Take the D900 through the Luberon Valley in the direction of Apt and you will find the unremarkable hamlet of Le Chene (turnoff Gargas). However, nestling alongside the road and surrounded by tall plain trees is the ‘old school’ – La Petite Ecole. Now owed and run as a great little restaurant by Sophie and Denis, La Petite Ecole serves Provençal cooking at its best, and without the price tag of such luminaries such as Les Coquillades now so far further up the road.

The restaurant only accommodates 20 people in the winter – a few more in the sumer where they use the outside terrace under the trees, so booking is absolutely essential and you will struggle to find a tourist. This is strictly local! However, Denis has quite a good command of the English language and will guide you through the menu. There are two set menu options (€22 and €30) and a small a la carte. The wine list is also strictly local and very reasonable priced – a 1 litre carafe of rose sells for €9. The restaurant in inside an old schoolroom, complete with biology and geography posters and clientele sit at school desks. Even the menu is in an old school file on squared paper. It could be trite – it’s not.

Madame started with a fascinating dish -a ‘coquillade‘ of egg and smoked chipped beef, baked in a cream sauce : she pronounced it delicious. She then continued with a steamed caubillard fish dish which was cooked to perfection. Erica started with a fish soup complete with a rouille and grated cheese, followed by confit de canard. The only sounds were slurping of rose, munching of food and sighs of happiness.

I was boring – a smoked salmon salad followed by a medium entrecote with mash and a plum Provençal tomato.

Sophie does a mean cheese platter and Dennis is proud of his hand made ice-cream. Be patient, Denis is front of house and Sophie does the cooking. Every now and then she appears with a big toothy smile and adorned with a paper cap and hands over food. In a time when people can cut corners to make the maximum profit, you leave La Petite Ecole feeling that you have really got your money’s worth. Its the kind of mel you go back for time and again. We certainly do.

Galerie Pascal Laine is an institution in the Luberon. Situated in Menerbes, Pascal specialises in contemporary art and has provded much needed publicity and exposure for many artists over his more than 20 years in owning art galleries (Avignon, Gordes and now Menerbes).

During December and January, Pascal Laine has been exhibiting works by the sculptor Nadine Fourre. Nadine was born in France in 1957 and settled in Japan in 1981 for some time. These influences permeate her work, and she has just finished an exhibition of her rock sculptures in Menerbes.

Elegantly crafted and, in some cases, quite spectacular, the works are a master class in balance and precision. Nadine collects her rocks from the Durance river and her driftwood from beaches around the Marseilles area.

We have reason to visit the Galerie Pascal Laine as Beachstone Interiors of Chatham, Cape Cod USA was purchasing a few pieces for clients.

Nadine goes to the source of the 740km long Durance (which is one of the main tributaries of the mighty Rhone River) high up in the glaciers of the Alps and she says that “if you place your ear to the mountain, you can hear the rocks swirling around as though they are in a washing machine!”, and then tracks her stones down to the Cavaillon region where she harvests them.

She is a resident of the tiny, atmospheric village of Eygalieres, a few minutes from glitzy St Remy-de-Provnce, in the heart of the Les Alpilles region of Provence. Fourre says that her art form does not yet have a ‘name’ but her and about 20 others world wide who practice this art form are gathering in Japan later in 2012 to formalise the genre.

It was fascinating watching Nadine Fourre teaching Erica of Beachstone Interiors how to reassemble the pieces when they reach the USA – an art form in itself and really steady, calm hands are needed!

Nadine Fourre (left) and Erica of Beach Stone

Rebuilding under supervision

Nadine’s work can also be seen on her website and via Galerie Pascal Laine. (www.galerie-pascal-laine.com).

“I just received the book Footsteps from Amazon!  So excited to relive our time in the beautiful Luberon.  I read that notebook over and over again while we stayed at La Maison Blanc…  I commend Simon on all the work he has done.  The historical tidbits and sections are the most fun to me.” – Nick, New York.

Coming to the Luberon this season? Your ultimate guide…..

NOW ON AMAZON!

