Newletter No. 1

February 26th, 2021

Hello and thank you for signing up to my newsletter. I'll only be sending you important news as it relates to us here and will try not to overwhelm you with too many words. Afterall my motto is "keep it simple."

Basically last night the prime minister Castex (I really find him a bore after the dishy Mr Philippe) announced that things don't seem to be improving much and stricter measures are being considered. 

 

We here in the Var will not be seeing any changes to our 6pm-6am curfew or restaurants opening, but on the 6th of March they will look at the Covid case numbers and if the numbers don't look good and continue to get out of control we'll need to crack down and suffer some stricter measures. Voila.

Restaurants continue to stay shut of course and many businesses that attract people (like cinemas, gyms, concert halls, malls over 20,000 square metres (or in the case of the Alpes Maritime 5,000 sq m) remain closed unless they are outdoors. Our neighbours in Nice and Cannes have confinement all weekends now too, and so I don't feel too bad. Travel is being allowed under very strict control and testing measures but is not recommended. I've been asked if you'll be able to travel to France and visit Cotignac this Summer and I'm sure there will be people coming but honestly I cannot say whether we'll be back to nomal by then since the vaccination process here seems to be very slow. If restaurants, bars and cafés stay closed then even I would think, what's the point? So, to get accurate information please check with your nearest French embassy info or go to the French government site https://www.gouvernement.fr/en/coronavirus-covid-19 (info in English).

Yours truly,

Susana

Provence Living

Newsletter No. 2 

April 1st, 2021

Hello to you all from sunny, warm Cotignac. It has really been a pleasure walking around in the sunshine here the last week but no need to be too jealous as temperatures are due to drop again this weekend, boohoo !

 

Last night president Macron announced the nationwide lockdown of sorts. I say « sorts » because it's not really a strict lockdown even though schools are closed for 4 weeks and we will technically not be allowed to go more than 10km range from home starting Monday the 5th of April until at least the beginning of May. The reality is that we will need « permission slips » but they are all registered on the #tousanticovid applications on our phones and anyone can use just about any of the excuses to travel further. Even going to pick olives or saying you are caring for a relative or working casually can be used as an excuse. So of course there are people who do not adhere to the rules totally. But in the past, to use last year at this time as a point of reference, this has worked well at curbing the numbers of COVID patients that end up in the hospitals (which are overwhelmed at the moment) so this is what needs to be asked of the French residents.

 

Currently the British variant is dominant in the cases and 44 per cent of the hospital admissions for COVID are younger than 65 years old. The reason the numbers of elderly patients have dropped is because they have now mostly been vaccinated. For my age group of above 50 years, however, I will need to wait until at least mid-May ; the vaccination programme has been frustratingly slow but we'll get there. The EU is being criticised for not securing enough vaccines earlier on for their citizens. It's such a shame. Although I have heard rumours of elderly in the EHPAD (which is the local Municipal elderly nursing home) dying of COVID here in Cotignac I take the information with a pinch of salt. I feel the situation is ripe for people to say whatever they want to say without any real numbers and facts backing their gossipy statements. France has lost over 100,000 people to the disease and this in itself is, of course, a tragedy. Everyone here still has hopes of restaurants opening before the Summer season begins (mid June).

 

Many foreigners have already gone ahead and booked their holiday homes so we expect the population here to once again top the 10,000 mark (resident population is 2,330). It will be different but it will be busy once again. The one thing that's really amazing is the number of home owners that are currently renovating or restoring their properties. I personally know over 10 home owners that are doing this here. So of course builders, plumbers, electricians and general workers are very busy and hard to come by. There is little competition here already in this sector so this can lead to scarcity and frustration. I do wonder how long this trend will last but the building industry is experiencing quite a boom at the moment and although the builders seem tired, they are happy to have the extra income.

 

Now for the happiest of news : Lou Calen has scored big in securing the distinguished chef, Benoit Witz to head the gastronomic restaurant Le Jardin Secret and we could not be more excited. Never heard of him ? Google him and you'll be amazed where he's been and what he's done. Cotignac is VERY lucky. I have tried his cuisine a handful of times now and all I can say is « wow » and « more please ! » When restaurants open along with Lou Calen this Summer, Cotignac will find itself firmly placed on the « world's best tourist destination map » and my dreams of one day seeing our village famous for gastronomy will have taken a big giant step in the right direction. I am so happy.

 

Well, I'll keep my updates short but if there is something that comes out that I feel is important you know, you'll hear from me again. Have a lovely month of April. If I had felt adventurous and funny I'd have included some silly joke in my message on this April Fool's Day but gosh, the situation is just not funny and I'm feeling a bit tired of trying to even laugh about it anymore. Crossing my fingers for a good, near-normal Summer. Until then, do take care and stay safe everyone.

