Cobblestone lanes, salted caramel and Brittane Stripes.
Find me a prettier village; this one has left me absolutely speechless. No wonder artists like Emile Bernard, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Sérusier spent so much time here.
Flowers spill from every bridge and window box, and the river sings a trickling lullaby. Today we lay under a Willow Tree, on an enormous, cool smooth rock in the middle of the river. Silver ribbons of water tickled our toes as we ran our fingers through the currant. No relaxation DVD comes close. Pack the gauche and a sketch book, and add this one to your bucket list .
This afternoon my wonderful hostess at Villa Saint-Louis, Madame Lassallette, now known as Bernadette, offered to show me the local area by bike. I had a bike of my own and Bernadette had hers, a motorized one, or as she put it, ‘ one wiz assistionze’. Before we set off, she insisted I try it. At first it just seemed like a normal bicycle. As I began to ride, I could hear Bernadette shouting ‘Peddle Sahra!’, ‘Peddle!’. Just as I was beginning to wonder what it did, the bicycle launched its self into top gear and before I knew it, I was hurtling down the Main Street of the village as if I was riding Harry Potter’s Nimbus 4000. I managed to find the brakes just before I careered into a rack of clothing on the footpath and after walking it back up the hill, handed the Nimbus back to Bernadette, relieved not to have caused any damage or bodily harm.
We set off through the village at a swift pace, Bernadette’s little motor humming along at a good speed; my gears furiously clicking in succession trying to keep up. Our first stop was Lourmarin’s beautiful outdoor communal laundry, a divine stone building with wide open water troughs, still in use today. ‘Iz wonderful No?’ said Bernadette, pointing to the adjoining field, a flutter with crisp white sheets and towels drying in the sun. ‘It’s fantastic, I said, ‘ Do you use it?’, I asked. ‘ Well of course not’, Bernadette scoffed. ‘I ave a machine. Iz better, no?’.
From here, we set off down a hill. Just as we started the decent, I heard Bernadette shout, ” Sahra, you ave a Brek?”. I have a what? A ‘brek’? …and then it became evident. Bernadette and her little miniature ‘Bernadette’ bike number plate were but a blur in the distance; rocketing down the hill at top speed, whilst I, rubber burning, madly attempted to engage my ‘Brek’.
Finally, we came to a stream at the bottom of the hill, where Bernadette showed me a beautiful path leading through an olive grove, for future adventures on foot. It sounded very relaxing. From the peace of the gurgling stream, Bernadette pointed to a hill. A steep one. After engaging her ‘assistionze’ she took the hill with ease. I, on the other hand, was peddling like fury; Bernadette’s 77 years making my, let’s say 39 plus, look positively pathetic, even with ‘assistionze’. By the time we reached the top of what turned out to be a huge and interminably long hill, I was on the verge of a heart attack. Gasping, but trying to sound very nonchalant, I attempted to suck in as much air as I could while grinning open mouthed as Bernadette explained in French, the culinary delights of the wild fennel flowers she was harvesting beside the road. Hoping to draw the conversation out a little longer, I managed to ask her what dishes she liked to cook with them, which, despite being incredibly interesting, bought me some more time and oxygenating air supply.
But we soon set off, past olive groves and further up the hill until, thank The Lord , we made a second culinary pit-stop, this time for the most heavenly Muscatell grapes in an abandoned vineyard just off the road. Bernadette harvested a good few bunches as we ate and placed them in her little wicker basket, along with the wild Fennel.
After a joyous deciline, the wind blowing through my hair, we were soon back outside Vila Saint-Louis, where we met Bernadette’s French speaking friend Alice, an American Artist. Worryingly, Bernadette seemed to be telling Alice about my enthusiasm for bike riding and before I new it, Alice had collected her Nimbus 4000 and within seconds, they were throttling along towards the road that leads to the start of my apparent adventure for tomorrow- a 6 kilometer mountain assault enroute to the village of Cucuron. What I thought was going to be a short orientation lesson , became another hill climb; the Nimbus 4000’s whizzing ahead, and me, once again, struggling to breathe; Muscatells suddenly surfacing at the back of my throat. Bye the time I reached the top of the hill, Alice had flown off ahead so Bernadette suggested we make for home. I pretended not to look too relieved. Fortunately it’s quite easy to smile and breathe through your nose for a few seconds whilst responding with a not too enthusiastic ‘er..oui’.
