Category Archives: village visits

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,

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


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.

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

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.

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!

Stunning Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence

A stunning “immersion exhibition” of art inside the quarries of Les Baux de Provence, this is a must stop in Provence.  This season’s collection features Picasso and the Spanish Masters which follows last season’s Dutch Rainassance artists Hieronymous Bosch, Pieter Brueghel, and the Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Les Baux de Provence is approximately one hour and forty five minutes’ drive from Cotignac.

For gorgeous photos, videos, and more information in English about the current exhibit click here.  Or go to:

Tourtour and their annual “Egg Festival”

Tourtour is set on top of a windy hill (elevation 900 metres) with sweeping views all the way out to Frejus and the Mediterranean with the Mount St Victoire between. The population is just under 500 but the locals are a tight knit group who put on one of the most amazing festivals (fête de l’oeuf or the Egg Festival) over the Easter weekend every year. You’ll find activities for children, live entertainment and restaurants participating with egg-themed menus. There are also food stands if you want to go “cheap and cheerful” with plenty of places to picnic (like next to the church, with a great view). The trees in the village are decorated to the max with colourful, hanging eggs and it’s a really pretty sight.

Tourtour is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France and is well worth a detour when not too cold or windy. The little streets through the village houses are so full of charm and the restaurants serve simple yet freshly made food that of course goes rather well with a nice glass of chilled rosé or anything really. The gastronomic restaurant here is called La Table and the international couple who run it have some very good reviews.

Tourtour is about a 25 minutes’ drive from Cotignac, via either Aups or Villecroze (faster).




Autumn in Aix-en-Provence

The university town of Aix is of course full of young people so there’s a lot to do here, including dining on a huge variety of international cuisine. Just walking around the old part of town I saw over three Japanese restaurants, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, French, bistro-style, bars, both cheap and upscale and everything in between! The Cours Mirabeau (main strip) is like a miniature version of the Champs Elysée with businesses and restaurants and huge sidewalks for anyone to stroll down without having to fight any traffic. This time of year (in Autumn) it is pure joy to see the deep yellows, reds, and brown colours of the falling sycamore leaves in contrast to the bright green moss on the fountains. There are museums, shopping centres, live bands entertaining the café crowds, and some great people watching to do here. The famous sweet is called the “Calisson” and although I am an almond lover I always thought these specialties look better than they taste. But the cakes in the cake shops are drool worthy! Never a dull day spent in Aix. The outdoor market takes place every day at the place de la mairie and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at the palais de justice. For more information about Aix cick here:

Day trip to Bandol in October

Sunday is market day in Bandol so it’s a little busy but it’s not too touristy which is what I love about the place. Unlike St Tropez, Cannes, and Nice, you don’t hear too many other languages being spoken here (other than French!). And yet it has everything – a beautiful port, fantastic restaurants and shops, and of course great wine. Continue reading Day trip to Bandol in October

Esparron-de-Verdon on an October afternoon

On the far West side of the Verdon is the little village of Esparron with it’s own lake and stunning castle. In October it’s particularly pleasant because there are few people around (the village has a population of 450). We parked on the Northern side of the village and took a nice walk through the ruelles and charming village houses, took photos from outside the castle (unfortunately it’s private but a bed-and-breakfast worth a look. Click on ). Further down the road towards the lake are some lovely cafés where lunch was being served all afternoon on a Sunday. We stopped and had a beer and the kids munched on ice cream bars. From there the views just got better and better. The afternoon sun was glittering on the water (dont forget to bring your sunnies even this time of year). The lake here has  their own sailing club, electric boats for hire (all year ’round) and even a tour boat (check the schedule) with a guide. It was October 8th and there were people swimming although we felt it was too cold. But the water was clear and a gorgeous turquoise colour and pleasant for a foot-dip. This place was only a 40 – 45 mins drive away from Cotignac through some lavender fields (N.B. lavender is in bloom in Provence in June and early July only). If you felt more adventurous you can continue driving to Gréoux les Bains afterwards or stop in Quinson on the way. Either way, a great afternoon out!


Aups and her market in August

Located just 20 minutes from Cotignac, and on the way to the Lac St Croix, is the medieval village of Aups, famous for Truffles and their annual Truffle Festival in January. In Summer the village is bustling with life and their twice-weekly markets are really worth going to because it’s cheap and there is an abundance of choice.  Aups has their market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. See also

Villecroze Park, Café La Bohème, and Mr Gum’s

It’s always such a delight to visit Mr Gum at his boutique full of fabulous ceramic necklaces, earrings and bracelets in old Villecroze. Guillaume (owner and creator of the shop) is full of charm too and is always a real pleasure to chat with. What’s best is that his shop is right next to the now famous La Bohème Café with equally charming Liz as owner and hostess. Have a coffee, a piece of cake, a look around at Mr Gum’s then head for the beautiful rose park across the way with its stunning limescale cliffs and cave dwellings (kinda like a miniature Cotignac!!), a beautiful old house, picnic tables, tennis courts, and a great park for younger kids too. All this is just 25 mins’ drive from Cotignac. Worth the detour!! Continue reading Villecroze Park, Café La Bohème, and Mr Gum’s

Les Baux de Provence

Tourists from all over the world who visit the South of France flock to Les Baux and it’s not surprising; the region is already stunning but what makes Les Baux stand out is its dominant stone chateau and the white rocky hills that surround it.  From the top there are sweeping views across Arles, Camargues and the Alpilles. Les Baux is in the department of Bouches-du-Rhone (13) and about one hour and a half’s drive from Cotignac in the Var. Continue reading Les Baux de Provence

Moissac Bellevue and Le Bellevue restaurant (bistro)

About a 25 minutes’ drive from Cotignac and just passed Aups and on the way to Regusse is the quaint, tiny, and off-the-beaten-path Medieval village of Moissac Bellevue.

What struck me most at first was how clean the place was. Not a piece of trash nor dog doo doo on the streets could be found, well manicured (but not obsessively neat) gardens, sculptured art decorating some exterior walls, and warm cosy feeling to the village that is home to not more than about 160 people. The centre is host to a beautiful, large fountain and the bistro called Le Bellevue which almost always sells out of spaces for lunch diners. Continue reading Moissac Bellevue and Le Bellevue restaurant (bistro)