The holiday season is a time when we draw close to family and friends. Although Charley, Kelly and I love celebrating with our family and friends at home, we find ourselves thinking of the special friends we’ve made in Provence and wishing we could celebrate this special time of year with them too.
We treasure our relationships with two circles of friends in Provence. Our first circle is the travelers who have entrusted us with their vacations, over 150 of them during the past four years. They come to the Luberon from all over the USA and also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Our relationships begin through e-mails and phone calls, sometimes a year or more in advance, and it’s always exciting to finally meet everyone in person. In a week together we get to know each other very well, and within a day or two each group of strangers becomes a group of compatible and comfortable friends. After our time in Provence it’s fun to stay in touch through e-mails, photos, facebook, and visits. We’ve especially enjoyed sharing another European Experience week with several of these friends… and look forward to traveling again with others this summer.
Our second circle of friends lives in Provence and is a big reason we never tire of our weeks there. After being away during the winter months, we always look forward to seeing them again. Some are friends we made during the six months our family lived in Bonnieux a few years ago. When we were planning our first Luberon Experience trips, they offered encouragement, help and support. Other friendships developed later, during our many stays in the area. Our local friends really enjoy being involved with our groups.
Our circle of Luberon friends plays an important part in our Luberon Experience week. We aren’t just touring and sightseeing. .. our groups become part of the life of a small village and enjoy its rhythms. They get to know these local friends. They visit their homes and meet their friends and family. They run into them later in the week in the village. It’s very special when greetings and farewells involve the three kisses (“bisous”) traditional in our area.
That sense of friendship begins when each group arrives in Bonnieux at the small hotel that’s our home for the week. Our host Pierre, his daughter Celine, and his assistant Sophie greet everyone enthusiastically that first afternoon and at breakfast every morning. They create such a special environment for us, especially around the dinner table on the first and last nights when we enjoy Pierre’s Provençal cuisine.
Michele and her son Jean-Camille are proud to show us the amazing caves underneath their home, where early residents of Bonnieux lived over 1000 years ago. We explore their secret garden just inside the village walls, experiencing dimensions of this historic village unknown to other travelers.
Marianne hosts us at her farm near Saignon where she raises goats and fabricates several types of goat cheese. The baby goats are adorable in May, and the cheese tasting is always popular. Later in the week we see her again, making a delivery to Pierre’s hotel and selling her cheeses at the weekly market.
In the village of Roussillon we love to visit the gallery of our artist-friend Françoise Valenti. We’re enchanted by her beautiful art and her enthusiastic reception for everyone who enters her door.
Charley calls Nathalie Margan his “French daughter.” Regardless of how busy she is, Nathalie hosts our group for a private visit to the grounds and winery of Chateau la Canorgue, one of the best-known wineries in the Luberon. She’s an amazing young woman, and we love the Canorgue wines.
Originally from Scotland, Kim sells colorful scarves at several local markets. She has a fabulous sense of humor. Our visits to Kim’s stand at the Gordes market are always such fun, and the women in our groups model their fashionable scarves the rest of the week.
One of our family’s favorite places in Bonnieux is Le Terrail, the cafe on the main square. This quickly becomes a popular spot for our groups too: for lunch, an afternoon beer, or a coffee during the Friday morning market. Our good friend Michel always has a cheerful welcome and a big smile for our travelers.
Our dear friend Janice has welcomed all 16 of our groups to an evening at her beautiful home on the plateau above Bonnieux. We have a delightful evening around her table… a delicious multi-course meal and fun conversation. Some of the group always goes up early to help with dinner preparations or just to relax in the peaceful garden.
A highlight of every week is our afternoon at Domaine Faverot, the home and winery of François and Sally Faverot. First, an entertaining and informative tour, led by François… then a wine tasting… then a delicious and leisurely lunch prepared by Sally, enjoyed with more of the excellent Faverot wine. François may even play the guitar and sing. Friends of Faverots usually join our group and add to the fun.
These two circles of friends intersect to enrich our experiences in Provence. We love the beauty, the history, the lifestyle, the food and wine of the Luberon. But most of all, we treasure our friends who live there and the other friends who’ve shared a week with us. We don’t just have a tour. All these special people make it an experience.
See all our local friends in our slide show, A Circle of Friends in the Luberon.
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Kathy and Charley Wood lead The Luberon Experience, a week-long “slow tour” in the most beautiful area of Provence, France. Their popular trips are offered five weeks a year, in May and September. They also now lead two or three trips a year to other special places in Europe. Their other 2010 European Experiences will be based in the Salzkammergut area of Austria and the Cotswolds in England.
Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for almost 20 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with others travelers. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.