International “ladies squad” explores L’art de Vivre in Provence
Note: My summer writer’s retreat 2016 in France takes me from Burgundy south to the heart of Provence for magical four days. Our international “ladies squad” explored three of the seven most beautiful villages in France: Lacoste, Lourmarin, Ansouis and the town of St.Remy-de-Provence. For one year, Van Gogh made his home in St. Remy inspired by the Alpilles.
By Emma Palova
EW Emma’s Writings
Provence, FR- Provençal bastide no.23 sits on Chemin de la Font du Pin between the villages of Cheval-Blanc and Merindol. The mansion with seven bedrooms nestles at the foot of a beach pine forest.
Typical architecture for this southernmost region of France embraces traditional elements of stone washed walls with tall French doors, large gathering places on the main level and sleeping quarters on the second level. Arches instead of doors open the space between different rooms.
The yard with the garden caters to relaxation and function with a cafe-style gazebo lit by sun energy lamps, a large dining table and an iron wrought bed. White Mandeville plants and Hydrangea decorated the gazebo.
The large pool with a colorful cabin is near the house on a cleared terrain in the white pine beach forest with rosemary shrubs.
Our international “ladies squad” found their bedrooms each equipped with a bathroom and a view into the morning sun bathed beach forest. Tiles are a must in the hot dry climate of Provence.
I shared room no.7 dipped in hues of purple and decorated with butterflies with granddaughter Ella. After a recent conflict, I find solace in the peaceful Provençal atmosphere of farm markets, wine caves, cafes, cobblestone streets, olive groves and deserted châteaux lit by magnificent sunsets.
The first night we picked ripe grapes in the front yard. Vendange or wine harvest has already started in this part of France. There was also a lime tree and plentiful rosemary shrubs that grew both at the base of the beach forest and in it. To my surprise, on my “balades” through the forest, I also found shrubs of holly.
One morning In the middle of my walk, I stopped dead when I heard a rattling sound.
“A rattlesnake,” I thought and hurried back to the bastide.
Two days later by the pool, Claude pointed out the rattling sound.
“C’est une tone de Cigale de olive,” she said. “That’s the sound of the cigales.”
I laughed at my paranoia originating in my early childhood years while living in Texas.
Mornings, before the heat of the day breaks, are fresh. You wake up to the roosters’ crowing and to the sound of the Cigale in the olive groves and in the rosemary bushes.
Instead of a Provençal breakfast of hard-boiled eggs with figs, we ate Lyon festive brioche with pralines, compliments of Mrs. Claude Chavent, Emma’s mother-in-law.
Each lady from the squad contributed her own tastes and flavors to the full gourmet experience. The traveling squad consisted of Captain Dr. Emma Palova of Fixin, Chef Selene Alvarez of Veracruz, Mexico, former anesthesiologist Mrs. Claude Chavent of Lyon, FR and journalist, writer Emma Palova of USA. Both Emmas were born in former Czechoslovakia.
On a late Saturday morning, daughter Emma and I headed out to the Merindol market.
Instead of a marche extravaganza, we only found an olive and cheese merchant along with a straw hat and a bag vendor.
“It’s the summer break,” said the olive vendor.
“It’s all about the love for life here in France, not about money,” Emma educated me. “It’s called l’art de vivre.”
For our apero that night, Emma bought an olive spread “olivenade”, a dried tomato spread, cheese, spicy olives with pimento and olives in brine with Provençal herbs at the market in Merindol.
Walking a narrow street up the hill, we stopped at a local hangout spot for coffee and tea on the sidewalk. I love watching people in these quaint villages not occupied by tourists. The locals were already drinking wine and beer.
A woman wearing an apron dress with a large grocery bag hurried past the abandoned tobacco shop. A chic woman overdressed in a black T-shirt with long sleeves pedaled uphill, while a youngster on a bike with fresh bread in his backpack closely followed her.
I wasn’t alone watching the action. A Provençal old-time villager was sitting in his chair right in front of his house on the street. Of course the woman haltered her hurry to exchange gossip with the old-timer. There’s always time for gossip in these villages.
We also came across a reformed church, an anomaly in the mainly catholic France.
We stopped at a farm market on our way back to the bastide to get fresh strawberries and mangoes for the planned Daiquiri drinks by the pool.
We tasted wine from a local wine caterer stationed right by the market stand.
Even though pink wine known as rose is the wine of choice in the Provence region, I bought a bottle of white wine for the apero. Nothing like Burgundy whites, but it tasted better than the rose.
To be continued…………………The most beautiful villages of France
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