The Meli Melo Travel team is just home from its fifth culinary and cultural tour of Southern France, and once again, we had a wonderful time! Our cozy group (in photo with Chef Gilles) enjoyed three nights in the Mediterranean fishing town of Sete and four nights in the irresistibly charming and quintessentially Provençal village of Saint Remy, which lures us back again and again.
Guests flew via Air France and landed in Montpellier, often called the San Francisco of France for its hip, university-town vibe. On Day One, my delightful mother-in-law Monique, who resides there, welcomed us on her sun-dappled, bougainvillea-draped terrace with Champagne and a homemade luncheon.
Despite her less-than-ideal grasp of English, Monique (in photo here with Bernard) somehow hits it off with all of our guests, so we decided to bring her along with us to Sete, a town she knows well.
We stayed in Le Grand Hotel there, an elegant Art Deco building with wrought iron balconies overlooking the Royal Canal, and we dined on uber-fresh oysters and mussels harvested from adjacent shellfish farms. We also sampled local wines in a nearby 17th-century chateau.
After a few days touring Sete, Montpellier, and the Pic Saint Loup wine region, we packed up and traveled east to the better-known side of the Rhone River, stopping in Avignon to explore that magnificent medieval city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and to dine at a bustling brasserie in Place l’Horloge, not far from the Palais des Papes and the famous bridge built in the 13th century.
A warm “bienvenue” from proprietor Pierre welcomed us to the lovely Mas de Carassins Hotel in St. Remy, which tour guest Karen M. declared “the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed in.” After some well-deserved downtime, we all met for dinner at the hotel’s excellent restaurant, La Table d’Yvan. This local hot spot specializes in five-course meals featuring ingredients from local farms, orchards, and vineyards.
A repeat guest had joined us on this autumn tour (we love our alums!), so we decided to change up the usual program, and added in a few new activities that were a huge hit.
The first was a day with Chef Gilles Conchy of Provence Gourmet. Chef Gilles met us early on market day (my favorite day in St. Remy), and we accompanied him as he shopped the stalls of his preferred vegetable farmers, cheesemongers, and charcuterie producers. From there, we followed him to a nearby winery, the elegant Domaine de la Valangues. We tasted. We shopped. And then we continued on to an 18th-century farmhouse with a modern cooking-school kitchen, where Gilles led us in preparing lunch: pissaladiere (onion and tomato tarts), Provencal-style artichokes, a pear clafoutis with raspberry-mint coulis, and more. We savored every bite, and every sip of rose, on the farmhouse terrace, laughing and talking without the slightest hint of hurry, in the true French manner.
A second addition to our program was a visit to the nearby village of Eygaliers, also on its market day. Ooh, la la! This tiny town really knows how to assemble a Provençal market. The main street was jam-packed with vendors of local foods from cheeses and saucissons (dried sausage), to tapenades, paella and couscous. This market also features stylish clothing, artisan-made accessories, and plenty of the famed Provençal linens. Despite the frenetic activity, the mood was relaxed, not rushed. And we couldn’t say goodbye to postcard-pretty Eygaliers without first enjoying lunch at Chez Paulette, where the food is always delicious, fresh, seasonal, and stunningly beautiful (yes, Insta worthy!) on the plate.
Other highlights of our week in Provence included "Carrieres de Lumieres," a spectacular sound-and-light show at Les Baux, and a meal at the lively Bistrot du Paradou, where a single nightly menu is presented: perfectly pink lamb chops, an extensive cheese platter, and too-good-to-skip dessert. One's only decision is whether to begin with Escargot or Foie Gras. It was indeed a culinary extravaganza!
Naturally, Meli Melo tours always carve out time for cultural and/or historic excursions; this time to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, the clinic where Vincent Van Gogh spent a recuperative year and painted more than 150 of his most famous works. We also toured the ancient Roman city of Glanum and Les Antiques, an arch and mausoleum dating to 30 BC. Both attractions are just a short walk from our hotel.
Meli Melo guests tell us that beyond all the touring and the tasting in these unforgettable places, their favorite “souvenir” is the closeness that develops during those seven days, the sense of friendships and memories made. One is never quite the same after traveling. It reminds us of our humanity, no matter where we live or come from.
Bernard and I truly love hosting groups in France. It’d be tough to say who has the better time – our guests or us.
(In Photo: Jen and Bernard sur le Pont d'Avignon - dancing, of course!)
We look forward to sharing many more memorable weeks there with small groups of intrepid travelers, and we’ll be expanding Meli Melo Travel’s menu of trip offerings in the months ahead:
April 2 to 10
A Week in Provence - enjoy springtime in the South of France with a culinary and cultural tour some of our past guests have called the "best trip of my life! Stay in St. Remy, shop at legendary outdoor markets, learn from local french guides, tour the Luberon National Park (made famous by author Peter Mayle), visit Aix, Arles, Avignon, Les Baux, and so much more.
June 2 to 10
A Week in Burgundy including food-and-wine touring and tasting plus extensive walking and some bicycling. We’ll stay in beautiful Beaune and enjoy excursions from there. Jennifer’s cousin, Bruce, a passionate foodie who has lived in this region for 30 years, will assist with this tour.
Oct. 12 to Oct. 20 – tour now FULL
A Week in Provence - Discover the flavors of this gastronomically rich region with a walking food tour, a cooking class with a local french chef, and shopping at outdoor markets. Also visit cultural sites such as the ancient city of "Glanum," just up the hill from our hotel, the medieval hilltop village of Les Baux, and the Roman amphitheater in Arles. Includes daily walking.
Oct. 20 to 28: If there's interest, we'll add a second October week in Provence. Fall is a lovely time of year in Provence - far less crowded than summertime and not yet too chilly to explore on foot. Please let us know if you'd like to sign up alone or with a group!
* A week in Porto, Portugal, to enjoy a brand new 5-star hotel, explore the local cuisine and wines, cruise the Douro River, and learn about port. The tour will be led by Jen in collaboration with one of the city's most respected English-speaking guides.
* Martha's Vineyard, a look at its culinary side, with secret spots unearthed by one of the island's most revered private chefs.
* Portland, Maine, the new base of Meli Melo Tours, to learn why Bon Appetit Magazine named it the top restaurant city in America right now.
All Meli Melo tours include seasoned local guides, at least one cooking or baking class, walking food tours, visit to local markets, farms and purveyors, and plenty of relaxation time to put your feet up or perhaps sip espresso at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy a bit of people-watching.
For more information on any of these tours, to request a private tour for your own group, or to inquire about travel-planning services, contact Jennifer Wolcott at email@example.com.