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Apr 27, 2011 09:02 AM

2 Weeks in the Luberons in Early April 2011: Trip Report

Stale and unfinished baguettes sitting on top of the fridge? fifteen dollars.
Antidepressants needed to buy anything at our local market? fifty dollars.
Seeing my wife's eyes sparkle like never before by 1 per Euro oysters at 9am in Lourmarin Market? Heartbreakingly Priceless.

It was a beautiful trip: almond blossoms tingling the eyes against the sunset , infinity-fields of small yellow flowers deepening the bluest sky, artichokes that made both of us say hmm, ahh, then wow, asparagus in as many colors, shapes and size as they were served, and, unlike the ones in NYC, the comfort of local dogs not begging for your attention! This board deserves the credit for our experience; we cannot thank you all enough. Here's the link for the help that I had in planning for this trip:

Restaurants sampled roughly in order of liking: within a group, the order means less, as ambience and service were hard to tease out separate from food experiences.

La Ferme de la Huppe (Gordes)
L’Arome (Bonnieux)
L’Oustalet (Gigondas)
La Bartavelle (Goult)
Auberge de la Loube (Buoux)
*Le Castelas (Sivergues


Auberge du Presbytere (Saignon)
Auberge du Parc (Orgon)
Le Vieux Bistro (Cabrieres-d’Avignon)
La Treille Muscate (Moustier-Saint-Marie)

Le Provencial (Gordes)
La Bergerie (Maubec)
Lou Luberon (Rubion)
L'Oustau de la Mar (Cassis)

The top tier ones were extremely good that we returned for seconds to two places during this trip, middle group were great to very good, and only a few misses. The last group were ones outside of CH recs and accordingly mediocre with a few surprises; they were visited more less at random for small meals. Le Castela has an * because it is on its own league as many of you said. I will report on this and most places visited in near future in between making bags and bags of bread crumbs and chasing away my neighbor's dog (he is infatuated with my ankle).

To begin, the market report: Apt, Avignon, Roussillon, Cucuron, Bonnieux, Aix-en-Provence, Lourmarin, and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

By far the biggest one was the Sunday market L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with many cooking stands serving ready to eat items than most, and just as large antique market (much bigger than Aix). It was very crowded though, nearly as NYC subway during rush hours really. A lot of interesting shops and art galleries complete with a gypsy w/ accordion. We felt a half day here really was not enough, and would love to return. A must visit if you are in this region, as suggested by many experienced CH’ers.

(Note: Some of ready to eats were rotisserie birds (and potatoes that are roasted with the dripping), couscous, ratatouille, snails, and paella. This was the last market on our list of visits, and could not pass up the opportunity to sample them: got little of all mentioned above, a slice of head cheese (pork) and cheese w/ pesto and pine nut, made two salads: tomato/mint/onion with olive oil/salt, and frisee salad with artichoke/garlic dressing. Added a bottle of a local rose (we really enjoyed and drank several bottles of Le Châtaignier Rosé domaine de la citadelle, in Menerbes) and all made a really really nice and memorable lunch. Whether it was worth canceling the reservation at Le Jardin du Quai only time will tell, and sooner the better (better be sooner my wife nudges…)

More enjoyable in a leisurely and “digestible” way for us was the Friday market in Lourmarin. Most memorable was the stand selling oysters labeled Pleine MER in three different sizes; the seller simply opened the oysters one at a time and served them to us after handing us half lemon each (and gave us an extra one after we told him how good they were). Medium sized, lightly crunchy/taut in the middle, cool(not cold) smoothness that made my wife's eyes sparkle (and me jealous), briny, and touch of sweet at the end, monsieur impeccably shucked them and had us in silence. Let me just say that we have had many raw oysters in reputable and not so reputable places, but this was the FRESHIEST tasting we ever had, period. We did not expect this from Lourmarin, so we felt very lucky to have met him that day, and told ourselves that on our next return, we will take a dozen to a nearby café and order a half bottle of white to start the day at the market. I think this was our best overall market experience.

