Sunday, November 5, 2017

A night in Lyon and unforgetable dinner at Cafe Comptoir Abel

As we plan trips to the South of France, I look for good fares from San Francisco to Geneva, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Nice. Recently, it seems Geneva and Lyon have offered the best fares on our favorite airline. The first couple of times we flew into Lyon, we went straight from Saint-Exupéry Airport to Sablet and vice versa on the return trip.

This year we went to Lyon the day before we were scheduled to fly home so we could eat in one of the famous bouchons which Lyon is famous for. After all, Lyon is considered to be the gastronomic capital of France. As you know, I love food and that is the only thing that could make me leave Sablet one hour before we have to go.

Lyon is about 200 km north of Sablet at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its center reflects 2,000 years of history from the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, medieval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux (Old) Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu'île peninsula.

Place Jacobins is the center of what is now called “old money Lyon” – where the bigger fortunes live. This statue represents the religious Jacobins inspired by the Dominican faith who first developed the area. The statue seen below, "The Fountain of the Jacobins" was inaugurated in 1885.

Fountain of the Jacobins'

Place des Célestins seen below is located in the Célestins quarter, in the 2nd arrondissement of Lyon. The square was named after the religious Order of Celestines who were installed there from 1407 to 1778. Before 1307, the square was located on lands owned by the Knights Templar, who had a command post there. After the Knights Templar were evicted, the Célestins installed a monastery which, despite some fires, remained for almost 400 years. Eventually demolished in 1778, it was replaced with the housing estate of the Célestins and a theater.

Place des Célestins

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884. Perched on top of the Fourvière hill, the basilica looms impressively over the city of Lyon, from where it can be seen from many vantage points. Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague, the Black Death, that swept Europe in 1643.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière on top of the hill

Every city in France has a monument of one kind or another commemorating King Louis XIV, and in Lyon he has been suitably and majestically immortalized in the form of a bronze statue in the middle of Place Bellecour, which is bigger than Red Square and is the largest downtown pedestrian zone in Europe. He is guarded by the Gods of War and Lions, as well as Marianne, who sits at the bottom of the base.

Statue of King Louis XIV, Place Bellecour

The Bell Tower seen standing alone below used to be the bell tower of the Charity Hospital. This was the second hospital of Lyon after Hotel Dieu. It was built in 1622 and destroyed in 1934 to make place for the Post Office. This is the enormous building on the south side of the square.

Belltower of Charity

As I said, Lyon is called France's gastronomic capital—probably a result of its geography. Alpine streams to the east supply pike, trout, and crayfish. The Dombes plateau, to the northeast, abounds in game, and the plain of Bresse, beyond that, produces France's finest chickens. Due north lie the vineyards of Beaujolais, which yield fruity, inexpensive red wines, while just a few miles farther, the Maconnais region makes chardonnay wines. Charolles, to the northwest, gives its name to the best French beef cattle—the white Charolais, raised in the pastures surrounding the town. Superb cheeses are close at hand, too: fourme d'ambert, cantal, and st-nectaire from the Auvergne, southwest of Lyon; st-marcellin, rumored to have been King Louis XI's favorite, from the Isere to the southeast.

We came to Lyon so we could dine at a bouchon. Bouchons are bistros of a sort, but with more limited menus. Their décor tends to be modest to the point of austerity. Some have paper tablecloths, and some don't change the cutlery between courses—and the food served in bouchons is almost always based on humble ingredients. The majority of these establishments are family-run, and most of the chefs are women—the spiritual descendants of Mere Brazier, Mere Fillioux, Tante Paulette, and other female master chefs who contributed so much to the glory of Lyonnais gastronomy earlier this century. Bouchon prices are always reasonable too.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is illuminated at night on top of the hill.

Most of the best bouchons are clustered near Lyon's City Hall, in the middle of the Presqu'Île, the three-mile-long peninsula, bordered on one side by the Rhone and on the other by the Saone, that extends through the middle of the city, which is where Café Comptoir Abel is located.

Café Comptoir Abel is one of the oldest, most authentic bouchons in Lyon. The bistro tables and chairs wear a patina of age, and the original wooden paneling and bric-a-brac make this bouchon a place that’s not to be missed. Hidden away near the quays of the river Saône, this bouchon has been an institution in the city since 1928. Chef Alain Vigneron has worked in the restaurant since 1976, and has been in charge of the kitchens for last 16 years.

