I first heard about Passports with Purpose at a travel-blogging conference a few years ago in Spain. I was so inspired by co-founder Beth Whitman’s talk that I signed on immediately to help. My contribution to the fundraising effort that year (2012) was donating a week's vacation in Provence...and the response was terrific. The winner said she and her friend loved every single minute of it: every experience, every meal, every tour, every everything.
This year I decided to participate again and I set out to top myself, pulling together another glorious week in Provence...but one that's even-more delicious, jam-packed, pampering and luxe than the last. I have to admit I may have gone a little bit overboard, which you'll see as you read on.
The package includes a week in a lovely villa, a rental car, great restaurant meals, private guided tours, cooking classes, a truffle hunt and much more. And to enter to win it, all you have to do is donate $10 to a great cause. I decided to do this just a week ago and was able to pull it together quickly thanks to the amazing generosity of a bunch of super-cool people I know here in Provence.
First let me tell you a bit about Passports with Purpose (PWP), a grass-roots charity initiative founded in 2008, as a way to help folks in need and build community in the travel industry. To see a short video about the program, click here.
Each year, the organizers receive scores of charity applications and after doing all the necessary diligence, choose just one to support. Then they set out a specific goal and call upon travel bloggers, sponsors and other industry pros for help.
In their first year, PWP raised $7,400 for Heifer International. The next year they raised $30,000 to build a school in Cambodia. Each year they've lifted the bar, building wells in Haiti, schools in Mali, libraries in Zambia and a entire new village in India. The last time I participated, 200 of us travel bloggers and 1,242 individual donors raised $110,000 for Water.org through the donation of 143 prizes.
This year, the beneficiary is Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), which is combating malnutrition by teaching families in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama how to plant organic vegetable gardens and fruit trees...and build fishponds and chicken coops....and more. To date SHI has helped more than 2,500 families grow healthful food and generate income to meet other basic needs.
So here’s how it works. Participating bloggers round up prizes--items or experiences--and write about them. So at the same time you’re reading this, people all over the world are reading about other prizes on their favorite travel blogs. A list of this year's participating bloggers (82 at last count) is here.
For each $10 donation you make, you get one shot at the prize of your choice. You can enter as many times as you wish, for as many prizes as you like—but always in $10 increments. If you want to win this trip to Provence, for example, you could donate $100 and get ten tries. If you're already here in France, you should still enter...to win for your family, your friends or as a getaway for yourself. Winners will be chosen randomly and notified December 21st. Enter early and enter often!
And Here's What You Get
When you arrive in Provence (probably at the Avignon TGV Train Station or Marignane Airport, Marseille), my friends at Auto Europe will hook you up with a free seven-day rental on a compact, manual-transmission car, with unlimited kilometers, taxes and insurance (liability and fire). How great is that? Then just pop your stuff in the back and head for St. Remy where...
You'll stay for a week in a totally loaded, super-comfy villa at Provence Paradise, a charming, historic hamlet of fully renovated houses dating to the 17th century. Owner William Moore, a most- gracious host, says: "Whenever you want to come, we’ll be delighted to share our paradise with you! And don’t shy away from the winter months. These houses are lovely when the weather cools; each has at least two working fireplaces and a full supply of red wine!" William will also throw in free admission to the Pont du Gard (a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct), passes for horseback riding and more. The day you arrive, you'll find a homemade dinner awaiting you: main course, salad, bread, dessert and wine. Plus a fridge stocked with goodies for breakfast.
The accomodations are for two people, to be used between Jan 1, 2015 and April 1, 2015....or from October 1, 2015 to April 15, 2016 (with the exception of Christmas and New Years weeks). If you choose to come with more than two people--or stay longer than a week--William will work up a nice price. Read more about Provence Paradise in my recent story here.
But Man Does Not Live By Bed Alone...
Even though your villa has a full kitchen, you’ll want to try the famous sun-drenched cuisine for which the region is known. And since I only want you to have the very best— naturellement!--I’ve asked a handful of my favorite restaurants to donate gift certificates. There are five fantastic meals ready and waiting for you:
*The Michelin-two star restaurant L’Oustau de Baumaniere, located in a gorgeous five-star Relais & Chateaux hotel nestled in the valley at the foot of Les Baux de Provence, has donated a three-course lunch for two, which usually costs 99€ per person. Baumanière is a mecca for foodies and this is a meal you’ll long remember. Chef/owner Jean-André Charial made this same donation two years ago and I'm thrilled that he'll be welcoming this year's winner as well.
