Cruising on back into France, our ship docked at the busy and bustling port of Marseilles. Although this large old city had a rough and not so stylish past it has rebounded as a big tourist destination with its historical sites and landmarks as well as shopping and restaurants.
However, in my very few hours in the Provence region, my guide today, Sebastian, (Iamnotatourist) has some special out of town visits planned for me. First on the list is the absolutely charming restaurant, Le Bistrot du Paradou in the equally charming and stunning village of Le Paradou. Sebastian tells me that this quaint and off the beaten path restaurant is a favorite for the local Provencal people and one of his number one picks in the region. The interior is classic French country with bare stone walls, long wooden and marble top tables and all kinds of photos and pictures hanging on the walls. There’s a pretty outside seating area surrounded by oleander bushes and herbs and the noisy roaring sound of the cicadas.
We are there on a Friday and the special is Aioli, not just the sauce but a dish of hot vegetables along with some type of fish and served with the special aioli sauce. I follow Chef Quenin into his kitchen where he is painstakingly stirring the sauce made of garlic, olive oil and eggs. This is the traditional meal that is prepared and served every Friday.
Sebastian and I are served this huge plate of food (with salted cod) as well as salad Provencal and some local wine. As if all that were not enough, we are served a platter of cheeses and French bread and I am given a glass of Pernod to wash it all down.
Having cheese on the brain now, we head off to Fromagerie Des Alpilles where owner Mr Sequin and his family have prepared a tasting of more than just a few of their goat cheeses. But first, I get to spend time with goats again, (remember the goats in Corsica)! After a tour of the small farm we head into the house where the actual cheese making takes place. Very briefly, the milk is put in big plastic vats to ferment. (Rennet is added after a few hours to help curdle the milk.) About 24 hours later the “cheese to be” is transferred to individual molds for further fermenting and drying out. (Salt is added at some point.) About another 24 hours later and this is actually edible delicious fresh goat cheese. Some of the cheese is left to ferment and mature and Mr Sequin’s claim to fame is adding herbs and various toppings and coatings. This is what he had lined up for me and I had to figure out which ones I would try. I loved the black pepper coated creamy cheese and one coated in tarragon too. Basically, I loved them all and wish I could have taken some with me.
Time to wash that all down with some good wine. Driving through the beautiful countryside we come to Les Baux de Provence and Le Chateau Dalmeran. The magnificent winery is located beneath the Alpilles mountains and owner Beatrice Joyce, along with her dog Elliott, take us into the heart of the vineyards to do a tasting of a couple of her wines. It doesn’t get better than this.
We have one more visit before having to re board the Oosterdam and on the way we can’t help but stop to take in some of those spectacular views surrounding us.
Arriving at Moulin Castelas, one of the best olive oil producers in the region, we meet owners Jean-Benoit and Catherine Hughes. While there’s no production taking place at the mill now, it’s still very special to hear the passionate story about why and how this olive mill was started in 1997 and the love the Hughes have for the land. I have a tasting of a few oils that are rich with aromas and taste. The oils here are like the wines, dependent on the terroir, climate, varieties of olives used and how ripe the olives are. I was quite happy to be given a couple of small tins that I could quite easily fit into my suitcase!
Back on the ship and it was another relaxing night for a delicious dinner and time to catch up with my friends.
All the best,