People travel for different reasons. For rest, relaxation, education and exploration. For me, the best trips are the ones when we feel like a character in another world. We surprise ourselves when we live in a different environment, and it stretches who we are as a person. It’s the same reason why I love theatre so much. The magical process of inserting myself into somebody else’s life is exhilarating.
Our second stop of our trip was, by far, everybody’s favorite.
Bonnieux, France. Down South in the Provence/Luberon region.
Life in the Provence wasn’t always a bed of lavender. Up until a couple of generations ago, the charm and cuisine of Provence evolved out of the need for conservation and simplicity. This region had its share of poverty. Maybe the Arkansas girl in me connects with this kind of heritage.
We rented a 9 passenger van (that came with 3 car seats) and made an 8ish hour drive to Bonnieux.. The views along the way of rape seed fields (yellow canola flowers) and all of the red poppies and wildflowers were gorgeous, but we were ready to get out of that van! Can you tell which picture was taken on the front end of the trip?
The moment we arrived, we were swept away into another world. If you’ve read The Nightengale, this was reminiscent of Viane’s house. Thankfully, there were no Nazis billeted there.
We were met by our lovely host Guy (who had left us fresh strawberries, the local rose wine, and plenty of walnuts to crack). This was our French country home for the next few days:
Bonnieux is a random small, hilltop medieval town in lavender country, sort of off the most popular tourist track. We had loosely planned on doing some day trips in the nearby surrounding towns, but needing to recover from the whirlwind of Paris, we decided to just mostly relax. This house was our main attraction. Mother kept saying, “it’s like the style French Country, only it’s real!”
When you’re traveling with kids, eating out becomes the Eating Olympics. I’ve gotten good at it, but it’s no fun trying to cut meat while wrestling a monkey on my lap. Our older two kids did mostly great on this trip- walking long periods of time and eating in a bunch of random places with little complaint. But we needed to have a few meals in our own space. Our host Guy is also a grandfather, and it was obvious that he’s had the grandkids over often. The “farm house” came with two old-timey high chairs, two cribs, toys, and little potties.
The kitchen was an absolute dream:
Along the lines of feeling like a character in another time and space, staying at an Air BnB scratches that itch to snoop around–or maybe it’s just me. I didn’t meet the real lady of the house, but she had cook wear to envy and a treasure trove of handwritten recipes and cookbooks (none of which I could read.)
Shopping at the local market and cooking in this kitchen was one of the real highlights of the trip for me. My only disappointment was not finding morel mushrooms anywhere. I wanted to try to recreate a dish I had at a New Year’s Eve house party from my last trip to Paris. It was one of the top five things I’ve ever eaten in my life. My step dad Rusty tells me that their land in Arkansas is peppered with morels right now. Apparently they are everywhere in America. Why am I just now finding this out?! Why have I never seen a morel on a plate in America? If you’ll do a little search on Amazon for dried morels to see how expensive they are, you’ll wonder why everyone in America isn’t morel hunting. Rusty says as soon as the may apples pop up, they’re shortly followed by the morels. If you’ve got woodsy land in America, do yourself a favor and go morel hunting and make that dish. Mine was made with regular button mushrooms (and I make in Thailand with Asian mushrooms).
The weather was absolutely glorious– warm, dry sunshine in the day and chilly enough for a fire at night. The land had lots of hidden play spaces for the kids (including a playhouse made out of wood pallets), and a little rock pile that Henry and Mags played well into the darkness.
We let the kids stay up late to snuggle by the fire (this blew Henry’s mind having a fire inside the house) and then we took a look at the stars through an amateur telescope that was at the house. Henry learned what a satellite was because we saw so many of them.
On Friday, we ventured up the hill into Bonnieux for the Friday market where we bought sausage, some local overpriced strawberry basil nougat, lavender oil, jewelry, baskets and quilted pillow shams. Bonnieux is built up on a big plateau and has breathtaking views of the surrounding towns. The town has 13th century ramparts and a 12th and 15th century church, as well as a “new” church built in 1870.
We also met this guy.… and I can’t remember his name! But he’s an artist who has made an entire room full of Provencial France in miniature for the pure pleasure of it. It’s free to the public, with a suggested donation box. Anybody on the internets out there remember his name? A friend on the street said he’s been featured on some TV shows. I can’t help but think of my Mama Toon and her Fontanini Nativity room at Christmas.
Henry’s absolute favorite part of the trip was checking out the Pont Julien, a Roman stone arch bridge dating back to 3BC, just a very short walk from the farm house. Amazingly, it’s still going strong and was still used by cars up until 2005. The water below was a little chilly, but it didn’t stop Henry from leaping around. Travis took him back the next day for a proper swim.
It was hard to say goodbye to Bonnieux. There are few places we visit where we can say with certainty that we’d be willing to go back to the exact same place again. Henry asked multiple times after we left, “Can we please go back to the Bonnieux house?” Oh, I so wish we could, son! I’d love to re-live that story again with my beloved cast of characters. Until next time, gentle town.