It's hard not to fall in love with Provence. Spend some time there and you'll be enchanted by the picturesque villages, the delicious array of foods and wines and the magnificent scenery. I recently returned from a wine-tasting and photography trip through Provence, organized by Wendy Jaeger of Bliss Travels. Erase from your mind any thoughts of leaders waving small banners to corral a passel of tourists. This was a group of nine people who were free to participate in planned activities or go their own way.
But as you'll see from the photos below and on blog posts to come, the sights, sounds and tastes that Wendy had planned were irresistible, starting from the views of stone houses and lush grapevines as we approached our small village in the Luberon.
We pulled up alongside a charming family-owned hotel dripping with rust-colored vines. My room was the one with the red shutter doors on the ground floor.
We stayed in a village with cobblestone paving and windy streets dotted with tiny shops here and there and homes with colorful shutters.
The town was nestled between a picture-postcard “new” 17th century church at the base, while a medieval church stood sentinel at the summit.
Central casting couldn't have planned it better. In the late afternoon, a group of men would gather to play boules, or petanque, a game similar to Italy's bocce.
Dinner the first evening was an auspicious start to the rest of the week's meals. We began with a freshly picked, tender leaf salad topped with warm goat cheese.
The main course followed: slices of succulent duck breast served in a creamy sauce, alongside roasted potatoes and steamed carrots, green beans and turnips.
And for the sweet ending to a delicious meal – a tarte tatin.
Tarte tatin is a traditional French dessert using apples, sugar and pastry that's baked on top, but then flipped over like an upside-down "pie." The apples are ideally cooked long and slow to develop the caramel flavors. The large one below is a little scorched near the center, but still was delicious.
If you've got small, heavy bottomed pans, you can make it in individual size portions too, like this one that's perfectly caramelized:
For those who were interested, the week included photography lessons by professional photographer Anthony Bianciella, and the sessions were among my favorite parts of the trip. Anthony really helped those of us on the photography track with plenty of advice on the mechanics of taking a good photo, as well as tips on framing and improving composition. He displayed a kindness and patience that was truly appreciated by those of us who less than proficient with some of the technical aspects of photography.
It was also a week of wine-tasting and there were plenty of opportunities for imbibing, with both fuller bodied red wines and the lighter, omnipresent rosé wines. In the past, I had always avoided rosé wines, but I came to a new appreciation for them on this trip. They weren't the overly sweet wines I remembered from my youth, but rather were refreshing young wines redolent of fragrant fruit.
I enjoyed this glass of wine one afternoon, at a small bar overlooking an enchanting view of the village.
These two were also mesmerized by the landscape another morning, as clouds slowly gave way to the sun. Want to experience this yourself? Bliss Travels has similar trips planned for next summer, but if you're itching to get to France sooner, Wendy's taking a group to Paris for Christmas. Find out about it by clicking here.
In the meantime, set a bit of Provence at your Thanksgiving table with this tarte tatin recipe.
Pastry for a 9-inch tart
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
zest from one lemon
1 egg yolk
2-4 T. ice water
Slice the butter in 8 pieces. Put into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Pulse until it has the consistency of damp sand. Add the egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of ice water. Pulse until it forms a ball, adding more water if needed. Press it out into a circle about 10 inches in diameter and set it aside in the refrigerator while you make the filling.
1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)
1 cup sugar
juice from half a lemon
6 - 8 apples (Golden Delicious, Granny Smith or similar variety that holds shape well in baking)
Melt the butter and sugar over low to medium head in a heavy, 9 inch saucepan and add the lemon juice. Peel and core the apples and cut in half. Place them in the saucepan and toss them around gently a little in the butter and sugar mixture. Pack them in tightly because they'll shrink as they cook. Cook the apples in the mixture about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times. Then arrange them neatly cut side up and cook another eight to ten minutes over low to medium heat. Turn up the heat if you see that the butter and sugar mixture isn't becoming thick and syrupy. When it does, place the dough on the top and cut a few slits in the dough to allow steam to excape. Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before flipping onto a serving plate.