Provence, Our Journey

When the children were young I found myself, like so many mothers, caught up in the myriad of activities that can fill the schedule of a young family.  I felt like time was slipping away as we raced from sports practice to violin lesson and I wanted to find a place to holiday in the summer where we could escape, slow down and relax together.  As I was searching on line I stumbled across an old Provencal Mas sitting in the middle of an enormous vineyard.  It spoke to me, I knew that this was the place even having never been to Provence and I booked that little house for a month from John and Lydia Dean of Only Provence. 

The house was old and very French.  It had a lot of charm but the kitchen was simple and the laundry room had only a washer.  I hung the laundry on a clothes line at the edge of the vineyard that entire month.  I would place piles of clothing by color in the little laundry room and would sometimes find scorpions under the piles when I would pick up the clothes to place them in the washer.  It was picking season and the grapes were ripe and we picked them all day long.  The vineyards surrounded the pool on all sides.  We would eat the big purple grapes at the pool, in salads with goats’ cheese from the market or as a dessert with dinner.  They were fabulous.

We found a little rhythm that summer.  We would plan a day of activities exploring the Roman architecture in Orange, Nimes and Arles.  The kids would jump into the river below the Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard, and we would visit the markets at St Remy, Eygalieres and Isle sur la Sorgue.  The following day we would do nothing at all.  We would swim, pick grapes, BBQ and just relax on the off days.  Then we would be off again to visit the Palace of the Popes, the Camargue, the hilltop villages of the Luberon, Gordes, Bonnieux and Lacoste.  The days were slow and full of gelato, meringue, crepes and tarte citron.  Our daughter Audrey would read Harry Potter aloud at night and that summer we got through the first two books.  There was a piano and the kids enjoyed playing – no one had to ask them to practice, they played for fun.  My mother came to visit and my friend, Kristi, with her daughter Eden.  My husband came in and out and stayed as much as he could.  We put gasoline in our diesel rental car that summer, ruining the engine, and George stepped on a bee in the garden and (this was news to us) he was allergic.  His foot swelled to triple its’ size and we were in the emergency room in the middle of the night trying to remember the French word for bee.

That was a great summer and we were sold on Provence.  We loved the light, the smells, the food, the people but mostly the way that everything was a little slower in Provence and the time that we spent together was a little sweeter.  We knew that this would be a lifelong love and after that first summer, we rented different houses in different villages every year.  We were in Eygalieres for a month, the lovely little village has a charming market, still one of my favorites.  One year we were south, not too far from Aix-en-Provence in a tiny town, whose name I cannot remember, with a fabulous bakery.  Eric would go to every morning and wait outside until the hot croissants came out the fabulous old oven.  He would eat them standing in the street them take home a hot bag full of the delicious pastry. 

We booked Le Mas des Poiriers the last year that we rented.  It was not in great shape but we rented last minute and we loved the idea of the flat green land.  Provence is known for its’ arid, dry, hilly land which makes for wonderful grapes but is not so nice for soccer or football or lying in the grass.  The house is on an island in the Rhone River so the land is flat and there is plenty of water for extensive lush, green lawns.  The house is big with a lot of volume in the ceilings and the property has a pear orchard.  We rented in late July so the pears were ripe.  We picked baskets and baskets of pears and had pear tartes with vanilla ice cream, baked pears on toasted baguettes with cheese and fig jam, pears in salad… pears, pears, pears.  It was fabulous.  

After we returned home, our oldest daughter, Sam, found the house for sale on a website. We reached out to the owners (who were French but lived in NYC, near us) and they said let’s go to dinner.  The property was large, almost 300 acres and we weren’t prepared to farm that much land so we said we would pass.  Two weeks later the owners came back to us with a proposal.  They would divide the property, selling us the main house, barn and guest house with 65 acres that included the pear orchard and they would keep 200 acres for themselves.  We were nervous as the house came with a agri/tourism tax code so we would have to farm and we would have to rent.  There was a farmer already in place so we felt confident that we could handle the farm.  The rentals seemed a bit overwhelming but we felt that it would probably be nice families that would want to rent in Provence. We decided that we would rent the minimum number of weeks required by the government and we just jumped in! May of 2015 we shook hands with the owner and started the purchase process.