A Year in Cotignac

by Michele Di Falco

March, April, and May: Especially in the spring, even with a little jet lag, I am always delighted to be riding throughout the beautiful French countryside from the Marseille airport to Cotignac. Much of the drive is "zone vert" or green zone - protected for its natural beauty. We found the Marseille airport to be both a bit easier to deal with, and a bit closer to Cotignac than the Nice airport. We fly in to Marseille, rent a car just outside the terminal, and are off on another adventure in the beautiful south of France. I am elated. The sights and scents are already rejuvenating this, weary, windy city gal. In forty five minutes along a route we've traveled many times before, we are there.
Spring has arrived in Provence. We are greeted at Quartier les Plaines by the glorious buds and blossoms that abound on the property, and are yours for the picking! In fact all over Les Plaines and on the path into the village of Cotignac, the walking is full of discovery of the fresh and new.
I never know what to do first! I am so happy to be there and see all my trees, flowers and shrubs, so that is one of the first things I do. There are some I just have to see upon arrival. Like old friends they are there, waiting with open arms.
I can't wait to walk down the road to the area with two ancient Seracen towers and see an even better view of the hills and the village. Or better yet, start on the walking path to the village. The scenery is beautiful with wonderful lookout points. There is one especially dramatic point where you can look back and get a great view of the falaise, the magnificent rocce of Cotignac.
We will just have to put off the little ten minute ride to Sillans de Cascade for a few days. One year we could not wait and hiked to the waterfall jet lag and all. It was worth it: beautiful woods, rocks, caves and cascading waterfall. But I now know to take it easier. It will all still be there and waiting. Be sure to enjoy the open air dinning in the garden at Le Pins after your hike, or before, when you do make it over there. And do go. It is wonderful.
The sun is warmest from noon till three, so plan to enjoy it. Have a sweater or jacket handy for the early morning or later in the evening. Just get out there on that terrace for croissants, coffee and the Printemp's natural, culinary delight; freshly picked apricots right from the tree in the front (South) gardens. It's just past the flowering Vivaldi Mimosa (It blooms all four seasons, hence the name). This is a typical French breakfast light, fresh and delicious. Everything from the market tastes so fresh and good. It tastes even better with the dessert you pick fresh from our trees.
Pick some of the lovely pink quince blossoms that abound in the yard to grace your table. Perhaps you prefer something from the yellow flowering bush you can see from the kitchen window, or pick lilacs from the lilac covered porch toward the east field of purple lucerne. Everything smells so good! The air is also perfumed with the rosemary and thyme that grows everywhere. There¹s plenty right along the terrace grill. There is a large bay tree growing just a few steps away.
Every Tuesday morning (till noon) is market day in Cotignac. The Village Square (Cours or Place) is transformed into a colorful array of stalls, brimming with everything imaginable under the sun. You will find homemade cheeses, herbed and cured olives, local honey, and roasted hens. There is the Italian family from Genoa with their Italian specialties, and of course, a beautiful selection of fresh vegetables, fruits, and flowers. There are clothes, gifts, housewares, ceramics, and baskets. The variety and quantity of everything varies with the seasons. You can buy a delicious rotisserie chicken and some accompanying delicacies from either the market, or the shops which surround the Cours and be off to a picnic (or easy lunch) in the afternoon.
Be sure to plan to stay and people watch for a while though, in one of the outdoor cafes that surround the market. Everyone is out and about, for this weekly village affair, meeting and greeting one another. The atmosphere is bustling and lively. Be sure to put it in your plans on Tuesday. A sunny market day in Cotignac is something you must experience while you are there; a glimpse of a part of French village life.
You might make Tuesday your day to explore some of the other things to see in the village also. For instance the teatre du rocce is a sight to behold in and of itself, even before the season's concerts begin. See it, and all the sites in and around the village such as the area of the antique olive press, paths and caves of the cliff, churches... etc... Hike on the paths up to the waterfall. In the summer months see the art exhibition in the old chapel turned gallery. There is often a display of Cotignac antiques and history of the village at the Grainage, in the summer too.
The village shops are a must as well. Allow one day at least, for shopping in the village. Break for lunch at a cafe on or just off the village square. The Toi Marche has a great thin crust pizza and crepes as well as a full menu, and you can dine al fresco right on the square under the plane trees. Dining in the garden of the Lou Calen is a special treat.
One of my favorite shops is the Artisans Cooperative. You can find handmade clothing, gifts, ceramics, and other items made by local crafts people. Take a little walk to another ceramic shop North of the village square where you can watch a ceramic artisan who works in the old traditional French style. He will personalize your piece for you with your name, or year if you ask. There's the honey and lavender shop, also off the square, this time East of it. There are several antique shops, and a gift shop on the way to the little waterfall near the edge of the village. These are all in addition to the boulangeries, boucheries, patisseries and groceries. There is a tennis club and a wine cooperative and the usual tabac, post office, pharmacy and doctor.
During June, July, August (and parts of May and September), summer is in full swing. Roses, roses everywhere on the property, and the breakfast/desert delight of the day are fresh picked cherries! The trees around the back (North) of the house are full and ready, so what are you waiting for? Morning swim in the pool? Or wait till the midday sun tempts you to jump in and cool off? Hang out in the back, North terrace, overlooking the French countryside with vineyards and terracing. Looking South from there, you can see the hills. I love to check the view of the hills every morning. The clearer the day, the more hills in sight.
