“La Vie Est Belle!”
“La Vie est Belle!” That’s really how it feels when immersed in the countryside of Provence in the far south east of France. For those holidaying there in summer it is a luxurious and simple way of life. Living in a traditional farmhouse and surrounded by a rural environment of vineyards and orchards, it seems to be a dream come true. It was for us.
The Luberon district of Provence, in the Vaucluse department, is intensely cultivated with grapes, cherries, figs and apricots, and is abundant with native flora and fauna. Famous for the lavender that is grown for global exports, and for its fields of sunflowers, it is also the provenance of the highly sought after truffle that flavours so intensely the local dishes.
Scattered with a series of medieval hilltop villages and gracious towns, the area has been home to various artists over the centuries. It is in Aix-en-Provence that Cezanne had his studio and painted the surrounding countryside, and of course Van Gogh lived in Arles and spent a year in the asylum in San Remy-de-Provence. I visited that asylum, to see the landscapes and scenes where the great artist had spent a most prolific year. It was a moving experience to wander through, and sit in the cloisters where he would have sat and painted.
The walled stone villages, some dating back to Roman times, cascade down the high hills. To wander through the empty streets at midday, enveloped by the furnace like heat, feels like walking through a film set. The shutters of the houses are firmly closed to shield the interiors from the burning sun and behind closed doors families are eating the authentic and honest Provencal midday meal, and drinking the delicate roses so characteristic of the area. It is not only the excellence of the ingredients from the area, but also the simplicity of the cuisine that is so good. We relished exquisite goat’s cheeses, terrines and pates, tapenades and fragrant ratatouilles.
And the wine of course! What a pleasure to gather with friends at the local bar in the dusky afternoons, with a glass of rose and watch the world go by. Or sit beside a quietly flowing canal, to quench one’s thirst in the heat of the day.
If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, which we were, you can catch the Tour de France flash through the sleepy towns. It took all morning to find a good vantage point and position ourselves by the roadside. With great anticipation we watched the Tour approach and in two seconds flat the blur of cycles were gone again!
Just outside the charming town of Curcuron we visited the garden of Guy Hervais. Guy is a photographer extraordinaire of travel, architecture, gardens and he has created the most exquisite and colour coordinated walled garden I think I have ever seen. He very kindly showed us around his domain and gave us insights to the history of the garden and the local region.
Ahh… Provence. Life really is beautiful when steeped in your surrounds.