In the Shadow of the Pope
Updated: Aug 17
The whole reason for La Mirande to exist is the choice of Avignon for the papacy. The magnificent architectural UNESCO sight is the object of legends. Built in less than 20 years starting in 1335, the Popes' Palace is the combination of two palaces built by two popes: Benedict XII and his successor Clement VI who built the New Palace. One of the cardinals accompanying pope Clement V was his nephew, Cardinal de Pellegrue, who built a smaller palace, as cardinals’ did to be in a privileged location of adjoining the Popes’ Palace. As we know, these gentlemen were the princes of the church and lived faithfully like royalty as well. In the 14th century, the Popes' Palace was occupied by 7 popes before the return of the papacy to Rome and leaving Avignon behind.
Thus today, La Belle Mirande sits truly in the shadow of the of the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The handsome petite 700 year old palace was noticed in 1987 by the art loving Steins, who renovated it as a labor of love. Creating the 19 room hotel with exquisite historical decorative arts; tapestries and modern painting are in beautiful harmony. Softly lit rooms mute the opulence, offering comfortable corners to sit and observe the different decors. Smooth but worn parquet floors shine, like whispering to you, there are many stories to be told by all those shuttling feet of days gone by.
It is registered as historical French patrimony, but it lives and breathes with life. Having an aperitif in the walled garden filled with scents of jasmine and roses is an indulgence. Another pleasure is the cooking school names Le Marmiton, which is the name for kitchen lad, is in the basement. The kitchen is small, but grand in its décor of longstanding cabinets from floor to ceiling with a wood-burning oven with cast-iron top and a jumbo work table in the center for participants to gather.
Our chef Jean-Claude Altmayer has the most jovial personality, so I wasn’t at all deterred from handling my assignment of peeling the potatoes….we didn’t even have to say “will work for wine” it was being poured. Each of us were doing small chores, but it was Jean-Claude who was explaining our menu. Our recipes for a veal rack with honey and a sauce of cardamom as the main course, but there was also Cepes et Foie Gras, Turbot roti, and dessert was Moelleux au chocolat! It was fun, casual with a delicious tastes here and there and there was even a tour of the wine cellar, which made for a great morning. After which we sat in the dining room to tuck in – revelation! There were lavender mashed potatoes served with the veal. Knock me down! Again it was one of those mouthfuls that stop you in your tracks! Who would have thought??
Yes there are lavender fields here in Provence, yes you can bath in it, have it in drinks, and while it repels pests it attracts butterflies and bees in droves, but I never dreamed that these culinary flowers could completely transform a dish. I am sure there was a good amount of quality French butter as well. Try it!!
I have now experimented with lavender recipes – I will share this:
Shortbreads with lavender.
Confectioners’ sugar 1 cup
Sweet butter 2 sticks
Cake flour 2 ½ cups
Vanilla 2 teaspoons
Culinary Lavender flowers ½ cup
Hotel La Mirande, Avignon