Hit the Road

Our time in Provence was some of the most magical, yet

It’s 9:45 on a mid-June evening and there still is enough daylight to easily navigate the grounds of Domaine du Moulin. This picture book bed and breakfast is a couple of fields away from the barely-on-the-map Provencal village of Saint Laurent des Arbres, a 20-minute drive northwest of Avignon.
This little corner of paradise seems like a fantasy. The grounds are as beautifully groomed as Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and the mammoth pink and purple hydrangeas near our door are nothing short of perfection-in-bloom.
I walk briskly around the 10 manicured acres, through the old-growth trees, past the vegetable garden and fruit trees. I’m trying to burn off some of the calories from last night’s meal of a lifetime.
Madame Antoinette, domaine owner and amateur chef of professional ability, created this four-course event that we are still talking about. My husband and I, our Atlanta friends, Betty and Wally Buran, and their 20-something sons, Daniel and Tyler, gathered at a beautifully appointed table on the covered patio. The grounds, like a mini-Versailles, stretched before us.
Each course was too delectable not to finish; hence the reason we could barely trundle back to our chambre rouge (red bedroom) on the lower floor of the thick-walled, ivy-covered stone domaine. The chambre is cooled by a small river that runs beneath it. The water once powered the huge 13 th century millstone that sits right outside our door.
Now, 24 hours after our feast, I’m still so full that I’ve raised the white flag and taken a pass on tonight’s dinner. My walk gives me time to reflect on this first trip to Provence. The Burans have visited twice before and convinced us to come this time. I had two reservations: staying in one place for the duration of our trip, and wondering whether Provence could really measure up to all the accolades.
We learned that traveling each day from a home base is a worthy way to explore, and that Provence will not disappoint even the greatest skeptic.
We found that our itinerary, thanks to the Burans who provided direction, was long on quality and depth. Each day we explored a different town or attraction, sampling restaurants, wineries and farmers’ markets. We generally drove no more than 90 minutes from the domaine, and our routes always provided plenty of photo-ops. Having friends who know the territory and more of the language than we did is akin to having private guides.
And Provence did live up to the hype.
The scenery, food, markets, villages and towns, colors and smells create an irresistible package that delights the senses and fashions memories that will remain with your brain for a long time.
As for the people…well, we know the French have a reputation for snootiness, detachment and/or rudeness — whatever you want to call it — but if that reputation is valid (and I don’t believe it is in most instances), it’s probably Parisians that deserve the rap. The people of Provence are different. Their pace is slow, the pleasures simple and the demeanor friendly. There is an infectious enthusiasm for their way of life and they are thrilled when you tell them that you love it, too.
To take full advantage of all that Provence has to offer, read Peter Mayle’s delightful and understatedly hilarious “A Year in Provence” before you go. Also, avoid the area during July and August when all of those so-called snooty Parisians invade. Early to mid-June is peak produce time at the markets. I’ll talk more about these and the area’s sights and antiquities in future columns.