Chez Moi in Provence
- Provence Landscape
- St Tropez
- Provencal Cooking
The first time I came to Provence was with my parents. I was a teenager. I fell in love with it instantly.
The fascination remains today. I love being Chez Moi in Provence at any time of the year. Spring, summer, autumn, and even in winter when the sun shines, the sky is blue, and the air is crisp. I go for long walks along deserted beaches. It’s bliss!
The diversity of its sleepy villages in the afternoon sun; the old windmills; the carpets of scented lavenders stretching towards the horizon; the rows of vineyards sloping down to the sea; the lure of long sandy beaches and discreet coves scattered along the coastline; the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean merging with the cloudless sky.
The light – gloriously captured by so many famous artists over centuries; the markets in every village – colourful stalls of plump vegetables, sun-soaked fruits, aromatic herbs, rich olive oils, fresh goat’s cheese from the hills, and fish from the morning catch. Not forgetting the delicious Cotes de Provence, a world leader in roséwine.
And the people, who appear to be calm and detached, until you watch them play an innocent game of boules. You then see how passionate and vociferous they can be.
1. Provence Landscape
I have been coming to this piece of paradise year after year. One day, I said to myself, I will have a house here. The dream came true about 20 years ago. I bought a house in Grimaud, one of the prettiest villages. From my terrace, I can look out over the sea, with the legendary village of St Tropez across the bay.
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
The village of Grimaud is perched on the hillside, surrounded by stunning scenery. It has retained all its authentic character – a castle, a windmill, cobbled streets, vaulted arches, and stone houses… with flowers covering every wall.
3. St Tropez
Despite the aura surrounding it and its world-famous reputation, St Tropez is only a village. Its life began in 1892 when the painter Paul Signac discovered this small fishing village and its exceptional light. His friends and the most important artists of the time – Bonnard, Matisse, Camion, Derain… followed him. Today, the lure has not waned, and artists continue to visit the area in search of the ideal landscape.
Yes, in August there are those “gin palaces” in the harbour, music blasting out, crowds “looking at me looking at you” and long queues bumper to bumper on the only road which leads to St Tropez. But, as the writer Colette who lived there most of her life said: “The problem with St Tropez is there is only one road to get there, and the same road to get out, but who wants to get out?”
Photos by Grant Sainsbury
4. Provencal Cooking
A myriad of products go into the making of what is often referred to as “La Cuisine du Soleil” –
The Bouillabaisse – a humble fish soup made with Mediterranean fish; Salade Nicoise; Ratatouille; Tian; Gran Aioli – a steamed fish and vegetables with an accompaniment of garlic mayonnaise; lavender infused roast Lamb; Pisaladière – the pizza of old Nice; Tapenade and Anchoiade – anchovy paste served on toast with an aperitif. And to follow, cheeses from the hills, wrapped in mesclun leaves, with walnut bread that simply melt in the mouth. All light and healthy, and washed down with crisp Rosé wine.
Here are some signature dishes I like to serve:
Lavender, Rosemary, and Garlic Infused Lamb (see recipe)
Chicken Provençal (see recipe)
Goat’s Cheese and Tomato Tarts (see recipe)
Gratin of courgettes (see recipe)
Various Mixed Salads (see Picnic and Alfresco posts), like Roasted Vegetables and Couscous (see recipe) and of course Salade Niçoise.
Goat’s cheese and lavender make a delicious combination of fragrances. I often add a bunch of lavender to the cheese board, not only does it look pretty, but it infuses unusual flavours.
La Tarte Tropezienne – In 1955 when Brigitte Bardot was making the film “And God Created Woman” in St Tropez, the pâtisserie was a big success with the film crew. Legend has BB herself name the cake after the village. With the success of the film, BB became an icon, St Tropez became famous, and so did the TarteTropezienne.
5. Entertaining – setting the scene
Photo by Grant Sainsbury
I like to keep the mood casual, reflecting the traditions and crafts of this beautiful region.
I often use Provençal quilted bedspreads to cover tables or colourful printed fabrics bought in one of the markets.
Decorating cutlery is a favourite of mine and an easy trick. I tie together cutlery and napkins with a piece of garden twine and add a few sprigs of lavender and rosemary. It looks and smells delicious.
You can use the same idea to decorate the back of chairs by gathering together bunches of lavender and rosemary tied with mauve ribbons, long enough to float in the breeze.
A small bag of “Herbes de Provence” on plates look attractive. It’s also a nice memory for the guests to take home.
An assortment of bottles of olive oil makes a nice table display. And everyone can taste the different varieties by dipping country bread into the oils of their choice.
As a hostess, a few sprigs of lavender look pretty tucked behind the ears. As a host, I sometimes decorate my straw hat with a small bunch of lavender – it always brings a smile to my guests’ faces.
At the end of summer, cut back the lavender, tie with hessian and hang it to dry. Later, place it in wardrobes to deter moths and it smells fragrant.