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.

Newly renovated Medieval Bastidon Tower

Le Chaudon Medieval Bastidon Tower is a truly authentic Provencal house. Newly renovated to high standard, this two-bedroom (sleeps up to four persons) property is located in an idyllic Provençal setting, surrounded by olive groves and vines and just 2km from the centre of Cotignac. There is five acres of space that includes terraces, a BBQ area, swimming pool (from May to October), fish pond and children’s play area.

The bastidon is a building of character with a rounded turret over three floors. The accommodation is laid out over two floors. The ground floor offers an ample open-plan living area and a fully-equipped state-of-the-art kitchen with induction hob, fan oven and full-size fridge/freezer. The living room has satellite TV with English channels, a sound system and a wood burning fire. On this floor there is also a toilet and under-the-stairs storage.

The two bedrooms are located on the first floor and are equipped with ceiling fans. The bedrooms share a full “Jack-and-Jill” bathroom, equipped with a washer and a dryer. The lower floor is the owners’ wine-making cellar, which can be viewed. The outdoor space offers a private terrace with table, chairs and parasol. There is also a playground for children with a swing set, a playhouse and a large sandpit. The owners live on the property but have their separate house. They look after the olive grove and the vines making olive oil and red wine. They are English-speaking but they also speak French, German and Spanish. They are welcoming and ready to share their knowledge of the area. The property is currently available for long-term rental until 15 May 2020 and then for holiday lets during the Summer. PRICE: 1,100 euros per month plus bills (electricity and water), Internet and TV included. July and August rates for 2020 are 170 euros per night for a minimum of seven nights or 4,000 euros for the month. September 2020 can be let out at 130 euros per night or 3,400 euros for the entire month. From October 2020 the price is lowered to 1,100 euros per month plus bills. Internet use and cable TV is included in the rental price. For more photos and reservations go to:
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/36592743?adults=4&source_impression_id=p3_1572701513_9%2FOK36FEa6MQHZMt

Or contact the owners directly at davidandmiruna@gmail.com

The Silk Farm Retreat in Le Thoronet

A charming stone villa nestled into a hamlet just near the famous Abbaye de Thoronet is the pleasant surprise that awaits those seaking a relaxing, healthy getaway. The Silk Farm Retreat is run by Shona Arthur who is an experienced and talented chef particularly where plant-based cuisine is concerned. She is also a yoga teacher, the perfect combination to host week long retreats in this most beautiful part of the world, La Provence.

I was immediately smitten by Shona’s charm. She was beautiful, welcoming, and chatty but not at all overwhelming. She spoke about her parents who had bought the house that she spent many happy childood memories in during Summer vacations. Her love of nature, yoga, and healthy cooking were obviously passions that dictate her daily life. I felt like I was breathing better just standing next to her.

But I wasn’t prepared for the seriously tasty aperos that were immediately served with luscious Mirabeau La Follie sparking rosé. Falafels made with chickpeas and sautéed sweet potato, polenta with guacamole, and an absolutely amazing vegan pizza made with “nozzarella” – to mimick mozzarella but made from cashew nuts, with fresh organic garden basil and roquette. Actually, it tasted better than the real cheese. This would have been enough as the entire meal but we went on to dine in a romantically lit covered pool house (next to the very pretty swimming pool) with Mirabeau’s Pure Rosé wine that accompanied a Thai salad (hints of spicy ginger with mint, basil, red peppers, slices of bamboo shoots and red cabbage) then a main of olive oil-infused chickpea cake with sautéed vegetables and fresh herbs. I have had a few vegan meals in my life but by golly, this was the best I have ever dined on, hands down!!

Shona talked about the many celebrities she has cooked for in the South of France. From extremely fussy vegans to meat eaters, she can cater for anyone’s needs but prefers the plant based diet 80 per cent of the time. She didn’t need to convince me. If every bite of a vegan meal tasted like this, I’d convert myself.

