Since returning to Devon to be with the boys during the current crisis we have been missing Provence, especially as it’s the time of year we love best, with the first signs of Spring and the colours starting to return to the fields and gardens. I know the hillsides around Apt will be starting to turn Magenta with the Judas Trees coming into flower….
And the pergolas and terraces will turn purple with Wisteria ….
It really is the most beautiful of times and so peaceful too.
We are therefore, getting our fix of Provence in any way we can, reading books set there, watching films where the background is instantly recognisable as the area we love so much, from La Gloire de Mon Pere by Pagnol (which is simply enchanting and so beautifully narrated)…. To the more ludicrous but fun Mr Bean’s Holiday, which features places we know and love, even the roads above Sault where there is one scene with a great view back towards Mont Ventoux (yes we have watched it in that much detail)….
Then of course there is ‘A Good Year’ , which is our go-to, pick-me-up film, packed with beautiful views of the area and just oozing The Luberon with every frame ….. although we save that for when we are so low we just need to shut the door and be transported back to the valley.
Before we get to that point we have been trying other things too, including Food and Rail Travel programmes that are passing through Provence.
We have watched James Martin driving Keith Floyd’s wonderful old 2CV around France where he stopped off in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue to pay particular homage to Floyd who had been based there for so many years (and whose books had accompanied us on many of our early trips to France)
Then Rick Stein’s recent Secret France, saw him staying at a house near Saint Michel L’Observatoire, which offered little glimpses of the Luberon and surrounding countryside and he visited Forcalquier Market in search of Courgette Flowers, but that has been the only glimpse of our beloved area in any of the programmes we have watched.
The others (from Tony Robinson on a train to The Hairy Bikers) have generally seemed to follow a well-worn trail from Marseille across to the Camargue with the occasional glimpse of The Pont Du Gard and Nimes or Arles. Although Rick Stein (whose trip through France was simply delightful) did stop off in Les Alpilles and wonderful Uzès too.
On the whole they have tried wonderful food with a North African twist in Marseille, chatted about and made Bouillabaisse or Bourride…
Ridden horses and herded bulls in the Camargue….
And naturally waxed lyrical about the superb fresh fruit and veg in the markets….
Of course we enjoyed watching them, but it left us feeling they had missed so much and got us chatting about what could have been included in a programme based purely in our little area …. where could they have visited and what could they have tried. So I thought I’d share our thoughts with you now.
Before I start though, I’d better say we are not great gourmands, we don’t eat out much (other than having an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of local boulangeries) so our knowledge of the best restaurants is rather limited (to say the least). Also although I enjoy cooking, I don’t tend to spend hours in the kitchen preparing fancy or delicate meals so if you are hoping for great restaurant recommendations or new recipes then it’s probably best to stop reading now, but here we go….
The first difficulty would be which market to choose, as a programme about our area wouldn’t be complete without one. We considered Apt , our local one and one of the best in the area, packing the streets of the old town and spilling into the carparks and squares filled with superb stalls and a great atmosphere; also L’Isle Sur La Sorgue which is already so well known, in its pretty setting by the river with the added interest of Brocante too; or the wonderful,Sunday morning Farmers’ Market at Coustellet where the car park is packed with local producers and you know exactly which village the produce has come from. In fact there were so many to choose from we could just do an hour on the different markets.
In the end though I think I would start the day (and the show) with a drive along the winding road through Combe de Lourmarin (in an old 2 CV of course) to the Friday morning market in Lourmarin village. The views on the way through are lovely and the arrival into Lourmarin through an avenue of Plane Trees with the Chateau sitting across the fields would look great…
and the market too has a good mix of local producers, some great characters and also crafts from local artisans too, so would be a great showcase for the provencal market. After showing the market at its best, chatting about artisan bread with the stall near the steps to the Square and buying some fresh local goats cheese and Figs or Olives….
We’d then potter back through the Combe, but turn off to Bonnieux and take the road up to the Foret Des Cèdres, (although it must be said that the 2CV may protest a bit at some of the hills on the way up) stopping to chat about the valley and the Luberon villages from the viewpoint just before the Forest, which offers incredible views back down to Bonnieux, Lacoste and across as far as Mont Ventoux, ever-present on the skyline in the distance. Here we would enjoy a simple lunch from the bread, cheese and fruit brought from the market, which to be honest is all that is needed.
Then back from Bonnieux to move onto looking at Lavender, such an important part of the area that brings so many visitors and yet is a huge industry locally too. There are a number of great places to see it from the renowned Valensole Plateau, The Plateau Des Claparèdes above Apt and of course Sault, the home of the summer festival and where the view in almost every direction turns purple from mid June.
We would drive the car across to Sault, via the fields of the Saint Christol Plateau, where the peaceful purple fields stretch off in every direction and the wide road allows you to stop and simply admire the view whenever you want.
Then stop in Sault and visit the distillery there to learn more about the product and the distilling process, understanding its different uses from adding it to recipes to add its own unique flavour (I have to admit that I am rather partial to a lavender-infused Crème Brûlée) to its general use as a cleaning product in the home, we now have it permanently on-hand.
From Sault, we would head back across via Saint Jean De Sault, stopping at Chateau Du Javon to talk about The French Resistance that was so active in the area, before stopping in Saint-Saturnin-Les-Apt to take a look at some of the incredibly grand architecture there, unexpected in such a small village….
Then back via the Colorado at Rustrel to have a look at the Ochres and learn a little about the Ochre industry, before passing through Viens with its pretty old walled village and dropping down to the Calavon, heading back towards Apt and stopping to buy food for supper at ‘Le Cabanon’, the little roadside stall that is open from May until the end of September, selling fruit and veg, that is grown in the fields behind the stall.
Here we would buy all the ingredients needed to make Ratatouille before returning to the kitchen to show how to make it, before enjoying it for supper on the terrace with fresh local bread and a chilled glass of Provencal Rosé.
It would undoubtedly be a whistle-stop tour of the area and really doesn’t even scratch the surface as there is so much to see, so much to try and so many experiences to be had. In fact, just having done this we realised very quickly that one episode just wouldn’t be enough and it is fair to say that Andy had rather different ideas for the first episode, that would involve breakfast here by L’Etang
So perhaps whilst we can’t visit, we’ll continue to make-up, in our minds, a series on the area called ‘Pottering in Provence’ and share with you our ideas for a little mini-series on the area. It will certainly keep us going revisiting some of my old photos and hope you enjoy our ideas too
You never know, when we’re back we may even take you on bits of it.