The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
I've always loved going to markets wherever I've been in the world and find it's a great way to get under the skin of a place. Whether it's a genuine farmers' market selling locally produced food or a tourist-trap night market selling tat, there's always something interesting going on. I remember going to Christmas markets in Prague in the early 1980s, but these weren't the Christmas Markets of today, with chalet stalls selling mulled wine, cookies and tasteful decorations. These were functional affairs, markets at Christmas time rather than actual Christmas Markets, where you went to buy your live carp for Christmas Eve dinner, hauled out of an enormous tank of thrashing fish. Urgh how I hated those fish! I remember street markets in Sofia a decade later in the early 1990s where sellers would hawk a handful of onions on a trestle table, or a pile of radishes, hopefully trying to make a few Lev in times of absurdly rife inflation. Just thinking of Paddington and Glebe markets, favourite hangouts during my student years in Sydney, brings back great memories of bargain hunting for unusual clothing. I could go on and on (oh the markets in Vietnam...) but I digress, I set out to write about my local market, now!
France is justly famous for its markets, they really are still a part of every day life and always have been. They are not recently invented fashionable "farmers' markets" selling superfoods in designer eco packaging but genuine places where ordinary folk get their daily food. Not everything is locally produced by any means, much comes from the wholesale markets on the edge of big cities, having been shipped in from around the world. You can usually tell these stalls as the fruit or veg is uniformly perfect and polished and the prices may be a bit cheaper than on the local stalls. But mixed in with these generic sellers are plenty of local producers selling their wares direct, offering the best in quality and the lowest carbon footprint. And that's what makes markets in France so interesting. Regional variations in cuisine are so great that a market in Normandy will focus on entirely different produce than one in Provence, or one in Alsace. Don't go to a market in the south expecting a selection of Camemberts, nor hope to find a range of olive oils in Lorraine!
In my area there's at least one street market in a nearby town every day of the week, and in places like Antibes, Cannes and Nice they are daily fixtures. Roquefort les Pins market is on a Wednesday. It's small and functional, nothing to write home blog about. My favourite local has to be Valbonne, every Friday morning. Not only does it take place in an absurdly pretty medieval village, typically Provençal, with pollarded plane trees, shuttered windows, narrow cobbled alleys and a colourful central square, but it's so full of beautiful stuff! The stalls ramble throughout the village, not just in one place but really, all over. Ambling around you can find everything from shoes, scarves and children's clothing to hand-painted ceramics, olive-wood bowls, kitchen ware, Provençal fabrics, artists' paintings, lavender cosmetics/soaps and lovely flowers. And this is even before I've started on the food. There's a wonderful selection of olives, tapenades, saucissons, goat's cheeses, olive oils, honeys and spices and several fruit and veg stands. You can find fresh pasta, chicken roasting on a spit and the most delicious bread at a tiny stand by a hole-in-the-wall, straight out of the oven. The smell is heavenly. There is surprisingly little junk, with only one stall selling iPhone covers and other such tat made in China. Just out of the main central part of the village, in front of the church, there is a section devoted to very local farmers/small holders. Now, Valbonne is not exactly a cheap place, and the market prices can often reflect this, but there's at least one genuinely good value stall I head for every time. The reason they sell at such a good price is that they only sell whatever fruit really is in season that day. Take a look at what was in season the last time I went: strawberries and asparagus, perfect early summer fare.
Valbonne market can get very crowded and in high season is absolutely packed. My advice is to get there early - it starts around 7 am - and enjoy the best produce without the crowds. Take your time to chat to the sellers, and even if your French is limited, a friendly "bonjour", "merci" and "au revoir" will always be appreciated and will almost certainly get you better service and possibly better produce too. (See more on this here). You can always ask to sample a bit of what you're interested in, or ask for advice. Did you know that it's normal to ask for a certain product, such as a cheese/melon/avocado, to be ripe for a certain day? (For example, you want a fresh goats' cheese for a dinner you're having in 3 days' time, so tell the seller and s/he will pick you out the perfect one for that day). Even if you're just looking and photographing, still make eye contact and smile - it makes a huge difference! By the time everyone else arrives as the morning wears on you'll be ready to sit down and watch the world go by over a coffee in the Place des Arcades. You'll still be right in the thick of it, but at one of the coveted tables on the terrace rather than squabbling and pushing with the masses.
