All posts by Susana Iwase Hanson

Susana grew up in Asia and California and received a Bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree in International Marketing from Bradford University in the UK. She moved to Provence in 2002 and learned French. She also speaks Japanese. Susana is active in the village of Cotignac where she is mother to two girls, two cats, and wife to a ski-freak Frenchman who now works for Mirabeau Wine. She runs a property management business (Provence Living Consulting) and in her spare time likes to entertain and make sushi whilst drinking lots of rosé. Susana also serves Cotignac as an elected official in charge of Communications and foreign resident relations under Mayor Jean Pierre Véran.

Driving in France and passing the exam “le code de la route”

If you have a European driving license or are from a country or state in the US that has an agreement with France you are lucky in that you can usually exchange your license for a French one by doing some paperwork via the nearest “prefecture.” This can take a long time but I have heard that most people who succeed at this get it back within a year. My unfortunate circumstance was having a California driver’s license which I renewed every five years but was stuck in the grey area of legality. Since it was coming up for another renewal and I felt I was paying too much money for automobile insurance I decided to put my foot down, pay the 1,000 euros to the local “auto-ecole” and start my lessons while complimenting those with practice tests on the internet (an extra 40 euros but well worth it).

There is something about putting down hard-earned money for an educational course; when you know you have no choice and cannot afford to fail, you do what it takes to learn what’s needed to pass. The cost seemed unfair but it did raise my level of commitment to the challenge. My frustration at the fact that I have been driving for more than 33 years was nothing compared to my worry of how I was going to find the time to study while being busy with a full time job, volunteering for the village, running a household with children, and blogging as a hobby. It took me over three months (with a short break for Christmas) but I managed it in the end. Here is my story with which I hope to help foreigners who are thinking of doing or need to do the same.

I have heard of the right for English speakers to have a translator present during the exam, or the possibility of taking the test in English but I have never actually seen this in practice. I did not get a translator because 1) it would have cost more money and hassle to get someone that was accredited come with me to the exam and 2) living in the rural Provence makes this option almost non-existant (it is likely more easily available in larger cities like Paris). When I asked about this option at the auto-ecole, the clerks looked at me with big eyes and simply responded “I dont know what you are talking about.” So, if you are living in a big city in France, do ask should you feel more comfortable about paying for and taking this option but if not, do it the hard way, ie, in French, like I did.

One of the reasons the French driving theory exam is so difficult is because of how many of the questions are simply not straight forward with regards to grammar. There are double negatives like “would you not let your passengers get out on the traffic side of the road instead of nearest the side walk if you were in a hurry?” Answer: yes or no. The correct answer is yes. In otherwords, you would not let your passengers do so as it would be dangerous. But really, wouldn’t it be more logical to ask without the double negative in the sentence? Of course it would, but that wouldnt be difficult enough. When I started my driving lessons with an instructor she told me to prepare myself for something they, the French, make very hard to pass…on purpose. But having gone through the laborious process I do feel that I have learned a ton about not only the driving code but about French culture and how the people think which helps a great deal in communicating with them, as an etrangère.

France is a country where children are generally encouraged to learn about life the hard way. Parents do not worry too much about not putting up a safety net on a trampoline or leaving sissors arranged in a cup in the middle of a class full of two and three-year olds. Up until recently there was an annual event here, run by the local parents’ committee, that celebrated “Le Feu de la St Jean” where they would have a bon fire and kids would have to run through it to prove they were brave enough. A couple of years ago though, an eight-year-old burned her legs quite severly, needing hospital care. So the event was canceled, finally, for the indefinite future. As an American growing up in a culture where lawsuits were common and huge sums of money would compensate victims, this was one of those jaw-dropping moments of life in France that was incomprehensible for me. But I one does get used to it.

So there was no surprise to see a question on a practice driving test exam like the following: you are driving through a crosswalk, the light is green for traffic, but there is a pedestrian already trying to cross the road – do you stop or do you keep going? The correct answer was: keep going. The pedestrian should know better than trying to cross on a red light.

