France ~ Delightful Provence

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Travel Features >> France ~ Delightful Provence

France ~ Delightful Provence

March 14, 2012

The district of Provence beyond the French Riviera had always conjured up images, at least to my mind, of beautiful vales and meadows full of yellow flowers, birds singing under blue skies and the Rhone valley. So when we visited the area I was curious to see how much of my vision or imagination was in fact close to reality. I wasn’t disappointed.

The first time I had travelled through Provence by train, I had in fact seen fields and fields of mustard flowers and realized that this was the source of “Moutarde de Dijon”(mustard of Dijon). Indeed, Provence is famous for it’s natural beauty as well as its wine. The second time around, we travelled by car and were able to stop at all the delightful inns and chateaus that dot the French landscape. The district of Provence stretches along the Rhone River onto Marseilles and merges into the area known as the Cote d’ Azur that has attracted well-known artists, the likes of Van Gogh (I imagine he did his famous piece on the sunflowers here), Cezanne and Picasso.

Our journey took us from Brussels to Paris and then to the heart of the French countryside and each bend or loop in the small country roads would bring into view new vistas of village and hill. The boot of the car had baguettes of French bread. UHT (long life) milk and cheese—Gouda, Brie, Emmenthal, and Edam, fresh lettuce and tomato, cartons of orange juice made up our stock and we figured we could stop by any of the inns and sample the cuisine and wine sitting out in the authentic Provence surroundings. The wayside inn that we stopped at had a delectable array of French cuisine. Foie gras, potage (soup), coq au vin flavoured with just the right sprinkling of “Herbes de Provence”, a special bouquet garni of herbs, scented and fragrant, that grow in the Provence area. Chilled rose wine and what more could the heart desire? Perhaps a lemon soufflé (mousse au citron) to round off a delicious meal…We were also offered a selection of wines like Chablis, Meursault and Gevrey-Chambertin along with other less known brands produced at local wineries.

A stroll through the city of Avignon, one of the most interesting cities of Provence is pleasant. Avignon is well known because of the annual cultural festival held here. Actors, dancers, musicians all congregate here during the month of July to take part in this festival. But the best part of the trip was the visit to the vineyards in the area.

Most of the vineyards have free degustation (wine tasting) and sell wine by the bottle. At some of the better-known vineyards, one has to get prior appointment. The process that is followed for making the wine is explained from inception to completion.

The first step is the harvesting of the grapes. Green or black grapes are used depending on the wine to be produced. Sometimes the stems are removed but sometimes they are left on and the pips and skins are all used for the wine production. Presses, thus starting the fermentation procedure squeeze the grapes. The juice is then led to vats where yeast or other agents are added to convert natural sugar to alcohol. There the grapes remain for a few days depending on the kind of wine to be produced. We were taken to the rooms where the fermented wine is drained from the vat and the pulp remains behind. This pulp is then squeezed out again and the solid matter left behind is used as fertilizer in the fields. The two liquids are then mixed to get the desired wine. The next step is clarifying the wine. It is either clarified by sedimentation or by adding clarifiers. We saw barrels of wine that were kept to age in a cool room. Our guide told us that the casks are made of special wood, mostly oak. Et voila! Once the ageing process is complete, the wine is ready and one can enjoy it in the cool shady nook covered with green. Tall glasses were taken out on the tables and sparkling wine poured in.

Provence is renowned for its roses and table wines but there are also other well-known wines from this area. The soil, water and climate all make a difference in the taste of the wine. There are other wineries- the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Bellet, Bandol (on the Mediterranean coast west of Toulon), and Cotes de Provence to name a few. For the connoisseur of wine there can be no better holiday…

~This article has been contributed by Poonam Surie

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