Other markets were wonderful on their own ways: Bonnieux’s Friday market was very charming, spread along the curvy street on the lower part of the town, and small enough to enjoy both the market and the village all before lunch. Cucuron’s picturesque Tuesday market had very “local” feel, set up around the pool of water in the main square. Though Apt's market day is on Saturday, we found their antique market opened in an empty lot west of the town on Sunday ,and though much smaller than la-Sorgue, interesting and fun as well as cheaper. Avignon's Les Halles had the largest ready to eat items which we savored for lunch. If I were to leave out a market among the ones visited, it would be the one in Roussillon (Thursdays) as I recognized many of them in other markets, were much smaller (about 15 sellers), and there are other things to see there that were more interesting.

I think my experience from the market would have been more fun/meaningful/educational if I had better knowledge of the local products, and at least a conversational French. We will be working on both for next trip for sure. I should echo many people here that encounters with people at the market, restaurants, and near our home in Maubec was polite, accommodating, and proud (including the dogs!) despite our infantile-level french.

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  1. Yeah, I love a report like this.
    So many of us participated in your planning it was as though we were on the trip with you.
    And thank you for updating.
    I saw you winged a reservation at Bartavelle in Goult, which could be a pain. Bravo. It is one of my faves, which I often recommend, but my friends say they can never a table. :-(
    I am returning to the Luberon, renting a house in Saignon this time, and count on your updates. Thank you again.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parigi

      We must have been very lucky then, because most reservations were not difficult to be had during our stay. Several of them I made over email before leaving, and others were done while there with a cellphone I reluctantly acquired. More lucky I feel now that you tell me where gracious hosts served us wonderful meals are two walk-ins: L'Arome (Friday) and Auberge du Presbytere (Monday).

      Bartavelle, unlike any others in the top group, was the only one that was nearly filled the night we visited while two other local restaurants in Goult were far less than a half-filled. We were one of two or three diners in L'Arome, La Ferme de la Huppe, or Auberge de la Loube for example, and all of them were visited during a weekday if I remember correctly. Report to come, I promise, as it was probably the most intriguing/interesting/complex?!? restaurant we visited on our trip.

    2. My husband finally bought himself an oyster-shucking-glove, with dreams of us feasting on fresh oysters bought at the market. Having just arrived here about 2 weeks ago, we also found your friend at Lourmarin (whom we had never seen before), but were not yet up to the shucking challenge (because, in fact, said husband has never tried shucking oysters....). Your report makes us want to eat them on the spot as you did, and let Monsieur do all the work.
      Thanks for sharing your story - looking forward to your restaurant reviews.

      4 Replies
      1. re: boredough

        The monsieur made it look so easy and elegant, keeping most of the brine in and all the shellbits out, and I am sure he would be happy to show. Oysters were displayed out in the box without ice; I don't know how he keeps it so fresh. Fair warning: I sensed a few seconds of romance in my wife's eyes as he picked out an extra, free of charge, the most perfect, plump, glossy, transparent surface showing live gills and all, that was bathing in its own juice...Glad that you saw him too, and regret the missed chance of running into each other?!? ( you will surely have seen us, or at least my wife, every Friday in Lourmarin if we stayed on longer)

        1. re: Kurtis

          I admire your/your wife's willingness/desire to eat fresh oysters any time of the day (9am?)! It sounds like an experience you will remember for a long time.... The last time we bought oysters, it was from the fishmonger at the "entrance" to the Coustellet Sunday market. For no extra charge, he shucked them and gently placed them (closed, with brine) inside our small cooler, so we could enjoy them with a glass of wine at home. When we asked how long they could survive in the cooler, he reminded us that there is no ice in their natural environment, and assured us that we could drive home at or under the speed limit.

        2. re: boredough

          If you like sea urchins, I think you could sample them in the markets as well. I saw several fishmongers who had them as well as oysters, and many of them had plates and lemons in the back which I take it is for willing customers. We did not get to try the sea urchins which we enjoy and regret: if they were as good as the oysters we had, it would have been just as memorable.

          1. re: Kurtis

            In comparison the sea urchins (oursins) lack dimension in their taste.
            Usually one can ask a fishmonger to open the oysters - for a very small fee. On special holidays when such demand is high, one may have to place an opening order a day or several days in advance.

        3. "Bonnieux’s Friday market was very charming"

          Ahhhh. We were driving through town on a Friday morning and I screamed "Stop the car!". My husband finally agreed we'd visit the market if he found a parking place, knowing that there wasn't one for a mile. And then there, right in front of us was a golden parking place.

