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Dining in Provence


PaulaJ
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I've read the notes on Avignon and wine tastings in that region. We will be going to Provence in the fall. Eager to

learn of your pleasurable experiences. Sharing one horro to date. For 3 days we held a reservation at H. des Frenes.

Cancelled it 3 months in advance...all to the tune of a

31 euro cancellation fee. Guess I missed that part of the

reservation info.........and will have to bear the responsibility for this............but find the idea outrageous! Has anyone

stayed or dined there? Do you run into this problem frequently

in Provence. Needless to say, I will never book there again

and will be gunshy on Relais & Chateaux proprerties,of which

this is one.

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Paula, that shouldn't be. Is the cancellation fee the policy of the hotel or the Relais & Chateaux people? It always was that you could cancel without penalty up to 6 p.m. of the day of your scheduled arrival. I would complain and e-mail your post to both the hotel and R&C.

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I did check the Hostellerie Les Frenes site and found

the cancellation fee posted. It is always applicable ........ouch!..... although the amount charged increases 15 days in advance. I can tolerate the latter if this is a resort property [e.g. as some of the islands do over the holidays]. I don't consider Avignon area a resort, but

perhaps I misjudge.

 I did send a note to Relais & Chateaux. They should not

allow one of their properties to do this as it will eventually

limit peoples' willingness to book with R & C.

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Paula, We stayed at Hostellerie les Frenes 3 years ago.  We made our reservation by phone a week in advance when we were already on the road in France.  They didn't tell us anything about their cancellation policy, whatever it may have been at that time.  Most of the places we stayed at during that trip were R&C properties.  We made all the reservations from the road, and none mentioned cancellation policies as I recall.

The following were our experiences at les Frenes.  When we booked our two-night stay, we also made dinner reservations there for both nights.  We spent the afternoon of the day we were to arrive with friends in Montpellier.  They insisted that we stay and have dinner at their house, so we called les Frenes to cancel the reservation for that evening only.  No problem.  We also told them we would be arriving very late.  When we got there at about 11 p.m., we found the huge front gates closed and locked.  Fortunately, we had rented a cell phone.  We called them, and the gates were opened by remote control.

Our room was not in the main house, but in the motel-like complex adjacent to the gorgeous pool at the rear of the property.  The room was very large and comfortable, furnished in contemporary decor, with a very up-to-date, luxurious bathroom.  The main house, where we had breakfast the next morning, was the antithesis of contemporary; it was charming and comfortable.  My guess is that the rooms therein would follow suit.

We never got to use the pool because we spent the day again with our friends in Montpellier.  We then invited them to join us for dinner at les Frenes that evening.  We ate outside on the front veranda.  With the exception of a huge portion of delicious terrine de foie gras -- since I am a foie gras junky, that usually sticks in my mind -- I can't remember the other courses.  But I do recall that the meal was excellent.

The next morning, our breakfast was served to us on the little terrace in front of our door.

The owners were on the property, and we found them to be gracious and friendly.  We very much enjoyed our stay there.

In addition to France, we have stayed at many R&C properties in the US and Canada.  In fact, we go annually for a week's stay in August to the Auberge Hatley, a R&C in southern Quebec.  (We have been doing this for more than 10 years and will be doing it again come August.)  The Hatley's cancellation policy states that one must cancel two weeks in advance of the arrival date in order not to forfeit one's deposit.  The other R&C properties in the US and Canada have told us their policies when we phoned for reservations, and they are similar to the Hatley's.  That seems quite reasonable and fair to us.  Unlike Hiltons, Sheratons or motels where one can cancel up to 6 p.m. on the day of arrival, these are more like mini-resorts.  Many have a pool, a tennis court, spa amenities, etc.  But from what you describe, les Frenes' cancellation policy is way out bounds.  They are assessing a penalty regardless of when one cancels, and that is totally outrageous.  My guess is that, if they informed people calling for reservations about this onerous policy -- which would be the proper thing to do -- they most likely would find that most people would not go forward with the reservation.  So that's, obviously, why they don't.