But back to what’s on offer: Shona hosts one week retreats for people looking to relax, retune, rewind, and rejuvenate over the clean air, walks through grape vines, swims in the local river Argens, yoga at the villa and be fully pampered with locally sourced plant based meals that are truly delicious, I can guarantee this and would recommend The Silk Farm Retreat as the perfect place to getaway from work related stress that too often creeps into our daily lives. A warm and attentive host, fantastic wine, fabulous food, and dreamy Provençal landscapes…you can’t get a better combination than that.

I raise a glass to Shona and her team and wish them the very best of success in this new adventure, they deserve it!

As a footnote: Le Thoronet is just a 20 mins’ drive from Cotignac!

For more information and availability, click on https://www.thesilkfarmretreat.com/

Ultimate Provence in La Garde-Freinet

The new wine domaine-slash-stylish guest house is situated in La Garde-Freinet about 45 mins north of St Tropez and 40 mins’ drive from our village of Cotignac. It opened in June of this year and I went to check it out 2 weeks into their opening.

At first glance Ultimate Provence looks really out of place. The Urban-chic look attracts a younger clientele, perhaps the rich St Tropez vacationers who couldn’t find a place nearer the coast or preferred to have a more spacious and relaxed feel without all the glitz and blitz. The tasting room sparkles to the contrasting heavy dark iron details; a mélange of New York loft à la plage. But it’s all new so it’s clean and impressive and certainly commands a “wow” reaction. Their wine bottles look like elongated perfume bottles with ridges that can’t be cheap to produce. They’d make great gifts.

The main hall leads one straight through to the tasting room on one side and the outdoor terrace where fluffy big white couches and wooden plank tables under thin bamboo rods for shade are inviting in an understated and carefree “Club 55” kinda way. It’s a pleasant feel of natural and modern comfort with the big sky above.

The service was a little awkward; the staff are still trying to get a feel for how things should be managed (nothing was very smooth and check-in took a good 20 minutes). But the bedrooms are nicely spread out, two-in-one town house buildings with outdoor entries, views of the vineyards from every building. There are no elevators anywhere, but some disabled-friendly-access-rooms on the ground floor. The gardens are impressive with modern fountains, a massive dark grey pool with dark stone plage and black showers and stunning mediterranean plants, lavender, and tall standing grapevines that adorned a long pergola to walk through. It was very romantic. The establishment is still going through some teething problems, not unexpected, since it is big and will eventually be popular but I get the feeling they never want to get crowded.

I opted for a glass of champagne for an aperitif, some of their rosé (very nice) with our meal, and although a bit disappointed with the sushi (being half Japanese I’m a huge sushi snob as I make it myself) the steak was great and the desserts very good. The beds were very comfortable, the huge breakfast spread was A-class, they had fantastic coffee, and filtered and home-gassed water in pretty bottles was offered without ever suggesting brand names, this was a huge plus. Overall I give this establishment an 8 out of 10. When they get used to how to manage the place I’m sure they’ll be overwhelmed with bookings in the future. Ultimate Provence does have that uber-cool feel but it’s not for those looking for an authentic Provence village experience. Come to Cotignac for that!

Domaine Ultimate Provence Hotel-Restaurant and Bar: 7270 route du Luc 83630 La Garde-Freinet 0494 85 29 10 www.ultimate-provence.com or click here https://www.ultimateprovence.com/en/

Cotignac Village House for longterm or holiday let

AVAILABLE FOR LONG TERM RENTAL or holiday rental from 3 nights’ minimum stay from November 1st, 2019 to April 1st 2020, then again from July 1st to August 31st, then from October 1st 2020. The house is booked on the following dates: April 1st – June 30th 2020 and then the month of September 2020.