Café Comptoir Abel

We were seated at a wood table without table cloth or placemats and to keep out experience authentic, we ordered a red wine from the Beaujolais village of Villié-Morgon.

Olivier Depardon Beaujolais

For starter, Shirley chose a green bean salad that included the bottom of an artichoke, some greens and peas.

Fond d'Artichaut en Haricots Verts

I chose the salade gourmande which consisted of green beans, diced artichoke bottom, sliced mushrooms, peas and foie gras.

Salade Gourmande

For my main course, I chose one of the signature dishes of chicken with a morel mushroom cream sauce. It was really good!

Le Fameux Poulet aux Morilles a la Creme

Shirley chose another signature dish of quenelles de brochet that was served with the same delicious morel mushroom cream sauce. Quenelles de Brochet is a large Pike dumpling that is finished under the broiler. It was very light and didn't taste fishy at all.

Quenelles de Brochet en Gratin Maison

Although my chicken came with rice, we couldn't resist ordering a side dish of gratin Dauphinois. Gratin Dauphinois is a traditional regional dish consisting of potatoes and crème fraîche, from the Dauphiné region

Gratin Dauphinois

The morel mushroom cream sauce was so good, we asked for a little more.

Supplement de Sauce aux Morilles

Chicken with Morel Mushroom Sauce with Rice Pilaf

The dessert menu was written on a slate black board.

Dessert Chalkboard

Café Comptoir Abel Bar

Café Comptoir Abel

I chose the Fondant au Chocolat with both ice cream and Crème Anglaise. It was literally a slab of melting chocolate with ice cream and Crème Anglaise. I could only eat a couple of bites after the other rich food.

Fondant au Chocolat with Ice Cream and Crème Anglaise

Shirley went with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Chocolate Sauce

Entrance to Café Comptoir Abel

If your travels take you to Lyon, the Hôtel des Artistes is a very reasonably priced 3 Star hotel in the center of Lyon on the Presqu'Île, near the Saone River.

Our Hotel

We were treated to the view of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière seen below as we walked out of the hotel before we headed to the airport to begin our trip back to San Francisco.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Morning Light

Café Comptoir Abel
25 Rue Guynemer
69002 Lyon
Tel: +33 4 78 37 46 18

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jilian's birthday party at our house in Sablet

I mentioned in several posts, that we were the happy beneficiaries of a visit this summer from daughter Stephanie, husband Earl, and grandchildren Dylan, Madison and Jilian. This followed on the heels of a visit a year earlier of daughter Tricia, husband Alvin and grandchildren Avery and Caedon.

One of the fun coincidences of the visit was that the 3rd birthday of little Jilian occurred while we were in Sablet together. So we planned a special meal and invited friends Bruno and Sylvie, the owners of Café des Sports, to come celebrate with us.

Granddaughter Jilian on her birthday

Grandchildren Madison, Jilian, and Dylan in Sablet

Jilian blows out the candles on her lemon tart

Sylvie and Bruno

Jilian and her mom Stephanie

Jilian loved being the center of attention and was all smiles throughout the evening. Her happiness is infectious and we enjoyed a special evening with our wonderful friends and family.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fishing at the Lake of Sablet

This summer, daughter Stephanie and family spent several weeks visiting us in Sablet. Her husband Earl and son Dylan love to fish together and hoped to fish while they were in Provence. Since I don't fish, I didn't know where to go, whether or not permits are required or where to get tackle and bait.

Sablet from the road to Séguret

I know a lot about Sablet and the Northern Vaucluse, but didn't have a clue about fishing. A couple days after we arrived, it was granddaughter Jilian's third birthday and friends Bruno and Sylvie, the owners of the Café des Sports, came to celebrate with us. They arrived with packages for all three kids including a rod and reel, and tackle box for Dylan.

Sign for Sablet

We have learned over the years that Bruno is a fountain of information about the area and he knew fishing permits are sold at the Vaison-la-Romaine Tourist Office, where to get live bait, and surprisingly, that there is a lake in Sablet where you can fish. Who knew?

Lake of Sablet

The Lake of Sablet, also known as the Etang des Jardins, is located between Sablet and Rasteau off the D69. The lake is divided into two parts and has a surface area of almost 14 acres. The depth ranges from 6 to 9 feet.

