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.

Cotignac Petit Poucet Walk

The « Petit Poucet » Walk (8.5km, 170 m climb, marked yellow and black)

From the centre of the village take the rue de l’Araignée (a hill next to Chez Loli restaurant). At La Bouide, make a left turn. The small lane will lead you to the Cassole river where you will see a beautiful waterfall to the right.  Continue reading Cotignac Petit Poucet Walk

Cotignac Circuit Walk

The health course (« parcours de santé ») aka « Circuit Walk »- 3km

From the cemetery situated just behind the village church, follow the signs with arrow and sun symbols which will lead you to the bottom of the cliffs, then over to the road that climbs up past the old silk factory (rue de la Puade) then to the two forts at the top of the village cliffs.  Continue reading Cotignac Circuit Walk

Mirabeau Wine Review

I love a good rosé but sometimes feel like the world of oenology and viticulture is a too complicated collage of mystery and secrecy to ever feel knowledgeable enough about wine. I know I prefer a Pinot Noir to Cabernet, and Chablis to Sancerre but when I first arrived in the Var, I didn’t know much about how wine was really made.
Continue reading Mirabeau Wine Review

Cotignac Market

Every Tuesday and all year ’round Cotignac comes alive with the hustle and bustle of its outdoor market. The vendors sell vegetables and fruits (much is organically grown locally), honey and olive oils, clothing and gift items. Summer markets are extremely busy with parking hard to find, so the best time to visit is outside the July/August months.

Cotignac Fontaine de Quatre Saisons

The Four-Seasons Fountain is one of Cotignac’s landmarks, where people gather to meet or sit for a coffee at one of the many cafés around it. The fountains sits almost at the top end of the Cours Gambetta and the water from it is potable and is even used by the restaurants. The fountain was a gift from the Templars back in the 1700s and is owned by the Commune of Cotignac.

Best Beaches

The best beaches are not easily shared by locals here so Provence-Living readers benefit hugely from this information. If less bling and more nature is your style, head to Bormes les Mimosas where you’ll find less crowded pristine beaches at Forte Bregançon or Estagnol. And if you like good wine, you’re in for a treat because the best domaines like Chateau Leoub and Ott are close by and worth a stop-off! From Cotignac, Théoule sur Mer (in the Cote d’Azur) is also a good beach to visit as by car, it takes actually LESS time to get to than the beaches in the Var. In 1 hour and 10 minutes you can get to exclusive and beautiful beach restaurants in Théoule, just a hop skip and jump afterwards to glitzy Cannes for dinner, say. St Tropez’s Pamplonne has the most bling-bling beaches in the style of Club 55 of course, but other restaurants are just as great and less expensive (like Key West Beach and Tahiti, for example). Enjoy the heat and be careful not to drink too much alcohol in the hot, hot sun!

Cotignac Flea Market (Vide Grenier)

Cotignac welcomes all buyers and visitors this June 1st 2014 (Sunday) with a ton of locals selling their used (and sometimes antique) items like dishes, silverware, furniture, clothing, jewelry, decorative items and much much more. The local parents’ committee (AAPE) will be serving up crêpes (sweet and savory), hot dogs and sodas, and of course chilled rosé wine at very reasonable prices so bring your whole family and enjoy the fun. This June’s flea market takes place at the Place Neuve, the Cours Gambetta and the Place de la Mairie.  For more information, contact us here at Provence Living.


Living in Provence-Verte

Four years ago I moved my young family from the glamorous, cosmopolitan and touristy Côte d’Azur to the slow-moving, vine-growing, peaceful life in Provence, in the heart of the Var department of France. What I expected was boredom, isolation, a country-bumpkin life-style with equally parochial people, dull and most of all very French. To my pleasant surprise, however, I had it all topsy-turvy.
Continue reading Living in Provence-Verte

Living in Provence Verte – Part Three

A little piece of village life: George Vassal’s Pot-au-feu in Cotignac

I had been dying to meet George Vassal – ever since first reading about him in an article featuring him hunting his own food in a New Zealand magazine called the Wellington Guide. To me, he was one of Cotignac’s minor celebrities, keeping a low profile while giving birth to stunning pieces of art outside his front porch, sharing it for all to see on the path to les grottes, delighting tourists on their circuit just after passing through the tunnel under the medieval clock tower.