Apparently the law has changed recently stating that pedestrians, no matter what the circumstances, always have the right of way. But the fact that it took the French so long to change the law (it probably took a few pedestrians to be run over at crosswalks for this to kick in) took me by complete surprise. So I had to look at the practice exams from a different perspective. I had to do my best to pretend to be French, to see their logic, sometimes in contradiction to my own, in order to click on the correct answers. Another example of this was being asked if there was a height limit on a trailer. I made the mistake of saying yes (well, duh!). But French law does not stipulate a height limit on what your trailer can transport. Of course you’ll feel rather stupid if you run into a tunnel and of course you’d be the one to flip the bill on any damages. On the other hand, they do require that car and truck loads on the roofs do not pass the length of your vehicle in front, and no more than 3 metres to the rear. Well, thank goodness for that.

There are 1,500 possible questions for which you’ll need to study the answers to. For the exam, 40 are taken randomly from the various subtopics like “other vehicles,” “road circulation,” “passenger security,” “the environment,” and “technical features and mechanics of the automobile.” I found that the most difficult questions were ones related to alcohol consumption, and how much was tolerated per miligrams of air exhaled as opposed to grams of alcohol per litre of blood. There are various ways of measuring alcohol as opposed to drugs (more French fun logic: “les drogues” do not comprise alcohol) and you’ll need to learn about that. To pass the exam, you need at least 35 correct answers. That means you’ll need to score 88 per cent or more. The official success rate for passing the theory exam was posted this year at 59 per cent. But if you are not a native French speaker, I would guess this rate would be lower and that the effort it takes is double. The tests take place in town halls or municipal building rooms with about 10 places equipped with tablettes and earphones. It takes about an hour from start to finish with some guidance in the beginning. The scores are sent to participants within the day (usually in the evening) by email.

Do not let me discourage you from this experience. Do remember that most of the questions are silly. I’d say half are really easy and anyone, even my 10 year old, could answer them correctly. The rest require some time to memorise and a little discipline in your schedule to learn gradually and building that basket of knowledge behind all those signs on the roads, what to do in an accident, which lights to use in different weather conditions, etc. It’s one of those things you will not be able to cram for, like I used to when I was young and at university. But if I can do it, so can you.

I still have some hours on the road with my instructor to complete and then I will pass my driving (practical) test with a government worker who specialises in this, someone I will not know personally, who will pass or fail me. Stay tuned if you want to know more. 🙂

Circuit walk Notre Dame to village

In addition to the popular “parcours de santé” (which starts in the village and goes up past the Medieval forts, to the chapelle St Martin, and back through to the village via the Derroc and Trompines waterfall) there is a way to walk up to the Notre Dame de Graces (sanctuary frequented by over 100,000 Catholics per year!) without having to come back the same way. You can walk past the oratory on your left, the abandoned old house on your right, keep going about a kilometre then make a right into a small rocky path (so you should have some good walking shoes on) that will take you down into the Derroc neighbourhood of Cotignac. From there you’ll see the big waterfall on your left, cross the food bridge over the river that leads into the Cassole, then back into the village via the cemetery and notary offices. January and up to the month of May really is the best time for some nice walks around here in Cotignac. Enjoy the fresh air!

Cotignac Christmas Market 2018

The most exciting time of the year for children is of course Christmas and Cotignac does not miss out on providing heaps of entertainment for them (and for us adults too!) at the annual Marché de Noël. This year we had a bit of a washout as the weather was dull and drizzly on the 16th of December, but most people came out in the morning and had lunch indoors. There were two concerts (one at the church and another at La Falaise) but the fireworks had to be cancelled. If you missed it this year, not to worry next year should be even better! We wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas from Provence Living in Cotignac. xx

Mas de Brulat and restaurant L’Olivier in Le Castellet

Having lived in London and Yorkshire for a few years (after moving there from Los Angeles) I was always impressed with the way Brits did interiors. Maybe the weather has something to do with the fact that they generally concentrate more on the inside of a house than the French. Overall, in my opinion, the Brits are pretty good at it and the new owners at Mas de Brulat are no exception.

It’s always a great pleasure for me to discover luxurious, new accommodation like that of Mas de Brulat in Le Castellet. It’s like a secret because you’d never expect from the outside of this place that it is quite as sumptuous on the inside. The warm and hospitable Su Stephens (English, of course), purchased the run-down maison de maître a few years back when she fell in love with it, seeing its potential with her skilled eye for restoration and exquisite taste in interior design.