 

Yours truly, Susana

Newsletter No. 3

May 6th, 2021

Bonjour from a very sunny and warm Cotignac!

The good news for us here in France is that the restaurants and bars will open back up on the 19th of May and it's so heartwarming to see members of staff start to clean up and prepare their openings. Some have even hired bands to perform for the first lots of clientele.  I cannot wait to get my feet over to La Tuf, of course, where I'm sure to see many familiar faces I have not seen in over half a year. They'll also have a concert during the day on the 19th!

 

The other good news is that over 50s will begin getting vaccinated from the 15th of May and for everyone else it'll be the first week of June. Under 18s will need to wait a bit more. France has been painfully slow with the vaccination process, no doubt due to the bureaucracy that so often gets in the way of efficiency. I tried to chance getting a vaccine in Brignoles the other day only to be turned down for not having had an appointment nor being eligible age wise. The vaccination centre was empty, there was just staff hanging around on their phones...so it was infuriating to say the least. But I have now secured a place in Riez for my first vaccine next week and I'm looking forward to that!

 

In the last week I have had the privilege of touring the work site of the soon to open Lou Calen. This process has taken over 5 years now so it's really exciting to finally get a feel for what is going on, how many new buildings there will be, how luxurious it will look, what kind of surprising details we will see and how the gardens are coming along. I think the most impressive part of the project is the attention paid to the magnificent gardens, reminiscent of Claude Monet's garden in Giverny and with hints of the topiary gardens of Marqueyssac. A profound passion for nature's beauty as well as the quality building materials and stylish decoration to the interiors is what will make Lou Calen the historic landmark of the Var and without a doubt one of the most sought after places to come and visit in the near future. Cotignac will need to prepare for an influx of tourists but also of those who appreciate authentic Provençale village life combined with gastronomy brought to you by the fine chef Benoit Witz at Le Jardin Secret. I will guarantee a culinary adventure for your senses in everything made by chef Witz, he is extraodinary and will make every Cotignac resident proud to have him. And hey, if gastronomy is not your thing, you can always just stop for a beer or glass of rosé at La Tuf or any other bar here. There will be other new restaurants opening up this season too and I'm just giddy with excitement over this as you know I'm a big foodie, or bonne vivante as they call me here.

 

The website for Lou Calen is being updated but you can check it out from time to time here www.loucalen.com

 

It's looking like the beaches here will allow people to take off their masks mostly because it was becoming impossible for police to enforce the law for wearing them when no one abided by the order! C'est ça la France...

 

Well I do hope you are well and staying safe. Wishing you a wonderful rest of May.

Yours truly,

Susana

Newletter No. 4

May 23rd 2021

Bonjour from Cotignac, France ! How are you ? I hope my message finds you in good spirits. As you've probably heard by now, all restaurants, bars, and cafés in France are now open, albeit exterior terrace seating only and with the condition that staff and clientele alike wear masks when walking about. This is thanks to the fact that numbers of COVID sufferers, particularly in the hospitals, are going down steadily. For us anyways, it seems the lockdown worked and everyone seems to be in a much happier place. I of course had to go and check out my favourite bar in town, La Tuf, on opening evening and it did not disappoint. It was so heartwarming to see people, locals and expats, again after seven months of keeping low profiles. I was teary-eyed with joy and happiness and just being around people and being social, chatting about who cares what, just being with others, what a difference ! Quel plaisir ! Unfortunately big events may not take place in Cotignac this Summer and if they do they will be very limited in number of guests alowed. I have however noticed many more tourists (French mostly) around and the parking lots filling up on weekends again as the good warm weather attracts so many to just hang out, have lunch on the Cours, or at Le Jardin Secret (which is already becoming extremely popular – book early if you want to come one day as they have been booked up every day so far since opening last Wednesday). But the great news is that Cotignac will be getting another semi-gastronomic restaurant. The old La Terrace restaurant on the Place Neuve has been bought by another Michelin starred chef and wife who will open their new brasserie style restaurant (with an open terrace in the back as some of you may remember), totally renovated with taste and style, on the 9th of June. This is the date for which we will have start being aloud to stay out until 11pm rather than the 9pm curfew we are under now. I will be there to check out the decor and food on the 11th of June so will report back to you on how it was. I can't wait, this is just so exciting. I have long dreamed of seeing Cotignac turn into a little gastronomic capital of the VAR. Some people laugh at me here when I suggest it (probably because most of the restaurants here up until recently have only been so-so) but you know what ? I'm pretty sure one day I'll be the last one laughing. I have been surprised and very happy to see so many of you sign up to my mailing list. Thank you very much.

 

May I gently remind you that I do this in my own time, without asking for any handouts and will continue to do my best to keep you in the loop of what's going on here. But since I do need to make a living I hope you will do me a little favour in return and share my Places to Stay page on my website with whomever you think is interested in coming to visit Cotignac and is looking for a place to stay. If my places are booked up, I'd still be happy to help find a place that's affordable for anyone:) The link is : https://www.provencelivingcotignac.com/places-to-stay-in-cotignac You'll hear from me again after the 11th June. Have a great rest of your May and hope you are keeping safe and happy wherever you are.

 

Yours truly, Susana

Newsletter No. 5

June 18th 2021

Greetings from a hot and humid Cotignac ! Sometimes I feel like the climate here is beginning to resemble that of South East Asia ; the days start off sunny and hot, then later in the afternoon you can see storm clouds forming in the direction of the Verdon. The temperatures have surpassed 30 degrees centigrade so dining outside requires copious amounts of cold water.

 

The French government recently announced we no longer need to wear masks outside (markets and queues excepted) and this has been a huge relief for many. Our curfew also gets thrown out starting this coming Sunday. Travel restrictions overseas though are still in place and although I get a lot of questions about travel to and from the UK my straight answer is that quarantine is still required but I do not know the details of what is considered essential travel (which is allowed) and what isn't. So it's still complicated to travel to France from overseas. I have subscribed to the UK government website that should send me updates but I have yet to receive anything from them. If anything changes I will of course announce it on the Provence Living facebook page. Last weekend my husband and I took some much needed time off and left our teenage kids and cats to fend for themselves. Ha ha ha, no that's not entirely true. I cooked them some chilli and rice pilaf, slow cooked pulled pork and tapioca desserts, placed them in tupperwear and in the fridge so they could just help themselves and do whatever they wanted. My kids were thrilled and so were we.

 

We drove first to the very clean and charming village of Eygalières with stunning views of the Alpilles, then had a fantastic, three-course, 29 euros lunch at L'Aile ou la Cuisse in Saint Rémy, spent the afternoon strolling around then taking a dip in the hotel pool at Uzès (a beautiful Medieval village with cobbled stone streets), had some local beer at the square there, took cold showers then had dinner at Au Petit Jardin (which was delicious but I found the chairs uncomfortable), then admired the sunset views from the top terrace of the Hotel Entraigues which was very romantic ! I posted photos under Top 20 Places to Stay in provencelivingcotignac.com Speaking of places to stay, I still have availability in August for the village house with swimming pool called The Secret Garden in Cotignac. If you or someone you know might be interested in renting this for a week or two, please send them directly to : https://secret-garden-cotignac.lodgify.com/ I also have some weeks still available (minimum three-night's stay) at my village house, La Halte des Heures which is a total bargain at 120 euros per night or 600 euros per week in August and can comfortably accommodate up to five persons. See : https://www.provencelivingcotignac.com/places-to-stay-in-cotignac Do have a wonderful rest of June. I'll be getting my second Pfizer jab next week in Riez so will stop by to check out the lavender in Valensole after that. Stay tuned for photos on Provence Living.

 

Yours truly, Susana

Newletter No. 6

July 5th, 2021

Bonjour from a HOT Cotignac ! School kids get out in two days so every working person here (including myself) seems to be going crazy with preparations for the big Summer Holiday tourist wave. All the villas and vacation homes are really filling up now so if you are interested in any last minute rental I may be able to help so do not hesitate to contact me. The big news here is that all the restaurants (except the creperie) are now open and doing some seriously good business, long overdue. I went to the opening of Didier's wine bar last Friday at Lou Calen and was not disappointed. It was filled with local expats and the atmosphere was A++; music in the air, Didier in a good mood serving up the best Sancerre, Chablis – perfectly chilled for the warm air, lots of great aperitifs to fill the tummies (his choice of charcuterie is really top notch), and just a feeling of « wow, we are so lucky to be here. » On Saturday evening I finally got to taste the food at the new Picotte restaurant at the place Neuve. This is the place that took over from La Terrasse. The owner is a lady who comes from the Piper Heidsick (champagne) family and her husband is the Michelin starred chef here. I personally congratulated them ; their beautifully presented food that tasted equally good has now a special place in my heart and I will be sure to bring as many of my personal guests here as possible because they deserve to succeed. The brewery La Tuf too, is undergoing some serious improvements and has expanded with a cool new beach terrace in the back, with new big bar to serve the concert goers from ! If you did not get to see my photos please go to Provence Living's facebook page and scroll down to see them. I had a guest here from England last weekend who fought tooth and nail to travel to the S of France. He told me that even after getting two shots of Astra Zeneka he still had to get PCR tests (2 in total costing 190 euros each) just before arriving and just before departing but that the hardest part was filling out a 10 page document on the way back to England. He was here just four days. This is, in my opinion, not just virus-control related but another slap-in-the-face by BREXIT. The French have no sympathy for the Brits at the moment and are not helping to make it easy to come and go across the channel. At the same time there seems to be no shortage of Scandinavian travellers and every other European national present in the S of France. I just heard on the news today that France is fearful of a 4th wave of Coronavirus infections brought on by the Delta variant. The vaccination process is ongoing but still very slow. I'm dreaming of the end of this insane situation. I remain positive. Have a great, safe Summer, wherever you are.

 

Sincerely, Susana

Newsletter No. 7

September 2nd 2021

Bonjour from a cooler Cotignac ! Autumn seems to have arrived early, if only in cooler temperatures. We still have loads of sun and wind which doesnt help our still current status of « severe drought » but we are all making the most of the sunshine.

 

The news from France is that we must now all have « health passports » to enter restaurants, cafés, bars, cinemas, museums, and basically any indoor and sometimes even outdoor public events. The passports, or QR codes on the application called « #TousAntiCovid » are carried on smartphones and are very easy to use and scan by people who control entry and so far there has been little resistance. Masks are also mandatory in public venues but the good news is that cases of COVID are falling and more and more people are getting vaccinated. At last count over 82 per cent of the adult population and 60 per cent o children between 12 and 18 years have been fully vaccinated here in France. So this makes me feel hopeful for next year's travel situation in Europe. Then again I'm an eternal optimist :)

 

You might have heard about the devastating forest fires in our region over a period of 6 days in late August. Many wine domaines in the Massif des Maures lost everything. Mirabeau's domaine was badly hit but their houses and animals survived and we feel very lucky for this. If you would like to donate to those wineries that suffered the most you can click here : https://www.leetchi.com/c/incendie-du-var-soutien-aux-agriculteurs-sinistres Thank you, in advance.

 

Cotignac enjoyed a busy tourist season over the months of July and August and many new restaurants here enjoyed a bustling business. Some were so busy they didn't even answer telephone calls (!!) But this will of course slow down now and into Winter. We will see how many stay open in the down season but I'm hoping we will be pleasantly surprised due to the allure of high end restaurants like Lou Calen's Jardin Secret and the now popular Picotte Provence. By the way, I was really surprised to see how much La Table des Coquelicots have upped their game and improved their dishes this time around. Their exceptional service and cuisine is worth recommending so the next time you're here do include them on your to-do restaurants' list. The other establishments that impressed me were in Aups : Auberge de la Tour has 23 euros-formulas (starter, main, dessert) that are just delicious and amazing value for money. They also get full points on ambience. The restaurant next door to them called Saint Marc's is also very good, in case you might want to drive out there (just over a 20 minutes' drive from Cotignac).

 

After enjoying a busy Summer, my village house, near all restaurants and shops in Cotignac, is back on the market for long term or short term accommodation from mid September in case anyone of you or your connections are looking for a break here. It's super bargain accommodation from 950 euros per month plus bills (minimum 3 month's rental), for the cute three bedroom, 2 bathroom house. School kids go back to school today and as a mother I'm quite relieved and feel like I might now enjoy a bit of a break, ha ha, here's hoping. My girls aged 17 and 13 this year have been very helpful this Summer with cleaning jobs and babysitting for families on vacation. But I'm ready for them to start working on their studies now. Hope you are well wherever you are. Until next time... Signing out, x Susana

Photos : 1) Entrance to Auberge de la Tour in Aups 2) Saint Marc in Aups

Newsletter No. 8

October 7th 2021

 

Bonjour from Cotignac ! As you may have already heard, we had a big storm last Monday (4th October) which brought flooding to Brignoles and Le Val, our neighbouring towns. Schools and businesses had to shut and we all had to sit tight at home and not go out in our cars. No one was killed but it was a scary 24 hours as 200 mm of water came down. But this brought our waterfalls back albeit for a few days, which was nice.

 

The news from France is mostly to do with the upcoming presidential election (May, 2022). Although Emmanuel Macron and others have not officially announced they are in the running, it is expected that the current president will of course run for re-election. The surprise for the moment, however, is that the controversial newcomer, a ex-commentator on the news station Cnews, Mr Eric Zemour, has gained so much popularity he now enjoys a two point lead on the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Eric Zemour was not taken very seriously until now since he has suggested new immigrants to France should change their names to those that reflect the occidental West (ie, Christian) and represent France more « accurately » and is considered even more racist that Mme Le Pen. But I won't get into talking about politics here, not to worry.

 

Fall and its cooler tempeartures have clearly descended upon us and the grape vines are changing colour with it. This is a lovely time to be here but it gets too chilly to dine outdoors in the evenings so the restaurants that have indoor seating are now the only ones open. La Tuf is continuing concerts, now indoors, about once or twice a week. Le Jardin Secret's bastide is now nicely decorated and the indoor seating feels like someone's luxury home. Prices remain the same. I recently dined at the Auberge du Parc in Correns (20 mins' drive from Cotignac) and I thought it was so good I'm going back again this Friday. The three course menu cost 28 euros and included a lovely gaspacho, fish main and sautéed plum dessert. I would have preferred the bits of courgette cooked in the main dish but it was okay because it was chopped up and not difficult to chew.

 

The other recent discovery for me was a beautiful circuit walk in Carces. Starting at the lavoir across from the big fresco on the wall of the large building across from the retirement home you follow the water canal and come back around from the bridge that leads to the road that you can take to Le Thoronet. What I didnt know that one of the locals shared with me, is that if you follow this walk all along the canal it will lead to the Lac de Carces! Makes sense. Anyway this is a great walk that almost anyone can do as it's mostly flat but rests high in the hill from where you have a view of Carces rooftops. I will definitely be doing this one more often in the future. Hope you are well, wherever you are, and are staying safe. Until next time, à bientôt. :)

 

Photos : 1) Fall grape vines 2) Main dish at Auberge du Parc 3) Dessert at Auberge du Parc 4) Circuit walk roof top view in Carces

Newsletter No. 9

November 30th 2021

Season's Greetings from Cotignac, France! As I write today there is news about the new Coronavirus variant called Omicron that is threatening the entire world. I'm just glad it's not called « OhMacron » or the French would have thrown their arms in the air. Joking aside, this is worrying. But life must go on and despite the bad news it looks like Cotignac will go ahead and organise a Christmas market this year on the 12th of December. The weather has suddenly turned very chilly and temperatures have dropped to just below zero at night. It's tolerable when the sun is shining but when combined with the Mistral winds it's punishing. Hardly anyone can be seen walking around outside when the conditions are like this.

 

The buildup to Christmas brings with it a festive energy and many people go out to the bars and restaurants despite the cold. La Tuf continues to put on their concerts (albeit indoors) usually on the weekends but the return of the rules for keeping one's mask on when getting up from one's table may dampen moods. Most restaurants are open for now but at least half of them will close in January and much of February. Le Jardin Secret at Lou Calen reopens for the holidays and vacationers on the 10th of December and will have special menus for Christmas eve, Christmas day, New Year's eve and New Year's brunch. I have booked myself with a group to spend New Year's eve there so you'll get to see photos on the facebook page of Provence Living for that :)

 

Just before the virus cases seemed to skyrocket over night in France I managed to throw a little party at my village house for Anglophones in our village whom I thought would benefit from meeting each other. It was a lovely evening and I really enjoyed chatting with everyone. For now the village house is back up for rent (see La Halte des Heures on my website www.provencelivingcotignac.com for more info) as I have openings from now until Christmas, then from January to end of April. I will surely organise more parties in the future to keep up a good network of support amongst us expats but of course need to wait until Coronavirus cases go back down again. I have heard rumours from locals that cases are once again on the rise here and the elderly are quite worried. The biggest problem for me personally with this is that in the case of non-virus related problems like injuries, it's a long wait to see a doctor and then a risk to wait at the doctor's office if surrounded by potential virus-infected patients. I'm dealing with this currently while my elder daughter is trying to heal from what we thought was just a sprained ankle but it starting to look more like a fracture after ten days of pain. We finally get to see the doctor this evening but we'll be sure to keep the social distancing practice strictly in place.

 

The good news on my personal side is that I finally received my carte de séjour (in my case a permanent resident visa) that allows me to continue living and working here as well as travel in and out without hassle. As a British passport holder Brexit certainly complicated life in France but this is now one less worry for my future. It's not difficult to apply for one but it does take time. I had applied back in January of this year so this process took almost a year ! In Politics the controversial far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemour was heavily criticised for giving « the finger » at someone who was protesting his visit to Marseille recently. Ironic as it may seem, the French consider this type of behaviour crass and intolerable but only for someone wanting to lead the nation. Should a local mayor or council member do this it would not be such scandalous news but to the French the act displays an inability to control one's emotional reactions and therefore is not a quality suitable for the highest political position and power. This one act may have considerably dampened his chances of attracting more voters. Marine Le Pen is licking her chops and I imagine Emmanuel Macron laughing behind the scenes.

 

News of local restaurants : Le Mas des Templiers in Montfort has changed ownership and I have arranged to check that out in December so stay tuned for my review. The Café de L'Union is continuing to serve very good Fish and Chips and is quite popular for lunch these days. La Tuf's further extension that connects it to the Hotel Lou Calen will open next week and there is a concert planned their on the 10th of December so I'll go to that and put up photos. This is all very exciting because the entire rest of the resort is due to open next Summer and will sure to create a buzz in the whole region !

 

I'll write again just before Christmas but in the meantime I do wish everyone a magical festive season and please stay safe, warm, and healthy ! Yours truly, Susana

Photos : 1) Village house party set up

Newsletter No. 10

December 31st 2021

 

Hello from Cotignac on the last day of 2021! So we've had a month of Omicron so far and the number of people getting infected with this Coronavirus is staggering – yesterday France recorded 208,000 cases in just 24 hours. But the good news is that the death rates are lower. But the hospitals are now overwhelmed and the medical staff exhausted. We will likely see rates peak in January and hope that travel restrictions start to get lifted after that. France restricted Brits from coming here on holiday for Christmas which has more to do with BREXIT than Covid. It looks like the travel ban has been lifted again, however, from today. I do hope you had a good Christmas and if you have already welcomed in the new year, a very happy one to you ! My hunch is that 2022 will be a better year for all of us and that the virus troubles of 2021 will trouble us less and less. Climate change on the otherhand looks like it is here to stay and we can see here in Cotignac and all of France, record breaking temperatures for this time of year. Yesterday was so warm (18 degrees C) I was cleaning my house with all the windows open while wearing a T-shirt.

 

On the plus side people were sipping drinks out on the Cours Gambetta like it was late Spring. Many restaurants were closed in November but have opened back up again here. La Tuf has opened their extention on the top floor and I got to enjoy a concert there just before the « no dancing » restrictions were put in place last week by the French government. I also went on a family trip to Saint Tropez to see their Christmas market and also took a walk around which was really very pleasant in the warm sun. So many locals were out playing petanques in the Place Lys. The health pass has now transformed into a vaccine pass which means one must be vaccinated and show proof of this with a flashcode on the Tous Anti Covid application (or on paper) in order to enter all restaurants, bars, and cultural venues like museums and cinemas. Discos and nightclubs are still closed and drinking and consuming food must be done while seated at a table and not standing up and must close at 1am. So tonight I'm going to Lou Calen's Jardin Secret restaurant for dinner to celebrate the new year and will make sure I'm sitting down, not dancing, and leave by 1am. I can do this but I know it will not be easy. It may well be the first new year welcoming not done while dancing with a drink in my hand !

 

Yesterday my husband took the kids skiing in Isola 2000 which was apparently very crowded and warm. Isola, Valberg and Auron are just north of Nice and are about 3 hours drive away from Cotignac. From here there is also the option of going to Vars or Praloup in the Alpes du Sud in about the same amount of time but the drive is not easy with lots of bends requiring concentrated attention. The best time to ski here is in late February and early March for better lighting and longer days but still with good snow conditions, although the warmer temperatures may put a damper on these resorts in the future.

 

Well I do hope to get back to you with better news next time, in January 2022. For now many people are still hesitant to make their travel plans to our region and I do not blame them. The situation is still not under control but I have high hopes for Spring and Summer of 2022 when I believe we will see a big number of tourists return to Cotignac for their holidays once again. Have a very happy new year.

Best wishes, Susana

Photos : Christmas lights in Cotignac and a Saint Tropez waterside

Newsletter No. 11

February 15, 2022

Bonjour from Cotignac !

Although 2022 started on a difficult note, with high COVID infection rates and violent protests against government demands for vaccination passes, we are starting to get good news here in France. Hospital rates for COVID continue to decline and travel restrictions are being lifted gradually. It's possible that almost all restrictions will be lifted by the presidential elections here, due to take place in April. I am cautiously optimistic about this. Cotignac is experiencing a boom in accommodation bookings at the moment. Holidays homes and villas, hotels and Airbnbs are all filling up exceptionally well and early this year. My sources for this are local villa rental services and Lou Calen. International travellers are finally starting to show confidence in bookings and less fear in the possibility of needing to cancel their vacations this year.

 

My new year's eve dining experience at Lou Calen's Jardin Secret was just sublime. Chef Benoit Witz went all out on quality ingredients like lobster, garden vegetables, and truffles. If you have not yet tried Jardin Secret I highly recommend going – it doesnt have a fancy feel that is formal and uptight. Instead, it's high quality dining much like being a guest at someone's home where the host really knows how to cook well. Three course menus cost 48 euros per person.

 

To contrast my experience at Lou Calen, my husband took me out to dinner at Lorgue's Chez Bruno, the Michelin starred restaurant specialising in truffles. Although the meal cost almost three times more than at Jardin Secret, I have to admit the dishes were out of this world. Everything had truffles in it, even the desserts ! But it's such a shame to have to feel like one needs a coat and tie, a dress and heals, to keep one's back straight, and be waited on by staff that although very efficient, seemed to move around like robots on a timer. But if you like truffles, this is definitely the place to splash out at. It was a fancy, earthy-culinary-sensory-voyage that's mind-bogglingly good, you end up talking about it for days after. And you don't feel guilty bragging about it because you think that just sharing the information is being generous, ha !

 

It was Mimosa season recently so I took my girls out to see some friends in the Cote d'Azur. We visited the new and very fancy, fully renovated CAP 3000 at Saint Laurent du Var, a mall near the Nice aeroport, that was impressive. My girls enjoyed shopping mostly at a store that specialised in selling used clothing (they call it « vintage clothing » here) called THE KILO SHOP because they charged by the weight of the clothing. While looking at some of the stuff on the racks I couldn't help but have a giggle; so many of the styles were from my teenage years living in California in the 1980s. Some were ugly but according to my girls, the clothing is currently trending and brought to light and valued by young celebrities. Anyways, my teenage kids were thrilled to have discovered the shop and I was thrilled by them not spending a ton of money on new, expensive sports brands. The best part of our trip was of course taking a walk through the fragrant Mimosa-covered hills in the Peygros near the Tanneron. Our friends live in Auribeau-sur-Siagne and have a guest apartment below their beautiful villa and private pool. It was too cold to swim, of course, but we enjoyed their hospitality and really comfortable apartment that comes with a fully equipped kitchen, stunning bathroom that boasts an Italian shower, and a cosy bedroom with King size mattress. The living area has a couch convertible so the place can accommodate up to four people. If you are interested in visiting this area, I highly recommend Jessica's apartment in Auribeau-sur-Siagne, it's also conveniently close to towns like Cannes and Mougins. Go to : https://airbnb.com/h/ardaraguesthouse

 

Speaking of accommodation, I do have some availability at my village house in Cotignac particularly between now and mid-April so if anyone is interested, please contact me personally and I will be sure to give you a Provence Living bargain. My email address for inquiries is provencelivingconsulting@gmail.com After 60 days of straight sunshine here we finally got some rain yesterday. It was much needed. It's back to being sunny again today, c'est ça la provence ! I wish you all a healthy, happy rest of February.

 

I will write again soon. Yours truly, Susana

Photos : Mimosa walk in Auribeau, lamb-en-croute with truffle at Bruno's followed by an apple and pear tarte-tatin with hazelnuts and truffles

Newsletter No. 12

April 3rd, 2022

I hope my letter finds you in good spirits. Here in France the news is all about the war in Ukraine, it's very depressing. On the other hand it has replaced the boring hype on Covid cases. But of course the corona virus has not disappeared, it's just not mentioned quite as much as before, particularly since restrictions have been scrapped and life is almost like it used to be here. No more masks nor vaccine passports are necessary in order to get into restaurants, bars, cafés and cinemas – not even in museums. Masks are however still required in doctor's offices and hospitals. Covid cases are actually back on the rise again but less dramatically and the last I saw the number of Covid related deaths were hovering around 150 per day.

 

Holiday rentals in Cotignac this year are booming as are real estate sales in Cotignac and surrounds. This is, in my humble opinion, due to the real quality development lead by Lou Calen and the new restaurants. Cotignac now has a shortage of holiday homes for sale and the demand has outstripped the supply. Prices are rising particularly for constructible land – about a 25 per cent rise from just a few years ago. I saw a 1000 square metre parcel recently for over 150,000 euros, it's just nuts. The notaires that I know are all in awe of what they are seeing, it's quite unbelievable but of course they are French so they complain that work is too busy.

 

The latest bad news here is the sharp rise in petrol costs, caused by the war in Ukraine. I went to fill my car up on gas a couple of weeks ago and paid 2.50 euros PER LITRE (about the equivalent of US 13 dollars per GALLON) and I thought I was going to faint. Grocery costs too have noticeably gone up, I spent about 15 per cent more on groceries at our big Spar supermarket recently and was not at all happy about that but what can we do ? Thankfully the government here has put in some effort into lowering petrol costs and they have now gone down to a more reasonable 1.90 euro per litre but that's still 25 per cent more than we paid just two months ago. I dont see this cost going down anytime soon. It's really unfortunate because it also affects those of us who have oil-fueled heating who are paying close to double what we used to during the cold months.

 

The weather here in April is always touch-and-go. One day it's warm and sunny and Spring-like and the next it's cold and raining. Today, for example the temperature is around 10 degrees but it's very windy, making it feel more like 5 degrees. There is an expression in French, « en avril on ne decouvre pas un fil » which literally means « in April we don't lose even a string (of yarn on our wool sweaters) », in otherwords, keep your pullovers on.

 

But now onto some good news ! This is personal but I have been invited to cook alongside the renowned Michelin-starred chef Benoit Witz at Lou Calen on the 15th of April ! This is a dream come true for me, something I feel like I've trained for (albeit unofficially) all my life. I really love to cook and am looking forward to sharing my knowledge and passion for traditional and fusion Japanese cuisine with the hotel guests and locals who have already booked the restaurant solid for the evening. If my work is a success I hope to be invited back regularly. I'm very excited.