In the morning, at the tabac, one can find postcards, magazines, newspapers... You may wish to ask for the Herald Tribune for news written in English. Once armed with postcards and newspapers make your way to the nearest boulangerie for fresh croissants. You can pick up your bread for lunch and / or dinner too while you are there. You will fit right in now, carrying a loaf of bread. You can buy a basket at the market for the rest of your goodies. Now take your fresh croissants onto the terrace of either Bar L'Union or Bar des Sports for a good cafe cremé. (That will be coffee and steamed milk in France.) Remember it's ok to bring croissants to bar L'Union. Others may want you to buy food if they sell it.
Although you have all the facilities for cooking at home, you will want to sample some of the fabulous French cuisine right in the village. Just a ten minute walk (or drive) away, you have six cafes to choose from for your dinner (or lunch) meal. They all have a reasonably priced, three course, fixed price menu posted, so that you can decide the one that suits you best, in ambiance and taste.
In the evening check the live theater and performance schedule right in the village or in neighboring villages. Classical music, jazz... in the summer there's a lot going on. Lots of fetés, too.
September, October, November brings along with the autumn, the vandage. It is a great time to celebrate the harvest with a lot of wine tasting, and as always, it is a good time for dinning, some of the time indoors now. And what a harvest on the land right where you are staying. The sprawling fig tree is loaded with delicious fresh figs for breakfast, or whenever.
Come November you may be using that sweater or jacket again. Go with the flow regarding the weather. Do as the French do, with jacket and scarf, and dine al fresco as long and as much as you can. As in the spring, the sun is still warm from noon till three so plan something outdoors then.
It's fun to browse at the antique markets. You can purchase a copy of the magazine which lists all the markets of the area(and all of France) right in the village tabac. It is called the Aladin (al a DA). You missed all the great things to do indoors because you just had to enjoy the great Provencal outdoors - and rightly so! So now you'll just have to spend time here in the winter because there is still so much to see and do.
One of our favorite nearby villages is Correns. Just 15 minutes away, through beautiful picturesque countryside of trees and cliffs, one comes to a hidden treasure in Correns. La Trattoria restaurant is one of our favorite places to dine. It's setting is along a river, and weather permitting we're right out there with the ducks and geese that are waddling by. Also paddling by along the river every so often are people in canoes and kayaks. This is a fun thing to do. Especially when one can dine so well afterwards with such friendly hosts.
There are so many charming villages to visit, along with Cotignac. Many are pictured and written about in "The Most Beautiful Villages of Provance" by Michael Jacobs and Hugh Palmer. One of our favorite nearby villages is Entrecasteaux. The chateau has a museum, the gardens are lovely, and the dinning was superb at Chateau Le Grand Jas. Les Templiers restaurant in the neighboring village of Montfort is also recommended. Bargemon is in a beautiful mountain setting as is Tour Tour, Villecroze, Ampus... I especially love Seillans with its natural rock sculpture, fountain, arches and the climb up the ancient cloister road. If you venture southeast to Arles and Aix en Provence, you can follow in the footsteps of the artists, either on your own or with a tour guide. This is Van Gogth and Cezanne country. You can visit the places they lived and see the scenes they painted.
December, January, and Februry are the Provencal winter months. Curl up at the fireplace with a book - or write one - gazing out the French doors and windows to the trees and gardens. The fireplaces, wood stoves, and heat we have, help take the chill off this mild winter. (It rarely snows at all, so of course, no shoveling!)
Keep the lining in your rain or shine coat and head for the many museums and galleries around the coast. This is also a good time to see the interesting interiors of the ancient churches and monasteries of the area. Go Southeast to the Abbey du Thoronet or Southwest to the ancient church and monastery at St. Maxim. The rest of the year you will be outdoors so this is the time to do it. Be sure to visit the Musee Picasso in Antibes, and the Meght Foundation, an art gallery in Vence, with it's fabulous outdoor sculpture gardens. Have a look at the church designed by Matisse, The Chapel of the Rosary in Vence. Visit St. Paul, the other arts village next to Vence, while you are there.
Eze village is worth a come back trip in the Spring to see "the exotic garden crowned by the ruins of the ancient castle." It has a breath taking panoramic view over the French Riviera. Eze offers the characteristic of being crossed by the upper, middle, and lower Cornice roads. This is a lovely scenic drive, highly recommended.
The winter season certainly didn't stop us from enjoying our drive around the Gorges du Verdon. This is a short day trip is 30 kilometers Northeast of Cotignac. You pass through several charming villages on the way. You may wish to stop and take a look in Aups or drive around Lac St Croix or on to the upper levels of Lac de Carces for the view. The absolute magnificence of the dramatic Gorges du Verdon make this a must see any time of the year, and in the winter you will have it more to yourselves. Bring plenty of film and enjoy the challenge of trying to capture some of the wild, untamed beauty of the grand canyon of France.
After our winter roaming during the day, the house is always a nice place to come home to. A fire going in the kitchen and the living room makes things quite cozy. Sometimes we also build a fire in the large brick grill out on the terrace. With our mugs of steamy, strong coffee in hand, we stay out a while longer, watching and listening to the changes from dusk to evening.
Strolling around the grounds of Quartier Les Plaines in the evening, one might be further rewarded with a spectacular sky around sunset. Other city dwellers like myself can appreciate the peaceful sounds of the natural surroundings. Then before turning in to sleep like a baby, have one last look at that majestic night sky, with the stars so big and bright you feel you can almost reach out and touch them.

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We now live in our home in Cotignac year round. We no longer rent it. If you wish to rent a house here, please email us and we can put you in contact with someone here that is currently renting. There are lots of other great houses and B&Bs.