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.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

On the Lavender Trail, Part 2

Saignon to Sault and Montbrun les Bains - then back to Sablet

It's time to leave Saignon, next on our lavender trail tour is a drive to the village of Sault, in the Vaucluse Mountains. It is one of three villages on the route to the summit of Mt. Ventoux.  During your short drive, look out for scenes like the one below, especially at harvest time.

During lavender season it is not uncommon to see sights like this in lavender country
- bundles of lavender stacked on a cart and left to dry in the warm Provencal sunshine.
The 50 minute drive from Saignon heading north on the D174 takes you to this village perché overlooking a wide and fragrant valley filled with row upon row of lavender. As you stand on the terrace of the Cafe and look out, all you see is a soft purple cloud of lavender all the way to the foot of Mt. Ventoux.

Looking down from the terrace of an outdoor cafe in Sault
Walking around the village, you will notice a number of attractive 16th Century stone buildings, where we still see traces of the medieval times in the floor arrangement of the houses.  Animals were housed on the ground floor of the home while the upper floors were used as living space with bedrooms at the very top of what are usually three to four storey buildings.  Very much like La Baume des Pelerins in Sablet you will see a large doorway or iron gate on the ground floor.  In the old town is also the Chateau des Agoult - home of the Barons of Agoult who ruled Sault for five centuries beginning in the 11th Century, and the Church of Notre Dame de la Tour with an adjoining Chapel of the Penitents Blancs.  As many hilltop villages in France, Sault was home to an active group of "maquis" (French Resistence) during World War II and a memorial in the village honors the brave members of that group based in Sault.

Looking up at the perched village of Sault from the  lavender fields  
Today, the atmosphere in Sault is one of relaxation at the outdoor cafes, and restaurants are full of bicyclists and hikers, who stop here for refreshments before tackling the 25 km climb up Mt. Ventoux. Although there are a number of leisure activities available for the outdoor enthusiast, including hiking, paragliding, shooting, horse riding and mountain biking - during the summer months, Sault is all about Lavender, culminating in a Lavender Festival each year on August 14th & 15th.

Some of the items you might see at the Lavender Festival in Sault
At the festival you will see the full array of lavender products, with the opportunity to take part in lavender themed games and competitions. The village streets are decorated with flags in lavender hues and bunches of dried lavender. Store shelves overflow with lavender honey, lavender creams and lotions, lavender soaps, lavender oil and essence and lavender sachets to perfume you cupboards and drawers. Sault's regular weekly Market day is each Wednesday.

The Lavender fields that surround the village of Montbrun-les-Bains, can be seen as you approach the village
Driving 12 kilometers from Sault to our next stop at  Montbrun-les-Bains will take you approximately 20 minutes along the D942, leaving the Departement of the Vaucluse and entering the Department of Drome.  A very picturesque village perche, that is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Montbrun-les-Bains has been a spa town since the 19th Century when it became well known for its health and beauty treatments.

Looking up at the village as you approach,  with its Renaissance Chateau and fortification
The village has many 16th Century buildings made of a light brown stone that cling to the sides of the hill
As it's name suggests, the buildings in Montbrun-les-Bains are of a light brown color that creep their way up the hill. The village is dominated by the ruins of the 16th Century Renaissance Chateau Dupuy-Montbrun, home of the well known Protestant commander, Charles Dupuy-Montbrun who built it to replace the old Medieval Chateau, that was demolished by Royal decree in 1560. The new chateau was one of the largest, most beautiful  chateaux in the region, and he lived there until  it was badly damaged during the Religious Wars,  when he was captured by the Catholic Baron de Gordes of Provence and decapitated.  

While the Renaissance chateau is not open to the public, as it remains in private ownership, one can get an idea of its splendor by walking around the perimeter of the building to view the exterior of the chateau.

Entry to  the old village is through the gate of the 14th Century Gate of the Clock.  Once through, follow the walking path.  The village church which was originally built in the 14th Century as a Catholic Church - integrated into the 12th Century fortification around the village, it has changed and been modified quite a lot over time.  It did serve as a Calvinist Temple during the Protestant uprising and Charles Dupuy-Montbrun's time.  But having been retaken by the Catholic Church, it was then remodeled and made larger. 

There are a number of fountains in the vieux village, from where a part of its name originates, but it is water from another sulfurous source that gives it the reputation it enjoys today of being a Spa Town.  It is well known for its medical and revitalization treatments, having had the first thermal spa established in 1860. Today, the Spa is reserved for medical appointments each morning, while afternoons are open to public appointments for spa and beauty treatments.
If you wish to visit the weekly market in Montbrun-les-Bains, it is held on Saturday mornings in the lower part of the village.

