Delicious Dilemmas: Provence Pleasures to Savor

Calling all foodies—come one, come all! The month of May is a fine time to rejoice in spring’s bounty in Provence. And this year, in particular, the season has taken on special meaning for les Padgetts.

After a hectic five-week visit to the US this spring, returning to the easy, gentle rhythms of everyday life in our little Provençal patch made our hearts go pitter patter. As if savoring the pleasures of Provence for the first time, we reveled in each new day here in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. But what exactly, we pondered, makes this place so alluring?

Pinpointing what keeps us loving life here may be an impossible task, but near the top of the list rests an unlikely contender—constant decision-making. But how can seemingly never-ending deliberations be joyful? Well, when the subject centers on luscious consumables, these daily demands instantly become delicious delights. Yes, indeed, when it comes to local bounty—and how and where to enjoy them—we are spoiled for choice. Here are some of the delectable dilemmas Provence presents.

Daily bread at Boulangerie Bergese

La boulangerie. Flaky croissants, pains au chocolate, and chaussons de pomme, apple-filled “slippers,” are yummy classics. Rustic, crusty baguettes arrive in various lengths, along side round loaves prepared with different flours. More hearty types laden with grains have their place too, including a super dense version called Pain Nordique. And the list goes on.  

Weekly outdoor marché: Wednesday is the big market day here in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The food stalls take over Place Plessier, in front of the stately Hôtel de Ville, completely enveloping the graceful Fontaine de Quatre Dauphins. From the oversized bowls of olives smothered in herbs de Provence, garlic or exotic spices, to the piles of seasonal veggies recently harvested, to an array of fragrant cheeses, to all sorts of freshly caught poissons, and to glistening chickens rotating on spits, everything is here to satisfy your taste buds. Choices, choices!  

The five varieties of olives used at Moulin du Calanquet, near St. Remy de Provence

Olive oil producers: Olive groves are ubiquitous in Provence, and, naturally, so are olive oil producers. In our neck of the woods, favorites include the nearby Moulin du Calanquet and Moulin Castelas in Maussane. But olive oil isn’t simply olive oil. At the former enterprise, several varieties are on offer such as Aglandau, Picholine, Salonenque and Grossane, each with its own subtle, yet distinctive flavor. At the latter, in addition to their “regular” olive oils, aromatic versions imbued with various herbs/flavors are available. Choices include Espelette pepper, lemongrass, and thyme and rosemary. One stunning choice is infused with basil and mint—terrific on salads and beyond.

La pâtisserie: And for dessert–a strawberry-topped tart? Multi-layered Napoleon? Or perhaps a chocolate éclair? Local pastry shops (plus most boulangeries) offer such wide variety of tempting treats, if you are a “sweet” person, you’ve got your work cut out for yourself. For something extra special, pop into the adorable Maison Gaillardet for a heavenly Troprovençale, offered in several flavors. The citron version is phenomenal.

At the Domaine de Valdition tasting room-boutique, luscious olive oil can be had, as well.

Domaines de Vin: So how about le bon vin to accompany your meal? Wineries in the area are plentiful, but here are some favorites. A few minutes outside of St. Rémy, you’ll find Domaine du Val de L’Oule, and up and over the Alpilles, at the base of Les Baux, resides wonderful Mas Sainte-Berthe. Domaine de Valdition—with a snazzy, chic boutique right in the tasting room—never fails to please. And Domaine du Grand Fontanille, direction Arles, always satisfies. But let’s not forget other excellent local wineries such as Domaine Milan, Château Romanin, Domaine Hauvette, Domaine d’Eole, and Domaine des Terres Blanches, to name a few! So which color, then—rosé, blanc or rouge? Decisions, decisions!

When preparing a sumptuous repast chez vous is not in the cards, a heady selection of cafés, bistrots and restaurants awaits! Depending on what you are you in the mood for (and your budget), St. Rémy and environs will deliver. Something veggie-centric and inventive—Maison Favier. For salads and crepes of all types, Crêperie Lou Planet on beautiful Place Favier. For a bistrot ambience with sophisticated flavors, it’s Mas du Capoun Chez Ju in Mollégès. For an upscale experience, L’Opale at Domaine Pierre Blanche in Eygalières is a fine choice. So many flavors to savor and so little time. Eateries we have yet to try, a couple of promising newcomers—Chapeau de Paille and Têtes d’Ail, both in St. Rémy, happily, a short walk away from chez nous.

