It's only our second day on a family vacation to the Cannes Film Festival and we're in the chill phase before the Cannesdemonium, as my clever friend calls it.
From Marseilles, a borrowed Garmin GPS has taken us an hour out of our way, compensating for a brief detour by rerouting our rental Renault to a highway to… where? We pull off to regain the trail, peruse the enormous fold-out Michelin map we'd already torn at home in the trip planning phase, and give up. Gunning the engine, popping the clutch, we race to 110kph and we're off.
The family's New York hyper energy has not abated with jet lag, but as soon as we leave the highway at Cavaillon, peace descends. We cruise past olive trees, orchards of cherries, corn-rowed fields of stubby lavender bushes, still greenish gray, about a month away from their prime. In the waning light this actually does look like the Provence I have seen in countless watercolors. We are relieved.
Discovering the Luberon of Provence
I spent several hours searching for a soothing place that would keep us grounded in the lead up to the Cannesdemonium. Our 19-year-old has a roommate meeting him in Antibes to stay with us for the party time. As a family of three, I wanted the opposite: family time, a way to connect in a new culture, a fresh environment, not a place to discuss school or work or responsibilities but a place to renew life and spirit.
Our goal being France, I did most of my searching on yahoo.fr, the portal used by many Europeans. Of course I did several google searches, checked many promising gites and rental villas on tripadvisor and returned many times to the 10-year-old Michelin guide I had in the office. I figured if it was good 10 years ago, it is probably still good, and it was this guide that led me to the unspoiled Luberon region. This area of medieval small towns, tucked on the hillsides of the Luberon Mountains in a park preserve, has as its heart a valley of traditional mas or French farmhouses, where grapes, sheep and lavender are tended to.
Part of the Vaucluse, it seemed central to the many cultural villages where I imagined Picasso and Van Gogh took their cafes in the morning. Between the mountains and the Durance River, it is a very green and beautiful part of Provence. I asked yahoo.fr what there was to do in the Luberon region and found the wonderfully detailed, opinionated and very French blog of the proprietor of le Mas des Etoiles, the farm of stars. His English was quite good, he complained of over-priced and not very good tourist restaurants in his posts, and when I shared the blog with my husband, he said, "I want this man to be my friend in Provence."
Thus our search came to rest at le Mas des Etoiles, where we met Francois and Annette.
Le Mas des Etoiles, an Internet Gift
Knowing there are just five rooms to rent, we found this rustic farmhouse disarmingly large inside. In addition to a comfortable living room and spacious eat-in kitchen, there is a wing for the hosts, an outside guesthouse with two bedrooms, a beautiful salt water pool with sundeck, two outdoor dining rooms, and land for beautiful gardens of roses, cherries oleander, lavender and a goldfish pond.
"Just perfection" my husband proclaimed.
"It's gorgeous," said our son as he tried to wheel our rollaboards across the glistening white gravel path to the old wood door with a twisted vine wreath.
Upstairs, we each had rooms in the classic Provencal style: white on white with billowing mosquito netting to romanticize the bedding, white quilts and white linen pillow shams, tile floors the color of the famous local ochre. Bathrooms with large enamel tubs and separate shower stalls were tiled in limestone brick; lace curtained windows that opened out to a view of the gardens and Luberon Mountains in the distance and allowed the banter of frogs and birds to drift in at night.
But most importantly, we had the passion of Francois and Annette, world travelers themselves, who would regale us at breakfast with their favorite medieval towns, abbeys, shops, restaurants and vineyards to see each day.
We quickly left our bags, jumped into the pool and changed for our first wonderful meal, just a five minute walk away at l'Estellan. Duck, grilled local fish, roast lamb, the freshest asparagus and a bottle of rose from La Citadelle and we were ready to head back to our Mas des Etoiles.
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