When we started Bastide les Amis as a self-catering rental property in Menerbes, we provided our guests with a printed Guide to the property and some useful day trips and items of local interest which are often not carried in the more commercial and established Guide Books.

We’ve had such a great reaction and coupled with the growing readership of this website, we felt that we should expand the concept into a 100 page book. Lovonne’s beautiful photographs taken over the seasons, complement the words which give you a highly personalised view of the Luberon and surrounds.

From a [very] short History of Provence, to day trips, some quirky trips like discovering the secrets behind the ‘turnarounds’ (the roundabouts!) to ‘Finding your way around a French supermarket’, Footsteps has been designed to give you an insight before, during and even after your trip to Provence – no matter how many times you have been here.

Footsteps – the Luberon and Surrounds, is available from Amazon as a hard copy book or can be downloaded via the Kindle App on to your ipad, iphone or any other smart/tablet device. The price is €19.00 (GBP16.00;US$24.99;AU$25.00;ZAR206.00). Downloading the Kindle app is free – merely go to your favourite App Store.

*Currency conversions apply from US$ at time of writing, Amazon will provide their own ruling price at purchase.

Whether it's summer when the lavender sweeps up to the Abbey, or as now in Winter with the luke warm pale sun, it's a sight one never tires of - Abbaye de Senanque, near to Gordes in the Luberon, Provence

Here’s a guest contribution

(the first of many we hope!)

Skiing remains one of the most popular pastimes and winter sports in America. This is especially true in the Northeast. With its wide array of mountain ranges, seasonal climate and rich ski culture, the Northeast offers some of the best skiing in the United States. The region has a lot to offer, from small mountains that cater to novices to rolling mountains in Pennsylvania to New England’s famed ski resorts. From Maine to New Jersey and everything in between, the Northeast is home to some of America’s most celebrated ski resorts and villages.


Stowe, Vermont
One of the oldest and most charming ski resorts in North America, Stowe offers New England’s scenic mountain scenery alongside an old fashioned, European style resort. Mount Mansfield is known far and wide for its excellent powder snow while skiers of every level will find plenty of trails and slopes suitable for them. The town of Stowe is also filled with quaint shops, restaurants and places to relax.

Bear Mountain, Killington

Killington, Vermont
New England’s premier ski resort, Killington, the “Beast of the East,” ranks among the elite ski destinations in the United States. Sprawling over seven mountains, Killington is the largest ski resort in the Northeast and offers something for just about everyone. The resort also boasts an incredibly varied terrain, stunning mountain views and the highest vertical drop in the region. A favorite of skiers for generations, Killington never fails to deliver.

Belleayre Mountain

Belleayre Mountain, New York
Towering over the rolling hills and forests of Upstate New York, Belleayre Mountain is an old fashioned, traditional ski resort that offers plenty of thrills as well as phenomenal mountain views. Boasting 171 acres and a close proximity to the New York City metropolitan region, it is one of the most accessible and popular resorts in the region. With a soaring 3,429 foot summit and scenic ambience, Belleayre Mountain is one of the top ski resorts in the country.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
The flagship ski resort of New Hampshire, Bretton Woods is filled with history, charm and skiing heritage. Boasting a wide variety of trails and slopes as well as incredible views of Mount Washington and the White Mountains, Bretton Woods offers some of New England’s finest skiing. The resort’s beautiful Mount Washington Resort is among the top hotels in the region and known for its uncompromising guest service and elegant flair. A top destination for families and skiers of all levels, Bretton Woods is not to be missed.

Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont
Along with the adjacent Stowe ski resort, Smugglers’ Notch is one of Vermont’s most renowned skiing destinations. Known for its family skiing programs, panoramic views and varied terrain, Smugglers’ Notch is New England skiing at its best.

Big Boulder and Jack Frost, Pennsylvania
The premier ski resort in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, Jack Frost is one of the top ski resorts in the state of Pennsylvania. Big Boulder resort, located in the Jack Frost ski resort, is known for its varied terrain and majestic slopes. With 36 trails and a summit in excess of 2,100 feet, Big Boulder and Jack Frost combine to create one of the most spectacular and memorable skiing experiences in the Northeast.