Adorable Chapeau de Paille has garnered excellent reviews–we’ll visit soon!

With all the extraordinary taste choices available, identifying your preferences and places may require some practice. But chances are, you’ll put in the time to do what you have to do to satisfy your inquisitive palate. Eventually, you’ll be ordering confidently—without holding up the waiter or the line—a gesture much appreciated by all. Bon appétit!

Sunday morning at popular Bergese

Bises, Gayle


While in the US, I loved seeing the hummingbirds and roadrunners, but I missed my favorite bird, the flamant rose. But soon we’ll be making a jaunt down to the Camargue for a very happy reunion.

Printemps Perspectives: Provence to Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California, enjoys a dramatic setting, nestled into the San Jacinto Mountains.

Move it on out! From urban centers to rural zones, springtime brings a welcome surge of vibrant energy. After a sleepy winter hibernation, it seems everyone is ready to kick up their heels.

For Ralph and me, this translates to a California visit. But before we hopped on the plane in Marseille, I was energized to pry myself out of Saint-Rémy and over to the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence for the David Hockney exhibition—compiled with works on loan from Tate Modern Museum in London. Purported to be an absolute must-see, the expo was, indeed, a showstopper. The extensive collection of knock-your-socks-off works featuring brash and bold colors was captivating. I especially appreciated the four-panel folding screen called Caribbean Tea Time (1987).”

The towering Marilyn Monroe statue is a tourist magnet.

Once on the other side of the pond in the desert community of Palm Springs—where I went to high school and we owned a place for a while—we’re busy catching up with friends and family and reacquainting ourselves with our former stomping grounds, with walks and bike rides around town. Must-do city experiences include checking on the oversized statue of Marilyn Monroe, who was “discovered” in Palm Springs, relishing Mexican meals at Ruben and Ozzy’s (super fish and shrimp tacos), La Perlita (delish chiles rellenos) and meandering through the Palm Springs Art Museum. Built into the side of the mountain, the unique structure–designed by Stewart Williams—is quite fitting for the marvelous artwork it houses. No matter how many times I’ve visited, I always linger by the Calder mobile, Picasso’s bronze rooster, Paul Jenkins’ “Phenomena Wind Off Big Sur,” and the remarkable monumental “basket” made of squashed aluminum cans by Gerald Clarke, a Native American (Cahuilla).

Another highlight of our visit includes a startling new development. A former golf course has been converted into a nature park called Prescott Preserve, replete with walking trails and habitat drawing incredible birdlife. On our first visit, we saw exuberant hummingbirds, the scarlet Vermillion Flycatcher, and the polka dot-breasted Northern Flicker, a type of woodpecker. And before we depart, we’ll venture out to the new Oswit Canyon Preserve (south Palm Springs), which was recently saved from development.

Luscious sunset in Palm Springs, California

From its Native American roots to its glitzy, celebrity playground reputation, there’s no question that Palm Springs is multi-dimensional. During our brief visit, it’s gratifying to not only enjoy our fave activities but also to peel back some layers and see my enticing and dynamic “hometown” in new light.

Happy Spring to all!

The ubiquitous bougainvillea packs a colorful visual wallop.

Bises, Gayle


The Birdwatcher’s Wife has a vibrant new cover, which offers a clearer idea of the story and its French setting. (We’ll always treasure the beautiful painting–by Deborah K. Ahern–of the strolling avocets on the first cover!)


At the end of January, Tuula Rampont, a journalist with International Living, interviewed Ralph and me about life in France and my books. You can watch it here on YouTube:

Vermeer to Van Gogh: The Dutch Masters “Play” Provence

Van Gogh’s The Starry Night at Carrières des Lumières

Come one and all to experience the spectacular immersive sound and light show now playing at Carrières des Lumières, a former interior quarry turned art venue, just a stone’s throw from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Displayed on the massive limestone walls, fabulous digital exhibitions devoted to major artists have been wowing spectators since 2012.

