Sweet Sweet Saint Remy

Provence…sigh…

Blame my lack of blogging on the South of France. We just returned to Paris from our little “vacation on vacation”, a luxurious retreat to Saint Remy de Provence. Two years of marriage equals two sweet and delicious days of celebration in French paradise. Our only regret is we didn’t stay a week.

I suggest if you are planning to walk down the aisle and say “I do” anytime soon, you dance your way right out the door of that reception hall and board a plane straight to Saint Remy. Book a room at Le Vallon de Valrugues Hotel and Spa www.vallondevalrugues.com, put your feet up by the pool, eat at the hotel as much as you can afford, stroll into town in the evenings, and try your best not to indulge and buy a villa on a whim. It will be very tempting, but totally illogical and unreasonable, and somewhat irresponsible.

Even if you aren’t getting married, or if you already are, go to Saint Remy with whoever you love and just enjoy every single minute. Its pure, small town, French perfection. I promise.

I’ll admit, Le Vallon de Valrugues Hotel and Spa spoiled us. Okay, they more than spoiled us. We booked the lowest priced room we could find for our two-day escape and they surprised us with an upgrade to the Van Gogh suite, complete with a private terrace and our very own swimming pool.

One minute we were checking in and our room wasn’t ready yet, and the next we were on our way to the luxury suite, their very best room in the hotel. We must have walked laps around the place with our jaws to the floor in complete astonishment. “Really? Are you sure? I mean, we booked the comfort basic economy room.” If the swimming pool, the terrace, and the gargantuan bed weren’t enough, the price tag on the door certainly made us blink, quite a few times. $1500 a night! ‘Holy cow, I hope this was a free upgrade’, is all we could think.

The room was a gift from the hotel in celebration of our two years of marriage. It was unbelievably generous and completely unexpected. In fact, we tried to picture ourselves staying in a basic room and sharing the pool with the other guests, like we had planned, and we both were sure we’d love the experience either way.

Le Vallon de Valrugues is home to a Michelin star restaurant run by chef Marc Passorio. There is one restaurant and two menus: the bistro and the gastronomic menu. During the summer months the restaurant is set up on a beautiful L-shaped terrace, so picturesque it almost doesn’t seem real. White table clothes, huge patio umbrellas, and beautiful green trees make this a perfect place to relax and enjoy a glass of local Rose while feasting on flavorful and well-presented Provencal cuisine.

This is the tree that I will use for my first children’s book…when I write it.

We ate at Marc Passorio’s restaurant twice, once for lunch and once for dinner. For lunch we chose the bistro menu, a less expensive and delicious option for a midday meal. For starters Paul chose the sample of Provencal tomatoes, a rainbow of symmetrically aligned slices of tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. With Provence being so close to Italy, I couldn’t help but steal a few slices of sweetness. I started with anchoiade, an anchovy and garlic dip served with crisp vegetables. I’ll be honest. I had no idea what anchoiade was when I ordered it, but I gathered it may have something to do with anchovies. Turns out anchoiade is a specialty of Provence and, if I could compare it to anything, I would say its a lot like hummus. Fishy hummus. It was actually quite lovely.

For our main dishes, Paul had a steak with roasted shallots and I had a penne pasta with smoked salmon, basil, and olives. My dish was good, but Paul’s was fabulous. This is the second time he’s ordered a steak that I couldn’t stop drooling over. I ate one of the shallots whole and it too was bursting with flavor.

Needless to say, we didn’t eat dinner the day of this massive lunch. We were beyond full and spent the rest of our day rubbing our bellies by our pool. In the evening we took a peaceful and quite walk down to town. We wound our way through the tiny streets and alleys observing the travelers and locals feasting at the cafes and lingering over ice cream cones. Between the warm breeze and the bluest of blue skies, Saint Remy felt like a slice of heaven here on Earth.

Our second meal at Marc Passorio’s restaurant was a special treat from my husband, a meal I will talk about for the rest of my life. In honor of our two years of marriage, we did something we’ve never done, something downright outrageous, but totally worth every bite. Paul treated us to the “Chef’s Tasting Menu with Wine Pairing”, an eight course masterpiece with wines to match. It was one of those things you just have to do once in your life if you can.

Each course came out like a work of art. The portions were small and delicate, but incredibly abundant in flavor. In fact, by the end of the meal we couldn’t believe how full we were. Eight courses of small bites are very deceiving. It is impossible to leave hungry.

I wish I could have gotten a copy of the menu to keep because I’m sure I’ll mess up the names of some of the dishes. Since the menu changes “according to the market and the inspiration of the chef”, I can’t even find it on their website. Here I’ve listed six of the eight courses:

-quail eggs with caviar in a cucumber jelly

-lobster served three ways-carpaccio, a small piece of tail, and a spring roll

-langostine served in the shell with butter sauce

-squab (pigeon) with a glass of mashed potatoes

-local cheeses from the region

Now I know some of you are wondering, “Really, quail eggs and pigeon?”. To be honest, those two dishes were two of our favorite out of the eight. In fact, we couldn’t decide which one we liked more out of the two. This coming from two people who rarely touch meat at home. Go figure.

The husband certainly outdid himself with this one, but, to be honest, the fancy meals, the private swimming pool, and the luxury suite, are nothing compared to the sweetness of being married to Paul. I feel so lucky to call this man mine.

So, after a beautiful ride through the luscious French countryside, here we are again in Paris. Yesterday, we did “falafel-take 2” at the place across the street, Mi Va Mi. We had a much better experience as the falafel guys were 100 times more pleasant and appreciative of our business. The falafel is even better than the place across the way. The added house piquant sauce is just the right touch of spice to an already delicious array of flavors.

We also visited an exhibit devoted to the children of Paris during the Holocaust. It was quite an eye-opening exposition and another sad portrayal of the horrid acts that occurred during this terrible time in history. Since the exhibit was narrated completely in French, we both had a difficult time translating some of the artifacts, however, the photos needed no interpretation. They were heart wrenching.

Last night we walked down the Champs Elysees and Paul caught some beautiful photos of the city lights. While Saint Remy was a peaceful escape from the hustle of the city, there is nothing quite like Paris…

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