I'm curious to know what kind of response you will get from your note to R&C.  Do let us know, please.  And don't be "gun shy" about other properties in this group because you will be missing out on some really terrific places.  Just be sure to check their cancellation policies.   :smile:

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Thank you for the description of your more favorable experiences w. Les Frenes. Unfortunately --once burned--

I doubt that I will ever book this property again. We too

have enjoyed several R&C properties and will continue

to utilize them. However, I will not book them again unless

I have the time & energy to extensively explore their  cancellation policies.  Clearly, I found this charge to be

egregious. In response to my email complaint, to date

R&C has only responded that they rec'd my cancellation

and gave me a #. It is Les Frenes which sent an email

stating that they had rec'd the cancelation and charged the cancellation fee.  Using their linked web page I found the posting for applicable cancelation fees.

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When it comes to checking on R&C establishments'  cancellation policies (or other places, for that matter), I should think the easiest and most direct route would be to ask them on the phone or via e-mail before booking.  I'm sure all would respond to your inquiry.

My more favorable description of les Frenes was not at all intended as an attempt to change your mind about considering them in the future.  I only provided it because you asked if anyone had ever been there.  If what happened to you happened to me, I would react exactly as you are; that is, I would never book them again.  

Actually, we ran into an analagous situation a few years ago with a R&C in Canada, Langdon Hall.  We had been there once and had an enjoyable  stay.  On a subsequent trip to Stratford, we were booked into a place in town, but when we arrived, we were totally turned off by the premises and decided to seek alternate accommodations.  Since it is very difficult to find anything last-minute in Stratford proper during the Festival season, we called Langdon Hall, which is about a 45-minute drive away.  We were able to book there, but then, about half an hour later, we were lucky to find something else much closer (10 minutes) which suited our purposes.  When we called LH to cancel, they informed us that they would be assessing us a charge of $75 for "getting the room ready."  We chose not to argue about it.  But, needless to say, Langdon Hall will never see us -- or our money -- ever again.  :angry:

We have had enjoyable stays in a few other R&C in Provence: Auberge de Noves in Noves, Le Prieure in Avignon, and Oustau de Baumamiere in Les Baux.  

I'm sure others who post to this site will be able to give you lots of suggestions for your fall trip.

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Paula, The Relais & Chateaux organization used to be the virtual no-brainer key to a nearly full proof quarantee of a nice stay in a special place. Steadily over the past 15-20 years, it has slipped by allowing inferior and more mercenary establishments into the group. I also found the headquarters to be unresponsive when one of its members pulled the following egregious, mendacious trick on me:

On March 1 of 2001 my wife and I drove more than four hours to Erbusco, which is in Lombardy between Bergamo and Brescia, to stay and dine at L'Albereta/Restaurant Gualtiero Marchesi, Marchesi being the most famous chef in Italy the past 25 years or so and whose cooking I had never tried. When we mistakenly drove up to the service entrance, we saw that the lawn was littered with old kitchen sinks and cabinets. When we got to the front desk, the woman there told us that the restaurant was closed for renovation, but that we could have dinner in our room (the next night we did, and the room service food was limited, basic, and awful) or someone would drive us to a one-star Michelin restaurant nearby. Of course I blew the proverbial gasket and asked why no one told us when we phoned the day before, she gave us the incredulous reply, "We thought the work would be finished". Although the evening had an extremely fortuitous ending as I made the hotel drive us to a two-star restaurant I had found in the Michelin Guide, Miramonte l'Altro, which I have praised highly a few times on the board, and where we had a meal that I suspect would have been far superior to the Marchesi one (just on the basis of L'Albereta's lying and lack of integrity). Nonetheless, what L'Albereta did to us simply to get at our money, was dishonest and inexcusable. I explained what happened to the Relais & Chateaux head office, whose answer was that it would pass on my e-mail to the hotel. The hotel never answered, and my follow-up to the Relais & Chateaux elicited the reply that they would not involve themselves. What one should derive from this, and the above posts, is that there are now many establishments outside of the Relais and Chateaux guide that are more civil and friendly than those that are in the guide. More comfortable, too.

