Les Vacances

dinner setting

The French really have it right with the five weeks of paid vacation a good number of them get a year. It’s a great way to truly relax and one week isn’t enough. I know, because my stingy boss (…and that would be me) limited my vacation to a measly seven days. But for that one week, I took part in the annual mass exodus of Paris, because as we know, all work and no play make Jacques, or Jules – or David – a dull boy.


It was explained to me by a French friend that the idea of the lengthy vacation was not just a way to live-it-up on the company or government (or personal) payroll, but was conceived as part of a larger sociological goal to improve people’s health and well-being. Which may be why vacances is/are always plural; because it’s meant to be a collective activity.

tomato avocado saladthe Var
fish and zucchinistrawberry sorbet

For whatever the reason was originally, the French really do take vacation seriously, and in spite of the fact that it seems like nowadays it’s a near-impossible feat to pry smartphones out of people’s hands in Paris, I once went to an international resort in Provence and was surprised there were no clocks in the rooms. They told me that the Europeans don’t like them, but in their hotels frequented by Americans they absolutely have to put clocks in the rooms.

saint pierre and rouget

So I ended up at a remote place and didn’t bring a clock, nor did I check anything on my phone or online for a full-week in the Var, in Provence. For past summers, we vacationed in Brittany. Which is spectacularly beautiful, and not only less-touristed, but less-expensive. But while I love the foods of Brittany, which include flavors like buckwheat, honey, and cider, too many summers were spent on Breton beaches, bundled up in sweaters and scarves in August, sitting in the cold, drizzly rain, realizing why so many people flocked south, rather than north.

cleaning fish

Down in the Var, the colors were spectacular and the water so blue that I was tempted to dial down the saturation when editing the photos, lest folks think I was making it up.


And with the furiously buzzing cicadas providing background “music”, from morning up until they wore out those tiny legs by the evening, I unplugged my iPhone and only looked at my watch so I could get to the docks before 10:30am, when the pêcheurs and pêcheuses ran out of the fish they sold from their boats.

(And to those who say fresh, local food is expensive, we bought four fish one day and the bill was around €13, which included cleaning and two very friendly smiles, along with some cooking tips. Talk about a deal!)

rascasse and fish

Other local residents, who were perhaps tipped off by their keen sense of smell – rather than a timepiece – were also pretty interested in the daily catch as well.


Days were spent mostly on the beach, and dipping in the Mediterranean. Because of la crise, places were less-full than normal – or so we were told (although folks tend to râle about business not being what it should, no matter what) – but being good customers, in addition to fresh fish, we ate fougasse aux olives, salade Niçoise (not this one…), and drank plenty of iced Provençal rosé. To help the local economy, of course.

empty rosé bottles

Venturing out a bit, we took a journey to a beach that I found out was naturiste obligatoire. Look, I’m all for public nudity. But as a courtesy to others, I’m not sure at my age I should participate. Still, when in the Var, do as the Varisians (sp?) do. So…

In addition to the unclad beachgoers, also enjoying the sparkling blue water were les meduses, or jellyfish. And wouldn’t you know it? I got stung right in the you-know-what.


Yes, one of them nailed me right on the back of my thigh. Fortunately it was a little fella and it raised more sympathy from other beach-goers than a large welt. (But for some reason, no one was too interested in taking a very close look at it. Especially one of the fellows who I was sure was on the French Olympic swim team. Or at the least from the looks of him, could have been.) Yet it did make me hesitant to dive back in. However lest anyone thinks that French people don’t care about their fellow compatriots, in the interest of our collective well-being, folks would do a routine sweep of the water wearing goggles, signaling to others that the coast was clear of les meduses.


Speaking of under-water life, although no one in the south of France believed me when I said jellyfish were actually quite delicious, we ate spectacularly fresh seafood, bought right from the small boats that culled their catch that morning. Our favorite local restaurant served bouillabaisse one night of the week and when we arrived after our daily excursion to the beach, I was happy to see cold pitchers of wine set on the tables…and a large pot of fish bubbling away.


Boullabaise has a lot of mystique surrounding it, and folks will discuss at length what what fish should be in there, and what shouldn’t. Rascasse, also known as chapon (or scorpionfish, in English) is as obligatory as taking off one’s swimsuit at a plage naturiste is to boullabaise — although there seems to be wiggle room for others in there. All I know was that when I worked at the fish market in Paris, whenever a rascasse was ordered, fileted, I had to yield to one of the real fishmongers to do the intricate deed.

