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.

IMG_3966.JPGÀ bientôt!

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!

Villa Ephrussi—Am I in France or Italy?

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Located on the gorgeous Cap Ferrat peninsula, overlooking the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer, is an Italian-style villa built during France’s Belle Époque by Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. The mansion, with its nine exquisite gardens, was bequeathed in 1934 to the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France. With its priceless works of art, the villa is a site dedicated to art and gardens. While walking the grounds, one can’t help but stop and wonder if they have somehow crossed the border into Italy.

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Being that we only had an hour before continuing on to explore the peninsula, we spent our time wandering the gorgeous gardens and gazing through vistas that beautifully framed the blue water of the Côte d’Azur.

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The Cap Ferrat peninsula and the stunning Villa Ephrussi are well worth a trip when exploring the French Riviera.

À bientôt!

An Enchanting Evening at Hôtel Crillon le Brave

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Tucked away in a small hilltop village overlooking a landscape of vineyards and olive groves, lying in the shadow of Mont Ventoux, and practically bordering the villages of the Côtes du Rhône appellation is an intimate gem of a resort intertwined in the streets of the village. Hôtel Crillon le Brave consists of just 36 rooms tucked away in 8 old village houses connected by secret alleyways and hidden courtyards, along with two beautiful restaurants, terrace lounges, and a small yet gorgeous spa.

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While not staying there ourselves, we sure don’t mind stopping in for a glass of wine, a cup of tea, a massage, or a special meal under the Provençal sky. Bistrot 40K hit the spot! Our evening unfolded as with an artist’s stroke the color of the sky changed moment by moment over the valley.

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Bistrot 40K and its gourmet neighbor, Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, are passionate about using local, seasonal produce. From the fresh baked bread to the tapenade to the amuse-bouche to an amazing bottle of local Ventoux wine, we were off to a good start.

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From there, we enjoyed appetizers and a delicious le côte de cochon du Ventoux rôtie along with gratin d’aubergine and a cherry tart for dessert.

For an enchanting evening under an intoxicating Provençal sky, we recommend a meal at Crillon le Brave. Other options for extreme ambience are la Bergerie in Maubec and le Petit Café  in Oppède-le-Vieux.

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.

IMG_5381IMG_5386À bientôt!

A Provençal Oasis in the Luberon Valley

IMG_4313.JPGI really don’t want to share this one, I really don’t. But it’s pure kindness that makes me not withhold. In the Luberon valley, just below Bonnieux and Lacoste, lies an oasis of perfection called Mas des Sens. Le mas is a gorgeously manicured property in a quiet, rural location and is made up of three rentals along with two private lavender fields. Our rental was Suite Gordes, my favorite due to its being completely private and in a separate building away from the other two rentals that face the pool.IMG_4293.JPGIMG_5559.JPGIt was a Provençal dream to awake each morning to the sight of a hot air balloon over the valley. And each day I watched as my own private lavender field turned more vivid in purple. From my bedroom, I had a view of Bonnieux from one window and of  Lacoste from the other. And each night, I watched a spectacular light show as the sun set over the valley, the light changing minute by minute. As never before, I sensed just why this place is so special.IMG_4845.JPGIMG_5505IMG_5570.JPGThe English caretakers of Mas des Sens are an absolute delight. They prepared a gorgeous breakfast for us on the first morning of our stay. Breakfast can be requested for an additional charge and delivered to your own private terrace outside your door.IMG_4289.JPGThe bike path passes right by the rental, making it a perfect location to rent bikes. In fact, the bike shop in Bonnieux will deliver bikes and pick them up for your convenience.

What a peaceful place to stay! Staying down in the valley instead of up in a village was a whole new delight, surrounded by farmhouses and quiet country lanes. Here are a few photos of the surroundings.

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À bientôt!

Allergic to Provence?

IMG_4378Please no! Anything but that. Upon visiting Provence this past June, with the unusually high temperatures of 95-100 degrees, my pasty white, sun-deprived skin went into shock. I developed hives or eczema all over! What to do?

I finally stopped in at the pharmacy in Bonnieux—the French pharmacy is the know all cure all—and was told, “You need to stay out of the sun!” Stay out of the sun? That’s not good! I will just have to live with leprosy. Continuing on one day, while hiking to the calanques in Cassis, I felt this intense burning on my lower legs like they were on fire. I looked down to see, this time, large red patches. What was that? Psoriasis?

Thanks to the French pharmacy and the special cream prescribed to me, I continued on. I’m nervous to come back to you my dear Provence, but I can’t help myself.

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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!