Belle Provence Travels

A South of France Blog

Greetings dear readers and friends. We had the pleasure of visiting the recently opened Mas du Brulat hotel in the village of Le Brulat – a stone’s throw away from the beautiful hilltop village of Le Castellet and part of its commune. The Mas du Brulat is the second accommodation offering of Olives and Vines, …

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A Beautiful Weekend at Château Autignac

May 21, 2017

 

Greetings dear readers and friends! Well, it’s turning out to be a beautiful spring in Provence… but of course, would we expect anything less? With the blooming wildflowers, growing grapevines, and sun-washed beaches, the South of France is living up to its reputation as one of the prettiest spots in Europe.

And we were lucky enough to discover another incredible corner of the south thanks to the kind hospitality of the folks at Château Autignac in the Languedoc region. If you’re not too familiar with the region (which is an absolute must-see for wine-lovers and Francophiles), the Languedoc is located in the central part of southern France, approximately between the Rhône river and the Garonne River – including major cities like Nîmes, Montpellier, and its capital, Toulouse. The region produces more than a third of the grapes in France and is home to famous tourist attractions like the Canal du Midi, Le Pont du Gard, and the picturesque town of Uzès.

View from our gîte, self-catering apartment.

And it was in another equally picturesque town, the village of Autignac, that we were hosted in an exquisite château – restored to its former glory with a touch of modernity and an attention to detail that was definitely impressive. The owners clearly put all of their passion into their dream of combining the rich history of the château with their love of the Languedoc region and its wine-making traditions.

In fact, Château Autignac just happens to have its own wine domaine (as you do!) – Domaine des Prés-Lasses. The domaine itself is near the château and there is a tasting-room / cave on-site). The Domaine des Prés-Lasses is under the Faugères appellation; the village of Autignac being one of seven villages to hold this distinction.

Access to the chateau’s wine cave / tasting room – Domaine des Prés Lasses.

Château Autignac is a chambre d’hôtes – actually a luxury chambre d’hôtes. You have the advantage of having “hosts” on-site to take care of your daily needs, but with only 5 rooms (5 gorgeous rooms), you feel as if you quite have the château all to yourself. It’s calme absolu as the French would say… an absolute calm.

How’s this for relaxing? The château’s pool and gardens.

I spent the first afternoon of our stay at the swimming pool and it took me a while to really get settled in.  After twisting around a bit on my towel, looking over my shoulder to see who was around, and finally getting ready to put my toes in the water, I had a bit of a hard time figuring out what was expected of me. Then I got… absolutely nothing. Everything was so quiet and calm, my only responsibility consisted of listening to the birds chirp overhead and making sure I’d applied enough sunscreen. In short, heavenly.

Our lovely gîte, Clavelle.

And one important detail that is a godsend to families like ours is that the château also has a kind of self-catering apartment. “Apartment” sounds so basic in these terms, and is also know as a gîte in France, but neither of these terms seems to do our “residence” justice. We had it all… a fully-functional kitchen, living and dining area, washing machine (that served as a dryer too), gorgeous bathroom, and, my undeniable favorite, heated floors. If you’ve ever woken up in the morning to swing around and put your toes on gloriously toasty floorboards, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Perhaps that all sounds a bit silly, but that’s not a luxury you get every day… this mama was very happy.

Our daughter enjoying life at the gîte.

Besides lounging around the pool, or relaxing in your room, another activity to take advantage of during your stay is wine-tasting at the château. My husband got the difficult task of trying out a few of their wines. He returned to our gîte with a lovely bottle of Amour, one of their signature wines, which we promptly enjoyed that evening with our DIY cheese & charcuterie plate.

Strolling around charming Autignac village.

And I stopped counting the number of vineyards we passed along the road. Since we had our little-one in tow, we opted for a stop at the village of Faugères (where the appellation takes its name) and a quick tour of a lovingly-restored windmill at the top of the village. Here we had a spectacular view of all those rolling vineyards, and a nice French gentlement pointed us in the direction of the snow-capped Pyrénées.

Driving near Autignac village, incredible views.

We also did a fair amount of exploring the village of Autignac – popping in and out of local bakeries and cafés, and enjoying the comings and goings of families at the local park. And seemingly at every turn, we could make out the top of Château Autignac which is quite literally the focal point of the village.

And that was really as much of a reminder as I needed that their glorious swimming pool was just a short walk away. After the history, the charm of the region, and those remarkable vineyards, the thing that stayed with me most about our trip was that feeling of peace and calm… a real echappée belle, beautiful escape.

A lovely family weekend.

A very warm “merci” to our hosts at Château Autignac. You can learn more about the château on their website and they are active on social media (showing off beautiful pics of the region!) on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The château also has a large reception space to host weddings and events, and separate rooms for corporate / business meetings.