Sablet Village where the lighted Campanile shines brightly across the Plan de Dieu every night
It's now time for a one and a quarter hour drive back to Sablet, and having seen so many church spires ... here's the one to look for that will guide you back across the Plan de Dieu (God's Plain), to our lovely little village of Sablet.

Cooking with Lavender ...

If you would like to try another "lavender recipe" - here is one that I adapted from Susan Hermann Loomis's recipe in French Farmhouse Cookbook (I love this book) - it's an Apricot Jam recipe I absolutely swear by, and vary the fruit according to what fruit is in season, adding herbs as according to the fruit, as a little "Je ne sais quoi" in the background taste of the jam.

Susan Hermann Loomis's Simple Apricot Jam (with my addition of Lavender)

5 lbs Apricots, pitted
8 1/2 cups sugar
A good sized sprig of Provence Lavender 

1.  Place apricots & sugar in a large stockpot.  Stir, cover and let sit for 12 hours.
2.  When ready to make the jam, prepare 8, eight ounce canning jars with lids by sterilizing  them in boiling water according to the manufacturer's instructions.
3.  Place the stockpot with fruit and sugar on medium-high heat, stir and bring to boil.  AS the mixture boils, a pale orange foam will form on top.  Continue to cook the jam for another 10 minutes before you begin to skim off foam, then skim and discard the foam until there is almost no foam.  Watch the mixture carefully as depending on the size of the pot, it can easily boil over the edges.  Continue cooking and skimming until the mixture has thickened and turned a rust color - about 45 minutes. Add the lavender sprig to the mixture and continue to cook for up to 30 minutes.  Test the mixture for the strength of the lavender in you jam and remove when it is to your liking. Note: lavender can be a strong taste if it is left in the mixture too long, so monitor the taste during this time.  Remove lavender from the mixture when it is to your liking. The lavender should be a nice background taste and not overpower the apricot.
4.   Test consistency, place a very small amount on a saucer and place in the refrigerator, after a few minutes when the mixture is cool, if you can run your finger through it and it doesn't run back together, it will jell.
5.  Remove the stockpot from the heat and ladle the jam into the jars.  Seal according to the manufacturer's instructions.

I also like to make Raspberry//Lavender Jam when Raspberries are in season.

Bon Apetit!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

On The Lavender Trail - Part 1

In Provence during the early summer months the fragrance of Lavender is ever present.   

From Spring when the new growth pops out to mid-July/August when the harvest takes place,  it's unmistakable along Provence's Lavender route.  The sight of Provence's lavender fields in bloom, is quite breath taking - hundreds and hundreds of carefully manicured plants covered with light purple blooms, growing in endless, softly rounded rows, like a large lavender cloud. If you have the opportunity to walk amongst the rows of plants letting your hands gently touch the tops of the flower spikes, the aroma released by the plants is wonderful.

Part One ... From Sablet to Saignon ... via L'Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque

Beginning in Sablet, about two hours of driving will take you through some of the prettiest and sweetest smelling countryside in Provence - passing through historic sites, beautiful towns and postcard scenery.

What better place for the first stop in our visit to Lavender country, than at the Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque - a Cistercian Monastery surrounded by a sea of purple lavender fields. The first hour from Sablet via the D7, D4 and D177 takes us through vineyards, orchards, interesting towns - and perched hilltop villages with unusual features like the "bories" near the village of Gordes.

Descending along the winding country road from that picturesque village along the, you can feel the calm and tranquility of this place.  Prefer to hike in?  There is also a walking trail from Gordes - but make sure you have good directions as the Abbaye is tucked into a corner between hills. 

Driving up, the large Romenesque Abbaye, cloister, dormitory and chapter house appear to float on a cloud of lavender.

Founded in the 12th Century with the support and concurrence of the Bishop of Cavaillon and Raymond Berenger II, the Count of Provence, the Abbaye saw success and expansion until the14th Century. It had reached a high point with the ownership and development of the Church and adjacent buildings, large farming estates and several mills.  By the early fifteen hundreds however, it's influence and occupancy had declined to a point when, during the Religious Wars from 1568 - 92, it became a prime target of the Hugenots, who ransacked the Abbaye of valuables and destroyed  the living quarters.  

