Unique, Traditional, Deli...cious!

Posts

Hit the slopes in the South of France this winter! March 02 2018, 0 Comments

Do not hesitate anymore and let’s have a winter escape in the French Alps this winter ! Home to numerous ski resorts, from the tiniest one to world-renowned, France is a paradise for skiers and snowboarders. Provence inhabitants and French enjoys their ski holidays as much as their long summer vacations. Consider a French escape for your next ski outing by visiting some resorts in the South of France or staying in a vacation rental in the French Alps.

Calisson by Gilles will take you to the snow this month. 

 

The French Alps, a World of discovery

The French Alps are famous for their ski resorts and stunning scenery. They are split into many different areas offering a multitude of activities. The French Alps

 also offers some spectacular lakes. Mont Blanc is the highest point of France at 4,807 meters (15,771 feet), the third most visited natural site in the world and the most famous area for Alpine hiking in Europe. 

What is also great about the French Alps is that it is so well connected. The international airport from Marseille Provence is at only 2 hours driving distance from the first ski resorts. Trains and buses serve as well the many ski stations in the Alps. 

The French Alps in winter is certainly one of the places to be. The pure and clear air of the mountains, glorious scenery, snow, winter sun and activities. What more could you want? You can even get a sweet and cool tan! Apart from skiing, there are plenty of other activities to keep single or families occupied, whether you are a winter sports enthusiast or a non-skier. 

 

For most, the main purpose is obviously to ski or snowboard during their winter holiday but not only. 

Many luxury residences have their own spa and all conveniences dedicated to relaxation. You will always spend a comfortable moment.

 

 

 

Winter sport

Ski Areas in Southern Alps

The winter sports resorts of Provence offer many conveniences and a lot of advantages. For instance, a privilege for those who come in the Alpes de Haute-Provence, or Hautes Alpes is to combine sun, deep blue sky and snow.

The Provence’s skiing area represents more than 720 kilometers (447 miles) of runs for all levels.    With altitudes of over 3,000 meters (almost 10,000 feet), there is a wide variety of sites and landscapes. 

Furthermore the region of Alpes in Provence does not have any major industries, so there are no large cities. You will discover a multitude of picturesque and charming little villages where you will be able to enjoy a memorable stay.

 

Ski Resorts

Calisson by Gilles has selected for you four ski resorts of Provence.

 

Pra-loup - La Foux d’Allos

One of the French Alps' well-kept secrets’ resort and is relatively unknown to foreign skiers. The ski area of Pra-Loup and La Foux d'Allos form the “Espace Lumière” ski area, totaling approximately 180km of runs for all levels. One of the biggest resorts in the southern Alps, where locals enjoys spending their holidays. 

From beginner to admanced, there are runs for all levels. Snowboarders and freestyle skiers are well looked-after with a terrain park and several natural half-pipes.

Pra-Loup resort has everything you need for a successful ski holiday, a wide range of accomodations, numerous restaurants, clubs and bars, family entertainment such as ice skating and a cinema and everyday necessities such as mini markets and bakery.

Pra Loup's slopes are divided into two levels: the lower part, "La Molanes" (at 1,500m), offers excellent slopes for family skiing, while the upper part (at 1,600m) is more appropriate for experienced skiers and those looking for a challenge. Wide sloping runs are what distinguishes Pra-Loup.

In short:

  • Family skiing resorts
  • Freestyle parks
  • Wide sloping possibilities for experienced skiers

 

Vars

 At 1,850 meters altitude in the heart of the Hautes Alpes, the Vars ski resort has become one of the most desirable resorts in the Southern Alps. The resort is right on the edge of some of the biggest mountain chains in the French Alps and is nestled at the heart of wonderful forests of larches. The surrounding mountains (Massif des Ecrins, the Queyras and Ubaye) are stunning and the ski runs reach more than 3,000 meters. 

Spreading along the “Route des Grandes Alpes”, Vars has successfully combined authenticity and charm of a traditional mountain village with the comfort and accommodation of a large winter sports resort.

 

Serre Chevalier

Located near Briançon in the Southern Alps and near the Parc National des Ecrins and the Italian border, Serre-Chevalier is one of the largest resorts in France, if not Europe.  There is a large area for skiing and snowboarding but they also offer many other activities. Schedule your visit during one of their many events in order to witness some world-class skiing, or car race on snow contests.

You can stay right on the Serre Chevalier ski resort. The rustic cabins provide a warm and relaxing retreat after a long day of hitting the slopes.  The well-equipped kitchen and bath offer everything one could want.  Enjoy your morning coffee or some late night hot chocolate with our sweet Calisson by Gilles delicacy from Provence ; coupled with some spectacular views of the Alps under snow.

 

The Mont Ventoux Skiing resort

Located in the department of Vaucluse, 200 kilometers away from Alpine Mountains, the Mont Ventoux is an alternative for Provence inhabitants who want to ski. The size of the resort is obviously smaller than Alpine ones but Mont Ventoux ski resort offers to skiers an impressive 500 meters (1641 feet) of vertical descent. Mont Ventoux has 17 runs and 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of cross country ski trails.