Lake of Sablet

Several sites devoted to fishing on the web indicate the Lake of Sablet is populated with Black Bass, Perch and Trout.

Grandson Dylan fishing at the Lake of Sablet

Earl, Dylan and I got to the Lake early in the morning and we watched as Dylan cast from the shore at several places around the lake. We hadn't picked up worms yet so Dylan baited his hook with grasshoppers he caught in tall grass. He had several bites on grasshoppers but none on the hook so we went home empty handed.

Grandson Dylan

Dylan didn't catch anything that day but he did catch 3 good size fish in the Ouvèze River a couple days later below the Roman bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine. Dylan would be happy to fish every day so next time he comes back to Sablet, I am sure we will return to the Lake of Sablet to try our luck again.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sunflower fields are special places of beauty in Provence, worth seeking out!

Friday, July 21, and we were on the road to find a good vantage point to watch the Tour de France near Lauris. As we drove toward the town of Orange to get on the A-7 autoroute, we came upon a huge field of sunflowers. There is nothing Shirley likes more than sunflowers, except maybe a field of purple lavender or red poppies, so we stopped for photos.

You may not be aware that despite the fact that you find postcards, photos and paintings of sunflowers all over Provence, they are actually native to the Americas. Sunflowers seeds were brought to Europe by Spaniards in the 16th century where sunflower oil became a widespread cooking ingredient.

Sunflowers, tournesol in French, have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds from which oil is extracted.


Sunflowers generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to the end of July with harvest occurring at the beginning of August.

Sunflower field near Violès

When we come upon a beautiful field of flowers (sunflowers, lavender or red poppies) that are in peak season and facing the road, it is mandatory that we stop and Shirley and whoever is traveling with us run into the field and pose for pictures.

Daughter Stephanie and Shirley

A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact, mature sunflowers typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do change their orientation from east to west during the course of a day; once mature the movements stop.

Sunflower field near Violès

You may not know that the Jerusalem artichoke also called sunchoke and topinambour, is a type of sunflower. It is cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable and delicious roasted or in soup.

More of the sunflower field near Violès

It's hard not to fall in love with a field of sunflowers: they give off a sense of happiness, like suns shining on a perfect summer day.

Sunflower field near Violès

I have read that the most beautiful sunflower fields in the world are in Tuscany. I have not seen those fields but until I do, I will continue to believe there are none more beautiful than the sunflower fields of Provence.

The family

If you are in Provence during July, make sure you stop and get a picture or two of yourself in one of the sunflower fields you will surely pass by. For me, I continue to look for a place where sunflowers and lavender grow next to each other so I can take one of those only on a postcard shots to share with you.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A visit to Avignon and the Jardin des Doms during the Festival of Avignon

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. You could spend hours wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls without getting bored

The historic center of Avignon radiates from Place de l'Horloge. Here, you will find the City Hall built between 1845 and 1851 on top of a former cardinal's palace. The old fortified tower of the cardinal's palace was retained and transformed into a belfry in the 15th century with clock and bellstriker. Next to it, the municipal theater, also from the 19th century, houses the Avignon opera and, at the top of the square, the "Belle Époque" style carrousel seen below.

"Belle Epoque" Carrousel

When we go to Avignon, we try to park at the Hotel Mercure garage because the stairs exit close to the Popes' Palace. Right next to the stairway, is the Hôtel des Monnaies (mint), the earliest private Baroque monument in Avignon. It sits opposite the main entrance to the Popes' Palace. It was built in 1619 by the Vice-Legate Jean-François de Bagni, and is dedicated to Paul V, the then reigning Pope. In 1860, it became the Conservatoire National de Musique. It was used as such up to 2007.

Hôtel des Monnaies

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral is a Romanesque building, mainly built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the 19th century gilded statue of the Virgin which surmounts the western tower. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII (1334) is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral. During the 14th century this became the world’s most important church, home to seven different popes.

Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

Next to the Opera-Theatre on Place de l'Horloge (translated as "Clock Place") is the neo-classical town hall known as the Hôtel de Ville. As I told you earlier, only the 14th century clock tower remains from the original structure. The Gothic clock tower seen below, which gave the square its name, was incorporated later into the construction of the Hôtel de Ville.

