The memories I keep from Camargue are faint, I kept thinking as P., Lulu and I were silently driving on the highway that connects Marseilles to Arles. I found the air blowing through the window hot when it eventually landed on my skin. After getting up before the crack of dawn that morning for our cross-Channel flight from London, we were feeling tired too.
“Et en plus, c’est dimanche!” (furthermore, it’s Sunday!) I suddenly exclaimed, thinking about food. “Et demain c’est aussi férié !” (And tomorrow is a holiday too!) Which meant that every supermarket would be closed and we wouldn’t find much to buy for groceries.
I felt silly for having forgotten that part when I booked our trip across France.
But an hour later, when we finally arrived at our rental house nested between overripe peach orchards, it didn’t matter anymore. The area where the house was located was perhaps not the most beautiful or quietest we’d visited, but the house had an inviting pool and garden–and we were keen to have a swim.
So we had one. And another one. And when we’d had enough, we realized that we were starving and decided to take a short ten-minute drive to Arles for lunch.
Arles, of course, is an amazing city. Its beautiful medieval monuments and strong Roman heritage enchanted me as it brought back scenes seen before in my middle-school history book. We could not help but notice the slower pace people followed as we walked the city’s numerous narrow cobblestone streets. “It must be the heat,” I thought. “Anyone would slow down.”
Once Lulu got a taste of what it felt like to be on a merry-go round arlésien, she would not stop.
We arrived around 2:30PM, which seemed early enough. Yet, it took us a while before we eventually found a bistro still serving food. We lunched on salades composées, carpaccio and fries, with ice cream and berry panna cotta to finish. The food was helping us to relax into our vacation even more.
“Where am I going to buy groceries now?” I asked P.
“Wasn’t there a deli by the car park?”
He was right. I remembered now.
Held by a short and slim North-African man with a generous smile, the store was stacked up with spices, dry foods, a small selection of vegetables and fruit, cheese and a few cuts of meat. Enough for us to get by until Tuesday. I bought a bag of rice with zucchini and carrots, which I intended to cook à la pilaf in an improvised Moroccan style, with olive oil and spices. We’d have salad, eggs, cheese, bread and fruit too.
I visited Camargue for the first time when I was nineteen. My parents had decided that we’d take a short vacation during les vacances de la Toussaint in November. I was not sure I wanted to go then but in the end I went, and loved all of it.
I remember us taking long walks to visit local markets where we invariably bought fresh soft cheese, saucissons de taureau–for which my parents have a weakness–and summer fruit and vegetables. We sampled Muscat du pays and ate bouillabaisse sur le port (by the harbour). I’ve always loved that about French cities by the sea: the fact that they offer cozy cafés, bistros and restaurants to stop at for tasty local food. We also looked for wild horses and flamingos.
This vacation, I knew, would be somewhat similar. Yet different too. We’d be quieter and less ambitious. To fit Lulu’s schedule. To fit our desire to rest too. But with my parents again as they drove from Lorraine to meet us there.
One day, we visited the immense Espiguette beach, stopping at Aigues-Mortes on the way. Despite the fact that it was summer, we didn’t feel the crowd.
Between mornings spent by the pool and naps, my mum and I cooked lunch. And dinner. We ate risotto, mixed salads and stuffed vegetables. We barbecued fresh rougets bought at the market and I even baked a berry gratin and a cake. Fresh, summery and simple.
Another day, we invited my parents for lunch at L’Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles.
“C’est bon mais un peu trop compliqué pour moi,” (It’s good but a bit too complicated for me) my dad said. I laughed. I could see what he meant.
Rabanel received two stars in the 2009 Michelin guide, and was awarded Best 2008 Chef in the Gault et Millau guide. We chose an eight-course tasting menu with paired wines. Around the Vegetal theme.
From seeing each plate brought to our table, I could understand that Rabanel’s goal was to combine cooking techniques and surprise with the flavors offered by each dish. I could also see why my father found our meal complicated.
