The Basilica in St-Maximin

St-Maximin Basilica's Gothic Architecture

The small town of St- Maximin in Var not far from the A8 motorway has become a popular stop for lunch for travellers touring Provençe. But St- Maximin has been visited by pilgrims for centuries because of the Mary Magdalene legend. Every 22nd July, hundreds of pilgrims gather to the small town to follow the relics of Mary Magdalene (only the scull and tibia are said to rest) being carried along the narrow streets.

According to the Provençal mythology Mary Magdalene arrived by sea below the summits of of Sainte- Baume massif and lived in a cave for several years. When she felt that death was imminent, she descended from the mountains, received the last blessing from Saint Maximin and died.

In 1279, the count of Provençe claimed to have found the crypt with the relics of Mary Magdalene hidden by local people. He then started the construction of a basilica and monastery at the site. The basilica’s present Gothic shape was completed in the fifteenth century, but its decoration continued long after.

We visited the basilica in mid-February in connection with a hiking trip to the Sainte-Baume Massif. For more atmosphere, we stayed in Hotel Le Couvent Royal which is next to the basilica and used to be a monastery. It is built around a cloister and its excellent restaurant and breakfast room are in Gothic style.

The basilica is certainly worth a visit. The overall Gothic style is impressive. The crypt, where the relics of Mary Magdalene are kept, is under the basilica’s floor. The basilica was open daily from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm during our visit.


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Roasted sea bream with orange and lemon

Roasted sea bream with orange and lemon

This is a great recipe to make in winter when organic local lemons from Eze and organic oranges are available in our supermarket in Nice. Fresh whole sea bream, daurade, is used in the recipe but it works well with any fresh whole white fish.

2 servings

2 serving size daurade, sea bream
1 organic lemon
1 organic orange
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. minced parsley
A pinch of salt, optional

Ask your fish monger to clean and descale the fish.

Preheat the oven to 200°C, roast.

Wash the orange and lemon and cut them into thin slices. Place 1 tbsp. minced parsley and a pinch of salt, if you wish, in the cavity of each sea bream. Then fill the cavities with some lemon and orange slices. Place the sea bream in an oven- proof dish and divide the rest of the lemon and orange slices on top of the fish. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. olive oil over the fish.

Roast in 200°C for about 30 minutes depending on the size of the sea bream. Test that the fish is done by making a deep cut with a sharp knife or by looking inside the fish. The fish is cooked when it is opaque.

Serve with steamed new potatoes and some wilted spinach or chard.


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Pic de Bertagne

At Pic de Bertagne

Pic de Bertagne (1041 m) is the westernmost summit of the Sainte-Baume Massif. From the summit, view to the Mediterranean Sea is impressive. Unfortunately, on our given day foggy clouds were ascending from the sea.

From Plan d'Aups-la-Sainte-Baume town centre we followed a small road about 500 m to La Brasque. The road that went up to the mountain ridge was closed for unauthorized traffic. We used the spacious parking before the gate.

We took the trail on the right-hand side of the road that ascended in the woods to Col de Bertagne. Here we noted a monument erected for the memory of Excursionnistes Marseillais and next to it a comprehensive signpost as the col was at a crossroads of many trails. Our plan was to climb directly to Pic de Bertagne. Another longer option was to circle under the mountain and then to ascend from the southern side.

The signpost showed the direct way: 25 min and 1,1 km with frequent yellow markings. We first ascended in the woods. Soon the incline became steeper, and we came above the tree line. We had to scramble for 15 min or so, and wet rocks made the progress slower and more delicate.

We eventually reached the mountain ridge and a plateau 400 m from Pic de Bretagne. The paved road ran along the ridge to the air traffic radar on the summit. Entry to that area was prohibited. We nevertheless found a good spot for our picnic near the installation.

On the way back we used the road. The trail we climbed would have been dangerous to descend.

Climb: 350 m

Distance: 8,3 km

Duration: 2h 20

Map: IGN 3245 ET


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Chicken thighs with sage and rosemary

Chicken thighs with sage and rosemary

This simple recipe needs quality ingredients: organic chicken thighs, fresh sage leaves, and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

2 servings

4 organic chicken thighs with skin, hauts de cuisse de poulet
4 large fresh sage leaves
A sprig of fresh rosemary
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
50 ml white wine
150 ml hot chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
Juice of ½ lemon
Chopped parsley to decorate

Push the sage leaves under the chicken skin. Warm the olive oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat and fry the chicken thighs on both sides until golden. Chop the onion and mince the garlic clove and add to the casserole. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes.

Pour in the wine and chicken stock, add the rosemary and black pepper. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

When the chicken is done remove the thighs from the casserole and keep warm.

Strain the cooking liquid remaining in the casserole through a sieve and turn the heat very low. Whisk together the egg yolk and lemon juice, and keeping the heat very low gradually add to the casserole whisking all the time. This will thicken the sauce.

Divide the chicken thighs and the sauce on the plates. Serve with green lentils or microwaved new potatoes and microwaved butternut squash cubes or broccoli. Decorate with parsley.


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