Patrick and Francoise Duffeler are infatuated with the lifestyle, food and fragrances of Provence in southern France. “My wife is from that area, and it’s extraordinary,” says Patrick Duffeler. “We go back there every six months.”
The region has been a source of inspiration for the Duffelers’ businesses, the Williamsburg Winery and Wedmore Place, a boutique hotel at the winery. “We’ve picked up many of the antiques we use in Wedmore during our trips to Provence,” he explains. “We worked with a stonemason that made fountains there and had one shipped to Norfolk and brought to the hotel to use in the center courtyard.”
On each visit, the couple visits wineries, which produce rosés and table wines. “Their dry rosé is making a name for itself,” Duffeler says. “We will be making one next year in the same style of a fine Provence rosé.”
Food is also a focus on the Duffelers’ visits. The region is known for its dried herbs such as rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf and thyme. “The restaurants in Provence grow their own herbs and produce,” says Duffeler. “When we find something that we like, we adapt it and try to make it as good as the original or better.”
The Duffelers aren’t the only folks who have fallen in love with Provence. The area was a popular retreat for famous painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, Mont Sainte-Victoire, a limestone mountain ridge, was a favorite subject for Paul Cezanne, a native of nearby Aix-en-Provence. Other artists influenced by the beauty of Provence include Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
Provence, which stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Rhone River, contains six administrative divisions known as “departments.” The mostly rural region includes Avignon, Nice, Saint-Tropez, Arles (where van Gogh chopped off his ear), Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Aix-en-Provence and Cannes.
“Provence has gorgeous scenery,” says Duffeler. “The narrow roads are bordered by plane trees that grow to be two to three feet in diameter and are a couple of hundred years old. There are fields of lavender and there are rocky edges to the coastline.”
Mountains such as those found in Les-Baux-de-Provence serve as foundations for small stone villages with cobblestone streets. “You can’t drive down them because they aren’t wide enough,” Duffeler says. “Life is lived at a leisurely pace in Provence.”
The region’s economy
Agriculture, manufacturing and tourism are all part of the economic mix in Provence. A large portion of the land in Provence is dedicated to vineyards. You’ll also find olive and fruit trees as well as farm crops. Factories are found in Avignon, Marseille and Toulon. Naturex, which produces natural ingredients for the food, dietary supplement, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries, is headquartered in Avignon. Cetia, a computer hardware and software manufacturing and design company, is based in Toulon. Ipsogen Inc., an emerging biotechnology company, and Foraco International SA, a provider of drilling services to a variety of industries, are in Marseille. Perform, which develops software solutions for network performance management, and Inside Contactless, a semiconductor company, are based in Aix-en-Provence.
Where to eat
When they aren’t cooking at their home in France, the Duffelers slip out to Oustau de Baumaniere in the medieval village of Les Baux-de- Provence. House specialties include orange soufflé pancakes, lamb square and lobster salad. Visitors to La Bastide de Moustier in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, can have a romantic dinner in the Lover’s Room with a table for two. The gourmet dining room and terrace at Auberge de Cassagne in Avignon features seafood, lamb and veal. Desserts include strawberry cake with a hint of violets and chocolate fondant. Hostellerie du Chateau des Fines Roches in Avignon is home to La Table des Fines Roches with a seasonal menu that highlights fresh local ingredients.
Where to stay
The Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux-de-Provence is a 20-room hotel that sits amid fields of lavender and giant sunflowers. The hotel’s terrace looks out over the countryside. La Bastide de Moustier, in Moustiers- Sainte-Marie is a quaint stone country home with 12 guest rooms, each with a Provence theme. Once owned by a master potter, the home features Moustiers earthenware with flowers and herbs. Auberge de Cassagne, in Avignon features suites and lavish bedrooms. The property has indoor and outdoor pools as well as a spa. If you’d like to stay in a castle, opt for Hostellerie du Chateau des Fines Roches in Avignon. The 11-guest-room property is surrounded by vineyards. Amenities include antique claw-foot bathtubs and iron canopy beds.
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