Breakfast over we discussed finding the lady who had a lavender farm, and her own ancient still that she used to process lavender buds, stems and pieces into oil…but first, the lilac blooms were calling…with our baskets and clippers, we set out to cut fresh blooms. Of course we had to spend a few moments sitting on a rock wall looking out over the countryside…such stillness, fragrance and beauty…Every little home had a vegetable garden beside the house or nearby, chickens and goats were clucking and foraging…
How much fun we had putting little bouquets together for Natalie to set on her tables…we found many different containers such as tiny glass vases, colorful pitchers and silver cups to use…some herbs were also mixed with the lilac. All very charming and so FRENCH!
Finding a good source for real Provencal lavender oil was one of the reasons for the trip, another was to study how lavender is grown…well, sorta! But seriously! Finding, Bernadette, the crazy lady, and her farm was another adventure…everyone tells you landmarks and rock piles and fence posts and houses as direction points. We felt somewhat like cars perpetually trapped in the go-rounds…but finally we found the correct field and then saw the barn and copper still…we had arrived.
Bernadette took time to explain to us all about the process of distilling…just imagine using this old contraption…her son, Patrick, took us out to the field where the still sat and found a bucket under the tap filled with lavender water and the oil floating on top. Without any pretense of restraint, we squealed and dipped into the precious liquid and then began rubbing it all over our faces, neck, arms and hands…Whoa! That should keep the headaches and any pesky bugs away for days…it was delicious!
Back at Bernadette’s barn/shop, we spent a few hours testing and smelling her products…she had shampoo, face and hand creams, lavender oil and water for spray and soaps, all made on the farm without the added synthetics and preservatives used today. We purchased all we could!
The trip back to Natalie’s Auberge was much quicker and when we arrived, the goat cheese maker, Jean Michel, was waiting in the bar/dining area. He wanted to show us his goats and his farm and how he made cheese…so off we went, following him down dirt paths, over hills and ruts in the road filled with rain from the storm last night. We drove so far down a dirt path to his “house”…I was beginning to hear the sound of a banjo!! Finally the woods opened and there it was…a house with barn all together. Touring the barn we found it to be very clean with mama goats having breakfast on one side and the little kids on the other…Jean Michel took us inside to the area where he made the cheese, wrapped it in chestnut leaves and stored it before delivery to food shops. Everything… equipment, storage racks, walls, floor and buckets were spotless…of course we purchased a few rounds! We wanted to take some home but we knew customs would confiscate the unpasteurized cheese!
Back at Natalie’s we decide to indulge with one of the goat cheese rounds, some green salad, baguette and a pitcher of red wine. We took our “dirty” plates to the kitchen and helped Natalie with serving her regulars. Monsieur Pierre heard the discussion about our visit to the goat farm and warned us that if we leave the cheese in the car, “it will walk away from the car…”It seems that little worms would invade the smelly cheese…huh??
The sun is warm so we sit outside drinking our wine while thinking how sad we were to be leaving this perfect little village and our friend, Natalie. We had no plans for where to stay for the evening so Natalie called her parents who owned an Inn near the Luberon Valley and made arrangements for us to have room for the night.
Along the way, we drove to the top of a small mountain in the parc de Luberon…there we could see the entire Luberon Valley and to the east, the Alps. Needless to say…it was remarkable and breathtaking…an occasion that the word…awesome…is truly appropriate! Further along the road we stopped again at a lavender field to take pictures and enjoy the fragrance. The earth between the rows of plants was very soft from the tilling and recent rain storm…the color of the soil a yellowish and red brown…very sandy containing many small bits of stone…so our theory for planting lavender in Texas was proven to be correct.
The village of Manosque was on the way to our Inn for the night…arriving, we found Bruno was at his shop…oh, oh…such a beautiful bottle of local Armagnac with honey…hiding under the table… that upon tasting it decided I could not leave without it! Strolling around the village, we came upon a battered wicker chair sitting along the side of the gravel lane…in its at the stuffed figure of an old Black man holding a sign that read Antiques. Opening the door to the charming little shop I heard the ring clink of a very old shop bell…which was for sale, perfect for the shop! A few crystal aperitif glasses of varying shapes and sizes, silver sugar tongs, a match striker and a very lovely, hand-carved wooden box made in 1880… still sits on my shelf today lined with the village newspapers I used to wrap the stems…wish I could have packed a container, so many wonderful pieces I had to leave behind. We left the shop and continued on our walk towards the square…there were several grandpas playing PETANQUE with their boules so we sat and watched for a while…a tradition one sees all over villages in France…park benches, plane trees, gravel course and grandpas in their berets playing, smoking, laughing and just enjoying the day.
Au Revoir to Manosque and back on the road…the farmhouses we passed in the villages through Forcalquier and Mane were so charming. There were flowers and roses in bloom and vegetables planted along little fences by the road.
Around 6:30 we finally found the turnoff and drove down the lane towards La Bergerie…we checked into our room and spent a pleasant hour out on the terrace drinking pastis and reading more about the places we had visited. Dinner…nothing to be said but that it was awful, a real disappointment! In fact, the pie for dessert was so bad we could eat only the first bite….Jeanine stuffed both pieces in my purse and we later threw them in the woods…she didn’t want to hurt the feelings of Natalie’s parents.
Tomorrow we off to Moustier…we had heard about a place established near there by Alain Ducasse…where the Inn was exquisite and food sublime…we were going to treat ourselves!
5.07.1999 Along the road we stopped at Greoux, a little village of hot mineral baths where people from all over France come to for treatment. But this day was the special Marche…quickly parking the car, we began our hunt…Provencal fabric by the metre, food of all sorts: olives, bread, meil, fresh fruit and vegetables, farm produce: lapin, hams, poule and roasted poule, herbs and spices, t-shirts and “stuff” one would find in an American flea market. We bought fabric to make cloths and napkins, tablecloths, t-shirts and some spices…and then decided to buy all we could find for a picnic on the way to Moustier… found a roasted poule, cavillon melons, frais and a boule along with a nice bottle of Rose from the village wine shop.
With Jeanine driving and me navigating, we went through many quaint villages and fields and fields of lavender as we began our climb into the mountains. Some of the village “streets” were so narrow I feared for our side view mirrors. Stopping often, we took pictures until we came upon the perfect spot for our picnic…a field of lavender!
We spread the cloth and set out our food…another dream come true! We ate and then napped in the warm sunlight…the tiny poule filled with thyme was delicious, we ate the berries and melon with our fingers and then finished the whole bottle of wine…
Then a French tradition…we smoked several Gauloises…with all that we were almost in a coma…later, Jeanine said I was snoring, however her “gas” actually woke me it was so loud! We packed up, again, and found a phone booth in the next village…she called the Hotel BASTIDE, owned by Ducasse, to arrange for our stay…but it was booked full! they would have a room the next night, but…so sorry! The concierge suggested we try another place…L’Auberge Les Clos des Iris and viola…there was a place for us!
[Please come back for the next story of our stay in Moustier…one of the best times of our whole trip!]