and fresh Chevre - a perfect pair
Throughout France, food and cooking is an art, both in practice and in form - delicious - and beautiful to look at.  In Provence, you see this all around you - in markets, shops and restaurants ...
if you are traveling to Provence, get ready for a treat.

The Essentials - a good Olive Oil and Herbes de Provence
Here are some of my favorite Provencal dishes you may see on menus:

Bouillabaisse: Who has not heard of Bouillabaisse? (Otherwise known as "woolly bears" to our then four year old son). A hearty saffron based Seafood Stew, served as a main course – usually a special meal. The origin of this dish comes from the very fisherman who went out into the Mediterranean every night, coming back - boats laden with all varieties of fish. Amongst these were smaller boney fish such as racasse (skorpion fish), that were caught up in the nets. These fish, while not particularly pleasant to eat due to their bones,  made the perfect base for a strong and flavorful soup, which was the fisherman's meal. The traditional Marseillaise way for serving Bouillabaisse, is to serve the broth first, with rouille - a spicy, garlicky mayonaise which gets its name from the rusty color of the saffron used in its preparation - croutons, and a finely grated sharp cheese. The fish and any vegetables are then served as a second course.

Marseille is the home of this dish where the “Vieux Port” is lined with many restaurants featuring this specialty. Along the Mediterranean coast, you find Bouillabaisse on the menu in many smaller towns and villages as well. Local cooks will tell you that a good Bouillabaisse must have three important ingredients:  the bony rock fish found in the Mediterranean; a fine saffron; and rich Provencal olive oil (and herbes de Provence).

Bouillabaisse as it is traditionally served at the Vieux Port in Marseille
Soupe de Poissons: Earthy Mediterranean fish soup, served with aioli (garlic mayonnaise), garlic for rubbing on croutons, croutons and finely grated sharp cheese.

Rouille - a mayonnaise made with saffron, garlic and spices  is  a traditional accompaniment to Bouillabaisse
Daube Provencale: Traditional Provencal stew, made with either beef, veal or lamb. Perfumed with Herbs de Provence and orange zest, and cooked with a good amount of red wine. Since the Provencaux have always been hard working people who went out into the fields or vineyards each day, dishes such as the Daube, which requires slow cooking, became common. The basic recipe could be prepared in advance (in the morning), and left to cook (mijoter), while the family went out to work in the fields or vineyards. When they returned at lunchtime, the meal was ready.

Pistou is a close relative of its Italian cousin Pesto
Soupe au Pistou - a hearty vegetable soup richly flavored with Pistou
Soupe au Pistou: The soup of Provence. Perfumed with Basil and rich in flavor.

Ratatouille - a bright combination of summer vegetables - shown here is a sauteed version of the dish
Here - Ratatouille in which the vegetables are mixed and baked.  Vegetable Tians (a name given to various combinations of vegetables prepared and baked in a ceramic dish known locally as a tian), are common in Provencal cuisine.  Although the cooking vessel is not the traditional shape of a tian, this dish would be referred to as a "tian". The shape of the tian is a straight sided ceramic dish,  with a narrow base spreading out to a wide rim that has a pouring lip. You will see these at many markets and in stores.
Ratatouille: A vegetable mixture (usually tomatoes, eggplant aka. aubergines, bell peppers, onions, garlic and herbes de Provence, but sometimes including zucchini aka courgette). Served hot usually as an accompaniment to meat, or cold as a starter.

One of my favorites for using leftover Ratatouille is to spread it thinly on a Galette Sarasin (buckwheat crepe) with a light sprinkling of cheese. Served with a green salad, it makes a delicious and easy light meal. I was first introduced to these at the L'Annexe Cafe on the Place de Montfort in Vaison la Romaine, where is it named the Galette Sarasin - Provencal.  They also serve many other varieties of "galettes" with other savory fillings.

Tapenade: Olive spread served on toast or with raw vegetables with “aperitif”.  It is readily available at  Provencal markets, and in any supermarket.

Anchoiade: Also for “aperitif” anchovy paste served in a similar manner to Tappenade.

