White asparagus freshly trimmed and reayd to cook.

White asparagus freshly trimmed and reayd to cook.

 

Apart from the cherry blossoms and the general awakening of the fauna and flora, Springtime is asparagus time! Local farmers plant several rows of the white and green vegetable and locals are able to buy these direct from the farm for much less than in the supermarkets.

Something about the humble asparagus..

Asparagus has been used as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour, diuretic properties, and more. It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. In ancient times, it was also known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter; Romans even froze it high in the Alps, for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action. A recipe for cooking asparagus is in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third-century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.

Green asparagus, fresh from the soil

Green asparagus, fresh from the soil

The ancient Greek physician Galen (prominent among the Romans) mentioned asparagus as a beneficial herb during the second century AD, but after the Roman empire ended, asparagus drew little medieval attention until al-Nafzawi’s The Perfumed Garden. That piece of writing celebrates its (scientifically unconfirmed) aphrodisiacal power, a supposed virtue that the Indian Ananga Ranga attributes to “special phosphorus elements” that also counteract fatigue. By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been hardly noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until 1542.

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The finest texture and the strongest and yet most delicate taste is in the tips. The points d’amour (“love tips”) were served as a delicacy to Madame de Pompadour. Asparagus became available to the New World around 1850, in the United States.

At last, now we're starting to eat local produce!

At last, now we’re starting to eat local produce!

 

Madame is having loads of fun in her back garden

Madame is having loads of fun in her back garden

 

We know that Spring is here when the fake oilves start to shine in the evening dusk.

We know that Spring is here when the fake oilves start to shine in the evening dusk.

 

Masses of wild and cultivated irises are starting to appear.

Masses of wild and cultivated irises are starting to appear.

 

"The Valley"

“The Valley” – this time looking from Saignon towards the Vaucluse Mountains

 

A lovely example of ancient craftsmanship on a wall near Saignon.

A lovely example of ancient craftsmanship on a wall near Saignon.

 

 

 

The Cours Mirabeau starts with the large fountain depicting the corners of Provence. It was windy day so the water comes in fits and starts. Normally, a magnificent sight.

The Cours Mirabeau starts with the large fountain depicting the corners of Provence. It was windy day so the water comes in fits and starts. Normally, a magnificent sight.

Aix-en-Provence is one of our favourite cities in France. Aix is predominantly a University city (established in 1459) along with a rich legal and cultural heritage. This gives a unique mix of young students buzzing around, legal eagles with cloaks swirling and culture provided by erstwhile residents such as Cezanne, Emile Zola and Picasso. Add in a healthy mix of agriculture and tourism and you have Aix-en-Provence.

Judicial buildings in the centre of Aix old city.

Judicial buildings in the centre of Aix old city.

Founded in 122 B.C., Aix is the ancient capital of Provence. The city of over 150,000 inhabitants and plenty more in dormitory suburbs, is the sub-prefecture of the Bouches-Rhone region (13), and an integral part of the Provence region.It takes its name from the leader of the Roman garrison stationed there – Gaius Sixtius Calvinus.

The main thoroughfare Cours Mirabeau is one of the most well-known in France and was created in 1649. Lined with plain trees, it’s 440 metres length has over 40 roads and alleyways off it. The stately mansions along its pavements are now all offices, banks and shops but the buildings have lost none of their character. It was named by Michael Mazarin, a local architect and the brother of Louis XIV’s adjudant, Jules Mazarin.

A bakery in the Aix centre wich has stood the test of time

A bakery in the Aix centre wich has stood the test of time

Although the Cours Mirabeau also has its fair share of restaurants, we prefer to venture off the beaten track inot the Cours’ alleyways. Down Rue 9 eptembre we found the Restaurant Jardin Mazarin. Behind the imposing door we found a friendly patron, a lovely little garden and some affordable, fun food.

One of Jardin Mazarin's signature dishes - a trio of foie gras. Our guest pronounced it 'rich but delicious'.

One of Jardin Mazarin’s signature dishes – a trio of foie gras. Our guest pronounced it ‘rich but delicious’.

Underneath this largish piece of marrow bone was a steak, well cooked and succulent.

Underneath this largish piece of marrow bone was a steak, well cooked and succulent. Accompanied by mashed potatoes and an aubergine dish.

Plain and simple. Gambas and risotto. Pronounced 'soft' - prawns had been frozen a good time back. Pity.

Plain and simple. Gambas and risotto. Pronounced ‘soft’ – prawns had been frozen a good time back. Pity.

A perfect way to set yourself up for an afternoon of exploring the streets and lanes.