George is a talented artist/sculptor, whose iron and multi-media work (pictured below) can be seen decorating the gardens and pathways just under the cliffs and near my village house a few steps from the  place de la Mairie.

Artwork by George Vassal

And, like the article in the magazine confirms, he’s also something of an accomplished cook– he has won numerous regional soup competitions recently. George hunts his own crayfish, mushrooms and truffles. So when he invited my husband and I over for dinner one night, asking us to judge his pot-au-feu against another neighbour’s, I could not resist. When George Vassal invites you to dine on his cuisine, a foodie like me lets nothing stand in the way of attending the occasion. And my instincts were well-rewarded; I had no idea pot-au-feu was anything to write home about but on that occasion I was blown away with the discovery of what meat-in-broth could do to the senses. That parochial dish could have been awarded a medal.

George Vassal

George (pictured above) had invited other Cotignacéens to the dinner too. One couple, whose family had been here for generations, talked about the great landslide of the 1920s which happened again in the ’60s. They refuted the more popular belief that tens of people were killed when their homes were swept down the hill from the part of the cliff that fell after heavy rains. Apparently, the villagers were given plenty of warning in the form of hours of the grumbling and trembling earth underground and everyone – including livestock – were evacuated in time before their homes were destroyed. What they came back to, however, was years of clean-up and more often than not, the acceptance of their homes being no longer habitable and therefore needing covering up or leaving as is. Some of their entrances can still be seen just above stone walls that have been built to block doorways. Other building remains can be seen in the form of half-destroyed walls, stairs, or windows. They are a scary reminder of how the power of nature and inevitable passing of time can destroy the ephemeral beauty of landscapes no matter how well they may be looked after.

Cave dwellings in Cotignac

Cotignac’s cliffs are actually a troglodyte mass of passages that have grown out of hundreds of thousands of years of limescale and stalactite formations. Between the 1500s and late 1800s these cliffs provided caves (pictured below) that housed most of the village’s habitants. During the dinner I found out that we knew the neighbours living in the house that was featured in the top 10 “most original houses in France” (local channel M6’s programme that aired 22nd November of 2010).

The Caves in Cotignac

The home featured on the television show was built directly onto the cliff. The couple who own it took great care in refurbishing and decorating the interior, keeping to tradition but using colourful, Moroccan accents to curtains, cushions, etc. The mix works particularly well with dark wood – seen mostly in beams that are used to support floors and roofs in this area.

Although George’s home was a more modest version of a maison de village in its cosier spaces, it was still old-style charming and decorated with his art and hand-tiled tables. The eight of us squashed ourselves into a large table that took up almost the entire space of the kitchen floor. But it didn’t matter – everyone was in a jolly mood, filling tummies up with the hearty, blissful pot of beef and copious amounts of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

George deliberately separated the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and shallots) to make a confit, reduced further from the broth which concentrated the flavour of the meat by taking the soupy part out of it and taking its sweetness from the starchy legumes. The beef itself (various parts of the animal not consumed as normal cuts for grilling or pan-frying) had been lovingly cooked over such a long period of time it literally melted off the bones as well as in the mouth. The other pot (his competition), of meat and veg was certainly good enough to eat…but it wasn’t exceptional.

What was George’s secret, I wondered. He wouldn’t tell me but I will find a way to bribe him one day. I must learn to make pot-au-feu like George did – it’s such a terrific way to feed the family – or even exigent guests – on a budget while feeling rich at the same time. And when I do, I’ll share it with you!

Newsflash: George can sometimes be available as a personal chef  (chef-a-domicile) for anyone who would like to try his cooking in the area. This is great news for anyone too lazy to cook for a dinner party but still wants to really impress the guests with locally-sourced-cuisine. Contact us for more info.