 

 

Cross-Country Skiing

Winter sports activities include skiing, cross-country skiing, off-piste skiing, snowboarding, off-piste snowboarding, snow-shoeing, husky walking, snow blading, glacier walking, ice diving, ice skating, ice biking and many others ! 

If you are looking for a beautiful cross country ski trail, Calisson by Gilles advises you to go to Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye. It offers a captivating panorama of the La Blanche mountain.  

La-Colle-Saint-Michel offers vast trails in a very Nordic atmosphere.

The best way to explore is definitely on ski. However,  if your finances allows it, you can try a sled dog ride. You will be totally in love of these beautiful huskys that will pull you through the snow-covered valleys.

For bikers who love mechanics, you can rent snowmobiles with a lot of horsepower that will take you to the top of the mountains.

Generally the trips with snowmobile are groups rides with a professional driver that will monitor and prevent risks of accidents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


Winter in Provence February 03 2018, 0 Comments

Provence in winter is very different from the tourist clichés of lavender fields and rosé wine. So let explore this less known side of Provence with Calissons by Gilles.

 

English people are known to spend their winter in Provence. Winter tourism in Provence began at the end of the 18th century. Wealthy English, notables and aristocrats experimented the “mild winter” of Provence. We must admit it was mostly to the French Riviera, “la Côte d’Azur” where the weather is warmer. 

 

The climate is more extreme in Western Provence than on the Riviera. It's hotter in summer and colder in winter. The fierce and cold wind from the north, the Mistral, roars down the Rhône Valley towards the coast. The Mistral can reach 60 mph and last for days (usually 3 or 6). Inhabitants will tell you, Mistral is powerful and cold, but the reward is a bright blue sky and shiny sunshine. Only in Provence! 

 

When the wind is down, daytime winter temperatures in Marseille can reach 12°C (53°F). For sure it will be cold for a swim but it is pleasant enough to lunch outdoors in a sunny and sheltered spot. 

 

In Southern Provence snow is very rare, but it is very likely in the southern Alps and Luberon region. The village of Gordes under snow is totally wonderful and the views are stunning.

Keep in mind that, in winter, weather can change suddenly. The further east you go, the less severe is the Mistral. La Ciotat, near Marseille, enjoy a delicious and warm microclimate all year. Generally the villages and cities along the coast from La Ciotat to Monaco are very pleasant all  year. 

 

The Festivals

Provence's winter festivals celebrate seasonal products, wine, and gastronomy.

One exception: Avignon has one of the largest equestrian shows in Europe, Cheval Passion is a must for horse lovers. It takes place in mid-January.

If you're looking for a romantic and unusual destination for Valentine's Day, try Roquemaure. On that day the whole town dresses up in 19th century costumes to celebrate true love with a procession, a banquet and dancing. 

 

Don't come to Provence in search of Mardi Gras carnivals. Except for the famous one in Nice, most towns in Provence prefer to wait for the warmer weather.

In the Var, (Eastern Provence) the mimosa trail, a route mapped out by the Var Tourism Office, takes you along the coast where, from January to March, these spectacular bright yellow trees are blooming. One of the towns on this route, Mandelieu-La Napoule, has a famous mimosa festival in mid-February. 

The hill-top village of Tourrettes sur Loup has a violet flower festival also in mid-February, and the village of Menton will charm you with its lemon festival.

Wine festivals in Provence are held from  September to December. The seaside village of Bandol holds the last major wine festival of the year, the Fête du Millésime, on the first weekend of December. Expect plenty of wine tastings and street  entertainment!

  

The Winter Sports

The Provence and especially the Departments of Hautes Alpes and Alpes de Hautes Provence enjoy a wide range of winter sports resorts. The Mountain area is called Les Alpes du Sud.

They offer all types of winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ski bike etc… Some also have cultural activities.

Calissons by Gilles will bring you there next month. 

 

 

Calissons by Gilles tip: The Winter Sales

Good to know: Dates of sales in France are strictly regulated by the French government. They take place twice a year and les soldes d’hiver (winter sales) start the second Wednesday in January and last for exactly six weeks. For some years now, Marseille has widely developed its shopping districts around the city.

One of the biggest commercial and shopping area of Europe is located 5 km to the north of Marseille. The area is called Plan de Campagne. You will find absolutely everything there, from clothes to houses ! Hotels and entertainments are readily available. 

On weekend Calissons by Gilles advise you to go there before 10:00am and leave before 3:00pm to avoid the huge traffic jams which totally paralyze the area, and even more on sales periods. Plan de Campagne’s famous bouchons!

 

The sights and attractions

Usually Provençal villages close down between November and Easter. It will be harder to find a restaurant or place to stay. However many places remain very active at this period of the year. It is also the time to discover a more peaceful Provence. For instance, visiting Les Baux de Provence in summer can be very exhausting given that this is one of the most visited village in summer. 

