by Luke Barr from his book Provence 1970
“Cooking and eating in a foreign country may be the surest, truest way to its soul”
by Luke Barr from his book Provence 1970
Julia and Paul Child built their Provence home on the Beck and Fischbaker estate called Le Mas Veiux outside the little town of Plascassier, a half hour drive from Cannes. The five acre property has an eighteenth century farmhouse called Bramafan that Simon Beck and her husband remodeled and lived in. Simone Beck was Julia’s close friend (they called each other sisters) and co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In 1965 the Child's leased the land and built their modest house in an old potato batch of the estate. They called it La Pitchoune, the little thing. The deal between the Becks and the Childs was made with a handshake, a house built on friendship. La Pitchoune would revert back to the estate once Julia and Paul Child were done with it and that is exactly what happened. The house was returned to the estate in 1992 and later sold. La Pitchoune is now available for rent to the public by the new owner.
The Child's spent many happy years (three decades) at La Peetch, as they nicknamed La Pitchoune. They entertained legends like James Beard and M.F.K. Fischer. Julia Child and Simone Beck worked on the second volume of the Art of French Cooking.
After arriving at La Pichoune I met our group of 9 women, three of them professional cooks. Our tour guide Barbie Aknin and her friend Deb greeted us with hors d’oeuvres and a glass of rosé, the first of many to come.
We took a tour of La Pitchoune and the adjacent house Mas Bramafam. The current owner has turned it into a modern house with a large kitchen and dining area. Both houses were to be our home for the next week.
Before we go on let me tell you a little bit about our tour guide Barbie Aknin owner of Community Cuisine. She was the best tour guide I have ever had. When we arrived there was a folder on our bed with all the information we needed, including recipes. Barbie has the perfect personality for a tour guide. She is calm, organized, and nonjudgemental and a talented cook. I felt well taken care of the entire time I was with her. I hope that in the future I can take another trip with her. Another very important person on this trip was our driver Fouad. He took special care of me because of my ankle . Whenever I needed a hand he was there without asking, a true gentleman with a kind soul. His knowledge of the area is vast . He and Barbie made the perfect team. Like I said before, my goal is to go back and have him as a tour guide. As you know my blog is for my personal enjoyment and I don’t monetize it. All opinions are my own.
Barbie had prepared Daube de Boeuf with polenta for our first dinner served with vegetables and a salad.
Under the guidance of Barbie, we prepared a delicious picnic called Pan Bagnet for our Sunday lunch. For the rest of the week we were encouraged to help and ask questions or just sit by the fire and have a glass of wine. She hired a young woman to help with the dishes. Throughout the week Barbie invited us to participate in formal cooking lessons. I learned a great deal and hope to post some of her wonderful recipes.
The following day, Sunday, we went to the Cannes farmer’s market which was amazing. Julia and her friends had come here often. I bought a jar of truffles and Barbie bought produce for the week. All the vendors were very friendly and we got to taste everything.
After the market we took a boat to the island of Saint-Honorat, a mile off shore from Cannnes. Since the fifth century the island has been home to a community of monks. The 21 monks still living there are cultivating eight hectares of grapes from which they make wine. It was a day filled with beautiful things to explore, good food, and making new friends.
Monday was spent sightseeing and shopping in Nice. Barbie wanted us to explore the Cours Saleya, a market in the old town of Nice. It is a beautiful flower and fruit market from Tuesday to Sunday and an antique/flea market on Monday. We were free to choose to do whatever we wanted to do.
Three of us went with Fouad, who gave us a fascinating tour of the old narrow cobblestone streets. The four of us had a wonderful lunch and afterwards admired the antiques at the market before we went home for another delightful dinner with our group.
On Tuesday we visited Grasse to tour the Fragonard Perfumery . We had a nice tour of the facility learning how perfume was made now and in the past. People that mix the perfumes have a job which is called the nose. What a job! Perfume is made by extracting substances from plants . There are different methods of extractions.
After the visit to Grasse we visited Frederik and Isabelle. Frederik raises heritage pigs in a wild nature setting. It was a wonderful visit for a farm girl like me. Frederik and Isabellle treated us to a lunch in their home.
There are so many beautiful villages in Provence to visit. We saw several of them during our week's stay. On Wednesday we went to Saint-Paul de Vence, a walled medieval scenic town set on top of a hill with magnificent views and hilly cobblestone streets. Marc Chagall has his final resting place here. From St-Paul de Vence Fouad drove us to Touretttes-sur-Loup, a hilltop medieval authentic village with spectacular views.
We had a tour of the Confiseries Florian in Touretttes-sur-Loup. They manufacture some fantastic candied fruit, crystallized flowers, and different sorts of candy. It's wonderful to watch them produce these delicacies. I wonder, did Julia and Paul ever come in to buy some of their goodies.
