We will miss you. We already miss the silence, the tranquility of our former abode, the captivating view of Luberon hills from our balcony, the sometimes mysterious, ever-fascinating sky, friends and friendly village folk … Life on the Mediterranean coast, where we now live, is so different, but it has many pluses. More about those in a future post.
We were attracted to Reillanne because it is a genuine, old Provencal perched village. It has not been gussied up like those Luberon villages Peter Mayle made famous: — Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Menerbes. Reillanne can be rough around the edges, ruts in some streets, lanes, — especially the Impasse where we lived. Many places could definitely use a fresh coat of paint, No classy boutiques. No fancy restaurants. No locals nor visitors in designer attire. Jeans and tattoos and plenty of funky, folksy charm.
Reillanne is ancient, with origins dating back to the 6thcentury. In its early years it was a fortified village with a hilltop chateau and ramparts. The chateau is long gone, but vestiges of an 11thcentury chapel remain. And, a new (1859) church, St. Denis , which is the town landmark and a favorite photo subject. I must have hundreds of St. Denis shots. Parts of houses in the vieux village (old village), a maze of skinny, serpentine alleys, date to the 11th century.
During the ’60s Reillanne was a hippy enclave. Joan Baez is said to have had a home in Reillanne – or at least vacationed there. Some residents of that era remain, geezers easily recognized by their hairstyles. Some of today’s younger residents are seeking the same alternative lifestyle that attracted their predecessors. They are joined by artists – painters, photographers, ceramicists – who have settled in Reillanne.
Reillanne’s Sunday morning market is a star attraction, and not just for locals. We went faithfully every week to buy from our favorite vendors, to meet friends and share a coffee or glass of wine after shopping.
We can’t look back. But, I can share these photos of some of my Reillanne favorite things.
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With its gorgeous landscapes and numerous attractions, Provence is a Mecca for tourists. French. British. Dutch. Belgians. Asians. Russians, and many more.
Friends and relatives who come to visit us in the Luberon hills also enjoy the allure of Provence. Carol and Noel, friends from Germany who have retired to northern Italy, arrived in early October. Soon after came John and Mickey, VR’s (husband Vino Roberto’s) brother and sister-in-law from northern Ohio.
We kept on the move and had fun showing off our Provence favorites. A hit with all was Carrières de Lumières in Les-Baux-de-Provence. Words fail to describe this amazing place –vast caverns, formerly quarries, where a unique multimedia presentation enthralls all. The show changes every winter.
“Klimt and Vienna” is this year’s show, ending Jan. 4, which features the works of turn-of-the-century artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, plus Fritz Hundertwasser, projected on the walls and floors. Wander through the immense space, engulfed by the gigantique tableaux. Enjoy the mesmerizing musical background.
“Klimt is now one of my favorites. The show is awesome. I could have just sat there all day looking at the images,” said Carol. We, too, are overwhelmed with the production and return every year to see the new show.
The ancient town, Les-Baux-de-Provence, with its medieval château, spectacular views and boutique lined cobblestone streets, is also captivating. ”I’ve been to a million of those cutesy towns that have become little more than amusement parks. Les Baux seemed, to me, to have retained some of its soul,” commented Noel.
Mickey was especially intrigued with the site where the ruins of an 11th century citadel dominate a plateau perched on a rocky spur. She listened to the explanations on an audio headset at each numbered stop throughout the historic site. “I love castles,” she said.
Carol and Noel were also impressed with Roussillon, a touristy town whose attraction is its Sentier des ocres (ochre footpath). A trail descends into a gorge of orange/yellow walls, then winds through the woods bordered by these exotic, colorful cliffs. The area was also formerly a working quarry.
Noel had made a special request . He remembers a scene in the movie, “In Like Flint” with James Coburn, during which Coburn savors Bouillabaisse, Marseilles’ signature dish. He had to eat this legendary fish soup in Marseille. I did some
restaurant research to find a place serving authentic Bouillabaisse. Many restaurants have a version for tourists. My find, Le Ruhl, has a perfect setting on a hillside just adjacent to the Mediterranean. Great views – but the food? OK, but not great. Next time I’ll try another restaurant for Bouillabaisse
Before lunch we had hoped to take a boat ride of the calanques (dramatic fjord like inlets in the limestone cliffs between Marseille and Cassis), but due to the fierce Mistral which blows too frequently in these parts, the boats were not running. We braved the winds and took a long walk through the Vieux Port, then on to the J4 Esplanade, Marseille’s swanky new addition for 2013 when the city was the European Capital of Culture. I never tire of admiring the dazzling architecture of the new Villa Méditerranée and MuCem ( museum of Mediterranean and European culture).