The Medieval Castel remains open throughout the year and has a very busy cultural program. The village of Lourmarin is one of the “In” place to be, with plenty of bars and restaurants operating in the low season. 

The best open air attraction according to Calissons by Gilles is definitely a visit of the Calanques  from La Ciotat (see our November 2016 article’s). No worries about parking!

You can also take a tour of the Camargue. It's a good time for bird-watching. The famous pink flamingos will still be there - and their plumage is at its most vibrant in winter.

 

Gastronomy

Provence's usual street markets will continue through the winter with seasonal produce. But the gastronomic star is undoubtedly the black truffle. If you are looking for more information on the black truffle, have a look to our November’s article dealing especially with the black diamond. 

Also happening around this time of year is the olive harvest usually coupled with olive oil festivals and fairs. There you will taste a wide variety of olive oil with a wide range of flavors: acid, salty, fruity. 

The vocabulary which characterize an olive oil is extremely furnished ; we can compare this to oenology for wine !

The Provence cooking in winter is both healthy and heavy and will keep you warm inside.

You can taste a Daube which is a beef stew, with onions, olives, carrots in a red wine sauce. 

Do you like sweets? You will be in heaven in Provence : you can try the “pompes à l’huile” (olive oil brioche) slightly perfumed with orange blossom; the “Navettes” of Marseille (biscuits made in Marseille); the brioche des Rois with its jewel colors; dark chocolate and the famous Calissons. 

 

With Calissons by Gilles the rest of the world can experience a piece of Provence. Do not hesitate anymore and taste one! 

 

 

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


The markets of Provence  January 05 2018, 0 Comments

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


The Chestnuts: December 07 2017, 0 Comments

Another reason to discover Provence in the cold season.

November is ending and days are shorter and shorter, Mistral blows colder and colder. The boats have left Saint-Tropez, and many hotels and restaurants are closing up for the winter. The millions of grapes have been harvested and the major part of tourism activity has closed for the winter. Provence has quit its first appeal and could seem austere at first sight. Nevertheless, since our previous article about the truffles, you now are aware that every month of the year is unique in Provence and that we always find something interesting to do ! After the truffle hunting let’s go for a chestnut escape ! 

 

The name ‘chestnut’ is derived from an earlier English term ‘chesten nut’, which descends from the Old French word ‘Chastain’. French calls this dry fruit either ‘Châtaigne’ for people living in  the South of France or ‘Marrons’ (Brown) if living in the North. 

 

The chestnut festival:

The department of Var in Provence, stretching from La Ciotat to Saint Tropez is known for its chestnuts. 

The beautiful village of Collobrières hold a festival dedicated to chestnuts which has gained international renowned and attracts thousands of people each year ! 

You can taste and buy chestnuts in almost every store. From traditional sweet chestnuts to those which are lightly roasted over a flame. You can either taste chestnut cakes or pies especially cooked for this festival !

 

Don’t be afraid, other delicious delicacies of the region can be tasted and bought at the festival. For sure, Calisson is part of it ! 

 

Calissons by Gilles Tips: If you want to spend a week-end and fully enjoy the chestnut Festival in Collobrières, Calissons by Gilles advises you to book a room at the Hôtel des Maures, a 3 stars hotel located  in the old town by the river. The hotel has all amenities and is very affordable. Make sure to pack a box of Calissons by Gilles for a pure moment of delight !

 

Chestnut picking

From October to December, the lights and colors are a mix of red,  brown and gold. The landscape is like a postcard. Take a jacket, a pair of gloves, a hat and get lost in the forest. Let’s go for chestnut hunting ! You will be impressed how easy and fast it is to fill a basket of this sweet dry fruits! In my family, growing up, we always had a contest for who will collect the most. I won many times!

Chestnuts, like almonds keep very well, they will last for weeks before consuming. That is why people from Provence always have some available within their home during winter.

 

Health Benefits

 Chestnuts have a lot of health benefits! 

Chestnuts may seem like an average, everyday nut, but they have a number of important health benefits including their ability to prevent diabetes, protect cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. Chestnuts also increase cognition and prevent chronic illnesses. 

 

How to prepare chestnuts?

Roasted chestnuts recipe

Fresh chestnuts must always be cooked before use and are never eaten raw.

The simplest way is to roast them on an open fire. Make a small incision in the skin or the chestnut will explode during the roasting process. When chestnuts are crackling in the fire, they are ready!

 Once cooked, peel off the tough shell and the thin skin. Peel the nuts while they are hot as it's almost impossible to peel a cold chestnut. Be careful not to burn your fingers! 

