Catching breath! That was the way of life last week until Thursday when Catherine arrived on the TGV from London for a few days.

Christmas is around the corner and the villages of the Luberon are starting to announce their annual festivities. We’ll keep you posted on them as and when they happen.

Meanwhile, Jose and Nicolas have been beavering away on the ‘mouse-house’ the roof extension for the doll collection and there has been a carcophany of banging and crashing as they break through into the house. Now we await the windows – ‘perhaps’ on the 10th, ‘perhaps’ on the 14th! It will become apparent, they will arrive when they arrive.

Jose plastering the wall in the traditional way - flicking it on with a cypress branch

An amazing art

Nico says "Jose is old, but good!" We agree!

The one half of our wonderful team - Nicolas

Plastering with a cypress branch is messy business - ask Jose!

Catherine starting to decorate the house a la natural.

Olive, rosemary and bay branches for the Christmas feel

Au bientot : Lovonne and Simon xx

Heavy rainclouds gather over Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Rhone Valley of Provence

Most conservationists believe that man should not meddle with the natural order and that we should allow nature to run her course however cruel or grim it seems to be. We agree on the whole, unless a wildlife problem has been created by man (for instance in the case of snaring or being trapped in a fence, in which case it’s justifiable to intervene) then nature should be left to her own devices. She has a plan.

However – every rule has an exception and the dreadful plight of a baby elephant trapped in the mud of the Kapani Lagoon in Zambia and her mother, who had also got stuck trying to save her had everyone there all in a frenzy of activity. For once, people could not stand back and let nature take its course.

See these amazing pictures:

The herd hover anxiously over a mother and its calf who are stuck in the mud in a river bed in Zambia. Mom and baby are exhausted.

This is as far up a the calf can get before collapsing to the ground again - Mother has almost given up. The herd have taken their leave.

Rangers start to wind rope around the calf.

The calf is pulled upright

And out I come!

Now to release the ropes

I'm off! The calf totters off to join the herd

Now for Mom. She's exhausted.

A tractor this time and some very strong rope

Here I come!

Ropes have been dropped and adrenalin takes over

Where's my calf?

The ruin of the Pope's Chateau top Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Rhone Valley, Provence.

Straight out of Pillars of the Earth

Wine / Liquor / Beer

o The supermarkets offer great value in wine shopping. They have upgraded their offers considerably over the years and give the local co-operatives a real run for their money.

o We, however, prefer the local co-operatives as the majority of the unbottled wine (ie ‘bag in box’ or ‘pump container’) contains no sulfites – great for no head ache!

o Beers must be bought at a supermarket. There are three main sizes 25ml (‘sippies’); 33ml (‘boks’); or 50ml (‘beeg ones’ or ‘gros’). Draught beer is ‘pression’

o Pastis – the local liquor. There are many varieties and some pretty dubious labels with quality to match. Stay safe, protect your health and buy Pastis Marseille 51.

o Sweet wine – no slither of toast smothered with foie gras is complete without the local sweet, muscat wine. Any wine from the Beaumes-de-Venise region is what you’re after and serve at room temperature.

On a roundabout no less! Near to Sorgues, Provence

While the markets are the fun place to shop, and supermarkets often conjure up visions of a ‘grudge’ shop, they cannot be avoided when you’re in a self-catering property or even as a great way to observe the local culture! The French have some of the best supermarkets in the world and the array of choice coupled with a language challenge can sometimes be quite daunting. In particular, the dairy sections are huge and many a visitor has bought the wrong item or walked away totally confused.

This short guide will help you to unravel those crazy sounding names and give you an insight into some of the mysteries of French life.

