The Russian River and Its Bridges

Long before the Russian River became synonymous with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, it was a river…and of course it still is.  As the Russian River approaches the Pacific through Sonoma County, it is quite a beautiful river, at that.  It begins in Mendocino County and flows south, flowing pretty much along Route 101 (or vice versa, we suppose). As it enters Sonoma County, the river runs between Route 101 and Route 128, the main drag of Alexander Valley.  At Chalk Hill, it hangs a right and proceeds southwest to the ocean.  For those who come to Sonoma County for wine tasting and would like to do some touring as well, it’s this last stretch of the Russian River that’s the place to visit.

If you proceed south down Westside Road, you can catch occasional glimpses of the river, although you may be more attentive to the wineries that are there.  As Westside turns west and becomes River Road, you’ll see and pass over the river often.  In fact, it is the bridges that are for us the main attraction.

Wohler Bridge.  Photo courtesy of mattegray.net.  We recommend this site for a virtual tour of Russian River’s bridges.

One of these is the Wohler Bridge, where Wohler Road crosses to meet Westside Road.  It looks pretty rickety, but it must be pretty secure since it’s been there for 100 years.  It’s a one-lane bridge so you have to be careful that no one is coming the other way before you cross it.  Also be on the lookout for tourists (they could be us) having their picture taken while standing next to the bridge.  Nearby wineries include Gary Farrell, Moshin and Rochioli.

Hacienda Bridge.  Photo courtesy of historicbridges.org.

The Hacienda Bridge is at the point at which River Road merges with Westside Road.  You may see swimmers or boaters in the water.  We’ve always been there for the purposes of wine tasting, so we’ve never dived in ourselves.  There are many resorts in this area as well.  Korbel and Porter Bass are wineries in this area.

It’s likely you’ll want to visit in nice weather, which is a generally good idea.  It’s particularly important for the Russian River.  That pleasant waterway, well used for boating, rafting and swimming, can become a raging torrent in the winter months.  Flooding occurs frequently, roughly every other year since 1940, according to the San Jose Mercury.  There’s a lot to be said for going wine tasting in winter, but it’s probably not a good idea to plan on an excursion along the Russian River.

 

Visiting France, Visiting California

If you, like us, are from the East Coast, getting to either California or France is roughly the same hassle.  Once you have to get to the airport and wait for your plane, the difference between a six-hour and an eight-hour flight is not all that big a deal.  However, when you get off the plane in California, you’re still in the USA.  Everybody speaks your language and most things, aside from the vineyards, are just like home.  You can’t say that about a trip to France.

If the only purpose of your trip is wine tasting, the overall experiences of the two sectors of Wine Country are roughly equivalent.  The most famous regions – Napa/Noma, Burgundy, Paso Robles, Bordeaux, Santa Barbara, the Rhone Valley – will offer you many wines you might have heard of, if not already tasted.  While California has some out-of-the-way wine producing areas, such as Temecula or Amador County, wine is made almost everywhere in France.  And some of the less familiar locales, including Alsace, Beaujolais and the Languedoc, make world-class wines.

Lyon is known as the culinary capital of France.

It’s when you want to do something other than tasting wine tasting that France excels.  Yes, we love San Francisco and Los Angeles but they’re not Paris or Lyon.  There are few if any California experiences that can top a stroll along the Seine or eating onion soup at a sidewalk café.  Of course, it helps if you can speak French but honestly, it’s not essential.  Most French people can and will speak English.  They have the reputation for being arrogant and snobbish (as do New Yorkers) but we’ve never experienced any problems. (The nose in the air attitude of Parisian waiters is as much a part of the show as anything else.)

The Big Sur.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

California and France both have attractions when it comes to natural beauty.  There’s an unmistakable charm to the French countryside. The grandeur of some parts of California are matchless.  The French Alps are stunning and Big Sur, Yosemite and the redwood forests are treasures.  Centuries of wars have left scars across France; earthquakes and fires have done the same in California.  If you’re travelling to see marvelous scenery (in addition to wine tasting, of course) both will offer you more than you can take in on any one trip.

You can get memorable meals in California.  French Laundry and Spago are temples of gastronomy.  But France!  Yes, the French are justly famous (or infamous) for small portions of unknown ingredients with rich sauces.  But there’s hardly a village in the whole country where you can’t get a perfectly roasted chicken that you’ll remember forever.  We mentioned onion soup, but did we tell you about pâté?  Or cheese?  Or cassoulet?  Or, or, or?  On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for Mexican, Chinese or Japanese cuisine you’re going to do much better in California.

