On a beautiful October evening in Sablet … we’re all invited to a pre-dinner Symphony!
… it all starts with an “affiche” posted in the window of the Casino Epicerie in the village square. We noticed it as soon as we arrived back in Sablet from our week on the Canal Lateral de la Garonne in the Acquitaine. The affiche explained the beautiful music we heard drifting in the direction of Maison des Pelerins from our next door neighbor – the 12th Century Church of St. Nazaire. Since I love going to the Symphony, this was going to be such a treat – except this time I only had to walk next door! The group of amateur musicians had been invited to perform in Sablet by the Compagnons des Barrys – the very active historical and community organization, and Margret Storck, a professional photographer who lives in Sablet and is friends with many members of the symphony – this kind of activity is definitely one of the delights of spending time in a small village in Provence.
The small church that normally holds around eighty people was beginning to fill up well before the appointed starting time of 6pm.
By starting time all the seats were filled – lots of neighbors and friends, along with some visitors to the village … and people kept arriving … even an hour after the concert had started people kept arriving packing in to the standing room only aisles and entry.
As the musicians stood to receive the audience’s applause of welcome, the Presenter announced that “Tonight we will be taking a musical promenade across Europe”, which we certainly did. From the beginning with Handel’s lively and upbeat Sinfonia “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the Opera Solomon all the way to the end which was a presentation of “drei reumanische Volkstanze” (Rumanian Filkdance), by Bartok, we were treated to a wonderful variety that included Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach and Tschaikowsky.
There was no doubt that the audience appreciated the performance, but the most incredible thing that we learned was that these were all amateur musicians who do this as a hobby! At the end of the performance, we were all invited to join the musicians and organizers for an aperitif … and more music.
It was a spectacular beginning to the evening, followed by a walk down to Les Abeilles for a delicious and very enjoyable dinner with friends.
C’est la vie Provencale ….
Many thanks to L’Orchestre de Chambre de Hambourg/Eimsbuettel for their magnificent performance and to the Compagnons des Barrys in Sablet and Margret Storck for the presentation of muscians. Thank you also to Margret Storck for many of the lovely pictures of the performance.
If you are traveling in Provence, be sure to keep you eyes open for the “affiches” that are posted in shop windows – it is the best way to find activities that are “off the beaten path” in Provence.
December 4th – the Feast of St Barbe is the beginning of the “Calendales” as the Christmas Season is known in Provence. This year on Saturday Dec 7th – the Fire fighters of Sablet invite all the residents of the village as well as any visitors who wish to join in, to a celebration of this beginning of the Season’s festivities. Starting at 6.30pm in the Church of St. Nazaire (next door to our home – Maison des Pelerins) in Sablet with a Benediction – a Candlelight Procession down to the village followed by a Reception. What fun … and well worth a visit if you are in this part of Provence at the time!
Every year on this day, families throughout the region follow this time honored feast day tradition which involves the growing of wheat – in a tradition that apparently began during Roman times in Provence. St Barbara, the daughter of a wealthy Pagan nobleman – Dioscorus – disobeyed her father by turning to the Christian faith, despite his strongest efforts to shield her from its teachings. When she refused to denounce Christianity, she was thrown into prison and tortured daily, but her continued refusals only aggravated her father, to the point where led her out of town and executed her with his own sword. On his way back home, he was struck by a lightening bolt and instantly killed. Saint Barbara has since been known for her with fidelity. It was also believed that the lightening bolt which struck Dioscorus was sent to avenge his killing of his daughter, so she became the patron saint who protected against dangerous storms, lightening, explosions and sudden death. The Provencaux commemorate St. Barbara each year by the sowing of the wheat (the wheat of hope), which forms a carpet for their Christmas creche.
AKA Relais Americain
This is a picture of a picture that hangs in Maison des Pelerins our vacation rental home in Sablet. Bike riding is a favorite past time of many, many visitors to Provence each year and it is quite a common site to see riders where ever you visit when in Provence.
