Papiers Provence: 30-31 Mai AIGUES-MORTES, LA CAMARGUE, CASSIS

On the Road Again

And we were back on the autoroute encore. This time not headed deep into lavender-country Provence, but into La Camargue. But what did we find? The elusive bloomed purple lavender. And where else, but on the side of the highway…

We picked a few stems and scattered them around the car.

Purple Bloomed Lavender
Me, along the blooming highway
Picnic en Voiture

We drove through Arles, but missed everything about the market but its seedy flea side. On our way to Aigues-Mortes, we stopped at the Intermarche, starving. All we needed was some cheese, some fruit, some bread, and some pastries. I sat in the back and passed around sandwiches of Brillat-Savarin and Tomme Noire des Pyrenees. When I was fifteen, I went to Brest in Bretagne, and stayed with a French family and went to school to become fluent in French. Everyday, the mother of the house set out a wedge of Tomme Noire des Pyrenees, a semi-hard cheese wrapped in an iconic black wax, that looks hard in the cold refrigerator shelf, but immediately starts to soften. You have to eat it at room temperature–it is so hard to find and so expensive in America, that I usually gorge a bit when I’m here. But you have to try it–so mild but so expressive and distinctive, with a paradoxical creamy solidity. I adore it.

What I’ve also noticed about French supermarkets are the pears. I love pears, but every time I buy one, I have to leave it for four days to soften on the counter. And then, the morning I know it will be ripe, I wake up, eyes bright with anticipation, only to find that at some secluded moment in the night, it turned black. The disappointment! But here! They are all ripe on the shelves–perfect, sweet, juicy. I was in the back seat covered in sticky pear juice, as if I had been to Goblin’s Market.

Tomme Noire des Pyrenees, Brillat-Savarin, Baguette
Not too sweet raspberry donuts
Mmm…confiture!
Giant Chocolate Croissants
Aigues-Mortes

We wanted to go to Aigues-Mortes to see the salt harvest, but what we found was a stately medieval fortress. Throughout Oxford, you can see the old city walls, proudly crumbling after a thousand years, pocketed away between the walls of the homes of more recent centuries. The most incredible thing about Aigues-Mortes is that the city has still not expanded without the fortress walls, as if maurauders might still come pillaging across the salt marshes at any moment. We thought it looked like an armory from outside, but Alain told us that inside was a whole city. We walked up to the gates, and lo and behold, crooked streets, burgeoning cafes, dogs trotting hither and thither. Tourist shops sold everything from garlic graters to plastic Templar swords. And down the main avenue, a reigning statue of good King Louis of the crusades, known to us now as Saint Louis.

The Aigues-Mortes Citadel
The Chocolate Olives
The Praline Pit
Provencal Garlic Graters
Good King Louis
La Camargue

We Americans think we have a culture! Did you know that cowboys orginated from the gardiens of La Camargue, and that Levi Strauss invented jeans in Nimes? As in cloth de Nimes, which became denim? This is certainly a departure as far as what I’ve seen of France. In fact, it reminded me a good deal of the pampas in Argentina–tall, wind-worn grasses, sparkling waters, and horses. In fact, bull fighting is as popular here as it is in Spain. The planes were dotted with black bulls and the iconic Camargue white horses. We took a boat ride through a wildlife reserve, where the flamingos normally stand guard, but not today. And we saw some real French cowboys in blue deNimes wrang some black bulls on their white horses.

A sparkling camargue waterway
Black Bulls in the Background
White Horses in the Background
The Windy Camargue
The Camargue, and the ancient watch tower for Aigues-Mortes
The White Horeses of Les Gardiens
Les Gardiens at work

I always use La Baleine sea salt. My mom always bought it; so I buy it now. I had no idea where it came from. But right outside the walls of Aigues-Mortes is where they harvest this salt, from the pink waters of the marshes. Yes, the speeches there were informative, but I think the photographs tell more–of the colors, the size, the spectacle that is the salt harvest. It was a windy day, and some of it flew into my mouth. I loved it!

The Entrance to the La Baleine Museum
A Lake of Salt and Pink Water
Pink Waters, and a Mountain of Salt

A Slope of Salt
A Sea of Salt

Pink Waters
The Fortress of Aigues-Mortes on the shores of salt
A Giant Salt Crystal
Fleur de Sel Caramel
Sacks of Salt

Me, Le Saunier!
Dinner at Place St. Louis

In the heart of Aigues-Mortes in a square of touristy cafes that serve the local bulls up for dinner surrounding the presiding statue of Saint Louis. I was a bit bulled out and shared some iconic Soupe de Poisson with my mom, and then had Sole Meuniere, with a medly of vibrant vegetables, and a vegetable flan. To top it all of, some sorbet a la framboise. Alain had white asaparagus, and then Brandade, which is a kind of white fish puree, blanketed in roasted peppers, followed by Tarte Tatin with caramel and cream. It was light, lively, and lovely. The restaurant is Le Minos, if you’re ever there.

White Asparagus Salad
Brandade with Roasted Peppers
Tarte Tatin
A Terrine of Soupe de Poisson
The traditional garnishes for Soupe de Poisson: baguette toasts, shredded cheese, and rouille
How I prepare my soupe de poisson, but everyone has his own way
Sole Meuniere, with lemon brown butter

A medley of vegetables with vegetable flan

Raspberry Sorbet

Le Clos des Aromes

Driving to beach yesterday in Cassis, I spotted a cute little courtyard with tables and hanging lanterns. The restaurant, Le Clos des Aromes, proved just as enchanting as a nighttime restaurant. Each table had a lovely bouquet of white flowers. Mr. English and I both had the menu, starting with Rasclasse, a local fish, marinated like ceviche in lemon juice. Then the Daube a l’Ancien, an old fashioned wine and beef stew. And then Lemon Sorbet with Limoncello, which I was so excited about that I only realized I’d forgotten to photograph it after I had finished eating it. Oops!

Freesia, Roses, and Lilies

Rasclasse Ceviche
La Daube a l’Ancien
Greedily eating dessert…
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Categories: Papiers Provence, Provence, Restaurants, Series, Voyages

One Response to Papiers Provence: 30-31 Mai AIGUES-MORTES, LA CAMARGUE, CASSIS

  1. Anonymous says:

    I somehow came across this website about a month or so ago and have utterly enjoyed the blog. I have lived in France for a total of 8 months (1 month in 2006 to finish my French degree and 7 months in 2006-2007 to work as an English Language Assistant). This blog makes me wish I was still over there. I miss France very much! Anyway, keep up the great blogging! :o )

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