Altogether, it’s an individual decision as to which makes a more desirable vacation.  If you feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings, choose California.  If you like the exotic, France is a better choice.  We’re in the latter category, but then we speak French.  Either direction, you’ll taste great wines.

Il Pomodorino

If you love wine tasting and you love Italian wines (that would include us), you should definitely visit Tuscany.  And if you visit Tuscany, you should definitely spend some time in Siena, a city where the best of the Renaissance seems to be just yesterday.  If you go to Siena, you should definitely wander around at night.  And if you want to have some fun while you’re wandering around, you should have some pizza at a restaurant called Il Pomodorino.

Il Pomodorino in Siena.  Photo courtesy of Casa-Worldorgs.com.

Power Tasting is not in the business of restaurant reviews, so we’ll simply say that you can get very good pizza at Il Pomodorino.  That’s a lot like saying you can get very good steak at Whole Foods.  It’s true, but it’s hardly exclusive.  There are a lot of places in Italy where you can get very good pizza and we’re not getting into the question of where to get the best pizza.  But we’ve never had more fun eating pizza than we did at this spot in in Siena.

For one thing, Il Pomodorino is always full and everybody else seems to be having a good time.  There are lots of families and therefore a fair number of children.  Dinner times, by American standards, are rather late in Italy.  We always wonder how the kids are going to make it to school the next day, but they do seem to make it.  There are also young lovers out on a date, older folks still convivial after a half a century, and the occasional tourists.

Unlike many other places in history-rich Siena, there aren’t that many foreigners dining at Pomodorino.  That may be because it’s a bit difficult to find the place if you’re starting from the center of town where most of the hotels are located.  Getting there from the famous Piazza del Campo at the very middle of Siena necessitates walking through some pretty dark streets and back alleys.  For the real Sienese, who mostly don’t live in the touristy areas, it’s not so hard to get to Il Pomodorino.  For them, it’s just down the hill from the big stadium, so maybe the crowds at the restaurant are just post-game celebrants.

The atmosphere at Il Pomodorino just draws you in.  When the other patrons hear you talking English, they’ll ask you where you’re from.  No matter where you live in the States, you’re bound to find out that someone at a nearby table has a cousin living there.  So you’re almost a member of the family already.

The view from Il Pomodorino.

While you can eat inside, you really want to join the party on the terrace outside.  Perhaps even more important, you are treated there to a spectacular view of the heart of Siena.  The dome and the roof of the Duomo (cathedral) and the Campanile (bell tower) are the most obvious sights, but the tiled roofs over the homes add to the viewing pleasure.  Just below you is the home and shrine of Italy’s patron saint, Santa Catarina.  So even if you’re not in a party mood, Il Pomodorino is worth it, just for the vista.

If you want to feel Italian and not just a visitor to Italy, we suggest you have a meal at Il Pomodorino.

Roussillon, the Red Village

Let’s say you’re on a wine tasting visit to the Southern Rhône.  Everywhere you go, there seems to be a mountain hovering over you.  One of them is Mont Ventoux, the Windy Mountain, and it is emblematic of the region.  You might wonder, what’s on the other side of that mountain.  The answer is that there are other wine producing areas, the Vaucluse and the Luberon.  They make pleasant wines, not as well known as the ones from the Côtes du Rhône.

The voyage over the mountains is worthwhile in itself.  For one thing, the panorama is breathtaking.    Wherever you’re driving from, you will cross many beautiful little villages as you drive over Ol’ Windy.  In many years, a stage of the Tour de France goes up the Mont Ventoux; they will return to the mountain this year.  No matter how hot it is when you leave the valley floor, you’ll find it to be quite chilly at the top of Mont Ventoux.  At the crest of the mountain there used to be a meteorological station; the building is still there even if it’s not used anymore.

The village of Roussillon.  Photo courtesy of Civitatis.

Once you get over the mountains, we recommend that you make your way to the village of Roussillon (pronounced roo-see-yon).  Although they’re spelled the same way, this village has nothing to do with Languedoc-Roussillon further to the west.  This quiet spot is ensconced in a Natural Regional Park, so that even if some tourists do find their way there, it is relatively unspoiled (or at least it was when we were last there).