A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning, the village of Roaix invited all future cycling champions to join them in the Roaixois VTT – a bike race on a 10kilometer circuit in and around the village. Although bicyclists on “les Velos Tout Terrain” (mountain bikes), are not an uncommon sight in any part of Provence, and this is certainly true of Sablet in early August, especially when the village hosts its own VTT race called the Relais Americain.
So …. move over Lance Armstrong, our future Tour de France riders are on their way!
On a warm Sunday afternoon at the beginning of August, the teams line up at the Place de la Croix and wait for the signal to start.
As the race starts, and the riders head out around the village, beginning the race on the Rue des Barrys – past the Fountain and up to Grande Rue, then climbing the steep Rue de l’Eglise.
Along the narrow passage between very old village houses to the front of the Eglise St. Nazaire………
…….. then down a stairway of approximately twenty-five steps that connect Place de l’Eglise back to Grande Rue! Back out through the Petit Portail (which connects Grande Rue to the Boulevard des Remparts and the main square, then a tour of the (Boulevard des Remparts (the road that follows the Remparts) and out into the newer part of the village – riding through every neighborhood.
In every part of the village, from the beginning to the end, in the smallest of Ruelles and the main village square, Sabletains and visitors gather to cheer on the riders. The race directors and commentator are right there bringing everyone the most up to the minute information. You will see many “voisins” (neighbors), set up chairs and tables in front of their houses to enjoy the race with a cool drink, as do the many patrons of the Cafe des Sports in the village square. It folds in beautifully as one of the daytime activities that take place during the five day long Fete Votive, and gets everyone involved – whether you are a bike riding enthusiast or not!
The video below shows a little bit of the race and some of the hurdles that the riders face – with great fun and good spirit – the spectators are always helpful with their encouraging cheers of, “allez! allez! allez!”
SABLET: Every Friday morning: The weekly market in Sablet (Marché Hebdomadaire) takes its place in the Village Square, known as the Aire de la Croix.
It is still a fairly small market, having started during summer 2011, but I’m sure that it will grow this year into a flourishing small town market as Sabletains, visitors taking vacation breaks in the village, and neighbors from nearby villages stop by to do their fresh fish, produce, cheese and charcuterie shopping……
………maybe take home some Couscous Royal for lunch from the stall at the market.
Visitors to Provence and Sablet often comment on the friendliness of the “commercants” in the village. Whether your vacation is one week or two months, you are greeted with the same friendly smile and customary, happy “Bonjour Monsieur” or “Bonjour Madame” when you enter the shops. Help in finding purchases – maybe even suggestions on how to prepare and serve whatever it is you are buying, is normal. Presentations are always prepared with care and pride – the displays are so inviting that you can’t help but let your creativity and imagination go to work planning your next meal. When they know you like a particular item, they will make a point of remembering. Good old fashioned service!
Over the years, our village has attracted a group of dedicated and hardworking shop keepers,hairdressers, artists and “Bureau de Tourisme”. The staff at the Bureau de Toursime are ready with helpful information, and to serve visitors with samples of wine from all the Sablet Vintners. They host scheduled informational walks around the village, recounting the history of Sablet over the centuries, and pointing out significant buildings. Without this group of people, working at their businesses daily, then planning events for the inhabitants and visitors to Sablet, our village would certainly lack some of its ambiance, charm and fun.
Just in case you find yourself visiting Sablet …. let me introduce you to some of our Commercants …. that way, you’ll already have friends in the village.
There’s something about French bread that makes it hard to resist munching it as soon as you get it!
We have two Boulangeries – les Festival and Pradier. If you are a guest spending your Provence vacation at Maison des Pelerins or la Baume des Pelerins, the smell fresh bread baking at the boulangeries of Monsieur & Madame Pradier who run the Boulangerie Pradier and the Moulin family who have the Boulangerie Festival, very early each morning, will be familiar to you. These bakeries open before 7am each day to make sure that everyone who comes can get their fresh bread, croissants and my favorite, Pain au Raisin (I’m addicted to these!) for breakfast each day.