          I bought some lavender what-nots, and he, he who didn't want to stop for the market, bought the ugliest Provençal hanging light fixture in the universe. Huge. Bright yellow with olives painted on it And cut-outs of hearts. The world's prize for ugly. Wrapped and boxed and lugged back to Paris and then across an ocean, it has hung over the dining table in a weekend house for almost 15 years.

          Bonnieux's Friday market is indelible in my mind and, yes, heart. Thanks for the memory.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mangeur

            Did you sell that light fixture back in Apt by any chance?!? We saw a few that certainly could fit the description and possibly the prize... Would you be willing to share a pic of "world's prize for ugly?" If Bonnieux retained much of the charm that you felt 15 years ago, I certainly experience it on this trip.

            Your post reminds me: Thank you and boredough for the Zin rec. I did take two decent bottles, one for the owner, and the other for the caretaker of the farm. Our limited French did not allow such fun conversation that you shared with us though, but I did describe the bottle to them borrowing your exchange through their daughter who spoke limited English.

          2. Le Vieux Bistrot (Cabrières d'Avignon)

            Cruelty of your suggestion for our first night in Provence– grab a pizza and stay home - was only to be realized as we took a pre-dinner walk in Gordes and arrived here a bit after 7:30pm. As the roads narrowed and less traveled from Marseille airport to Maubec, stopping by Cavaillon to buy the pungently sweet melon in season and to pick up a cell phone, a glimpse of oranged sun of Gordes coming to life in the horizon in this beautiful evening made your parental guidance a thing of prom night. As we reflect, the dinner at Le Vieux Bistrot was a beautiful introduction, and a good standard to compare our experiences to come.

            Suggested by our lone host who was in his mid 20s, we relaxed into our table for 2 of choice among about 12 assortment of tables with a glass each of Le Châtaignier Rosé from Domaine de la Citadelle (this became our aperitif of choice while there, also available in US), black buttery olives, and the menu. Luscious light golden-copper in color, this beautifully crisp, light and fruity but dry Rosé from Menerbes reminded us of where we are, and our home in NYC much further than a day's trip. Their menu hasn’t changed from the website, and having looked at this more than several times online, we made easy choice of ordering a Bistrot Chic (35€) and Bistronome (28€) menus with different cuts for the steaks for the plat: a filet and a rumsteak.

            The night was still young. Our youthful host in Abercrombie & Fitch’ish jeans and shirt produced a bottle of 2007 Vacqueyras Signature from Domaine des Amouriers (21€) when asked for suggestion, and allowed us to choose both entrees from more expensive menu without extra cost saying they were both very good and we shouldn’t miss them. As the entrées come out we found them a bit different from the description on the menu. Each entrée had three tasting w/ small salad. I think this is what we had:

            1.Terrine of duck foie gras in a shape of golf ball covered w/ pistachios accompanied w/ a cherry tomato &toasts.
            2. Foie Gras de canard au Beaumes de Venise: this was the description on the menu, but it was in a miniature pot, all warm savory goodness in every spoonful.
            3. Mousse of asparagus with herbed vinaigrette tomato and sprigs of sprouts in a tall shot glass
            4. Herb seasoned Julienned carrots w/ diced artichoke heart in a tall shot glass
            5. Truffle foam w/ black sesame in a small chocolate cup
            6. Lime sorbet

            The steak plats were served on wooden planks with 2 inch tall bone marrow, side of au jus, mounds of cubed potatoes, and small salad.

            For dessert, again multiple course of honey-poached tangerine, raspberry mousse w/ chocolate sticks, molten chocolate cake w/ caramelized sugar disc & strawberry crumble. For cheese plate, we had three goat cheeses in different ages which were as delicious as educational.