Food:

o Label Rouge – any product with this marking on its packaging is of superior quality (and often more expensive!). Basically, you can’t go wrong.

o Private Label / Own brand – like other countries in the world, French supermarkets are busy with aggressive Private Label programmes and providing product under their own name or their own labels. All French supermarkets follow a ‘three stage’ strategy – a lower level, cheaper, lower quality item under a different name to the supermarket (eg Bien Vu in Super U); a well priced product of good quality on a par with major brands always under the Supermarket name (eg U for Super U); and a higher priced, top quality product (eg Saveurs U for Super U). You are absolutely fine if you choose from either the mid or top level.

o Cheese aisles and the Delicatessen counter – the more commercial cheeses are all kept in the aisles. The cheeses you find at the delicatessen are those that you see at the markets. Commercial cheese in France is of a very high quality. The French would have it no other way.

o Charcuterie vs Market – many of the market stallholders buy their product from the supermarkets. The quality of meat products is excellent.

o Fresh produce vs Market – here we believe there is no comparison. The Markets win hands down every time because it is usually the producers who are at the markets while the supermarkets have a long supply chain.

o Meat, poultry terminology – In typical French style, everything is graded and segmented to an inch of its life. Fermier is from the farm – as well as plein air for free range. Poultry comes in various guises – poulet (60-80 day old chicken); volaille (fowl, slightly older female); Chapon (neutered rooster, usually at Christmas time and superb!); pintade (guinea fowl); coquelet (baby chicken – a cockerel); canard (duck). Meat – l’agneau (lamb up to 12 months old); mouton (mutton, a sheep older than 12 months); veaux (veal); boeuf or bovine (beef); lapin (rabbit); cheval (horse – very popular!); ane (donkey); porc (pork). Please note that the French are well known for eating every single part of an animal – some of the cuts/pieces may be a bit exotic. A tete is a head and pieds et paquets are, literally, feet and stomach ie tripe!

o Bakery vs Boulangerie – do not delay in the bread and bakery section! Part of the charm and taste of a French vacation is visiting the local bakery. No contest.

o Milk – you will notice the huge amount of space devoted to long life milk. The French do not drink milk in their coffee and use long life milk for their sauces and cooking. Fresh milk (ie pasteurized) is rare and a tiny bit of supermarket space is given to it – mainly for ex-pats. When you see it, pounce and buy more than you need immediately and freeze it!

o Cream – the only whipping cream that the French use is ‘le bombe’ – artificial, aerosol cream. Other cream is crème fraiche and dozens of varieties of it. Trial and error is all we can recommend.

o Fish – each supermarket prides itself that it has its own boats for fishing. Some supermarkets (eg Intermarche, Isle sur la Sorgue s which is a branch even have their own). Consequently, the fish is good and fresh. Being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Friday is the best fish day.

o Washing up liquid Liquide Vaseille is what you are looking for – it comes in eco or bio or normal, commercial. If you are staying at a traditionally renovated property with concrete or stone sinks and basins, it is best to use the ‘bio’ product.

o Flour – you may be inspired to do some baking during your visit. Farine is flour and be guided by the pictures on the packets between cake, bread, or other types of flour. NB: The French do not have, use or stock Baking Powder!

o Mobile Phones – top up cards for ‘pay as you go’ (called mobicarte in France) are freely available at the supermarkets. If you need help in negotiating French prompts or a call centre, go to the telephone/electrical counter and find the youngest, most tattoo’d or pierced assistant and ask for assistance! They will always be the most helpful and all speak English.

o Hair Care – all shampoos have been formulated for local water conditions and we recommend to all visitors that they use local shampoo. All the major brands are here. However, the names! Choose your usual brand – eg L’Oreal – and then look for ‘fortifiant shampooing’ and ‘aprés shampooing fortifant’ (ie fortifying shampoo and conditioner).

Mireau's little flower display at the entrance to the Menerbes cemetry

Horse riding

Here are two links for the best horse riding in the area. It is essential to book beforehand.

http://www.clublacatherine.com <http://www.clublacatherine.com/>

http://www.provenceguide.co.uk/home/vaucluse-in-provence/what-to-do-and-see/outdoor-activities/horseback-riding/horseback-riding-circuits.aspx

In addition, as you travel there are two Horse Riding farms – one on the road to Isle sur la Sorgue and another between Gordes and Roussillon.

The autumn colours of the Luberon Valley, Provence. See from Menerbes.

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