Published: April 2009
By Christopher Petkanas
With so many options in southern France, creating an authentic Provençal experience isn't easy. Wout Bru, an accomplished chef with a golden pedigree, shares his picks of the area's best.
More is more is more at Wout Bru's Bistrot d'Eygalières (Rue de la République; 33-4/90-90-60-34; dinner for two $240), one of the most inspired and satisfying restaurants in Provence (lobster lasagne with confit tomatoes and thyme butter, anyone?), located 15 miles south of Avignon. And the four spacious, well-priced, serenely stylish guest rooms above the restaurant are the greatest lodging secret in the region (www.chezbru.com; doubles from $150). Bru wasn't born in Provence—he's Belgian—but given this look inside his address book, he may know it better than the mayor of Marseilles does.
GARDEN Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart's enthralling one-of-a-kind garden, Le Jardin de l'Alchimiste, showcases the sorcerous power of plants and the sometimes spooky medieval art of alchemy. Mas de la Brune, Eygalières; 33-4/90-90-67-67.
SCENTS, SWEETS, SAVORIES This is the defining southern France shopping experience—perfumed, scrumptious, and homespun. On two floors of a lovely old village house, La Maison d'Anaïs offers a seductive selection of lavender honey, tapenades, black and white nougat, plus savon de Marseilles and two made- in-Provence fragrance collections: Lothantique and Amélie et Mélanie. Rue de la République, Eygalières; 33-4/90-90-65-44.
OUTFITTER The indestructible moleskin riding pants worn by cowboys in the Camargue region of Provence owe their erotic cachet not just to the thigh- girding cut but to a graphic pencil line of contrast piping that runs down the legs. The great specialty of Les Indiennes de Nîmes, the pants are one of the rare items of folk dress you can buy and wear anywhere (i.e., you won't look like an idiot wearing them back home). 4 Place de la République, Arles; 33-4/90-18-21-52.
OLIVE OIL As producers of an A.O.C. Vallée des Baux de Provence oil, the 18th-century Château d'Estoublon is required to press its olives within three days of harvesting to prevent fermentation. Instead, it does this rule one better by pressing the fruit inside of 24 hours. Oil is sold alongside glassware, honey, pottery, quilts, and the Estoublon wine that owner Rémy Reboul makes with celebrated bad-boy vintner Eloi Dürrbach of neighboring Domaine de Trevallon. Route de Maussane, Fontvieille; 33-4/90-54-64-00.
CHOCOLATE The fearless flavors chez iconoclast Joël Durand swing from the herbal (thyme, rosemary) to the floral (violet, jasmine). Sweetening his international reputation are handcrafted caramel lollipops and edgy jams made with star anise and Corsican citrons. 3 Blvd. Victor Hugo, St.-Rémy-de-Provence; 33-4/90-92-38-25.
PATISSERIE When it comes to off-the-charts cookies in France, all roads lead to Le Petit Duc, whose Oreilles de la Bonne Déesse, or Ears of the Good Goddess, are an adaptation of an elaborate Roman porridge recipe that uses olive oil, red wine, pepper, honey—and cumin. Olive or fennel shortbread partners deliciously with champagne. 7 Blvd. Victor Hugo, St.-Rémy-de-Provence; 33-4/90-92-08-31.
VINEYARD To purchase the lusty red that Dominique Hauvette turns out under the Baux de Provence appellation at Domaine Hauvette, you'll need an appointment—if you can snag one. The proto–micro estate occupies just 35 acres at the foot of the lunar Alpilles mountains. La Haute Galine, St.-Rémy- de-Provence; 33-4/90-92-03-90.
MUSEUM Judith Krantz helped herself to his name for a cheesy bestseller. More respectfully, Christian Lacroix borrowed the fichus and petticoats of his beloved Arlésiennes. But for a true understanding of Frédéric Mistral—whose signal work, Mireille, has all the grandeur of a Greek tragedy—visit his home, Le Musée Frédéric Mistral, which is just as he left it at his death in 1914 at age 84. Ave. Lamartine, Maillane; 33-4/90-95-84-19.
CAFÉ With its resident DJ and even a bouncer, the Opéra Café is an oasis très design, as the French say, in the Papal City's principal square. At about $17, the lunch formule is a good value (appetizer and main course or main course and dessert). Huffy waiters do a very credible imitation of their Parisian brethren. 24 Place de l'Horloge, Avignon; 33-4/90-86-17-43.