The small hotel is like one big house, located in the hameau of Le Brulat, just at the bottom of the perched Medieval village of Le Castellet (which in and of itself is worth visiting by the way). There is a proper entrance hall which takes you straight through to a stunning bar and stylish restaurant called L’Olivier. It has 8 bedrooms with en-suites, some are spacious suites for up to four guests and others are very well equipped rooms with super comfy mattresses and everything you’d expect from high-end accommodation with pluses like Nespresso machines and big flat screen TVs. The rooms are all named after grape varieties like Rolle and Carignan. I stayed in the room with a bath which was particularly nice (but I kept thinking this would be so romantic with a partner). There was an individually controlled interior temperature station too so I never felt cold or too hot. 

The Mas de Brulat has a relaxing outdoor terrace perfect for those Summer aperos or outdoor dining in the Spring. The terrace overlooks a well landscaped garden with olive trees on one side and big swimming pool on the other with areas to sunbathe. The bassin is filled with large carp and of course, like all great Provençale auberges, there is a boules court for those lazy vacation afternoons with a glass of pastis peut être?

The colour palette of the interior is rich in teal, dusty rose, and greys and the occasional splash of bright mustard. The moment I walked into this place I felt warm and welcomed by the well trained staff, the high ceilings and squeaky clean bathrooms. The bar is by far the most attractive room not just for it’s rich teal colour and bright wall fresco but because it’s a proper bar that can make real cocktails (!!) Why this concept is so rare in rural South of France, I will never know. The Mas de Brulat-house-cocktail with champagne and bitters, a curly orange peel and a cube of raw sugar cube was, quite frankly, perfect.

The restaurant seating is located adjacent to the bar and on the way to the outdoor terrace. It’s decorated with old photographs of the hotel back when it was a large house and the working women used to take their washing to the nearby lavoir to scrub it all by hand. Fast-forward to 2018 and you have a lovingly restored, much improved, thoroughly inviting and plush, escape – away from the hustle and bustle of city life or daily grind.  But what I loved most about the cuisine here is its simplicity. Using fresh local produce and quality meats, the salmon croquette (made with Japanese panko crisp) starter, the beef filet with girolles mushrooms and reduced red wine sauce, and Lardy cake (a caramelised breadpudding with what tasted just like American Egg Nog icecream) was to die-for, no joke. Yes, I felt full in the end but the kind of full you get from too much goodness and no-one forced me to eat it all, it was just too good to leave anything behind. The food, to me, was reminiscent of that from a gastro-pub, but a really good one. And with special Monday pricing of 35 euros for four courses this is hard to beat for a great way to start your week.

Coming-up the restaurant is offering Christmas eve and day as well as New Year’s eve menus and they look sublime – again, simple dishes like salmon smoked with Lapsan Suchong tea, foie gras with duck breast and poached figs, roasted pancetta turkey, cheeses and traditional French log cake. It’s so much more important to have quality ingredients here in the South of France, over fancy cooking techniques, and Mas de Brulat has this going on.  The new year’s eve menu includes lobster ravioli, oysters and prawns on ice, fusing typical French festive with best of British fare. I will definitely be coming back.

Hotel Mas de Brulat and Restaurant L’Olivier: 47 route du Grand Vallat, Le Brulat 83330 Le Castellet tel: 04 94 05 06 00    reservations@oliveandvines.eu, www.oliveandvines.eu

Olives and Vines also have a large villa just near this hotel for holiday vacations. Mas d’Avelines is just as luxurious with huge outdoor gardens and private swimming pool and outdoor dining areas.

N.B. If you are thinking of heading there from Cotignac the drive to Le Castellet takes you through some big vineyards and hilly roads but it’s not far, just an hour and 10 minutes’ drive via La Celle, Roquebroussans and Méounes.

Fontaine de Vaucluse

From Cotignac Fontaine de Vaucluse is about an hour and 40 mins’ drive but if you have the time and you’re a nature lover, it’s a MUST SEE place! Bring your hiking shoes and take an easy walk up from the centre of town (impressive town hall) to the mysterious “Source” where water fills up every winter and nourishes what is hailed to be the most beautiful river in the Vaucluse, La Sorgue. In the Summer there are stands filled with gift items, snacks, bonbons for kids, along the walk up and also a restaurant (listed in the Michelin guide) called “Restaurant Philip” established in 1926 with pretty yellow chairs right next to the bright teal-coloured water of the river. It’s cold but you could take a dip in it.  Continue reading Fontaine de Vaucluse

Arles

For many the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh come to mind when speaking of Arles. It’s the town where the famous painter’s masterpiece, Café terrace at night, was done.  Van Gogh died just a couple of years after his time here (1888 to 1889) at the age of 37, but the café still honours his work and enjoys a herd of tourists all year ’round.

