A Château in Provence

Travel Provence, Visit Provence, Provence Holiday, Where to Stay in Provence
Château des Alpilles in St. Rémy-de-Provence is our home setting when in Provence. Credit: Jill Barth

I wrote the book before I’d been there, which may seem a backwards way to craft a novel. But by the time the book had been outlined, characters created, fictional wines made this place had begun to feel like home. My novel isn’t about this place exactly, but it is about the feeling of this place. Sometimes you need to smell the air and hear the birds to get it down on paper properly.

Provence Style, Fresh Produce from Provence, François Bon, Five Star Provence, Luxe Provence,
A personal note, and a nibble on arrival. Credit: Jill Barth

Each time we arrive we return to our familiars: the moss on the ancient tree, the gently raked pea gravel on the terrace, the scent of a fire that burned late into the night before, the sound of birds exotic to our ears. At the Château des Alpilles, one is reminded that everything has been settled and soothed and will continue to be at one’s disposal throughout the stay.

Provence style, Provence antiques, Provence hotel, where to stay in Provence
Capturing details: La Provence, the vertical reach of fresh flowers, a tiered basket of apples in the background. Jill Was Here. Credit: Jill Barth

As always (it is my way), I’ve taken notes (and many images). If elegant and tasteful François Bon, the proprietor, has noticed me collecting mental landmarks until I finally have the set, she hasn’t let on. This place is creatively curative for me, as it has been since our first visit. When I imagine a cloister for writing, or romance, or soul-searching my heart rests on the château, as we’ve come to call it.

Breakfast in France, Dinner in France, Lunch in France
Petit déjeuner, breakfast in France, awaits. Credit: Jill Barth

The allee is classic Provence – lined with healthy ancestral plane trees. Broad lawn stitches into space that is at once woodland and mystic garden. A stream as delicate as worn silk travels through the property. La piscine is a guiding light to summer, a time when muscles untuck and become pliable and the mind experiences plasticity – a time to relax. One sunset over the pool and one remembers that the world is gently spinning in a nest of reliable method.

Plane trees, French gardens, nature, summer in Provence
Le allee approaching Le Château des Alpilles, Credit: Jill Barth

Cultivated – we say that too. When things align with an energy that indeed pleases the eye but also the heart. François Bon must touch every item with both hands, must feel the life in the fibers before she places it in the space of her guests. The grit of stone against a tender leaf. The stern polish of glass reflecting a warm fire.

And there is souffle, an item that lives in my daughter’s memory like the Venus of desserts. After years of French classes and camps (where crepes are easy, often made) she begs for an authentic souffle and there is one to be found at the château. Citron, chocolat, framboise – flavors of France, pure and light.

Croissant, French butter, French café
Breakfast at le Château des Alpilles, Credit: Jill Barth

We are not the first to love this place. When the Bon family purchased the estate in 1979 it was with the idea to welcome guests that would feel like friends. But that is fresh news in the life of this property – which legends to be the home of a knight in the 13th century. According the Bon family, “A cypress tree several hundred years old attests to the fact that this particular domaine dates back to medieval times.”

French literature, French History, Provence History, Paris to Provence
Statesmen and literary leaders gathered here – soak up the energy, Credit: Jill Barth

After the knight, the property became the sit of a mas – a Provençal farmhouse – before the transition into elegance with the construction of a château around 1825 by man named Pierre-Paul Blain. Blain constructed the fountains and the chapel and planted the gardens with exotic and indigenous plants, which are still seen today: quivering Palm trees, shy ferns and delicate roses. The Bon family shares, “The [Blain] family resided there often and with the help of one of its members, Amédée Pichot, all of the top political and literary figures of figures of Paris – Guizot, Lamartine, Thiers … – were frequent, delighted visitors to the place.”

And I was there too, I’ve provided proof.

The wine list explains organic and biodynamic wines because around the region, this is how things are done, with purity, a lean hand, and a willingness to allow nature. There is rosé on the terrace and Vacqueyras for midnight, bubbles for the hours when sprightliness says it is time to sparkle. There are afternoon trips to the vineyards at the base of les Alpilles and evening dinners in St. Rémy-de-Provence served by waiters in red belts and purple shoelaces that obtain the most delightful desserts in town – I know this because I watched our very waiter enter a pâtisserie one afternoon as I was shopping, striking as he was, and remembered him from the evening before. In the window of the shop was a glorious rendition of the dessert I’d had the night before. It was the red belt that gave him away.

Château des Alpilles, Bio Wine, Organic Wine, Biodynamic Wine, Wine from Provence
A note on the winelist at le Château des Alpilles – so everyone understands how it is done around here. Credit: Jill Barth

I’m not gushing – I’m aligned. This is a place that feels right to me, fits my husband like a glove, and figures into some strong pleasant memories for us. I often ask myself why I wrote a novel about a place and time that isn’t tangible in my everyday – a place that requires a moon’s course in travel before I set foot on the marble doorstep. The answer to that lies in my imagination, but the details have been summonsed from a château in Provence.