I don’t remember every detail from the numerous dishes we ate–maybe it’s because of the wine. But I yet remember we started with paper-thin dark red beetroot chips, which Lulu decided were all hers. A tartine with its crunchy vegetables followed. Then we ate crunchy Camargue red rice with its garlic-flavored ice cream; a tuna and bean ceviche; a cut of veal served with rosemary-flavored jus and cooked-to-perfection rosemary-flavored fingerling potatoes; a surprising oyster-scented leaf (the leaf is real and literally tasted like an oyster). And we finished with a red berry soup with its almond milk emulsion (absolutely divine); a brioche cooked as pain perdu and served as a raspberry tartlet; and a panna cotta with fruit and preserved oignons perles. With tarragon-flavored ice cream in the middle.
I found our lunch exquisite and light. Delicate and floral. Rabanel’s food had undeniably inspired my cooking chord.
One day, when we hit the market in town, I found cocos rouges beans. I could not get over their popping light fushia color. They were staring at me.
“Ils sont magnifiques vos légumes,” (Your vegetables are beautiful,) I told the young good-looking man standing behind a beautifully arranged display of provençal vegetables.
I took a bag and started to fill it with cocos rouges. I was so engrossed with the task that I almost didn’t notice an older man with a cane and light summer hat standing by my side. His upper lip was hidden behind a silver-looking mustache that shone under the sun. He was talking to me.
“Ah, les cocos,” he said. “Ils sont beaux, n’est-ce pas? Moi, j’aime les cuire avec des pommes de terre.” (They are beautiful, aren’t they? I like to cook them with potatoes)
“Ils mettent combien de temps à cuire ?” (How long do you cook them for?) I asked, gulping down every word he was saying.
“Ils sont très frais, alors pas trop longtemps. Vingt minutes peut-être. Pas besoin de les faire tremper.” (They are super fresh, so not for too long. Maybe twenty minutes. No need to soak them.)
The man behind the counter was looking at us. Amused.
I was about to pay when I heard the old man again whispering something to my ear. “Pardon ?” I said as I stretched my ear to hear better.
“J’aime aussi y ajouter une saucisse,” (I like to add a sausage in it) he added with a gentle smile. His eyes grew hungry for the food he was describing to me. I closed my eyes and imagined how the flavors could mingle. It also made me suddenly hungry.
Lulu, P. and my parents were waiting for me at a café with a drink when I met them.
“Where were you?” P. asked.
“I was talking to an old man about cocos rouges,” I said. He looked at me puzzled. I didn’t bother explaining then.
“I know what what we are having for dinner tonight,” I went on.
I was still thinking about the friendly face of the old man with his cane and mustache. And while walking to meet my family, I had improvised in my head the recipe for a potato and coco rouge salad with fennel, cherry tomatoes, mesclun greens and radishes bought at the market too. Except that instead of sausage as suggested by my old friend, we’d cook sardines on the grill. And have pêches des vignes with mascarpone cheese and honey for dessert.
And I knew that everything would taste like summer. The south of France and Provence.
A lovely time away.
And that it would leave me with the memory of my new old friend met at the market that morning.
The recipe will follow…
lovely and inspiring as always! i’m transported by your words and images.
There is so much to devour in this post! Thank you. I will have to come back a few more times to enjoy it again and again.
What vibrant and colorful pictures! I’m very much inspired by your berry gratin. Autumn raspberries are ripe for picking at the local pick your own farm and I think I’ve got a great use for them now.
Such a beautiful post, evocative words and images. We honeymooned in Arles and went to the Gypsy Festival in the Camargue. Your post just bought all of those wonderful memories flooding back. Thank you!
This looks like a beautiful place to visit and I hope the recipe for the gratin will be included next time.
Beautiful Bea…as always you leave me breathless with your travel and food images! (and congrats on the cook book…can’t wait to get my hands on it!)
I loved Camargue, what an enchanted place, and the horse back riding on water was unforgettable! Thanks for those beautiful pictures, what a beautiful trip you are having!
pffffff…. Je suis déjà en manque de vacances ! Je vais regarder tes très belles photos souvent cette semaine pour me replonger dans cette atmosphère… Merci pour le voyage 🙂
I felt like you took me with you!
Every year we talk about going to Camargue but we never seem to get round to it – we will have to go soon though because it looks so beautiful!
