Monday, April 29, 2013

Tastes of the Luberon, Evencio Vazquez

Ooh, it is a cold and rainy Monday morning in Arles, so I thought something to warm us all up was in order. And there is nothing like fine eats to get the blood pumping now is there? 

Why had I not thought of it sooner? It now makes utter sense: when searching for a vacation rental, the top criteria is not the location, the number of bedrooms, nor cleanliness, no, of utmost importance is that the owners should be caterers that also have an épicerie fine or gourmet boutique on site. For you see, that is exactly what Evencio Vazquez (affectionately called "Banco") and his charming wife Véronique do in addition to welcoming guests at La Buissonade

And what a fine welcome it is. As we arrived just in time for Easter, the couple had just finished producing massive amounts of goodies for the holiday and so two chocolate figurines plus a jar of strawberry jam were waiting for us as our "welcome gift." But that was just the beginning. For you see, Evencio and Véronique are genuinely generous. Remi and I both felt that they provided some of the finest hospitality that we had ever seen. Anywhere. Because it came from the heart.

We were offered some tasty treat or other nearly every day and our stay was topped off with a farewell lunch that was out of this world...oysters with leeks and bacon in a briny white wine emulsion,  possibly the best épaule d'agneau I have ever had, grilled local goat cheese crostini and a cake...chocolate, hazelnut mousse, créme caramel au beurre salée...I don't even like cake! But this was like munching on an especially tasty cloud. 

Evencio, who cooked professionally for twelve years--including at Michelin-loved restaurants in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie--showed off his Spanish roots on another occasion by whipping up a platter of squid and shrimp tapas with an aîoli dipping sauce but shared his interpretation of a French classic, the millefeuille as a surprise on Easter Sunday. He also gave us a tender cut of chevreau along with a roll of Banon from the neighboring goat farm. Pity that Kipling stoll the cheese from right under our noses! Shameless. We were enjoying it too.

I loved that there was no pressure whatsoever to even set foot in their boutique. But of course, we are no fools and my highly attuned food radar was telling me to take some of this fine experience home with me. 

Remi and I have yet to taste all of what we purchased but have been delighted by everything so far--créme de Noix, two balsalmic reductions (one with honey and spices, the other with lavender honey), truffle olive oil, two vinegars (one with lavender honey and another with raspberry pulp), several jams (rose, fig with red wine and spices to serve with cheese and one that Remi quickly devoured that had white chocolate in it), a confit d'oignons au gingembre...All interesting, beyond the norm combinations. Does it seem as though we bought out the entire shop? We could have! Especially as their prices are incredibly reasonable for the fine quality of ingredients used.

The couple hopes to open a restaurant in the future and we both strongly urged them to consider offering tables d'hôtes or fixed-price dinners, as well as cooking courses for the guests of the cottage. Wouldn't that be wonderful? And yes, if you are so fortunate as to live in the area, they are excellent, creative caterers as well. 

Evencio Vazquez and Véronique Nitard
Veronique's cell for English speakers: 06 20 64 21 08
Pour mes amis Francophone, Evencio's: 06 03 17 23 31
Website for La Buissonade: here

To read more about my Tastes of the Luberon, please click here. And it hopefully goes without saying that in no way is this a sponsored post, I am just happy to spread the word about some incredibly kind and talented people. 

Have a great week everyone!

PS. Folks, I am no longer accepting anonymous comments. The spam is just way too out of hand and there are actually very, very few of you who have used this. From here on out, you will need a registered profile. Thanks for understanding...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beginning in the underbrush

A billow of thyme releases underfoot as I step out of the car, stretching my crashing xylophone nerves, the tension of le départ. As has happened on our previous escapes to the Luberon, Remi and I are somehow on the cusp of a fight over nothing, as if we were overly eager to dive into the release of les vacances. Slow down, Heather. There is nothing but a big stretch of time rolling out in front of us like a magic carpet.

The carpet of earth--pliny greens that bend, miniscule buds blossoming and twigs that crackle underfoot--pulls my focus downwards. Or maybe it was just the thyme that has whispered me in.

Regardless, every millimetre is my garden to scan and wonder, "How different" from the pavement usually shoring under my feet.

It seems to be a welcoming gift.

We turned off the road near Joucas, then on to another and finally on to a dirt path that crests on a small rise. Hidden but the same as all of the countryside around us. Nothing special and yet...

...for a moment the size of the world seems to inverse with the prickles of sensations that arise.

We flip down the back of the Range Rover to let the dogs run. I unpack the picnic quickly bought but carefully chosen and watch the small smile of approval as Remi looks over the delectables spread out on the blanket. I knew he would be pleased. We eat quietly, occasionally scolding Ben and Kipling for their insistent begging, something they would never dare do at home.

As Remi finishes his millefeuille, I pick up my camera and stray back towards the old stone wall that had initially said, "Turn Here." Scraggly vines point accusingly at a cloud cover that is trying to break but failing. I don't mind. 

For I am content to be in the sous-bois, that French term that is so much lovelier than the English 'underbrush' and am reassured that no matter what lies ahead, I have already sipped my fill of beauty, pure.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cozy Cottage Rental in the Luberon

Bienvenue à La Buissonade!

