Published on July 10th, 2011 | by Ann Rickard1
France Culinary Tour
Just finished another hugely successful culinary tour in Provence and feeling very pleased. This was our fifth tour, with nine guests staying with us in Maison de Maitresse in the tiny village of St. Maximin near Uzes in the South of France.
The two week party was filled with laughter, music, singing, dancing, eating, drinking and touring – but what made it so special was the marvellous mix of guests. Within half an hour of meeting each other, the eight females and one male were all close friends. Something seductive happens when you put a group of strangers from different backgrounds together in a gorgeous location in Provence. You can’t help but love each other.
One of our lovely guests – and I’ll never reveal who – even had a delicious fling with a handsome French man. What a bonus!! (While I can’t guarantee you such a sumptuous encounter if you come with us next time, I can guarantee a memorable time.)
The culinary tour began with copious champagne around the pool after arrival, then dinner cooked by our resident guest chefs Maurice and Francoise, and then music long into the night. Geoffrey Rickard, our mini-van driver, baggage handler and world’s-most-attentive-sommelier, kept the wine flowing for the full two weeks. It’s so easy to sip the pale pink rose wine all day in Provence. Most of us took our first sip around 11.30 each morning, which might sound wicked to you at home right now, but it is almost mandatory to drink wine mid-morning in France. The locals are at the cafes with their wine in front of them as early as 10am and it is nothing less than your duty to follow suit. (However, it must be noted, the French drink with admirable restraint: one, perhaps two, small glasses mid morning, another with lunch and then no more until dinner.) (Unlike us, who start mid-morning and just keep going until we drop!)
We ate delicious food, sitting at the long table on the upper terrace overlooking the pool. Lunches included goat cheese tarts, foie gras, nicoise salads…always followed by the mandatory cheese blow out: roquefort by the tonne, runny bries and camembert. France is cheese heaven and you simply must give in to it.
Long evening dinners of rabbit in mustard cream sauce, seafood with black rice were followed by yet more cheese and icy sorbets doused with vodka. Then the dancing began. Michel, our maestro musician strummed his guitar and sang moody French lyrics, and Charles danced his fingers over the keyboard. Our usual memorable guest chef, Michel, gay gentleman and naughty boy, donned his high heels and fishnet stockings, slipped into a mini skirt, put a red bauble on his bald head and made us a paella so rich in saffron rice and seafood, the Spanish would cry with envy. Have a look at him in this photo with the ladies. Cute, no?
We visited nearby Roussillon where the intense blue of the sky hurt the naked eyes, and the red ochre buildings in the village glowed to present marvellous photo opportunities. In Avignon we tootled around the city in the petit train, in Arles we visited the majestic amphitheatre, and in Uzes we trawled the markets salivating over the fresh produce before allowing New Best Friend Luce (local eccentric and adorable French lady) take us to her favourite boutique and dress us in typical local style; layers upon layers of soft floaty garments that slipped obligingly over new bumps and rolls.) We posed for photos in the sunflower and lavender fields, feeling very French.
The two weeks sped by all too quickly and although every day was filled with new French experiences and discoveries there was still plenty of time to relax bythe pool, take an essential afternoon nap, and ready ourselves for a new day starting with croissants and the best baguettes God ever commanded to be made on this earth. I would travel to France every year just to eat the bread, but that’s another story for another blog. Go to my web site – click here – if you want to see the full itinerary of Ann’s Culinary Tours and join us next year.