From Avignon we hopped a bus to the refreshingly quaint town of St. Rémy de Provence. We didn’t know much about the town before we picked it. Just that it was more country and it was only an hour away. Perfect! A little French countryside never hurts. Along the way local school children joined us on and off the bus as they headed home in their uniforms with back packs in tow. St. Rémy was the end of the line, so the bus driver kicked us off and we navigated our way to our next Airbnb smack dab in the middle of town.
St. Rémy is both the birthplace of Nostradamus and the spot that Vincent Van Gogh painted the famous ‘Starry Night.’ Small gold placards on the street mark the spot that Van Gogh completed some of his paintings. During his time in St. Rémy he was mentally ill and had self admitted to the nearby St. Paul Asylum. Along with medical care he was given an art studio there and allowed to paint outdoors. During the first summer of his stay he painted two of his most famous pieces, ‘Starry Night’ and ‘Irises.’
The town itself has a very good vibe with outdoor cafe’s, street musicians, and many small shop owners. It also has very nice chocolate shop that our host in Avignon had recommended with a chocolate fountain in the window. We went back twice and are pretty sure we met the owner and chocolatier Joel Durand. He said something to us in French and all we could say was “Oui, c’est tres bonne!”
After wandering around the town one evening we found a restaurant called Le Marilyn serving up a three course meal for $29. (choice of salad, main course and dessert) The menu was limited in French and only a small chalk board assisted us English speakers. The place was packed so we choose our seats street side. Le Marilyn did not disappoint. We rated it our third best meal in France. (First in Paris, and second in Sarlat) We ordered Italian Salad, Bacon Wrapped Scallops, and a Lavender Creme Brulee!
Every Wednesday the streets of this town fill up with vendors and people for the weekly market. Despite the popularity of local town markets in France, this was by far the biggest market we had seen with the most interesting variety of goods. From clothing, soaps, carpeting, music and fabrics, to veggies, fruits, cheeses, oils, olives, and lavender. The aromas are mind boggling and the atmosphere is exciting. Wipe the drool from your chin and get to the front of the counter before the little French ladies bulldoze ahead.
Our best purchase was a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil from Chateau Grand Brahi. Traditionally labored with a mechanical cold press out of 5 different varieties of olives. These olives grow on sheep pasture in the sun soaked foothills of The Alpilles a low mountain range in the South of France. I’m pretty sure we’re not finding this olive oil anywhere else in the world.
Our wine tour took us to the Southern part of the Rhône Valley. We signed up for a group tour with Wine Safari but happened to be the only two in the group. Score! We got a private tour from a VERY knowledgeable guide. He picked us up in St. Rémy and drove us straight to the Chateau Morgues du Gres where vineyards grace over 65 hectares of the hilly slopes and terraces.
Our guide Michael was confident that France had the best wine because of the soil, location, and the type of grapes. Vines are very sensitive he described. Even the same variety of grape gown in a different type of soil might yield a different flavor. The soil in this region of France is a mixture of clay, limestone and flat pebbles from the Rhône River. Isn’t rocky soil horrible for vine growing? Nope! The pebbles actually protect the soil from complete evaporation, and allow the vines to draw moisture. One might say that the suffering of the vine is what gives birth to its rewarding fruits.
Overall our tour was very informative as we retraced the entire process of wine making from planting vines, growing grapes, to pressing methods, and fermentation. Last but not least was the tasting at the end of the tour with a proper instruction on how to taste wine. Let’s recount the steps below.
- Color – The glass of wine is held up to the natural light preferably with something white in the background. Look through the glass to observe the natural color. Surprisingly a lot can be told about the wine just by color alone, that is if you understand the varietal of grape, age and growing season. I’ll leave that for the professionals.
- Legs – The glass is tilted to the side and then placed upright to reveal its legs. Legs that disappear quickly will not last long on the pallet revealing a lighter wine, while slower longer legs are heavy and will remain on the tongue long after swallowing.
- Smell – Here is where we were advised to swirl the wine inside its glass, then place our noses fully into the glass to really take in a good sniff. Swirling allows oxygen into the wine which releases the smell. The smell tells much about how you will experience the taste.
- Taste – It’s finally time to taste the wine! A small sip is allowed to enter the mouth. Leave the wine in your mouth and make a face like a fish, while you inhale air into your mouth and slurp. Repeat two to three times then spit, don’t swallow. Relax and look up as you reflect what is going on in your mouth. Very good wines will leave a lasting taste in your mouth for 20 – 30 seconds.
We continued our tasting and finally came to a conclusion on which bottle was coming with us. All the while I couldn’t take my eyes off the huge table full of ruby red cherries behind us. I could hardly contain myself! How much for the cherries? A basket was added to our order. On the way back to our apartment we noticed something else was missing. Wine, cherries . . . chocolate! We almost forgot the chocolate. Yep, I’d say that’s the perfect dinner.