It is true that the French have an unmatched passion for local expertise, taking particular pride in tasty ingredients that are grown, harvested and devoured at source. To experience these gems and delights, there’s really only one thing to do. Go to France.
I recently set off to the fertile plains of Vaucluse in Provence, to discover some of these off the beaten track indulgences.
The markets in Vaucluse are filled with wines, Cavaillon melons, lavender fields by the dozen, cheeses galore, olives, cherries, apricots, nougat, strawberries, honey, saffron, truffles and garlic and much, much more. The best markets in the region are:
Bédoin, Mazan, St Didier
Caromb, Beaumes de Venise, Apt, Gordes, Lacoste, St Saturnin les Apt, Aix en Provence
Monteux, Avignon Les Halles, Sault, Villes sur Auzon
Avignon les Halles, Villeneuve les Avignon, Cairanne, Mazan, Orange. Saignon marché Bio, Isle sur la Sorgues, Aix en Provence
Avignon les Halles, Carpentras, Chateauneuf du Pape, Bonnieux, Lourmarin
Avignon les Halles, Le Barroux, Mazan marché agricole, Vaison la Romaine, Pernes les Fontaines, Oppède, Apt, St Remy de Provence, Uzès, Brocante Villeneuve les Avignon
Avignon les Halles, Isle sur la Sorgue, Mormoiron, Brocante Isle sur la Sorgue
Where to Stay
Chambre d’Hôtes Design – Metafort
Ideally located in a small village near to the villages of Venasque, Pernes les Fontaines, Mont Ventoux and the Luberon National Park, Metafort is a unique, unspoilt and contemporary kind of place. A luxury B&B in a 17th century house with a stunning view over the Nesque Valley and Mont Ventoux. This is the perfect destination for stress relief, romantic weekends, energizing holidays or wellbeing escapes.
Set in an old mansion at the foot of the Palais des Papes in the heart of Avignon, La Mirande is steeped in secular history. A timeless refuge with eighteenth century style décor, this is a great platform from which to explre the Vaucluse region. A foodie heaven with both a gastronomic restaurant and a chef’s table, the hotel serves honest cuisine with respect for ingredients. The Chef’s Table (open on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings), has a menu that includes amuse-bouche, starter, main course and dessert and is served with wines from the Rhône Valley and coffee: €86 per person. Pas mal eh?
What to Do
It is not just gastronomic delicacies that prevail in Vaucluse. The native flora is abundant and diverse and has inspired and incited a local industry of organic products and processes.
Brantes is one of those magical, still places that you never find when you’re looking but inadvertently fall upon. The village is a dream of cobbled paths, hidden doorways and stepped alleyways leading to terraced gardens and secret corners – a fairy-tale hamlet in the foothills of the Valley de Toulourenc.
We spent a gentle hour walking around with Jacqueline, a local ethno-botanist, foraging for flowers of mallow, poppies, marigolds, hollyhocks and violets and the leaves of nettles, chives and dandelion that nestle in the crooks and crannies of this ancient hamlet.
We returned to the kitchen with chef Odile and it was all hands on deck. The room slowly filled with appetising smells and the table with enticing colours as dish upon dish came to fruition: sliced courgette covered with tapenade and a violet flower, halved apricots stuffed with chèvre, garlic and crushed hazelnuts. And behold: a fragrant feast for foragers.Les Aventurières du Goût, 84390 Brantes Tel : +33 4 75 28 86 77 – Mobile : +33 6 61 71 46 66 www.lesaventurieresdugout.org – email@example.com
The Colours of the Botanical Garden
Set out on supported terraces along the banks of the Durance Valley, a tributary of the Rhone, this garden is renowned for natural dyes and colours.
With almost three hundred species in the garden, our visit focused on those plants that give red, yellow and blue dyes: madder, rocket, indigo and woad. Knowledge is key: bizarrely, a bright purple cardoon will give a bright yellow dye and green is a difficult colour to get from plants.
The volunteers who run the Garden love the flowers most for their dyeing pigments, and after a garden tour you will get the chance to try your hand at dyeing.Conservatory Garden of Tinctorial Plants Couleur Garance, Maison Aubert, La calade, 84360 Lauris Tel: +33 (0) 4 90 08 40 48 www.couleur-garance.com
At the organic cosmetic workshops at Centiflor Laboratory, olfactory senses are brought to life. This Aladdin’s cave of oils, unguents and irresistible perfumes is the perfect place for your hands-on lesson of how to make your own face cream. By mixing a specific blend of ingredients with pipettes, bowls, pans and thermometers I successfully transformed gels and powders into a magical wrinkle freeing emulsion to take home.Laboratoire Centiflor, ZA plan des Amarens, 84340 Entrechaux +33 4 90 36 22 03 www.huiles-et-sens.com
Sault is a village perched on Mont Ventoux’s hills where the Lavender Officinale grows, also known as “true” lavender. It only grows at a certain height and the blossoms begin to burst with colour in June. We visited Guillaume Liardet’s Ferme la Parente Aroma’Plantes, a family-run farm specialised in organic aromatics and medicinal plant production.Aroma’Plantes, Route du Mont Ventoux, 84390 Sault Tel : +33 4 90 64 14 73 – firstname.lastname@example.org – www.distillerie-aromaplantes.com Top Tip
Rent a bicycle:
TerraBike in Villes sur Auzon is the best place to rent an electric bike or an e-solex and provides you with a great – and green – way to explore the region.Price per day: Bike – 35 euros, E-solex bike – 40 euros Reservation in advance are essential: ( +33 4906 17818); www.location-terrabike.com
In a country that lives to eat, rather than eats to live, there’s no shortage of restaurants.
Our particular favourite was the simple looking Au Fil du Temps in Pernes les Fontaines looked nothing much from the outside but served an outstanding meal including olives in fennel-flavoured olive oil, a crème d’almond with champagne aperitif, and a delectable monkfish with fresh beetroot relish.
The Vaucluse countryside truly has it all: flavours that made me scream with ecstasy; colours that made me swoon; and residences that made me want to emigrate. The only thing I missed was the coast, which I decided I could live without. Vaucluse here we come.
Contact Vaucluse Tourism for more information