Chestnuts in savory dishes:

In savory dishes, chestnuts incarnate the rustic and traditional cooking style of old. You can use them in soups, like chestnut & cauliflower soup.                                                                             As a vegetable, chestnuts are a very welcomed side to a roast dinner and game dishes. They are great as stuffing for your turkey. A traditional and succulent stuffing recipe could include chestnut, bacon & cranberry. Chestnuts can also be cooked with meat to give an authentic and traditional taste. You can find many recipes online.   

The famous Chestnut cream recipe, authentic since 1885 

The chestnut cream from Ardèche is an authentic recipe originally created by Clément Fauger in 1885. The recipe is still unique a century later and only uses natural ingredients. 

You can find tubes and cans of sweet chestnut in almost every supermarkets or epicerie of Provence. Marry the “Crème de Marrons” with Vanilla ice cream or pear sorbet; a classic combos in France. Once you try the Crème de Marrons, you will be a fan for life ! 

Another wonderful chestnut product is the candied chestnut commonly called “Marrons Glacés”. 

 

Chestnuts can be use as an alternative to flour in desserts as they can be blended into a fine crumb. 

 

 

Chocolate and chestnuts are a stunning combination ! 

We are in December, Christmas is approaching rapidly. Many French family will celebrate Christmas with “ la Bûche de Noël aux marrons”, (Yule Log). A chocolate log filled with a chestnut mousse and Marrons Glacés. It maybe the right opportunity for your to dare and prepare a “Bûche de Noël au marrons” for your Christmas dinner. 

So much can be done with chestnuts!

But do not forget, beyond this abundance and all the other delicacies at Christmas time, to get our traditional French confections of Calissons by Gilles, an amazing treat for all ages in all season. 

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


The Truffle  November 02 2017, 0 Comments

The Provencal name for the truffle is "rabasse". A more popular synonyms is "black diamond". 

The truffle is a type of subterranean mushroom, growing around the roots of plants, mainly oak trees and sometimes lavender or thyme. A typical truffle farm (“truffière”) today is a plantation of oak trees, either hidden in the wilderness or well fenced and guarded during the winter. Average sized truffles generally weight between 30 and 60 grams.

The Midi - Southern France - has the sweet limestone soils and dry hot weather that truffles need to grow. In 1900 truffles were used by most people, and on many occasions. Nowadays, they are a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, or used on special occasions.

The price of black truffle varies between 500 to 1000 € per kg (545 $ per lbs) ! The most expensive white truffle of Alba is sold between 5000 to 7000 euros per kilogram (3800 $ per lbs)!

The truffle is a fungus that grows underground. It forms in Spring between April and June.

The ideal climate for truffles is:

Winter with nights at -5°(23°F), and days between 1O° (50°F) and 14°C (57°F)

Spring with alternating periods of damp and heat.

Hot and dry Summer interrupted by thunderstorms, especially between August 1 and 15.

An Autumn which is not too wet.

 

Where can Truffles be found ?

 Truffles are found mainly in Provence (Southeast France) but you can also find truffles in Perigord (Southwest France) and Burgundy (Bourgogne). The southeast of France (in the regions Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur and the department of the Gard) produce 70% of French truffles. In a normal year about 50 tonnes of black truffles are obtained.  

The most popular market towns in Provence for truffles are Apt, Aups, Carpentras, Richerence and Valréas.

 

When can you find Truffles ?

Truffles are harvested in winter, beginning in November and continuing until the following March. You can find the days for the main truffle markets on internet. You could try to find them in the forest yourself but be careful and cautious about the place you are looking at. You may encounter an angry owner! 

Contrary to popular legend, truffles can be cultivated. As early as 1808, there were successful attempts to cultivate them, known in French as “trufficulture”  

People had long observed that truffles were growing among the roots of certain trees, oak trees in particular, and scientific research has established that truffles live in symbiosis with the host tree.

In 1808, Mr Joseph Talon, from Apt in southern France, had the idea of sowing acorns collected at the foot of oak trees known to host truffles in their root system. The experiment was successful. Years later, truffles were found in the soil around the oak trees grown from those acorns.

In 1847, Auguste Rousseau from Carpentras (Vaucluse) planted 7 hectares (17 acres) of oak trees again from acorns found on the soil around truffle-producing oak trees, and he subsequently obtained large harvests of truffles. He received a prize at the 1855 World Fair in Paris.

In the 20th century, with the growing industrialisation of France and the subsequent rural exodus, many of these truffle fields (“truffières”) returned to the wilderness. The two WW Wars caused serious damages, both in truffle areas and human victims who were harvesting truffle fields.

 

Growing Truffles

It takes about 40 years for a wild oak tree to mature before truffles can be harvested. However you can obtain specially treated young trees that will  mature in about 10 years. In the larger truffle markets you'll find professional truffle-tree vendors that can provide you with the young trees and will give you good advises to grow truffles. 

 

Truffle Finders

The best truffle finder is the pig, with an extremely sensitive nose for truffles and very keen on them (like us!)