To all my foodie friends, how many times have you dreamed of helping a famous chef prepare a meal in his kitchen. My dream finely materialized when our group prepared lunch with Chef Alain Llorca at his Michelin starred restaurant. This beautiful restaurant and hotel sit on a mountain overlooking Saint-Paul de Vence. We had a fabulous lunch on their terrace. Alain and his wife Virginia and brother Jean-Micheal created an establishment that offers the best of the region. In the morning we watched and helped Alain cook a mediterranean fish terrine that was served later for lunch. I was in culinary heaven and couldn't have been happier even though I received a troubling text telling me that my flights home had been canceled. .
On Friday, we visited the farmer’s market at Valbonne. That night we had our last dinner at Julia’s house, what a treat, what a beautiful vacation.
We all said “good bye” on Saturday and Faoud picked four of us up to give us his special tour, called “The best of the French Riviera Tour “. What a great last day. I can highly recommend this tour for anybody visiting the area. I just hope that I can come back one of these days. Two days later everything was shut down because of the Corona virus.
I made it home, even though my flights were changed three times, one of them on Sunday morning, two hours before I was supposed to leave. I caught one the last flights to Frankfurt and then on to San Fransisco. After getting home I quarantined myself for two weeks. There are so many more memories and photos I would like to share about this wonderful trip but I need to publish this post. I will post more photos on Instagram. I hope you are all safe and healthy coping and getting used to our new way of life. Virtual hugs to all of you.
This will be a two part post about my trip to France. Part one will be about my stay in Nice and part two about staying at La Pitchoune, Julia Child’s vacation home in Provence.
I signed up for this cooking class sometime in January dealing with the aftermath of my broken ankle. By then I knew I could do it. It was the perfect motivation to push myself with exercise and physical therapy. On March 3rd my husband dropped me off at the San Francisco airport and I was on my way. Flying comes naturally to me, I have done it so many times in the past. I changed planes in Frankfurt and landed in Nice as the sun was setting over the Alps. I fell in love with the city and area before I even landed. I was picked up by the most wonderful driver and tour guide ever. I hope to come back to this beautiful area and Fouad from France Azur Excursion will be my guide.
I spent two days by myself in Nice . There are times when I like solo traveling . This was one of them. As a woman of a certain age I was treated kindly by the staff in my hotel, the Le Meridian. There was a cook in the morning that made a perfect omelet, the receptionist recommended some great restaurants and her sense of humor was delightful. The server in the rooftop restaurant entertained me since I was the only customer.
Nice is the capital of the Côte d’Azur and is located on the French Rivera with a seaside promenade called the Promenade des Anglais. This promenade stretches for miles and defines the city. My hotel was on the promenade and near the old town with its open air markets, tiny boutiques, and incredible restaurants . I loved exploring this part of the city and had an opportunity to do it again a week later with my group.
My first day was a rainy day and I decided to go the Matisse Museum. The Matisse museum documents the various stages of the artist’s development. I especially enjoyed the sculptures. Unfortunately, I couldn’t explore the surrounding gardens and the park. I took the bus back to Nice and had lunch at Armand Crespo’s latest restaurant called Peixes. This restaurant specializes in fresh local fish turned into mouth-watering ceviches, tartare and Japanese-style takakis. It has a no nonsense young vibe, my kind of place. I had the fish of the day with coconut foam , tom yum, and vegetable spaghetti. It was divine.
The second day I bought a ticket for the ‘hop on hop off’ bus. This is a great way to see any city. After touring the city I visited the Chagall Museum. Many artists including Chagall were enchanted by Nice’s beauty and lived there for years. In the Chagall Museum you will find the largest public collection of his work. This museum was designed with the the cooperation of the artist himself. The museum’s core is a series of large paintings illustrating the first two chapters of the bible. I very much enjoyed looking at these colorful paintings.
On my walk home I had made reservation at La Meranda , a tiny small restaurant that serves only 20 people is run by Dominique Le Stanc, formerly the chef at Negresso, a two-star Michelin restaurant. This unusual restaurant doesn’t have a phone. You have to drop in to make reservations and sit close together on small uncomfortable stools. The menu is on the blackboard and reflects local rustic dishes. I had a delicious salad and the daube of beef was very good. Don’t expect elegance or a charming restaurant but the food is outstanding and the price its right. A real experience, it reminded me of of sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen on a bench being served a tasty soup that filled my tummy and soul.
When I returned to Nice the following week with my group Foud took some of us on a walk through the tiny cobblestone streets where I hadn’t been before. He also took us to a restaurant where I had the most delicious duck confit ( that and onion soup is a must when I am in France.)
I enjoyed exploring Nice and hope that one day I can return and explore more of this gorgeous town on the Mediterranean .
Stay tuned for part two where I had the best week ever at Julia Child’s summer house La Pitchoune.