Brantes—This Is the Village to Beat!

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Suspended across from the mighty Mont Ventoux is a village that can only be described as jaw-droppingly stunning, as it is surrounded with breathtaking Alpine scenery and filled with rustic charm.

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Brantes has been on my list for years to visit, as it was described as a place of total peace and serenity and a home to artists and craftsmen. And I have to say, it is the most stunning of them all. So much so that we went back a second time.

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This quiet village has two wonderful casual places to eat. On our first visit, we ate at la Poterne, which has a stunning view of the village and Mont Ventoux. The omelettes were delicious, the kind of French omelettes we crave when we are back in the States. What a deal to have a delicious omelette, a grain and carrot salad, and local beer and wine—all with a view to die for—for under 15 euros! I’ll take it over any Michelin-starred restaurant any day. Again, it doesn’t cost a fortune to eat really good in France with the focus on fresh and local ingredients.

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As we meandered the streets, we stumbled upon a local artisanal beer brewery—la Géante de Provence la bière du Ventoux—owned by a couple from London who craved the slow-paced life of rural France and left behind the hustle and bustle of the city to start a business of their own and raise their daughter in a remote village with a school of just 11 students. Both restaurants in the village serve this local beer, or you can taste and buy some from the brewery.

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As we continued to wander the cobblestone passageways, we saw an interesting stone bridge off in the distance to go investigate. We found ourselves at les Gorges du Toulourenc and enjoyed cooling off with a wade in the river before heading back to the Luberon.

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If you are looking for a remote place with breathtaking views and the rustic and charming character of rural France, this is the place. This village and the surrounding villages, especially Aurel and Crestet, are remote and peaceful and of course just filled with charm.

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La Ferme aux Lavandes in Sault

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It’s lavender season in Provence! And what better way to enjoy it than to incorporate a visit to a lavender farm in the stunning fields around Sault, the capital of lavender.

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For quite some time, I have been enjoying the beautiful posts of charming villages, lavender, and adorable rabbits and cats from la Ferme aux Lavandes. So last week on our way to explore the villages around Mont Ventoux, we decided to make a stop at the lavender farm, the source of inspiration for so many of our travels in the area.

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Upon arriving we were greeted by the lovely owner Catherine, who apologized over and over that she couldn’t show us around since a bus of 45 people were about to arrive for a tour. We reassured her that we came not expecting anything but a look in the boutique and a chance to meet her to tell her how much we enjoy her beautiful posts of the region. Kindly, she invited us to sit down and have some tea and cookies and to make ourselves at home as we wandered around freely while she attended to the bus tour. Upon leaving, I tried to pay for our tea and cookies, but the gracious Catherine said, “No, you are my guests,” and she even gave us a gift of soaps, asking us to come back so that she could spend more time with us.

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For those who love lavender, a stop at the farm to learn about the different types of lavender, especially the fine lavender around Sault, would be quite interesting and educational.

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After buying some lavender and Herbes de Provence to relish back home long after we are far far away from such a dreamy place, we got a peak at the rabbits.

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Now we are ready to move on to see the charming villages of Aurel and Brantes, thanks to la Ferme aux Lavandes posts. (Also see http://www.la-ferme-aux-lavandes.com/.) Be sure to make a reservation if wanting a tour.

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Where to Eat in Gordes

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Gordes—a stunning village indeed. Yet, there never seemed to be a memorable place to eat in the village—until now. Perched on a cliff, across from the village, lies a small boutique hotel called le Mas des Romarins.

We just happened to discover it and its beautiful view of Gordes one day. So we decided to reserve a table for lunch at l’Esprit des Romarins. We were not disappointed.

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Though we usually prefer something more rustic and casual, we certainly didn’t mind the royal treatment. At least it felt like that to us as several people attended to us throughout our meal. Delicious food!

And dessert was a work of art.

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Though somehow our lack of French language skill caused us unknowingly to agree to a 16-euro cheese course at the end of our meal. C’est la vie!

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Peaceful, stunning, and delicious food at le Mas des Romarins. I can only imagine how magnificent it would be at night to sit outside on the terrace and watch the sunset over Gordes.

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À bientôt!

Gordes—The Jewel of the Luberon

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Placed in a commanding position with all her majestic glory is a village that shines like a jewel above all others. She wears her crown well as visitors flock to capture her image from the valley below.