Along the walls of Roussillon.  Photo courtesy of The Savvy Bostonian.

The town is built from stone quarried there in years past.  The rocks are full of ochre, a red-orange clay that has long been used to make artists’ paint.  Thousands of years ago, the prehistoric people living in what is now the south of France used it for body decoration and for coloring their famous cave art.  In Roussillon, the ochre creates a village where all the buildings are red, yellow, orange or shades in between.  French villages in general are charming; this one has charm pouring from every colored wall.

The best way to soak in all that charm is just to walk around.  There are steep stone streets (but no cars) where you pass quaint homes.  There’s an ancient Romanesque church, with “new” facades from the 17th century.   There’s a market on Thursday mornings and there’s a town square in front of the Mairie (town hall) where you ought to stop for a coffee, a meal or a glass of wine

Most of all, you should walk the walls overlooking the old quarries.  Roussillon sits atop a mass of red rock, and you can see it from the walkway.  You can take a stroll on the Ochre Trail (sentier des ocres) and walk into the quarries.  In particular, try to see Roussillon at the end of the day, when the color of the setting sun makes the walls of Roussillon and its surrounding seem to come ablaze.  It’s an awesome sight that you’ll never forget.

If in your wine-tasting travels in the Southern Rhône you want to spend a little time in the perfect Provençal village, you’ll find it in Roussillon.

Sustainable Sonoma

Readers of Power Tasting don’t need to be told that Sonoma County in northern California is a mighty nice place to visit.  Its size and vineyard diversity make it one of the best places to sample many of California’s finest wines.  However, Sonoma’s commitment to sustainability in its vineyards and wineries does offer a different reason to visit there.

The symbol found on bottles of sustainably made Sonoma wines

A lot of this is a matter of survival for the winemaking industry in the county.  It isn’t newsworthy that northern California suffers from many multi-year droughts. In fact, they are in one right now.  If the growers did not pay attention to water and land conservation, it would not be long before the quality of the wines would suffer.  And that would be the most positive result.  The worst case would be the inability to grow wine grapes at all.

The trade organization, Sonoma County Winegrowers, is justly proud that 99% of the vineyard acreage, more than 60,000 acres, in the county are independently certified to be sustainable.  The group established a goal in 2014 to make Sonoma County the premier sustainable winegrowing region in the world.  Their interest was not pure environmentalism.  While there are some massive properties there, the majority of vineyards are family owned and operated smallholdings.  Accordingly, they are not only preserving a crop but also a way of life.

Look carefully and you can see the hoses dripping water onto the vines.  Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism.

How does all this make Sonoma County even more of a place to visit?  It’s difficult to watch water not evaporate or land not get parched.  We believe that every wine tasting visitor spends at least a little time looking at and admiring row after row of vines.  Now, when you go to Sonoma County, look a little more closely.  Do you see hoses running through the vineyard for drip irrigation?  Or maybe nothing to water the vines for those growers who prefer dry farming?  In the heat of the middle of the summer, are the canopies over the vines thick with leaves to inhibit evaporation?

Most of this doesn’t matter to your main purpose: trying wines.  But it should matter than it’s a concern for the grower and the vintner.  So when you get to the bar, maybe ask a few questions about what that winery is doing in the sustainability effort.  You may stir up a bit of controversy.  For example, the dry farmers think the irrigators are irresponsible, while the irrigators think the dry farmers are nuts.

So when we visit, let’s tell them that we appreciate what the Sonoma growers are doing to preserve both winemaking and the local community over the long haul.  They are the ones making the investment and we are reaping the benefits.  Letting the growers know that you’re grateful may elicit just the kind of personal interaction that makes traveling through Wine Country so rewarding.

Visiting Geyserville

The way that California allocates postal addresses, a great wide swath of the northern end of Dry Creek Valley is officially listed as Geyserville.  So such redoubtable wineries as David Coffaro, Dutchers Crossing and Sbragia Family all have addresses there, even though they are far from “downtown” Geyserville.  The quote marks are used because the actual downtown area on Geyserville Avenue is only about two blocks long.

We would not recommend Geyserville as a destination on its own merits, but if you are tasting in the area, there is a certain charm that’s worth taking in.  While the town contains all the modern appurtenances, there’s still enough left of ol’ time Geyserville to give you an idea of what Sonoma County’s Wine Country used to be.

Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

The most notable taste of the past is a store with a large sign proclaiming it to be Geo. M. Bosworth & Son, General Merchandise.  There’s another sign in the window that lets you know that they sell Gents’ Furnishings and Notions.  This is the general store you’ve read about and seen in old Westerns and if you’re in the market for a cowboy hat this is the place for you.  And if you want that hat to be custom crushed, they’ll do that, too.  Today, Bosworth & Son is also a museum and a gift shop and there’s a statue of a horse out front.

There are a few tasting rooms on Geyserville Avenue, among them Meeker and Pech Merle.  Three in particular stand out.  Tonti Family and Etrusca share a tasting room and call themselves Duo Vini I Bocce.  That’s right – you can taste their wines and play bocce.  Further down the avenue is Ramazotti.  Together, they are a reminder that this area (all of Napa/Noma, actually) was settled in the 19th and early 20th centuries by Italian immigrants. They brought with them a winemaking tradition and replanted it in Northern California soil.  Ramazotti in particular features Italian wines such as Barbera and Sangiovese that are quite convincing reproductions of the Italian originals.  These wineries provide visitors with another hint of California history.

Photo courtesy of mycatellis.com

We first started coming to Geyserville to dine in a restaurant called Santi.  The food was remarkably good and the restaurant was recommended to us by many winemakers.  Alas, it closed more than a decade ago; another restaurant named Catelli’s occupies the same place, and we have not tried it yet.  But here’s the back story:  There was another Catelli’s “the Rex” that was opened in 1936 by Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The owners, Nick and Domenica Catelli are lineal descendants of the original founders. More history!

Wine Drinking in Arabia

When we say “Arabia” we are quite sure that the image that comes to mind is endless desert, Bedouins in robes and camels.  Well, yes, there’s a lot of sand.  It does get awfully hot.  Tourists do take camel rides.   And many of the men do wear robes, called thobes.  But today many of the countries of the Arabian peninsula have ultra-modern cities, with skyscrapers (including the world’s tallest), restaurants, museums and sports arenas.

What they don’t have is alcohol or, at least, not much.

The dining room at the Abu Dhabi Sheraton.

Muslims aren’t supposed to drink any alcohol and many observe this stricture.  But a lot of the cities in Arabia, such as Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi are centers of finance, trade and of course oil.  Quite a few expatriates live there, working for the big companies and governments.  There are a lot of tourists these days, too.  A fair number are Americans and Europeans who are used to a beer after work, a little whiskey on the weekend and wine with dinner.  So, in some cases, exceptions are made for non-Muslim visitors.

We have worked in that part of the world and were usually able to have some wine when we wanted to.  In the hotels that cater to Westerners, there is almost always a bar and a wine list available with meals, but there aren’t any in the unaffiliated restaurants.  Prices tend towards the high side for what you can order and there isn’t a lot of variety.

On Dubai Creek.

Many Lebanese people work in Arabia.  While Muslim, they make wine and do enjoy drinking it.  Many of the wines you’ll see on the lists come from Lebanon and some of them are quite good.  Chateau Musar is the best known and, in our opinion, the best tasting.  You’ll also see Ksara and Massaya, which are worth trying. There are some American and European wines on the lists, but they’re not the ones you’d choose back home.

There are occasional problems that remind you that you’re far away.  Women are not allowed in the bar of our hotel in Doha, Qatar without a male escort.  They also check for passports to make sure that those men and women who enter are not Qataris.  And one evening we were informed that it was a local holiday and no bars were open anywhere.  (Room service bailed us out.)

Business dinners can be problematic.  If your host is observant, you don’t want to impose on him (your host will always be a man) and order some wine.  At the same time, we have been to dinners many times where half the group wants a glass or two with dinner, while the others abstain.  It can be a little awkward, but it seems that everyone is used to it.  If you’re the host, ask if anyone else wants any wine.  If no one else is interested, it’s diplomatic to skip it yourself.

There are no wine stores and we strongly recommend that you not try to bring a few bottles in your luggage.  (We have had no personal involvement with the police authorities, but the word is that such interactions are not very pleasant.)  We were told that registered expatriates may have alcohol in some countries, with a permit.  Saudi Arabia, however, is very strict in forbidding alcohol and there really is no chance of getting any there.

So if life should bring you to this vibrant part of the world, be a good guest and stick with the hotel bars.

