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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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!