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The best time to see Gordes is when it’s calm in the early morning or in the evening as the sun is setting and the light is magnificent for photos. It’s never been too busy when we have visited, since we always go slightly off season. But I would stay away in the prime of summer or only visit in the early morning or in the evening when the tourists are off having dinner and you can have the place all to yourself.

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Wandering the narrow cobblestone streets and taking in the simple charms of flowers in terracotta pots, colorful shutters, and sparkling pools high up above the valley is the best part of slow-pace travel, immersing oneself in the moment.

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It’s also relaxing to sit and people watch at le Renaissance, a very classy café/restaurant, where there are often musicians playing in the square.

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And, of course, the nearby notorious Sénanque Abbey is a photogenic dream.

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There’s no denying that Gordes is the jewel of the Luberon. Stunning indeed. There are other villages though that call to me more, having that special je ne sais quoi that is the essence of French village charm. But I always make time for Gordes.

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À bientôt!

Les Bories & Spa Hidden in Gordes

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Secluded in a 20-acre aromatic park of olive and cypress trees, lavender, rosemary, and thyme is a hidden little retreat called les Bories, which is located on a quiet road across from Gordes. Les Bories is a five-star luxury hotel with a beautiful spa that offers extensive treatments.

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So in keeping with my tradition of getting a massage while my husband is biking away in a cyclist’s paradise, I just can’t get enough of les Bories! Being able to wander around Gordes afterward is a plus.

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Funny story though. My first time to les Bories, I felt a little out of place since I wasn’t use to luxury resorts and had never even had a massage before. In fact, in our early travels, we use to travel on $30 a day for two people. Now on $30 a day, you can still eat like a king in France—the outdoor markets, the bread, the cheese, the everything!

So I am dropped off at les Bories, planning to meet up with my husband later in Gordes. My plan was to walk the hotel’s gentle fitness trail that takes you from the resort right into the village. Graciously, the five-star resort offered to drive me to the village after the treatment, but I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone since I already felt out of place. So I said: “That’s okay. I can just walk the trail down. No problem.”

Problem! With my inherent lack of sense of direction, somehow I got off the short trail and was completely lost. Perhaps it had to do with my not understanding French signs. So after just enjoying the most relaxing massage of a lifetime, I am now wandering around in the intense heat of Provence completely lost in the garrigue on a very secluded dirt road. On top of that, bees are swarming me as I am covered in honey and other concoctions from my massage. I walked and walked in the blazing sun, occasionally passing gated mansions and thinking that sooner or later I would have to ring someone’s intercom for help. Somehow I kept going. After quite some time, I made it out onto a main road. At this point I sensed I was well above the village and started to make my way down the road, relieved that at least I had made it to a main road. Long behold, a happy biker goes whipping by with delight. Yes, my husband is having a grand old time while I am now a disheveled mess of sweat and dehydration and terror!

Yet, none of that has stopped me from returning to les Bories—a beautiful, secluded retreat with treatments such as the Egyptian Beauty Therapy, the Greco-Roman Therapy, and the Coeur de Provence Therapy that will keep you coming back again and again.

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Monieux: A Hidden Gem Near the Gorges de la Nesque

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One day while driving through the Gorges de la Nesque, we “needed” a place to stop to have an apéritif before heading to Venasque for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, les Remparts. My husband suggested Monieux, since he had passed through the village on his bike in the past. I, on the other hand, was hesitant, thinking that perhaps Sault would be a better choice. I had never heard of Monieux. Well, as it turns out, Monieux was a dream! Charm for days! The type of village that tops my list.

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After venturing around the village, with its Bourgogne-like charms, we relaxed by a beautiful fountain for apéritifs at a place called les Lavandes. The inside restaurant looks quite beautiful and no doubt would be worth a return for dinner.

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After discovering Monieux, I wonder how many more “hidden” villages are waiting to be discovered in this area of Provence. I definitely have Brantes and Crestet on my radar as villages having charm for days.

À bientôt!

Le Petit Café Takes the Cake

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There’s no doubt that the food in Provence is amazing. So each year, we like to award a restaurant for the best food of the trip. We have our favorites—Le Fournil in Bonnieux, les Remparts in Venasque, and la Bergerie in Maubec. But this year, le Petit Café wins for most delicious meal of the trip!

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This restaurant has been one of our favorites for some time. For one thing, it is located in the enchanting village of Oppède-le-Vieux, where the evening ambience is captivating to say the least. Yet, the food is downright delicious! Here’s a sample of the menu, which changes weekly.