This year’s extravaganza, From Vermeer to Van Gogh: The Dutch Masters, concentrates on the Golden Age of Dutch art during the 17th Century. In addition to works by the two giants–Vermeer and Van Gogh–famous works by Pieter de Hooch, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Jacob Van Ruisdael are also featured.

As if all that star power wasn’t enough, the multi-sensory art history lesson also includes a short program that sweeps the viewer into the 20th century. Mondrian, Architect of Colors, traces the journey of Dutch artist, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), from his native Holland to New York City. In this vibrant metropolis crammed with soaring skyscrapers, far removed from austere northern European vistas, Mondrian explores minimalism—famously portrayed as geometric power grids in bold primary colors.

While viewing the rich worlds comprised of interior and exterior scenes as interpreted by these Dutch masters, the impact of the experience is greatly enhanced by a booming, varied sound track. Rossini’s William Tell Overture one minute and Nina Simone’s rousing rendition of Feeling Good the next. Be prepared to be astonished!

And bring a wrap—it’s chilly in there.

Decking the halls with Ruisdael’s sumptuous flowers.

Happy spring—just around the corner!

Bises, Gayle


What a privilege it was to attend the March “literary lunch” hosted by the international group BritsNîmes to chat about my books, Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie and The Birdwatcher’s Wife: A Quest across France for Birds and La Belle Vie. The exceptionally congenial Yvette Judge conducted the lively interview—a delightful experience!

A Valentine for Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

As La fête de Saint-Valentin approaches, l’amour fills the air. Maybe that’s why Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s opening lines to her famous sonnet flashed across my mind as Ralph and I strolled through Saint-Rémy’s centre ville earlier this week. The soft golden light that illuminated the Hôtel de Ville and the graceful Fontaine de Quatre Dauphins gave me pause. This beautiful, serene scene reminded me that after more than a decade living in this delightful commune nestled into the base of les Alpilles, its many charms continue to tug at my heartstrings.

As the seasons shift, and the tourists (and the wicked mistral!) blow in and out, this petite ville of ten thousand residents ever evolves. For example, this winter the Tourist Office is undergoing a make-over, along with the main south-bound road, the fiercely bumpy D5, which formerly put shock absorbers to the test. But, it is the many enduring constants that keep my love affair with this enchanting town fired up. Here are just a few of the highlights.

Year-round town: With its vibrant café culture, fab Wednesday market—filled with dazzling local produce—art galleries, boutiques, cinema, boulangeries, and special events like the popular transhumance, which involves a parade of thousands of sheep and goats around the ring road, there’s always something to grab your attention.

A warm welcome awaits at Grand Cafe Riche.
Overview of Saint-Rémy from the base of les Alpilles.

Nature at the doorstep: From bustling centre-ville, it’s just a twenty-minute stroll to the edge of the Parc Regional des Alpilles, with all its walking trails, sensational views, and, of course, bird life. It’s a haven for cyclists, hikers, and runners.

Cyclists cruise by L’Èglise Saint-Martin on market day.
An entrance to charming centre ville, filled with boutiques and art galleries.

Beautiful centre-ville: Charming squares, replete with pretty fountains, like Place Plessier and Place Favier—home to the superb Musée des Alpilles—offer inviting spaces to slow down, admire the intriguing architecture, and people-watch.

Now a posh hotel, it was a modest inn when composer Charles Gounod wrote the opera Mireille here in 1863.

More than a pretty face: Aside from the enviable setting and enchanting architecture, Saint-Rémy enjoys a rich history that includes the Greeks and Romans, native son Nostradamus, the opera composer Charles Gounod, and Van Gogh. The Dutch artist painted his famous The Starry Night during his stay at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole (1889).

A bronze statue of Van Gogh greets visitors at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole monastery.
The Roman monuments, Les Antiques, stand at the entrance to Glanum, on the outskirts of St. Rémy.
A vast beach in the Camargue, an hour from St. Rémy.

Proximity to world class destinations: One hour brings you to Aix-en-Provence and just twenty minutes to Avignon to the north and Arles to the west. And let’s not forget the magnificent wetlands of the Camargue, home to the famous white horses, bulls, and, of course, flocks of marvelous bird life like the Greater Flamingo, my favorite bird.

