La Vie en PROVENCE - A Culinary Vacation Beyond Expectations 6-15 October 2014


10 Days Culinary Odyssey in two stunning villas in the heart of Provence, based near Uzès and L'isle sur la Sorgue

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This is Marieke’s tenth program to France. For thirty years the chef-proprietor of the Howqua Dale Gourmet Retreat and Cooking School where she cemented a reputation for exceptional cuisine, Marieke has conducted culinary programs in the Perigord Region in SW France, Normandy in Northern France, in Bali, Rajasthan and South India. Marieke believes life is too short to endure a bad meal and relishes the challenge, wherever she finds herself in the globe, of creating wonderful meals from the ingredients that are local and seasonal. She is also a passionate teacher who loves imparting her skills to students and de-mystifying the techniques and complexities of the world's culinary traditions. And she loves the richness of Provence.



Of all the regions of France, Provence is the most irresistible. The borders are defined by nature: to the west, the River Rhône; the south, the Mediterranean; the east, the Alps; and to the north, where the olive trees end. It is a land of striking natural beauty and great diversity - from sun baked plains with fields of lavender, interspaced with vineyards and olive groves crowned in the distance by the hills of the Luberon and the azure blue sky. The deep valleys are the home of vast oak and pine forests giving that unmistakable Mediterranean aroma to the air.

Offerings include daily excursions into the countryside, combined with several half day cooking classes at the villas and with exceptional chefs, fine dining meals in some of the region’s excellent restaurants, picnics in lovely gardens, visits to local markets and quaint villages such as Ménerbes and Oppède Le Vieux, shopping for brocante and antiques, excursions to such alluring towns as Aix en Provence, Avignon and Arles, and VIP wine tastings.

"The whole Mediterranean rim is a mosaic of fragments assembled on a human scale: microclimates, landscapes, crafts and products, cultures both earthly and spiritual. Provence still bears the deep imprint of the Roman civilisation which created its countryside, a patchwork garden intermingling fields, orchards, pastures and rough hill country. This is a heritage, as Giono went on to claim,

“of modest, unpretentious farms. But this is the kingdom of Epicurus. No sultan eats more noble and healthy food than these people… everything that appears on their table is exquisitely fresh. They are experts in the art of living.”

With a very rich cultural and gastronomic legacy, Provence is a treasure trove of magical landscapes, history, architecture and food: the world's largest Gothic palace as awesome as the 14thC Palais des Papes, gardens as fine as Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste in Eygalières, Roman remains as impressive the Pont du Gard and the theatre at Orange, villages as magical as Bonnieux, artistic expressions that have immortalised the region by artists as renowned as Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Gaugin, Renoir, Picasso and countless others, nectars as comforting as Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, and the famous wine regions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes du Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon right on the border.

 I have been trying to get to my emails and send you a very big thank you.
 Travelling with you is always such a joy ... so much fun!
 Your research and careful planning were in evidence yet again -  a marvellous mix  as always: traditional and contemporary, culture, food, architecture, landscape, art and the simpler pleasures of wandering off the track in some truly magical places...not to mention a cooking class with someone from Master Chef!!!
 I can never quite explain to others what its like travelling with you  - Is it like travelling with your family? - but without all the terrible family dramas! Or is it like travelling with friends? - no.. because that can be the beginning of the end of friendships if someone gets upset about the wrong hotel or restaurant or ...
 And yet its not like travelling with strangers either because Marieke you always draw together people of like mind who, after a week or so travelling together, find so many shared pleasures and interests.
 I always know it will be fun and I love the fact that I don't know exactly what we are going to do. Putting yourself in someone else's hands requires trust - and you always repay that trust in spades!
 You brought us the traditional and the surprising, the cutting edge and the quaint, the sophisticated and simple, the amazing layers of history and some 21st century wonders, the picturesque and the rugged ... all in this extraordinary part of France!
 That afternoon at Chateau La Coste just blew me away - I can't stop telling people about it!!
 So ....  a thousand thank yous to you Marieke ...  yet again. J Dunin, (Melbourne) October 2012



Pistou, Aioli, Bouillabaise, Brandade, la Bourride, Salad Nicoise, Tapenade......

Blessed with agricultural and marine richness and a long tradition of epicurean refined rusticity, Provence is one of France’s gastronomic heartlands famed for beautiful fish and seafood, lamb, sun-kissed fruits and vegetables, olives, garlic, sweet and often wild herbs, and anything and everything that can be cooked with olive oil. According to tradition one eats bouillabaisse in Marseilles, lamb daube in Avignon, and truffes in the Vaucluse villages.