Mickey and John did get to see the calanques. On a delightfully calm day we boarded the sightseeing boat in the enchanting port town, Cassis, for the excursion through parts of this dramatic coastline. It was market day in Cassis with vendors selling clothing, food, purses and all manner of souvenirs.
Markets are a major Provence attraction. Mickey accompanied me to Forcalquier, a town near our home known for its big Monday market. “I loved the shopping you did at the outdoor market,” she later said. “ I really liked that you were able to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, produce, eggs, fish and sausages direct from the farmers the same morning they were picked. I enjoyed listening to you get a better price for the shawl/cape you purchased, especially after the seller informed you this would be the last time he was going to be at the market with his items.” (It was a coat I could have done without. But when my bargaining was successful, I could not resist.)
VR and I recently joined the American Club of the Riviera. Their October agenda included an event during Mickey and John’s visit I knew we should not miss – a tour of the Henri Matisse Rosary chapel in hillside Vence above the Riviera. A documentary, basically an interview by American Barbara Freed with the late Sister Jacques Marie, the nun who played a major role in the realization of this unique structure, preceded the tour. Freed has translated the nun’s book about her relationship with Matisse into English and served as director of the documentary. She was on hand with more fascinating commentary. It’s an unbelievable story – the deep friendship between this renowned artist who was not religious and the Dominican nun, and how she influenced, inspired and encouraged him on the chapel project.
An overnight stop in Nice, my Riviera favorite, preceded our trek to Vence. We strolled along the seaside Promenade des Anglais and wandered through Old Nice.
Then back into the hills to Sospel, a town VR and I had visited many times. We had even considered moving there. We became friends with Marie Mayer who
runs a chambre d’hote (bread and breakfast), Domaine du Paraïs, where we always stayed. Her late father, Marcel Mayer, was a well known sculptor. She invited us for an aperitif in her living room filled with some of her father’s remarkable art works.
Noel and Carol are foodies like VR and I. ”Food, of course, is always high on our list,” Noel said. “The afternoon at the Dutch guy’s place was unforgettable… everything about that afternoon was wonderful – the intimate setting, the company and the food, which really was excellent.”
He was referring to Table du Bonheur, a special eatery in the hinterlands where we had an excellent lunch. (See previous post, Table of Happiness, Sept. 2, 2011)
Our food extravaganza with John and Mickey was an over-the-top meal in Italy – a lunch of multi courses at an agriturismo (farm inn), La Locanda degli Ulivi, hidden up a very long, very narrow, very windy road in the hills above Dolceacqua, a small, picturesque town just north of Ventimiglia. This was a first for me and VR. We will return, but VR said I can drive up that taxing hill next time. We must have had at least six different antipasti before two different types of pasta followed by the main course, rabbit, and the dessert. Not gourmet cuisine, but a fun experience in a livey, cozy – and very Italian — ambiance .
Throughout our drives, Mickey, who is very interested in vegetation, often asked me the names of different trees. I failed . All the lavender fields fascinated her. She’d like to come back to see them in bloom (usually July). Olive trees were another favorite. ”The olive orchards were amazing to see. It might be interesting to see the trees when in bloom or when the farmers are harvesting the olives. I noticed olives were served at all the meals.”
I asked her what was most memorable about her visit. “The view of the mountains was unbelievable, and the winding roads took our breath away. What a wonderful trip and fantastic weather! The sight reminded me of what heaven must be like. Not a lot of noise, heavy traffic, or trucks unloading but just a peaceful, restful vacation place.”
Not quite heaven, but Provence has its charms.