The pigs are trained, so they at least give the human a better chance to retrieve the truffle before they eat them. The pig has another advantage in that, once its truffle-sniffing days are over, it can be served in a cassoulet dish, probably without truffles!

For many years now dogs have been trained to sniff out the truffles. A good truffle dog is
worth his or her weight in black diamonds. Some truffles dogs have an exchange rate in some areas of Provence and are “rented” to find truffles (generally for 3-4 hours). An easy way for the owner to earn income! 

 

 

A very old technique to find truffles is also, to follow the flies ! (“à la mouche”). Looks for an insect, a big fly  with long green wings. That insect lays its eggs in the truffle ! Take a stick and move the ground under oak trees. If some big flies take off from the area, you may be above a truffle. Get down and sniff for the scent of truffle! 

 

Calisson by Gilles tips: 

Calisson by Gilles gives you a secret from Provençal hunters who are used to hunt with their dogs and look for  truffles at the same time. Their also train their dogs to find truffles in the forest. How ? 

After the birth of the puppies, Provençal hunters scrub truffles on the nipples of the mother when she feeds her pups. Hence the puppies will remember it during their whole life. In their brain the scent of truffle is associated with feeding time. They will naturally track truffles through the forest.

 

Fake Truffles

Chinese truffle has the look of the truffle but not the taste. It doesn't have the same scent but if you place some Chinese fungus with real French truffles, the Chinese fungus will absorb enough of the smell to fool most truffle’ amateurs.

 

Cooking Truffles

The truffle is called "diamond of the kitchen”. Truffle has a very strong flavor, and is used in paper-thin slices in a variety of recipes. The truffle is easy to cook with, but you must know how to make it shine in a dish. 

A fresh truffle is not cooked the same way a preserved one is. The fresh truffle is a living mushroom, which gives off its perfume for several days. The preserved one is a dead mushroom, which will keep its perfume for about 1h30 after being taken out of its container. The best way to use them is with eggs, cream, butter or a béchamel sauce. 

All preparations necessitate a minimum time of contact between the truffle and other ingredients. Most common dishes are a Truffle omelette or scrambled eggs, various recipes of truffle salads, cooked with shrimps or various soup recipes. All very tasty!

 

Glossary of Truffle French vocabulary

rabasse - Provençal for truffle

rabassier - Provençal for the truffle hunter

trufficulteur - professional truffle grower

truffière - truffle plantation

le brûlé - the "burnt" area beneath an oak where truffles grow

cave - the hole where the truffle grows

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


La Camarge, the wild Wild West of Provence October 01 2017, 0 Comments

 

Wild, Romantic, Mysterious, the Camargue is the Wild West of Provence. With its black bulls, white horses and pink flamingos, the Camargue is unique. 

The area is huge and is a complex lacework of back roads, lakes, canals, and sandspits. This month Calisson by Gilles takes you to the Wild West of Provence. Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go for a road trip. 

 

The Camargue is a favorite destination for RV’s and campers, which can be seen almost everywhere. Driving conditions are easy: the roads are straight, wide and in good shape. The landscape is flat and visibility endless, you won't get many difficulty driving.

Biking is also a good option if you do not mind fighting the wind which sweeps the area 300 days a year ! The wind is called Mistral and is very strong and cold. What's the good point about it ? No pollution and a clear and deep blue sky that you will see only in Provence.

If you plan a run with a motorbike or a quad be sure to get your tank filled of petrol before riding this area; no gas stations ! Nature, wilderness are the key words here. By the way, at this time where technology is everywhere do not expect signal on your cellphone. 

The Camargue survival kit should include sunblock, a hat, mosquito repellent, binoculars and walking shoes. Once you get these, you ready to go. 

 

The two towns ​​you should visit : 

Saintes Maries de la Mer

Saintes Maries de la Mer was a fishing village, built on an island in the heart of the Camargue, where the Rhône joins the Mediterranean sea. The city enjoys a wonderful location, on the sea and in the Camargue, and the atmosphere is always festive.

You can visit Saintes Maries de la Mer all year round. Summer has the warmest weather, the crowds, the activities and the music events. Off-season has the feeling of the sea, with long empty beaches, the cry of the seabirds, and relaxing solitude. The gathering of the Gypsies in May is an exciting and famous period.

Shopping, Dining:

The center of Saintes Maries de la Mer has some nice squares and several long streets reserved for pedestrians, and many, many shops, cafés and terrace restaurants. It can get very crowded in the Summer. 

We suggest climbing to the top of the fortified church. The climb to the top is already an adventure, with 53 narrow steps but the amazing 360 degree view across town, country and seaside is really worth it.

If you are coming to the Saintes Marie de la Mer and want a memorable trip, come May 24th. You will see and experience thousands of men on white stallions, wearing black hats and carrying lances, providing a guard of honor for a statuette wrapped in gold cloth; Musicians playing flamenco guitar and squeeze with Eastern Europe melodies out of accordions; the crowd heading towards the sea. 

