Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000

2000 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
May Gourmet: West Side Story - Les Baux and Luberon

by Jim Byerley

Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000 is presented by:

As everyone in the civilized world is aware, Provence lies just west of the Cote d'Azur and can be reached in a couple of quick hours from Cannes on the A 8. Provence was long ago discovered by tourists and they now clog the roads. Early May or even late May) is still an opportune time to cover its glorious hills.

The Val d'Enfer (Valley Of Hell) is just by the popular destination of Les Baux. The rock formations are totally unique, the vegetation is rather scrubby and one has the impression of being on another planet altogether. The Oustau de Baumaniere is the luxe destination (a Relais and Chateaux property) with a long-standing reputation. It is refined, elegant and a tad stuffy. There's a glorious pool and the restaurant now rates two stars. Just down the road is an elegant little mas called Riboto de Taven. Black and white tiled floors, drapes and stone walls provide counterpoint, while flowers are discreetly used to punctuate the picture. There's a lovely terrace for dining and drinking, when the sun is shining. Set almost among the boulders, it is quite spectacular.

Lunch at Riboto de Taven is a refined experience. The host and hostess (the Themes) are sweet and accommodating. Steamed artichoke leaves surrounded a mousse of pureed artichoke hearts. The three raviolis (one filled with ground lamb and lemon zest) were hearty, but the texture was a little disconcerting. Lots of twiggy spices and slivered vegetables cluttered the broth, which contained the pasta. The best dessert was a plate of stewed (or poached) fruits including pear, prune, banana with pistachios and caramelized pineapple with almonds. Pistachio and honey parfait was the centerpiece. Absolutely delicious. The Riboto de Taven has three rooms and I can't think of a more romantic or enchanting place to stop over. Reserve well in advance as the demand is great. The lunch menu is 230 FR, while dinner is 330 FR.

East of Avignon lies the Luberon Valley. This is the gorgeous area forever spoiled by the immense popularity of Peter Mayle's "A Year In Provence." Menerbes, the hill town glorified by Mr. Mayle, now seems one of the least picturesque places in the area. It is still designated as "one of the most beautiful villages of France." More appealing is the nearby tiny town of Lacoste, with the ruined chateau that once belonged to the Marquis de Sade. If you are a de Sade enthusiast, there is a 15th century castle in Sauman belonging to the de Sade family where little Alphonse spent his childhood (pulling the legs off insects, no doubt). In Mazan is the Chateau de Mazan where the de Sade sexual antics were the talk of the region. It is presently an old folks home!!! Oppede le Vieux is another lovely village, being lovingly restored, that is quite special.

Slightly to the north lies the spectacular aquatic show in the town of Fontaine de Vaucluse. Pretty waterside cafes offer a great stopping off spot for a casual lunch, though the tourist throngs can be annoying. The rushing River Sorgue is clear and dynamic here. Petrarch's house can be visited across the stream. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is further downstream, where the river provides a more relaxed encounter. Waterside cafes also dot this village, which is a living dream for antique buffs (weekends-only). Gordes is one of the most famous villages of Provence and justifiably so. It's setting is most dramatic. The village of the Bories (stone huts) is a tad disappointing and the entry fee rather stiff. The Abbaye de Senanque is beautiful at the valley bottom and when the lavender is in bloom it must be a sight to behold. We arrived just at twelve to find that the monks were off to luncheon and we could not get inside. The rude ladies working in the gift shop were literally pushing us out the door so they could get on with their lunch too. Not very Christian of them, if you ask me. Roussillon is yet another perched village. The setting is colorful and the nearby ocre cliffs, with their surreal hues, are worth a detour. Bonnieux is dramatically set and one should stop to buy the local honey, especially the lavender one.

Restaurants of note in this beautiful country include Prevote in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Les Bories and L'Estellan near Gordes and the Mas des Herbes Blanches near Joucas with its glorious view of the sweeping Luberon valley.

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