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Luberon weather during summer 2014 was not the stuff those vacationers from the north expect. The glorious sun that normally blazes every day in July and August, and most days in June, was too often on holiday, taking a rest behind massive clouds. Nonetheless those who rented the apartment at Les Rosiers, our home, did not complain. When the sun appeared, they were happy to plunge into the pool. They also hiked, biked, explored the region and discovered interesting sights. The season got off to an early start with our first renters who arrived in late April for a week, a young French family: Anne, Armand and precious Clement, a veritable model baby. We never heard a whimper. We rarely saw them as they set off early each morning and returned in the evening after a full day of sightseeing. Clement was no problem, his mother told me, as he was accustomed to being in the car for long periods. Amazing! Back for the fifth season, Austrians Klaus and Eva again spent four weeks with us, from early June to early July. Eva is a legal secretary, so Klaus, who is retired, arrives for the first week with his car and roof rack packed to the brim with beer and Austrian delicacies. He always presents us with generous gifts of the latter. Eva flies in for the middle two weeks. They lounge poolside, read, walk in the countryside, revisit favorite places and friends. Klaus also likes to do battle with those nasty wasps that like to drink from the pool and zap you with a painful sting if you are in the way. While in the water, he often walks around, fly swatter in hand, striking the enemies with vengeance. And, he loves to grill. He treated us to a fabulous meal of his specials one evening. Before leaving, he gave me a list of items needed in the apartment, something he has done in the past. This time he said we needed a fire extinguisher, salad spinner, and quality clothes hangers. He showed me one of the metal hangers from the apartment closet. “These are Alcatraz hangers,” he announced, and then explained that at home they use wooden hangers. Rest assured Klaus, all have been purchased. No more Alcatraz hangers. Machteld and John from the Netherlands arrived for three weeks in July. They were content to rest and relax poolside. Machteld came with 20 books. She read 16. John was often on his computer, or photographing butterflies. They raved about Bacchus, a restaurant in nearby Pierrevert that John had found on Trip Advisor. It was so good, they went three times. And, they shopped. Machteld loves to cook. She went home with a car full of French goodies, including plenty of wine. “We love France, the food, the wine, the people,” she said. They spend a summer holiday in a different part of France each summer. This was their first time in the Luberon. Fortunately, they and the other summer renters like cats. We have three, as well as many feline visitors. Machteld showed me photos of her two, one a Maine Coon, and we shared cat stories. Marco and Mireille from Alsace joined us for two August weeks. Marco was smitten with Filippo, a feisty feline who amuses with his antics, often chasing imaginary butterflies. A DJ in the evening, by day Marco manages his clothing stores. In his younger days he was a ski instructor at Val d’Isere. We had some serious ski talk. Mireille works with the elderly in a hospital. Their passion: hiking. They drove to different areas each day from where they set off on long, long treks. Wynand and Evelyn, another Dutch couple, began everyday with a poolside breakfast and swim. They were lucky — there was morning sun. Then, on to the bikes, which they had brought with them, for cycle excursions. ”We enjoyed having a coffee everyday at the Reillanne (our village) cafes,” Evelyn said. They also vacation in France every year, but usually camp near Mont Ventoux, the legendary mountain Wynand has conquered on his bicycle five times. Stef, Ninon and adorable Lise, 1 1/2 years old, came from Lyon where Ninon works as a “chef de cuisine” in a restaurant and Stef is in the communications industry. They did not venture too far, but did walk into Reillanne almost every day, about a 25-minute jaunt, at first up a very steep hill on a bumpy road. Stef pushed Lise in her baby carriage. She was another model infant — always smiling or laughing, a joy to admire. “Thank you for the welcome, the cats for their company, the flowers for their colors, the pool for its freshness and the road for its sweat, “ Ninon wrote in our guest book.
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The pool at Les Rosiers, our home, did not turn ghoulish green as it has in past summers. None of the precious roses died. We had wonderful tenants in our studio rental apartment, plus fun family visits. The crumbling pergola was replaced (but that’s another story, see previous post, “Pergola –or State Park Picnic Shelter”). We enjoyed a terrific visit to Antwerp, tasty meals at local festivals and parties with friends. Summer 2013 was better than good: Super
It kicked off in June with the arrival of Klaus, an Austrian from Graz. He and his wife Eva have been staying in our gite (French for vacation rental) for a month every year since 2010. Klaus arrives first, by car, roof rack loaded with supplies, including Austrian beer and food staples. On the way home, a large supply of wine takes the place of those goodies. Eva is a legal secretary. She comes by plane a week after Klaus arrives.
