Everyone is recommending Provence at the moment – the latest being Nigel Horne in the Telegraph who argues that this is the best time of year to go (mid-May to mid-June) before the heat gets excessive, before villa prices become extortionate, and before the 3 of the red/pink icons of the region go past their best – cherries, poppies and Provence rosé wines!
I confess to being a cherry addict – we stayed at a gite in South West France in late May/early June which had its own cherry tree, with the owner telling us to help ourselves – I did find out that you can have too much of a good thing! But the range of cherries available in France is wonderful – ranging in colour from an almost peachy pink to deepest crimson in colour, and gloriously gently sweet to ones with a crisper bite and a touch of acidity. In the markets you will see them under different names including burlat, bigaroux, cerise – ideal by themselves but also an essential element of Clafoutis (a sort of cooked cherry gateau) – and provided it is not oversweetened and freshly prepared and does not drown the meat, cherry sauce is a superb accompaniment to roast duck.
We tend to think of Poppies as a northern French phenomenon, echoing the battlefields of Flanders and Picardy – but in the south the poppies seem to acquire another dimension of colour, especially when set in a field against the backdrop of the dramatic Alpilles mountains near Les Baux de Provence (13 Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence) – even the most basic camera can capture great views!
As for Provence Rosé wines, almost any of them will be enjoyable under a southern summer sun, but many will pale on a March day in Manchester. The best offer some really serious and enjoyable tasting with real depth of flavour and structure from the red grape varieties used – mainly Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault et Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines deserve to be taken more seriously at any time of the year and challenge the rather flippant image of the appellation – and sometimes the best are not even in the skittle-shaped tradtional bottle, which I have always thought of as a bit gimmicky.
One of the best we know is from Mas Sainte Berthe – in the UK Oddbins has an excellent example in their Côtes de Provence Rosé Château Cavalier. One thing to remember though is to serve them just slightly chilled – too cold and none of the aromas and flavours will evolve to enhance your drinking pleasure.
Another stockist of Provence rosé wines is Devigne Wines for mail order
Nigel Horne is also spot on in recommending an early season visit to the impressive hill-top town of Gordes(84 Vaucluse, Provence) – an interesting medieval village with narrow alleyways and stunning view – and plenty of places to eat lunch to suit most pockets – but avoid in high summer when it is overwhelmed by coaches and tourists! It is also something of a mecca for artists taking advantage of the Provencal light and magnificent views – so there are plenty of galleries to escape into! The only thing you might miss by going early is the glorious sight of the lavender in full bloom! – see http://www.gordes-village.com