The French Winophiles
Sparkling Wine, French Wine, Champagne
Champagne in Provence! Credit: Jill Barth

Our French Winophiles wine writers group welcomes you to join us this Saturday, September 16th, at 11 am ET. We’ll be on Twitter, using the #Winophiles as a common thread in our tweets to discuss: Dreaming of France: What’s Your Story?

Here’s a glimpse of what’s in store for the chat:

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm promises One of These Days . . . .

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog shares Champagne Chronicles Redux; A Week In Champagne, A Lifetime Of Memories.

Jeff from Food Wine Click will talk about one of his favorite French Wine Visits – Our Friend, Raymond Boillot.

Lauren at The Swirling Dervish, asks Do You Know the Way to Vézelay?

In October we head to Languedoc-Roussillon (Occitanie), hosted by me here on L’occasion; November takes us to Beaujolais, hosted by Jeff of Food Wine Click; and in December we delve into the world of French dessert wines. Join us!

 

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. curtisbausse says:

    A lovely place indeed! And a nice insight into the creative process. I often do the same – imagine first, confirm later with a visit. The other way round, and I get swamped with too many impressions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I just heard an author speaking of her creative process and she had setting first and created characters to illustrate the relationship between people and place – in this case rural York: Elmet by Fiona Mosley.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely. When I went to Provence it was everything I had hoped it would be. Just dreamy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I have some French dream places on my list: Brittany and Alsace for starters… I’m also after Corsica and Normandy. Passport ready!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have many French dream places, including Alsace & Normandy as well. Fingers crossed

        Like

  3. Wendy Klik says:

    Provence is exactly where I dream of going. I didn’t know that you wrote a novel, Jill. I would love to read it. I went to Barnes and Noble and wasn’t able to find you. Then I conducted a search with my friend, google, that brought me back to your blog. I see that the latest information is that you are awaiting publication. Please let me know when it is ready for purchase. I can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Wendy – I would love to share the story with you when it is published. I’m going the traditional route, working with an agent etc.

      In the meantime I have short story published, based on the childhood of one of the characters: Cat Tales: An anthology of short stories (Volume 1) https://www.amazon.com/dp/1540459500/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_UatVzb84T8S5D

      I’ll keep you posted in the full novel! Thanks for your interest!!

      Like

  4. Cheryl says:

    Oh, I just want to be there. What a dreamy place!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      It just feels so good there! Thank you!

      Like

  5. Lynn says:

    Captivating Jill- I’ve not been to Provence but north (Vaison-la-Romaine). Having dreamt about a visit on more than one occasion, I know who to go to for tips! Thanks for taking me to a magical place (look forward to reading your book too once released 😉

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Hi Lynn, I’ve been in that area too, once to the market at Vaison-la-Romaine… Dentelles de Montmirail area — just stunning, and excellent top-notch wine. Rasteau, Cairanne, Gigondas… oh yeah!

      Like

  6. keithvs says:

    An excellent choice! My wife and I live part of the year in St.-Rémy and the Château des Alpilles is a favorite dinner spot. A meal outside on a warm evening is magical! It’s hard to get a reservation in advance, because tables are reserved for guests at the Cháteau. The insider’s secret is to call the morning of the day you want to dine–that’s when tables are released for non-guests.

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      You are a lucky couple! My hubby and I hope to do the same when our kids get older, but for now we aren’t rushing that. However, we’ve scoped out potential spots and make a starter plan. I love reading up your experiences in Provence, and a book too — you’ll have to be sure that the Winophiles group knows how to get it!

      Like

      1. keithvs says:

        For any readers here who are interested, the book is One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and is available on Amazon. As for the Winophiles group, how best to let them know how to get it? Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jill Barth says:

          I’d be happy to share it with them! Thank you!

          Like

  7. Jill, thanks for sharing your spirit place in Provence. On our recent visit to Aix-en-Provence we felt we were grabbed by the place and firmly instructed to slow down and soak it in. No rushing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill Barth says:

      I bet you loved it! It does seem to take re-programing to settle down, but once the shift has happened it feels so natural!

      Like

  8. You have captured the enchanting spirit of a very real place. I love the idea of being able to physically visit a site that is ethereal yet pulses with history. Where the real world meets a dream, if you will. So lovely!

    Like

    1. Jill Barth says:

      Thank you, Lauren! I agree entirely. We can’t always do that, and that is something else too (entirely wonderful) to be able to learn of a place from afar, to learn from books and people and motion pictures and images and all the wonderful ways to exchange information to tell stories!

      Like

  9. SAHMmelier says:

    So many lines in this I love. The place, and your description of it, is dreamy

    Like

  10. Le Château des Alpilles sounds like a place I would love to be Jill. And made all the more enticing by your wondrous and compelling writing. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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