A poster of Greater Flamingos showing off their great wingspans.

I’ve only scratched the surface here but perhaps now you’ll want to come take a peek for yourself? Beware—if you do, you might be inclined to prolong your stay.

Joyeuse Fête de Saint-Valentin!

Bises, Gayle

Outside the Camargue Museum, I’m with Jean-Yves Barnagaud, author of Where to Watch Birds in France. (Nidal Issa and Sébastien Dallouyau are co-authors of the fabulous bird guide.)


A week ago Ralph and I had the privilege to go birding in the Camargue with an exceptional avian expert, the author of Where to Watch Birds in France, which was a huge help to Ralph during his big birding year (2019). Congenial Jean-Yves Barnagaud took time out from his incredibly busy schedule as a researcher/professor in Montpellier to meet us for an outing, which included sightings of the Bewick’s Swan, Curlew and Pintail. Plus we enjoyed a “three-course” pique-nique—in a bird blind! Though the mistral was howling, it was an experience to treasure.

Bonne Année 2023 and … a Splendid Spanish Seaside Adventure in Sitges

Spectacular Sitges, Spain, a thirty-minute train ride from Barcelona

Before looking to the future, a glance back at the finale of 2022. Ahead of the holiday season shifting into overdrive, we drove five and a half hours from St. Rémy de Provence to the stunning seaside enclave of Sitges, 30-minutes from Barcelona. This delightful town—around 30K residents—had been on our radar for a while. A dear friend regularly visits and raves about it, a daughter of neighbors lives there and adores it, AND the New York Times journalist Alexander Lobrano finds it irresistible too. After a week in the captivating town, it’s easy to understand why.

Surfers waiting for “the” wave

First of all, the Mediterranean coastal setting is stunning, with countless opportunities for water sports from boogie boarding to kayaking to surfing. Add to that the fabulous foodie scene, welcoming locals, vibrant ambiance, impressive Catalan Art Nouveau architecture, and intriguing museums like the Museu Cau Ferrat, featuring works by Spanish Impressionist painter Santiago Rusinol. Plus there are cool birds, like the striking blue Kingfisher and lime green Rose-ringed Parakeets!

In the San Sebastian neighborhood, we rented a contemporary apartment overlooking the beach—Sitges has no fewer than seventeen! From our balcony, people-watching was top-notch, as locals and tourists converged on the wide promenade below—strolling, jogging, pushing a pram or snapping selfies. From the Sitges church to the Terramar Hotel, the walkway skirting the sand stretches for over 2.5 kilometers.

And we took advantage, walking and peddling our foldable bikes in both directions. Good thing we got some exercise because we attempted to eat at most of the restaurants noted in the NY Times article plus a few our friends told us about. My favorite dish was probably the deeply rich paella at Costa Dorada—heavenly. But other eateries offered delicious dining experiences like the venerable Salseta and bustling Bon Estar. (Reservations recommended.)

But sitting down for a full meal wasn’t the only option for delectable nourishment. It just happened that during our visit, the town was hosting a program called Tapa a Tapa Sitges. Participating restaurants offer a particular tapa and a glass of wine or beer for four euros. A detailed brochure (in Catalan and Spanish) describes and shows a photo of the tapa on offer and outlines the days/hours it’s available. At Vento at Hotel Sunway, we sat on a huge terrace across from the sparkling Med and enjoyed espuma de setas con butifarra de perol y crujiente de iberico. Basically, it was a large shot glass filled with a flavorful mushroom foam topped with minced mushrooms and pork sausage bits. But perhaps the most surprising was the one at Pic Nic. There we were served a tiny toque of dark chocolate stuffed with a corn meal mush made with onions, carrots and fig.

Not that lively Sitges lacked for enticing discoveries, but alluring Barcelona beckoned. So one day, we hopped the train for the 30-minute ride to the metropolis for a quick look-see and lunch with a delightful friend from St. Rémy who’s settled there. A single day allows only enough time to barely scratch the surface of this astounding city, but we hit some highlights: the sprawling Plaza Catalonia, renown Boquería market, snazzy shops on La Rambla, Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, and transformative mussels and yummy tacos carnitas at the hip restaurant Fiser with our bonne amie, not to mention birdwatching—Rose-ringed Parakeets populated the palm trees!