*Mas du Capoun, 15 minutes from St. Remy, is a cooly elegant cream-and-grey restaurant located in an 18thcentury farmhouse and barn. The food is fresh, creative and refined; the welcome is warm and the prices surprisingly low. "We’re a family working together,’’ says owner Michèle Roumain, who is fluent in French, English and Flemish. "And we try hard to make the good price.’" As a result, Mas du Capoun is wildly popular and always full...but I got you a prime table...and 100€ to spend as you wish. When I asked Michèle and her husband Michaël, the chef, to donate again this year, Michaël replied yes immediately, saying: ''We don't need the publicity but we do need to try to help the world." Remember that old Sara Lee slogan? Well nobody doesn't love Mas Capoun.
*In a real-estate coup that was nothing short of miraculous, Ralph Hüsgen and his wife Margot Stängle, an architect, were able combine two small old village houses with one elegant hotel particulier, transforming them into a modern, light-filled space while keeping historic detailing intact. They named it the Hotel d'Almeran, after the famous St. Remy family who, 400 years ago, built the grandest of the three. While the seven guest suites and pool won’t open until March, the restaurant and wine bar have been up and running since August...and they've already been inducted into the chic Design Hotels group. Ralph describes the restaurant as "gastronomic in quality, bistro in ambiance.” Back in the tiny kitchen, chef Benoit Fauci--who earned a Michelin star at Les Chenes Verts in the Var--is toiling away, crafting modern Mediterranean cuisine. When you come, chances are you'll find the wide front doors thrown open...and a flock of the area's most-finicky foodies tucking into pretty plates. Ralph is giving you a three-course lunch menu for two, with wines from his 350-label cellar.....a 120€ value.
*Patrick and Celine Fischnaller (owners of the Michelin one-star restaurant Le Vivier in Isle sur la Sorgue) are, once again, offering an amazing 140€ food-and-wine credit for you to spend at lunch or dinner. L’Isle sur la Sorgue is a beautifully historic town, an antiques center for all of Europe...with old water wheels in the Sorgue River and a divine Sunday morning market. So after you've picked the market clean, you have a lovely, leisurely lunch to look forward to. Or, do more siteseeing in the region and then come back for dinner. At Le Vivier, large windows provide great river views and the tables are generously spaced, a nice treat after you've been battling the market crowds. Generosity, it seems, is the Le Vivier philosophy: portions are large, ingredients top rate, sauces plentiful, linens luxe. Exec chef Ludovic Dziewulski sources direct from local farms and purveyors, coaxing maximum flavor from each ingredient and making foodies swoon. I really love this restaurant and I know that you will too. (For more info, see my story about Le Vivier here.)
*The big market in St. Remy is Wednesday morning and Cafe de la Place is perfect for lunch right after. It's my favorite village hangout, filled with expats, locals and tourists. Owner Christelle Sarrazin and her team are super friendly, which sets a laid-back and festive tone, and if you speak not a word of French you'll find the servers exceedingly kind. The decor is simple and flea-market funky...and then more elegant in the evening when the chandeliers are lit. Christelle's husband Hervé, the chef, offers a full menu plus daily specials, and they are sweetly giving us 50€ to use at lunch or dinner. La Place ticks all my boxes for the perfect local cafe: long hours (7 am to after midnite); dining inside, outside and in the bar; WiFi throughout; couches and magazines in the back; a big TV for sporting events; sunshine on the terrace until late in the day; umbrellas when it's hot outside and heaters when it's not. Plus comforting food with ethnic/global touches...and the best iced latte in town.
Okay, that’s your restaurants sorted out. Now, how to make the most of your precious days?
*No visit to Provence is complete without some serious sampling of our world-famous wines. So I’ve arranged a splendid half-day of vineyard touring and tasting around the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape for you. Your host will be the American sommelier and Rhône wine expert Kelly McAuliffe, one of the area’s best-loved guides. Even if you’re a total beginner, you’ll love your day out with Kelly...you’ll see some gorgeous scenery...and you’ll learn a ton. And since you're not driving, you can sip to your heart's content.