Arles is also famous for it’s Roman ruins, in particular the old ampitheatre where concerts, events, and the controversial bull fighting take place. Since the 1970s there’s also a well-attended Photography festival that takes place every Summer (July – Sept).

If coming from Cotignac, it’s best to combine a visit to Arles with a stop over at St Remy, a smaller but more quaint and easy-to-walk-around town and shopping is fabulous. Arles is bigger, more of a city, and a little more crowded too but either you can spend a night in one of the other towns or do both towns in one day if you’re on a tight schedule.

Cotignac’s Fête du Coing (quince festival)

If you have never seen a quince before, you’ll be charmed by it’s pear-like appearance and delighted by the variety of cuisine it can be used in. From tarts to tortes and candy to jelly, this multi-purpose fruit goes a long way here in Provence. It’s Cotignac’s pride and joy and every year the village traditionally celebrates its heritage and harvest in October. This year the festival will took place on the 21st of October and if you missed it, do come back for it next year.

Continue reading Cotignac’s Fête du Coing (quince festival)

Bauduen in October 2018

Bauduen in the off season is sublime. Very few people are about, the lake is too cold to swim in so not many come for a dip, there are some on boats and I did see a team of rowers practicing. It’s mid October, and we are having an unusually warm Autumn. Bauduen is about a 35 minute drive from Cotignac, and at 470 metres above sea-level the temperature is slightly lower. Today it was 21 degrees celcius (24 in Cotignac) and perfect for a walk down the Lac St Croix, a kilometre to the tennis courts, and back to the village on the upper road to make it a short circuit of around 45 minutes, just enough to work up an appetite for lunch. From where the market is on Sundays, keep walking down (lake on your left side), past the first boat yard and onto the fire road. Keep going and you’ll eventually come to some tennis courts. Make a right bend back to the village.

You’ll see a lot of cats and dogs in Bauduen this time of year. The wild cats have a colony on the rocks near the water and pet dogs are out and about waiting to catch a friendly walker in the hopes of a little attention in the form of a stroke or pet. Continue reading Bauduen in October 2018

Summer nights in Cotignac

It is dizzying how much goes on here in the Summer time; so much to do, so little time! Sometimes I wish I were on vacation here rather than living and working, sigh… But I try and get out as much as I can, not only to enjoy myself but also to bring you cool photos 😉

Earlier this month my husband and I had dinner in Lorgues and Saint Maximin and on a week-day evening both towns were “dead.” But not here in Cotignac. Almost every night of the Summer months there is some kind of entertainment and with it, many people who come here. Our population quadruples during the busy months, from 2, 300 to over 10,000! During the day you’ll see fruit, veg, and clothing markets or brocantes (antique markets) or boules (petanques) and at night there are concerts, outdoor movies, the restaurants are full of vacationers and it sometimes feels like one big street party particularly on weekends.

Last night (Friday the 17th August) I went out for some rosé and white wine at Chez Didier (Petit bar de vin de Didier) on the Cours and shared a huge platter of Spanish tapas (charcuterie hams, pickles, tortillas and such) with some friends before heading for the closing night of the Summer film festival at the Théâtre du Rocher. We thoroughly enjoyed the wine (Didier is always very knowledgeable about local wines and works hard to please his clientele), greedily downed all the tapas then rushed through the buzzing night market (even happening at the Place de la mairie with more entertainment there by bands) over to see Spike Lee’s latest movie “The Blackkklansmen.” What a great evening! I very much recommend the film, even though I am biased being an American.

At the bottom of the Cours, the now much-in-demand DJ AMAXXY was spinning his cool music too, so last night, basically everyone in the shopping/dining parts of the village were being entertained, it was truly formidable!

If you find yourself in our village and are looking for things to do, here are some suggestions: visit the Cotignac Museum on the rue St Joseph, go see the latest exhibition (the famous artist Arène is having a retrospective show until end of Sept 2018) at the Centre d’Art, check out the temporary expo at Cercle des Arts (next to the church), climb the rocher (if you feel fit enough), shop the shops, and have a nice lunch or dinner at any of the restaurants. Wanna go wine-tasting? Try Mirabeau Wine (and their gorgeous boutique) at number 5 Cours Gambetta, you can’t miss it. Market day is Tuesdays from 8am until 1pm. If you are not that hungry, you can always opt for a wine bar experience with tapas at chez Didier’s on the Cours, Nestuby Wine bar, or La Table des Coquelicots in the back. And of course there are non-alcoholic drinks as well.