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We had the tagliatelle with artichokes, tomatoes, ham, and pesto, as well as the beef with tomato, arugula, and Parmesan, accompanied with potatoes.

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The biscuits with chocolat, caramel ice cream, and sea salt were a hit. And the tiramisu was perhaps the best ever!

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We were really looking forward to seeing our majestic canine friend sitting on his spool. But apparently, he was confined to his room, as we caught sight of him from his window above.

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Le Petit Café is a characterful little find that won’t disappoint, especially at night. Reservations recommended, as it books up fast.

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À bientôt!

Evening Ambience at Its Best at la Terrasse in Joucas

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Exciting news! Bistrot la Terrasse, located in the peaceful, charming village of Joucas in the Luberon, is once again open in the evenings for dinner. This is truly an enchanting spot to watch the sun set over the Luberon valley with the red hue of Roussillon in the distance.

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La Terrasse now has a new owner. Though we are sad to see the prior owner go, as well as our little canine friend who was always faithfully at his spot every time, we are happy to be able to enjoy this place in the evening once again.

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The food is good, basic bistrot fare. Yet, the omelette complèt with the frites is a notch above good. It is one delicious omelette!

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You can’t go wrong going for a simple meal in order to enjoy the evening ambience. Even on a hot day, if you go for lunch, there is a huge plane tree to sit under and the Provençal breeze to keep you cool while you enjoy your meal. And of course, the village of Joucas itself is a charm to wander the cobbled streets after a good meal. Apparently, according to one local, during the filming of A Good Year, Russell Crowe rented a house in the lovely Joucas because he enjoyed the peaceful village. It’s funny how every time we visit Provence, we meet someone associated with this movie. Last year it was Peter Mayle’s assistant and then a relative of Russell Crowe’s assistant during the filming of the movie. Who knows? Maybe we’ll run into the beautiful Marion Cotillard herself next time.

UPDATE:

La Terrasse in Joucas has changed! We are sad to say that we can no longer recommend this lovely place for the food, namely the omelettes that we use to dream about. Good omelettes no more! It’s still a great place to stop for a drink or perhaps, if you don’t care to be wowed by the food, a light bite in the evening to enjoy the ambience. Let’s hope the new owners bring back the good food to match the ambience. We miss the little dog too!

À bientôt!

Bistrot le 5 in the Luberon Village of Ménerbes

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Looking for fresh, local, delicious food on a beautiful terrace overlooking the Luberon valley? You won’t be disappointed at Bistrot le 5. The food is excellent, with the most visually appealing presentation. Even more, this outdoor bistrot is located in the most polished of villages—Ménerbes.

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The bistrot wins for the most gorgeous presentation of local deliciousness of our recent trip! This time around, we ordered the Provençal stuffed zucchini, called petits farcis, which came from the nearby enchanting village of Maubec. This dish was truly as beautiful as it was delicious. And all for 15 euros at lunchtime. You can barely even get a processed meal in the United States for $15. And this was a presentation of exquisite work with local and in-season ingredients.

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Bistrot le 5 is run by the same owner of the excellent Café Véranda just around the corner. We prefer the flavors and creativity of the bistrot though, as well as the outdoor atmosphere. And the village of Ménerbes? A Provençal paradise indeed.

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À bientôt!

 

A Sea of Purple in the Luberon

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The words lavender and Provence are synonymous. Yes, lavender embodies the very essence of Provence. Isn’t it true that when one imagines Provence, it’s fields of lavender as far as the eye can see that come to mind? Sunflowers too? Yet, the lavender season is short. So when can you see it?

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The peak month when tourists flock to the region to see the fields of purple is July. There is some lavender out in mid to late June as well. But this June was a surprise with the lavender in bloom in many places, early. It was exploding!

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To see such vibrant fields of purple all around the valley below Bonnieux and Lacoste and around the village of Banon was a feast for the eyes. In fact, I did get some looks of disapproval and some scolding words and hand signals by a few locals as I was standing on the side of a very narrow road trying to capture this purple jewel. Don’t they know it’s like a priceless treasure to us visitors? That’s OK. I know there are much more important issues in life than risking one’s life to get that perfect shot of lavender.

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It sure would be nice to visit in July to see the patchwork of intense purple throughout the region, but I’m not sure about the crowds. So to have the place almost all to myself in June and still see lavender was a dream!

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I leave you with more of the colors of Provence.

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À bientôt!