In Provence, Christmas traditionally begins on St Barbara’s day, December 4th, and ends with Candlemas on February 2nd. This is a time of symbolic rituals and emotions – an opportunity to celebrate, and to enjoy the traditional gastronomic Christmas fare.
As soon as you leave the slopes of Mont Serein, you can head straight for one of the eleven Bistrots de pays and warm up in one of these traditional local eateries under the protective eye of the soaring Mont Ventoux. They are excellent ambassadors for the region, somewhere you can enjoy a quick snack, a full bistro meal or just a glass of mulled wine made with a local Ventoux or Côtes du Rhône.
These bistros are part of a major drive to promote local products, spearheaded by the “Ventoux” programme along with the annual Ventoux Saveurs (Flavours of Ventoux) festival. The project brings together a wide range of businesses, all with the aim of promoting this great Provençal region’s defining products: cherries, strawberries, nougat, lavender, honey, olive oil, einkorn, figs, grapes, goats and sheep. And for dessert, the acclaimed Berlingot sweets – red or mint-flavoured – first made in the kitchens of Pope Clement V.
The black truffle – the king of winter foods
But the king of winter foods surely has to be tuber melanosporum, the black truffle. This local delicacy has been promoted by the Confrérie de la Truffe du Mont Ventoux et du Comtat Venaissin since 1999, and features on the menu in many of the traditional restaurants dotting the route to the summit of Ventoux. Crossing the two hamlets of Saint-Esprit and Ventouret, for example, you come to the village of Aurel in the foothills of Ventoux, and home to a former coaching inn now converted to a restaurant: Le relais du Mont Ventoux. Here, local products are treated like precious jewels. In Crestet, further towards Vaison-la-Romaine, the chef at Epicurien will treat you to the traditional seasonal cuisine of Provence in a colourful yet calm environment, with stunning views over Mont Ventoux. At the foot of the mountain in the village of Flassan, Chez Camille is a revelation for lovers of flavour and authenticity; it was granted Bistrot de Pays status in 2011. For 55 years, the restaurant was run by the Reynard family, and specialised in game; it is now managed by two young restaurateurs who have kept up with tradition, serving fresh foods fit to bring even the most winter-jaded taste buds out of hibernation!
High quality local products
Provence and the Ventoux are full of culinary treasures; a huge range of local products is available from artisan producers, farmers and winegrowers all anxious to preserve the region’s biodiversity, and they are perfect for discovering now, in the depths of winter. Caillette (a type of meatball) with Comtat herbs; Daube Comtadine, a stew with olives cooked and served in individual dishes; candied fruit: these are all traditional foods from Mont Ventoux, a distinctive blend of the Alps and the Mediterranean and home to an intriguing fusion of different biological species.
It bears saying again and again, that Mont Ventoux has been marked and shaped by the hand of man: man has brought this wide-ranging historical, religious and gastronomic heritage into the spotlight. Today, this rural, predominantly farming region is focused on producing high quality local products. It is supported in its endeavours by the Unesco Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve, which is encouraging the local economy to move towards eco-tourism in a bid to conserve the environment and improve the well-being of local people.