The next night market will be held on the 22nd August, Wednesday. The next big event will take place on the evenings of the 24th, 25th, and 26th August when the big village festival descends upon us to remind the kids to enjoy one last hurrah before school starts again.

Provence Living – what’s it all about?

This website has a popular facebook page also called Provence Living, www.facebook.com/provenceliving. We get lots of requests to share other peoples’/associations’/businesses’ information on it because of our reach (in high numbers). But I just want to clarify what this page and website are about because sometimes people misunderstand.  It is not about selling houses, or publicising every local event, or advertising summer rentals. Sometimes we share friends’ “for sale” items that include homes but this is not the main goal.

Provence Living is about sharing what is important in life and in rural Southern France and in particular, Cotignac. What’s important may be relative to different cultures but here it is: a great, low-key lifestyle geared around good weather, having clean water, pollution free nature, beautiful scenery, bringing together interesting people who love to share and are generous with their time which in turn churns out fabulous food, a variety of cooking methods, quality wines and time spent sharing outdoor entertainment. But it’s also about sharing what we know about how the French live. We are under their laws and cultural norms. We accept them and try our best to assimilate with them, learn their language, and take in the best of their traditions and joie de vivre. Provence Living is not about the newest technological gadgets for travelling, designer clothing or expensive interior decorations. Luxury is great on the odd occasion but it’s not a popular lifestyle here in the Var (see the Côte d’Azur for that kind of stuff). We try and share what’s useful, fun and affordable (with an occasional splash-out treat that might be merited), discoveries that may sometimes be delicious and other times just beautiful, like a glass of quality, chilled rosé sipped on the top of the Bessillon mountain overlooking a picturesque sunset (violins, please), or just cool photos of what can be seen here on a daily basis. Continue reading Provence Living – what’s it all about?

La Table de Bruno, Saint-Maximin-La-Ste-Baume

These days it seems rare to find a restaurant and feel like it deserved every penny you spent on it but this one’s a true gem and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you.

It takes about 35 minutes to get out to Saint Maximin from Cotignac. There’s little traffic after 7pm during the week and during the Summer so it was a pleasant drive. When we got there the sun was still out and the light was a lovely gold. We parked in the lot next to the Credit Agricole bank (rue Mirabeau, easy to remember!) and strolled across to rue Maréchal Foch where we were pleasantly surprised by the double entrance to the restaurant which was fully air-conditioned. It was a very hot day and just as heavy in the evening so that felt like a relief.

We were greeted by a typical French hostess/waitress (that means not outright friendly but reserved) that allowed us to choose our table. She brought over some aperos (little toasts with tapenade), some warm bread, and asked us if we would like a drink to start. We ordered a 50ml bottle of Saint Marguerite rosé (La Londe), my partner ordered a starter of the Mozarella buffalo, we each ordered a main dish of sautéed Iberic pork, and finished with a baked peach with strawberry ice cream. There was not one fault in this meal, it was simply sublime. The mozarella was perfect, the pork was succulent and absolutely delicious (10 out of 10), and the dessert was perfect, everything was home made, even the wine was fantastic. Our final bill came to 84 euros.  Worth every cent so of course I highly recommend this place but book early as they book up even during the week and I’m not surprised.

The only negative point for me, personally, was the decor. The purple chairs were okay, but the purple themed flower paintings were just ugly. And the background music that sounded like elevator music from the 80s wasn’t the best choice and maybe a restaurant consultant would notice these things but the good food made up for all these little details, honest!

La Table de Bruno, 2 Avenue Maréchal Foch, 83470 Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

Phone04 94 80 50 39

Restaurant Le Chrissandier in Lorgues

The last time I was at this restaurant was in 2006 when I wrote a review of the then 4 star-auberge at Chateau de Berne (which is now a 5 star establisment).  I had been invited to spend the night at the newly decorated suite at the auberge and since it was the first night they opened, the gastronomic restaurant was closed for the evening, so they suggested we try Le Chrissandier in the village. We were not disappointed, my husband and I each ordered the beef filet with truffle sauce and it was divine.