Jiminy Peak, Massachusetts
Jiminy Peak, the largest and most renowned ski resort in the charming Berkshire Mountains, holds a wide array of trails and slopes, incredible views and plenty of cafes, shops and restaurants. Perfect for skiers of all skill levels and those seeking a quiet, mountain retreat, Jiminy Peak stands tall as Massachusetts’ finest ski resort and destination.

No matter what part of the Northeast you’re in, you’re sure to find a spectacular and memorable ski resort.

Megan Gates is an active blogger who provides written work to the blogosphere pertaining to NYC Real Estate, Hamptons Homes, home improvement and the latest architecture, design and fashion.  Follow her on twitter @MEGatesDesign.


Village parking at Sigouret, Rhone Valley, Provence

Village entrance/exit and the medieval lavoir (baths) - Sigouret

The view of the Rhone Valley rom the restaurant window of Le Mesclun in Sigouret

The entrance to the village of Sigouret in the Rhone Valley region of Provence

The Festive Season has wound down quite quickly and Menerbes is moving into a little mid-winter slumber. The Christmas decorations are coming down – slowly, this is Provence after all – and the Birthday Ramadan is now a memory in the picture gallery – albeit a simply stunning memory.

La Veranda in Menerbes resplendent with Christmas trees

We took off for La Veranda in Menerbes for the Birthday dinner on New Year’s Day. We were joined by the Ritchie-Campbells and Hubert and his team did us proud – as usual.

Madame's birthday cake delicately sliced and decorated as dessert - La Veranda

A short recovery period and then the realisation that E and the Schneebs’ had not really seen the Rhone Valley. We had heard about some fine white wine in the little town of Sigouret. Off we went, through Beaumes-de-Venise, the haven for muscat (sweet wine) and Gigondas (the home of the full-bodied ‘barbeque’ wine). Alas, everywhere that pretended to be a restaurant was closed. As a last resort we parked outside the perched village of Sigouret and walked through the atmospheric streets to find a door – Le Mesclun. “Knock and we will open” the door pronounced in French.

We knocked. The door slid slowly opened and we were welcomed by one of the owners and ushered into a beautiful small dining room with a vast vista of the Rhone Valley stretching out below.

The food was superb and local. A great Menu du Jour (entree or dessert plus main) and – no choice unless you opened up the depths of your wallet for the a la carte – for €19. The white wine lived up to the recommendation but was nothing ‘outstanding’.

"Yes! Le Mesclun is down this way!"

Le Mesclun entree - pumpkin soup, salad and savoury brioche

Blanquette of veal served with phyllo pastry topping - Le Mesclun

Cafe Gourmand - Le Mesclun

Sigouret

After gorging, a short walk, a drive by to Chateauneuf-de-Pape and after 45 minutes you’re back in Menerbes.

The Schneebs left, Mark and Armen arrived. We had a birthday finale with a great little soiree at the Bastide. It was a joint culinary effort from Madame and Mark. Sadly, too much fun was had by all and pictures were at a premium. Then, on Sunday off to the inevitable L’Isle sur la Sorgue and a great lunch at one of our new finds – Auberge de Lagnes. Fragile bodies were comforted with well cooked food and a great atmosphere. The Auberge is definitety one of those ‘Special places to eat’ and well worth the short car ride to the village of Lagnes.

The soiree in preparation - Madame, E, Armen and Mark

Auberg de Lagnes, the entree : foie gras with caramelised onion

Auberge de Lagnes - deboned lamb loin chop pan fried served on dauphinois potatoes with a 'mielle feuille' of aubergines, tomato, onion and courgettes

Auberge de Lagnes - braised beef, Provençal style on polenta

Cabillard perched on top of dauphinois potatoes with a lemon butter sauce

The veggie option for Armen - mushroom risotto

Le Dessert - chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream

Au bientot: Lovonne and Simon xx

Old, really old vines at Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Rhone Valley

We found this door at the entrance to the old village of Sigouret, in the Rhone Valley

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