All photos were taken in late March. Come back again in summer for a different selection of fruit, vegetables and herbs. Do you like going to markets? Do you have a favourite one? I'd love to hear from you.
Do you like markets? Do you have a favourite?
I'm excited to present my very first guest blogger today, wine connoisseur Chrissie McClatchie. I've been thinking about a post dedicated to local wines for a while but while I know when I like a wine that about as far as my knowledge goes. I'm no expert, so who better to ask to write a post for me than a local specialist! I hope you enjoy her tour of some of the best nearby vineyards whether you're on the Côte d'Azur or reading from afar.
If you're lucky enough to have experienced first hand the wonderful hospitality and charm of Lou Messugo, you'll already know that Phoebe's beautiful holiday rental is perfectly situated to take advantage of the sun, the sea and all the natural beauty the Côte d'Azur offers.
Yet, of all the reasons why you may be considering booking in here for your summer break, I'm guessing that wine tasting may not be one of them. After all, the French Riviera doesn't exactly have the same lofty reputation as Bordeaux, Burgundy or even nearby Avignon and Aix-en-Provence when it comes to the grape.
That's why I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of wine to be discovered along this glittering coastline, all within easy reach of Roquefort-les-Pins. This is the land of the pink drink after all, and there's no better match to a Mediterranean summer's day than a chilled glass of Provence rosé. But there is a whole array of other local wines to be discovered as well.
So here is a selection of vineyards to explore, each within easy reach of your home-away-from-home, Lou Messugo. It's a chance to embark on a tasting adventure which combines top quality wines in some rather spectacular locations.
All roads may not lead to Saint-Jeannet from Roquefort-les-Pins, but Phoebe will help you find the right one to this pretty hilltop village, named after the dominating baou (cliff face) which bears the same name.
There's one remaining vineyard here, the Vignoble des Hautes Collines de la Côte d'Azur. It's a family affair. Brothers George and Dennis Rasse craft the wines, whilst Rémy designs bright and whimsical labels which reflect the nature of the vintage. Warmer vintages equal brighter colours, cooler colours mean a cooler year.
The vineyard is also known for their iconic bonbonnieres: big, bulbous glass bottles in which the wine is left to have maximum contact with the sunlight.
A visit is highly recommended to discover their impressive array of red, white and rosé wines, including a sweet and sparkling wine!
It's a little known fact (even locally) that there is such a thing as Nice wine! The vineyards of Bellet, in the hills of the city, are unique for many reasons.
It is the only place in the world where you'll find wine made from the grape varieties Braquet and Folle Noir, which are the main ingredients in a Bellet rosé and red wine respectively. Rolle (or Vermentino) is also grown and is often blended with Chardonnay to make a Bellet white.
There are 11 vineyards in Bellet, most of which still family owned and operated. Whilst Château de Bellet and Domaine de Toasc are two of the finest exponents of this local drop, all vineyards welcome visitors. It is, however, advisable to phone ahead to organise your tasting.
Chances are a day-trip to the famed fishing port of St Tropez is already on your itinerary, since it's close to being the quintessential French Riviera experience.
Whilst the land around the gulf of St Tropez may be prime real estate, the soils are also perfect for crafting some of the finest examples of Provence rosé you will find.
One of my favourite producers nearby is Château Minuty, not just because they make three different types of perfectly fresh and fruity rosé! The estate, one of the big names in Provence, is situated on an impressive 70 hectares and offers a beautiful vista overlooking the gulf of St Tropez.
Further inland, near Le Muy, Château Margüi produce some of the most delightful rosés, whites and reds in a truly beautiful Provençal setting. Their bright tasting room welcomes visitors Monday-Friday and you're encouraged to pop by to say hi!
Wherever you decide to go, you're in for some wonderful and classically French Riviera discoveries.
Chrissie McClatchie is a Sydneysider living in Nice working for a local wine company. She writes her blog The Riviera Grapevine as a legitimate reason to keep tasting, writing and learning about all things wine related on the Côte d'Azur and beyond.