One of the benefits of living in Paris is having friends who have rented a house in Provence for the summer, having them invite me to visit – and being able to go. I recently returned from a 6-night stay and I’m already thinking about going back. Cotignac was such a charming little village. I could get used to spending time in place where pomegranates, figs, olives and grapes are grown.
I was surprised to learn that the population was just over 2,000 people, because the town felt a lot bigger. There are numerous restaurants – I ate in 2 of them and had very good meals at reasonable prices. And on my last day I finally tried the ice cream shop that was about 10 feet from our front door. I actually went twice on that day, and didn’t even think to take photos of the lavender honey and salted caramel that I had for round one. Or the honey fig and red grapefruit that I had for round two. They were all delicious.
Cotignac, is in the Var region of Provence. About an hour drive east of Aix en Provence. While similar, it’s not the Provence of Peter Mayle’s books. And while touristy, it feels less touristy than the well-known villages in the Luberon. And there’s so much going on.
I arrived on a Thursday afternoon. The house that my friends had rented was right on the main square, with windows overlooking the mature plane trees, the beautiful four seasons fountain and all of the restaurants. You might think that it would be unbearably noisy – but it wasn’t. The sound of the activity below was actually relaxing.
Upon arrival I had a chance to explore the village and then we had a very good dinner at La Table des Coquelicots. I ordered the hamburger because I had recently been craving one. For dessert I had the digestif gourmand – an after dinner drink with an assortment of small desserts. It cost 10.00€. The drink itself would have been that much – or more, in Paris. Then an “on the house” shot of Limoncello – to wash down the Limoncello that I’d just had. I think I like Cotignac.
On Friday, our plans were to head out in search of any remaining lavender fields. I knew that I was probably too late since the lavender had been harvested in July, but my friends were happy to take a little road-trip. But first, I wanted to explore the Friday Artisan Market that had just appeared outside our front door.
The market was low-key but interesting. I was happy with my purchase of some handcrafted lavender sachets, instead of those plastic-wrapped industrial ones. And who doesn’t like a wine tasting at 11:00 a.m.? I bought some wine too. I was curious about the man selling out of season truffles for as little as 10.00€. It was tempting, but just didn’t seem right to me.
By the time I finished with the market it was already lunchtime. We made some sandwiches at home. The nice thing about staying in such a small village is that the stores you need are literally out the door. The butcher shop was across the street, as was the well-stocked mini Spar grocery store. A few steps to the left, was the small Epicerie (fine foods store) selling, charcuterie (cold-cuts), cheese, eggs, some pre-made salads and such and a few groceries. I could get used to this.
After lunch we headed to Chateau LaCalisse because they have planted a tourist lavender field. Even though it was past it’s prime, it was a heavenly experience for me. I can only imagine what it must have looked like a few weeks earlier.
Disappointingly, the tasting room was closed. We’ll have to come back for wine on another day.
After leaving La Calisse we decide to stop and explore the tiny village of Fox-Amphoux. Besides the great views and the huge hackberry tree planted in 1550 one of the best things about this this tiny village was that we got “lost” trying to find the panoramic overlook that was marked on the map by the parking lot. Who gets lost in a village with a population of 400? We did.
We had success on our second try and were rewarded with stunning views to the village rooftops and the surrounding countryside and mountains. Plus, a good workout on the tower stairs.
Time to head home for an Apero and get ready for dinner at the local Boulodrome, for Friday night Boules and Moules-Frites. (Mussels and French Fries). What a fun and very local event. We attended with some local friends. And the prices - 8.50€ for the moules-frites and 8.00€ for a bottle of the local Rose wine? We drank several bottles of wine.
After the moules-frites our friends came back to the house and we drank more wine on our “terrace” out front. We actually sat at one of the tables belonging to café downstairs. How nice of them to let us do this.
Not bad for my first full day in Cotignac.
Saturday night is the annual Rock Concert. Guess where? On the square in front of our house. At least the stage was set up at the far-end. Due to the expected crowds and traffic we spent our day in Cotignac. We got off to a late start too, because of our late night the night before.
By the time we were ready to get going there was a storm on the horizon. We waited it out and then decided to walk to the local wine co-op. They were supposed to have olive oil too, but we found out that it had been a bad year for the olives due to the drought and they had no oil. But they had wine - which we gladly tasted and bought. And then another storm hit. We stood under the eaves to wait it out. I love Summer storms.
After we got home, we enjoyed watching and listening to band playing in front of the butcher shop across the street. And hated that we had to leave for our dinner reservations at La Terrasse.
I had another good meal starting with a salade chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) lamb steak with a rosemary sauce and a dessert of blackberry crumble – all for 23€. A meal like this would be at least 30€ in Paris. And we had a bottle of rose from Chateau La Calisse. I enjoyed dining on the secluded terrace under the fig trees.
By the time we were finished with dinner we had missed the opening act of the Rock Concert. The main act played a lot 1970’s rock, such as The Who and Pink Floyd, among others. I was happy to listen from the comfort of our living room. The show finally ended at 12:30 a.m. with fireworks – and a full moon!
...to be continued.