From near the Vivero Beach Club Restaurant, a beguiling hot magenta sunset

During our all-too-brief week in this vibrant Catalan region, we made some intriguing discoveries and marvelous memories, reminding us of the magic of curious exploration. Here’s to the adventures to come!

All the best for New Year 2023 delivering good health, happiness and hope.

Bises, Gayle


Caught these prancing beauties on New Year’s Day in the Camargue. Could they be speed-dating?

 *Alexander Lobrano is the author of the NY Times International Edition article, A long-awaited return to Spain, 21 Sept. 2022.

Joyeux Fêtes 2022!

L’Église Saint-Martin all aglow for the Fête des Lumières

From frosty Saint-Rémy-de-Provence…

Wishing you all a marvelously merry holiday time and all the very, very best for a healthy, happy, and hopeful 2023!

I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation for your spirited support of this blog and The Birdwatcher’s Wife during its first year out in the world. From the bottom of my heart, Mille Fois Merci! You have no idea how much your kind and encouraging comments have meant to me. In addition to enjoying the French adventure story, many readers write that they now see birds in a different light—how cool is that!

As 2022 quickly draws to a close and we proceed into the New Year 2023, I hope you’ll venture into nature more and that each experience will be joyful and life affirming.

Grosses bises, Gayle


For the holidays, a sale is in progress on Amazon for The Birdwatcher’s Wife—for both the paperback and Kindle. Also available through bookstores, as is Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie. HAPPY READING!

The Birdwatcher’s Wife (A True French Adventure)

Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie

Lured by the Birds, Paused for the Ponies: Camargue Marvel

Here come the ponies racing by the beach in the Camargue.

Feeding flamingos to the left of me, rampaging ponies to the right of me. Here I was, stuck in the middle—in the middle of the Camargue, the vast, magical delta where the Rhône meets the Med.

Flamingos sifting for snacks in a lagoon near Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue.

It’s Lady Luck I have to thank for ending up in this surprising scenario. That morning the sun was shining, the winds were fairly calm, and no pluie threatened the horizon. In short, it was the perfect recipe for a little beach-birding getaway. So Ralph and I took to the road and within an hour arrived at the capital of the Camargue, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. From the center of town, we headed to the plage est area. Here you can bet pretty Little Egrets will be sunning themselves by the small water treatment plant, their pristine white feathers rippling in the breeze of the gushing waters. This is where we usually park and begin our trek inland to scan the marshy expanses and canals for flamingos and other feathered friends like Kentish and Ringed Plovers.

A Little Egret catching some rays outside Saints-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue.

But a hundred meters from our destination, a blockade stopped us, manned by some rather intimidating, beefy guys. We wondered if this was strike-related, as possible grêves across several sectors had been recently reported in the media. Yet not a banner or a picket was to be seen. We parked and walked, loaded down with the spotting scope on a tripod, binoculars and backpacks.

A flock of flamingos provide a pretty patch of pink in the flat expanse of the Camargue wetlands.

When we reached the water treatment area we saw loads of people shoulder to shoulder staring at an elevated path running east parallel to the beach. A pair of ambulances was on hand. Obviously, an “event” was anticipated, and they were prepared for casualties.

November in Provence: a solitary gull patrols the pristine beach outside Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the Med.

Binoculars up. As far as we could see into the distance with our jumelles, hoards of people lined the pathway. What was happening? We asked some fellow onlookers but they had no idea. New arrivals queried us, but all we could do was offer the iconic Gallic shrug. Soon we all had the answer. A mass of about a dozen horses mounted by both gals and guys, youthful and more mature—all clumped together—came galloping directly towards us at a bend in the road. The stampede approached at breakneck speed and though we didn’t recoil violently—we were safely tucked behind some sturdy metal barriers—the roar of all those hefty hooves and the billowing dust clouds they kicked up was daunting. Surely these equestrians had mastered the skill of slowing at a curve? Of course they did, I told myself. Most likely all the riders had grown up on this sandy range and been horseback riding since they could waddle. Indeed, this expert bunch reined in the barreling broncos, allowing them to glide gracefully ‘round the bend as if they’d been Baryshnikov-trained.