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We had a similar experience to the one Robert described at Mas de Torrent, a Relais et Chateau in Girona, Spain. I had prepaid the room on Sept. 9, 2000, reconfirmed on March 27 and checked in on May 28, 2001. On check-in we were informed that the restaurant was closed and the only menu available was the room service menu. We were furious --- it was late, hot and we were tired. We went to our badly air conditioned room, deciding to stick it out for the night.

My husband insisted on talking to the manager, M. Xavier and he apologized for the inconvenience and said he would have a special menu, just for us, at dinner.

As we were sitting down to dinner that night, the same M. Xavier was explaining to an American couple next to us "their special menu" -- salad with parmesan cheese, cold seafood plate and fried veal. He then came to us with the same "exciting special menu" which we declined.

We decided on jamon - it was a horrible, gluey mess of fatty ham thrown on a plate, a charcuterie plate with the same bad ham, lousy langoustines and worse cheese. How does a restaurant mess up cold food?

To top it off, around 10:00 pm a huge bus pulls up and like at a circus, all these people pile off the bus and everyone is running around in all directions. Our sommelier was put to use as a porter, one of the maids became a server and God only knows who was in the kitchen.

At 10:15, "the bus people" sat down and ate something. Xavier, the GM, was no where to be seen during the height of the madness. He appeared much later and I had great fun staring at him angrily, trying to make him as uncomfortable as possible. The rest of the evening was my glaring stare, his averted eyes and lots of nervous glances our way.

To top off the experience, our petite dejeuner arrived the next morning with service for one and stale rolls. We ordered another petite dejeuner which arrived minus the coffee. We renamed Mas de Torrent to Mas de TORMENT!

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  • 4 months later...

Are there a lot of these types of programs out there? It seems interesting and not all that expensive (if one were going to Europe anyway) considering it's food and lodging for a week.

But how much would one learn there? I know it depends on how much you want to learn and the level of your commitment while you're there. But are they just for the "tourist-tourists" (by definition anyone there would be a tourist) or are there some that go beyond entertaining rich people who need a structured environment?

I admit I have an aversion to tours in general though. And if you get stuck with the wrong five other people, it could be a week in vacation hell! :laugh:

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Are there a lot of these types of programs out there?  

Allow me to mention l'Ecole de Cuisine du Domaine d'Espérance.

kitchen.jpg

This is a small school with a professional chef/instructor located on a family estate in Gascony. They run a few sessions during the year.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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You might want to make some inquiries directly

from the program. How many students? Student/instructor

ratio? How the day is divided? Hands on? Sample menus please!

I find the latter particularly helpful. I was looking into a

program at one time which, in its promo lit, enthusiastically

waxed about what they taught. But when I asked for a

menu, it was rather mundane stuff...e.g. creme caramel.

This is not to suggest that didn't teach it well, but you

would need to know if what they teach is what you wish to

learn.

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  • 4 months later...

I was in Aix last summer and I must say that you are right to do your homework. It is a seller's market in which too many restaurants serve mediocre food at elevated prices, with dire service. That said, there were some things I really enjoyed: La Table Marocaine (there are two branches, and I think we went to the one in Rue Lieutaud: great food and a very romantic outdoor setting); the markets in Aix (Place des Precheurs, Place de la Madeleine) are great and one of my favourite meals involved buying bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives, marinated artichokes and some rose and having a picnic; eating outside at the Chateau de la Pioline was also a very romantic setting: the food wasn't really wonderful, but I remember the bread and the cheese trolley as being excellent.

Hope you have a great time. Take some Zola novels, which may enhance your enjoyment of the place.