So it had been a while since I dined here but the restaurant’s reputation seems to have kept a high standard. Their Trip Advisor reviews are very good overall but I was surprised by the kitch decor: every single table (on the outdoor terrace) was decorated with fake (ie, plastic) red and white flowers. It reminded me of Christmas. Add to that the green and white striped shirt I was wearing and I felt much like a mint flavoured candy cane. Then when I ordered their special dessert of Mojito sorbet covered in Rum, well, you get the completed festive visual!

The first course of my 32 euros menu (formula of appetiser, main, and dessert) was a plate of scallops pan fried and covered in a light but sweet sauce and this, I admit, was pretty darn good. Then came my duck though and my first thought was “wow, that’s sliced pretty thin.” There must not have been more than 50 grams of duck on my plate if you put all the slices together, but it did look attractive fanned out on the plate with a cylinder of what I thought was Dauphinoise potatoes but turned out to be baked pasta (surprise!). The duck was covered in soy-based sweet sauce and so I couldn’t really tell if it was properly cooked “medium rare” like I wanted it. It just showed no colour at all. But with portions so small it was easy, of course, to enjoy my dessert of what they called “Mojito ice-cream” but it was more a sorbet in rum with real mint leaves on top. It was very good.

The service at the restaurant was “would-be-formal.” The waiters tried really hard to mimic Michelin starred and properly trained staff but you can tell they were very young and just starting or were temporary Summer staff. The dessert course took over 30 mins to serve but everything else was well timed. All in all, I give this restaurant a 7/10. If you are in the village and want to treat yourself, I recommend it. But at 84 euros for dinner (2 persons) just be warned, it’s not cheap.

Restaurant Le Chrissandier Telephone: 04 94 67 67 15 18

Blvd de la République
83510 LORGUES (just opposite the town hall)

Website: https://www.lechrissandier.com/

 

 

 

 

What we eat in the Summer

Provençale summers are all about spending long hours dining outdoors whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner – especially dinners! So what do we all eat around here? Well, I’ll share some of the best meals I have had, al fresco, with local friends both French and international. Cotignac is blessed with great weather but we also have a diverse population. Although 60 per cent are over 65 years old, our international residents and secondary home owners are a good chunk of the people here. Twenty percent are from Scandinavia, England, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and even Australia and Canada. Add to that my own cultures of American and Japanese and you get a melange of different cuisines too, which is a bonus. It’s always most economical to cook yourselves of course (as opposed to going out to restaurants) and although it’s work to entertain guests it’s always so enjoyable to relax with friends and family members that make you feel loved and appreciated for the gift of food and good wine.

In the Summer the best meals come with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and here in our local weekly markets you can find very tasty organic and locally grown produce in abundance. Melons, strawberries, flat peaches, apricots and of course grapes are all sun sweetened here. I have raspberries growing in my garden that I pick all Summer long. Apples, pears, and figs come at the end of August and can be eaten alongside fresh goats’ cheese or with parma ham, or just on their own. I turn our pears and apples into tarts and cakes and they last for months in the freezer. I love being offered home made jams made with blackberries or figs and these are quite typical to make here.  And who can forget barbecues with marinated pork, chicken, beef, and lamb – succulently delicious.  People here like to rub their meats with herbes de Provence:  a mixture of sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and rosemary. Just smelling the grilled meats reminds me of good times in the Summer evenings next to the pool.

When we get lazy and cannot fathom the idea of baking (too hot), we usually go to the local bakeries and buy cakes and miniardises (little after dessert treats). It’s so easy and not expensive and since it’s local it doesnt feel too much like cheating! The bakeries in Cotignac are Lou Gourmandises at the Place de la Mairie and Fournil de Pascal in the Place Neuve.

I am so grateful to the wonderful people I have met here and continue to socialise with on a regular basis. Personally I love to make sushi and share my knowledge of Japanese cuisine with my local friends as there are no Japanese restaurants close by.  So you’ll see some photos of my own creations too.

I hope some of these photos will give you some idea of what we eat around here and maybe inspire you to cook or simply prepare some aperitifs and simple meals (so much Summer food is more about preparing than cooking with heat) to enjoy with your guests whether in your own home or on vacation.

