Tuesday, August 29, 2017

La Belugue: Sparkling New in the Luberon

In a beautiful 18th century farmhouse in a tiny village in the southeastern Luberon, a charming American named Kelly Goehler has launched a new business combining her passions for hospitality, local food, wine, fitness, art, nature, horses and more.

If you haven’t heard of Beaumont de Pertuis, chances are you will soon. It’s not that Kelly wants to put her town on the tourist map, per se, but rather, in her low-key but determined way, to create a deliciously inviting space where like-minded people can share, learn, cook and grow together...to be active and be still...to experience the wonderful artisans and products of the region...and immerse themselves in the peaceful beauty of this lesser-known corner of Provence.

For now she’s offering cooking classes, overnight stays and horseback picnics...with themed multi-day retreats coming in the months ahead.

Kelly calls her home La Belugue, which means “The Sparkle”in Provençal..and anyone who knows her knows she couldn’t have picked a more perfect name.

Born and raised in Nashville, Kelly graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and went on to climb the corporate ladder in marketing positions at Louis Vuitton and Novartis, mostly in New York.

On an expat assignment in Asia, Kelly was living on the beautiful island of Sentosa, off the coast of Singapore, when  the charming Philippe Pellegrin (born in Algeria and raised in Montpellier, France) moved in next door. She remembers saying something like:  “Oh, you’re French!  I’m from New York! We’re going to have great meals together!” That was five years ago and they’ve been together ever since.

After 2.5 years based in Singapore---and extensive travel throughout Asia--the couple decided to start a new life in France. Kelly knew she wanted to create some type of culinary or hospitality business so she enrolled in cooking classes at Gastronomicom in Cap d’Agde, south of Montpellier. Philippe, meanwhile, found a great job in his field of micro-electronics. And together, they rambled all over Provence looking for the right village and the perfect house. 

Very quickly, it became obvious that this part of the Luberon was exactly where they wanted to be. The region is heavily agricultural, with beautiful farms and orchards producing high-quality fruit, veg, wheat, meat, cheese, flowers, olive oil, wine grapes and more...and much of it is organic. Rolling hills and lush green valleys are dotted with historic villages and sites. The snow-topped peaks of the Alps are very often visible in the distance.

Kelly calls their decision to settle here a total no brainer: farm-to-table is a way of life and has been for centuries. It’s exactly the type of community they both dreamt of finding ...and buying the perfect property (in January, 2017) made the picture complete.

Then they hit the ground running: renovating, adding a second kitchen, upgrading the garden, pool and grounds, carving out two large guest suites (a third is underway), building a stable for their five horses. They filled the house with their combined collection of art, including an almost-life-size horse sculpture from Thailand and paintings by New York artist Tamara Kowal. They invited friends and family to come for cooking classes, wine tastings, horseback riding and overnights...and asked everyone to provide feedback. And they used every spare minute to get out and explore the region, to find their favorite vineyards, restaurants, farm markets, historic sites, hikes, hidden corners and more.

And now Kelly is ready to swing open the doors, offering one-day “Provencal immersion” cooking and dining experiences, with an overnight stay for those who want it. Starting around 3 pm in the large open kitchen, you’ll cook with a local chef (Kelly calls her “the mama of the village”) learning Provencale specialities such as daube, aïoli, bouillabaisse, legumes farci, gratins and tians. At 6 pm, everyone moves onto the terrace for the apero, enjoying nibbles with local wines, before a beautiful dinner, outdoors or in, depending on the season.

Kelly often invites local friends and food producers to join in. When he’s available, Kelly’s neighbor—a fourth generation winemaker--shows up for the apero, bringing “black label wine, right out of the barrel” for everyone to try. He loves to take guests for a short walk to show them his vineyard, while providing a crash course in the terroir and local varietals.

“Now that I’ve done this a few times,” Kelly says, “I know what guests really love. They want not just a class but a real Provencale experience...they want to see what it’s like to live in a small French village. Over the course of eight hours or so, you can get a taste of what life is like here, meet some interesting people and have a ton of fun.” For those who stay overnight, a lovely breakfast is included.

Because of the work involved, Kelly asks for a two-person minimum and can take up to ten people at a time. Classes are on demand, year round. Pricing is 150 per person...or 220 if you’d like to spend the night. One suite is designed for four people; the other perfect for a couple, with or without a child. The third suite will be completed by the end of the year.
For those who don’t want to cook, Kelly also welcomes overnight guests on a B&B basis at prices ranging from 130to 200 per night.

