Published Jul 22, 2010

It seems like every vacation Mrs. DJ L’il Bit and I have taken has had its own specialty drink — not just a featured beverage, but something that we never drink at home that comes to the forefront during travel. There were daiquiris in Hawaii, our first vacation; beer seemed to be the theme of our honeymoon (it’s true, neither one of us is a strong fan of beer); and, on this trip, it’s been rosé wine. Despite all of the improvements in American wine over the past couple of decades in particular, at least in California we don’t really get a good, refreshing, delicious rosé. But, in hot weather in France, that’s exactly what comes out in droves. With a good dose of flavor, like a red, but all of the lightness and refreshment of a white, there’s no beating it.

The best way, if you ask me — and you must have, coming to this site and all — to enjoy your rosé is to order what the French call a pitcher de rosé (say “pee-chay duh roh-say”), or carafe of the very, very local pink-colored hooch. Since practically every little village in France has its own historic wine variety, AOC or not, featuring a distinct blend of grapes, unique terroir, and individual handling and aging practices, the pitcher guarantees you a flavor you’ve never experienced before. And, at usually something like €6 for 25cl (that’s 2 glasses, for those using imperial measurements) or €12 for 75cl (that’s, like, a lot), it’s a very, very economical choice. (That Coke you’d choose otherwise is at least €2 and you might pay €4 for a pint of beer, so €6 looks pretty good in comparison.) We’ve been enjoying pitchers de rosé at almost every dinner, and not a few lunches, everywhere we’ve been.

Even the little island we’re on right now has its own wineries making their own rosé — actually, this includes maybe the best rosé we’ve had all trip. We’re in a little place called Porquerolles (say “pork-uh-roll”), an island off of the famous (and unaffordable) Côte d’Azur, where you find places like Cannes and Monte Carlo. Porquerolles has apparently, by the reaction we’ve gotten from French friends when we told them we were going there, been quite the special getaway for denizens of this country. We found it by googling “Mediterranean sandy beach,” which isn’t so common a thing as you’d think, then narrowing that down to places that we could reach by rail, when it turned out that Ryanair didn’t fly to any place we really wanted to make our getaway.  

Porquerolles is a little slice of heaven. It’s slow and covered in green, sporting three separate wineries and four main beaches on just a few square kilometers. An enormous din of crickets provides a soothing soundtrack everywhere you go; unlike the cicadas of the east, these little pests stay out of the way and aren’t clumsy at all.

We’re staying at a hotel on the island, charmingly painted a lobster bisque peach with blue shutters, which includes a demi-pension, or breakfast and dinner at the hotel — a great deal given that the hotel’s restaurant gets a Michelin star! Service at the hotel itself is four-star (in the French national rating system, the place gets four stars). There’s a beach just past the hotel, it’s not private but it’s quiet enough since the town’s a good hour’s walk away, and the hotel has parasols, towels, and cushions out on the soft sand. The water’s warm — we’re on the Mediterranean — although a bit cool in the morning. And it’s shockingly clear and a bright blue, reminiscent of the Carribbean.

A couple of years ago, the not-yet-Mrs. DJ L’il Bit got me on a plane to Hawaii, where I discovered that I really do love the ocean, being a Cancer water baby and all. Before this trip, realizing it was time to replace our old point-n-shoot, we got a waterproof camera and have been enjoying ourselves with it in the ocean.

The main way around the island is along several dusty upland roads, either on foot (our choice) or via bicycle (not our choice, since, for her, it’s too hilly, and for me, bikes are scary). We’re a good 40 minutes by foot from the main town, or 10 if we take a hotel shuttle that runs hourly. When we walk, we make a bit of a sport of watching the poor bicyclists, told that the beach was “just up that way,” as the sweat and curse their way up the dirt road, covered in yellow dust and sweat. Nothing like a hot, dirty walk home, followed directly by a plunge into the sea.

Town itself has a variety of cute and not-so-cute restaurants, catering to the island’s other hotels, the throngs who sail their boats into the packed marina, and also daytime visitors who come on the hourly summer ferries. It’s a charming Mediterranean place, looking like a slightly-local variation on all of the charming, small towns that cover the northern coast of that sea all the way from Spain to Turkey. To add to its charm and character, the town even has a jazz festival going on, with shows nightly in many of the grander local attractions; we stumbled into an impromptu concert in the square one day.

The place is filled with the French, a smattering of Italians, a few Germans, and even a couple of Americans like us. I got one compliment on my French from a man who has an accent that shows he doesn’t come from around here, but otherwise have frankly struggled with the thick southern France accent of the island, in which words blend together in a mellifluous monotone… my brain often needs a second to process the speach, during which time I believe I have a blank, dumb look on my face, that causes people to switch into English, much to my consternation. I know they’re being nice, but, dammit, I want to practice my French!

The styles worn around here are obviously European, not American, with the kids sporting t-shirts containing English slogans that one would’ve figured they could read, given Western Europe’s vaunted language education, but which somehow read “I Don’t Need Anything” (on a 13-year-old girl, who you figure wouldn’t mean it), “American College State Beach Team,” and, best of all “Elmira City Schools,” with an elaborate crest. (Incidentally, the kids all through France are also wearing Franklin and Marshall, which either speaks to some odd logo theft or a study abroad program that’s remarkably comprehensive for such a small school.)

Adults wear looks that would fit in less in the US, with, of course, a great deal of toplessness on beaches, and Speedos for the guys; Dr. Neil Roberts on the OC-style lush, wavy hair for men, with pastel shirts that would be garish even on Martha’s Vineyard or a white linen shirt with only the button directly above the navel closed; and short shorts, especially on men, and especially on this one guy who had tucked up the ends of his Umbro running shorts so that he had, basically, a poofy, nylon speedo on, as he walked through town shirtless, fanny pack bulging, walking stick forging ahead, family in tow.

Porquerolles is right off of several of France’s main Mediterranean fishing ports, and it shows. Dinner the first night was a prawn the size of a lobster tail, and lunch is either a deep pot of mussels — six sauces, your choice, including the old standby of wine and garlic, and going all the way up to gorgonzola — fisherman’s salad — featuring an assortment of fish and shrimp — or a pasta with an immense pile of assorted, and very fresh, shellfish, tasting so much of the sea. Breakfast… well, that’s croissants, of course, we being in France! 

The goodies we’ve eaten are so delicious that a local seagull has taken to feigning injury to get sympathy scraps of food. He was walking along, his wing hanging like it was broken, and, our hearts breaking too, we almost considered giving him food; or at least we considered, at length, if there were any large predators on this island who would eat him before his wing knit. Then one of his friends flew past and loudly honked to him some news, and he flew off, unencumbered, wing unbroken and working fine. I do suppose the racket works for him, which would not be a surprise since I’m pretty sure the other day I saw one of the town’s two stray dogs get thrown an entire sandwich by the pan bagnat stand man.

Since Porquerolles is just off of one of France’s older ports, and near two other major ones, it was of course fortified. We’ve taken short hikes — did I mention hot and dusty? — to two of the main forts, the 18th-century Saint Agatha and Grand Langoustier; we also walked to a late 18th-century place called, seriously, the Windmill of Happiness. I suppose that either tells us about Walt Disney’s early influence or the locomotive power of air. 

The best part of these hikes has been the vistas from these dominating spots, which let us take in the beauty of the island and its surrounds:

It’s hard to decide what to do here: lie on the beach… lie by the pool… eat great food at the hotel… lie on a chaise longue under the pine trees… sit on the veranda… travel into town for a delicious, and cheap, meal, or some great ice cream… but now it’s back to Paris, then onto a plane to fly home.