Provence - Days Five and Six
Saturday morning dawned grey, fog-shrouded and cold, continuous, unremitting and relentless rain.
A slight digression here; in the last couple of months we have become great fans of the Nespresso coffee system. Small counter-top footprint, very easy to use and really good coffee. Our little house here has a machine and our hosts had generously left us a couple of sleeves of coffee with 10 Nespresso capsules in each. We have come to like a variety, Lungo Fortissio, which produces a somewhat larger cup of coffee but still quite strong, not exactly an americano in size, but larger than the usual espresso cup. The coffee that our hosts had graciously left produced the smaller espresso size and we were keen to find the type that we usually drank, as we like a longer cup in the morning. The Nespresso website listed one Nespresso Boutique in Marseilles and a second in Avignon as well as a number of agents in Aix-en-Provence. If you don't use the Nespresso system, you should know that, at least in NA, the coffee can only be purchased in a Nespresso Boutique, of which there are only two in Toronto or on-line, delivered by courier. Nestle is very clearly trying to brand their coffee as a special, high-end product that is so driven by quality that they will not let anyone distribute their coffee in order that Nestle can guarantee freshness and product quality, at least that is the brand pitch. We were therefore very surprised to see third-party dealers in Aix listed on their website so while we were in Aix on Thursday we tracked one of them down hoping to find a supply of our coffee. We were told that by the shop owner that he is allowed to sell the Nespresso brewing machine but not the coffee and that as in NA, we could only buy our coffee in a Boutique; as the shop man said with a shrug, "What can one expect; they are Swiss after all."
So, circling back, since the day was extremely wet and not made for normal tourist activities, we decided to drive to Avignon and buy our coffee.
We chugged through the mist and rain, and aided by the GPS, tracked down the Boutique in the centre of Avignon, double-parked, leaped out, bought our coffee and were out of Avignon before the GPS could finish saying "recalculating the route". Not a recommended way to see any city but we were too wet to care and we have spent time in Avignon in the past. On the upside, looking forward to our coffee in the morning!
On to L'Isle sur la Sorgue for lunch. The town is the site of a weekly antiques market on Sundays and in good weather is great fun; busy, thronged with people, and with dealer's booths strung along both side of the street in the town centre. We had a mission in town and we did not want to make our visit on Sunday because it would be jammed with people and undoubtedly wet and rainy. A number of years ago we had bought a pair of glazed earthenware bowls, one blue and one green, both with inward sloping sides, like inverted pyramids. They are much loved and have had heavy use over the years, but sadly one broke and we were hoping to find a replacement. We found the store where we had bought them but they no longer stocked them and no one could even remember the pots or the potter. As a consolation we found a little restaurant, of a type called a Guingette, where we had had lunch on previous visits. It is right on the Sourge river on the outskirts of the town, with three hardy fishermen, on the river bank in front of the restaurant, covered in rain slickers from head to toe, but I'm sure as wet as the fish. It has been fixed up since our last visit and has lost much of its original charm, but it was warm and dry and we ate, not memorably, but well.
We had no reservations for dinner so into the Spar in Cucuron for a very nice little loin of pork which I roasted with fresh rosemary picked from a very large shrub right outside our door, white asparagus cooked in the manner recommended by the chef at La Petit Maison and some very small purple artichokes which I cleaned and shallow fried in olive oil until they were crisp. With fried potatoes and shallots, and a very good bottle of wine that we picked up from a cave during our drive we did very well and finished the evening in front of a bright fire.
Sunday offered hope; still rainy but periodically tantalizing breaks in the cloud which were then almost immediately overwhelmed by a fresh spate of rain. Long slow start to the day and a very good lunch at home from all the leftovers that we have been accumulating in the fridge. Nothing feels better than emptying the fridge and starting with a clean slate. Decided to simply drive and find all the villages in the area and explore. Great fun and some very beautiful spots and wonderful villages perched on top of many of the tall hills in the area. We have decided that if we don't buy a little farm, at the least we will return in better weather and explore some more. This is not over-the-top viewing, but simple, bucolic countryside, small old towns, and wide vista of rolling country leading to the hills and mountains that surround us. Worth spending time here.
Another of the things that I really like here is asking for wine recommendations at dinner, being presented with an exciting wine and then being told very off-handedly that the vineyard is just 2 kilometres over the hill. At dinner on Thursday at La Petit Maison we drank a bottle of red "L'Expression du Terroir" from the Chateau La Dorgonne that we really liked. It was a little heavier than we normally like but was wonderful with our dishes. As we were driving home today, we passed the Chateau and decided to stop and see what other wines they had on offer. We had selected a couple of bottles that we had tasted, when we noticed a few bottles of a Pinot Noir on a shelf. We asked about it and were told that it was a small batch that they were experimenting with but was not for commercial purposes and because the output was so small they were not opening any for tasting. I bought a bottle on spec and since we are cooking at home this evening, grilled entrecotes with some very small fresh raviolis stuffed with ricotta and basil, we opened the Pinot. It was exquisite, fabulous, wonderful! Will be going back to buy some more.