            Three hours of timelessness, espressos were ordered, wine bottle emptied, and we were in bliss amongst a family of six and two other couples dining in dimmed and candle-lit interior of red walls. There were some misses: as barbaluc correctly pointed out, the entrees lacked focus, all dishes were overtly decorated (BAM!’ed as we say in US with reverence to Emeril Lagasse whose dishes are not complete without heavy dusting of paprika, or chocolate power), the rumsteak was tough and overcooked, and the marrow undercooked. But we don’t care, as multiple components of entrees were all pretty good, allowed sampling of the market produce as well savory foies, and the romantic exchanges were had as we shared perfectly medium rare filet. Plus, we should give a due credit to our mature host for the solid wine rec and service which relaxed us into a gear that we would hum to for the rest of the trip. I would return here again, not only for the memories but even for their unsophisticated but straight forwardly good food, as price to quality ratio is excellent, service is accommodating and friendly, to try their seafood dishes as well as to taste their more pricy steak, and on Wednesdays!


            1. Outdoor garden dining area was undergoing construction: should be ready for summer per the host.
            2. A nice walk to be had before dinner here is Mur de la Peste - Wall of Death - (rec by Parigi and highly rec by our local friend) which is easily walkable from the restaurant. Take a lot of water on hot days, says our local friend.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Kurtis

              This is one of the most awaited reviews on the board.
              Since, deservedly, this thread is going to be consulted as reference (or am I insane to think that anyone bothers with the search function?), may I point out that the town is Cabrières d'Avignon, not Cabrier d'Avignon.
              Great read. Great experience. Can't wait for the rest.

              1. re: Parigi

                Thanks always. It was corrected on the post. Many apologies for delay in reports, as I have doubled the dose of antidepressants and/so cranking out more bread crumbs...

              2. re: Kurtis

                I too have been waiting to hear about your specific meals, so this is a great start (!) I suspect you may have needed to pick up an extra suitcase for all of your notes....:-)
                Keep it coming.

                1. re: Kurtis

                  As if my life needed added complications...thanks a lot. I've started a new wish list.

                  I love your experiences and your reactions to them. How often it is the imperfect that leaves us with the most vivid memories, filled with soul and goodwill. Many, many thanks. And, as Oliver purportedly requested, "More, please."

                2. L’Oustalet in Gigondas

                  When I was planning the visit here, lingering winter of NYC was whipping its last tail into late March. With flurries of snow and single-digit temperature of chilly and monochromatic skyline of Manhattan in view, studying this deliciously well-conceived menu online made me long for that outdoor seat with a glass of Côtes du Rhône in hand. Also, a long-awaited plan was to take more serpentine but scenic road that would become so abstractly familiar in the spinning classes I was taking, that this visit to L’Oustalet became some kind of a mission.

                  Leaving Roussillon after a breakfast and visit to the market (Thursdays), we traversed north on D4, between two forests Domaniale de Venasque and de saint-lambert (great drive w/ even greater views, I fidgeted and tinkered with the camera in futile as my wife amusingly looked on as if to say ‘why bother’), through Murs to Venasque with distant view of Mont Ventoux and fields of whites and yellows in between, finally arriving albeit anticlimactic in Gigondas who the Romans named Jocunditas : great pleasure and enjoyment.

                  “Sorry, there’s a gentleman who comes here everyday and it’s reserved for him.” Trim, shy, politely reserved, our stylish waiter in early 30s with black waist apron offered us another partially shaded table for two. Oh how I longed to have such a table in my life, and was delighted at the possibility: Could this be a restaurant that has such quality? Indeed, half dozen outdoor tables to be occupied seemed to be the locals, and their smallish but chic interior with the view of kitchen remained empty for the afternoon. Recognizing a familiar name from Pammel’s blog, we ordered 2009 Domaine du Paternel rose from Cassis for aperitif and nibbled on tapenade, roasted almonds, and green olives. With help of apologetic waiter on his translation, we chose two different menus: selon le marché ( 28€), and Petit menu (50€) with bit disappointment that the truffle menus not being available (not sure if this is just for lunch). By the time he finished helping us to choose a bottle of Domaine le Clos des Cazaux Prestige 2005 (45€ ), and receiving gratitude from both of us, his face matched the color of our rose under the warm sunlight as he stood up to return to the kitchen.

                  Here’s a wordy descriptions of what we had. My food knowledge/vocab/french is sorely lacking for adequate description here.

                  1st Amuse bouche: thin-slice cured ham with cream-based mousse w/ chives
                  2nd Amuse bouche: crab cake salad, chives, garnished w/ slices of radish + pineapple

                  Entrée1: white & green asparagus layered w/ lemon gelee, accompanied with a lump of white creamy custard, thicker slice of cured ham, dotted with balsamic? dressing.
                  Entrée2: white & green asparagus plated on top of savory cracker and tapenade garnished with shaved cheese and chive.

