Les Vans is a beautiful, bucolic town in the Ardeche region of France. December is off season for this town of three thousand. It may have been chilly outside but we found the locals extremely friendly in the cafes, boutiques and restaurants we frequented while here for a long weekend. Friday night we enjoyed a pizza and salad at La Dolce Vita found on the town’s main square, Place Leopold Ollier. We shared a small bottle of Prosecco and my husband had memories of his Nicoise grandmother’s home made ravioli while enjoying the house meat filled ravioli!!
Saturdays is time for the big open air market that gets super crowded during the summertime when the town population grows to thirty thousand. Off season there are less stands but enough that offer what you need to make some home made meals. One of our favorite stops is at a stand run by an adorable gentleman across from the cafe La Formule that sells honey and other various vegetables and fruit from his farm. I also love buying organic fruit and vegetables at Le Panier des Couleurs . Patricia, the owner, is helpful and has plenty of choices both organic and non organic. She can be found at 10 Place Henri Thibon.
Saturday night we enjoyed going to Cafe du Midi for their annual “Loto”, a form of bingo played only around Christmas time. I had not played bingo since I was a kid and the idea that we might win a huge “Jambon”, well, it made it all the more exciting. The MC for the bingo had plenty of jokes and kept things rolling. A very fun night. Cafe life is still such a part of France and as an American I find it is a great way to catch the vibe of a town. Conversations are always lively and can include all the subjects that Americans might avoid for fear of heading towards political incorrectness!! Personally, I have always loved to talk about politics and after the election of Trump the French are very curious to know what is going on in America. We enjoyed a few lunches at Cafe La Bourse. The chef there has a daily menu with traditional French fare that might include a steak and frites with homemade vegetable sides. I enjoyed a steak and haricot vert (french string beans) and a gratin de pommes de terre,(potato casserole with cream and cheese). Delicious. Plus the chef is super nice and a joy to talk with.
My husband had a great time catching up with old friends while we were here. Most notably, Dominique, the owner of the olive mill L’Olivier de Vincent, found in Payzac. This picturesque town found in the mountains above Les Vans is well worth the drive up the scary winding road. When we stopped by, Dominique was very busy putting this years harvest of olives in his mill. He and his wife Violette run a shop in Payzac as well as a store during the summer found at the fountain at Place du Marche. They sell olives, of course, as well as tapenade, creams, and soaps and other regional products made from olive oil.
I enjoyed a little shopping in town and always love stopping by La Belle Epoque, at 2 Place Leopold Ollier, for Carole’s selection of bracelets, purses, and lingerie. I also found a very nice bag for the summer months at , a l’louest de ton Sud, found at place du marche.
The weekend included dinner invitations from old and new friends. The French are extremely passionate about their cooking and their generosity and genuine interest in others is what draws me to France again and again. I love France and our weekend there, despite it being the off season, was filled with many memorable moments and discoveries.
Virgin olive oil right out of the press!!
Cafe du Midi A home made meal.
Alain’s childhood tennis instructor. A man of exceptional energy and talent on the court.