On a Dime Destinations: Cotignac France, Part 2.

We had another slow start on Sunday, due to our late Saturday night. But that seems to be the rhythm here, and I'm certainly not complaining. 

Today we took a drive to look for remaining sunflower fields up in the Valensole plateau, not far from Lake St. Croix – and the Gorges du Verdon (the French Grand Canyon) – which is less than an hour from Cotignac.

Sunflowers on the Valensole Plateau

We found the sunflowers, but just like the lavender they were past their prime. But still, for me, a stunning sight. We stopped for some refreshments in the village of Montagnac – at what appeared to be the only café in town. My glass of Rose was 1.70€. Amazing. We wandered around, took some photos and admired the gargoyles that had been attached to a stone wall.

Gargoyles in Montagnac

Then we headed towards the Lake St. Croix, and the village of St. Croix. The lake was a beautiful turquoise color, but the town crowded, so we didn’t stop. I have to admit that after awhile these cute villages and hill towns all start to look alike. I was happy to return to Cotignac.

Lake St. Croix

We had the chance to see a free classical concert at the church on Sunday night. We were all tired and nearly skipped out on the concert. But we didn’t. And I’m so glad that we went because it was one of the best classical concerts I have ever seen.

Before the concert we had some time to kill so we walked up the little street behind the church to see the cats of Cotignac. Apparently there’s a woman who keeps 60 cats. Her house was easy to identify by the kitty door in a downstairs window. We didn’t see all 60 cats but we saw quite few.

The Cats of Cotignac

On Monday, we ended up taking a 3-mile hike to the top of the cliff. We got a little bit lost looking for the right path to lead us back towards the town. A nice farmer, tending his grapevines, helped to point us in the right direction – and he posed for a photo. In all of our excitement of finding the right path, we missed a turn that would have taken us to the towers on top of the cliff. And by the time got there we were too pooped to tackle the caves. I’d have to do that tomorrow – my last day in Cotignac. Today, we still need to take a trip to La Calisse for some wine and prepare dinner, as my friends have invited their landlords over for dinner.

Our Helpful Friend

After lunch we hopped in the car for the short drive to Chateau La Calisse. We had called ahead to make sure that they were there and were instructed to ring the bell – which we completely missed when we stopped by on Friday.

At Chateau La Calisse

After we ring the bell we are greeted by Jean-Philippe. He tells us that he’s the new cellar master and has only been on the job for a month.  Jean-Philippe was interesting and the wine was very good. He proceeded to tell us that Alain Ducasse serves their wine in his restaurants. Suddenly the 15.00€ price seems like a bargain. But it is for the quality of the wine. A similar bottle would be at least $30.00 in the US. I buy 4 bottles – which brings my total to 7 bottles to get into my luggage and haul on the train, and home on the metro. Should be a piece of cake, huh?

It’s my last day in Cotignac. I’m sad to be leaving. I still have things to do. We never made it to the nearby waterfall, I’m going to miss the Ceramics Market on Thursday and I haven’t been to an outdoor movie under the cliffs. But it’s Tuesday and it’s market day. I purposely planned my trip for this.

Market Day in Cotignac

The market is huge. I takes over the main street and there are stalls filling the square too – plus the square around the corner by the road that leads out of town. I have 2 things on my list - olive oil and local honey. At dinner last night I learned to get honey from a local beekeeper. I found him easily and bought 3 jars. Plus had a lovely conversation about honey and Monsanto.

Local Honey at the Market

I found some bio (organic) olive oil from the Luberon. It was a bit pricey. But it was very good too. It will fit in nicely with my collection of Italian and Spanish oils at home. I also bought some more of the lavender sachets. I had to stop there because I’m worried about having enough room in my suitcase for my haul.

I wish I could have bought some of the Cotignac peaches. And roast chickens looked amazing. Several stands were making and selling Paella too. It seemed to be very popular. I liked this market better than any I have visited in Paris.

Troglodyte Caves in the Cliffs over Cotignac

After having some ice cream for lunch it’s time for me to tackle the Troglodyte Caves. The walk to caves took me past the old olive presses and up some stone lined sidewalks. This walk was easy compared to our hike the day before. In a few minutes I’m at the entrance and pay the 2.00€ fee.

The stairs up were daunting, but I was determined, even with my bad knee. After the second set of stairs I arrived at the spiral staircase – which the attendant had mentioned, saying that it was limited to one person at a time. I stopped on the landing and admired the view over the town, then looked at the rickety iron staircase and decided that I didn’t need to go up it. I chickened out. But I was happy – at least I saw some of the caves. Maybe next time I’ll climb up?

Would you climb these stairs? 

On the way back I decided that it was time for more ice cream – and I’d earned it too!

We had dinner at home and I attempted to pack my bag, before calling it an early night. In the morning it was obvious that I had a problem. Why didn’t I bring my tote bag from home? We were planning a stop in Aix en Provence before I needed to catch my train. Maybe I can get an extra bag there?

Luckily my friends remembered that they had an extra tote bag and I could pack it with dirty clothes and load my roller bag with all of my wine. It worked perfectly. And I made it home safely with all of my goodies from Provence.




On a Dime Destinations: Cotignac, France

One of the benefits of living in Paris is having friends who have rented a house in Provence for the summer, having them invite me to visit – and being able to go. I recently returned from a 6-night stay and I’m already thinking about going back. Cotignac was such a charming little village. I could get used to spending time in place where pomegranates, figs, olives and grapes are grown.

