Escape to … the Ochre Cliffs of Roussillon

One of the joys of travelling is being taken by surprise. In my case, it was the ochre cliffs of Roussillon that bowled me over. We packed a lot in on our trip around the Luberon in Provence, going to gardens, nature reserves, organic vineyards, and one of our stops was to be the Conservatory of Natural Ochre and Pigments. It’s not that I was sceptical, but I wasn’t expecting much. Yet I found this particular part of our trip to be one of the most memorable.

Ochre is a natural pigment found in the Luberon region of Provence – this is where the orangey-pink wash on Provençal houses comes from. Although today most of these pigments are chemically made, up until the 1960s it was extracted from quarries, leaving behind great canyons of reds, oranges and yellows. And while that explanation might not be the most inspiring, the canyons definitely are.

The vibrancy of the ochres are set against the deep blue of the sky and the bright green of the vegetation, making them almost too difficult to look at – the colours really do dazzle the eyes. There are trails all through the quarries and the sun and the shadows animate the landscape as you walk along, making it seem as if the ground is undulating. Although this is a popular tourist attraction, there are places where you can stand quietly and feel just how small you are …

To see more pictures of the Ochre Cliffs, go to cottages4you Facebook page.

Kathi Hall is the editor of Escape magazine for cottages4you. She loves travelling and being surprised by what she finds, she’s a fluent French speaker in her head but strangely mute when confronted with an opportunity to speak it out loud and she firmly believes in trying all local specialities – except for snails.

Escape to Provence: The Food

During our four-day trip around some of the villages of rural Provence, we made sure to eat at a variety of Bistrots de Pays. Often the only business left in a small village, the bistrot helps keep the village alive by offering food, drinks, and newspapers as well as serve as a meeting place to catch up on the village news.
There are 53 Bistrots de Pays in Provence and, like the meals they offer, they all have their special flavour. We didn’t get around to all 53 – but the three we did get to served up some memorable food.

Café des Poulivets in Oppède-les-Poulivets. Stopping in on a Friday afternoon, the outdoor terrace was filled with locals tucking into the café’s speciality: Aïoli Provençal. Aïoli is a sauce with the consistency of mayonnaise, made with garlic and olive oil, and is the star of the dish, not the condiment – everything else on your plate is there to dip into the aïoli. Served with a plate of boiled potatoes and carrots, perfectly poached cod, and a ladleful of escargots, we tucked in (well, okay, I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the stomach for escargots but I have it on good authority that they were delicious…), all washed down with a carafe of the local rosé wine. A simple, light and satisfying lunch for about €16.

Bistrot de Pierrerue in Pierrerue. Organic is the watchword for this bistrot and the décor is light and airy, with a wall full of old-fashioned postcards – just the right side of kitsch – varnished onto plaques of wood. The food was rich and flavourful and comes from a set menu – whatever’s available in the market is what goes on the plate. Our dinner consisted of tomato and goat’s cheese tartlet, duckling breast with cherries, finished with a slice of lemon-lime tart (the olive oil and spelt cake had been polished off by the family at the next table). Dinner is approx €24, excluding wine.

Chez Jules, Puimichel. Our last dinner at Provence was spent at Chez Jules in the tiny village of Puimichel. We were lucky enough to bag a table outside, as the evening was warm and balmy. The trees were strewn with coloured fairy lights and the church next to the bistrot would chime out the hour – this is what a French holiday is all about. It’s easy to gorge yourself in this place – I started with pâté with a broad bean salad before tackling the main dish of lamb shank flavoured with rosemary. Then out came the cheese platter – four different kinds of goat’s cheese and ample slices of blue cheese, served with a basket of fresh bread. Could I eat any more? Yes. I’d been sitting there for two hours, that takes a lot of energy – so to fortify myself, I had the rhubarb mousse. All this for about €30. Considering I was so full, I didn’t need to eat for a few days afterwards, pretty good value.

For more information on Bistrots de Pays, go to www.bistrotdepays.com.

Kathi Hall is the editor of Escape magazine for cottages4you. She loves travelling and being surprised by what she finds, she’s a fluent French speaker in her head but strangely mute when confronted with an opportunity to speak it out loud and she firmly believes in trying all local specialities – except for snails.