Sunday, May 26, 2013

Alpine Strawberries - {Fraises des Bois}

Alpine Strawberries {Fraises des Bois}

I'm starting a new gardening section in L'esprit Sud Magazine. After many years living in a condo, I now have a chance to have a garden. Although not as big and fabulous as the one from La Bonne Etape, it still allows me to get my hands dirty and experiment with gardening. In this post, I'm talking about the fragrant and delicious Alpine Strawberry a.k.a Fraises des Bois in French and Fragaria vesca sempervirens in the botanical field.

I buy all my plants from the local farmer's market because first of all, I want to be sure that they come from organic source. This is especially important as conventional strawberries can contain a lot of dangerous pesticides*. Also, nurseries selling at farmer's markets usually carry more rare & heirloom cultivars, which is always fun to experiment with.
* For more information, read the EWG's 2013 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Originating from the alpine mountains of Italy, Fraises des Bois are well-known in France and considered a gourmet delicacy. I was so happy to find a yellow-fruited cultivar called "Pineapple crush" a couple of months ago. At first, it mainly create leaves but now, it's really starting to produce a profusion of little succulent berries. Alpine strawberries bear fruits all year long, with particularly heavy crops in the spring and fall.

Alpine Strawberries {Fraises des Bois} Alpine Strawberries {Fraises des Bois}

At the moment, I only have one plant in a pot, but I'm seriously considering creating a border of them now that I've know that a well cared for alpines plant will last from 4 to 6 years. To guide me on my quest, I came across a very nice book The Strawberry Story by Julie Bawden-Davis which gives a lot of good advices on how to avoid the challenges associated with growing this berries in Southern California.

Over the coming months, I will update that article with more pictures as well as my findings...

Alpine Strawberries {Fraises des Bois} Alpine Strawberries {Fraises des Bois} Alpine Strawberries {Fraises des Bois}

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

La Bonne Etape: Petit déjeuner in Haute-Provence

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape

A stop at La Bonne Etape has become a custom for us when driving from our country house in Provence to the Northern part of France. So far, I only have stopped for a gastronomical lunch, but never had the chance to spend the night in that peaceful Relais & Châteaux. So while I was in France last summer, we decided to break that rule and sleep over at La Bonne Etape.

On our way back from Paris and back home, it was a well deserved break. First of all, the small village of Château-Arnoux where the hotel is located, is quite charming; almost lost in the dramatic backdrop of Haute-Provence. The other advantage of this stay was that it would allows us to take the Route Napoléon (known as the N85), the 96 miles (154 km) road that will bring us back home while enjoying the pittoresque countryside of Provence.

The 18 bedrooms and suites of La Bonne Etape are elegantly decorated with traditional Provençal furniture, and radiate a warm cozy feeling. It felt for me like if I was a child again, spending my summer holidays at my grand parents' home. Each room has a view on the countryside, some even have their own terrace. If you need to unwind from the hustle and bustle of big cities, you definitely would find happiness here.

La Bonne Etape
No modern magnetic keys, but rather a traditional one with a silver olive branch keychain.

La Bonne Etape
Junior suite with a patio

La Bonne Etape
My bedroom

La Bonne Etape
Local delicacies

La Bonne Etape
My bedroom appointed with traditional Provençal furniture

La Bonne Etape
The view from my bedroom

After a fabulous dinner and a peaceful night, what a treat to open the window and push the shutters, to see the glorious blue sky of Provence. The bright light, the fragrance of the nature, every element seemed to be conspiring to make sure I was starting the day on the right foot. For the petit déjeuner, we decided to go by the pool under the pergola to fully immerse in nature.

Homemade jams, freshly squeezed juices, apricots just picked up from the garden tree, and freshly made croissants and brioches... What else would I need?
Nothing ... I was having my Petit déjeuner in paradise.

Breakfast in Provence
The Main patio where guests can enjoy their breakfast

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape
Homemade jams & Jellies with fruits from the Chef's organic garden

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape
Elegant table setting

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape
Viennoiseries basket

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape
Freshly squeezed fruits juice

Breakfast at La Bonne Etape
Local and organic products

La Bonne Etape
The hotel's pool

La Bonne Etape

Another great moment of my morning was the visit of the Chef's Garden. Chef owner Jany Gleize knows the importance of good local ingredients, so he decided to grow its own organic garden with the help of Garden Master: François Tessari. The garden is English inspired but with strong Provençal accents.

Flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables all cohabit in an harmonious way. I wish I had so much space here in Southern California to create such a peaceful heaven. Well sometime wishes become reality, so I keep on dreaming...

Organic chef garden - La Bonne Etape
Morning harvest by one of the cooks

Organic chef garden - La Bonne Etape
Nature is thriving here in this organic garden

Organic chef garden - La Bonne Etape
On my way to the garden

Organic chef garden - La Bonne Etape
Apricot tree

Organic chef garden - La Bonne Etape
Unknown blue flowers

Organic chef garden - La Bonne Etape

I can't say enough how much I love this place as well as the generosity and kindness of its chef owner Jany Gleize. If you plan a travel to Haute-Provence, you owe to yourself a stay at La Bonne Etape!

La Bonne Etape

For more information

La Bonne Etape****
Hotel - Restaurant
Chemin du Lac
04160 Château-Arnoux
Tel: +011 33 4 92 64 00 09
Three types of room available: Superior, Deluxe and Junior Suite.
Price range from 190 € to 250 € in the low season, to 235 € to 500 € in the high season.
For more information: Website and email

Interactive map
Check out our interactive map of Provence to see where I took all the pictures featured in this article.