14th century Bell Tower of the Hôtel de Ville is in the background

Street performers in front of the Popes' Palace

We had come to Avignon that morning primarily so Shirley and Stephanie could hit the stores. Since I didn't think the grandkids would enjoy that very much, Earl and I with kids in tow, headed for the Jardin des Doms.

A gentle five-minute stroll up a small hill from the cathedral, the Jardin des Doms offers a welcome refuge from Avignon's heat and bustle on a summer's day as well as panoramic views of the historical city, the Rhône River, Saint Bénézet Bridge, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, Mont Ventoux and the surrounding countryside. It was fully landscaped as a public park in the 19th century.

View from Jardin des Doms to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon

The seven acre park is beautifully landscaped with shrubs and trees, statues of local notables and built around a pond which is home to ducks and geese. There are lots of benches, a picnic area and children's playgrounds.

Granddaughter Madison pulls Jilian in a pony cart, in the Jardin des Doms

Grandson Dylan in front of bust of Paul Sain, a French Painter born in Avignon

Fort Saint-André is a medieval fortress across the Rhône River from the Jardin des Doms that I told you about here in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, dating from the first half of the 14th century.

Fort Saint André across the Rhône River in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon

Many of you know the French children's song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" (On the bridge of Avignon), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet Bridge over the Rhône River that we visited here.

The bridge was constructed between 1177 and 1185 with 22 arches and was 980 yards long. It was destroyed by Louis VIII of France during the siege of Avignon in 1226. It was rebuilt beginning in 1234. The bridge was only 16 feet wide, including the parapets at the sides. The arches were liable to collapse when the river flooded.

The bridge fell into disrepair during the 17th century. By 1644 the bridge was missing four arches and finally a catastrophic flood in 1669 swept away much of the structure. Since then, the surviving arches have successively collapsed or been demolished and only four arches remain.

View of Saint Bénézet Bridge from the Jardin des Doms

Madison and Dylan enjoy a teeter-totter in the Jardin des Doms

Rocher des Doms

In 1309 Avignon, still part of the Kingdom of Arles, was chosen by Pope Clement V as his residence at the time of the Council of Vienne and, from March 9, 1309 until January 13, 1377, Avignon rather than Rome was the seat of the Papacy. In all seven popes resided in Avignon.

The Campane Tower seen below is part of the Pope's Palace and served as a storeroom for arms and precious objects and housing for the night watchman and some members of the Pope's close entourage.

Palace of the Pope's Campane Tower

As we leave the Jardin des Doms to return to Place de l'Horloge, we retrace our steps down a little zigzag ramp and cross over in front of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral.

Side view of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral with the Campane Tower behind

Granddaughter Madison with the backdrop of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

Statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral

A side view of a statue of Christ on the cross in front of Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

Avignon is well known for its Festival d'Avignon, the annual festival of theater and performing arts founded in 1947. There are really two festivals that take place: the more formal "Festival In", which presents plays inside the Palace of the Popes and the more Bohemian "Festival Off", known for its presentation of largely undiscovered plays and street performances.

Street performers

The 2017 Avignon Festival took place from July 6 to 26. Over 40 different plays are performed in more than twenty venues, from small, 150-seat chapels to the 2000-seat legendary Honor Courtyard in the Palace of the Popes. As you walk around Avignon, you see flyers promoting one of the plays or musical acts everywhere you go.

Promoting a show

We didn't realize that groups go around to the various squares where there are restaurants including Place du Cloître St Pierre where we were having lunch at Crêperie La Flourdiliz, promoting their upcoming programs.

We were happily surprised that one of the groups that came by to promote their show was Quatuor Leonis with our friend Guillaume Antonini. It would have been fun to attend their show, but it didn't start until 22h30 and that was way too late for our group.

Quatuor Leonis promoting their show

A theater group promoting their show

Street performer

Since we were with the grandkids, we dined at Crêperie La Flourdiliz, a Brettone crêperie near the Pope's Palace rather than one of the places we go regularly since we didn't think the grandkids would enjoy sitting through a multi-course meal. We were perfectly positioned to see the various acts come through the square and promote their shows.

The family dining at Crêperie La Flourdiliz while watching the various acts perform

Whether in Avignon with or without kids, Jardin des Doms is worthwhile to include on your visit to Avignon. Have you been to Jardin des Doms, please let me know what you think.