Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Maubec: A Perfect Spot for Holiday Villas

The quaint little village of Maubec lies at the foot of the Luberon Mountains near Cavaillon, in the Parc Natural du Luberon in deepest Provence. It is beautiful countryside offering hundreds of trails for walking and hiking and the little village itself has a few delights to discover. The "Tour de l'Horloge du Beffroi" is the central attraction, a lovely old clock tower that looks down over the village. The local agriculture is based on those omnipresent Provence classics, the grape and the olive.  Grapes are used not just for wine production, the village being in the wine area AOC Luberon, but the grape pips are also used to make grape seed oil, which can be found for sale, along with a selection of the local wines, at the regular Sunday market in the village.

Maubec is so quiet, it does not even boast a hotel, indeed gites or a campsite seem to be the only options, except for the most obvious option, rent a private villa to relax and unwind in a way seldom possible in a hotel.  Private villas often offer an oasis of calm often with views, very often with swimming pools, which are most welcome after a long day our hiking or sight-seeing.

 Nearby villages also offer a nice distraction, once you have had your fill of relaxing, eating and drinking their rose.  Oppède Le Vieux is a fantastic old un spoilt hill-top village, reached by a pretty little path from the parking area, no cars are allowed in the village which when you see it you will realise is a good regulation.  It has a ruined Chateau, boutiques, arts and craft shops, a collegiate church, which is the dominant feature, and the village clings to the hillside in the way only Provencal villages can.  The surrounding forests offer a striking backdrop and the area much-loved by film stars and others in the public eye, some of whom have bought properties in the area.

Ménerbes, just 4 km's away is another hillside village, considered by many to one of the most beautiful in the Luberon region.  In the 16th century Ménerbes was the centre of the Protestant movement, but its historical roots go back to pre historic times, and was also inhabited and cultivated by the Romans. It is beloved by artists and writers, indeed Nicolas de Staël and the artist Picasso both owned houses in the village. Don't miss the corkscrew museum, with over 1000 examples of this very handy implement, which you will not be surprised was invented by a Frenchman  (Monsieur Le screw?) in the 12th century.

The village of Robion has a nice Roman Church. It has a music festivals during July and August, whilst Taillades which was once a quarrying centre, is also worth a visit, and it also has a musical connection, some of the quarries make perfect amphitheatres where concerts and other musical events are staged in summer. It also boasts a water-mill, the Saint-Pierre, which although not working anymore (it stopped production in the 19th century) used to take its flow from the Carpentas River which runs languidly past the village.

Overall then, Maubec stands at the centre of a network of pretty Provencal villages, there are no towns nearby so a car is a necessity as public transport hardly exists but that does not stop you enjoying the relaxing lifestyle mixed with a little light exploration, and perhaps an early morning walk before it gets too hot in order to work up an appetite for lunch, the word memorably use by Peter Maile, author of A Year In Provence to describe the area in one word.

 Nearest airport is Marseilles, about 70 km's distant, which has a good array of flights to and from most European cities including London, Brussels, Paris and several french towns as well. Allow up to two hours to drive across as there are no real motorways and anyway the back routes are much more picturesque and allow you to take in the local environment more fully.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Luxury vacation rentals in Mouries - Cote D'Azur Villas

Mouries is a beautiful Provencal village, nestling at the foot of the Alpilles Mountains in the centre of the Valley de la Baux. The village is renowned as being at the heart of French olive oil production and is said to have over 80,000 olive tress producing olives for the production process. What I did not know until recently, but olive oil aficionados probably did is the olive oil comes from Mouries in 4 different varieties,  Aglandau, Grossane, Salonenque, and Verdale des Baux and has its own AOC  (Appelation Originale Controle) label, assuring the purchaser that it was produced in this area and giving a guarantee of minimum quality.  Traditional cold water methods of production are employed here when the harvest takes place, usually in November and December each year, presumably after the first frosts when the olives begin to drop.  You will see vast nets set out beneath the olive tress at this time of year to help gather the harvest.

At one stage, early last century there were 11 working mills in and around this atmospheric village and 3 remain today, one being an ultra modern mill and one, the being an organic oil mill, the Vaudoret.  The villagers of  Mouries seem to love a festival, there are events all the year around, many take place in the towns bullring, which can hold up to 3000 people.  Of course, with a bullring, one must expect that there are the occasional bull fights, and although many of the English in particular have never understood the apparently barbaric baiting of bulls as a spectacle to be enjoyed, one has to respect the local traditions of this "sport" which still occurs quite regularly in the Carmargue to the south, and in isolated inland villages such as this. Personally I would much rather attend the Formidable Aïoli Populaire festival which, if your French is not up to it, means basically a huge aioli (garlic) meal which usually is based on cod or other white fish and involves lashings of aioli, a French garlic mayonnaise.

There are several interesting trails that have been laid out. Inevitably there is the olive trail, which seeks to educate you in the whole olive oil production process, which is quite fascinating. I have always wondered how they discovered the process of filtering and the like that has to go on for weeks before the olive is soft enough to move to the next production phase.  Whose idea was it to take a tiny fruit and spend weeks trying to make a very bitter original taste palatable?

 There is a wine trail, which examines the other agricultural triumph of Provence, the production of predominantly rose wines, which are very good, much better than the reds and whites they also produce, albeit in smaller quantities. Another trail is called the Route des maisons nobles de la vallée des Baux which takes you to see a number of 16th, 17th and 17th century houses in the area.

The village itself is a Provencal delight.  Tall plane tress allow a little sunshine through but not too much and the cafe's offer not just a cold glass of rose, or pastis or coffee along with the inevitable olive, plus fantastic tapenades a kind of olive dip and fougasse which is olive bread.

Staying here is possible in one of the few quite rudimentary hotels, but a better idea is to find a private villa to rent.  There are several companies in Provence which specialise in private villa Rentals,often with swimming pools, usually with great views and usually tranquil.

Marseilles airport is some 70 km's away, and has a number of flights each day to various destinations in the UK, France and Europe, but a car is a necessity as public transport here is not well developed, in fact it hardly exists! You should allow some 2 hours to drive from the airport, as the roads tend to be designed for country driving rather than fast access, but the sights on the way are worth it.