In the soup was a fish that tasted like nothing I’d ever tasted before, with a coarse texture, but a buttery, rich flavor. When I asked, they told me it was murène. (If you’re easily scared, don’t click on that link.) Neither of us – French or American – understood the server, so I asked her to write it down.

murènerosé and salad
saint pierrethe var

Still baffled, they took me into the kitchen and hefted the slippery devil, which the cook told me would kill your hand if you got too close to it in the water. Which, needless to say, future skinny-dipping in the local waters became a less-than-desirable activity. And I was happier seeing it on the plate, than swimming by me in the water. (Although I wish it didn’t share the locals aversion to eating jellyfish because we could have done with a few less of those.)

tomato avocado saladmelon
tzatziki saladtomato basil salad

Less-hazardous activities included dining at home, where our biggest danger was running out of rosé. Where we were staying, because it was rather remote, choices were limited. But I didn’t mind eating lots of tomatoes tossed with basil and local olive oil, and I made a few batches of tzatziki, which seemed like just the right thing to eat to cool yourself down after spending days in the blazing summer heat of Provence.

moules frites

Then, it was over, and we headed back home. We had a surprisingly great meal at a local dive near the bus station, of moules-frites, as we began our journey back to Paris. The mussels were bathed in cream and garlic as they cooked, and the fries were generous and crisp. And fortunately, we had a nice picnic on the train (to the envy of our neighbors, who were stuck eating pre-packaged sandwiches from the dining car), with some nice bread from a local bakery, a few slices of ham, and some olives and cheese.

sundown rosé on train

Romain took before and after pictures of me both on the way down, then on the train home, and I looked at the before – then after – and saw the difference a week will make. Now if I could only find a way to stretch it to five weeks from now on and turn it into a real vacances, rather than just a vacation, singular.

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  • August 15, 2012 2:44pm

    That sounds like a fantastic trip. My favorite part- the cats. I enjoyed your photos and although you took a week off it looks like you kept up with your photography. Now I want a vacation too- better talk to my boss (oh yeah- that’s me! – Or maybe my small children are my bosses?)

  • RH
    August 15, 2012 2:49pm

    Your photos are gorgeous! And I’m glad the you-know-what where you were stung was not the first one that came to mind when I read the phrase “stung right in the you-know-what.” I’m planning a trip to Brittany at the moment, but despite the jellyfish your story has me re-thinking now….

    I’m also having my first first-hand experience with the French attitude toward vacation. I have unofficially had a job offer in France for weeks now, but they can’t make it official until the end of August because of les vacances.

  • August 15, 2012 2:53pm

    That last collage of salads/fruit is stunning, such beautiful colours.
    I’m biased (currently living in Provence) but I think it’s one of the best holiday spots in the world. Living here is great – rosé and bouillabaisse all year round!
    I think the French are onto a good thing with les vacances. I recently learned they don’t have long service leave as other countries do. When you do the calculations though, the French still come out on top, not just in days off, but also in the fact it’s no doubt better to take extra weeks off every year than a big chunk after 10 years’ service.

  • Mary
    August 15, 2012 2:55pm

    Wonderful. And inspiring.

  • August 15, 2012 3:00pm

    Thanks for sharing the great photos and foods of your vacances. Makes me feel like I got away too.

  • August 15, 2012 3:13pm
    David Lebovitz

    Dawn: I brought my little point-and-shoot camera, which is pretty compact. And that was it in terms of technology : )

    Kirsty: Yes, although with the economy in a downward spiral and the current crise, a lot of people in Paris haven’t taken their regular vacation time, and some are just are staying home. Some re-examination of benefits was talked about a while back, although the new government and President (and the people) aren’t particularly inclined to do that – and I can’t say I blame them!

  • August 15, 2012 3:20pm

    Oh if only Americans were more like the French. I dream of a two week vacation one day. Your posts are so interesting and delicious! Thanks for the view of places unknown to me :) I made your hummus last weekend, tweaked ever so slightly to add a little zip. I pretended I was in Bahrain or Israel taking in the adventure. Love the cat photo – absolutely perfect!

  • August 15, 2012 3:39pm

    Your week looks perfect David… Luckily for you a week was enough… It looks like a very idyllic spot… Glad you had a restful time… and isn’t re-energizing being offline for a week… Must do it! :) xv

  • August 15, 2012 3:56pm

    What beautiful fish! I wish I could get some of those here in Austin.

