Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day fourteen Provence.

It was another perfect day of sunshine, if anything, a little too hot. Even though the weather the last two days has been great we have the constant reminder that autumn is on it's way from the ever increasing piles of crunchy brown leaves in the streets and on our terrace. The rain of late last week seeming to speed the process up.

We headed for the town of St Remy de Provence and its nearby ancient Roman ruins from 2050 years ago. The ancient town of Glanum stands just outside St Remy in a very pretty little gully on the site of a Gaul town that the Romans mostly destroyed to build their temples, heated baths and town square. The town has only been uncovered comparatively recently.

As we pulled into the dusty car park a gleaming black string of super cars was pulling out: a Ferrari 560, a Jaguar XKR, a Porche GT and a Mazerati Grand Turizmo S among them (they were all black). The road that snaked out of the mountains just behind Glanum, perfect for such cars.

The ancient town of Glanum located over a natural spring, slides down the floor of the steep sided gully. It once had a very thick fortified wall at the top end, towards the wild mountains, just in case any of the local barbarians decided to try and enter the town uninvited. The sun beat down on the stone ruins as we wandered in amongst the collapsed columns and walls. The springs still bubble crystal clear water into the 2000 year-old wells.

Glanum from the lookout.

A reconstructed column in Glanum

Just metres from the ruins of Glanum stands the old hospital/asylum where Vincent van Gogh spent a year of his life in the late 1880s. It is no longer an asylum but stands partly as a memorial to the the great painter, his room now on display containing a tiny bed only as long as a large coffee table and floored with red glazed diamond shaped tiles. The garden he painted so often still outside shaded by three huge persimmon trees.

The garden outside Van Gogh's window at the asylum.

We drove the short road back to St Remy de Provence and had a wander around. The part of the town we saw in 45 minutes was a bit disappointing, one of the prettiest towns in Provence didn't live up to its reputation although there are some spectacular houses.

Heading back home we drove along a short section of the Payage tollway (about 80 Euro cents worth) that cut about 15 minutes off our journey. We drove through Caromb to the little town of Le Barroux, just up the hill, where there is a monastery that bakes artisanal bread on certain days of the week. The road up to the monastery is snaking and narrow but opens out into a huge hilltop car park and picnic area, and a massive monastery with a shop selling bread and preserves as well as loads of religious paraphernalia. Once we got back home we hoed into our brioche with raisins, five seed sourdough and plain wholemeal sourdough. The breads had a shattering crust and were beautiful. We sat in the remainder of the sun and killed time until dinner.

The Monastery at Le Barroux

Beautiful bread!

For dinner we headed for Carpentras, just 10km down the road, to Chez Serge, a little restaurant just within the old part of the city. Chez Serge was highly recommended and did not fail to deliver. We sat at a rusted tin table on uneven chairs. For entrees we had a pickled sardine with finely sliced tomatoes and potatoes (the chef's speciality according to the menu) and a bresaola (air-dried salt beef) and parmesan salad. The sardine had been pickled very simply from raw and was almost creamy in texture. The salad that came on the side added a nice cutting acid to the fishy fish. The bresaloa salad was huge, large slices of cured beef with wedges of artichoke, loads of mesclun and a huge handful of parmesan. The beef very nicely cured.

Pickled sardine.

Bresaola salad.

Mains: Iain had monkfish with an artichoke barigoule and Elysia had fillet beef with red wine sauce. The monkfish was firm and sweet and the artichokes perfectly cooked in their acidic nage. Like yesterday's tuna dish with a vegetable broth, it was perfect and it was nice to get a fish you can't get in Australia. When Leish cut and tasted the beef she declared "finally in France beef cooked how I wanted it!" The beef was butter-fried and was perfect medium rare. It arrived with a curious little souffle, it was green with chopped herbs and had the texture of soft meringue but was savoury.

Monk fish!

Fillet beef.

The wine, very tannic but still soft.

For desserts we had a grape clafoutis and a french bistro classic - creme brulee. It was the first brulee we have seen on a menu so far in France. The clafoutis was a little disappointing, it was cold, served in a brique not in a little dish like we expected, but was packed with plump fresh muscat grapes. The brulee was perfect, perfectly set with a light crisp layer of caramel on the top.


Perfect creme brulee.

The service was pretty good perhaps a little quick but friendly and we were able to sit outside due to the day's sunshine. The restaurant opens at 7:30 but as we were leaving at 9:00 there were a lot of people arriving to start dinner, the locals obviously choose to dine at Chez Serge after the theatre or simply to dine later in the evening.

1 comment:

  1. So enjoying your blog Elysia - especially as I am on a sort of diet. Hoping to pick your brains when you get home about best places to visit in southern France etc. - hope to talk your Mum into meeting us there next Sept/October too.