Pure Pleasure Provençal Style
Will someone please get me out of this ‘godforsakingly’ incredibly beautiful place before I get fat and die a happy death!?
The train down to Nice was easy, even if for only one evening — for an excursion designed to meet with the guest currently staying in “Le Matisse” and clients interested in investing in a new home on the Riviera. It was strange to stay in a hotel with Le Matisse just across the street, but for just one night, I could give up my luxurious bathtub and sunny, cheerful apartment…but not without remorse.
The guest naturally allowed me to come up, say hello to “Henri-le-Cactus,” who has grown another few inches and whose ‘pups’ are growing larger every day. Henri loves his spot in the corner in front of the large window and must enjoy watching the world go by on rue Masséna as much as we do.
Nice was its usual nice self, in spite of cool, gray skies, a few drops of rain and the semi-quiet of the spring season. The restaurants were not overflowing with tourists, but the stores were a beehive of local shoppers and the streets were lively. I prefer shopping in Nice better than Paris — the same chain stores carry different products for the Riviera market. I find the colors are brighter and happier; the clothing more casual and fun than Paris’ smoky tones of sophisticated digs.
With old friends who live not far from “La Petite Syrah,” there was no party other than ours in the restaurant, for what reason we couldn’t fathom. The meal there was exceptional and the service particularly friendly and accommodating. One might guess that they have to put up with rude tourists on occasion as on the “ardoise” (blackboard) is a “petit” promotion that offers coffee at a lower price if one is particularly polite:
PRIX DU CAFE EN TERRASSE
“UN CAFE, S’IL VOUS PLAIT”…4,25€
“BONJOUR, UN CAFE, S’IL VOUS PLAIT”…1,40€
Saturday, after meeting with our clients prior to starting off on a search for a perfect apartment with a sea view, old friends from Bonn, Germany, flew in to Nice. They picked up a rental car in which I hopped to get on the road to Ansouis — a tiny village in the Luberon area of Provence — to visit with our mutual friend from Chicago who owns a beautiful multi-level village house there.
The Luberon is my favorite part of Provence. There is no doubt why the region is so seductive to so many. Within the region known as the “Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur” are various administrative departments: 04 Alpes de Haute Provence, 05 Hautes alpes, 06 Alpes Maritimes, 13 Bouches du Rhône, 26 Drome, 30 Gard, 83 Var and 84 Vaucluse. The Vaucluse is where the towns of the Luberon are perched — in this regional park made up of a “band of hills and mountains running east from the Rhone valley to the Alps, between the river Durance and the department of the Drome, from Cavaillon to Manosque. This is where Peter Mayle’s ‘Year in Provence’ is set (Ménerbes).”
In the course of two days, we trekked by car from village to village and while we didn’t visit every single one, we got very close to a ‘full house.’ On the list, but not in this order, we managed to spend a bit of time in each of the following towns: Ansouis, Bonnieux, Cadenet, Gordes, Grambois, Isle-sur-Sorgue, Lagnes, Lourmarin, Ménerbes, Oppede-le-Vieux and Roussillon.
Every town is distinctly different. It would be virtually impossible to decide which one is best to call home — like a good restaurant menu, it’s difficult to choose from every dish that sounds delicious. And so it is with the towns of Provence.
Barb Westfield always felt that Ansouis actually chose her, not the other way ’round. It’s a long story about how as she landed in town during a walking tour of the region, fell in love with this particular village house, only to learn soon after, that it had just come up for sale by the owner — a woman who was a native of her Uncle’s town in Italy, who had just passed away. For her it was an omen that she was supposed to assume the responsibility of this particular house and has been happy ever since in the constant care of it and hosting all those who are its guests. I am one of the very fortunate regulars to take advantage of it and Barb’s warmth and hospitality.
With each visit, it is expected to take a tour the region and with turn comes a host of very special experiences as we go along the way discovering each village — its beauty, its history and its people.
The rain having come down hard Saturday night, overwhelmingly changed the just budding trees and shrubs in full sunlight during the day to fully blossomed bright spring green colored foliage — having given the landscape a big boost as if someone had doused it with Miracle-Gro® fertilizer. In full bloom are the cherry trees with their white blossoms and the wisteria vines are ripe with flowers. It was awe-inspiring to see Provence change its face overnight, adding to the incredible beauty at every turn.
Dining in Provence is beyond ridiculous. We had gourmet meal after gourmet meal without really trying and without spending a lot of money. In fact, not one meal was less than exceptional and exciting — both in taste and presentation. No doubt if I stayed another minute, I would get fat, but die a happy death.
Here are just a few for your next adventure in the land of lavender:
In Oppede-le-Vieux, you can park and walk up or drive to the top and discover a very remote spot embedded halfway up the north face of the Luberon. After being abandoned for many years, the village came back to life after WWII thanks to artists, sculptors and writers who moved into the empty houses and renovated them (including the wife of the writer Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince). With them has come one of the region’s best dining offerings — a corner café named appropriately, if not generically, “Le Petit Café.”
It was here we had our biggest dining surprise, excelling on all counts. The setting is surrealistically remote yet incredibly sophisticated. It was also here where we met Celeste and Joanna — two young friends playing in the center of town on a Saturday afternoon. Residents of Oppède-le-Vieux, they were anxious to practice their English and engaged us in conversation. Celeste had been spending her time drawing the monument in the center of the Place on a piece of white paper with just a simple pencil. As a gift, she offered me her beautiful drawing for which I was honored, thanked her and promised to treasure it forever.
The big market comes to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue every Sunday (originating from November 9, 1596) and so do all the townsfolk to take advantage of the market and the beautiful riverside setting. We strolled the market and purchased a few things for dinner (fresh asparagus and sweet deep red strawberries) in spite of the cold, rainy weather. This is a town that is not only beautiful, but boasts of a profound history. At one time known as “Insula,” the river Sorgue served as a moat around ramparts which surrounded the town until 1795. The river is a source for food and industry and is a busy commercial center for the region with two annual fairs and two weekly markets along the riverside.
One needs a lifetime to fully experience Provence. It’s so seductive with its beauty, color, scents and style. There is “mas” after “mas” — traditional Provençal farmhouses — surrounded by vineyards set far from the road looking stately and inviting. It’s so easy to imagine oneself inside and loving the elegant, but relaxed way of life. But I dream…
Today we all went our separate ways — me back to Paris, our German friends back to Bonn, Barb’s business colleague back to Colorado, leaving Barb in her big beautiful Provencal house all to herself…but I doubt for long! We are all ready to turn right around and head back to Provence.
A la prochaine,
(In Provence, 2015)
P.S. Join us once again for a FREE Financial Forum & Economic Update, on Thursday, April 23rd, 2015, from 6 to 8 p.m. sponsored by the Adrian Leeds Group with presentations and Q & A by Dunhill Financial.
Learn more at Conferences and Workshops and please register in advance by visiting: dunhillfinancial.be/events.html
P.P.S. Our clients found the perfect apartment in just one afternoon: a one-bedroom apartment with balcony in Villefranche-sur-Mer with a drop dead gorgeous view of the sea, Cap Ferrat and the village below. If you’d like to be so lucky, let us know! Email [email protected] to learn more about our property consultation and search services.