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Memories of Provence


Suddenly it was Spring in Sydney, but the streetscapes & gardens hardly reflected this seasonal change. I thought of my garden in Vidauban in the centre Var. In this season there the almond tree in my front garden is a mass of rose-tinted blossom, the bulbs I had planted are all blooming, the lavender & rosemary are starting to flower & on the Mediterranean oak trees at the rear new leaves are beginning to spout.

This garden is part of our second house in Provence. Our first was in the village of Bargemon (above right), one of the hill villages of Provence. We bought it over 22 years ago & lived there full time for almost 15. Bargemon is a medieval village of much charm & character. It has squares shaded by plane trees, carved stone fountains & the remaining wing of an 11th century castle now restored & turned into apartments. Our house was one of the original village houses close to the 12th century church. It was a veritable tower with 4 floors plus a large cellar. There were huge ceiling beams made of entire tree trunks & thick walls somewhat irregular in shape. We enjoyed our time there & learnt much of the local customs & ceremonies.

As my husband began to have health & mobility problems, he found the 4 flights of stairs increasingly difficult to manage. Also, the long, steep drive over mountainous roads to the village was a strain. The time had come to move. We wanted less isolation & a garden for me.

The search was long & difficult. I had originally dreamt of finding an old provencal mas which we could restore, but soon realised that any that weren't a near ruin were way beyond our means & the ruins required a budget & a physical capacity we didn't possess. We finally found a suitable house in the small town of Vidauban (above left). It was built 35 years ago, but very solidly in double brick and in the provencal style. There are large covered verandas front & back. The rear one is equipped as a "cuisine d'ete''(summer kitchen).

The garden won me over. It's not large by local standards, but the huge oak trees at the rear create a vista that is romantic & Italianate. Above all, I could at last grow my herbs. I planted every variety possible & eventually had hedges of rosemary, bushes of sage & thyme & lavender, oregano, savoury, tarragon & others. I also have 2 bay trees ,olive trees & bottle brushes (Australian varieties seem to flourish in the hot dry summers of the Var).

The house is very well situated. The lotissement's 17 houses are grouped around a green space,a small wood with mature trees. It is particularly peaceful & quiet, only 14 minutes walk from the centre of the town. Occasionally, we'd glimpse squirrels amongst the trees.

Vidauban is a traditional French country town surrounded by 13 vineyards. It is the centre of the rose' wine region of Provence, It is still very much a French town, unlike Bargemon which is increasingly becoming a tourist village with half the houses owned by foreigners & Parisians .It is particularly well situated ,in easy reach of most of the sites &attractions of the Var-35minutes drive from the beaches of St. Maxime &St Tropez,30 minutes from St.Raphael, about an hour from Aix -en- Provence & near the gorges of Verdon & the Abbey deThoronet, It's transport links are perhaps the best in the Var, The main railway station for the region at Les Arcs is just 12 minutes drive from the house. It's served by the TGV to Paris & -with one change of platforms at Lille, -through to London. There is a bus every day to Nice & Nice airport, also one to Aix-en Provence with a connection to Marseillais airport. There's also a station with a regional line to Toulon as well as several buses to Toulon & Draguignan.

There is a particularly good market on Sundays where I bought most of my provisions. Marie's camion was my favourite source of supply. She specialised only in superior quality produce - cheeses from small, private producers & label rouge [certified superior quality] meat.In the cooler season there were oysters on sale & wild mushrooms at the stalls.

While Vidauban does not have the medieval charm of Bargemon, there are some handsome 18th century houses & a chateau lived in by the same family since Napoleonic times. This has featured in several films. The main square has been rebuilt & restored to its former glory. There are also two Michelin noted restaurants. The one, housed in an old stone silk weaving mill is particularly good. The 25 years I spent in this part of France were memorable & i left reluctantly after my husband's death.

Elysia's account of her properties and time in Provence...view details of her house for sale in Vidauban

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