The famed author of many books on gardens and cooking in Provence, Louisa Adams summarises the spirit when she observes: "Life in Provence combines the earthiness of age-old Mediterranean ways with a very French sense of style and savoir vivre. Its cooking presents this same harmonious blending of country roots and creativity, but has many dialects, from the cowboy cuisine of the Camargue and the fresh fruit and vegetables of the Rhone valley farms in the west, to the seafood of Marseille and the coastal regions, or the lamb and wheat of the Alps foothills. Provençal cuisine is also all the different people who cherish it: farmers, fishermen, peasants, market vendors and shepherds, housewives and small shopkeepers, vintners and market gardeners, business people and even bureaucrats-all of whom have their secret sources for the best poultry, sausage or truffles. Gastronomy in Provence is not an occasional restaurant outing, but a day-to-day experience, a convivial celebration of the earth and what it has to offer.

Your exceptional residence for the first 4 nights is an expansive restored and very contemporary mas (farmhouse) situated in the quiet surroundings of orchards, lavendar and olives. This quintessential Provençal retreat is on the outskirts of the little village of Laudun and 20 minutes from Avignon.
 The house has been meticulously restored with tasteful decoration, modern amenities and includes vast living spaces, indoor and outdoor kitchens (one professional kitchen with a table to seat 20, perfect for our cooking classes), with 7 bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, salons with fireplaces and outdoor terraces with pool.


The second base for the next five nights is in the village of I'sle sur la Sorgue that lies at the foot of the Vaucluse plateau in the plains of Comtat Venaissin and is a paradise for antique lovers with who will be gratified by the nearly 300 permanent antique dealers and second hand shops here. A picturesque village of canals, bridges, waterwheel, cafés, terraces, history has also left its mark on L'Isle sur la Sorgue.
 Three neighbouring restored mansions each have a marvellous yet breathtaking style sporting large suites and wonderful bathrooms, roof terraces with gorgeous views, soothing gardens and small swimming pools.

Marieke will create innovative menus for the classes that exude a vibrant modern style inspired by superior local ingredients sourced from regional markets. Belonging to the generation that was at the forefront of the culinary revolution in Australia, Marieke's wonderfully creative food celebrates flavour, texture, seasonality, regionality, classical techniques and the contemporary palate. Additionally some classes will be taken with famous chefs of the region.

Baxter is Marieke's assistant. She has spent the last decade as an inveterate traveller sailing ships, flying planes and trekking many corners of the globe, along the way accumulating fluency in German, Italian and Spanish and a good smattering of French. Baxter is currently attempting Hindi.

Her culinary skills were honed on board luxury yachts that plied the Med and the Caribbean. When not travelling she teaches yoga and has a special affection for India and Spain, as well as wining and dining.


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What Guests HaveSaid:

I just wanted to extend my thanks and gratitude for the wonderful tour to the South of France, your research is impeccable and your attention to detail amazing, no other person would have been able to cover all the detail and at the same time show the concern and care that one would normally extend to family or close friend.
 It was a wonderful trip, just what I needed after a difficult year.A great mixture of interesting events and I found the other participants friendly and delightful.
 Thank Baxter also for the great driving. I look forward to another trip with you in the future.
 Connie Stephens-Foran (NSW) 2012

Had a beautiful time in Paris and then went on to London then to Italy.... The highlight was of course Provence and I can't stop talking about it!!! Thanks too for the recipes, wine notes etc. "Marieke finely crafts experiences and treats on her Provence trip. It all appears effortless but a lot of research has been done to create a masterful journey. I didn't feel as if I was on a tour, I felt like I was traveling with a group of friends with Marieke and Baxter the locals!! Each day a gem ....."
 Thank you for a wonderful to you
Di Howison (Adelaide) October 2012
Hi there you beaut gals,
 Raylee and I now back in the land of reality called Sydney  after THE most wonderful holiday – thanks in no small way to the part each of you played during our week. Thank you again both so so so much!!
 We are keen to commence our new style of cooking and try to turn on for our friends some of the fantastic recipes you introduced us to.
 Malcolm Williams (Sydney)

I cannot imagine any food experience coming close to the gourmet extravaganza of The French Table! Hilarious company and wonderful hospitality has made this an unforgettable holiday. Thanks to Jane, Marieke and Baxter for an incredible time at Chateau Bosgouet.
 Andrea Blake

What a wonderful week. The sensational food, beautiful wines, magnificent surroundings and great company have made this a memorable experience. I have been inspired by observing Marieke’s creations in the kitchen and can't wait to try some when I get home. Thank you for being such a generous hostess Jane.
 Marite Ruda

What a pleasure this has been being the inaugural French Table group! Normandy  will have a special place in my heart because of my Chateau Bosgouet experience – thanks- you have made me feel like family.
 Philip Norman

This has lived up to all my expectations and more! Wonderful food, marvellous company and laughing till I cried. Thank you - you have treated me like a treasured guest for whom nothing was too much trouble. This week will live in my memory forever.
 Barb Keene

Nomandy has been fantastic at The French Table. Our host could not have been more accommodating. The cooking experience with Marieke was sensational and we have loved every minute. We wish every success to Jane in the new venture with The French Table and look forward to coming back again some day soon.
 Tony, Lesley and Sarah Little


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