                  Plat1: white fish (in shape of its lumps) with grilled vegetables: yellow and green zucchinis, sun-dried tomatoes, garnished w/ halved radish, lemon zest, + light olive oil dressing.
                  Plat2: 2 cubes of pork w/ thin layer of fat on top of sautéed greens, filet of anchovy, two strips of sauces, fresh olive leaves sun-dried tomatoes.

                  Dessert w/ grapefruit sorbet and petit four.

                  I could not have wished for a better meal: well paced and sequenced, each dish was aesthically constructed but not overtly fussed or twicked. It was refined with restraint that allowed breath and comfort, while demonstrating the sophistication of the chef in simple forms. They were seasoned subtly yet just right, and most importantly, every bit delicious! Slices of lightly salty ham with the cream mousse tamed by almost sweet crab cake prepared our palates for honorably showcased asparagus dishes. Likely have been poached in oil, fish elegantly accompanied under-seasoned and grilled vegetables that were surreally delicious in their own flavors. Marriage of pork and anchovy boldly enhanced the flavors that added remarkable contrast and depth, and made me wonder of possible Portuguese influence or even SE Asian. Though my experience is not extensive, our ventures in French/New American dining experiences in highly regarded places or even local favorites in NYC have always left us with varying degrees of regrets for unfulfilled. So, do I dare say this is a meal that finally rendered soul-comforting french, a meal that placed french cuisine in our regular dining routine? I would gladly say yes.

                  For over two and half hours, we basked in the same glorious sun that ripened the jewels of Gigondas, making my wife to glow of life, and grand outing of my freckles. Naturally, our conversation turned to “what will/can be next?!?” as we hiked the circular route to Dentelles de Montmirail. Driving back, my wife softly asleep, her words at the end of the meal continued to ring in my ear: “This, Kurtis, is a real lunch.” Needless to say, I would return here in a heartbeat, and overhear someone being denied of our table: "Sorry, there's a couple who comes here every year who seat at that table."



                  1. The Cave was under construction and temporarily relocated across the street.
                  2. Grand and spectacular walk to be had here is the Dentelles Montmirail that can be approached many ways. Very helpful TI in Gigondas has maps.

                  22 Replies
                  1. re: Kurtis

                    Pork/lamb with anchovy is indeed a Provençal winner.
                    And that drive between Venasque and Gigondas is one of my faves.
                    Am tracing your steps a month from now...

                    1. re: Parigi

                      Lamb and anchovy sounds like marriage made in heaven!

                      1. re: Kurtis

                        Inspired by your report, we roasted lamb with anchovy, garlic and rosemary. Still licking my chops, literally.

                        1. re: Parigi

                          Any good recipe that includes tons of bread crumbs?!? I've been dreaming about this the whole weekend. Definitely making one tonight...

                          1. re: Kurtis

                            not with bread crumbs (but good idea on which I will research).
                            I used a recipe like this one:

                            1. re: Parigi

                              Spurred on by Kurtis' description & Parigi's recipe, I got my husband (who does the cooking chez nous) to prepare a leg of lamb with anchovy-rosemary marinade. After it marinated, he coated the lamb with some mustard & the (missing) breadcrumbs (marinade stayed put). It was delicious, so thanks to both of you for the inspiration. On another matter, Kurtis: I am still anxious to read about your other restaurant adventures, in particular the starred Castelas (did you do lunch or dinner, or both?) and the Auberge de la Loube (where we have never been, but have just booked ...). And all the others.

                              1. re: boredough

                                That sounds sCRUMBtious! We also made a quick version last week using anchovy, olive oil, rosemary, and lemon into a dipping sauce and grilling the lamb chop. We thought how nicely the anchovy blends in with the lamb: a match made in heaven...

                                Sorry for the delayed reports! I seem to only be able to write one a week or so, but here's some quick answers.

                                We went to Le Castelas twice, and both of the times for the dinner, and both times we stayed overnight for extra 40 Euros pp which includes simple breakfast. The accommodation was quite adequate and even romantic, and allowed us to really enjoy the dinner and the company into the wee hours with our backs warmed by the fireplace. Both mornings were just as memorable as the sunset, and so we returned with same routine. Special thanks to many of you for directing me this way. It has a very special place in our hearts.