Bon appetit! -Susana

 

The “Village du Rock” 2018 concert in Cotignac

The Cotignac resident music producer Mr Ossy Hoppe generously puts on these super-energised, dance-worthy shows with the showcase band “Five and the Red One” each Summer. This weekend marks their 10th year of putting on these concerts so it’s a big deal!! Opening the starring band is Johnny Gallagher, a singer-guitarist that’ll simply wow you.

The event attracts over 500 people from all over and many visitors came to Cotignac just to see the show.  A BIG thank you to Mr Ossy Hoppe who donates his profits from the concert to Cotignac’s local associations and is a very valuable appreciated philanthropist here. He’s also known in the music world as a producer of popular music (rock) and we are very lucky to have his know-how and expertise in our little village, jewel of the Var.

The concert is scheduled for Saturday, the 28th July from 6pm when you can buy German sausages in curry sauce with fries on the Cours Gambetta, just near Mirabeau Wine. You’ll also have a chance to win a signed guitar by the rock bands Toto and Deap Purple (who wouldn’t want that??) by purchasing raffle tickets. But the real action starts from around 8:30pm and goes ’til midnight.

Tip: if you want to find a good parking place nearby, come early.

 

 

Cotignac Rosé Festival 2018, the photos!

At the third annual Cotignac Rosé Festival local producers (Nestuby, Caseneuve, Clos la Menardière, and the Vignerons de Cotignac) joined forces with Mirabeau-en-Provence for a sumptuous evening of music, dancing, food, and heaps of the finest rosé wine.  The first glass (imprinted in pink with “Cotignac Rosé Festival ’18”) becomes a collectible for just three euros and included a choice of wine.  Top ups cost just 2 euros, making this a very reasonable and convenient way to try the crème de la crème of Cotignac’s finest!

The crowd included locals and visitors, wine buffs and council members, and children too. There was a food truck serving burgers and fries, stands with local specialties like pissaladière, and the restaurants served themed menus and cuisine that went well, of course, with rosé. And the now very popular DJ Nick Boot spun out tunes from the 80s and 90s rock, pop, and disco, making the party atmosphere truly memorable.

There were volunteers too, that made the event one that brought out the true spirit of commaraderie and village unity!

The Rosé Festival aims to make the public more aware of the subtleties of fine rosé, a great deal more sophisticated (there really is an art skill devoted to creating them) than the more run of the mill and less refined rosés that are generally consumed by locals for daily consumption in boxes, for example. Provence rosés really are the best and continue to enjoy their popularity currently exploding and being enjoyed by exigent wine lovers all over the world.

For more information on the participants, check out their websites:

Mirabeau-en-Provence (in English and French): www.mirabeauwine.com

Vignerons de Cotignac (in French) : http://www.vigneronsdecotignac.com/

Clos la Minardière (in French): http://lamenardiere.com/

Domaine de Caseneuve (in French): https://www.vigneron-independant.com/domaine-de-caseneuve

L’Ecole du Sens (in French): https://www.terrisse.eu/

Stay tuned to Provence Living on Facebook (www.facebook.com/provenceliving) for information about the  next Cotignac Rosé Festival 2019!

 

 

Lavender, lavender!!

One of the best symbols of Provence is not just a vision but an olfactory-sensory-voyage to the land of purple heaven! So many people swear that the intoxicating fragrance from lavender helps one relax and get some deep sleep. I’m not sure about the scientific findings for this but I’d believe it!

From Cotignac you can get to the fields in about 45 mins (drive north) – you’ll pass them on the way to Moustiers Ste Marie if you’d like to combine that spectacular village visit (go North West via Aups, Moissac Bellevue, and Baudinard).  But remember, they are only in bloom from around mid June to end of first week in July every year. This year (2018) we had more rain over the long Winter and Spring, allowing them to go darker later, and as I type (2nd July) I can see they are still in their prime!

Did you know that lavender do not last long? Once planted they need replanting every 4 to 5 years. Bonne nuit 🙂

 

 

The upcoming Cotignac Rosé festival 2018

It’s the now famous and very popular Rosé Festival here in Cotignac and if you are a fan of rosé (um, who isn’t?) then it’s one party you do not want to miss. This year the fun takes place on the 18th of July, a Wednesday evening (to get over mid-week) and the “high” will take you straight to your weekend because you’ll have had a fabulous time and may even be a bit fatigued, lol. Mirabeau (mirabeauwine.com) hosts this event in collaboration with local producers who all bring out their top wines that make everyone seem to ooh and aah and dance the night away to DJ Nick Boot’s catchy tunes from the 80s all the way up to more recent funk and pop.

