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my favorite place

I am often asked if I have a “favorite” place in France. It's extremely difficult to choose,   like trying to pick just ONE flavor of ice cream! There are countless extraordinary places and experiences that come to mind, BUT if forced to choose a place where many of those treasured memories come together, I would have to pick Les Baux-de-Provence. This small village has such diverse riches in history, art, gastronomy, natural beauty, and delicious regional specialties, all within a tiny perimeter.  


Here are some snapshots at why this is my idea of perfection:


The Medieval Village



Windy pedestrian-only streets twist and turn, uncovering beautiful shops and cozy restaurants as I work my way up to the ancient hamlet at the summit. I have been to this village more than half-a-dozen times, and yet I never lose my sense of wonder and awe. Weather-worn stone, often resembling coral, provides natural windows to stunning panoramic views of olive groves and vineyards. The battering ram and catapult offer glimpses of the fortress that protected the surrounding countryside during the Middle Ages, in contrast to the simple, lovely church that displays a sense of community.


It is no wonder that Les Baux is one of les plus beaux villages de France. This enchanting place calls me back again and again.



moulin castelas


It’s harvest time, and I arrive to find owners Jean-Benoît and Catherine in the midst of a flurry of activity.  Catherine leads me to her car and we take off down a narrow dirt path deep into the olive grove.    She stops the car and leads me through rows of massive olive trees.   A man is standing with a long, electric pitch-fork-type tool that is shaking the branches, while another gentleman guides the falling olives into the large net laying at the foot of the tree.  Cheerful greetings are exchanged.  This duo has performed this task year after year, and they have a natural cadence. I'm sure it is not easy work, but it seems quite joyful.




Back at the mill, large pallets of olives are arriving, and I listen to the steady tapping rhythm as they are poured into huge metal containers that wash the olives, freeing them from branches, soil and debris.  This is the moment they have all waited for, and there is an excitement in the air that I am honored to share. Throughout the year, they tend to these trees, but ultimately it's Mother Nature who has the final word. This is the moment of truth.



We follow the olives as they are crushed and mixed, and eventually a pure, fruity juice is extracted.  Catherine dips a cup into the steady stream of lime green liquid, and I taste the freshest, most pure virgin olive oil of my life.   No wonder these oils win awards, year after year.  



Here are the medals won at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris 2024 !

Classic AOP Vallée des Baux-de-Provence : 2 médailles d'OR (Gold)

Noir d'olive AOP Vallée des Baux-de-Provence Biologique : 1 médaille d'OR (Gold)

Noir d'olive Huile d'olive de France : 1 médaille d'OR (Gold)

Classic AOP Vallée des Baux-de-Provence Biologique : 1 médaille d'OR + 1 médaille d'Argent (1 Gold, 1 Silver)

Noir d'olive AOP Vallée des Baux-de-Provence : 1 médaille de Bronze



Cabanon


Even when it is not harvest season, it is always a joy to return to Moulin Castelas.  Twice I have had the good fortune to stay in one of their cabanons, situated in the middle of an olive grove. There is a feeling of absolute peace and serenity to be found, nestled among these majestic trees. Their strong, gnarled trunks are pillars of strength, while their small, delicate leaves are free to flow with the breeze. A nice metaphor for good living. At the edge of the grove, vines take over, as far as I can see, until my gaze rises up to rest on the ancient fortress. I can't imagine a more perfect place. I sit at the stone picnic table, strategically placed under the shade of a massive tree outside the front door, and sip a glass of wine from neighboring Mas de la Dame while the setting sun filters through the branches.




Inside the beautifully-appointed stone house, I prepare a feast of local specialties: goat cheese, fresh baguette with tapenade, and charcuterie that I got at the St Rémy market.


When I turn in for the night, a have an unexpected surprise. The bedroom window is a perfect picture frame for the illuminated medieval village. Spectacular.



Walking with goats


When I wake up, I can hardly contain my excitement as Jean-Benoît has signed me up for a walk with Boucabelle and her chèvres du Rove.  Maybe it's because I grew up near Minneapolis, far from anything resembling a goat, or perhaps it came from watching “Manon des Sources” and feeling like this was as authentic as it gets - whatever the reason - I am beyond ready for this experience.  


I arrive and meet the group, mostly families with children.  I am alone, and an adult, but I don’t care.  They are intrigued by my presence - an American who has found her way to this small village to walk with goats.  They are friendly and engaging.  We start down the path and then wait.  First we hear the bells.  I get goosebumps as the herd finally comes into view.  The children step forward - shifting from foot to foot in eager anticipation.  I share their excitement but try to play it cool.  Natasha is calm and confident - a natural leader.  I like her immediately.  



The goats are black, brown, chocolate, caramel, gray; some spotted, others not.  Some with beards, others without.  What they have in common are their two long horns, and their mission: walk, eat, repeat.  They do not seem to notice the trail, guided only by what looks tasty or the shortest way to regain the group.  I am mesmerized watching them. 


We follow Natasha and her flock for about an hour, as she shares details about specific goats and her daily life.  She has saved the best for last - we arrive at an enclosure filled with baby goats!  We are allowed to play with them, and hold them as the offer kisses and little nibbles.  



Oustau de Baumanière


It's time to shower and de-goat, as tonight's dinner is at the exceptional 3 Michelin Star L'Oustau de Baumanière. Chef Glenn Viel is a legend, imagining unique and artistic creations. This is my first 3-Star restaurant experience. The dining room is elegant, yet welcoming. My first course arrives, and I'm not sure which parts of this "picnic" are meant to eat! The presentation is whimsical, and each bite, a discovery of new flavors. And while I am used to wine pairings with each course, there is also a bread pairing with each dish. (Is this heaven?) Great attention has been paid to each and every detail, and I feel like royalty as I savor course after amazing course. While this seems like a bucket-list experience, I'm sure I will be back.




Carrières de Lumières


Limestone abounds in this rocky landscape, and there is an immense hollow cave where blocks of it were once carefully chiseled out. Marrying beauty with practicality once again, the French have made this empty cavern into the most stunning art display I have ever seen. It is a magical experience; one that I come back to again and again, as it is always fresh and new. The show features one artist whose collection dances in perfect choreography to carefully chosen music. I move around the giant chambers, my feet guided by moving paintings. I look up, down and all around as the images expand and fade. Each vantage point brings something new, and I wish I could be everywhere all at once. Each person's experience will be unique, and a new artist's collection will arrive in a few months. "Ephemère" is one of my favorite words, and one of the qualities that makes this so special.





And a hundred more things ...


These quick snapshots are just the highlights. There is so much more to see, smell, taste and do in this rich area. This feast for the senses keeps drawing me back.


Here's to you creating your own beautiful memories in Les Baux!

If you have been to Les Baux, please share your favorite memories!



For a detailed itinerary, click here.








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