Yesterday, we began the day with a leisurely breakfast at the Chateau. Conny set a marvellous breakfast out for everyone, with fresh-baked, crusty breads, croissants, jams, honey, butter, several types of good cheeses, fresh cherries, melons, and apricots (local and wonderful), granola, etc. I ate too much … but I guess after the exoticism of not knowing what the heck you just ordered for dinner, or what the heck it is you are digging into, etc., it’s so nice to have melon (yep, that is melon), toast (yep, that is toast), cereal …
After breakfast, on the advice of Hein, Len and I headed a bit south to the towns of St. Remy de Provence, and then to Le Beau.
On Wednesday mornings, there is an open-air market at St. Remy, and when we arrived, the little town was full of eager shoppers. Len drove (more on that in another post), and we even found a parking spot – a four-foot-six-inch-wide space into which Len somehow maneuvered a four-foot-wide car.
At le marche, Len spent some time talking to a lady who’s an artist; she was selling small paintings she did on ceramic tiles, and then they were baked into a glossy smoothness. We bought two of her little paintings, and headed on.
Next, there was a couple selling the most wonderful Provencal-print table linens ever! Yeah, I bought some – they were a good price – I bought a tablecloth in bright crimson and gold print, with 8 napkins, and a small, accent cloth for the table center.Later, we couldn’t resist buying a kilo of fabulous, fresh cherries before having a wonderful, Provencal pizza for lunch.
A word about the pizza here: it does not come from a Hut, and they don’t deliver.
I recall reading that when Wolfgang Puck was just starting out as a chef, he apprenticed himself to cooks in the Provencal region of France. There, he learned to make, among other things, the wonderful Provencal pizzas with imaginative toppings that later (when he came to the U.S.) really established his reputation.
Provencal pizzas are thin-crust and really crispy. They don’t have a LOT of cheese – just the right balance with the tomato sauce – and they are covered generously with any number/combination of creative toppings. The menu of little restaurant at which we ate at lunch at had one entire side containing listings of different types of pizzas you could order. And one innovation I particularly like: when you get your pizza, the server always gives you a bottle of hot-pepper-infused olive oil that you can drizzle over your pizza if you want something spicy.
After we finished our lunch, which included a pizza with thinly sliced, carmelized onions, pasta with olive oil and garlic, and finished with a rich cappucino (nobody eats “light” here; get over it), we headed off in the direction of the little mountains nearby, and Le Beau.
Le Beau is a little city that dates back to the 12th century, and is still inhabited today. What is special about Le Beau is that it is entirely carved out of a mountainside. The Lords of Le Beau recognized the strategic defensability of the mountains, it seems, so in one steep mountaintop, the people carved out a little church, shops, homes, etc. Think Anasazi Indians of New Mexico/Arizona. And it stood thus for centuries.
Modern Le Beau has evolved into a little bit of a tourist trap, of course – there are little shops everywhere, selling essentially the same “stuff,” and probably mostly main in China. But the history of the place, and the feeling you get when walking into the little stone church with its stained glass windows is really amazing.
Some men were giving a demonstration of how a middle-ages catapult worked in a large plateau area nearby – of course, Len commented that he couldn’t look at the catapults without thinking about Monty Python, but the darned thing really did hurl a fair-sized ceramic ball quite a distance. I imagine attackers would’ve done some damage with those.
As we were looking around on the plateau, and taking pictures of the beautiful valley below, of olive orchards and vineyards, we endured a nearly gale-force wind coming from the south. Finally, we left to make our way back to the Chateau, and to a special meal being prepared by a chef that Conny and Hein employ to fix a dinner once a week for them and for the guests.