  • Jade
    August 15, 2012 4:06pm

    What a lovely sounding vacation! And wow, 5 weeks off … I knew there were more reasons to live in France besides the pastries :) I second Dawn- love the cats!

  • August 15, 2012 4:32pm

    Those fish images are spectacular, I can see posters in someone’s kitchen!

    Thank you for sharing your French vacation with us, it made me almost feel there, too.

  • August 15, 2012 4:33pm

    Your photos and descriptions are amazing…your trip looks like the clear definition of an ideal vacation in France! Just beautiful

  • Claire
    August 15, 2012 4:38pm

    David, if you ever tire of your current profession (please, no!) you have a future as a photojournalist. The pictures are so clear and gorgeous and convey the richness and beauty of not only the surroundings, but also the food! The coolness of the pictured salads make the 100 degree days in Austin somewhat bearable. I’m so jealous!

    And I too adore the waiting cats! Ah, such a life!

  • August 15, 2012 4:49pm

    This was the loveliest story… travelogue … memoir … fairy tale enchantment.

  • Elizabeth
    August 15, 2012 4:50pm

    How gorgeous. I feel inspired to get away, even if it’s just to my local beach for the day. Your photos, esp of the salads, are stunning. Thank you!

  • August 15, 2012 4:50pm

    love the photo of the cats patiently waiting for the fish to be unloaded from the fishing boat. tres beau travail! i enjoy your photographs.

  • Jasanna
    August 15, 2012 4:51pm

    I do believe a longer vacation would do the local morale good! Loved seeing your vacation, though, I don’t know if I could do the whole naked beach thing, for myself or seeing others! That eel soup is surprising. It ended up being good?

  • August 15, 2012 4:57pm

    Still American after all these years? You must talk to your boss about allowing you more time off! Good for you to live without a clock. Sorry about the jellyfish sting — it did give you a story to tell. And, as others have said, the photo with the cats is wonderful — also the cicada — I’ve never seen one up close, although I’ve heard plenty of them.

  • August 15, 2012 4:59pm

    David, your trip sounds divine and is so envy inducing, but really I had to comment, if for no other reason than to laugh with you at the audacity of putting plage naturiste and wiggle room in the same sentence. Missing everything French, a bien tot, Cathy

  • suedoise
    August 15, 2012 5:04pm

    Those cats!! Thank you for wonderful pictures. Can one ask where you were in the Var? If you stayed at a hotel.
    You certainly deserve this paradise.
    Jellyfish is all over the coast of the South of France, special nets protect swimmers in Cannes for instance. Beast has no natural enemies any more.

  • Kathryn
    August 15, 2012 5:09pm

    Favorite photo of all time – the cats peering into the fishing boat ( also a self – portrait of you! ) Thanks for bringing me along vicariously on your vacation through your wonderful writing and pictures!

  • August 15, 2012 5:10pm

    Love the cats! Saw a recent article that said that lots of French people abandon their pets when they go on those long vacations. Have you seen this happen?

  • Sue Chagas
    August 15, 2012 5:11pm

    Another great post! I encourage to read Robert Reich’s post on mandating 3 weeks vacation for all Americans. What is the matter with us? Why can’t we cut ourselves some slack without feeling guilty!
    Just finished your book The Sweet Life…I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to visit the places you mention when I am next in Paris. Thank you!

  • August 15, 2012 5:13pm

    I am trying too (rather unsuccessfully) replicate a pulpo dish we were served in Cassis and now I know why. I will never find scorpion fish for the broth. Luckily, the peeps who will partake in this wonderful dish will never know if it’s in there or not. Now to head down to LBI and see if I can catch a local sea robin, all bones and no flesh should work just as fine. If you know of a local NJ fish that works better then a sea robin, maybe you could let me know?

  • August 15, 2012 5:31pm

    What a thoroughly enjoyable post, David. Thank you for taking me back to my childhood summers on the French coast. It is so beautiful down there! Yes, my countrymen are lucky to be entitled to a minimum of 5 weeks of paid vacation a year. Yet, many French people can’t afford to take all that time off and end up staying home, and most have gotten really good at staying with relatives and friends all over France so they can afford to go away for a while. Imagine how costly staying on the French Riviera for three weeks (the average duration of the French summer vacation,) would be! Still, the lucky ones manage to do it and have fun, as you did. I would suggest you try to extend your summer break by a few days next year if you can :-) Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  • mslewis
    August 15, 2012 5:31pm

    Love your photos, especially the cats! Next month I will be on a cruise of the Med and one stop is Provence. I’m even more excited after seeing your photos. So glad you had such a wonderful time. You deserved it; you’ve had a lot going on this year.