Ponies on parade–at breakneck speed!

At intervals of a few minutes, several other equine posses roared by. It was fast and furious for a while and then suddenly quiet as cyclists and walkers reclaimed the space. As the crowds dispersed, and we moseyed on our way to gaze at whatever feathered friends we could find, I marveled at our dumb luck at witnessing such an impressive authentic spectacle in such a wildly wondrous beachfront setting under such flawless sapphire blue skies. Perhaps it was ordinary event for local residents, but for us it was another extraordinary example of the fascinating layers of life in Provence.

Before I sign off, a special greeting for US readers for the 24th: Happy Thanksgiving!

We’ll be in Spain next week so no dinde for dinner on Thursday but possibly pavo. And, we’ll be giving thanks just the same. Gobble-gobble!

Stay safe, well, and hopeful.

Bises, Gayle

Note: We found out later a two-day fête was in full swing—the Festival d’Abrivado celebrates the Camargue’s bull and horse heritage and the manadiers, those dedicated to raising the impressive animals.


With the gift-giving holiday season around the corner, you might need a nifty idea. Why not pick up some fun reads: Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie and The Birdwatcher’s Wife (A True French adventure) for your Francophile family and friends?!

Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie

The Birdwatcher’s Wife (A True French Adventure)

Cavorting in Charismatic Cotignac

Cotignac is one of the most beautiful villages in France

It’s official—the petit Provençal bijou of Cotignac has joined the distinguished list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, the most beautiful villages in France. In short, this honor is bestowed only on very special rural villages—with a population under two thousand—that boast a compelling cultural heritage or unique architecture.

Crag Martins and Jackdaws buzzed all around the cliff housing looming over Cotignac

But it wasn’t Cotignac’s troglodyte dwellings carved into the porous rock cliffs that loom over the town or its famous pilgrimage sites that inspired us to spend a few days there. Nor was it to be a dedicated birding expedition though our binoculars would most certainly tag along. And it wasn’t an attempt to fulfill my fantasy of bumping into George Clooney who owns an estate in the area. (He was spotted recently at the posh resto, the Secret Garden—part of the luxe property Lou Calen—perhaps sipping a luscious pale rosé from nearby Domaine Mirabeau?)

La belle vue from the terrace of La Picotte restaurant

The fact is we were hankering for a uncomplicated autumn mini-break but with gasoline shortages plaguing France, exploring our own backyard made perfect sense. Plus, for eons we’ve been curious about this tucked-away village—under two hours from Saint-Rémy. Years ago before we moved to Provence, it was a Cotignac property I’d seen online that had captured my imagination. The proprieté was utterly impractical because it consisted of a swimming pool with no more than a tiny cabanon for shelter. But, oh là là, the belle vue over the verdant valley sent my heart aflutter.

And there was one other source of inspiration for our brief sortie of discovery. Lovely local entrepreneur Susana Iwase (, a fellow University of California grad—she from Berkeley and me from UCLA—was free to get together so that clinched it. We packed our bags for Cotignac.

And the picturesque village exceeded our expectations. First of all, the terra cotta tile-roofed enclave enjoys a striking setting tucked into the base of 80-meter high escarpments. Numerous lively cafes, stylish boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants offering tantalizing menus flank the plane tree-shaded main street, le Cours Gambetta.

Faded ochre-toned structures with fancifully colorful doors and shutters cram the maze of narrow, winding passageways that open on to spacious squares with graceful fountains. Stopping constantly for snaps was de rigueur, especially from on high where the panoramic view over the valley was captivating. And let’s not forget the vibrant Tuesday marché where locals greeted each other with cheek kisses (yes, contact is making a comeback), often pausing for a chat over a mid-morning espresso. Clearly, shopping was secondary in this convivial ambiance.

Our Cotignac escape may have been brief, allowing us only to scratch the surface of this historic town with heart, but it was exceedingly memorable —even though Monsieur Clooney was a no-show. Maybe next time?

Pristine waterfall outside Sillans-la-Cascade, close to Cotignac

Stay safe and well.

Bises, Gayle

A bucket of bounty from our single olive tree


It’s olive harvest time in Provence. We have but one olive tree in our small yard so we’re hardly self-sufficient in the golden nectar arena. But luckily, olive producing experts like the fabulous Domaine Castelas are at hand—just on the other side of les Alpilles in les Baux-de-Provence, a 15-minute ride away.

Gourmet Escapade in the Boonies Beyond Saint-Rémy-Provence

Finding Félines-Minervois on a map might require a magnifying glass. This speck of a village, about 30 kilometers northeast of the medieval marvel of Carcassonne, is home to fewer than five hundred residents, but I knew Ralph and I were going there—and bientôt too! After reading food writer Tim Hayward’s gushing review (Financial Times, 9/10 July 2022) of the Grand Café Occitan in this tiny country enclave, I immediately launched into researching the establishment. The dazzling menu with approachable prices prompted me to strategize how soon we could enjoy a meal created by the acclaimed young English chef Tristram Bowden.

It wasn’t practical to travel the three hours to Félines-Minervois in July or August—peak tourist season—but after a sweltering, mostly stay-at-home summer, a destination dining jaunt in autumn had great appeal. Perfect timing for this low key getaway would be after the rentrée. This is the marvelous time of year when kids return to school (1 September this fall) and the bulk of tourists vanish from the autoroutes.

We wouldn’t merely dine, however. There would be riding along the Canal du Midi on our foldable bikes, catching up with buddies who live in the area, exploring the vast wine-growing region—arguably among the most extensive in the world. And birding, of course. Our feathered friends are everywhere and we’d keep our binoculars at the ready to see what we could see.

The trip to our holiday rental Eloi Merle in Olonzac—fun Tuesday market—was a snap. From there, it was a short bike ride to Homps on the Canal du Midi. With friends based in Carcassonne, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the canal-side Auberge de la Croisade, and had another yummy meal with amis living near Toulouse. We met halfway in the quaint outpost of Montolieu, nicknamed le village du livre. The moniker is apt considering the population is a mere 821, yet boasts a dozen second hand book stores!

And then there was the Grand Café Occitan—utterly delightful from the exceptionally warm welcome to the wistful waves good-bye. But what transpired in between was show-stopping though in a very unassuming manner. Take the humble beet. Even if you’re not a fan, I’d wager Chef Bowden’s zesty-creamy beet and goat cheese starter would set your taste buds aflutter. And the grilled fish. Oh, goodness, sheer perfection, and served with the most yummy braised endives and roasted cherry tomatoes ever. The textures and ultra fresh flavors were astonishing—full stop. Surely some culinary magic was happening in the cuisine. A return visit is definitely on our radar.

The last two days were spent moseying around popular Capestang, with its slow stream of canal-cruisers, and exploring the adorable village of Assignan, where many buildings are accented with eye-popping pinks and purples. In Minerve, one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, Ralph spotted a swarm of House Martins under an arch of the grand stone bridge spanning the gorge of the Cesse River. They flew around helter skelter for about fifteen minutes and then vanished.

But in the wine town of St. Chinian, a single snow-white Little Egret with its bright yellow feet waded slowly in the shallow Vernazobre river flowing through the center of town. The graceful bird was in no hurry at all, posing graciously for photos. I could have lingered longer watching the elegant bird with its sleek body, slender beak, long legs, and strands of plumage trailing behind its delicately-shaped head, but I too yearned for a dip. After all the trekking around, a leisurely swim in the heated pool at our apartment beckoned and would end this day on a blissful note.

On the way home, we stopped at the wine co-op, Domaine de L’Ormarine, in the village of Pinet of Picpoul de Pinet fame. This delightfully drinkable crisp white wine has long been a staple in our household, but we’d never sought out its namesake town, even though we’d been going to nearby Mèze for years. There was no doubt the vendange was in full swing. Massive trucks loaded with mounds of freshly picked grapes trundled in, deposited the fruit, and dutifully returned to the vineyards to tackle another hectare. It’s a large scale operation to be sure, but the resulting product is what the wine writer Dan Keeling describes as a “friendly session wine,”* which often is exactly what fits the bill. To the hard-working harvesters after my own heart, merci and bon courage!

Stay safe, well, and hopeful.

Bises, Gayle

Salute to Mas du Capoun–we’ll miss you!


On 16 September, after nearly twenty years, our beloved restaurant Mas du Capoun, in the tiny enclave of Mollégès—twenty minutes from St. Rémy—closed its doors indefinitely. We will always treasure the exceptional memories we made over many years at this superb establishment. Michèle’s exuberant welcome, the capable and friendly staff, refined décor, convivial ambiance, and of course, the extraordinary cuisine—thanks to Chef Michaël—made it uniquely marvelous. How we will miss them! But there’s some happy news too. In the near future, the pair is planning to open another—smaller—restaurant in the neighborhood. In the meantime, we wish them all the very, very best in realizing their new endeavor. Stay tuned!

*Dan Keeling’s article, Sourcing a good house wine is a restaurant’s holiest of grails,” which appeared in the weekend edition of the Financial Times, 6/7 August 2022, refers to the 2021 Cave de L’Ormarine Picpoul de Pinet.

Seductive Saint-Rémy to Charismatic Mèze

Twilight in Meze

Saint-Rémy’s powers of seduction may be irresistible in all seasons. But summer attracts admirers like no other. Throughout the hot months, auto license plates indicate visitors hail from countless European countries and the UK, not to mention many of the far-flung French overseas territories to include Guadeloupe (#971, Caribbean Sea) and La Réunion (#974, Indian Ocean).

So for locals who feel a bit overwhelmed by the sudden over-population, it’s a good time to fly the coop for some breathing room, if only for a few days. And that’s what we did. Off we dashed to quiet, charismatic Mèze on the Étang de Thau, a large lake adjacent to the Med.

Knowing full well that we were tempting fate to join the hoards on the highway, we expected a bouchon (traffic jam) or two. So what was normally a two-hour drive became three. But, we made lunch!

Our destination restaurant outside the oyster capital of Bouzigues (near Mèze) sits right on the lagoon with Sète in the distance. Sadly, our first choice for our seaside seafood repast, Les Desmoiselles Dupuy, was full, but at a neighboring enterprise, Benvenu’ Thau, we enjoyed a satisfying assortment of grilled huitres (oysters) four, ways—two each sprinkled with Parmesan, leek, hazelnuts and parsley, respectively. And, we also devoured the natural type. By the way, I’ll go out on a limb here and declare, “Never say never when it comes to raw oysters.” Never-ever was I a fan of these bivalve mollusks but the Bouzigues variety splashed with a magical vinaigrette with minced shallots made me a believer!

Before checking in to our B&B, we backtracked a bit to delightful Balaruc-les-Bains to birdwatch along the boardwalk. Only some very common Yellow-legged Gulls made an appearance, but it was lovely to press our binoculars into service while strolling in such a serene setting. We also made a run by a favorite home décor store called Proventes Meubles located in a bleak industrial zone. Its inauspicious location belies the fact that it’s a charming store with gems galore. Much like discovering beautiful birds by a dismal water treatment facility, finding a treasure here is especially rewarding.

Next stop, splendid Mèze Maison overlooking the town’s chateau and pretty gardens. There are four rooms to pick from—all stylishly decorated and each a bit different. I love the one now called Ellington with the sleek, free-standing oval tub and Italian shower. On another visit, maybe we’ll try out the one with a terrace, big lagoon views, and outdoor shower. British owners Rob and Jason with their mischievous grins always provide an exceedingly warm welcome and lots of laughs, typically accompanied by a verre du bon vin!

Nautical jousting event at the leisure port
Oyster nets with Sete in the background
In the cool of the night, gals gather for a game of boules…

Though the normally calm, authentic village was more active than in off-season, there was plenty of room to roam. For the next couple of days we rode our foldable bikes all around town, witnessed a nautical jousting event at the leisure port, strolled the vibrant Sunday market, and birded at a marshy area outside of town where we spotted Grey Herons, Stilts, and Little Egrets—to name a few feathered friends. And we enjoyed multiple meals with views of the water.

Plus, I fit in a couple of sessions of much needed exercise by sea-walking known here as longe-côte. The lagoon was so warm, I just drifted right in—bliss!

Wherever this summer finds you, stay safe, well, and hopeful.

Bises, Gayle


The intense heat subsided last week, and we even got some much-needed rain!