Food is a very important part of any trip to Europe– and especially a trip to Provence in the south of France. Every meal offers a different experience. The combination of fresh local products, unique flavors, attractive presentation, and elegant service makes every meal in Provence special… whether it’s a multi-course dinner in a fine restaurant or a simple lunch on the terrace of village cafe.
Our Luberon Experience week includes two picnics (“pique-nique” in French), which several of our travelers say are their favorite meals of the trip. I think they enjoy the leisurely aspects of the meal and sitting outside in the sunshine in a beautiful setting. Certainly the local wine helps create a congenial atmosphere! Most people discover that they really like the Provençal rosé wine, pefect for a picnic on a sunny day. And because Charley and I prepare and serve these two meals ourselves, I also like to think that our groups appreciate the great food and service!
I love all our meals in Provence, but I’ll confess that our first picnic is at the top of my personal list. It’s always on Sunday, after our morning at the big outdoor market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Everyone is upbeat about their market experience and eager to show off their purchases. We eat in the beautiful back garden of our guesthouse in Bonnieux, with views of Mont Ventoux to the north. I buy almost everything for our meal at the market that morning. I enjoy shopping with my favorite vendors, and I vary the meal a bit based on what’s in season and what catches my attention as I shop. Charley and I like introducing some of the specialties of the region to each group.
We begin with an aperitif, an informal first course of rosé wine or pastis and small appetizers. I usually serve a couple kinds of tapenade (an olive spread) with little toasts, sometimes hummus or an artichoke spread. I’ll have a couple kinds of olives; I especially like the black olives de Nyons, from an area north of Le Mont Ventoux. I buy several kinds of dried sausages (“saucissons), sliced thinly and eaten cold. I might have fresh radishes, wonderful dipped in sea salt, and bite-size seasoned crackers. My goal is to give everyone something to snack on, but not too much to ruin their appetite while I’m organizing the main course.
Our main course is simple, but absolutely delicious: sliced roast chicken, fresh from the rotisserie stand in the main square at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue; potatoes with onions and herbs, cooked in the bottom of that same rotisserie, in the grease dripping from the chickens; Charley’s favorite– cooked sausages (“saucisses”); and a salad tossed with my own vinaigrette. I mix two kinds of lettuce (huge bunches that were picked the day before at a nearby farm) with just two additions: thinly sliced cucumber and a bit of red onion for color. I learned how to make a perfect vinaigrette from my local friend Janice, and I use olive oil from the nearby mill at St. Saturnin. Sometimes I buy fresh tomatoes and serve them in a bit of olive oil with herbs, or I’ll make a pasta salad with fresh basil, garlic and olive oil. We always have wonderful bread, freshly-baked at my favorite boulangerie in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Many people return to the table for seconds.
Finally… dessert! (Not too much, since we also have a special dinner on Sunday evenings.) I prepare a cheese tray, including four or five cheeses. One cheese is always a fromage de chevre (goat cheese), sometimes the local cheese Banon, which is wrapped in chestnut leaves. I’ve loved learning about French cheeses, and my favorite stop at the market is the busy cheese stand in the main square. I enjoy telling our groups about the cheeses I’ve selected and how cheese is served in France.
With the cheese, I serve a variety of fruits… whatever is fresh and good. Sometimes it is local melon (the Cavaillon melons are especially sweet), sometimes strawberries or raspberries, or cherries, or figs. The figs are just wonderful with a bit of goat cheese. Occasionally I buy a sweet dessert, if I see something special at a stand or in a patisserie, but usually the cheese and fruit is more than enough.
No one is ever in a hurry for the picnic to end… some people linger in the garden, while others drift back to their room for a short nap. This is the first full day of our Luberon Experience week; it brings the group together and sets the perfect tone for the entire week. A Sunday afternoon is meant to be savored in Provence.
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Kathy and Charley Wood lead The Luberon Experience, a week-long “slow tour” in the most beautiful area of Provence, France. They also now lead a few other trips a year to other special places in Europe. In 2010 they’re leading European Experiences trips in the Cotswolds in England, and they have just announced 2011 trips to the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy.
Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for almost 20 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with others travelers. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
The Woods are looking forward to being back in Provence in just a few weeks… and especially to their Sunday afternoon picnic.