Please email Susana at provencelivingconsulting@gmail.com to confirm availability and best price! Or if you prefer, you can go to the Airbnb listing (a little more expensive as it will require service fees): https://www.airbnb.fr/rooms/3771828

The house is fully furnished and located in the heart of the gorgeous village of Cotignac, close to all shops and restaurants:

Details of accommodation:
The village house, suitable for one, two couples or a four to five-member- family is just steps away from the centre of the village, but in a quiet neighbourhood (near the outdoor Théâtre du Rocher and the Place de la Mairie), has a new kitchen fully equipped with dining area on the ground floor, a master bedroom (one King size bed) with ensuite shower and toilet as well as a TV on the first floor, an additional bedroom (with 2 single beds that can be used separately or together to make one super king size) with separate bathroom on the second floor, and a large living room (convertible 4-poster futon bed) with bar and kitchenette on the top floor with 3 velux windows for lots of light as well as a TV and DVD player. A mezzanine is just above this floor where there is an additional single sized bed suitable for an older child or adult guest. In total, the house has 124 square metres of living space. Parking can usually be found about 30 metres away, but anyone can perch in front of the house to load/unload. Further parking is located about 150 metres down the road behind the newly restored primary school.

If you are interested in booking this house for your next holiday, please contact Susana directly at provencelivingconsulting@gmail.com or call +33 624 23 26 55. You can also book through AirBnB (site service charges apply): https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3771828?guests=4&s=pdK7

NB: interior furnishings may change slightly without notice, Maximum capacity 5 adults or 5 adults and one child

Bus schedules from Cotignac to Brignoles and Nice aeroport

Have you ever needed to take the bus to or from the aeroport to our village of Cotignac? You are not alone. Although time consuming and not always reliable, there are ways of getting to and from the aeroports (Nice and Marseille) by way of public bus via Brignoles, the bus depot in the main square across from the Post office. Brignoles is our nearest “big town”. From Cotignac you can catch the bus at the new stop that is now across from the Pharmacy and in front of Coti Brico on the D13. You’ll need to get off and transfer to another bus in Brignoles which will take you to the aeroports. To Nice they are more direct but to Marseille they go through Aix-en-Provence so they take more time. Bus schedules change frequently so if you understand French it’s always a good idea to confirm either by phone (08 09 400 415) or on the website info-ler.fr for the Brignoles-Nice-Marseilles lines run by ZOU! or for the Cotignac – Brignoles line contact the tourist office in Cotignac ( 04 94 04 61 87 ). If you simply wish to know the bus schedule between Cotignac and Nice aeroport (via Brignoles), read on.

From Cotignac buses to Brignoles run daily EXCEPT on Sundays. Departure times: 6am, 8:15am, and 1:40pm. The bus arrives in Brignoles at 6:50am, 9:10am, and 2:30pm. Please note that the earliest morning buses on weekdays from Cotignac are quite full with school kids.

From Brignoles to Nice aeroport buses depart at 10:05am, 12:20pm, 2:30pm and 6:45pm. Arriving in Nice at 11:35am, 2:30am, 4:45pm and 8:35pm.

From Nice aeroport to Brignoles bueses depart from Terminal 1 at 8am, 12:15pm, and 5:45pm. Arriving in Brignoles at 9:55am, 2:30pm, and 7:30pm.

From Brignoles to Cotignac buses depart Brignoles at 8:30am, 12pm, 5:10pm and 7:10pm. Arriving in Cotignac at 9:05am, 12:55pm, 5:50pm and 7:55pm.

But if you are able to hire a car from the aeroport I do recommend doing this as it gives you a lot more freedom to get around to places without hassle, albeit hitting your wallet on the deeper side. On the otherhand if you prefer not to drive yourself, there are also taxis and private shuttle services. 1) Moov83 www.moov83.com

2) Transports Clédana VTC 83 04 94 04 71 06 or 06 70 61 10 82

And should you ever be stuck somewhere you can always write to Susana here on Provence Living (by email provencelivingconsulting@gmail.com) and we will do our best to find a solution for you, even last minute 🙂

Book a villa through Terravana with code TVPL19!