There are plenty of parking garages in Aix; all the major retail brands are there; and some exclusive ones – one of Madame’s favourites Escales.

A great day out! A tip – the roads in and out of the Aix-centre are confusing and irrational to say the least. Use your GPS!

On our way out of the city we possed into the 5-star Chateau le Pigeonnier. While the buildings and hotel facilities looked quiet, and a bit tired, the gardens gave a hint of long languid summers.

On our way out of the city we possed into the 5-star Chateau le Pigeonnier. While the buildings and hotel facilities looked quiet, and a bit tired, the gardens gave a hint of long languid summers.

 

We spotted this chap sunning himself in the village of Saignon.

We spotted this chap sunning himself in the village of Saignon.

The current view from the Bastide les Amis gardens of the valley awakening in Spring and Mont Ventoux in the background

The current view from the Bastide les Amis gardens of the valley awakening in Spring and Mont Ventoux in the background

A very bauxite, dusty olive tree at Carriere de Lumieres, Les Baux.

A very bauxite, dusty olive tree at Carriere de Lumieres, Les Baux.

Madame's risotto with olives and vegetables, flavoured with thyme.

Madame’s risotto with olives and vegetables, flavoured with thyme.

 

Mention the name Jean-André Charial to a French person who really knows their food and who the top multi-starred chefs are, and you’ll receive an approving nod. Charial is the master of all he surveys in the fabled Ousteau de Baumiere in Les Baux de Provence.

The Ousteau is world famous for its gastronomic cooking, restaurant and top end country hotel. Down the road – about 5km – is the less pretentious village of Mausanne-les-Alpilles, one of the centres of the Frenc olive oil industry. It is here in the village, that one of Jean-André’s prodigies Eric Bouton has emerged from the Ousteau kitchen and presides over the small bistro La Place.

Overall control still rests with Monsieur Charial, but Bouton has his wings. Serving less pretentious fare than the Ousteau, la Place was packed on the Saturday lunchtime wewent there – and a wonderful meal resulted.

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Simple careml dessert with fresh fruits. One of Bouton’s dessert specialities.

 

Simple and tasty; beautifuly presented and prices that did not prevent digestion. The wine list is short and too the point. Naturally local wines predominate and also not at fancy prices.

The restaurant rates 4.5 stars on Trip Adviser and carries a Michelin Recommended rating – we’ll be back!

For more information, opening hours etc, click here.

 

 

Welcome to L'Isle sur la Sorgue. We just love the characters.

Welcome to L’Isle sur la Sorgue. We just love the characters.

Traditionally, the Easter period heralds the annual L’Isle sur la Morgue Antiques Festival. 2015 is the 98th presentation and remains a magnet for antique hunters and merchants alike. Not nearly on the same scale as Brimfield in the USA, the Fair draws the crowds.

We looked for some of the more ‘unusual’ artefacts/objects.

Not quite an antique but collectable (in the right place).

Not quite an antique but collectable (in the right place). Made frrom chicken mesh wire.

 

On the same theme.

On the same theme.

 

Vintage advertising signs abound.

Vintage advertising signs abound.

 

The Fair is one place that does not close down for lunch. However, this does not stop the French from lunching!

The Fair is one place that does not close down for lunch. However, this does not stop the French from lunching!

 

The classic image gets the full treatment

The classic image gets the full treatment

 

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No show would be complete without her....

No show would be complete without her….

 

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One pf the highlights of any visit to the Les Alpilles region, is a viewing of the current show at the 5th Century quarry, Carrieres de Lumieres near the tourist hot-spot, Les Baux.

Images from the show

Images from the show

The 2015 show is now a real spectacle. Using over 200 projectors and lights, the producers take the viewer into the world of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. The production this year starts to use the floor space fully for the first time, ad you are transported inot the Sistine Chapel in its entirety, along with other clever techniques.

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There is a moment in the production whenre they had deconstructed some of Michaelangelo’s paintings, and then ‘re-built’ them. Awe-inspiring technology.

Of course, David is featured!

Of course, David is featured!

 

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Note the floor images

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Between the main show – which lasts 20 minutes – there is a 10 minute insert using the technology and taking you through forest and under the sea. A great show in its own right.

 

 

The show is a must!

Opening hours:

Every day from 6 March 2015 until 3 January 2016.Les Carrières sont ouvertes tous les jours du 6 mars 2015 au 3 janvier 2016.
From April to September – 10h00-19h30; and then from 10h00-18h00.

The last entry is allowed one hour before closing.

For more information, go to www.carrieres-lumieres.com

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