The small seaside town of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer hosts the Gitan (Gypsy) Pilgrimage. The legend of Saint Sara accompanying Saint Marie-Jacobé and Saint Marie-Salomé when they arrived here from Palestine dates back to the 16th century. The pilgrimage is a unique opportunity for all Gypsies across Europe to come together and affirm their faith, their culture and have fun. 

 

 

Aigues Mortes :

Aigues-Mortes is a walled Medieval town sitting at the marshes of the Camargue, and is considered as a model of a 13th century military architecture. Let’s jump in Middle-Ages time ! The town looks today pretty much like it did centuries ago. It is surrounded by a wall with four corner towers and a dozen of fortified doors.

 Parking: There are parking lots all along the wall at the north side of the town. Park your car, get a ticket and pay at a kiosk before leaving; simple and efficient. The only vehicles allowed inside the walls are those of the residents with appropriate access. You won’t be polluted by cars when walking within Aigues Mortes. 

Inside the defensive ramparts, the town is tight with linear streets. Many streets of Aigues-Mortes have shops of all kinds. Many of them are made up for tourists, nevertheless you will be able to book a room in a Medieval hotel or have a meal within the numerous restaurants. A very charming city which deserves to be visited.

The city was built by St Louis, king of France, as a starting point for the crusades to free 

Jerusalem.

Do not miss the visit of the tower of  Constance. The defensive tower became the prison of many protestants. The most famous is Marie Durant who spent 38 years in the tower. She was an inspiration to many protestants.  You can still see carved on the stone the word “Resist” that is attributed to her.

 

Wildlife – Nature:

The Carmargue is extremely exotic, with tall marsh grasses where pink flamingos, black bulls and white horses roam freely. 

Our advice is to go for a Horseback tour. There are many locations offering guided tours of the Camargue on the white Camargue horses. The tours leave frequently and are flexible to the flow of tourist. You won’t even have to book before going and can go directly to the ranches to book for it. 

Another interesting activity we would suggest is to visit the bird nature reserve (Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Grau), located 4 km north of Saintes Maries de la Mer. There are great numbers of resident and migratory birds and wildlife. Flamingos are there by thousands in early Spring, and many hundreds the rest of the year. You will see storks, herons and water birds.

 

An invisible border divide Provence between the Italian-influenced area to the east of the Rhône and the Spanish-accented region to the west. Cross the river into the Camargue and you will notice it instantly. A strong Spanish flavor dominates the food, the music, the traditional costumes, the language and, especially, the culture of bull games.

The proud emblem of the Camargue is the black bull. The history of this region has been built around the black bull. The Camargue bull (or
"biou" in local) is smaller than his Spanish cousin. He is light, fast, fierce and intelligent, all qualities which make him ideal for bullfighting.Traditional corridas where the bull is killed at the end, are widely held in Provence. The most important fights are held in the ancient Roman arenas of Arles and Nîmes, but most towns have their own modern bull ring. Bullfighting is illegal in France except in those regions where it is a long-established local tradition.  In 2016 bullfighting gained the status of the nation's official cultural heritage. 

There is also a bull game called "course Camarguaise”; at the game, players called “raseteurs” encourage a bull to chase them around an arena. The object is to detach a trophy (usually a ribbon or rosette) from the head of the animal. 

Camargue bulls are raised for fighting. But animals not selected for the bull games will end up on a plate. Camargue bull meat must come from non-fighting animals only. You can buy it at local butchers in the form of steaks, burgers or saucissons secs (a salami-style sausage where the bull meat is likely to be mixed with pork).

Best of all is “gardiane de taureau”, a rich, slow-cooked bull stew, ideally served with Camargue rice and Costières de Nîmes wine. Most restaurants in the region serve it.

 

 

The Camargue is an adventure. Imagine yourself at the end of the day driving back from Camargue, your head filled with pictures and memories that will last a life time. Just stop and park your car for a last time, enjoy the beautiful sunset over the sea and taste a Calisson by Gilles “en famille” ! 

  

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


Top beaches around Marseille September 01 2017, 0 Comments

The beach is the symbol of summer, holidays, sun, water sports and fun!

 

 

Marseille and surroundings are full of beaches, from sandy to pebble or rocky, there is plenty to choose from.  

 

This little guide is made so that you can discover the most beautiful and attractive beaches according to your desires:

Sandy beaches to play a game of Bamilton with the family. 

Beaches for wake-boarding, kitesurfing, stand up paddle, or sailing. 

Hidden and wild coastline beaches where you can be Robinson Crusoe for a day.

Or just a relaxing moment within the authentic beaches of Marseille ... 

 

To find the ideal spot, the beach that suits you best, here is a selection of the best beaches to enjoy the sun without moderation!

 

Family beaches

Martigues - Beach of Sainte Croix 

In Martigues, families will enjoy the beach of Sainte-Croix, very spacious, with a clear view to look after children. The beach is close to the hiking paths so for a relaxing break, you will enjoy a shady lunch, lulled by the song of the cicadas, at Les Ombrelles Restaurant.

