Provence Christmas markets

Christmas markets are a relatively recent phenomenon in Provence. Apparently there was always a Christmas market, in certain places, for the sale of the little figurines,santons, used in Provencal cribs. The truffle market in Rognes is also part of the village patrimony according to the tourist office. But the modern markets selling terrible tack mixed in with some lovely hand crafts and wonderful foods, is very new. I visited several this year and here is a small selection of photographs. I will leave you to make up your own minds about Christmas markets in Provence.

  Les marchés de Noël sont un phénomène relativement récent en Provence. Apparemment, il y avait toujours un marché de Noël, à certains endroits, pour la vente des petites figurines, santons, utilisés dans les crèches. Le marché de la truffe à Rognes fait partie du patrimoine du village selon l’office du tourisme. Mais les marchés modernes de vente d’une mélangé de choses et de produits merveilleux, c’est très nouveau. J’ai visité plusieurs cette année et voici une petite sélection de photos. Je vous laisse vous faire votre propre idée sur les marchés de Noël en Provence..


The Irish in France

Sometimes we Irish can be very proud of some of the things some of us do!

Chateau La Coste, in Provence, is just such a place. It is the brainchild of Paddy McKillen and his sister Mara Paula McKillen. Paddy bought a fairly modest bastide, albeit in existence since 1684, about ten years ago with its 130 hectares of vineyards. His sister Mara has been a long time resident in France. Trying to unravel the intricacies of this family is like trying to put together a million piece jigsaw.

Paddy first installed a whole new wine making team and with the assistance of French architect, Jean Nouvel, a couple of space age cellars. The steel covered half moon cellars resemble aeroplane hangars. Apparently there are three floors below ground. The clean steel line reminds me of another avant-garde cellar on South island New Zealand. The wine grown at Chateau La Coste now bears the “AB”  biological label. This is in keeping with Mr. McKillens ideals for his estate.

We didn’t visit the cellars as we objected to paying an additional 7€ for the pleasure. We had already paid the seniors entry fee of 9€ and ate a splendid lunch which cost about 30€ per head. We felt the extra couple of euro was a fee too far especially since we had intended buying some wine… Perhaps it is the enormous debt looming over Paddy McKillen’s head that prompted this charge. Mr. McKillen is, of course, the Irish property developer who is a part owner, among many other properties, of the Berkley, Connaught, and Claridges hotels in Londonin. His recent spat with the Barclay brothers, about his shares in these hotels, will cost him. apparently, about 25 million euro. He is also “in legal discussions” with NAMA, the Irish National Asset Management Agency, which was set up to absorb the bad debts of rogue (or sometimes not so rogue) developers during those years of borrowing excesses. Their “raison d’être” is to try to recover some of this virtual money for the Irish citizen.

After the wine making improvements, Mr McKillen turned his attention and his money to his sculpture park. The result is truly amazing. Some of the works are from his own collection but most have been installed by the artists themselves. The artist is invited to Chateau La Coste to spend some time getting familiar with the area and then they choose the spot for their work and the work begins. John Rocca, the Irish designer, is currently designing a Waterford cut glass chapel which will be unveiled soon. The park is a work in progress and long may it last. The visit takes about two hours depending on how much time you spend admiring the installations. I didn’t photograph every piece as in some cases the angle was wrong or in others the sun was in the wrong place. I look forward to a return visit to finish the job.

The artists involved include the following:

Tadao Ando and Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese), Sean Scully and Guggi (Irish), Tunga (Brazilian), Franz West (Austrian), Liam Gillick and Andy Goldsworthy (British), Alexander Calder and Richard Serra (American), Louise Bourgeoise (French),

You can see some more information and photos by clicking here

Pour ceux qui parlent français il y a un article dans le Figaro


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Food Glorious Food

France is synonymous with food. It is a lay country but it’s religion is surely food, talking about it, growing it, sourcing it, buying it and finally eating it. It is what I especially love about France.

When friends come to dinner they are interested in what I am cooking, we all end up in our tiny kitchen discussing how our mothers and grandmothers used to cook this or that. The wine we drink with our meal is of equal importance. It need not be an expensive wine. In fact so much the better if you have discovered some local gem. Its merits are discussed, not in the silly fashion of wine critiques, comparing it to raspberries or hot chocolate or whatever, but more where it was grown, how robust it is and how it will endure.

Friends coming to dinner try to bring you a small gift they have made themselves or something they know you will never have tasted. Walking with friends last week I was given “lactaire delicieux” mushrooms collected in the forest where we were walking, together with instructions on how to cook them. This week I received a “socca” which is a speciality of the Nice region. It is normally cooked on the street and eaten warm with a glass of chilled rosé but since we are not here in Summer my friend wanted me to have this unique experience. Like all good food its ingredients are very simple chick pea flour and olive oil. My friend added herbs which made it especially delicious.

Socca a Nicoise speciality
Socca a speciality of the south of France


On the theme of food a wonderful French film called “Les Saveurs du Palais” has just come to the screens. It is called “Haute Cuisine” in the English version. It is loosely based on the life of Danielle Mazet-Delpeuch who was the chef to President Mitterrand. The role of Danielle is played by Catherine Frot. Her love and passion for food sparkles from the screen. We hadn’t eaten before we went and were famished by the time we got home.