What better way to start the day, than with a very cheerful, “Bonjour Madame! Un pain au raisin et une baguette?”
But be prepared, these guys are popular – the lines often stretch all the way out of the door!
Next door ….. Monsieur & Madame Fabre, proprietors of the Epicerie Vival (Mini) Market, have stocked the little market with everything you might need for your day to day living.
This store is really like a small supermarket. It is packed full of fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, butter, yogurt, cheeses and other dairy products, cleaning products, a small deli (which includes a great selection of sausages) and a good selection of wine.
It is SOOOO nice to be able to walk for less than two minutes down to the store to pick up something when I run out.
Then … we have the Pizza Restaurant, Pizza Comme Di (take out or sidewalk seating), and the Cafe – very important in the life of the village, as a meeting place. It is impossible to stop in any time of day – early in the morning for a cup of coffee, or an aperitif in the evening without running into someone you know.
Your host at the Cafe des Sports is Bruno, whose smiling face and warm greeting lets you know your in a friendly place. The cafe also has a casual restaurant “la Cornucopia” right next door – great for lunch or dinner.
Likewise for les Remparts, another casual restaurant that serves a Prix Fixe menu and A La Carte menu at lunch and dinner – inside, or outside on their pretty terrasse in good weather.
We spent the time in Sablet right after Christmas, and met Mr. Thierry Bonfils, our new butcher. Monsieur and Madame Bonfils took over the Boucherie about a year ago and there is universal admiration for the quality and well priced products he presents.
Don’t worry about not knowing the French cuts of meat. Monsieur Bonfils is always cheerful and helpful, making sure you completely understand the cut of meat you inquire about, and if you wish to know, the best method of cooking it. Although he does not speak English, he has diagrams on the wall and he will show you exactly where the cut of meat you are considering comes from. He has a wide variety of meat – beef, lamb, pork & chicken as well as pates, home made sausages and other charcuterie.
Over the years, I have heard many people say, “French lamb is great, but the beef is not the best.” I now have news for everyone who has not had great beef in France – Come to Sablet. I tried many cuts of beef during the three weeks we were there and I will say that they were all great, the Entrecote steak and short ribs were the best! While we were in there, I heard many people say, “we are so glad that Monsieur and Madame Bonfils are in Sablet.”
Madame Giselle Bonnet who runs GB Fleurs – is a treasure. She makes a great contribution towards making Sablet a “beau village,” as I heard one visitor describe our village. It is impossible to walk past floral displays both inside and outside her store without stopping. Really nice to be able to pop in for a last minute gift of fresh flowers or a beautiful plant. She also holds Flower Arranging classes. I know that at least on one occasion, Madame Bonnet has accompanied our neighbor, who looks after the garden/courtyard at Maison des Pelerins, to advise and supply the flowering plants for the garden and vegetables for our petite potager. Merci Madame …. UPDATE: Since the first posting of this blog. Mme Bonnet has moved her Florist’s Shop to another location and we now have a Creperie and Tea Room in that location. I’ve heard lots of great things about the delicious crepes – will keep you updated.
Lastly, about a year ago, Mme Roure who had owned the second Epicerie for many years retired – and we miss her smiling face in the village square. Since her departure, the new owner of the building that housed her store, has spent all this time renovating the building and I am told that we will soon have our own Estethician!
Could it be possible? Facials – perhaps a mini-spa? I can’t wait … guess what is the first appointment I’ll be making on the next trip!
This is a very brief introduction to the Commercants of Sablet. There are many others such as the Hairdressers (very good), talented Artists, the Pharmacie, Banque and so on who haven’t been mentioned here. They will all treat you with the same care …. but I thought I would introduce those whom you are most likely to come into contact with on your vacation in Provence.