La Ciotat – Great Beach of La Ciotat

In La Ciotat, La Grande Plage is located in the heart of the city and has all the amenities for families as well as games for children ... Hence a sand Futsal stadium is located on the beach for soccer players. You will find spots with hanging bars and exercise stations to do workout before going to the beach. Nearby you will also be able to rent canoes and kayaks for a memorable family outing !

Cassis – Beach of the Great Sea 

In Cassis, family activities such as paddle boat, windsurfing or kayaking can be practiced from La Grande Mer Plage. If you want to have a romantic moment and have a nanny (because we are in the Family beach category), book a table at the Castle of Cassis (See our article Cassis from November 2016). 

Marseille – Beach of la Pointe Rouge

In Marseille, make a stop at the famous Pointe Rouge beach and enjoy the environment. Here, you can eat a Pizz’ (familiar way of saying pizza in Marseille) with your feet in the sand, in one of the many small restaurants of the seafront. For food lovers let have a taste a the famous “Macananas” of the renowned Allegrini pastry shop.

Great Beach of La Ciotat		Beach of the Great Sea 	Beach of la Pointe Rouge

Great Beach of La Ciotat, Beach of the Great Sea,  Beach of la Pointe Rouge

 

Sport Beaches

La Côte Bleue – Beach of Carro

On the side of Martigues, the beach of Carro is a pretty sandy beach. The quarry of Baou Tailla is a little piece of paradise for scuba divers. You will encounter many species of Mediterranean fishes; definitely a must! After the diving session, visit the fish market in Carro.

Carry le Rouet – Beach of Cap Rousset

In Carry-le-Rouet, divers will also be able to swim in the crystal clear waters of Cap Rousset beach, a natural park heritage. The fish are numerous and protected. Many other water sports activities including canoe, kayaks, windsurfing, surfing, are available. Calisson by Gilles would recommend a stand up paddle session at sunset.

Marseille – Bonneveine Beach 

Kite-surf enthusiasts will be delighted because the beach of Bonneveine is reserved for kite surfers! There is also a skate park nearby. After a good and exhausting sport session, let’s have a cocktail with colleagues at the Sport Beach around the pool. All the area of this beach breathes sports, youth and entertainment. 

Beach of Carro,  Beach of Cap Rousset,  Bonneveine Beach

 

Wild Coastline Beaches

 

Port Saint-Louis-du-Rhône – Napoléon Beach 

The beach Napoleon is a huge stretch of 10 miles of sand. For cyclists, it is possible to ride along this long beach. We suggest an authentic and memorable horse riding stroll. The beach is also made for surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing practices and is also part of the sport beach category.

Saintes Marie de la Mer – Crin Blanc Beach 

The beach Crin Blanc is a large beach of fine white sand for the happiness of all. For a chic and gourmet meal, we go to the Petit Gourmet, two kilometers from the sea and enjoy a memorable night in the middle of marshes, horses, bulls and birds at “Mas de la Fouque".

The Saintes Marie de la Mer is famous for its annual festival, the Annual Roma pilgrimage where Gypsies from all over Europe come to worship Sara the Black, their saint and patroness.

Arles – the beach of Arles 

The beach of Arles is the largest natural beach of the Mediterranean sea. A wonderful and wide area where nature is everywhere, stunning  !

It includes Piedmont and Beauduc. Two kilometers from the sand dunes, an overlooking belvedere allows the visitor to admire the salt marshes and the fauna of the Camargue.

Napoléon Beach,  Crin Blanc Beach

 

Authentic Beaches 

Marseille – Beach of Catalans 

The beach of Catalans is the closest beach from the Vieux Port, it is located just below the famous sports swimming club Le Cercle des Nageurs. A mythical address for all inhabitants of Marseille. The best swimmers of France train there. 

Nearby, you can stroll along the Corniche (the cornice) until the picturesque Vallon des Auffes and maybe taste local specialties and the real bouillabaisse (see our article from May 2017) 

The beach of Jaï from Marignane to Châteaneuf-les-Martigues 

With its big area of 6 kilometres in length, the beach of Jaï is at the same time authentic and a spot for lovers of gliding sports and thrills! During the summer, enjoy the Fest'Jaï, which are festive evenings with food, shopping and music in the city of Marignane.

Beach of Catalans,  The beach of Jaï 

 

Beaches for persons with disability 

Fos-sur-Mer - La grande plage Laureate of the Blue Pavilion of European ports and beaches since 1994, the City of Fos-sur-Mer stands out for its actions in favor of coastal protection. The large and sandy beach is accessible to persons with disabilities (motor, mental, visual and auditory).

 

For every situation, on every beach, make sure to bring a box of Calisson By Gilles of your choice to share and taste with your friend and family. It will turn your time at the beach into something memorable. 