They know the area well, have friends here, enjoy revisiting favorite places and hanging out poolside. Klaus loves to cook. He brought his own knife sharpener this year. The one I supplied was not up to snuff. And, he loves to grill – lamb and sausages are his favorites. This year his grilling almost led to disaster. The morning after a previous day’s use of the grill, he emptied the ashes which he assumed were dead in the wooded area of dried leaves behind and adjacent to our house. That afternoon I was in the pool. I noticed smoke, but I assumed he was grilling again. Suddenly BB (husband Bicycle Bob) came flying down the steps from our balcony. He had seen flames. Indeed, the ashes had sprung to life and a fire had started. It was frightening. But, all to the rescue with hose and buckets of water. Catastrophe was averted.
Eva is a walker, often up at 7 a.m., setting out on a trek in the area for two to three hours. Klaus also hikes and gathers herbs and berries (juniper) and other treasures from the forests and fields. He left me with a supply of bay leaves which I have dried. Another of his favorite pastimes is visiting flea markets. During summers here, there are many on the agenda. He always finds interesting bargains.
Stepson Rob and his boys, Samuel and Lang, followed Klaus and Eva. The boys, both swimmers, loved the pool, as well as jaunts on foot to the bakery every morning with their dad. They could not get their fill of croissants. According to Rob, Samuel still asks when he can come back and get more of those croissants, which he called “amazing.”
The Gorges du Verdon, the Abbey of Senanque and Colorado Provencal were highlights for Jean and Alex, a charming couple who stayed for a week. He is French, lives and works in Colmar. She is German, originally from Leipzig, and now working for an international organization in Geneva. They both are multi-lingual, and, like many of our visitors, especially enjoyed the “calm” at Les Rosiers.
They were followed by a couple we felt were a bit strange, if not unpleasant. He always had a scowl on his face, never a smile, and once complained that the refrigerator was not cold enough (easy to fix – just turn up the dial.) They went off sightseeing and came back to lounge by the pool, but barely said a word to us. I assumed they were not happy with our accommodations. I dared not ask them to write in our guest book. Wonders never cease. They did write: “Thanks to your hospitality we have discovered the pleasures of Haute Provence…we have appreciated the coolness of your gite, the refreshing swimming pool and the calm of the surroundings.”
Roberto and Francoise from Fribourg, Switzerland, are fantastic. She is a teacher for handicapped adults – and a cat lover . She was smitten with Filippo, my rambunctious male cat. Roberto, originally from Uruguay, came with hisbicycle.
Unfortunately Francoise fell in our new pergola/State Park Picnic Shelter (SPPS) and broke her foot. They took it in stride, did not complain, and continued their stay.
As her mobility was limited after the accident, Francoise was content to sit in the yard, often with Filippo at her side, and read while Roberto rode his bike. Like Klaus, she was into wild herbs: garlic, fennel, rosemary, thyme. And oils – lavender, almond and olive. She gave me instructions on treatments using lavender oil.
Time for the British, Elaine and Paul from southeast London, who kept on the move and visited sites near and far (Arles, Pont du Grad, Gorges du Verdon, Bonnieux, Gordes). Elaine is an assistant for children with special needs at a secondary school. Paul is a quantity surveyor for a construction company. They also enjoyed Filippo’s shenanigans. Paul said Les Rosiers is “the quietest place we’ve ever been to.”
Elizabeth and Igor from Normandy stayed two weeks. They overwhelmed us with dinner invitations. Igor also likes to grill. While I was away, he invited Bob for grilled sausages. When I returned we were invited for grilled beef. And, yet again for an apero. We expected the usual chips- nuts- and- olives apero. But this was an “apero dinotoire,” something new to us, a multi-course meal: crackers and tomatoes, then grilled lamb with a rice/tuna salad, a potato salad, and fruit.
Igor arrived with easel and paints. He set up in the yard and created lovely scenes. We received one as a going-away present. He is a financial consultant in Paris, and commutes home to Rouen on weekends. Elizabeth, who was recovering from breast cancer surgery, said she came to the Luberon to “relax.” They did visit some neighboring towns. “We like typical, tranquil, original villages,” she said, mentioning nearby Viens and Vacheres. They also raved about an attraction we have yet to visit, the Ganogobie Abbey.
