Paris Day Trip
venez avec moi à Provins
cardamom sablés with
fresh summer peaches and rose cream
The gloom skipped juin and has taken over juillet in Paris. It seems more like a summer in San Fran than Paris but for the stone buildings.
A small patch of blue struggled with the rain clouds for the sky and I was optimistic that the former would win (as I promised a day trip today). I set out on a run to the gare (killing two birds with one stone as they say). Half way there the rain clouds won and by the time I reached Gare d’Lyon, I resembled Remi after he had been thrown into the Seine. Notwithstanding the rain, Paris still looked beautiful and the sky in the City of Light was a bright opal or oyster color and the gold cap of Invalides and the winged horse and cherub gold entrances to Pont Alexandre III seemed even more brilliant. At least in appearance Paris is consistent even if the weather has not been.
Back at home the girls jousted with umbrellas.
“En garde, prêt, allez…”
I grabbed the tips of the umbrellas and folded their dueling swords.
“Come on girls we are going medieval.” And with that we set off for our day adventure in search of castles and warmer weather.
We arrive at the gare 4 minutes before our train departs. We consult the departure board. Platform 21. We race toward the train jumping on board but no sooner do we board do I look out the train window and realize that in our rush we had boarded the wrong train… we entered the train on platform side 20, not 21. We exit the train and watch our train, 3 feet from the front of us, slowly pull away from us. Ce n’est pas grave (it is not bad) there is another in an hour. Notwithstanding the rainy morning and the train mishap, we board the correct train and before we knew it we are in the medieval village of
Provins (PRO VAN).
Venez avec moi (ou nous) à Provins. This week’s recipe – rose and cardamom sablés with fresh summer peaches and rose cream – is inspired by this medieval village itself.
Provins is 80 kilometers from southeast Paris and in the Ile-de-Cite region. Quaint and well-preserved, the village is historically significant because it was critical to trade. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Feudal lords (defying the kings of France) opened up Provins for merchants allowing them safe passage across Provins.
Provins was the host to the Fairs of Champagne where there was an exchange of currency, products, and ideas. Money-changers, cloth merchants from Italy, spice merchants from the East, fur traders from the North, intellectuals, and poets all met in Provins.
In the 14th century, the commercial trade routes changed and the fairs in Provins disappeared. Provins was no longer significant to trade or travel and it returned to existing as a small rural town.
In 2001, Provins was included on UNESCO’s heritage list and 58 monuments in Provins are included in France’s National Inventory of Historical Monuments.
The village is divided into Le Châtel (aka the high village) and Le Val (aka the low village).
From the gare you only have to walk a few blocks before you see Saint-Quiriace Colegiate Church and Caesar’s Tower high in the sky. On your left is Le Châtel and straight ahead, slightly to the right is Le Val. Neither is a long walk.
There is a tourism office en route but even if you miss it most of the sites have plans (maps) of the village. There are suggested sightseeing walks (and you can get an audio guide to take with you throughout the walk). If you do not want to walk Provins there is a shuttle that you can take that will take you to each of the sites and drop you at the gare.
Due to our train mishap and our dinner reservation, we did not have the whole day to explore Provins, but given the rain which apparently is not limited to Paris, a half day visit was not a bad idea. We passed the majority of our time in Le Châtel.
The Saint-Quiriace Colegiate Church is the first thing we stumbled upon. Bulit in the 12th century, the dome was built in the 17th century. The church, however, was never finished.
Nearby is Caesar’s Tower which is open for the public to explore and it gives you a panoramic view of the village.
Inside images are projected on the stone walls explaining the history of the towers and Provins.
At the heart of Le Châtel is Place du Châtel, a wide open space with a large medieval cross (the Exchange Cross) in the middle marking where financial transactions used to take place.
The cross remains but now the only thing traded are stories and candy and the wide open space is perfect for little ones to run around during the day and on certain nights there is dancing with an orchestra. The kids take a turn on the carousel. Surrounding Place du Châtel are small shops selling specialties of Provins and housewares, ice cream shops, and crêperies. Several restaurants (including Michelin recognized) and small hotels, the Saint-Thibault church, and the Four Gable House.