Un bel hommage à la Camargue: nous aurions pu nous rencontrer, j’habite tout près… je viens souvent à l’Espiguette et au marché d’Arles le samedi, quant à Rabanel, c’est une très belle adresse (le bistrot est très bien aussi!). Bises à Lulu…
j’adore la Camargue aussi. Mes parents, mon frère et moi allions nous y promener quand j’étais petite le dimanche car nous n’habitions pas très loin (Aix en Provence), j’ai toujours aimé les larges plages, les tellines et l’anchoiade servie avec un vin blanc frais du pays (que je ne buvais pas étant enfant bien sûr) un Picpoul de Pinet !
We are here too! In Provence, I mean. It is so beautiful, the weather is sublime, the food, the colours – fantastic! Your photos are inspirational as always.
The photos and commentary are mouth watering and wonderful, but that is no surprise from you. Merci bc. Looking forward to the recipes.
moi aussi, j’habite tout près à Nîmes , c’est sympa de voir des paysages connus, vos photos sont tellement jolies, belle journée
J’adore la France vue par toi ! Et tes photos, toujours si belles, si lumineuses.
On est allés chez Rabanel il y a 2 ans environ et on a été forcés de prendre le menu à 13 plats (le soir) : trop, et trop compliqué pour moi aussi. On aurait dû aller à la Chassagnette, comme je voulais le faire initialement.
Looking forward to seeing your Cape Cod pics !…
I am surprised I didn’t bump into you in the market! I live near to Arles and this is my World that you have described and photographed so beautifully! I love the camargue and drive down to the sea whenever I can.
I have spent much time in this region and I love it as you do. I seek out les cocos rouges at my local farmer’s market in Michigan to relive the summer bliss. They make a lovely simple salad with lemon juice, red onion, and a bit of olive oil, and fleur de del de Camargue…
How fun. Your trip was my morning highlight with my cup of coffee. We enjoyed Arles last year so I could share your impressions there. Have a wonderful time in Cape Cod and I’ll just imagine the photos!
I think the beans that you highlighted might be a variety that Williams-Sonoma is selling. They are called cranberry beans but they turn white or pale when cooked. Although Coco rouges sounds so much better!
Fabulous! I loved Camargue when I was there last week. Missed Arles – should go next time. Latest post is on Sete – did you go there? Lovely Tielle aux octopus! 😀
so beautiful bea. i have never made it to that side of france, but this definitely puts it on the top of my list of places to visit.
I loved rediscovering my town, Arles (!) through your eyes as well as seeing my new blog friend Angela leaving a comment here as well. If I had known, I most certainly would have been delighted to suggest some addresses–mais 14:30 le dimanche, ouaf, c’est difficile! 😉 Rabanel is not everyone’s cup of tea (although that oyster leaf really is something, isn’t it?). Right now, I am loving L’Autruche for lunch. When there last weekend, I had a starter of coco beans with fresh crab and agrumes. Yum!
Merci–avec chaque post, je suis inspirée!
I was glad to see flamingos, horses, sand, et les tournesols, as those are my best memories of the Camargue. I remember walking the ramparts of Aigues-Mortes, feeling their age, as I glimpsed large piles of pink sea salt some distance away. And of course feeling the sand between my toes as I splashed into the sea, months too soon for the classy French beach-goers around me (it was only early May, but I was eager).
My father has grown those beans before in his garden, and they have always seemed magical to me. Your simple meals, encounters at the market, and lovely slow days by the pool seem magical as well. I’m glad you had such a terrific vacation:)
Questo post è bellissimo, ciao
Absolutely stunning post Bea!!
What a lovely post, so well written, gorgeous photos and enticing recipes…Top Shelf I would say…delightful and inspiring…thank you!
Merci pour ces magnifiques photos de ma région natale, cela me rappelle des souvenirs visuels, culinaires mais aussi olfactifs ! C’est ce qui me manque le plus à Québec, la mer, et les odeurs. Du coup ton post m’a donné envie de faire un clafoutis de framboise ce soir, les enfants vont être enchantés, merci ! IsaZ
on s’en prend plein les mirettes!!