"Our" House in Cotignac

I was surprised to learn that the population was just over 2,000 people, because the town felt a lot bigger. There are numerous restaurants – I ate in 2 of them and had very good meals at reasonable prices. And on my last day I finally tried the ice cream shop that was about 10 feet from our front door. I actually went twice on that day, and didn’t even think to take photos of the lavender honey and salted caramel that I had for round one. Or the honey fig and red grapefruit that I had for round two. They were all delicious.

My room with a view

Cotignac, is in the Var region of Provence. About an hour drive east of Aix en Provence. While similar, it’s not the Provence of Peter Mayle’s books. And while touristy, it feels less touristy than the well-known villages in the Luberon. And there’s so much going on. 

I arrived on a Thursday afternoon. The house that my friends had rented was right on the main square, with windows overlooking the mature plane trees, the beautiful four seasons fountain and all of the restaurants. You might think that it would be unbearably noisy – but it wasn’t. The sound of the activity below was actually relaxing.

One of  many fountains

Upon arrival I had a chance to explore the village and then we had a very good dinner at La Table des Coquelicots. I ordered the hamburger because I had recently been craving one. For dessert I had the digestif gourmand – an after dinner drink with an assortment of small desserts. It cost 10.00€. The drink itself would have been that much – or more, in Paris. Then an “on the house” shot of Limoncello – to wash down the Limoncello that I’d just had. I think I like Cotignac.

Digestif Gourmand

On Friday, our plans were to head out in search of any remaining lavender fields. I knew that I was probably too late since the lavender had been harvested in July, but my friends were happy to take a little road-trip. But first, I wanted to explore the Friday Artisan Market that had just appeared outside our front door.

Lavender Sachets

The market was low-key but interesting.  I was happy with my purchase of some handcrafted lavender sachets, instead of those plastic-wrapped industrial ones. And who doesn’t like a wine tasting at 11:00 a.m.? I bought some wine too. I was curious about the man selling out of season truffles for as little as 10.00€. It was tempting, but just didn’t seem right to me. 

Truffles in August?

By the time I finished with the market it was already lunchtime.  We made some sandwiches at home. The nice thing about staying in such a small village is that the stores you need are literally out the door. The butcher shop was across the street, as was the well-stocked mini Spar grocery store. A few steps to the left, was the small Epicerie (fine foods store) selling, charcuterie (cold-cuts), cheese, eggs, some pre-made salads and such and a few groceries. I could get used to this.

Artisan Market - from my window

After lunch we headed to Chateau LaCalisse because they have planted a tourist lavender field. Even though it was past it’s prime, it was a heavenly experience for me. I can only imagine what it must have looked like a few weeks earlier.

Disappointingly, the tasting room was closed. We’ll have to come back for wine on another day.

Lavender at Chateau LaCalisse

After leaving La Calisse we decide to stop and explore the tiny village of Fox-Amphoux. Besides the great views and the huge hackberry tree planted in 1550 one of the best things about this this tiny village was that we got “lost” trying to find the panoramic overlook that was marked on the map by the parking lot. Who gets lost in a village with a population of 400? We did. 

We had success on our second try and were rewarded with stunning views to the village rooftops and the surrounding countryside and mountains. Plus, a good workout on the tower stairs.


Time to head home for an Apero and get ready for dinner at the local Boulodrome, for Friday night Boules and Moules-Frites. (Mussels and French Fries). What a fun and very local event. We attended with some local friends. And the prices - 8.50€ for the moules-frites and 8.00€ for a bottle of the local Rose wine? We drank several bottles of wine. 

Moules-Frites at the Bouledrome

After the moules-frites our friends came back to the house and we drank more wine on our “terrace” out front. We actually sat at one of the tables belonging to café downstairs. How nice of them to let us do this.

Not bad for my first full day in Cotignac.

Saturday night is the annual Rock Concert. Guess where? On the square in front of our house. At least the stage was set up at the far-end. Due to the expected crowds and traffic we spent our day in Cotignac. We got off to a late start too, because of our late night the night before.  

By the time we were ready to get going there was a storm on the horizon. We waited it out and then decided to walk to the local wine co-op. They were supposed to have olive oil too, but we found out that it had been a bad year for the olives due to the drought and they had no oil. But they had wine - which we gladly tasted and bought. And then another storm hit. We stood under the eaves to wait it out. I love Summer storms. 

Stormy Skies

After we got home, we enjoyed watching and listening to band playing in front of the butcher shop across the street. And hated that we had to leave for our dinner reservations at La Terrasse.

Band playing, view from my window

I had another good meal starting with a salade chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) lamb steak with a rosemary sauce and a dessert of blackberry crumble – all for 23€. A meal like this would be at least 30€ in Paris. And we had a bottle of rose from Chateau La Calisse. I enjoyed dining on the secluded terrace under the fig trees. 

Lamb steak with Rosemary sauce

By the time we were finished with dinner we had missed the opening act of the Rock Concert. The main act played a lot 1970’s rock, such as The Who and Pink Floyd, among others. I was happy to listen from the comfort of our living room. The show finally ended at 12:30 a.m. with fireworks – and a full moon!

The finale of the Rock Concert - from my window. be continued. 

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