For the latest My Provence interview, I’m thrilled to feature Lisa Pepin, co-owner of Les Pastras Organic Farm in the Luberon. And talk about a dream life… Lisa & her husband Johann not only live on and maintain the farm, they also conduct tours of the property all year round. Here’s an excerpt from their Truffle-Hunting tour:
“…learn how truffles are cultivated and truffle dogs are trained, and go on a hunt for France’s elusive “black gold” with professional hunters who know all the tricks of the trade. You’ll be regaled with stories of successes and sabotage, and learn to tell the difference between a real Provençal tuber melanosporum and its inferior Chinese and Italian counterparts. Tours are followed up with a sampling of black truffles accompanied by a tasting of local wine and an olive oil. Then, of course, is the special truffle menu, featuring a truffle burger stuffed with foie gras and bacon, served with french fries cooked in truffle oil…”
Ohh wow…. so when do we leave? Below you’ll learn more about Lisa’s corner of Provence and if you’d like to have more information about their tours, please visit the Les Pastras’ website.
1. What is your connection to Provence, and how long have you been living in or traveling to the region?
My husband grew up in Provence. He and I met in the States and lived in Chicago together for four years. But his family needed him here, and we now run the Pepin family vineyard, Les Pastras.
We conduct tours of the property all year round, followed by an authentic Provençal lunch or a special truffle menu when in season. Tours include a wine tasting and olive oil tasting, plus activities such as olive picking, grape harvesting, a game of boules or even truffle-hunting, depending on the season and the weather.
2. Where is your favorite place to visit? (a tough one!)
We are lucky enough to have one of the 100 most beautiful villages in France just around the corner. Lourmarin is a spectacular little gem, with a beautifully maintained castle where they host events in the summertime and which visitors can tour all year. It is also home to many wonderful restaurants, with everything from simple café fare to haute cuisine. Adorable shops, magnificent art galleries and nearby vineyards offering wine tastings abound. And the Friday open air market is the best we’ve ever seen.
Where to stay:
Le Moulin de Lourmarin (hotel): charming rooms, view of castle, walking distance to entire village
La Tuiliere (house rental): beautiful Provençal house with magnificent pool and views, walking distance from the village
Where to eat:
Café l’Ormeau (cheap and cheerful, sunny outdoor seating, ideal location for people-watching), Le Moulin (wonderful menu, view of the castle from outdoor tables, old olive mill part of the indoor décor), La Fenière (gorgeous setting indoors and out, haute cuisine prepared by renowned female chef Reine Sammut).
Wine tasting: Château Fontvert, Constantin-Chevalier (by appointment), or visit the wine cellar at the base of the castle, which offers tastings of a variety of local wines.
3. Do you have a “best travel memory” for the region?
As residents, most of our fondest travel memories involve showing visiting friends around. The one place we never pass up is l’Art Glacier in Ansouis. This is an artisanal ice cream parlor perched on a hill overlooking the Luberon Valley. It’s worth the trip just for the view alone, but the ice cream is out of this world! Flavors like rose, lavender, thyme, basil, rosemary, honey and poppy allow you to feel like you’re actually tasting the countryside of Provence. Don’t pass up the more bizarre flavors like chili pepper, tomato, garlic and black pepper. Seeing our friends’ reactions to this feast for the senses is always a highlight of their visits. We serve their “every flavor” ice cream cake to our tour groups for dessert and it’s always a hit.
4. Can you think of one piece of advice or recommendation for travelers to Provence?
Don’t plan itineraries that involve a lot of driving. One of the wonderful things about Provence is that there is something worth seeing wherever you are. My advice is, if you have seven days, pick seven must-see sites that interest you (the castle at Les Baux, the coliseum in Arles, the village of Gordes, the “Provençal Colorado” in Rustrel, etc.). Visit your site in the morning, have lunch at noon (any later and you risk not getting a table or missing lunch altogether, as restaurants only serve until 2:00) then explore the surrounding area in the afternoon. Keep it simple!
5. Finally, can you give us one sentence which you feel describes Provence?
There is no beauty on earth quite like it; everything you’ve heard about the gorgeous views, the magnificent hilltop villages, the unique quality of the light, is absolutely true.
Many thanks to Lisa and her husband for this lovely insight into their lives in Provence, and please find more travel tips and tour information on their website, www.lespastras.com.*photo credits: Sunlight on the vines at Les Pastras (photo by Scott Cejka photography) Château de Lourmarin (photo by Scott Cejka photography) Café l’Ormeau (photo by Scott Cejka photography) Village of Gordes (photo by Scott Cejka photography)