Madame's find - a vintage pepper grinder. Props and location courtesy of Bastide les Amis.

Madame’s find – a vintage pepper grinder. Props and location courtesy of Bastide les Amis.


L’Isle sur la Sorgue may be known as the Antiques Capital of the South, and its bi-annual fairs are justifiably famous but (some/much?) of the product emanates from a dilapidated warehouse/s near Cavaillon (about 12km from L’Isle sur la Sorgue). Aptly called ‘Greniers de Provence’ (A vide grenier is a flea market), there are to large halls of merchandise and a further shed ‘at the back’ – fenced off and fiercely protected by the two brothers who own and manage Greniers.

We landed ourself a chore of packing some furniture purchased for freight to South Africa and were privileged to be inside when the truck arrived, the doors were slid open and movie-like the truck entered, only for the doors to close quickly again. We watched as the product was unloaded and assessed by the two brothers.

Some we saw on the selling floor the following week, the rest? Who knows! a telephone call here, a nudge and a wink there….dealers do not reveal their sources.

Greniers de Provence is on 130 Avenue L’Isle sur La Sorgue, Cavaillon and is open every afternoon from 14h30-19h00 Tuesday to Saturday. Dealers by appointment. Here is there web site, click here.


The Ménerbes plan.

The Ménerbes plan.

Our little village of Ménerbes has just over 1,000 people – permanent and ‘second residence’ folk. However, with a history stretching back beyond Roman times, it boasts two cemeteries. One, close ot the 12th Century Church, which is now closed as it is full, and a ‘new cemetery commissioned at the turn of the 20th Century near the bottom of the hilltop.

Ever mindful of the need for neatness and order, the Ménerbes municipality has now undertaken a project to re-order the ‘new’ cemetery. In keeping with tradition, a plan of the layout has been published on the wall of the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville), and residents (plus past residents) are invited to lodge their claims on which graves are ‘active’ or ‘non-active;. Heaven knows what the criteria are for that decision! A little (another) French quirk.

French cemeteries are surrounded by high walls whose iron gates are locked at night time. If the church stands at the centre of a village or a town, French cemeteries are generally situated on the outskirts. In very few places (such as in Charonne Village, Paris) cemeteries are found on the church’s grounds like they usually do in Britain.

French cemeteries are often laid out with graves in rows, generally grouped into larger sections. These resting places are called “monumental cemeteries” where headstones and other grave monuments rise vertically above the ground, unlike lawn cemeteries.

The headstones and other funeral monuments are made of marble and granite, and are often entirely covered by a slab.

If the maintenance of the grounds, the landscaping, the allocation of land for burial, the digging and filling of graves are managed by the cemetery management, the construction and maintenance of headstones remain the responsibilities of surviving families. If a grave is not taken care of, become unstable or begin to decay, a note is then attached to it requiring the relatives to contact the municipality.


Over Toussaint (November 1), people come in great numbers to cemeteries to pay respect to their dead with cut flowers to leave on the graves. The traditional flowers bought on Toussaint Day are chrysanthemums. An important symbol of dying and death, the flowers are rarely given as gifts. Chrysanthemums can be bought in bursts of colours: white, yellow, purple or bronzed red. Florists often take over the pavements outside the cemeteries to supply the visitors with chrysanthemums.

On Toussaint Day, family and friends also take the time to change pots or vases with new fresh flowers, to clean and tidy the graves and do any necessary weeding.

After the visit to the cemetery, family members often reunite over a long big lunch. Toussaint is a public holiday in France when businesses and shops are closed and children enjoy a two-week holiday from school.

Le Bleuet bookstore - just of the main village square

Le Bleuet bookstore – just of the main village square

Banon is a typical sleepy French village whose population of roughly 1,000 was about the same two centuries ago, and one best known to most foreigners and French alike as a place bearing the name of a well-known goat cheese, wrapped in vine leaves (very smelly!).

Yet in the heart of Banon sits one of the most exceptional bookstores in France — Le Bleuet, a rural outpost with roughly 100 titles for every inhabitant in the village. Unlike the tourist office, the bookstore stays open 363 days a year,(closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day). We had heard about it from friends as a ‘must visit’ destination. It’s an easy drive from the Luberon. Sadly, Banon as a village mirrors many of those French villages which does not have the appellation of “One of the Most Beautiful Villages in France” and, consequently, has to really cry out for the tourist income, rather than seing it flood it during the summer season. There a a couple of restaurants in the vilage – all cheap and cheerful; don’t expect a Michelin star chef here.

Banon village square

Banon village square

But now, faced not only with the village’s distance from population centers but also the fierce competition of big Internet sellers like Amazon, Le Bleuet is fighting for its very survival. It has begun a crowd sourcing campaign in an effort to raise 25,000 euros, in part to strengthen its online sales.

“Help us carry on this beautiful adventure,” Joel Gattefossé, who opened the store 24 years ago, writes on his website. “A bookstore, one of the largest in France, but also an e-commerce site that offers a real alternative to the ‘ogres of the Internet.’ … help us allow Le Bleuet to live.”