    I must disagree with the five-week vacation. Even if more vacation is mandated for we Americans, I doubt most of us would take it all. I worked at a firm where I worked my way up to six weeks of vacation time and had a very difficult time taking it all. Americans are not like the French when it comes to leisure.

  • August 15, 2012 5:34pm

    This is a great post — I wish I could do something similar with the Spanish attitude toward vacation, which, I gather, is much like the French. Even though their economy is (even more) in the tanker, they still take vacations. Like my brother-in-law, who’s unemployed (“en paro”), and still is on vacation right now, albeit a national one. He’s not leaving the country.

    My in-laws go to Murcia, on the southeast coast of Spain, ever year to indulge in the mud baths. They eat every day on their terrace — home-cooked, delicious meals, with a a taste of the region. They bring home sweets, wines, and cheeses. Ahhh, the good life, especially now that they’re retired.

  • Richard May
    August 15, 2012 5:40pm

    Your photos as always so crisp to the eye and inviting to the palate and your stories always so interesting, taking us with you. I wanted to have the moules-frites for breakfast this morning! The Brittany weather sounds like ours in San Francisco. High fog today, which will burn off by noon.

  • August 15, 2012 5:40pm

    Beautiful post David. I especially loved the cats waiting for the boat to come in! Nicely done.

  • August 15, 2012 5:42pm

    great recap, David. And next time I am in Paris I need to know where that “local dive” is that serves moules-frites – looks perfectly, perfect.

    • Richard May
      August 16, 2012 12:58am

      I’d like to know as well!

  • August 15, 2012 5:42pm
    David Lebovitz

    French Girl in Seattle: When I worked at a restaurant in the US, we got “European-style” vacations, meaning several weeks. Folks started working those weeks, rather than taking them off, and taking the pay. Until the owner stepped in and told everyone that they had to take vacations..that was the purpose of the lengthy vacation policy (!)

    Anu: They’ve had posters in the métro stations warning people about what happens if they abandoned their pets, since it’s been happening here during the summer months. (I was also here during the big heat wave in 2005, when 15,000 people died, many elderly folks, left behind when their families split for summer vacation.) It’s rather unbelievable that people do that, although pets do get abandoned elsewhere as well. And it’s great the in France, they are finally publicizin the problem so hopefully it will stop.

    Richard: Brittany is really great, but it’s nice to be able to go somewhere and sit out in the sun. Brittany does have its sunny days, but we’ve gone and had some less-than-idea vacation weather. So it’s nice to head south. (And yes, I remember those San Francisco foggy days all too well..)

    • Richard May
      August 16, 2012 1:00am

      For redheads the sun is overrated. Haha!

  • August 15, 2012 5:54pm

    This makes me long for the time and resources to spend a couple weeks on the French coast. Your photos make me feel like I’m there already!

  • Nikki
    August 15, 2012 5:54pm

    David, thanks for sharing the glories so intensely that we can taste them! Just where is this piece of heaven?

  • Angel
    August 15, 2012 5:56pm

    Les murenes – moray eels! I didn’t know those were edible. I’ve only seen them in aquariums. I’d hate to meet one in the water.

  • Petra
    August 15, 2012 5:59pm

    Another wonderful article with gorgeous photos. Thank you for sharing your adventures in France.

  • August 15, 2012 6:04pm

    I was lucky enough to spend my “vacances” in Provence this year as well. I can attest to the danger of running out of rose! Man, those salads look good–is there anything better than adding avocado to tomato salad? And thanks for reminding me about tzatziki. I’ve got to get on that stat before the good cucumbers are gone. ps. love the cat pic!

  • Jane G.
    August 15, 2012 6:30pm

    Very glad you had such a heavenly vacation.

    And sorry you got stung. The jellyfish problem is way more than an inconvenience to beachgoers, though. It’s a major threat to seafood! And you know other ecological stuff. “Unprotected shellfish” populations could be gone by the middle of the century. Jellyfish both benefit from and cause global warming and accompanying ocean acidification. Here’s an article from the Guardian, earlier this summer:


  • August 15, 2012 6:39pm

    It looks like you had an amazing trip, I’m not surprised that you were more relaxed going home. The fish looked amazing. We’re hoping to travel to Provence next Summer, now I can’t wait!