Pissaladiere - "grown up's Pizza"
Pissaladiere:  Ina Garten described this dish on one of her "Barefoot Contessa" episodes as "a grown up's pizza".  It does indeed have a pizza base, and I have eaten it on a thin cracker crust style base, as well as a thicker base.  The topping is what makes it uniquely Provencal.  A layer of rich, golden, caramelized onions (and garlic), anchovies (my preference is for those preserved in olive oil), dotted with dark olives and sprinkled with a strong, sharp cheese (such as Parmesan) and herbes de Provence. mmm.......

These are only a few of the treats you will encounter in Provence during your adventures with a knife, fork and spoon.         Bon Courage .... Bon Chance .... most of all .... Bon Apetit!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Strawberry Festival in Carpentras - Fete de la Fraise

It's the Strawberry time of year again. Market stalls, supermarkets will look like this - and on restaurant menus, Fraise de Carpentras will definitely be one of the desert choices ...

Fraise de Carpentras or Strawberries from Carpentras are well known and very much a favorite in Provence and throughout France. 

 As you drive through the countryside here, you will see the long dome shaped green houses that have been protecting the fruit during the cold weather.  

On the road  from Carpentras to Pernes les Fontaines, the rond point in the village of Velleron .....

You know that you are in serious Strawberry country when a nearby Rond Point (Roundabout),  displays a "geant fraise" decoration.

 Next Saturday, April 21st , the City of Carpentras (about 20 minutes drive from Sablet),  will host its annual Fete de la Fraise or Strawberry Festival.  This year's guests of honor are.... la fraise de Wepion .. Strawberries from Namur in Beligum ... accompanied by their growers!   All day long, beginning at 10am and ending at 8pm,  visitors both adults and children alike will take part in the festivities which will include ........
The parade of the Confrerie de la Fraise (Confraternity of the Strawberry), who devote themselves to the preservation of the quality of the fruit from this region....

Clowns,  make up artists and art projects for the children ...

Gastronomie .... lots of strawberry snacks, wine tasting (of course!),  and a Strawberry Tarte Competition!

Patisserie cream on a flaky crust, topped off with loads of rich red strawberries from Carpentras! Yes .. this one's a winner.  #1 

More place winners ... again from a previous year ... yum! Wish I could be there.  Does #10 look like little strawberry cornets with some kind of yummy filling? Wonder what the filling is? Perhaps cream cheese "perfumed' with local lavender honey?
Since I can't be in Provence for the Fete de la Fraise this year ... I will just have to have my own celebration with one of my favorite strawberry recipes ... Pavlova with Strawberries
like this one... this is one of my favorite and easiest recipes (and definitely make ahead friendly!)

If you are in Provence on April 21st - and would like to visit the Fete de la Fraise you can find more information at:  http://www.carpentras.fr/decouvrir-carpentras/temps-forts/fete-de-la-fraise-2012-1497.html

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cycling in Provence

No matter what time of year you visit Provence, there is a picture you can count on seeing – bike riders – sometimes in larger groups – sometimes just one or two – out enjoying the scenery and sightseeing in Provence their way.

Fun and fitness in the "plein air" of Provence
Since we have owned la Baume des Pelerins in Sablet, we have come to know many more of our guests who are in Provence for one, two and sometimes three weeks to enjoy all of the  spectacular scenery, charming villages and history, that a Provence bike riding vacation brings.

Even in the middle of winter, cyclists find Provence a very attractive venue for excursions

Why after la Baume? I asked myself the same question when I noticed the trend.  It’s because la Baume has a lockable space, the “baume”  in which bicycles and all the riding equipment can be securely stored and out of harms way, which can be something of  a rarity in Provence vacation rental homes, especially in small villages where the streets are narrow and garages are not common.

Bravo! This is quite a ride and quite an achievement

The Vaucluse has a lot to offer bike riders of all capabilities.  For riders like me, there’s  lots of “flat land” riding,  and for more ambitious riders, a mixture of flat and mildly hilly rides.  For experienced riders who are ready to tackle the more arduous outing, Sablet is within close proximity to Mt. Ventoux which has been included on the Tour de France circuit more than once!

