Posts tagged James Clay
If You Love Lavender...

Heading to Provence in Search of Lavender? Special guest writer, Julie Mautner, gives us an insider's view on lavender in Provence. If you  have never seen fields of Provence lavender bursting in bloom, a trip to Provence could be in your future.

Food and travel writer Julie Mautner has lived in St. Remy de Provence on and off for more than ten years. Prior to running off to the South of France, she was the executive editor of Food Arts Magazine in New York for ten years. Today she freelances for food and travel magazines, and sites in the US and UK. Julie's popular blog, The Provence Post is a written pulse on Provence. Her first book, The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, will be published by Clarkson Potter in November 2010...VintageGardenGal

Driving or biking through Provence in mid-summer, you’ll see lavender fields of every size and hue. The main growing area is the triangle between Sault, Banon and Sederon, and another prominent area spreads out on the other side of Mont Ventoux, north of Nyons. But pretty much all of Provence is radiant with the famous Blue Gold, as lavender is known, throughout the month of July.

The first lavender distilleries began production in the 1880s, and by 1929 there were 47 stills around the town of Sault alone. Today, the tiny town of Sault is still considered the lavender capital of Provence and its three distilleries are open to the public. The Sault Tourist Office offers seven guided tours of the principal lavandicoles or growing sites. In the town of Coustellet, you'll find a small museum devoted to lavender production, complete with a collection of copper stills dating from the 16th century.

If you time your trip right, you may catch a village lavender festival, like the ones in Sault and Valreas, or the biggie, the four-day Corso de la Lavande, in the mountain spa town of Digne-les-Baines. Held the first weekend in August, the festival offers lavender for sale in every form imaginable, edible and otherwise, and a parade of large flower-decked floats. A municipal truck leads the parade, spraying the roads with lavender water and leaving the entire town awash in the distinctive summery scent.

Don’t feel like going it alone? A lavender-themed tour is a great way to get the experience. This year, for example, an Australian company called Aroma Tours has organized five different Provencal trips including a Lavender Tour to be held July 23rd to 30th. Provence Reservation and City Discovery both offer one-day lavender tours from Avignon while others book similar half and full day tours out of Aix-en-Provence. Whichever tour operator you choose, rest assured you’ll be knee deep in lavender before well before lunch.

Around Provence you'll find scores of edible lavender goodies being made and sold, in shops, open-air markets and even larger grocery stores. In St. Remy, the cookie and sweet shop called Au Petit Duc sells little tins of crystallized lavender seeds, to be nibbled after garlicky meals, and biscuits à la lavande. Next door to Petit Duc, patissier Joel Durand sells homemade chocolates flavored with lavender, rosemary and other botanicals.

Lavender tea is a soothing drink thought by many to have medicinal qualities. But if you want something with more kick, you can get that from lavender too. And for that you don’t even need a passport.

Lisa Averbuch says her favorite flavor of all time is—wait for it—lavender. So it makes sense that her company, Loft Organic Liqueurs in Emeryville, California, turns out a killer lavender liqueur called Lavender Cello. (The whole company was inspired, she says, by the famous lemony Italian digestif. They also produce liqueurs made from lemongrass, ginger, raspberry, blueberry and tangerine.) Available year round, the lavender liqueur has all the floral aromas and smooth flavors you’ld expect, without any additives, preservatives, artificial flavors “or other items you would find in a Twinkie,” Averbuch says.

If you’re heading for France and plan to hit the lavender trail, there are many resources that can help.

The French Tourism Development Agency, also known as Atout France, offers an online guide for lavender lovers. To download it, click here France Guide Brochures, and scroll down to the publication called “Rhone Alpes: Lavender Routes 2009.”

The Association Grande Traversée des Alpes, ( also offers useful info about lavender and “La Route de la Lavande.” On the site you’ll find suggestions for the best drives and hikes, plus distillieries, lavender-themed activities, hiking, workshops and more.

And you’ll find more great lavender info on these two sites:

Sources and Resources Hint: To call from the U.S., precede all phone numbers with 011-33, and drop the first 0.

*Tourist Office, Sault., 04-90-64-01-21

*Tourist Office, Valreas., 04-90-35-04-71

*Tourist Office, Digne-les-Bains., 04-92-31-50-02

*Musee de la Lavande. Route de Gordes, Cabrieres d'Avignon, 84220 Coustellet. 04-90-76-91-23. Fax 04-90-76-85-52.

*Au Petit Duc, St. Remy, 04-90-92-08-31,

*Joel Durand Chocolatier, 04-90-92-38-25,

*Lavender Cello is made by Loft Liqueurs,Emeryville, California,,

*Lavender Tours are available from many companies including:

City Discovery (

Provence Reservation (

Aroma Tours (

If You Love Lavender...concludes our "Encore Provence Series" with special guest writers Julie Mautner and James Clay. Many thanks for their delightful writing and armchair travel to charming Provence. Please share your comments.

