Sunday, 14 December 2014

Happy cooking in Provence with René Bérard

La Bastide des Saveurs

I could not wipe the smile off my face for the first two hours of my cooking class with Michelin starred chef René Bérard in his beautiful domain in the Var region of Provence, la "Bastide des Saveurs".  This first class chef is in the business of transmitting the real Provence experience with utmost authenticity … and, like the other 5 novice students participating that day, I was under his spell.

Mr Bérard giving me a few useful tips

My equally as entranced colleague Linda enjoyed capturing the details of Mr. Bérard’s rustic kitchen décor, from its jarred herbs and spices to its copper pans and Provençal tiles... not to mention Mr. Bérard's very attentive little spaniel named Gribouille.

Mr. Bérard organizes his classes by theme and our session was focused on dessert. More than six different desserts were concocted by our group of 5 novice students, from lemon meringue pie to crème patissière, chocolate moelleux cakes and caramelized apples. Learning (just a few of) the tricks of Mr. Bérard’s trade was fascinating. And as if weren’t enough to be swept off our feet by Mr. Bérard’s jovial nature and continual joke-telling, the moment of ultimate enjoyment came when we wrapped up our fourth hour of cooking and walked outside to the most quintessentially Provençal table setting my imagination could have depicted. 

Giving classes in La Cadière d’Azur, this charming small town of 5,000 inhabitants, is a feat Mr. Bérard particularly takes to heart as this is where he was born and raised. Having celebrated his 70th birthday not too long ago, Mr. Bérard ensured the transmission of talent and family cooking secrets, via his son Jean-François who now runs a nearby restaurant also owned by the family.

Myself, René Bérard and Linda Ouarghi 

Many thanks to Stéphane Zanarelli for organising this opportunity for Linda and myself.
If a cooking class with René Bérard interests you, don't hesitate to contact us using the link on the right.

About the author:

Laura Gillespie is a Unique Provence travel consultant specialized in luxury events in Provence, as well as in the creation and realisation of unique travel itineraries and programs. Laura is American and has been based in Provence for nearly 20 years. 

Below are more photos of our day ©Linda Ouaghi

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Almond Blossom in Provence

By the time this post appears on my blog the remarkable event it recounts will be over!

Once upon a time the areas of Provence that are now famous for their lavender fields, where then famous for their almonds.
Indeed the main crops on the Valensole plateau were almonds and wheat, and the wheat was usually used for animal feed. Growing almonds was a hard job however and climatic conditions and competition from abroad just to name those, soon put a stop to the almond trees and let the lavender take its place.

If you take a trip to the Valensole plateau nowadays you will find that most of the lone trees growing amongst the lavender and wheat fields are wild almond trees, witnesses to the past when they were the kings of the land!
Wild almonds in Haute Provence

But times have changed and the almond trees are back. The harvest nowadays is used for essential almond oil and also for human consumption as the almonds are quite delicious, and when incorporated with local lavender honey the resulting nougat is something you won't forget in a hurry!
The essential oil is used in skin creams and one of the biggest clients is L'Occitane en Provence whose custom ensures the survival of the local harvest.

Below are a series of photos that can be found on our Flickr page of this years almond blossom. What is quite amazing is the scent given off by the flowers which smells of honey straight from the jar!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Private Tours in Provence - Our New Minivan

Unique Provence is fast becoming a reference for luxury tourism in Provence. Not only individual clients through our blog and website but travel agencies around the world. Our guides have that personal touch that makes a trip special and our permanent on site research, of which you can read some of the results in this blog make us stand out from the crowd.
The new Caravelle ©Patrick Gaudin 

Last year I went back to school to sit the exam in order to become a certified passenger transport company and we hired our vehicles or contracted other companies with vehicles to do our transfers and transport but all this has changed as of today! We are now the proud owners of our first luxury minivan with another in the pipeline for the coming months.
The van on its first photo shoot in front of the Montagne Ste Victoire
The vehicle we have chosen is a long wheelbase Volkswagen Caravelle with an all leather interior and tri zone air-conditioning. The 180hp engine and 7 speed automatic gearbox guarantee a smooth ride in all road conditions.
Posing in front of a dry stone hut in Haute Provence
The other little detail that you will notice when we come to pick you up from your hotel or cruise ship is that our van is not black or gray like 99% of the other tour vans in Provence it's Navy Blue so still reasonably sober but a bit brighter all the same.

So for your next transfer or guided tour through Provence your van awaits...

If you are interested in a guided tour in Provence whether it be for one day or for a week contact us using the link on the right, we would be delighted to show you our Provence in our nice new shiny blue van!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Lavender Endowment Fund Website

The Lavender Endowment Fund website is up and running in English. The translation was done by me and so if you spot any glaring errors don't hesitate to post a message.
The website can be viewed here :
Healthy Lavender and photo bombing bee taken near Sault last summer

The Decline of Lavender page was taken directly from my blog post article Provence Lavender Under Threat as the members of the board decided it explained the issue clearly.

Please spread the word as Provence lavender needs help, the situation is not disastrous but it is not good either, and money is needed for research.

For every lavender day tour offered by Unique Provence we will donate 50€ to the fund and every small group tour, 100€ per person, but you can donate by using the paypal link on the endowment fund website.