  • Stu Borken
    August 15, 2012 6:47pm

    Murenes. I looked. I will never swim in the ocean again. You are lucky your nether regions only were attacked by jelly fish!
    David, you introduced me to Paris. I went, I saw, I walked, I ate, I fell in love with the city, I bought a bread knife at Poilane and a proofing basket for my breads.
    I learned greetings and good byes. I learned to order water and not expect ice or bread plates or butter. I could order coffee and my baguette crispy. I NEVER met any surly wait staff. Thank you for prepping me and my friends for France. It was a dream come true.

  • Mag
    August 15, 2012 7:03pm

    Not Varisians, but Varois and Varoises…

  • Nick
    August 15, 2012 7:24pm

    So glad you had a great time David. We are doing our usual juant down to the Luberon in a few weeks. Too far from the coast for so much fish but its not far to travel for a hit now and again. And anyway, we have weekends in Boulogne, France’s largest fishing port and home to more fine fish restaurants than you can shake a sharp stick at.
    We stay, high on a ridge over looking the Calavon valley with the many vinyards of the Cote du Luberon, olives groves and of course the trees bearing fruit for preserving. The local lamb is sublime, the sheep spend their lives clambering over the rocky tussocky hills and mountains just a few miles away round Sault.
    The local Marche de Paysanne at Coustellet in wonderful too, so much local fruit vegetables, cheese, wine …..
    Have you heard the rumour that the long hoildays are so city bound sons and daughters can go help Mamma and Pappa with the harvest?
    I was suitable stunned to find that at my first hoilday – after all 10 saints days – my regular check went in to my bank (you are given a half afternoon off to go check) and there was my wages plus my “holiday pay” extra funds just when you need them. Now that’s civilisation!

  • Lizzie
    August 15, 2012 7:31pm

    I am always awed at the colorful, well-chosen photos and the EDUCATIONAL info always with easy links; yes, the cats were – well – so patiently – waiting! were they choosing? thank you for sharing.

  • August 15, 2012 7:31pm

    I happen to stumble across your blog last week when I was searching for a lemon curd recipe…WOW! Was I happy I found you. I signed up right away and have been enjoying your posts since. ( I can’t wait to make the eggplant jam by the way)…anywho, today was the first one I read entirely and am glad I took the time to see what you are all about besides being a tremendous chef. Amazing photos!

    You have a lovely and entertaining way of speaking and interpreting your thoughts…I’m hooked! Thx for sharing your vacances…oh! and I was stung on the back of my thighs by a large jellyfish once, way back when my family first moved to CA. That sucker really hurt…they say you’re supposed to pee on the area and it takes out the sting…I never tried it,but maybe keep that in mind for your next swim..ha ha….thx again, june

  • August 15, 2012 7:38pm

    Wonderful article about lesser know unspoilt parts of Southern France.
    I hope by now your sting is feeling much better (lol).
    I go every year to a small French village named Montalba-le-Château.
    It’s a delightfully away from tourists but still in easy reach of the beach, mountains,
    and Perpignan airport.

    Of course you can’t go down to that part of the coast without having moules-frites
    and one or two bouillabaisse type dishes. I do like the Catalan influence on the food
    in that area and love taking long substantial lunches and then just a light supper.

  • Helen Christ
    August 15, 2012 7:50pm

    OOOOOHHH, David! You lucky person you! You reminded me of lazy days gone by and happy…yummy, European holidays. So glad I can live through your adventures. Glad you had a fine time. AND I bet you could push it to two weeks if you really tried.

    By the way, those eels will only come after you if you go down between rocks and stick your hands in dark places. Don’t let them spoil your fun in the cool, lovely water.

    Thanks for the memories, David!

  • Lien
    August 15, 2012 7:53pm

    Awesome vacance! the fresh fish and mussels make my mouth water … love the picture of beautiful cats, they look well fed :-)

  • August 15, 2012 9:11pm

    I’m just back from my week-vacation on Delaware bay. Got some seafood feasts over there too..but water colors are not even close to Provence. Well, may be some day..Thank you – I enjoyed very much your tail. It was fun and pleasure for eyes to look at bright pictures! Yeaa, I’m into rose wine too..

  • August 15, 2012 9:28pm

    What a glorious holiday! Even though I live not so far from here, we always go inland and seldom to the sea. Now I know what I’m missing I shall try and remedy that! Talk about not seeing whats on your doorstep!!