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


City of Grasse, a world of fragrance. August 04 2017, 0 Comments

What would be the village of Grasse without its fragrance ? The town of Grasse is undoubtedly famous for its perfume industry and proudly accept the title of world's capital of perfume. Everything in Grasse breathes fragrance !

The story began five hundred years ago when farmers started to cultivate numerous species of flowers for fragrances. 

Why here ? 

 

 

Grasse is perfectly located. The region enjoys more than 300 days of sun a year. The natural  hilly landscape gives protection from summer dryness and winter cold.                                            

The area is also protected from strong winds such as Mistral which blows down the Rhone’s Valley region. 

Since fragrance companies elected offices in Grasse, the town has benefited greatly of this international exposure. For instance, did you know that flowers collected there are used for the manufacturing of the world famous Chanel N°5 ?  

Grasse offers visitors a relaxing break, contrasting with the crowded French Riviera.  Locals will say that Grasse is a glimpse of the real Alpes Maritimes, is it true ? come here and reach your own conclusions !

 

Let me share what you should experience in Grasse: the village, the perfume industry and a little course of perfumery at the end. 

 

The Village


Grasse is located in the Alpes-Maritimes department (departments are similar to US Counties). When you hear about French Riviera, it is the coastal portion of this department. Grasse is roughly 15 miles inland from Cannes and its famous film festival. Reaching a village in the Alpes Maritimes can be hard if you don’t have a car, but reaching Grasse is very easy. The little town has a train station which connect to many cities throughout the region as well as buses filled with tourists, locals and businessmen.

The old town

First of all, make sure to get a map of the old village at the tourist information office. 

A good way to visit Grasse is by following the brass plots sealed on the pavement with a G letter engraved on it ! The first plot begins in front of the tourist information office.  You can also rent an audio guided tour (numerous languages available) and you will discover Grasse with local stories and songs ! 

The old town of Grasse is marvelous and a typical Provençal village with its tiny narrow streets ; a labyrinthine architecture where you will discover secretive stores and restaurants throughout your visit. 

Steeps stairs will help you get your daily dose of exercise. The Medieval ruins are perfectly mix with 17th and 18th century buildings. 

The visit of the cathedral Notre-Dame-du-Puy will be a welcomed rest point. From there, you will admire the great views of the nearby countryside, particularly behind the cathedral in the square called Place du Cours. 

For people having difficulties walking, a seasonal train (in summer) is available and will stop at all the main attractions. 

Museum tours

For museum lovers you can visit the famous International Perfumery Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie) and there are other little museums in town that might be of interest: Art and History of Provence museum  and the Museum called “Musée Provençal du Costume et du Bijou” offers an authentic collection of Provençal jewelry and clothing that are used in events like Pastorale (See our December blog).

 

How long should you stay in Grasse

The best option would be to spend a full day and stay overnight in a charming bed and breakfast in the old village. It would be an occasion to combine a charming day with a romantic dinner in a local restaurant and conclude with a taste of Calisson by Gilles in the privacy of your room. 

 

Learn more about perfume

If you curious about the process and history of perfume, Grasse is the place to be! 


You can also enjoy the wonderful view of flower fields, or just some good smelling goodies. Grasse is the nose capital of the world !                              

You can visit a functioning perfume factory. Some manufacturers propose free guided tours, for instance Galimard, Molinard, and Fragonard.                            

Calisson By Gilles would advise to pick the Fragonard tour which is, according to us, the best one. The Fragonard tour offer an half hour tour throughout the day, in several languages and it is free! The end of the visit will direct you to there gift shop, of course !  Spring is the best time of the year as you can visit the gardens before harvest: roses, mimosa, jasmine, violet. A rainbow of colors! 
 

Create Your own Perfume

Some perfumeries such as Galimard and Molinard offer creation workshop. You will be able to create up to 100ml of perfume either for men or women. You can book a half day workshop. During this workshop you will have to choose between 127 scents. Your desk is filled with these 127 scent bottles with various labels (in French) and a male or female symbol. These symbols are displayed to guide whether the scent is more masculine or feminine. You will have to choose scents for the Top ‘Peak’ Note, the Middle ‘Heart’ Note, and Base Note. 

You may be lost in front of all these scents bottles, but do not worry a perfumer called “le nez” (nose) will teach you the basics and the process during this workshop. The Perfumers called “noses” are people with a PhD that have exceptional skills to identify all the scents and association! They are trained to distinguish over 2,000 kinds of scent. To avoid all that can degrade their “nose”, they must stay away from alcohol, smoking, spicy food and most of all using perfumes ! 

Calisson By Gilles recommend a creation workshop; it is a unique experience. Moreover you will take home a memorable souvenir!

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.


by Gilles
23416 Caminito Valle Laguna Hills Orange County, CA 92653 United States 800-334-2081 gilles@bygilles.com
by Gilles
23416 Caminito Valle Laguna Hills Orange County, CA 92653 United States
800-334-2081 gilles@bygilles.com