One of the ironies that surrounds the story of the Knights Templar – the Warrior Monks as they came to be known, is that they were formed in Jerusalem around the year 1118 as the “Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon”, to protect the newly established Kingdom of Jerusalem maintain it’s security, and protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land at the end of the First Crusade of 1096. However, it is speculated that their end which was first initiated in the year 1307 and completed by 1312, was brought about by the fact that they had amassed extreme wealth and influence. They were brought down in a rather spectacular fashion by King Philip IV (Philip the Fair of France) who was heavily indebted to the Knights Templars, and Pope Clement V who had established the Popes in Avignon in the year 1309.
The disbanding of this Order began on Friday 13th of October 1307, when Philip ordered all of the Templars in France to be arrested and imprisoned for “Satanism and other unnatural acts and practices.” Many were found guilty after torture-encouraged confessions and others for refusing to confess. In March 1314, Jacques de Molay, the leader of the Knights Templar, who had spent the previous several years in prison for being a relapsed heretic was burned at the stake on the Ile-des-Javiaux in the River Seine.
During the nearly two hundred years that the Knights Templars operated between Western Europe and Palestine, the “Templars” as their official title was abbreviated to, not only set up secure routes for pilgrims traveling from Europe to the Holy Land, but also established the first “Banking System”.
When men joined the Order, they took an oath of poverty and donated all their wealth and lands to the Knights Templar, and in 1127 when they received their first large donation of land, it began a flood of many such donations and special privileges granted to the Order by various Monarchs and Popes. This together with the spoils of battles, lead to the amassing of a true fortune, and a great deal of power, having received an edict from the Pope which gave them authority to operate across the borders of many countries, but made them answerable only to Pope himself.
The Order was the first bankers who set up the basis of the system that is still in use today. Their banking activities included, loans to Monarchs of both England and France to finance the Crusades, transporting money and valuables between Palestine and Europe, lending money to pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land and setting up a system whereby a landowner leaving to travel to the Crusades or on a Pilgrimage, could deposit their assets with the Knights Templar in their home country, and travel with a form of a Letter of Credit, which enabled them to make withdrawals from their account at other locations.
The Knights Templar set up an extensive network of Commanderies from Europe to Palestine. These Commanderies were support bases for the Knights and Pilgrims whilst on their journey. They also served as training centers for young knights in training and retirement centers for older knights. The support systems included not only the knights who were the heavy cavalry, but assistants to these knights, known as sergeants who were equipped as light cavalry and drawn from a lower social class than the knights. There were farmers who worked the land for the production of food, and other agricultural products such as corn, wool, oil and cattle that were used locally as well as to supply the Holy Land – they cared for and administered the properties. The spiritual life of the Order was seen to by the Chaplains of the Commanderie, who were all ordained priests.
Provence has a number of towns that were home to Commanderies of the Knights Templar. Close to Sablet and our vacation rental homes there is a particularly good example of such a main Commanderie in the town of Richeranches. Here, the Commanderie was erected on land donated by Hugo de Bolboton, a local land owner who was committed to the cause of the crusades. The fortified structure followed a common square courtyard layout with a Chapel and a refectory at opposite ends of the structure. Although many of the original buildings of this Commanderie have been destroyed or incorporated into other structures of the village, the Refectory building, the Dining and Meeting Halls of the original Commanderie is still intact and perhaps one of the best preserved in Europe. The Commanderie in Richeranches became an important center for horse breeding. The constant need for horses during this time of warfare required a steady supply of sturdy animals and Richeranches horses became known as the best breed to carry the burden and heavy armor of the knights during battle.
The Commanderie at Richeranches carried a high designation on the same level as those of Aix-en-Provence and Arles, and therefore had subsidiary Commanderies in Orange, Roaix, Villedieu and Montélimar, with other support centers for the Templars in Cairanne and Vacqueyras.
Despite the uncertainty associated with this group of Warrior-Monks, certain aspects of their legacy appear to be remarkable. Their temporal contribution to the safe transit of the pilgrims was direct and real, but their ongoing contribution to the modern facility of international banking may be their real legacy.