For the english speakers among you I am afraid the trailer is in French. I tried to source an english version but alas…. There are a couple of trailers on the video so you might have to wait to see “Les Saveurs du Palais”, you’ll see what I mean about the food!

Paris: where we stayed and ate

For many years now we use a small hotel “Hotel Chopin” in the Passage Jouffroy. I can’t remember how we found it but once found we keep returning to it. Those of you who are used to 5* might not find it to your liking but it suits us well. It is well situated in a convenient area.

hotel chopin

There are some wonderful specialist shops in the passage where it is situated. The wax museum, Musée Grévin, is at the entrance to the passage and when returning late at night one is greeted by this grinning man in the wax museum.

The 9º arrondissement and its surrounding areas are full of places to eat. If Irish pubs are your thing you have O’Sullivans and Corcorans.

We chose to eat in a typical Parisian brasserie, Gallopin. With its sparkling white linen and courteous waiters, it was well up to brasserie standards. The food was good but not spectacular. I chose fish in a “vin jaune” sauce. I chose this because just the previous day I had had a conversation with a friend about “vin jaune”. I had never heard of it and she was waxing lyrical about it. She is a frequent visitor to the Jura region from where “vin jaune” emanates. It is apparently quite expensive but there is a cooking version on sale. She also told me that if you don’t use the whole bottle on one ‘cook up’ you can just stopper the bottle and it keeps for up to a year…. My complaint, with my meal, was that the sauce lacked either punch or delicacy. But the Pouilly Fumé which accompanied the dish went down like velvet.

Sunday night in Paris is tricky enough to find somewhere to eat. Wandering around we came across two Sicilian restaurants, one tiny and the other bigger and a bit fussy looking. We chose the smaller and were not disappointed. If it’s “haute cuisine” you are after then pass by but if you are interested in a small eating establishment with character then this is your spot. It’s called Trattoria L’Oca Nera, 35, rue Bergère, and does not support a web site. The wife of the bigger establishment runs this one assisted by Eric Giddings! His father was British although he has almost lost his father’s language. The food was simple and plentiful or as plentiful as you wished. The wine was not memorable but the company was.


Trattoria l’Oca Nera

Contact me if you would like further information




India: The culinary experience

As you have probably gathered I am interspersing our trip with some observations on different aspects of Indian life.

India: The culinary experience
Some of you have asked what we are eating so I decided to let you in on our culinary experiences. Let it be said we have had the full spectrum of Indian cuisine ranging from the equivalent of a low class “chipper” to the most exquisite of food. As many of you will know when you travel in Asia your bodily functions become all consuming. Our stomachs contain different bacteria so it is inevitable that most of us will experience some level of discomfort. When you add to this the loose or non-existent hygiene standards then it should come as no surprise that “Delhi Belly” or the “Kathmandu quickstep” or whatever, will be a given, unless you have the constitution of an ox, which I seem to have.
Again you will know that most Indian food is hot and spicy. The spices used here in India seem to affect different parts of the pallet. Some will cause your lips to burn, some will initially not have any burning effect but within a couple of seconds your whole mouth will be on fire, others will catch the back of your throat immediately. I haven’t worked which do what.
We have tended to eat vegetarian food as most people here do. Tonight was the first time Barry had chicken and it was delicious. Restaurants are well used to foreigners not being able to take really firey food. Since almost everything is cooked to order they can add or subtract the quantity of fire power on request. Without at least some of the local spices the food has no flavour whatsoever. We eat plain rice with everything and chapatti, either buttered, with garlis or plain, and almost always curd. The latter tends to cool the effect of the spices in the main dishes. We can rarely finish all we get and are offered the rest in a “doggy bag” should we want to take it home.
Eating establishments vary as they do anywhere. You usually get what you pay for. We eat here in Jaipur in the local equivalents of our Cucuron haunt the “Temps Moderne”. For a full meal and either water of beer we pay about €8 for the two of us. Tonight we decided to push the boat out and have a real slap up meal in one of the best restaurants in town. We treated ourselves to a rickshaw ride there but the driver had no idea where it was. “You my guides” he said. Luckily Barry has an unbelievable sense of direction so we brought him to the door. First observation was that there were almost no women eating there. I counted 28 men and one woman, in our immediate surroundings, beside myself. We were the only foreigners. Although the restaurant is mentioned in the “Holy Planet” it states that couples and families frequent it. Hence the long-haired hippie brigade, finding themselves here in India, give it a wide berth. Food is cooked in a glass fronted kitchen and the manager invited us in to see the tandoori and kebabs being cooked. For our meal and two beers each (we were really living it up, one was Carlsberg!!), we paid €26. One of our local haunts costs about €7 or €10 if we have a beer.
For some reason foreigners tend to congregate in the same restaurants, those mentioned in the Holy Planet, so when we discovered this we give them a miss and ask local advice or find the ones that are out of the way. So far it has paid off handsomely.
We take lunch in our ‘dyslexically’ spelled namesake Mohans. This means “the great” so we are thinking of changing our name to Mohan! When we are travelling we buy bananas and oranges and bottles of water from a street vendor. We pay “white prices” which means about 70cent for six or eight bananas and four oranges. The fruit is delicious. We avoid already peeled fruit or things like tomatoes or salads becase of the lack of hygine.
Like everything else in India food can be an amazing experience or it can be a disappointment. Without the spices it is boringly bland, with them it can be delicious, but the balance is tricky. We roll with the punches.