Fall in Love Country Side
by Tonya Pendleton
It is a small village, as villages go. One main road leading to a picturesque neighborhood of red-tiled rooftops slotted into a rising slope. If you follow the narrow, winding path that bisects the houses uphill, saying “Bonjour” as you ascend past the people sitting outside on rear patios, drinking what must be le vin rouge, the residents will respond with a friendly “Bonjour.” They may be wondering what an almost 6-foot tall African-American woman is doing in their town, but it’s a passing curiosity, and they will go right back to their drinking and laughing and living.
If you make your way to the top, you will be out of breath, but it will be worth it. There is an ancient church at the top, but that is not the main attraction. It is the view of the village, where green meets fields and sky, and in that moment you will realize just what it is that drew you to this place, to France, to this tiny medieval village, Le Motte Chalancon (la mottechalancon.com), where a whiff of the local boulangerie will smell better than the finest perfumes of Paris, and the sun and the sky come together. By Tonya Pendelton
You will meet Yves and his wife, Anya, who seem like characters out of French film casting, but are real people who own Le Maison Bleue, the town’s small restaurant where the couple cook, clean, bus tables, host and serve with cheery efficiency. Where you will have taglieterre with summer truffles out of a friend’s plate and sigh the satisfied sigh of a pasta lover who has never tasted anything quite so magnificent except maybe the ravioli you’ve just finished, or the chocolate fondant afterward. You will think this quaint little town is unique, but in the Rhône-Alpes region, you will come to realize it is but one of many little towns like Grignan, Mens and Nyons that have their own particular charms.
In Nyons, as you are about to scream on a traveling companion for going to a lowly hot dog stand in France of all places, you realize that this stand has a wood-burning oven and serves thin-crust pizza accessorized with hand-placed olives. And you know, Virginia, that you are not in New York or Philadelphia or the United States anymore. They will tell you that you are experiencing organic France and, indeed, the Rhône-Alpes region is committed to an organic lifestyle.
You can live right off the land at Les Amanins, a sort of experimental ecological compound in La Roche-sur-Grane (lesamanins.com) or you can go to Terre Vivante, (terrevivante.org), an organization in an even more beautiful setting in Mens, where you can tour and study all about organic living. (You do need to speak French or have a translator.) You can even view the winemaking process at winemaker Paul Jaboulet Aine, where vast casks of wine are stored and created via sustainable means (jaboulet.com).
But there is nothing that will impress organic living into your head more than in actually experiencing France. Sure, flying first class on Air France may increase your carbon footprint and decrease your bank account, but if you’re a nervous flier, there’s no better way to go (airfrance.com). After being plied with several varieties of wine and food and liquor throughout your flight, you are hopefully prepared for the feast of your senses that is to come. Organic living is French real living, as you will soon come to understand. You are sure, as you eat a beautifully prepared and presented fruit salad on the rooftop patio at La Villa Florentine (villaflorentine.com)—which overlooks the city of Lyon, known for its gastronomic superiority—that they picked the fruits from an orchard minutes before. On the road to the winery you will pick apricots off the tree yourself and smile at the novelty of indisputably fresh apricot juice running down your face. You will open the casement windows of your room at Lyon’s charming College Hotel (college-hotel .com) and look out into the square and think, “I cannot even believe I’m here,” as the balmy night air caresses your face.
You will somehow lose weight on a diet of wine, pasta, bread, cheese and chocolate. You will drive through the Rhône Alpes on the “right” side of the road (the same one we drive on in the U.S.), while admiring the Tour De France-like scenery on either side of you. You will stop at L’Ebron to take pictures of an azure blue body of water and will gape at the sheer beauty that surrounds you while traversing the heights of Col De Tourettes as valleys dotted with farmland slowly come into view below.
You will taste fragrantly delicious olive oil in Nyons, made for five generations by the Richard family (huilerie-richard.com) and be lulled into near slumber by the potent fresh lavender at Blue Provence Distillerie (distillerie-bleu-provence.com), a lavender distribution site. That lavender will make it home with you in sachet form. You will eat naturally prepared food at Le Clair de La Plume in Grignan (clairplume.com), a town surrounded by fragrant lavender fields with an imposingly glorious cathedral as its centerpiece.
You will consider that real organic living is being close to nature with food that is freshly prepared and not bought from a supermarket to heat up in a microwave. This is sky and sun and fresh air and the kind of beauty that you will never experience in a world of reality TV and homogenized malls. This is France, and aren’t you glad you were here? •
Philadelphia-based writer Tonya Pendleton is a frequent contributor to Heart & Soul.