  • August 15, 2012 9:43pm

    What a beautiful post. That is true vacation right there…

  • david lipkin
    August 15, 2012 10:27pm

    Your picture are fabulous and really make the blog even better. What kind of camera do you use and do you enhance the pictures with software prior to posting?

  • August 15, 2012 10:31pm

    Gorgeous photos, I love the cats watching the fish!

  • Judith
    August 15, 2012 10:42pm

    I applaud the French for taking five weeks, but as someone who lives in the South of France, I keep wondering why they all take les vacances at the same time. As an American, I look to get to a place in off season. No crowds on the beach or on the highways. It’s just a different sensibility.

  • Anne-Marie Prichard
    August 15, 2012 11:22pm

    Thank you for sharing the South of France with us. The photographs are beautiful! I was almost tempted to touch the fish and the vegetables because they look absolutely real. Your text and the photos reminded me of the many summers I spent in the Var (the people there are called Varois), and on the coast. When I was a child, I used to get up at 5 AM to meet the “pecheurs” so I could gather star fish, sea shells, and other treasures from the bottom of the nets. If you return next year, perhaps for a longer vacation, you might explore the Haut Var. Very picturesque, with villages perched high on rocks in the middle of nowhere. I am a bit homesick…

  • Vanessa
    August 16, 2012 12:55am

    Great post. I was in vacation just by reading it ! You definitely have an awesome writing style. Thanks for sharing. And thank you so much for supporting the French wine economy. :)

    I’m quite surprised your French friends didn’t know what a murène is. Though I would have never thought it could be eaten.

    What’s the name of that town in the Var where fish can be bought directly to fishermen? It would definitely be my next vacation destination, the next time I get enough days from my Californian boss to go back home…

  • Wordbird
    August 16, 2012 1:09am

    At least now I have proof that my fear of eels is nothing Freudian, but a fact-based phobia of those nasty jaws.

    What a lovely holiday though! I hope you are just a tad more relaxed and de-stressed after it.

  • August 16, 2012 1:16am

    The colors and photographs are incredible. Lucky you. Thanks for sharing it all!

  • August 16, 2012 2:23am

    “I know, because my stingy boss (…and that would be me) limited my vacation to a measly seven days.” ha ha, this’s so true :). I’m think that one well spent week is more is much better than five, when you have to check your phone or watches. You obviously spent your week off very well. By the way, these photos are amazing! Especially the cats! I would love to see their face expression :)

  • JenniferF
    August 16, 2012 3:38am

    Your writing is so engaging, I love following along on your adventures. Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos and narratives with us!

    The hungry kitties photo looks like something straight out of National Geographic.

  • August 16, 2012 5:58am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us David. My French husband who now works in the US misses the vacation days that the French are used to and the focus on the importance of vacation.

  • Andrea
    August 16, 2012 6:36am

    There’s a thing in the reef with the big shiny teeth
    That’s a moray
    Put your hand in a crack and you won’t get it back
    From a moray

    Silly diving song my uncle taught me when I was little. Still, eels will definitely mess you up if you tangle with them.

  • August 16, 2012 7:02am

    Hi David,
    I have just started to blog and would love it if I can put you on my blog roll.
    Your tips about how to blog about food are really helpful. Thanks a lot!


  • August 16, 2012 7:32am
    David Lebovitz

    david: I used my G12 for these photos. You can read more about my photos and editing at my post, Food Photography Gear.

    Vanessa: I find quite a number of people here aren’t familiar with certain fish & shellfish from other regions, especially things that don’t show up at the markets often, like violets. I’ve never seen a Murène at a poissonèrie in Paris, although occasionally I see conger eels.

    Judith: I don’t know if it’s me, or that’s changing, but some people actually prefer to be in Paris in August, when everyone is gone. And some take their vacations in July, or September. I’ve been in Paris in August when the temperature is so hot you can barely stand it and other times, it’s been rainy & cold. But I like Paris in August because there’s hardly anyone here and it’s so much calmer. (Although I needed an electrician last week and couldn’t find one open!)

  • Lori Cooper
    August 16, 2012 7:34am

    Oh, I wish I were there! My family and I house swapped with a family in the Var region, near Toulon, two summers ago and it was the most outstanding trip of our lives. Your photos and descriptions brought back many memories. Merci!