Château Autignac
26 Avenue de la Liberté
34480 Autignac
Tél : +33 (0)4 67 21 96 99

What to do in Provence… in the Spring

April 23, 2017

Greetings dear readers and friends. What an absolutely lovely time of year in Provence! We managed to make it to the beach in Bandol this morning at around 9am (a small miracle) and there was not another soul around. We spent a peaceful hour or so before a few families showed up, and what a difference from the “high season” crowds. Plus, the weather was gorgeous – not a cloud in the sky and full of that famous South-of-France sunshine.

Today, I’m sharing a few of my favorite ways to spend the spring season in Provence… bon voyage!

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How to Use French while Traveling… no matter what your level

January 29, 2017

Greetings dear readers and friends. Well, I’m writing this post from a very chilly South of France. Even though the snow hasn’t reached us yet, many towns to the north have had more than a bit of a white-dusting.

Today’s post comes from a comment I received on the blog that really got me thinking about speaking French while traveling in Provence (or the rest of France for that matter). And although I don’t claim to be an expert, it’s true that by trial and error (a lot of error), I’ve come to feel more at ease using French and hope I can provide some positive feedback to future travelers.  Here is a snippet of the original comment as I think a lot of readers might have the same questions in mind:

“I am curious how the locals treat people who are not fluent in French. I took two years of French in college, but I am always hesitant to use it and mess up! Should I still try, or will it annoy people there? Will it annoy them more if I *don’t* try?”

Well, first of all, I say you absolutely should try – no matter what your level. And in my opinion, if you sprinkle around the 3 “magic words”- bonjour (bonsoir in the evening), s’il vous plait, and merci, you are sure to impress the French and most likely be treated a bit better. And hopefully you’ll have a more enriching travel experience.

Because, when it comes down to it, the one thing that the French value almost above all else is politeness. And the more polite you are, the more likely you are to receive the service you desire. That being said, *bad* service exists in France, but, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with speaking the language. It’s simply the people working / running the place.

In shops and boutiques, or even at the market, I used to wait for someone to say “bonjour” before I felt obligated to respond. Sometimes, the American in me, just wanted to get “in & out” with my purchases so I would make a beeline for what I needed and then quietly walk to the cash register. Well, over time, I learned that when you enter a shop, boutique, restaurant, or approach a market stand, etc, a greeting of “bonjour” is absolutely essential. I still have to remind myself, but now I make a point of saying Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur in my daily routine. You can think of “bonjour” as your proverbial “foot in the door” with French people, and from there the exchange is indeed usually very pleasant.

Pâtisserie Béchard in Aix-en-Provence, a friendly place to try out your French

Pâtisserie Béchard in Aix-en-Provence, a friendly place to try out your French

And if you don’t speak a lot of French, it doesn’t matter! Think of yourself walking into a bakery (I myself am thinking of lovely Pâtisserie Béchard in Aix-en-Provence) and you would like to sample some of their tasty breads or pastries. All you need is your “bonjour”, and then you ask for what you would like. Bonjour, une baguette s’il vous plait.  Hello, a baguette please.

Then you can add on the final touch, a nice “merci” at the end of the exchange and, equally important, a simple “au revoir” when leaving. Often, people will wish you a “bonne journée” (Have a good day) which is another easy way to be polite. Au revoir Madame / Monsieur, bonne journée. The most important thing here is that you’ve got to have the guts to do it! Believe me, it took me more than a few tries… but the result was well-worth it.

Of course, if you are a more advanced speaker of French, this may only serve as the start of a longer conversation, but these standard phrases are a perfect door-opener and also allow basic speakers to have simple, pleasant interactions on their travels.

Honestly, I feel like I spend half my day just using this few phrases. I’ll ask for something at the bakery, cheese shop, or the market, and then usually I’m on my way. Occasionally someone might ask where my accent is from or perhaps make a comment on what I’m buying, but generally this is as far as it goes. And I find I get treated much better than my previous “duck & cover” method.

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If you do want to go a bit further in your exchanges, here are a few more helpful phrases to use around town:

-Excusez-moi… Excuse me…

-C’est combien s’il vous plait?    How much is it please?

-Je voudrais deux (trois, quatre,…) s’il vous plait.     I’d like two (three, four, …) please.

-Vous prenez les cartes de crédit ?  Do you take credit cards?

-Un sac s’il vous plait.    A bag please.

-Avez-vous… ?   Do you have… a table for four, (un table pour quatre) a restroom (une toilette), a double room (une chambre double), etc.

-Comment allez vous? How are you (formal)?

-Bonne journée Have a good day.

-Bonne soirée Have a good evening.

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Of course there are many more French expressions that are helpful, more than I even have space to list, but I hope this will give you a good start… and a boost of confidence in your travels.

 

Have you used French while traveling? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!