Towns

Many times when you go wine tasting you find yourself way out in the country, with all stores and restaurants a considerable drive away.  In other cases you’re either near a town (sometimes a city) or you’re visiting in-town tasting rooms.  Sure, you came to taste the local wines but the towns themselves are so much fun.  Many of them are historic and all have their own charm and beauty.

In no particular order, our favorites are:

  • Beaune in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or
  • Emilion in Bordeaux
  • Narbonne and Béziers in the Languedoc
  • Montalcino and Montepulciano in Tuscany
  • Radda in Chianti (which is also in Tuscany)
  • Porto in Portugal (actually in Gaia Nova, just across the Douro river)
  • Sonoma, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa in Sonoma County
  • St. Helena, Calistoga and Yountville in Napa Valley
  • Paso Robles and Santa Barbara in the Central Coast

Narbonne.

So what should you do when faced with the temptation to see a town’s attractions rather than going to more tasting rooms?  Our recommendation is to give in.  Here are a few tips to enjoy Wine Country towns without giving up too much of your wine tasting experience.

  • If you have the time, take a day to focus on visiting one or more towns. In California, this is definitely a good idea for weekends, when the wineries in the vineyards are awfully crowded.  Most European towns have a number of plazas, often built around a cathedral or a castle, that are themselves well worth a visit.  Some California towns are built around central squares that are pleasant to walk through.  Healdsburg and Sonoma are among those with town squares.

Radda in Chianti.

  • Take advantage of the tasting opportunities in the towns. In many California towns, wineries have opened tasting rooms for passers-by.  In the past these were all rather second-rate, but in recent years top producers have opened up rooms, in addition to the ones at their wineries.  In some European towns, such as Beaune, major wineries have established their headquarters and tasting facilities.  And in many others, wine shops offer degustaziones (tastings) for a small fee.
  • Enjoy being a tourist. None of these towns were crawling with visitors in the past, as little as a few decades ago in some cases.  As more outsiders came to see the vines and sip the wines, sleepy agricultural villages transformed themselves into “attractions”.  There’s no need to sneer.  The cafés do serve authentic regional fare; the handicrafts are usually made by local artisans; the houses and churches are picturesque.  What’s not to enjoy?
  • Stay the night…or a few days. That’s when you get a true feel for Wine Country.  The day trippers are gone and when you step into a wine bar, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with the people who tend the grapes and make the wines you came to enjoy.     If you keep your ears open, you’ll hear conversations about yields and trellising that let you know that the people around you get their hands dirtier than you ever will, just so you can enjoy a bottle of wine.
  • You never know who you’ll meet. We were having an after-dinner drink at Willi’s in Healdsburg when we got into a conversation with the fellow sitting next to us at the bar.  It turns out he was the executive chef at some of our  favorite American restaurants, including Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen nearby.  We told him how much we admired Mr. Palmer’s restaurants and then he went back to talking with his pals. A few minutes later he turned back to us and introduced one of his friends: “Hi, I’m Charlie Palmer” said the friend, his hand outstretched.

The Eiffel Tower

One of the features of Power Tasting is a monthly article on a Place to Visit that isn’t about wine but is in Wine Country.  And since this edition is about the beaten path, there’s no path in all of France that’s been trod more often than the one that leads to the Eiffel Tower.  But wait, is Paris really in Wine Country?  Surprisingly, the answer is “yes”.  You can make a day trip to Champagne or the Loire and amazingly, there are still a handful vineyards in Paris itself.  None of the urban vineyards are very big (one has only ten vines) but they qualify the city for inclusion.

The Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero.  Photo courtesy of the Hotel Eiffel Trocadero.

So about that tower.  For one thing, it’s one of those iconic structures, along with the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Kremlin, that are emblematic of their entire country.  Its story is pretty well known, so we’ll recount it here only briefly.  It was named for Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built it for the 1889 World’s Fair or Exposition Universelle.  It was derided in its own time but has become beloved ever since.  You can ride to near the top for a great view of Paris, with restaurants on the second and third levels.

The issue is not whether you’ll see the Eiffel Tower.  When you go to Paris, you can’t miss it and you’ll take your picture in front of it.  We’d like to give you some ideas as to how to see it.