Since the official disbanding of the Knights Templar, many myths have persisted including stories of – treasure found at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and hidden by the Templars; the Knights possession of the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant; Recent authors in books of historical fiction have linked them to them to the Rosicrucians, the Priory of Sion, the Rex Deus, the Cathars, the Hermetics, the Gnostics, the Essenes, and, ultimately, lost relics or teachings of Jesus such as the Shroud of Turin or a “Judas Testament.” Interest in some of these claims has been sparked by The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.
… That is exactly what fellow Sabletain and “Terroirist” Olivier Hickman does.
Read carefully …. because Olivier has spent many years making himself familiar with the terrain, learning the patterns of work, analyzing the components of each fermenting vat, and critically evaluating the results of many, many ….. acres of vineyards … and Wine Harvests!
Although not all wine experts agree about the exact definition of the somewhat mysterious concept of the “Terroir,” it is of supreme importance in the French wine industry, (and is becoming increasingly important in many other wine growing areas). The basic element of the concept: a belief that the land on which the grapes are grown, imparts a unique quality which is specific to that particular area – be it a region, a vineyard or even a specific area within the same vineyard. It also includes the micro-climate and the surrounding vegetation and airborne natural yeasts. Coupled with the Appellation Controlee system, there’s a lot to learn about.
Olivier points out that, “The winemaker is king in the New World wine industry (Australia, Americas, etc). Styles of New World wines are driven, predominantly by wine making skills in the cellar.
In France, the emphasis is to “grow” a wine where the wine style is a product of the growers’ unique terroir and their grape-cultivation skills. The winemaker behaves more like a midwife: they are not the mother of the wine, there merely bring forth what was born in the vineyard.”
From enthusiastic amateur to the connoisseur, well versed in Southern Cote du Rhone wines, Olivier – the Proprietor of Wine Uncovered in Sablet, offers customized wine tours. His aim is to help his tour guests come away, having enjoyed the tour, and learned in as much depth as they would like to, of all that goes into the making of these fine wines, and the “Appellation Controlee” system. “Enjoyable, stress-free and informative tours” is the motto at Wine Uncovered.
Olivier’s tours visit selected Wineries. Guests can choose between a half day tour of two wineries, a three quarter day tour of three wineries or a whole day covering four wineries, touring the cellars and taking outings into the vineyards, with a discussion of the philosophy of those wineries, the growing areas and methods, the types of grapes and their wine making techniques. Tastings are guided by your host and allow the opportunity to ask lots of questions and gain a much broader understanding of one of France’s most versatile wine regions.
Olivier, a graduate of Cambridge University, began his career as a Financial Controller. After this he opened a Wine Importing business in London, and then he began wine making in the Languedoc. He and his wife and two children moved to Sablet in 2005, and began Wine Uncovered Tours, which has received many wonderful reviews and will soon be featured on the PBS Series “The Winemakers”. Having grown up visiting his French grandmother in nearby Orange, he naturally felt quite at home amongst the vineyards of the southern Cote du Rhone.
If a Provencal vacation in your future and you would like to know more about the tours that solve the mysteries of the terroir, you can check out all the details at: www.wine-uncovered.com
Maybe we’ll see you there!
The vineyards of Provence have taken shape over centuries, some still functioning that began as far back as Greek or Roman times. Producing wines is treated as both an art and a science. A great deal of respect is shown to the surroundings and traditions of growing grapes and making wine. The landscape of Provence is spectacular, but is subjected to a climate that can be very harsh, with its strong mistral winds, hot summer sun and from time to time, freezing. Here, in these vineyards, their ever mindful caretakers – Provence’s Vintners – faithfully care for their vines so that Provence remains one of the richest wine producing regions in France.
Spring in the vineyards … Waking up ….
As the days grow longer and the sun starts to warm the soil, the first sprouts of leaves and the beginnings of the little grape bunches push through from old, gnarled vines as well as newly planted ones. The countryside takes on a pale green hue and it seems as though there is daily change in the vineyards of Provence.
Tufts of green stand at the end of vines that have slept and regenerated through the winter. Provence can experience its heaviest rains during the Spring.