                                Glad that you will be going to Auberge de la Loube which is a MUST experience! If you haven't yet, I would strongly recommend a visit to the nearby Fort de Buoux. It offers one of most stunning views and history.

                                Fuller reports to come on these places, I promise.

                                1. re: Kurtis

                                  You do realize that you are forcing me to rearrange my life...

                                  1. re: mangeur

                                    "You do realize that you are forcing me to rearrange my life..."

                                    Sweet :)

                                  2. re: Kurtis

                                    WOW I didn't expect to read that you stayed over...! We have only peeked at one of the rooms, which looked to be more like a dormitory. Did you have a private room? Anyway, I was almost expecting a lunch vs dinner comparison, but am happy to learn that you didn't miss the fabulous roast pig. As for Buoux, we'll definitely get to "town" early enough to check out the Fort before dinner. Looking forward to it.
                                    PS: 'sCRUMBtious' - that's a good one

                                    1. re: boredough

                                      We did stay in a private room w/ bath. You may want to have them show you the rooms before making the decision. I think they are better than the dormitory by a notch. For us, it was an easy choice to stay when comparing what we will leave behind, and the drive that was ahead. We were so happy to be there, that, if we had another bottle of wine, we could have easily shared the bed with the goats!

                                      1. re: Kurtis

                                        Now, now - you'll have the moderators on your case if you're not careful ;o)

                                    2. re: Kurtis

                                      Hi Kurtis,
                                      This is an amazing report. I am planning my trip to the Luberon right now. We will be there with family in early Aug. We all want to make a trip to le castelas however I cannot find any information online about when they are closed, how to make reservations, etc. Do you know when they are closed and how to contact them? Thank you!!! Kelly

                                      1. re: kiwi2008

                                        Le Castelas is open every day for lunch & dinner. You can call them at (33) 4 90 74 60 89 to book (or write as per Kurtis' response). Although they do not even ask your name when you show up, you should call to reserve anyway to ensure there is room for you, & to make sure they are not having a private function when you want to go. Cash only. And as per my other post, I highly suggest you go for dinner - the roast pig is fabulous (the website mentions lamb, but that is served only on some holidays) and the sunset is magnificent. As for the "scary" ride home in the dark, we have made that trip no less than 10 times and we have never had a problem. Granted you need to drive slowly, but once you get back into the town (I mean, village of 2 buildings & a picnic table) of Sivèrgues, the road back to civilization is not much different than most of Provence.

                        2. re: Kurtis

                          I have to say that I love the way you write, or perhaps more acurately the way you see and enjoy. Thanks so much for these incredibly lovely vignettes.

                          1. re: mangeur

                            Glad to know that I can share this in return with folks here. Gigondas will forever remain one of our fondest memories...

                            1. re: Kurtis

                              Next month this time I am going to the Oustalet and ask for la table de Kurtis. :-)

                              1. re: Parigi

                                If you are having what's currently on their menu on MY table in a month, Parigi, you will want to climb the peaks of "laces" even in high heels... I have no doubt you will enjoy the day there...

                                1. re: Kurtis

                                  I only wear Repetto flats but am not a big fan of the Dentelles de Montmirall. The lacy silhouette looks nice from afar. I prefer the greener more sybaritic hills of the Luberon.
                                  But your report makes one wantt to do everything you did, eat everything you ate, live all your moments.

                                  1. re: Parigi

                                    "I prefer the greener more sybaritic hills of the Luberon."

                                    The morning sun on Luberon valley (Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon) brings out your words especially well. The drive between Gordes and Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt on D2 required so many stops that I regret not having walked the 2ndary roads into the valley.

                                    1. re: Kurtis

                                      I am very happy you had a great experience at L'Oustalet. I can't wait to return there when we are back in Provence in July.

                                      1. re: Pammel

                                        Thank you for your rec! The recognized rosé we had here was very good and delicious. I think your blog is especially helpful for those who are traveling in this region for the first time like myself. We ended up not going to Vaison-la-Romaine which I feel deserves a full day to include their Tuesday market. We will return :)

                                        Speaking of wines, here's a useful link discussing wines of Provence: