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Discovering the Chocolate Alphabet in St Rémy-de-Provence (Part 2)

Continuing our morning walk, you can really feel Vincent Van Gogh’s presence in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Reminders of his paintings appear when you’re least expecting it.

Van Gogh portrait St Remy de Provence

Vincent was fascinated by the enormous plane trees; they’re dotted all around town, providing welcome shade here at the Mairie or town hall.

Town hall of St Remy de Provence

I love getting lost in the back-streets, especially when they’re as old as this – do you?

Old streets of St Remy de Provence

Always look up at the buildings.  I could have missed this Hospital established in 1646.  Look at the scallop shell (Saint Jacques) above the doorway. Although no hanging around – I could have missed our friends who were pressing on with a delicious destination in mind.

Hospital St Jacques in St Remy de Provence

We were heading to the most exquisite chocolate shop in boulevard Victor-Hugo.  I’d heard of Joël Durand as a chocolatier (seen in La Grande Epicerie in Paris), so when I saw this sign at the entrance of his boutique, I was confused.  Parfumeur?

Joel Durand Provence Perfume and chocolate maker

Joël Durand not only makes his signature Chocolate Alphabet (l’Alphabet des Saveurs), in which each letter represents the most delicious concoction of dark or milk chocolate perfumed with spices, provençal herbs, flowers or fruit to name a few, but he also creates a chocolate Eau de Toilette and scented chocolate candles.

Joel Durand chocolate shop St Remy de Provence

His ice creams are also welcome during these soaring summer temperatures. The day’s specials were chocolate with violet, white chocolate with mint, chocolate with a liquorice stick.

Provence cigale or cicada in chocolate

Joël Durand also honours the local cigales in the form of milk chocolate lavender or dark chocolate with rosemary. I’m also looking forward to tasting his Coriscan cédrat marmalade, salted caramel, plus some vanilla coated almonds on return from our travels but right there on the spot, Valérie and Hervé insisted we try out a selection of Joël Durand’s alphabet chocolates.

Plane trees in Provence

Just next door was the perfect solution to have a chocolate tasting: a wine bar (21 Chai d’Oeuvre) with tables in the shade of more plane trees and leafy vines, as we realised the chocolates would melt in a matter of minutes in temperatures approaching 100°F/ 38°C!

ham and cheese platter in Provence

A platter of charcuterie and cheeses just hit the spot with some chilled local Equinox rosé wine before tasting a selection of Joël Durand’s chocolates from the alphabet.  As Valérie enjoyed V for Violet, we watched our Ps and Qs: P for Provence (almond pralines with black olives from the Baux valley) and Q for Châtaigne (milk chocolate with chestnut liqueur from the Ardèche – or should that be the Q-Ardèche?). My favourites were G and L: G for Guyane with 41% milk chocolate, crunchy nutmeg and cinnamon with a slight hint of lemon zest; and L for Lavender and 41% milk chocolate.

Y, O, Y didn’t I get all the way to Z? I’ll try out the rest on my next trip to La Grande Epicerie in Paris.

Joel Durand Chocolate Perfume maker Provence

Who could resist the wine bar’s humour presented at the bottom of the blackboard?

Le Calin de Titi … offert (the hug from Titi is free)
La Rire de Bruno …. offert (Bruno’s laugh is also on the house)
L’addition du Frank … PAS offert (the bill from Frank is NOT free)

Provence town of St Remy

That was our lunchtime apéritif.  Original with the chocolate but hey, when in Provence during a heatwave, we need a plan B (incidentally, B is for Badiane: dark chocolate with flower of star anise).

Empty carousel in Provence

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence was closing up for siesta time.  It was time for the kids’ naps.

St Remy de Provence

And ours after lunch, dreaming up what Valérie would cook for another Provençal dinner!  Now that’s another delicious story.

Joël Durand, Chocolatier

3 boulevard Victor-Hugo
13210 Saint Rémy de Provence

Tel: 04 90 92 38 25
Open seven days a week!


 

As I’ll be going on holiday this week, posting and responding to your welcome comments will be rather erratic (depends if I can get to a computer!), so please don’t forget to subscribe to posts (see right bar) so that you don’t miss them.  It’s also easy to follow me on my travels on instragram.

 

Best Pastries in St Rémy de Provence (Part 1)

What? You’ve never been to St Rémy de Provence? Valérie plopped frozen raspberries instead of ice-cubes in her refreshing homemade citronnade. She always has brilliant ideas. Would we just stay by the pool and chat during our long-awaited Bastille holiday weekend visit, or should we venture out in this heatwave and have a bit of culture next morning?

citronnade homemade

I felt embarrassed. How could I have visited the parents-in-law in their Saignon village since 1992 and not even discover one of Provence’s most picturesque villages just south of Avignon?  But, in our defence, when we visit family in the south we don’t do the touristy things. We do what the family does: either sit around the house and chat, watch the Tour de France in the cool indoors, take “kid-naps” or have rustic picnics around the Mont Ventoux.

Provencal village France

So before we knew it, Antoine and I were whisked off to the town where Van Gogh spent the last year of his life in 1889, painting his blockbusters like Irises and Starry Night while at the psychiatric centre at the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole.

St Remy de Provence

There are no cars in the centre of the town, which makes walking around an extra relaxing pleasure.  Street names are in Provençal, with the town’s coat of arms.

Nostradamus St Remy de Provence

A must stop is at the fountain of Michel Nostradamus, celebrating the famous astrologer, apothecary and seer born here in 1503. His world predictions are best known in his publication, Les Propheties, which has rarely been out of print since the first edition came out in 1555.

Floral wall in Provence

I wonder if he predicted that his home town would be filled with some kind of curiosity shop around many a corner?

Shops in St Remy de Provence

Or ice cream shops too?

St Remy de Provence France

Or restaurants serving typical provençal dishes with a base of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and served with the local chilled rosé during the summer?

Bicycle in Provence

Valérie predicted that I’d be making for Michel Marshall’s pâtisserie in the heart of town, in Place Joseph Hilaire.

Patisserie st Remy de Provence

Michel Marshall’s exquisite artistic pastries were disappearing fast. No wonder – this talented pastry chef has worked previously with Pierre Hermé at Ladurée and with Philippe Conticini at Le Pétrossian before eventually opening his own boutique, just like the others. Had Van Gogh been around, I wonder if he would have painted them? In any case, I’d say that Michel Marshall is the Van Gogh of Pastry here – and predict more boutiques opening.

Michel Marshall best patisserie in St Remy de Provence

Overheard in the shop was a guide taking around American visitors – just what I do with the chocolate, pastry and macaron walks with Context in Paris, St Germain-des-Prés. Valérie encouraged me on, otherwise I was in danger of pretending I was in the group and tasting like the others – especially as I had my eye on a savoury pastry.  My hand must have been shakily excited too as the photo was terrible so I’m afraid you’ll just have to imagine that the artistic topping was a giant basil leaf.

French pastry shop window

Then I found myself lingering around another pastry shop. This time with over-sized lemon meringue tarts, giant macarons, and violet Réligieuses: one bite-sized choux puff placed on top of a bigger one and filled with fragranced pastry cream.  Recipes for all of them are in Teatime in Paris: A Walk Through Easy French Pâtisserie Recipes.

Patisserie in St Remy de Provence

Stumbling on another boutique, named so prettily, “The Pastry Chef’s Daughters”, it was more of a curiosity shop. Although, don’t show that you’re too curious; the shiny-muscled pastry chef was looking rather suspiciously from the window above as he was tucking into his lunch.

Busker in Provence playing the marimba

Sounds are also pretty different in Provence.  Above the trickling of the fountains, it’s sometimes deafening to hear the cigales or ciganes singing rhythmically screeching in the trees.  I took a video of it and will share it with you next time.  Over them, we listened to a busker playing in the shade of the plane trees.

Provence shop window with cuddly bears

Window boxes are remarkably sweet in the town hall square.  This is when I lost the others while getting carried away taking photos. Does that often happen to you too?

They had already headed towards the chocolate shop.  Let’s catch up with them on Tuesday, so join me then on the rest of our walk in St Rémy de Provence, to discover chocolate!