But .. worse was to come for the monks ... Two centuries later, during the French Revolution, the lands were nationalized and became the property to the Republique Francaise, as happened with all Churches already built in France at that time. The Abbaye itself was then sold to a private citizen and any remaining monks were evicted.

In the late 19th Century, it was purchased by yet another group of Cistercian monks, but their occupancy was rather short lived and they were expelled in 1093.  
Today's occupants are a part of a small community of Monks who returned to the Abbaye in 1988 to carry on the lifestyle and traditions of the Order. 
They support themselves and the Abbaye, by growing the lavender that has become such a notable part of the narrow valley, and by producing lavender honey and other items which can be purchased at the Gift Boutique. 

It is open to visitors (on a schedule) and still is open to the public for Mass. 

Moving down the trail ...

... From the Abbaye,  a drive through lavender fields along the D2, D4, D900 and D48 takes you to the serene village of Saignon which is built on a ridge of towering rocks that provided a natural barrier against invaders in times gone by.

An overview of the village of Saignon, looking towards the Romanesque 
                                    Church of Notre Dame de Pitie
A petit, though very charming village, it was Saignon's physical location which, as is true with all good real estate, gave it a distinct advantage. Served as a lookout point for invaders - its church bells sounded the alarm to surrounding areas, if the valley was threatened.

A fortress village with the distinct advantage of being built on a ridge of towering rocks
Although this village had been inhabited and used as a look out point since mid- Palaeolithic times, some 35,000 years ago it grew in significance during the Medieval era.  Within the village, three castles were built by three different lords! This together with the imposing 12th & 14th Century Romanesque Church of Notre Dame are quite remarkable for a village of this size. Its importance was well recognized, as the presence of these early buildings indicates.

In the center of the village square stands an imposing fountain that dates back to around 1820
Today, exploring Saignon on foot, we can enjoy the vestiges of the village's wealth during times gone by.  A fountain in the central village square, designed by a sculptor from nearby Apt, Joseph Noel Sollier, carries two statues symbolizing agriculture and abundance that comes from industry.

Saignon - Auberge du Presbytere

Saignon - Maison du Hauteur

Saignon - 16th Century Clock Tower
It is surrounded by finely crafted stone buildings, while a about one hundred feet from the fountain, stands a  16th Century Clock Tower and the old Castle Chapel which is built using the same rock on which the village stands - all are monuments to Saignon's impressive history.

... Now, half way on our journey along the Lavender Trail ... perhaps you've purchased some lavender or some lavender honey.   Lavender Ice Cream is always a good use for these delicious ingredients ... 

Lavender Ice Cream

2 cups Whole Milk
1/4 cup of dried Lavender
1/3 cup Lavender Honey
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of heavy cream

Combine milk, lavender and honey in a saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for approx 5 mins. (at this time, taste the mixture to make sure the lavender flavoring is to your liking, but remember you will be adding eggs and more cream, so balance the flavors but don't let it get too strong). When the desired strength of flavor is reached, strain the milk and discard the lavender.

Beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until very thick and light in color. Return milk to the stove and bring back to a simmer.  Add some of the milk to the egg mixture, whisking well to combine.  Repeat until approx half the milk mixture is incorporated and the egg mixture is tempered.

Add the egg mixture to the rest of the milk and cook slowly over a low heat, constantly stirring until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Stir in the heavy cream and remove from heat.

Let the mixture cool in the refrigerator and then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the instructions.  Place in an airtight container and place in the freezer to take it from a soft to firmer ice cream.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Trompe d'Oeil - The Art Of Illusion

I was recently browsing around looking for a large picture that would work for an indoor/outdoor space, and found this fun tapestry that is a little more than six feet wide by four and a half feet tall, which fits the space beautifully.  Now, every time we look at that tapestry, instead of seeing a white wall, we'll be instantly transported to a lovely terrace in Provence overlooking the vineyards.

A view across the vineyards through the stone arches

It reminded me of the very large painting that hung in the dining room at Les Abeilles - a striking and colorful view across a field of Sunflowers....
Sunflowers under a dramatic Provencal sky in the dining room at Restaurant Les Abeilles
It was so pleasant to look from at across the room - bright yellow sunflowers under a dramatic Provencal summer sky. Looking at that sky, you could almost feel a the intense humidity that builds up just before short but intense Provencal thunderstorms.  It hung on the wall opposite the large windows which looked out onto the courtyard, and really gave the feel of an indoor/outdoor space with sunflowers on one side and enormous plane trees shading the courtyard outside.