*Another day, you'll explore St. Remy with Philippe Goninet, president of our Tourist Office and an extremely knowledgeable guide. First, you'll ramble through the historic city center, with stops at Van Gogh sites, artisan food producers, artists’ studios, the home of the famous Nostradamus, our beautiful church with its relics from the 14th century and 5000-pipe organ… and much more. After lunch, Philippe will tour you through Glanum (an excavated Greek/Roman village) and next door, the Clinique St. Paul (the serene cloister/hospital where Van Gogh spent a year and painted 150 canvasses). If time and energy allow, you might pop in at the Calanquet olive mill, where 5th-generation brother-and-sister farmers tend 5,000 trees and offer tastings of homemade tapenades, confitures, olive treats and more. Or, drop in at our favorite fromagerie, to play with the adorable goats and taste the award-winning chevre. Or zip over the Alpilles Mountains to visit the medieval, hilltop Les Baux.
* Of course you'll want to spend a day in Aix and I've arranged for the perfect host! Delana Nelsen, a transplated Minnesotan, lives in the heart of the old city and gives terrific three-hour walking tours. Depending on the day, these might include one of Aix’s famous markets, the beautiful old homes lining Cours Mirabeau, the Place de Marie with its 16th-century bell tower and Hall of Grains, the quirky Cathedral de Saint Sauveur and the sites of Aix’s most famous son, Paul Cezanne. Then over coffee in her favorite cafe, Delana will help you choose the best restaurant for lunch or dinner and send you on your way.
*Feeling sportif? My favorite hiking guide Lucy Bakr will lead you on a glorious half-day randonée, in and around the Alpilles Mountains just south of St. Remy. Depending on the time of year and your stamina, she'll pick the perfect paths and even provide the coffee and nibbles. Beginners welcome!
*Once you've tried the food in Provence, you're going to want to make it a home. And I have the perfect person to teach you. At Le Mas de Lilou, her beautifully restored 19th-century farmhouse B&B 15 minutes west of St. Remy, Catherine Burtonboy offers a wide range of foodie experiences including cooking and baking classes, table d’hôte dinners and more. Catherine will welcome you for an afternoon cooking class and then send you home with everything you've cooked, perfectly packaged, to enjoy for dinner that evening.
* Waiting for you upon arrival you'll find a big box of chocolates from Joël Durand, who handcrafts irresistible sweets infused with the herb, fruit and flower flavors of his beloved South of France. Pick any one of 32 flavors that comprise his Alphabet des Saveurs and bite gently through the coating: you’ll find a rich, velvety truffle-type ganache, shot through with the essence of Earl Grey or rosemary or cocoa bean or jasmine. Each luscious little square is dusted with a chocolate letter, a hint at what’s inside: L for lavender, M for fresh mint, T for tiramisu. Joël will be putting together a box for you filled with all his most-popular flavors.
*No one leaves Provence without souvenirs...and I’ve got that covered as well. You’ll receive two boxes of four engraved, elegantly packaged soaps, from Comme un Murmure. They’re made near St. Remy and customized with your choice of monogram, initials or name. The scents are delicious and the soaps are so pretty you’ll find it hard to actually use them.
*Now here's a gift from me. My company Provence Post Travel (ok, that means...me) will help you pull it all together, schedule the week to fit in as much as possible, make your dinner reservations, answer all your questions. That’s what I do for my travel-planning clients and it'll be great fun to do it for you as well.
But You Can't Win if You Don't Play...
Ok so here’s what you have to do win the whole shebang: just click HERE. Then put the amount you want to donate into the little box. Remember, the more you give, the more chances you have to win. And make sure to peruse all the other great prizes HERE...and enter to win those as well! Entries will be accepted only until December 17th so make sure you do it soon. Anyone can enter, anywhere in the world.
And now a major merci to everyone who helped me pull together this prize. Thanks to you, someone is going to have an amazing vacation in Provence and some very needy kids and their families will eat better for years because of you.
For more info on PWP, check out their website here or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
For more on Sustainable Harvest, see their website and follow them on Twitter.
Ok everybody, start clicking! And Bonne Chance!