I’m so happy you are back, those beans are facinating. Did they lose their colour when you cooked them? Lovely shots and I loved all the reds.
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De si jolies couleurs gourmandes … des vacances magiques certainement !!!
Everything looks so fantastic! I would love to visit Arles next time we are in France.
One of the best vacations I have ever been on was two weeks spent on a canal boat going from Avignon to Arles to Montpellier. The Camargue was one of the most beautiful areas. I had driven through it briefly in 2002, but was thrilled to be able to enjoy the fruits of the land via a slow cruise – a very special place indeed.
Simply beautiful photos. My husband and I were in Arles. This brings back such memories. I want to return soon!!!
Grâce à tes magnifique photos je revisite ma région.
La prochaine fois, n’hésitez pas à passer par Nîmes 🙂
Hello, this looks like a beautiful holiday. You don’t mention the name of the house you rented any chance you would say. I am always on the hunt of a beautiful place that has been recommended. Stunning photographs as always.
Your berry gratin is so lovely !
Where can I find the recipe ? Somewhere else than in you brain, I mean 😉
We grow them on our farm! They are Tongue of Fire
I was savoring Chop Butchery’s saucisson as I read your post and felt very French for those couple of minutes 😉
You’re giving me ideas for our trip to the South in December, we’re headed to Nimes to visit family and it seems like Arles isn’t too far away for a meal. Was lovely to meet you last weekend in Oregon, time flew by too quickly….hope you’re enjoying Cape Cod!
(Oh, and Lulu’s polka dot hat is too precious!)
I love visiting France through you, Bea! The first time I rode a horse, and saw real flamingos was in Carmargue, many many years ago now. I still remember learning (through the experience) that horses and water don’t mix very well… It sounds like you had a lovely trip. And those peaches! Wow.
This recipe is so delicious, and your pictures are so beautiful! Thank you for having a blog with whole food gluten free baking.
Beautiful pictures and delicious!
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Yet again, thank you for your beautiful photos and the wonderful descriptions of your travels. I feel like I was there without the food. Darn it I wish I was there with you.
Photos superbes, comme d’habitude ! C’est injuste, à Paris tout est redevenu si terne et si morose… Le gratin m’a l’air délicieux ! Bises, bon week-end ! 🙂
Béa, I just saw the pictures of your coming cook book on flikr. I’m truly amazed. You have the amazing ability to show people the beautiful things in life. Thank you for sharing it all with us.
please post the berry gratin recipe — the result looks gorgeous!
id love a link to that rental property
de belles photos de vacances, je les adore comme d’habitude, la salade de pommes de terre au coco rend super bien !
what gorgeous memories and photos!
Thank you for sharing your vacation with us, the photos certainly do justice to your post 🙂
You know Bea, I come for your gorgeous photos, delicious recipes, and your delightful narratives…but really I come here to be inspired…and I always am 🙂 Thank you for sharing generously!
Love the photos ! Now I want to go there too ….:)
ah – i can feel the breeze – and hear the ‘cigales’! beautifully written. i LOVED Arles when we visited last year and I can never drink another pinky peach glass of rosé from provence without thinking about the sunsets of the south that match it…
thank you for bringing us along on your trip 🙂
p.s. i’m so curious about that oyster scented leaf!
what an amazing trip. thank you for sharing!
Wow! what a trip! lucky you!
Quel joli reportage! Il nous rappelle de beaux souvenirs.
votre blog est tres,tres jolie! first time in your blog and it brings back beautiful reminiscence of france during my short stay there, holidays later couldnt compare to actual living in the country but those pics make me want to go on hols again! the pics are simply mesmerising.
Incredibly gorgeous – the photos, and the story (recipe, too).
Thank you so much everyone for your very nice comments. Sorry if I have not been able to respond. I am hoping to have more time as October begins.
Merci à tous!
Bea, what a lovely summary of your holiday in Camargue. My parents in law live about 15 minutes from Arles in St. Martin and I’ve been pleasantly reminded of how beautiful the surrounding area can be. Those food markets are just amazing. I could stay there for hours just soaking in the atmosphere 😉
Thanks for the tip about L’Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel – I’ll look out for it next time I visit.
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