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.

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 so you can qualify for an optional bonus gift: an hour with me, Susana, for a personally guided tour of our village (in English), to accompany a wine tasting, chat over a cup of coffee, or take a brisk hike up to the famous lagoon waterfall of Vallon Gai – your choice, subject to availability 🙂

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

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

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?

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.