Welcome to the cottage that we rented during our recent escape to the Luberon. Bah, I say the Luberon because I know that will catch your attention. You might nod your head knowingly, having read the canon of a certain Mr. Mayle. But I will admit we were an entire three kilometres over the border into the neighbouring region, Les Alpes de Haute-Provence. And oooh what a difference that mile makes! You see, just to the North lies the Plateau d'Albion, which until 1999 was home to France's land-based nuclear missile base. And the reputation taints the area still. Tant mieux pour nous, quoi. All the more room for us. Because the region is absolutely splendiferously gorgeous. You can fight amongst the hordes to see the lavender fields at the Abbaye de Senanque near Gordes if you want but I'll be here instead, languorously cruising along these blue hills that run up and over the horizon. Forget the bling and bring on Banon--cheese that is. What? This is all starting to ring a bell? Why thank you, yes, we have been to this wonderful corner of Provence before, twice actually and both times were head over heels. Or muzzle over paws. 

Now that we have two puppers, including a new one who has a tendency to chase after cats--let alone chickens--the charming cabanon from our previous stays was no longer a viable option for us. Luckily, a cottage that I had found on my initial search was now available! And in the first of many kind gestures of Véronique and Evencio, our amazing hosts, we were welcome to come a night early to boot. 

Are you ready to discover this delightfully cozy cottage? 

Come on up and step into the spacious living room...

...have a seat on the canapé, where you can look out the glass front door to see...

...the front garden with its wood-fired BBQ and then onto Simiane-la-Rotonde, which sparkles star-like in the evening.

Or turn over your left shoulder to gaze out on to the lavender fields...

...where at dusk we would spy deer and wild boar grazing.

In need of a restorative tea after your journey? Yes, well then there is room at the antique wooden table.

Sit and let the light flood over you. You are on vacation, you have nothing to do now but relax.

Unless...well, I know very well that for many of you, an immediate selling point would be the over-stocked English language bookcase that could inspire even the most literary amongst us...

...yes, there is plenty of Stephen King but also Jeanette Winterston, A.S. Byatt, the Austen Sisters, Cervantes, Frances Mayes, Shakespeare, James Joyce...I could go on. Book Heaven and so completely unexpected.

But if you are at all like us, you love to cook. Not to worry, m`sieurs-dames, the kitchen has everything you need and then some. Although honestly, if we could have rustled up our breakfast on that smoky BBQ, we probably would have.

Now, I know I said 'cozy' but the cottage is big. A wonder for two people and the clic-clac in the living room folds out for the little 'uns. 

And after the literal 'water closet' of our current apartment, the bath, with an Italian shower and zinging water pressure was a true luxury in itself.

But la luxe is not the point at La Buissonade, true comfort is. The kind that I didn't really begin to appreciate, fool that I am, until a few days in (Remi wasted no time at all). Such as in the bedroom...

...with its layers of bedding, princess and the pea, that opened up onto...

...the sweetest little terrace, the first spot to receive the morning sun. We had lunch there every day we could and even a few when we shouldn't have.

Because the outdoor spaces have much to offer, so let's step outside...

...and hide, perhaps, under the trellised arbor. Well, it isn't quite the season yet, but can you imagine what a refuge it would be when the vines create cool shadow in August and burn to red leaves in autumn?

Beware of the ferocious guard dog. He is keeping patrol over entry into the cottage's private side garden...

...overlooking a mini-unsmelly swamp--hence the property's name--it is equipped with a bench and table for the first coffee of the morning and glass of wine of the apéro... well as two chaise-longues to push under the Weeping Willow.

It is a perfect spot for breakfast of delicious pastries from the bakery that is just a two minute drive up the road. It is a place to linger and take in all of the ambiances...

And at the end of the day, how perfect to light a roaring fire and snuggle into the silence...

We all felt right at home at La Buissonade...

...and I can't wait to go back.

La Buissonade
Route de Banon
04150 Simiane-la-Rotonde

Contact Véronique at: (+33) 6 20 64 21 08 or by Tel./Fax at: (+33) 4 86 90 11 17
Book en English through French Connections and see the photos of the house in full season: here.

Some final things to know:
Véronique rents mainly to Anglophones and is fluent in English. She has also made several maps and guides for the guests of the cottage that are charming.

The current rate is 290€ per week, going up to 390€ per week in high season (mid-June through mid-September). Very, very reasonable.

Some of you expressed interest in the previous cabanon but said that you feared it was too isolated. This cottage would be a better option. Yes, the owner's house is attached next door but they are incredibly discreet if that is what you prefer. But even I, who usually prefers to be left alone, found myself seeking their fine company, however. It is also just off of the main road between Simaine-la-Rotonde and Banon but we could barely hear road traffic and were delighted to have immediate access to where we were going. There is a tiny supermarket at Simiane with the basics and everything you need in Banon, at ten minutes away, including two markets on Tuesday and Saturday. Apt, the closest city, is only a little over twenty minutes away (where there is an excellent wine co-operative, Sylla). The cottage is also incredibly well-protected. I felt very, very safe. The gardens are closed with a fence (fantastic for our puppers) and the owners have a very, very sweet dog who happens to be a great guard. Again, this is the country and there can be black flies in the area, especially in July and August. But we loved our time here and I will do a follow-up post to explain yet another reason why it is so give you a hint: Véronique and Evencio have a catering business...

Happy trails!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ben and Kipling in the Luberon

If ever there was a moment when I felt that a little sweet relief was merited, it is today. So here are just a few photos of "my boys" from our recent trip to the Luberon (more on which is soon to follow). May they bring you a smile after a long, difficult week...

Have a calm and restful weekend everyone...