Last year’s fête saw Cotignac in grand party mode for a full seven hours. We loved all the pink-clad men and women, the groovy tunes and finger foods like burgers, crêpes, Italian sandwiches, and many other yummy stands. For three euros anyone could buy a glass with their choice of rosé wine (and get to take their souvenir glass home). Two euros topped the glass up. The ambiance and the decoration, the great wine and music combined really got everyone in such a good mood it was a joy to be part of, even though yours truly here worked her butt off.

La vie en rosé is alive and well in Cotignac! Photos here from 2017 to entice you all to join us on the 18th July this year 2018.

Day trip to Moustiers Ste Marie via Verdon Canyon

This is the best way to do a day trip to Moustiers-Ste-Marie from Cotignac:

Head in the direction of Aups via Salernes from Cotignac. If you go on a Wednesday or a Saturday you can stop by the fabulous Aups market in the earlier part of the morning (better chance to find a good parking spot). Then head to Moustiers via Lac St Croix on the East side (the fastest way to get to Moustiers) and you’ll pass the emerald green lake on the left. You’ll also go over the bridge at Quinson that overlooks the pedalos and canooers heading into the canyon waters which is spectacular. You can park just after going over the bridge and walk carefully over to take some photos on the bridge here if you like.

When you arrive at Moustiers, keep climbing to the second level where there is ample paid parking spaces if you get there just before lunch hour. Then head into the village and dine at any of the restaurants overlooking the stunning waterfalls. We had lunch at the Treille Muscates where the pasta with foie gras sauce was absolutely amazing.

From the second week in June, the lavender starts to bloom (it stays purple until about mid July) and you can take the road leading out of the village of Moustiers that goes through the fields. Then follow the signs back to the Lac Ste Croix then Baudinard to Aups (you’ll have done a circuit drive coming down the West side of the lake). You’ll be back in Cotignac by 4pm if you don’t hang around too late in Moustiers shopping, or you can stop and take a dip in the emerald waters. Either way, it’s a really ideal way to see this “must do” part of the Verdon park we’re so famous for in the Var. From Cotignac, Moustiers Ste Marie is about 45 mins to an hour’s drive.

La Table des Coquelicots restaurant in Cotignac

A local favourite, this restaurant has greatly improved over the last year in my personal opinion. I am also hearing more and more stories of positive experiences from visitors which makes me very happy.  La Table des Coquelicots has an extensive menu but their new week-day special formulas (called “menu special”) include three courses for just over 15 euros.  I could not believe the price so I had to try it. To my very pleasant surprise it was copious and delicious. Last week I had a salad and quiche starter followed by stuffed chicken (stuffed with sausage), pilaf rice, and a beautiful crême caramel for dessert. I paired all this with a glass of dry white local wine (extra cost of just 3 euro) and the coffee was also included. You cannot beat this quality for the price, I highly recommend the newly improved La Table des Coquelicots restaurant which also has a nice garden wine bar in the back!

La Table des Coquelicots, Cotignac: 10, Cours Gambetta, 83570 Cotignac Tel: 04 94 69 46 07

The tiny old village of Fox Amphoux

Perched on a hill, the old village of Fox Amphoux does not have a lively atmosphere but the views from the old prison roof are worth the detour! There is parking just at the bottom and you can take a leisurely walk up hill (not steep) and go around the circuit, stopping at the old prison. There is a sleepy Auberge here, next to the church and the most gorgeous Acacia tree, that has some pretty impressive reviews on Trip Advisor (called the Auberge du Vieux Fox) and a couple of restaurants just below and away from the village (Table de la Fanette and Chez Jean, the truck stop/hunters’ den). It’s only 10 km away from Cotignac and an easy 12 mins’ drive so do stop by if you’re on the way to say, Regusse, the Verdon, Montmeyen, etc. You can also come back via Sillans La Cascade for another walk down to the double waterfalls they are famous for (2 km round trip). There are a couple of cafés and a restaurant, Les Pins, in Sillans.

What impressed me the most about Fox Amphoux is how clean it was. The locals here are obviously very house-and-garden-proud, meticulously cleaning and restoring the old medieval houses regularly. Big thumbs up!