Le Bleuet is a marvelous and distinctive bookstore, with 13 rooms on four floors connected by spiral staircases. On the top floor, for example, you’ll find 15 shelves of books devoted to architecture. There’s a shelf on the middle ages, one on antiquity, one on the years between the first and second world wars. An entire room is filled with graphic novels, many hard-covered. You can find Henry David Thoreau here, the stories of Flannery O’Connor and Jack London, and the poetry of William Butler Yeats — all in French.

Only in the basement, beside the science section with titles such as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Stephen Hawking’s My Brief History are a few shelves devoted to “literature en langue anglaise,” literature in English.

The 'book tree' outside the store

The ‘book tree’ outside the store

Thanks for for some of the facts used in this post.


Spotted in Bonnieux.

Spotted in Bonnieux.

Thanks, Bill!

One of our hosts, prepares the Guy for burning!

One of our hosts, prepares the Guy for burning!

Who doesn’t love a few fireworks? Add in a bonfire, some BBQ sausages and a real ‘Guy’ – then you’ll have a bunch of English-speaking ex-pats celebrating 5th November, accompanied by some very bemused French neighbours and friends.

Friends near Saint Saturnin-les-Apt had their first Guy Fawkes evening – complete with a Guy.

The bonfire in full blaze

The bonfire in full blaze

Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606), also known as Guido Fawkes, the name he adopted while fighting for the Spanish, was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Fawkes was born and educated in York. His father died when Fawkes was eight years old, after which his mother married a recusant Catholic. Fawkes converted to Catholicism and left for the continent, where he fought in the Eighty Years’ War on the side of Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers in the Low Countries. He travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England without success. He later met Thomas Wintour, with whom he returned to England.

Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters leased an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled there. Prompted by the receipt of an anonymous letter, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5 November, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives. Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually he confessed. Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Fawkes fell from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.

Fawkes became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated in Britain since 5 November 1605. His effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by a fireworks display.

Our fireworks display. Great fun!

Our fireworks display. Great fun!

Now, you also know where the colloquial term ‘the guys’ comes from!

Autumn colours near Celeste in the Grand Luberon

Autumn colours near Cereste in the Grand Luberon



The viewfrom our picnic spot of Simian-la-Rotonde

The viewfrom our picnic spot of Simian-la-Rotonde

The beautiful, barmy autumn weather means that we have not yet had to pack away the picnic table andare able to take our day off a week and cruise the countryside.

This week we went out of Vaucluse, into the Haute Provence region and visited the local village. The main one, Simiane-la-Rotonde is to the north-east of Apt and west of Forcalquier. Simiane is on a major lavender growing plateau and there are numerous lavender fields in the vicinity.

The village is in an enviable location, clustered around a small hill on a high plain (more than 600m altitude), with the Luberon to the south-west and close to Mont Ventoux.

Simiane-la-Rotonde is itself a picturesque village, with an attractive medieval heart to explore. Exploring the village you will pass along narrow paved streets passed tall stone houses that typically date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The village developed and became prosperous around the 17th century because of the local glass industry, and there are also various grander houses and small architectural details such as ornate doorways as a result of this wealth.

Approaching the village

Approaching the village

The highlight, that also gives the village its name, is the medieval castle with its ‘rotunda’ at the top of the village. The castle is called the Chateau des Agoult and stands at the highest point on the hill and dates from the 12th century.

The main part remaining is the tower – from the outside the castles rotunda has an unusual multi-faceted design, while inside the rotunda is a splendid large hall with a domed roof in stonework, with a series of arches below and ornately carves capital stones. Truly an impressive achievement for the 12th century.

In common with many French vilages, Simiane is challenged by a lack of people in the off-season, and struggles to cast off a slightly derelict air.




A Happy Time! The 2015 vintage has arrived – well, beaujolais to be exact.

Festivals are held all over France and our local farmers in the Luberon and further afield in he Rhone Valley, are whispering that the 2015 vintage, with the scorching hot summer, looks formidable.

Beaujolais  is a French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine generally made of the Gamay grape which has a thin skin and is low in tannins. Like most AOC wines they are not labeled varietally. Whites from the region, which make up only 1% of its production, are made mostly with Chardonnay grapes though Aligoté is also permitted until 2024 (on condition the vines were planted before 2004). Beaujolais tends to be a very light-bodied red wine, with relatively high amounts of acidity. In some vintages, Beaujolais produces more wine than the Burgundy wine regions of Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais put together.

The wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, a wine producing region. It is located north of Lyon, and covers parts of the north of the Rhône département of the Rhône-Alpes region and southern areas of the Saône-et-Loire département of Burgundy. While administratively considered part of the Burgundy wine region, the climate is closer to the Rhône and the wine is sufficiently individual in character to be considered separately from Burgundy and Rhône. The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, for the use of carbonic maceration, and more recently for the popular Beaujolais nouveau.


The last remains of the 2015 grape growing season hang forlornly on th vine - seen in Ménerbes

The last remains of the 2015 grape growing season hang forlornly on the vine – seen in Ménerbes



It is in sad times such as what we have experienced over the past few days (#prayforparis), that light relief can be a tonic.

We spotted this window sticker on a local car – showing the French pre-deliction for food. This time it’s tartiflette.

The tartiflette is a dish cooked from sliced potatoes, lardons, onions and bakedwith a mixture of reblouchon cheese – which hails from the highlands of Savoy at the foot of the French Alps. It’s a real winter staple. True comfort food.

For tartiflette recipes, click here.


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