The Tithe Barn was also a hit. A single layered vaulted stone “barn” with a significant stone cellar below ground. Audio guides walk you section by section of the “barn” where there are scenes depicting daily life in medieval Provins, and discussion of what happened at the fairs. At a parent, when you children walk away from an exhibit having learned something and they are excited about it, it is a bonus.
At the base of the Le Châtel lies Saint-Jean’s Gate and the Ramparts built in the 13th century.
It goes without saying that this was the favorite with my umbrella-jousting daughters and we were lucky that the rain had let up so they could scale the successive stone stairs and run along top of the wall, planning their defense and/or attack against the “enemy” (their sibling).
Then there was the surveying from the top and shouting to the heavens and the surrounding wheat fields which also needed exploring.
The lower village has historical significant sites such as the Holy Ghost Cellar (a 12th century hospital now used as a tourist train stop), the Jouy Gate, and the Franciscan Abbey built in the 13th century.
Provins hosts special events throughout the year so I recommend consulting their website. There are various Medieval shows – Les Aigles des Ramparts (the age of the ramparts) an equestrian show giving the history of knights and their swords as told by the Lord of Provins (www.vollibre.fr) (similar to “Medieval Times” in the States but with an actual Medieval setting). Légende des Chevaliers (the Legend of the Knights) is a show depicting knights and princesses and the return of Thibaud IV from the Crusades.
The Eagles of the Ramparts is a Falconry show with birds of prey and other animals. Le Banquet des Troubadours is a “gastronomic voyage” where you can sample foods that were eaten in Medieval times. (www.provins-banquet-medieval.com).
last but not least, culinary notes
The phrase “everything is coming up roses” can be taken literally as it pertains to Provins. The symbol of Provins is the Rose of Provins (“Rosa Gallica Officinalis” or Damacus rose) an ancient variety rose that Count Thibaud of Champagne brought back to the village from a crusade. The Provins rose was prized for its medicinal properties.
While there is a lot of artisanal honey sold in Provins, the prevailing theme is roses. Rose water, rose bath salts and soap, rose perfumes, and other rose-scented things for your home are sold here. However, the culinary uses are what interested me.
Using rose petals or rose water to infuse foods is not unique. In Provins there is no escaping it. Roses are in everything: rose syrups, rose liqueurs, rose cider, rose wine, rose Champagne, rose honey, rose gelée, rose confiture (jam), rose tea, rose coffee, rose candy (of all sorts), rose ice cream, and rose sorbet.
Flowers are used in cooking much more in Europe than in the States although I see that changing. The key with using flowers (edible flowers) in food is that they must be used delicately or the result is overwhelming and everything will taste like body lotion. This is true whether it be lavender, violet, jasmine, or rose. Too much equals bath product !
To make rose syrup you simply make a simple syrup (water and granulated sugar) and infuse it with edible, organic rose petals and then strain it. However, there are a number of quality rose syrups or rose water that you can purchase.
In Provins, rose was primarily used to flavor desserts rather than savory dishes: soufflés, creams, ice creams, tarts, marshmallows, and meringue and as a result some took on a bright pink hue. In my research, I felt obligated to taste a number of these rose desserts, the soufflé and the marshmallows were my favorites, many of the others were a little to rosy for my taste. My Kir, with rose syrup, was quite nice on the other hand.
On the train ride home I was obsessed with making a light rose dessert that reminded me of Provins, its trading history, and our summer visit.
This week’s recipe is the result (for your printing ease, the recipe is in the following post (or you can click here)).
The hues of this dessert are light. The color and arrangement of the white peaches resemble a rose but the rose flavor comes from the cream.
The combination of cardamom and rose is one of my favorites and since Provins used to trade spices it seemed fitting. The cardamom sablé is very light and crumbles in your mouth (the very reason why I did not make this a tart or a shortbread). It is a simple dessert that says summer but be warned … it is hard not to nibble or dip your finger in the rose cream as you make it.
En garde !
Historical, restaurant, and entertainment information above provided by the Office de Tourmisme de Provins. For more information visit their website at www.provins.net.
For information on the Provins Rose Garden (which covers 3.5 hectares and you can visit most of the year) click here. www.roseraie-provins.com