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The food in France is not always what it was, or what it should be. Tourism is only part of the reason. Actually gastronomic tourism may be as important to the growth and success of the top places with two and three stars in France, but a steady stream of diners who will never become repeat customers the way a local will, is bound to have a negative effect on any kitchen that is not part of the gastronomic circle. All of the major guides have a good degree of accuracy and should be consulted to fill in what you can't learn online or to serve as either reinforcement or suspicion of online recommendations.

My fond memories of Aix go back a ways. the best was in strawberry season when we bought a a pound or kilo of berries at the market before heading out of town. It was only after we stopped to picnic that we realized two things--we didn't get any sugar and we didn't need any. The aroma that came out of the bag when we opened it was just amazing and the berries were too ripe to have stood any more transportation than they were subjected to in our short drive. I'd like to say you won't find berries like this in a commercial market, but the truth is that I've never run across any like them in a farm stand before or after in this country.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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NYCdrew, As for Aix proper, I only know the local two-star, Clos de la Violette. Based on our one meal (two people), it was obvious to me that the chef is competent, but not really inspired. I have dined in enough of these places to know that he will never get any better. I would avoid it unless you were in the area for some days and wanted a festive outing as the locale is very pleasant. Call it a lukewarm endorsement. The problem is that the area is not a good one for restaurants. Ducasse's place in Moustiers is a pleasant stop for a room and dinner. The meals offer essentially no choice, but solidly one star. No fireworks here, but tasty.

If you go to the great antiquing town, L'Isle sur-la-Sorgue (Saturday and Sunday), the one-star Le Prevote is picturesque (a stream runs behind a glass wall in the dining room) and the food is honest and well-prepared. The prix-fixe lunch menu is very nice.

Several of us have commented more than once on our favorite places between Menton and Cannes. Check the search feature. What comes up a lot in positive terms are L'Hostellerie Jerome in La Turbie; Mirazur in Menton; Terre des Truffes and La Petite Maison in Nice; Loulou in Cros de Cagne; Villa des Lys and La Cave in Cannes. I also like La Terrasses at the Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins for a blow-out kind of meal. Tetou in Golfe-Juan for bouilliabaisse is a big favorite, but I also like Bacon on the Cap d'Antbes for its bouilliabaisse and bourride, but also really fresh grilled local fish.

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The Guide Gantié can be very helpful, with long descriptions of the restaurants in the South of France. Online, it's Guide Gantié

(French only)

There is an English version in print either out now or very soon. My favorite restaurant guide for the 6 departments in the Southeast.

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The Gantie started an English addendum to the guide last year that is somewhat abridged, but is pretty faithful to the full French text. It can give you some bum steers, but also lead you to some interesting places you might otherwise overlook. It seems to me that he doesn't dine anonymously or pay for his meals. However, it is the most detailed and complete, thus making it indispensable.

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A quick check of the Gantié online brings up a very interesting sounding La Vielle Auberge on the rue Esperiat in Aix. Distinguished by the lovely serving platters the food is placed on, he says. 2 ferns is a strong recommendation.

Robert, I have a problem with Ducasse's Bastide de Moustiers because they only serve people who stay at their hotel. They refused to serve us for the 3 nights we were in the area, but I found some very good if unspectacular restaurants in the next town, Riez, with much fewer tourists than Moustiers.

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Menton, good point that I didn't think of. I wonder, however, if they might have changed their tune given the downturn. I also believe the Bastide serves lunch, and perhaps that is a more open opportunity. I forgot whether you are in Nice or Menton. Didn't you tell me you also live in New Jersey?

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I would add to Robert's list Jacques Chibois's Bastide St-Antoine in Grasse; Chibois also runs Mirazur in Menton, which is more casual than his flagship restaurant in Grasse.

I was not impressed by Tetou; the bouillabaisse was not nearly as good as what we had at Bacon, nor was the welcome particularly warm. And it was very expensive.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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