Ready for a day on two wheels
Many of our guests have told me that they particularly enjoy planning their rides to take in sites they want to see, often stopping  to visit towns and villages, sometimes on market days, to pick up supplies for picnics, visiting points of interest, and often bringing back local specialties for a delicious and relaxing evening meal, in the cool and intimate space of the baume.

Spectacular Scenery

If a Provence Bike riding vacation is in your future …  here is some information that I hope you will find helpful, about rides that you may enjoy in the Vaucluse.


This cycling route is one of the many preplanned routes prepared by Tourisme en Haute Vaucluse and available at the Office de Tourisme in Sablet and those throughout the Vaucluse.  These routes are centered around tourism themes such as "Landscapes of the Cote du Rhone" which gives the riders an opportunity to do some sightseeing in areas that interest them whilst enjoying the ride.

This ride will take you through the vineyards of Appellation d'Orignine Controllee Cotes du Rhone all with the backdrop of the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mt. Ventoux. You will visit many scenic villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Sablet and Beaumes de Venise

PARKING:  Place du Marche - Beaumes de Venise
DISTANCE:  33 kilometers/ 20.5 miles
DURATION:  3 hours
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY:  Intermediate riding

Circuits re signposted
Each route shows the distance in kilometers, the riding time, the degree of difficulty of the ride, a vertical cross section graph that shows you the hills and flat areas, a guide on where to park the car once you have reached the beginning point and stage be stage directions.

If you plan to bring your own bike, your travel agent or Airline will advise you on specific requirements for transporting it. This will include details about proper packaging, how you will have to handle your bicycle if you have connecting flights and customs regulations.

Train Travel in France:  You can take your bicycle on any train in France, however if you plan to travel on the TGV (fast train), you will need to reserve a space for your bicycle as well as reserving a seat for yourself.

These bikes from "Velopop" are available for rental around certain towns and cities.  They are not suitable for a riding circuit in the countryside. Avignon has 17 stations where you can rent a bike to get around the city.


You can also very easily rent bikes and other equipment at specialty Cycling stores in the area, especially if you wish to perhaps spend just a few days of your Provence vacation on two wheels.
IMPORTANT - If you plan to rent a bike, experienced riders tell me that it is advisable to bring your own REAR VISION MIRROR if you have one that you are used to using when riding.

Rental and Repair
Location: 9, rue des Ormeaux
Tel: 0490 287 786
Need a break from your helmet?
Mag 2 Roues                                                                    
Rental and Repair
Location: Cours Taulignan
Tel: 0490 288 046
Orange  84100
Cycles Dupont
Rental and Repair
Location: 23,avenue Frédéric-Mistral
Tel: 0490 341 560
Cycles Olivier Trousse
Rental and Repair
Location: 176, rue de l'Irlande
Tel: 0490 517 161
Cycles Picca
Rental and Repair
Location: 544, avenue de Verdun
Tel: 0490 516 953
Rental and Repair
Location: 571, boulevard ƒdouard-Daladier
Tel: 0490 341 651
Provence Rent Bike
Bike tours, journeys, rentals. Tours include Around the Ventoux, wine, olive oil, antiques, markets of Provence.
Location: Sport Aventure; 1 Place de la République
Tel: 0490 347 508
Email: info@provence-rent-bike.com
Carpentras  84200
Automne, Michel                                                                 
Rental and Repair
Location: 14, rue Vieil-Hôpital
Tel: 0490 633 712
Espace Deux Roues
Rental and Repair
Location: 258, avenue Notre-Dame-de-la-Santé
Tel: 0490 600 225
Rental and Repair
Location: 233, avenue du Mont-Ventoux
Tel: 0490 600 024
Le Route de Ventoux
Rents a limited number of high-end bikes.
Location: 293 av. Victor Hugo
Tel: 0490 670 740; Fax: 04 90 60 39 84
Thorn Bikes
Rental and Repair
Location: Chemin Saint-Gens
Tel: 0490 635 077
Gigondas  84190
Gîte d'étape de Gigondas
Tel: 0490 658 085

Ubiquitous in Provence

Bonne Route!

For More on Bike Riding in Provence: Tour de Sablet