 

In other news my friend Tuula from Sanary recently came to visit and I organised her stay at Lou Calen's Pigeonnier. I also got a chance to dine with her at Le Jardin Secret and she was really impressed. She wrote about her experience here : https://belleprovencetravels.com/2022/03/27/weekend-getaway-to-lou-calen-a-luxury-hotel-in-cotignac/ Some photos of what we dined on: Speaking of Lou Calen - I was recently given a tour of the progress there and was wowed by all the quality fittings, the bright rooms and the numerous spacious venues that will surely become very popular for weddings and conferences, parties and club functions. It's all so exciting to see this incredible amount of investment into this special landmark, making Cotignac even more attractive than it already is, with taste and class. The owner told me they are working hard to get the main building and guest rooms there ready by July but I have a feeling it might take a little bit longer than that. The Mico rooms and Pigeonnier are open for holiday bookings and you can check out availability now on Booking.com or go directly to their website, which has also been updated : http://www.loucalen.com/ It's just stunning and so conveniently located right in the heart of the village. Photo : Pigeonnier at Lou Calen

 

Well, that's all from me for now. Wishing you a safe and happy April.

Yours truly, Susana

Newsletter 13

April 26th, 2022

Bonjour from Cotignac !

The weather is getting warmer and the good news is that we finally got some rain here in Provence that was well needed and turned everything that looked dry and old into green and new ! There are flowers popping up everywhere and the irises are particularly beautiful this Spring. We are expecting more rain later this week. While COVID cases are still high here in France there is little coverage about it on the news since the cases are most often mild. Even Emmanuel Macron, having won his re-election as president of France last Sunday was not wearing a mask and instead was kissing friends in the supporter crowds in Paris. Frankly, we are all very relieved to see him continue on as president but 49 per cent of Cotignac voters tried to get far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to lead, which is a little worrying. Still the numbers were higher in other parts of the VAR so Cotignac wasn't quite as bad.

 

Personally speaking I managed to pull off 40 covers of a 5-course dinner at Lou Calen's Jardin Secret on the 15th of April and really enjoyed the experience. Benoit Witz is a fabulous chef and I learned a ton. He is also very funny and hyper in the kitchen, in contrast to his laid-back and sugar-sweet aura when not working. Although I thought I would get a lot of help in preparing for the dinner, I realised quite quickly when I got to the kitchen at 10 o'clock in the morning that the staff were busy preparing for the lunch shift so I basically did 90 per cent of the preparation myself. This is where I learned that cooking for large numbers is a whole different ball game to cooking for a few friends ; one needs to use one's math skills to understand quantity and that means being disciplined and careful with measurements – not something I'm very good at since I eyeball almost every ingredient when cooking. But still, I enjoyed coming up with the menu, having to decorate every plate, and stirring the Matcha tapioca (dessert) in a massive pot for an hour and twenty minutes non-stop since the stove kept turning itself off. This was fixed later. But, hey, I gained some arm muscle and the dessert turned out great so I'm not complaining. The first course was a variety of appetisers including Japanese omelet, chicken kara-age and curried and fried tofu. The second course was seasonal vegetable tempura with salmon skin, miso salmon and raw salmon maki sushi, the third course was miso-baked cod with sesame soba noodles, a bonus course of fresh lobster with butter-soy sauce andthe fourth course was entrecote steak with teppanyaki sauce and wasabi mashed potatoes, plus dessert. The price tag was 69 euros per person and diners stayed until way past midnight but still gave me lots of compliments so I went home a very happy girl.

Update on Lou Calen : Another 12 to 14 rooms will be opening up this Summer at Lou Calen but there have been lots of delays due to Covid and the war in Ukraine so the rest of it will not be finished before October this year, according to owner Graham Porter. The main building terrace is getting lots of landscaping and we have witnessed huge cranes delivering beautiful old olive trees to decorate the gardens and the café situated between the Art Centre La Falaise and the original Lou Calen hotel is now almost complete with new iron framed glass in front and on the roof. The roof glass frames are tinted in primary colours and are actually solar panels that create energy so this is a huge plus and well in line with the establishment's commitment to preserving the environment. This area will be the hotel's breakfast room and will also be open to the public. I'm sure I'll be one of the first to have my morning coffee and croissants there in July so stay tuned for photos. In the meantime here's a photo of the irises above Jardin Secret's terrace dining where my friends' recently threw a party. We have officially entered the out-door dining season and it is sublime.

Well, that's all from me for now. Wishing you a safe and happy rest of April. You'll be hearing from me again in a few weeks' time.

 

Yours truly, Susana

PS : In case anyone is looking for holiday accommodation, I have available dates in June for the village house, La Halte des Heures (120 euros per night, discounted for weekly rentals), as well as the village house with the swimming pool, Secret Garden, in Cotignac. See my website for details about the properties www.provencelivingcotignac.com