Part of the Bastide garden all prepped for he growing season.

We’ve been having some amazing sunsets this winter. Menerbes.

Visitors and residents of Ménerbes know all about the ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ cats. Feral cats have been a problem in many French villages – they say one is born every 17 minutes; but we have all been working hard to keep them under control, provide the correct birth control and allow them to add to rather than adversely affect the characters of the village.

We have the ‘southern cats’ under our jurisdiction and there are 5 – Smokey-Bleu the matriarch; sons and brothers Tabby and Mr Worm; sons and brothers Big Tiger and Baby Tiger.

The fathers have all been neutered and they prowl the surrounding farms.

Each winter, our cats need shelter andwe have created a dormitory up on a terrace for them to sleep warmly and to be safe from predators.

This year, they have acquired a new basket to add to the array of furniture in the dormitory.

Mr Worm cleans his brother Tabby in the new basket. Bliss!

Bonnieux – part of the Luberon Golden Triangle.

Bastide les Amis in the wintry light. Home, sweet, home.

Some of our old favorites from the many scultpures that are dotted about the vineyards as you walk through them.

The cantilevered bridge down to the ‘Cat in the Barrel’.

Voila! Down on your hands and knees and you see the cat!

A masterpiece in balance and symmetry

A personal favourite. Blocks of colourfully hewn rocks all placed in a bigger than big Rubik’s Cube.

The train at a station en route – Arnot.

 

Each day a ‘vintage’ (built in 1977) train ploughs its way down narrow guage railway tracks between Digne-les-Bains and Nice and back – four times to be exact. Tourists and locals flock to use the service. A full trip takes 4 hours but we like to stop off at Entrevaux a medieval village at the half-way mark; have a lunch in the village square and then re-board to get back to Digne by sunset.

The price is 16.50€ per person for this trip and WELL worth it. It’s great fun and the scenery is,well, spectacular.

Chugging along the tracks – the view from the driver’s cabin.

Spring and Autumn are great times to do this trip when the scenery, foliage and weather are at their best. The trains are not air-conditioned!

Something to do in Entrevaux – a vintage motorcycle museum.

For more information: click here.

 

Over the past three days, we’ve been showcasing a wonderful garden near Tarascan in the Bouches-Rhone Department of Provence. Just dow nthe road from this amazing spectacle is their provider of flower blooms and plants – when you consder the plant 10,000 narcissi in a year, they have big needs!

We’re indebted to Julie Mautner of Provence Post (www.provencepost.blogspot.fr) for this article:

There’s no shortage of beautiful flowers in Provence…or places to buy them. Just about every outdoor market has a vendor selling brilliant blooms at reasonable prices. But there’s something very special about buying them at the farm where they were grown…and meeting the people who grew them. And wholesale prices don’t hurt either!

Ferme Fleurie, located halfway between Tarascon and Graveson, is a large flower farm that exports 95 percent of its harvest to Holland. Yep, a big truck comes anywhere from two to seven times a week and carries away massive containers of flowers, all of them measured, clipped, bunched, refrigerated…and ready to be sold at auction. But a certain number of stems are always held back for local sale…and anyone who wants to can pop in to shop.  For export the flowers are cut “green,” which means the buds have yet to open, but for local sale the flowers are ready to be enjoyed tout suite!

The flowers available each day are scribbled in chalk on a sign out on the road…just like the flavor of the day at your favorite ice cream stand. Many top hotels and restaurants in the region buy direct from the farm regularly.
Back in the day, you just pulled into the parking lot and if no one came out to greet you, you honked. But now that Marcel and Debbie van Eenennaam have opened their sweet new boutique on the property, there are convenient set hours…and a Facebook page where you can see what’s in season before you head over. The shop opened in early April.
So how is it that this charming Englishwoman and her Dutch husband came to be among the largest flower producers in Provence?
Born in a small town near Amsterdam, Marcel and his late wife Julie came down to Provence and established the farm in 1999. Julie lost her battle with cancer in 2013.
The following year, Debbie—who comes originally from Whitstable in Kent, England but was living in Istanbul at the time—arrived in Provence to visit friends. Among their guests at dinner one night was the charming flower farmer who lived just next door. And over that long, laughter-filled meal, Marcel and Debbie connected.  They stayed in touch and before too long, Debbie had chucked her life in Turkey, moved to France and moved in. The couple married on the farm in September 2015.
Ferme Fleurie operates year round. What can’t be grown reliably in the ground is raised in one of 27 greenhouses, some of which are climate and humidity controlled.  To help get everything picked, packaged and shipped off on time, Debbie and Marcel have a fantastic team of Moroccan workers, a group that swells to 35 people in the height of the “short and intense” six-week peony season.
While anemones constitute a large part of their production, it’s the peonies for which the farm is best known: gorgeous fluffy blooms in colors including Bowl of Cream, Sara Bernhardt, Duchesse de Nemours, Pink Sunset and many more…in both “single” and “double” varieties. The farm’s 130,000 stabilized peony bushes will produce roughly one million pretty stems this year.  Normally available until the end of May, the peony harvest started two weeks early this year and the flowers are being picked, at a frantic pace, right now. So if you want ‘em, come and get ‘em…they’ll be gone, most likely, by mid May.
Debbie and Marcel also grow daffodils, lilies, roses (600 bushes), tulips (20 varieties), allium, glads, viburnum, sedum, lavender (6000 bushes) and more.
“Marcel is Dutch and likes to plant things,” Debbie says with a laugh.
If you come for flowers, you’re welcome to stroll around the 14-hectare farm where you’re likely to be followed by two sweet, inseparable black dogs named Poppy and Zazoo.  Poppy likes to swim every day, year round, in a small pond out back, while Zazoo runs back and forth on the shore.
You’re also likely to see geese and chickens; on a recent visit I spied a funny looking chicken that Debbie explained was a bit of a breeding mistake.  “I wanted to buy Silkie chickens but they were €45 each!,” she says, “so I decided to make them myself.  But I bred a furry one with a regular one by mistake. He’s ugly but we really love him.” In the barn the day I visited, a huge pig named Adele was crashed out in the hay, snoring loudly.
The Boutique at Ferme Fleurie is normally open from 10 am to 12:30 and 3 pm to 6 pm (weekdays) and from 9 am to 12:30 (Saturday).
During peony (pivoine) season, the hours are extended, as shown in the photo above. As of Monday May 15, they’ll be back on normal hours.
In summer, the boutique is likely to open just one morning and one afternoon a week…so check the Facebook page.
The farm is a bit tricky to find and you’re likely to miss it on your first try. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you see the large blackboard telling you the fleur du jour; turn right just before it or left just after. (If you’re coming from Graveson, you’ll turn left right after a small bridge; from Tarascon look for a cross on a pedestal on your left and then turn right immediately.) After the turn you’ll see a sign for the Mas d’Avieux…then just follow that road along the white fence, through three gentle curves, and you’re there. The farm and its GPS coordinates can also be found on Google Maps (as Ferme Fleurie SCEA Tarascon).
Ferme Fleurie, 4583 Route d’Avignon, 13150 Tarascon, France.

Madame fell hopelessly for this cherub.

Part of the manor house fronted by Plantane trees

Simply beautiful.

Statues abound

Not a bad place to have lunch!

A view from inside the manor house out towards the front garden

We were privileged to visit a private garden, near to the the Bouches-Rhone village of Tarascon.

A preview …..

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