Tarascon & Tavel

Breakfast – outside again, in the sun again, despite the astonished looks of the frozen French and Spanish guests at our hotel who huddled inside in their down jackets shivering in the winter temperatures of 12 to 13 degrees centigrade.  In other words, an English summer.  We were brought a basket of huge fresh croissants and bread, hot coffee and milk, and there were jams, butter, even cereal aplenty.  It needed a photograph, and indeed that’s what I did….

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Our visiting of the Saint Rémy market was slightly spoiled by the fact that it consisted of only a few veg stalls – we later learned that the big market is on a Wednesday.  Still, we saw our friend the manic waiter from La Cassolette as we walked past and upon exchanging a cheery Bonjour, decided to book in to his restaurant again for tonight.

We then set off for Tarascon, a huge and well –preserved castle built between 1400 and 1435 on the bank of the river Rhône and used both as a barrier between France and
Provence then latterly for many years a prison.  As with other places we have visited on this holiday, we nearly had the place to ourselves – it must be heaving with people in summer, but on Easter Saturday it was delightful and we were able to enjoy it by ourselves.  The many examples of graffiti by prisoners across the centuries (Catalans and Spanish prisoners from 1649, then English and Dutch from the mid to late 18th century) were fascinating.

After visiting the château, we crossed the river to Tarascon’s twin town of Beaucaire and found some benches in the sun beside the Canal du Rhône where we had our picnic in the sun beside lines of moored boats.

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Lunch over, the next job  was to find some wine to taste (and possibly buy).  Our research last night had indicated that we should look further afield than Saint Rémy, so we headed for Tavel, since it is famous for rosé wine and since we are in Provence that makes sense.  On the way there from Beaucaire we saw a sign to a Caveau in Montfrin, so went to visit.  We were a little surprised to walk in and find the skeleton of a complete mammoth with wine boxes around it, and even more surprised to discover that this was not a local Mammoth but from Siberia and had been bought in an auction in 2006 by the Conseil Général.

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The obvious question of course is “Why?”, which we thought we were conveying by our surprised looks when this was explained to us, but the looks were misunderstood for simple admiration, I think, because the lady in charge then told us as if it was the most natural thing in the world that there was a wine producer not far away who had a whale skeleton in his Cave, if we wanted to visit.  The distraction of the mammoth did not encourage anyone to buy wine, sadly, apart from one bottle of rosé to be ‘consumed on voyage’ I suspect.

We dragged ourselves away from the mammoth and made it to Tavel, which modestly proclaims itself to be the World Capital of Rosé Wine. Here we were helped by a lady who really knew her stuff, and we were happily working our way through the several different rosés (well, not me since I was driving, but I was enjoying it vicariously) when a Dutch man who had been buying wine too suddenly addressed us in English with an American accent, thrusting a business card at us saying “Hi, I organise trips round the vineyards, I can show you the wines and translate for you.”

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We were slightly taken aback, and Madame was furious – as Mr Dutch American went off she hissed “Il m’énERVE” in the way only French ladies of a certain age can.  She was cross that we had been ‘attacked’ (her word) when we were happily minding our own business, and we were amused that he should assume (a) we knew nothing about wine and would need a guide, and (b) that we spoke no French, presumably because he heard we were English.

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Anyway, in the meantime Julia and Tim were working their way through the rosés, then Tim decided to try the red Lirac.  He tried it, a distant but slightly confused look washed over his face and he murmured “I don’t know, I’m not sure, I probably don’t really need any” and he ended up buying only 2 bottles of it in a mixed case.  He said at the time that he would regret it, and later that evening, back in Saint Rémy as we sait in our lovely La Cassolette having supper he did indeed put this regret into words again.  There’s just no telling some people, even when they tell it to themselves!

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Our supper back in La Cassolette was again lovely – I had the fish soup again, as did Julia, Tim had an anchoïade, then I had the sole meunière (lovely – very well cooked), and the other two had le Grand Aïoli.  As Tim pointed out, none of us will be plagued by vampires tonight.  What a relief.

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