But ... art illusions are not restricted to indoor/outdoor spaces.  If you are travelling in Provence, keep your eyes open for the large murals in large and small towns and villages, often dressing up an otherwise rather plain space. Trompe l'oeil  - the art of tricking the eye by the use of perspective and lighting, has been used in Europe since the early Renaissance. Here are some more contemporary Provencal expressions.

In the village of Entreaigues ...

... the blunt end of a row of narrow village  houses, shows the occupants on a pretty upstairs balcony while downstairs a child plays near a water fountain sheltered under a stone arch.

A corner in the middle of Entraigues
On a walk through the pretty village of Venasque...

Venasque, Provence - a dog relaxes in the courtyard
... we walked past a narrow opening between stone buildings, and noticed a picturesque gravel courtyard - windows with colorful shutters where the family dog lay relaxing.  
Looking again, we realized that our eyes were playing tricks on us, but it was a very pleasant trick.

In the town of Loriol-sur -Drome ... one corner of an intersection takes our eyes to a neighborhood shopping area, surrounded by olive trees .. an stone arched door leads to ... perhaps another garden .. who knows ...

But in reality .. we are en route to the A7!

A busy intersection in Loriol-sur-Drome, Provence

Got a large blank wall? 

 Give it some decorative windows!

Or perhaps a fountain, like the one that adorns this exterior wall in Buis les Barronies...

Nowhere to plant a large olive tree? No problems, again in Buis les Barronies 

Buis les Barronies is in the heart of Olive growing country
Our "window view" towards Seguret in the kitchen at Maison des Pelerins
... And when we couldn't have a window above the stove top in the kitchen at Maison des Pelerins ...
... a very talented ceramic artist gave us one that looks at Seguret ... just like a real window in that wall would!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Symphony in Sablet

A Symphony in Sablet | Provence Vacation Rentals | Vacation Rental Homes | Sablet Home

On a beautiful October evening in Sablet ... we're all invited to a pre-dinner Symphony!

A view of the Dentelles de Montmirail from Maison des Pelerins on a beautiful October evening
... it all starts with an "affiche" posted in the window of the Casino Epicerie in the village square. We noticed it as soon as we arrived back in Sablet from our week on the  Canal Lateral de la Garonne in the Acquitaine.  The affiche explained the beautiful music we heard drifting in the direction of Maison des Pelerins from our next door neighbor - the 12th Century Church of St. Nazaire.  Since I love going to the Symphony, this was going to be such a treat - except this time I only had to walk next door! The group of amateur musicians had been invited to perform in Sablet by the Compagnons des Barrys - the very active historical and community organization, and Margret Storck, a professional photographer who lives in Sablet  and is  friends with many members of the symphony - this kind of activity is definitely one of the delights of spending time in a small village in Provence.

The interior of the Church of St Nazaire, Sablet

The Church starts to fill up as the Recital will start soon
The small church that normally holds around eighty people was beginning to fill up well before the appointed starting time of 6pm.

The Orchestra warms before the Concert
By starting time all the seats were filled - lots of neighbors and friends, along with some visitors to the village ... and people kept arriving ... even an hour after the concert had started people kept arriving packing in to the standing room only aisles and entry.

Presentation of the musicians
As the musicians stood to receive the audience's applause of welcome, the Presenter announced that "Tonight we will be taking a musical promenade across Europe", which we certainly did.  From the beginning with Handel's lively and upbeat Sinfonia "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from the Opera Solomon all the way to the end which was a presentation of "drei reumanische Volkstanze" (Rumanian Filkdance), by Bartok, we were treated to a wonderful variety that included Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach and Tschaikowsky.

The audience shows their appreciation
There was no doubt that the audience appreciated the performance, but the most incredible thing that we learned was that these were all amateur musicians who do this as a hobby!   At the end of the performance, we were all invited to join the musicians and organizers for an aperitif ... and more music.

The Celebration and aperitif
It was a spectacular beginning to the evening, followed by a walk down to  Les Abeilles for a delicious and very enjoyable dinner with friends.

C'est la vie Provencale ....

The Reviews are in and it's definitely a hit!
Many thanks to L'Orchestre de Chambre de Hambourg/Eimsbuettel for their magnificent performance and to the Compagnons des Barrys in Sablet and Margret Storck for the presentation of muscians. Thank you also to Margret Storck for many of the lovely pictures of the performance.
If you are traveling in Provence, be sure to keep you eyes open for the "affiches" that are posted in shop windows - it is the best way to find activities that are "off the beaten path"  in Provence.