  • August 16, 2012 10:53am

    Ah you were in my neck of the woods! The back forests away from the sea are just as beautiful, hope you got a chance to visit there too. And it looks like you had plenty of rosé. Anything particularly good?

    Living here, I have to say, I’m kind of glad the crise made people stay home. I know it’s awful for the economy and all that, but it’s nice to be able to go shopping and take the bus without having to fight a million tourists. You’re probably used to it in Paris, but it’s less fun in 32°C heat.

  • August 16, 2012 11:00am

    The photo with the cats is magic!

  • August 16, 2012 9:16pm

    the murène looks like the stupid, horrible sidekicks of the evil Ursula in the Disney Movie Little Mermaid… tee hee

  • Suzanne
    August 16, 2012 10:31pm

    In honor of Julia Child’s 100 birthday yesterday, the local public tv station re-broadcast the episode of her making bouilliabase, inlcuding eel and scorpian fishes. I think the lesson was the uglier the fish, the tastier the broth.

  • Kirsten
    August 17, 2012 12:12am

    I was just thinking of taking a vacation when I read your article! I don’t think I need more to be convinced to head there!

    Would you mind recommending places to stay and go?


  • August 17, 2012 1:00am

    The color in the pictures is truly beautiful and I love the cats lined up at the dock. My husband does business in Europe and come August, all comes to a standstill while his clients are away. Last year, we decided to take a two week vacation to Cabo San Lucas, our first ever two week vacation, and it was heaven! The second week was when we really forgot about work and absolutely relaxed. Our goal is to take two weeks every other year, though maybe we should rethink that and go for five! I hope you can up yours next year and share even more pics! Now, I’m going to go look at the scary fish!

  • August 17, 2012 3:18am

    Wow, great close-up photo of le cigale. I got a not-as-great photo (little bugger was a tad out of reach), but a decent video (mostly for the audio). Perhaps this will bring you back: http://justinsomnia.org/2012/08/song-of-the-cigale/

  • August 17, 2012 3:41am

    Your photos are very nice and the meals you had sounds so delicious. The reason people in France, and in Europe, have more vacations is because they value their joie de vivre more than most people in the US. In the US they value money more. I remember at work once, here in Georgia, we had visiting managers from a company in Bordeaux. One of the French told us that their staff (both the hourly – blue-collar and the office employees) asked for a raise, actually they had a strike. The French management told their employees they would give them a raise but would cut their vacation by one day, it was the employees choice. The employees decided against the raise and to keep their vacation. This would never have happened in the US – they would have gone for the money for sure. The culture is very different. At work here in the US we had vacation paid between Christmas and New Year – many employees took their vacation time during that time so they could get paid twice – and then of course they would have one less week of vacation, but many liked that because of the money. This would never have happened at the job I had in Paris. You know, I don’t even think there is a federal law in the US to give employees paid vacations – or is there one? . Ici, c’est l’amour de l’argent- en France on aime les vacances!

    • August 17, 2012 10:14am
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, it’s great that people take extended vacations in France and people do really appreciate the time off. The looming issue that’s facing the government in France right now is that there is a debt of €32 billion due by 2013 and the government needs to figure out a way to find the funds to pay off that hefty sum. It’s a wonderful benefit, and I hope that they can find a way to both raise the funds to pay off the debt and still be able to offer generous vacation time. (As you mentioned, the workers are prone to striking when there’s talk about reducing benefits, so it’s another complex issue the current government needs to face.)

  • August 17, 2012 6:18am

    thank you so much for sharing this with us. the picture of the cats really made me smile. :)

  • August 17, 2012 8:20am

    I have read all the comments and can’t believe that nobody has thought to ask where you were?! I understand that you are suitably vague about your whereabouts, presumably to try to avoid a mini Peter Maylesque stampede to a deliciously undiscovered coastal part of Provence but perhaps just a small hint……… a tempting teaser…a tiny clue……a mere suggestion of where this rural idyll is……would be incredibly much appreciated.

  • August 17, 2012 3:31pm

    Great post – enjoyed reading about your experiences, and I love the photographs.

  • August 17, 2012 6:54pm

    Rested and relaxed! It really comes through your writing. =) Five weeks sounds kinda awesome, too.

  • Sherry
    August 17, 2012 11:55pm

    Loved your photos and can’t believe you got such great color out of a point and shoot..I guess it doesn’t hurt that the light in Provence is so incredible. My mouth was watering just looking at the delicious food, and what I wouldn’t give for a salad with beautiful cherry tomatoes like that..