As the Spring rains come, the vines flourish and the vineyard workers start pruning and spraying to shape the vines so the grapes will get maximum nourishment, and protect against pests and diseases.
As the vines continue their growth, the Mistral winds which are more prevalent in the Winter and Spring months, play an important role in their health. They act to cool and dry the grapes, which makes them less susceptible to pests and diseases associated with humidity.
Summer in the Vineyards ….
By early summer, the landscape is a carpet of bright green… Provence has a truly Mediterranean climate with dry summers. This area is blessed with an exceptionally high number of sunshine hours, approximately 2,900 per year, exceeds both Los Angeles and Miami which have a little less than 2,100 sunshine hours per year. The warmth and sunshine help to develop a high sugar content, and if you have ever sampled a grape directly from the vine, you will know how sweet and juicy these grapes are.
The work never stops …
Vintners constantly work in the fields manicuring the vines and making sure the grapes are developing a good sugar content. Vines are pruned to limit the leaf growth, and also the number of bunches of grapes, as it is believed that vines that bear too many grapes, will result in wines that lack flavor.
At this stage, the vineyards are so picturesque. They are a pleasure to take walks through or to find a quiet spot for a picnic.
As the days stretch and the sun beats down, the grapes develop a strong flavor and character.
The Vendange (Wine Harvest)…
This is a season unto itself …. Beginning in late August, and stretching through to the end of September, the Vendange takes over the scene. The vineyards of Provence stretch from its western boundary of the Rhone Valley to the Cote d’Azur in the east. During the vendange, this 150 mile stretch is a hive of activity.
It’s all hands on board –
Towns and villages fill up with workers coming in to help harvest the grapes at their prime. Very early each morning, you will see trucks carrying loads of workers out to the vineyards.
Tractors pulling trailers heavy and piled high with deep purple grapes, shuttle between the vineyards and the Wineries where they will line up to unload and head straight back to the fields. It is not uncommon to see signs on roads that say, “Attention! Vendange en Cours” In other words, there will be lots of slow tractors and trailers on the road, and pay attention, as they might pull out onto a road in front of you from a vineyard at any time!
Attention! Vendange en Cours!
As the grapes are crushed and the juice extracted, the stems are separated out and taken away. The stems and seeds make a great base for compost.
At the end of each day, the tractors are parked and the trailers are washed clean of the sweet, sticky grape juice … ready to start again the next day.
As Autumn comes ….
The light takes on a golden hue, and so do the vineyards. The grapes have been picked, a new vintage is on its way. It’s time for the vines to let go of this year and start preparing for the next. As at first the evenings turn cool after golden, sunny days – then the mornings become hazier and cooler, the leaves begin to change color and soon the landscape which was cloaked in brilliant green, takes on waves of orange, gold, red and burgundy.
Getting closer to Winter, and there is still work to do in the vineyards. The canes bearing the bunches that produced thousands and thousands of liters of wine now stand tall and bare. The pretty leaves have gone for another year and there is a distinct whiff of smoke in the air as the vines are pruned and the piled up clippings make very cozy looking bonfires. One vintner explained to us that this is a very important part of the process, as the burning of the vines adds back to the soil and becomes a part of the “terroir,” which is an essential element in the philosophy of wine making in France.
As the canes are trimmed and the vines go back to their essential base and branches, we can see (in the picture below), two or three plumes of smoke to the left of the village of Sablet. These plumes are from the bonfires made to burn the clippings.
Here, the vineyards at the foot of the hill on which the village of Seguret is situated, rest in the very late Autumn. Soon it will be time for opening this year’s new wines – “the Primeurs”.
In Winter …
The air is super clear and the light has a sharp, crisp quality. The vines are now dormant and gathering nutrition for the coming year….
Sometimes, there is a light sprinkling of snow …
Then, you might wake up to a scene of dark vines amongst a light covering of powdery snow…
Then sometimes, it keeps on snowing and the vines get buried half way up their stems…
But … this time – it brought a whole new meaning to “Blanc de Blancs”!