Erik and Joyce Borgmann came to France from Amsterdam in 2002. Three years later, they found the property of their dreams: a noble-looking country house, parts of which date to the Middle Ages, on 12 hectares of land with a long alley of Cyprus trees and a glass-enclosed orangerie. After a total redo, they opened to the public with a cooking school, two vacation "cottages," 300 olive trees, vast organic gardens, a swimming pool and stunning views. They call their little paradise L'Oustaou de Oulivie, which means something along the lines of ''the big house with the olive trees.'' It’s in Oraison, at the crossroads of the Luberon and the Parc Naturel du Verdon.
With her shiny cream-colored Aga stove (brought from the Netherlands) and her "bring it on" attitude, Joyce is like a Dutch Martha Stewart. She grows her own flowers, herbs, vegetables and grains; makes her own bread, confiture, marmalade and olive oil; looks after two teenage sons and her pilot husband...and somehow finds time to prepare table d'hôte dinners (open to the public, seated communally), when there are no culinary students in the house.
Cooking class sessions (usually a weekend or a week) include visits to nearby markets, vineyards and farms. Private day classes are also available in both local and ethnic cuisines; the current class schedule is here. The kitchen is magazine-cover gorgeous, with a fireplace, large dining table and lots of pretty Provencal touches. Plus, it has amazing views, of the fields, gardens and mountains beyond. The two gites/cottages on the property are spacious and nicely appointed, sleeping up to six people each.
L'Oustaou de Oulivie sits on the edge of the Valensole Plateau, one of Provence's top lavender-producing regions. It's 45 minutes from the Gorges du Verdon, known as the Grand Canyon of France. (Joyce loves to take her students there for picnics.) At first glance the location might seem a bit remote but the pretty town of Forcalquier, 10 minutes away, has good restaurants, nice shopping and a large Monday morning market. And the cosmopolitan Aix-en-Provence is just 35 minutes to the south. Provencal bath-and-body care company L'Occitane is based nearby and open to the public for tours, so that's a popular stop for Joyce's students. And if you or your travel companions want something a bit more sportif, there's hiking, mountain biking and canoeing nearby...along with paragliding and gliding at two local clubs.
In Oraison, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
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Photos from top: *An inviting teaching kitchen was built inside an old glass-walled orangerie; table d'hôte dinners are also held here. *Joyce's cherished Aga stove dates from 1955 and originally burned coal and wood; it was later modified to gas. (''My father was a large-ship captain and always had an AGA on board,'' Joyce says. ''As long as I can remember, I'd wanted one as well.'') *Parts of the main house date to the Middle Ages; the rest is 19th century. *Joyce: giving Martha Stewart a run for her money. *Prep work outside. *Gâteau glacé au miel, made during Joyce's recent lavender/honey cooking class. For a video of last year's olive harvest at L'Oustaou de Oulivie, click here.