Encore James Clay

Chateau de Roussan Watercolor by James Clay Recently James Clay wrote about his "secret garden" experience in Provence, and the first time he discovered Chateau de Roussan, outside of St. Remy. James Clay is an incredible artist, sculptor, writer, and accomplished gardener. James shares with us his recent watercolor painting of the remarkable Chateau de Roussan.

James Clay is also a regular contributor to Julie Mautner's, The Provence Post, writing the "Cocktail Guide to Gardening" column. If you didn't get enough of James Clay's witty writing, here is a stash of his previous monthly columns. Hint, you can catch a glimpse of James and his beautiful Provence garden in the September column.

Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, March 2010 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, February 2010 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, January 2010 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, December 2009 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, November 2009 Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening, September 2009

Last, but not least, because this is such a gem. James Clay has a "Garden House" rental on his beautiful property. From April to October each year, this garden house is available to rent. Click on Garden House Rental in Provence for more info and a fabulous photo tour.

 Provence in Watercolor by James Clay

A Secret Garden in Provence

Chateau Roussan, A Secret Garden Please give a warm welcome to our second special guest writer, James Clay, in this "Encore Provence" series. Originally from Hampshire, England, James Clay is a world traveller and what I call a renaissance man.  James fortuitously settled in Provence over twenty years ago.  He calls home, a one hectare of garden Eden he has lovingly created over time,  just outside the town of St. Remy de Provence.

James is an incredible artist, sculptor, writer, and accomplished gardener. His Provence garden is filled with fruit, palm, pine and olive trees, plus many varieties of rare bamboo, flowering plants and shrubs. James also writes the witty column "Cocktail Drinkers Guide to Gardening" each month on Julie Mautner's, The Provence Post.

Today, James Clay shares with us his discovery of, in his words "the most romantic garden in Provence." Chateau de Roussan, has been lovingly restored by its long time owners, and has been recently transformed into an extraordinary hotel...VintageGardenGal

I found my ‘secret garden’ just down the road, in fact a short bicycle ride away. Years ago, I was cycling home from the village and thought it would be an interesting idea to try to find other ways back so, with this in mind, I turned down the next lane and continued due west. Rounding a corner, not much further along, I had to stop so I could take in the beauty of all that was before me. As in some Arcadian landscape painting of the 17th century, there was a shepherd guarding his flock of sheep which were grazing in a large meadow; an avenue of ancient, stately plane trees were reflected in a bassin in which a pair of swans were gliding among the shadows; and there set back, almost unseen, stood a glorious Chateau. This was one of those moments in life of sheer contentment.

Glass House at Chateau de Roussan

No doubt about it, I had to investigate. Abandoning my bike, I headed off on foot toward the bassin to get a closer view of the Chateau and its surrounding park. I could make out some massive bamboos in the distance and a structure that the sunlight seemed to dance around and through. Following one of the streams that fed the bassin, I made my way eventually between the bamboos and entered into my very own 'secret garden' and there in front of me stood an old abandoned glass house with many of its panes smashed or missing, the sunlight darting and dazzling as it played on the fractured glass. Pushing open the rusty, hinged door, I stepped inside and instantly felt the heat roll over me. Some cacti had decided to make a break for it and were heading off out through the broken roof. I was reminded of a song written by Gilbert and Sullivan where the lines run,

'There's a fascination frantic In a ruin that's romantic.'

In the song the ruin is one of Gilbert’s elderly, ugly ladies but here it was the building that appeared to ask, “Do you think I am sufficiently decayed?”

Outside again, I could hear water gushing away and made toward it, passing through more giant bamboo. I came upon another bassin, this time stone-edged with crumbling statues placed around it. Carp were cutting through the water at speed in every direction as if wanting to say to me “Look at us! Aren't we the fastest, smartest fish ever?” Beyond the bassin, at the end of an overgrown path, lay the Chateau, so complete in its surroundings that it appeared to have grown there rather than to have been built. Mellow stone, roman tiles, peeling ox blood red painted shutters, the main door of wood in golden rich yellows through ochre. One could only imagine all the people over the centuries that had passed through it. To the left of the door, up high on the wall, is a sundial, below which is carved the motto/phrase 'HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS'. In English it may be translated as 'I count only the serene hours.' Now there is food for thought!

Enchanting Pool at Chateau de Roussan

It's almost twenty years since I discovered my own 'secret garden' and the pure delight of finding it remains with me to this day as it will until I shuffle off this mortal coil! (Hopefully to Acardia but somehow I doubt it).

As with everything, nothing stays the same. In this case, I have only good news to report--the Chateau de Roussan was recently reclaimed by its original owners (of many years standing) who have lavished time, care and good taste in 'conserving' their beautiful home and gardens. Its doors are now open to us if we care to go and stay. Yes, it may be a hotel but, believe me, it is a very special one.

For more info on the newly opened Chateau de Roussan, please visit Telephone from US: (011) 33 4 90 90 79 00. Telephone from France: 04 90 90 79 00.