  • hag
    August 18, 2012 12:22am

    Great photos,yet again! Looks like a fabulous time. One question… how big are cicadas? The photo you have makes it look about 20 cm long? I have been to the south of France before and ‘heard’ the cicadas, but have never seen them. If they are truly that large, you think I would have!

  • August 18, 2012 1:35pm

    Tu as raison: une semain seulement, ce n’est pas assez. Touts tes photos des poissons sont excellants!

  • ranchodeluxe
    August 18, 2012 11:37pm

    Yum- moule frites- all I have are Hatch chiles roasting on the grill ;-)

    Thank you for sharing your vacation. You continue to be so gracious. Che bella!

  • Mads Collin
    August 19, 2012 4:48am

    DavidBaby, In Denmark we have had 6 weeks vacations for years. And we want MORE! xoxo Mads

  • August 19, 2012 6:37am

    Now I’m relaxed and rested after taking this vacation with you. And I’m ready to cook some fish! Adore those fish images…

  • August 19, 2012 10:12am

    great pictures. the one with boat and cats looks like greek location.

  • Patricia
    August 20, 2012 4:15am

    I love your “cats” photo!!! Yes, long vacations are great. Although I’m in Canada I’m lucky enough to work at a place that lets you earn 6 weeks vacation if you’ve worked there for a long time. Hope you enjoyed your time off. :-)

  • August 20, 2012 5:58pm

    What a trip! Loved this post. I’m all about a good rosé this summer, too. Hope you give yourself another week off before too long.

  • August 21, 2012 3:43am

    I hope you ‘graduate’ to a five week vacation too, because you have spoiled me with the 7 day stuff and I am gluttonous for 7 x’s 5. ;)

    Love the first photo, heck, I love all of them, but I am also very fond of the kitty cats photo.

  • August 21, 2012 9:59pm

    Mussels bathed in cream and garlic? Swoon! I loved every single picture. Thanks for sharing.

  • August 22, 2012 9:57am

    Lovely, lovely post! I am unspeakably jealous. I’d happily only take one week of vacation if it could be somewhere like that! :)

  • carla
    August 23, 2012 9:07am

    Wow what a nice vacation David! I once saw a picture of an murené and a line that said: Murené always look like they just told a joke they really like and are now waiting for the others to laugh.” Now all I can think of is that line when I see them. It cracks me up every time! :) With that in mind they look cute. Try it!

  • Joe Lillard
    August 23, 2012 2:08pm

    Glad you enjoyed your vacation in our part of France. In case you want an encore, we would welcome you to harvest in early September near Castillon du Gard. We manage each year to talk friends and neighbors into joining us in the vines for a few hours of picking followed by a fabulous lunch with delicious La Gramiere wine – lots of it, of course.

  • August 24, 2012 4:05pm

    I’d love to try out all those fresh finds. Those fish looks like it will make a good soup base. I love their colors and the fact that they are fresh catch would mean that they still have its sweet taste and lovely texture when cooked. Yum yum! I am so gonna try it when I go on vacation to France.

  • Carolyn Z
    August 26, 2012 2:44am

    Love to see the kitties. Also your shadow in the picture. Glad you had a vacation!

  • Karin
    August 28, 2012 3:17pm

    Looks like you had a lovely time in my neck of the woods. Such good fish! You make me wish to take a vacation right in my back yard. I vacationed on the Basque coast – I highly recommend it. As for the vacances (pl) – I can only say: Just do it! Two or three weeks is great. And for the reality check, both my husband and I did short work-related communication when something urgent came up. Otherwise, it was just late breakfasts, beach picnics, walks, apero and late dinners.

  • September 2, 2012 1:59pm

    heheheh i love that picture of the cats watching the boats come in. Sounds like a awesome trip!

  • September 2, 2012 2:46pm

    ahhhhhhhhh. les vacances. ahhhhhhh.

  • debra
    September 3, 2012 4:57pm

    hi david–love your posts (and books)!

    i didn”’t know morays were edible, either. grew up in the caribbean where we ate just about anything from the sea, but those never appeared anywhere on the table, or even on the fishing boats!

    guess i’m ready to try one, tho–but only if someone else catches and cleans it:)

  • Eileen
    September 8, 2012 3:40pm

    David, please (please) write a travel book! I have kept this web page open on my desktop through the last dog days of August and now into September. Cannot bear to close it. So lovely! Thank you.