Looking for the perfect holiday in our neck of the woods? Look no further. Terravana in Cotignac has a great selection of the best and their attention is on quality service and customer satisfaction. The company is run by two local Frech women who are experts on what Provence has to offer visitors. Combine that with Provence Living’s knowledge of our village and how it all works here for expats and anglophone tourists and you get the complete happy picture of a satisfied holidaymaker or future resident!

Take a look here at Terravana’s villa selection. If you have any questions feel free to ask them directly or here on Provence Living where I (Susana) will do my best to get back to you. When you are ready to book direct (this way you avoid Airbnb and Tripadvisor fees), be sure to mention the code “TVPL19” on the booking site for best service!

Luxury apartment for rent in Cotignac

This stunning and well appointed 2 level apartment is for rent from end of July 2019 until July 31st 2020. La Cotignanda has 3 bedrooms and an extra bed that can be closed off with curtains on the 2nd level. There is also a covered terrace with spectacular views of the rocher so when the village puts on its fireworks show (end of August and during the Christmas market), this is the VIP place to view it from! It would suit one or two couples for long term and for short term up to 6 persons (maximum capacity).

The apartment is fully furnished with good taste and is very clean (for non smokers only). There are two separate living areas, two bathrooms (with showers) and the best café and bakery are just forty steps away.

Views from the South facing windows are of the Place de la Mairie. All restaurants and shops are within short walking distance. The town hall is located next door. Bed and bath linens 100 per cent cotton, the kitchen is fully equipped with dishwasher, toaster, oven, etc, and there is a small room upstairs for the washing machine. Private rental with no agencies involved. Unfortunately due to stair access and uneven stairs in the apartment this rental is not suitable for young children nor the disabled.

Rental Price Guide (N.B. long term rental is also available from July 24th 2019, please contact the owner if the dates do not suit you, for a discounted rate at 3 months’ minimum stay):
Dates available in 2019 and 2020:

July 22nd – 29th 2019 (one week minimum) at 950 euros (includes bills*)

July 29th – September 2nd (one week minimum) at 950 euros (includes bills)

September 2nd – October 1st (one month minimum) at 2,000 euros (plus bills)

October 1st 2019 – June 29th 2020 (3 months’ minimum) at 1,600 euros (plus bills)

June 29th 2020 – July 27th 2020 (one week minimum) at 950 euros (plus bills)

*bills: electricity and water – cost depends on use

All bookings are subject to a cleaning charge of 65 euros at the end of the stay as well as a laundry charge of 10 euros per person. A security deposit of 500 euros for short term and 1,000 euros for long term rentals is requested, in cash, upon arrival and pending a property check, refunded at the end of the stay. All arrivals and departures must be made during the week with preference on Mondays. Weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) arrivals accepted only in exceptional cases where there are no other options, and at 50 euro additional charge. Thank you for your understanding.

To book, please contact the owner, Annee Bennison at: ann.bennison@icloud.com

La Bastide de Tourtour

The 23 room hotel-restaurant, located just past the church perched at the top of the hill in Tourtour, is perfect for a romantic getaway in the Winter.

It was a bit chilly at the beginning of February and Tourtour is known to be windy but the charm is still very much alluring and the views from the village were breathless. At first I was disappointed we didn’t have more sun but then I realised I was getting some really good photos of cloud formations and the lighting was decent. A walk into the village from the bastide is an easy 10 minutes. Tourtour is about a 25 minutes’ drive from Cotignac so you could easily go there just for lunch or dinner.

Continue reading La Bastide de Tourtour

Adventures in getting a French driving license

Part I: The theory exam (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).

Continue reading Adventures in getting a French driving license

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.

Continue reading Mas de Brulat and restaurant L’Olivier in Le Castellet

Village Visit Focus Part I: 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 Village Visit Focus Part I: Fontaine de Vaucluse

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.  For the moment we are not selling advertising. The site is an anglophone visitors’ and residents’ information blog highlighing local experiences in cuisine, sights, services, and what you’ll find in surrounding villages.

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?