The Eiffel Tower is located in the 7th Arrondissement, on the Left Bank of the Seine. This sector is one of the more elegant residential areas of the city and worth walking around in.  The tower itself is in a park, the Champs de Mars, where royal troops used to train back in the time just before the French Revolution.  In pleasant weather, you can join Parisians in stretching out, kicking a ball or listening to itinerant musicians.  Or you can walk up to the Eiffel Tower, lean your head back and try to take it all in.  Maybe that’s why Eiffel’s contemporaries couldn’t appreciate it; they couldn’t really see it properly.

For us, the best place to see the tower is across the river at the Place du Trocadero.  Sit at a café on the place and soak in the view.  From there you can see the tower in the perspective we believe Eiffel intended, massive but contained within Paris.  Keep in mind that only a few decades before the fair, Paris had been completely renovated into the gorgeous city we know today.  The Eiffel Tower added an exclamation point to the city. Viewing it from the Trocadero puts it in context.

Hovering over the city.

As you walk around the sector where the tower is, you’ll see it above many of the rooftops.  There’s no better way to enjoy this kind of view than sitting in a café with a coffee and a French pastry or with a glass of wine.  And do see it at night.  Since the Millennium celebration, the Eiffel Tower erupts in a symphony of flashing lights, for five minutes every hour on the hour.  The Parisians have never lacked for a sense of the dramatic.

Les-Baux-de-Provence

Nestled in the rocky area of southern France known as the alpilles, or the little Alps, is the village of Les-Baux-de-Provence.  In the valleys below are vineyards making red, white and rosé wines that in recent years have received AOC status under the name of the village.

Photo courtesy of Rue des Vignerons

The village itself is a small gem, a UNESCO world heritage site.  It has been occupied for a thousand years and the local people have maintained its medieval character to this day.  It was once a fortress and the mighty walls are still there for you to see and walk along.  You will see it as you drive up through the valley and you’ll be hard put not to gasp in delight.

The ruined building atop Les Baux is the Château, which was the home of some renegade princes and was torn down, rebuilt, and torn down again as the fortunes of war and politics swayed over the years.  By the 19th century Les Baux was pretty much abandoned.  Then they discovered an ore nearby that contained aluminum and called it bauxite.  The mines are depleted now, but by the time that happened, the tourists had discovered the village.

Today, the 400 or so residents of Les-Baux-de-Provence are joined by thousands of visitors each year.  It is a great place to wander through ancient streets, walk the walls and stop for a meal.  There are many cafés and restaurants, where you can have typical French meals as well as some gourmet fare.

The remains of the Château are the most visited attraction and you will have to contend with the tour buses that deposit their passengers there.  It is worth seeing, if only for the views across the alpilles. The most notable site in the village below is the 12th century Church of St. Vincent.  It’s not a magnificent cathedral but rather a simple village church.  It’s simplicity belies many notable reasons to visit the church.  The windows are modern glass, a gift to the people of Les Baux from Prince Rainier of Monaco.  There are also modern murals of Provencal shepherds celebrating Christmas.

Down below the village, hidden amongst the rocks and vineyards, is the Relais & Château Hôtel Baumanière that has merged with the neighboring hotel La Cabro d’Or,  a jewel in the repertory of this prestigious hotel chain.  One wonderful memory of the three Michelin stars restaurant in this hotel is being served a steak à la moëlle.  This is a New York strip topped with beef bone marrow with a small bone filled with marrow on the side.  They recommend removing the marrow with a tiny spoon they give you.  To this day, we still salivate when we think about this.

It is Christmas that really defines Les Baux.  Each year, on Christmas Eve, the villagers form creche vivante (or living creche) around the altar in St. Vincents.  The villagers dress in quaint costumes and they lead their farm animals into the recreated manger.  It is unlikely that you’ll ever see the ceremony; it’s for the people of the village, not visitors.  But you can see the villagers preparing for midnight mass and realize that the waitress and the store clerk you meet are probably members of the touching statement of faith in the church.

Santons.  Photo courtesy of lesbauxdeprovence.com.

There’s another Christmas tradition that comes from Les Baux.  Many people in America and elsewhere decorate their homes with miniature houses and people made of porcelain.  These are called santons.  Perhaps the people who treasure these delicate pieces don’t realize it, but the village they’re recreating is in fact Les-Baux-de-Provence. There’s even a museum of santons there.  Yet another reason to visit Les Baux when you’re wine tasting is to collect some of these miniatures from the place where they originated.