We turned towards town, making a 3km detour past the impressive homes of Betty Catroux, Peter Mayle and the founder of the Bata shoe empire. When we finally returned home for the second time, Alice was there and so was another of Bernadette’s friends, Greta. It was 5pm, so Alice suggested we all join her and her husband Don for drinks on her terrace. It turns out, Alice is Alice Williams, a fabulous American artist. I’m going out for dinner with her and Don tomorrow night….if, and when, I return from Cucuron.
What an incredible day. Thank you Bernadette!
The village of Lourmarin in The Luberon was the suggestion of our friends Bo, a Serbian, and his French wife Sybille. They have a holiday house nearby, so we figured it was a fairly reliable tip.
We arrived early in the morning, carving a path through the fog as this picturesque little village reveled itself to us, one gorgeous cobblestoned lane at a time. Fountains seem to tinkle and trickle on every corner, and the buildings, a palette of Donkey Grey, Chambray Blue and Sage, evoke everything quintessially Provincial, right down to the subtle lavender infused air.
In the spirit of spontaneity, we went in search of lodgings and came across a little sign in the window of Villa Saint-Louis on the edge of the village. What appears from the street to be a simple village house, reveals it’s self to be a sprawling villa, complete with a secret garden, zinc topped towers and a balcony draped in fine ivory curtains that dance amongst the Honeysuckle and Trumpet Vine, beneath two ancient Plane Trees.
Our hostess, Madame Bernadette Lassallette, is an artist and her smile and warmth seem to cast a joyous spell over this magical villa.
Upon arrival, Madame Lassallette showed us to our room, then invited us onto the terrace of her private apartment where an elegant Inspector Clueso like gentlemen, in a crisp shirt and pleated trousers, was tiptoeing along the balustrade stalking pigeons with a pistolette.
” I love birds you know”, Madame Lassallette explained in her elegant clipped French accent, waving one of her hands skyward, “but they make a catastrophic mess on my cushions”.
Another bang from the pistol, and a soft thud. Bravo.
The interiors of this extraordinary villa are something worthy of the pages of World of Interiors, though there have been countless articles written over the years by the likes of Vogue and Maisons & Decores . The authenticity of the villa’s interior, is a testament to Bernadette’s husband, the late designer Monsieur Michael Lassallette though his spirit lives on: in alcoves framing exquisite vignettes of ancient porcelain, and in the vast collection 18th Century Antiques, and more than 400 paintings. An armoire in the sitting room once belonged to Maria-Theresa, Empress of Austria and mother of Marie Antoinette.The kitchen is lined in painted canvas backdrops from early 20th century photographic studios. Other walls are papered with the delicate designs of Parisian designer, Yves Halard.The floors, tiled with traditional red hexagon shaped Tomettes, are scattered with Persian carpets. Every surface has been considered; a palette of colour, form and texture, expertly executed. It’s only when you see interiors such as this, that you realise a great designer is just as great as a painter or sculptor. It’s high art and it evokes the same emotional response.
Madame Lassallette has also added her own special touches.The facade is a blush pink, created by brushing the walls with ochre pink sand from the neighboring village of Roussillon, but it’s her gregarious personality that truly leaves it’s mark- she is a natural hostess.
On reflection this morning, it all feels like a scene out of Poirot. As I sit writing beside my Juliette Balcony overlooking the garden, I can hardly believe I’m lucky enough to call this home for the next 4 days.
I’m in aesthetic heaven.
Villa Saint-Louis. 33, Rue Henri De Savournin. 84160. Lourmarin, France
Rates in the off season for a double room, including breakfast are…. €65! Yes, that’s right!
After an overnight crossing from Corsica to Marseilles, we drove to what will be my base this week; the sublime village of Lourmarin in the Luberon. For anyone who’s read Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence, this is where it’s set, in fact, the village he wrote it in, Ménerbes, is just down the road.
We set off on our bikes just after breakfast and headed for the beautiful villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste. For those not accustomed to long bike rides, I’d highly recommend purchasing a topographical map- the benign squiggles on tourist maps conceal the startling incline of the Luberon’s derrière devastating hills, but the views from the top are sublime; stone hilltop villages, vineyards bejeweled with trusses of purple grapes, cherry orchards and meandering avenues of Plane Trees. It’s not surprising Cezanne found so much inspiration here.
If you’re planning a trip to the Luberon and don’t have your own bikes, try www.leluberonavelo.com