Summer wound down with the visit of stepdaughter Kellie. She gave BB a chance to live up to his name. They bicycled a few times before her boyfriend arrived for a week. We all set off to Marseille together and were in awe of the new architectural masterpieces.
It’s still warm in Provence, but the pool waters have chilled. We’ll put the pool to bed for winter soon. But, I can look forward to starting swimming early next spring. We’ve purchased a heat pump for the pool. Summer 2014 may top summer 2013.
“Everywhere you look; it’s a feast for the eyes. It’s a magical place.”
We were sitting around the fireplace in a stylish salon of exquisite furnishings enjoying an apero when a friend made that comment. It was our first time at the Villa Augustine shortly after it opened in April 2012.
The turn-of-the- century mansion in the Vaucluse city of Apt, the capital of the Luberon, was originally owned by a wealthy family, proprietors of ochre mines. Their fortune plunged in the 1930s. The splendid home was abandoned for many years and in a dreadful state. Along came two Parisians, Guy and Christophe, to rescue the magnificent structure. Restoration took three years. Tracking down the furnishings and objets d’art took even longer. Guy and Christophe, both fans of 20th century arts décoratifs, combed France and neighboring countries to find original Art Nouveau pieces to enhance the interior in keeping with the period. Signed objects by Majorelle, Ruhlmann, Leuleu, Royere and others are among the treasures.
Today Villa Augustine is a sanctuary of calm and beauty in the midst of busy Apt just above the river Calavon. There are five chambres d’hote (B&B) rooms and gorgeous gardens planted with Italian inspiration. A more than 200-year-old cedar of Lebanon, classified as one of the most beautiful trees in the Luberon, is the pièce de resistance amidst flowers, cypress and olive trees. An inviting pool on a terrace above the villa is a delightful surprise offering stunning views of Apt and the Luberon hills. Not to forget – food, which is Guy’s realm. The ex-banker has always been passionate about cooking. Here he has the opportunity to indulge in his favorite pastime and prepare gourmet cuisine several evenings per week. His cuisine, he says, is influenced by his Spanish origins and Algeria, where he was born. And, the flavors of Provence, of course. There is a set menu, and reservations are a must as he can serve no more than 20 diners, but up to 40 for special events. During warm weather months, the spacious terrace in front of the villa is often a venue for the latter – concerts, fashion shows, art and photo exhibits.
During our first visit we had a complete tour and admired each unique bedroom with adjoining baths, many delightfully retro. A mirror from a buffet is the headboard for the double bed in one room. One bedroom is done in the style of the ‘50s, and another reflects the ‘40s.
Dinner – either outdoors under trellises on the terrace where huge pots of plants in bloom create an upscale ambience of greenery, or indoors in the dining room with its precious décor, is special. So is the food. Our first dinner in 2011 featured Noix de Saint-Jacques a l’artichaut et l’andouillette, jus de
crustaces, (scallops à l’ artichoke and sausage with the juice of crustaceans).
Last week we savored an excellent meal – a belated birthday treat for step-daughter Kellie and her friend Luka visiting from New York City. It began with a “mise en bouche” (pre-starter), a healthy gamba with a puree of mango and a mini glass filled with chantilly (whipped cream) of chevre (goat cheese). The entrée, carpaccio of tuna with a spinach sauce, was very flavorful – my favorite. Cod with ratatouille creatively stuffed in mini peppers accompanied the perfectly cooked fish surrounded by a coulis of tomato and juice of palourde (tomato sauce made with the juice of the clam perched on top of the cod). Dessert: roasted figs in fig liqueur with vanilla ice cream. Wine: a bottle each of an excellent Burgundy white and a Burgundy red suggested by Christophe. A fitting birthday meal in a magical place!
Guy and Christophe, who had the distinction of being the first gay couple married in Apt after the recent change in French law which now legalizes gay marriage, are overjoyed with the success of their endeavor.
“We are very happy with the speed in which we have succeeded to develop a faithful clientele,” says Guy. The chambre d’hote has been fully booked since April this year, he added. “Normally this would take four or five years.”
Rooms range in price from 100 to 150 euros per night. Three course dinners with two mise-en-bouches at 40 euros per person. Villa Augustine is open from mid March through the end of October. More information at www.lavillaaugustine.com
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A recipe to try: Linguine with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Feta Sabraw. Scroll down recipe column at right.