Upon our arrival at La Bergerie we were greeted with a glass of wine and a tour of the property by Suzanne and Alain, two long-stay WWOOFers that have been living and working on the property since last fall. The home owners and WWOOF hosts, Jillian and Patrice, split their time between France and Canada and would be arriving in a few days, to direct us in the spring cleanup and projects scheduled during our stay.
Located at the end of the road on a hillside just north of the small town of Roaix, the property consists of 5 acres of terraced vineyards, olive orchards, woods and a lavender field. The beautiful stone house is nestled in the midst of this dry, hilly landscape with expansive views across the valley toward Mt. Ventoux on the horizon.
This small 'chalet' overlooking the property was a favorite of Heide, where she chose to do her daily exercises while watching the sunrise every morning.
A local farmer maintains the vines and olive trees, but the woods and lavender are cared for by the hosts.
Roaix, located in the southern Rhone Valley of Provence, is one of about 20 towns with AOC Côtes du Rhône Village appellation, denoting the quality of the wine. Like much of the region there are vineyards covering the landscape, abutting the roads and properties and climbing the hillsides. An impressive 85% of the cultivated land is devoted to growing vines.
This is not your typical WWOOF host in many regards, but we were well aware of this before our arrival, as we had a nice long video call with Jillian and Patrice as part of our interview process. La Bergerie was meant to be our “vacation farm” and as you can see it did not disappoint.
Many parts of our stay where highlights, but it is probably the meals that stand out above the rest. Patrice is a knowledgeable chef and a true gourmand, with a passion for smells and tastes and a desire to share the best foods of France and Provence with his guests. It was Suzanne however that reigned over the kitchen, crafting two multi-course meals per day. I cannot describe to you all of the amazing food we had because it was all so exceptional: roast rabbit, grilled lamb, seared tuna, rare beef, pork tenderloin, local veggies, grains, pasta, salads, cheese, dessert-- cet tout incroyable.
There was the excuse of it being Alain’s birthday at the beginning of our stay and Patrick’s at the end to class it up even further.
Every four years France honors the best craftsperson from every possible profession including, cheese monger, with the prestigious award Meilleurs Ouvriers de France. The local cheese vendor recently won this award for her perfectly aged selection of the best cheeses France has to offer. Patrice visited 'Madame MOF' on a near daily basis, supplying us with an endless variety of superior cheese. In true Patrice fashion we indulged in several tastings, sometimes multiple cheeses of the same style and sometimes a variety a styles. These are all the same chèvre at different points in the aging process.
We had the opportunity to visit several wineries in the region for tastings of the local Côtes du Rhône wine. One weekend we all made a special outing to visit a winery that was hosting wine makers from different regions across France.
Patrice used the opportunity to replenish the ever-receding wine cave.
Just as with the cheese most nights we did a blind taste test of a couple of different red wines. This night we went a little overboard with 5 different wines from 5 distinct regions to distinguish from. It was real rough living with all this tasting going on.
Although Easter marks the beginning of tourist season in the south of France, where the local markets become overrun with northerners, the early hours at the Tuesday market in Vaison-la-Romain continue to provide locals with much selection for produce, meats, cheese, and plants.
A trek up the hill into the old medieval town of Vaison-la-Romain provided a quiet walk along vacant streets of weathered stone.
After reading A Year in Provence, we were well aware that our time in this region would not be complete without a game of Petanque with a glass of Pastis.
Although I wouldn’t say that I am a huge fan of either the game or the drink, this afternoon of heated competition will remain one of my favorite memories. It seemed to bring out the Frenchman in both Patrice and Alain.
One afternoon Patrice took us on a trip for a short hike up the nearby Dentelle, a stark rock formation that you are able to scramble up for distant views of grapes and more grapes.
Earlier this year Suzanne and Alain build a veggie garden that was just staring to establish itself. We had a few strawberries and salads from the garden this spring, but come summer they are set for a bounty.
Patrice is a lover of herbs and Jillian has a passion for flowers, and the landscape is a testament to this, with layers of smells and color dotting the property throughout.
Our stay wasn’t all eating and drinking and playing in the sun. Patrice and Jillian are both doers and they don’t maintain this stunning oasis by sitting around all day. They put us to work for 5 hours each morning and we were often impressed by how much we all accomplished.
Much of the work for the first few days was general spring-cleaning, raking up and burning all the oak leaves and weeding the many flowerbeds.
We also had the opportunity to tackle a few projects including organizing the firewood...
...and building a new wood shed.
We made do the best we could with the tools on hand.
Provence is famous for it's sun and relaxed lifestyle and we will surely miss the beauty of this place, the pace of life we quickly fell into, and the generosity and friendliness of our hosts. Thank you Patrice and Jillian for sharing your home and feeding us so well. Ultimately though the dusty soil and haphazard buildings of this region do not draw us in, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to experience Provence but I think it will forever remain a better place to vacation than to call home. Au revoir Provence, there is more to see and do and we are excited to get back in the saddle and continue on this biking farming adventure. Up next, two weeks on the bikes in the NW of France and on to our first WWOOF host in Ireland!