Guests who are accomplished equestrians are welcome to enjoy the network of trails that surround the property, on escorted tours. “Experienced riders only please,” Kelly says. She also offers escorted two-hour trail rides with a picnic lunch for 75€ per person. 

With her cooking program and B&B rooms now up and running, Kelly has set to work planning her “Wellness and Wandering” retreats: multi-day getaways focused on food, wine, yoga and more; she says La Belugue would also be perfect for writing, painting and photo workshops. In the months to come, she’ll be organizing her own retreats and providing a venue for other retreat-leaders who’ll come with their own guests. She’s also wide open to any other ideas and opportunities that may come her way.

“I want my home to be alive and filled with people,” she says. “I created La Belugue to be a gentle, loving place where people can nurture their creative spirit and go back to daily life feeling rejuvenated and inspired.  Whether you come for an evening, a weekend or more, you’ll drink in the beauty of Provence and the slower, French way of life. It’s a place to get your sparkle back.”

For more info: kelly@la-belugue.com.

La Belugue
Cours Nallin
84120 France
+33 (0)7 68 79 81 20

Photos: (1) The village of Beaumont de Pertuis, where the snow-topped peaks of the Alps are often visible in the distance. The city of Aix is just 30 minutes away; the Gorges du Verdon less than an hour. (2) Welcome! The tile was made by a local artist. (3) Kelly and Philippe met five years ago while working in Singapore and have been together ever since. (4-6) When I went to visit in late spring I had to pull over to let a female goatherd and her flock pass by. The village borders three Provencale departments: the Alpes de Haute Provence, the Var and the Bouches du Rhone. In the 14th century, Beaumont de Pertuis was a prosperous market town with roughly 1,000 residents; it has not many more today. (7, 8) Once part of the village’s original farm, the house was used as a shelter for sheep and storage of hay. A local artist lived in the dilapidated building for many years, before the previous owners purchased it 23 years ago. While the exterior is simple and rustic, the interior is vibrant and colorful, with high ceilings, lots of light and original architectural elements intact. (9-12) Good food and cooking will always be part of the La Belugue experience. (13) In late spring, Kelly hosted a group of friends for a cooking class and dinner, inviting local purveyors and wine makers to join in. (14) She loves to set a beautiful table, mixing it up according to the event and the season; this was the setting for our late spring dinner. (15) Cheese, Bread, Wine: Kelly loves to support and promote local organic producers. "Everything in this picture was made within 20 miles of us," she says. (16, 17) For the apero: foie gras yogurt with sweetness of cauliflower. And of course there's always plenty of local wine on hand. (18) Kelly's chef/instructor from culinary school, Samuel Breux, has become a close friend. He often comes over from his home in Sete to ride, relax and cook for special events. (19-21) Spend the night in one of Kelly's guest suites....enjoy a lovely breakfast overlooking the vines...and yes, you can come down in your robe. (22, 23) A pool for when it's hot...a fireplace for when it's not. The mantle-piece was made by the artist who once lived here. (24) Kelly, Philippe and Philippe's daughter Lou. (25) The couple after a match at the St. Cannat Polo Club; they both play. (26) Beautiful saddles are on display inside the house. (27) Syrah vines sparkling in the spring sunshine. (28) Interesting historic sites abound in the region...such as these vestiges of the Pont de Mirabeau, built in 1845 to cross the Durance River. It's a wonderful place to bike, hike or just drive around and explore.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Luminessences Opens in Avignon Aug 12

Les Luminessences d'Avignon, a monumental 360°sound-and-light show at the Palais des Papes, is one of those annual spectacles (as the French call them) that seems to grow more and more popular each year.  This year's show, the 5th annual, opens Saturday night August 12 and runs until September 30th, in the Palace's Honour Courtyard.

The Palais des Papes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was home to nine successive popes, was considered the heart of the medieval Christian world and was the scene of several sieges. It played a very unique and vital role in European history...and Luminessences tells its story. (For more on the Avignon papacy, click here.) The show--the same production as the one shown last summer but with the addition of new scenes--cloaks the four wings of the palace in enormous images and surrounds the audience "in a poetic fusion of architecture, light and music." Mostly everyone stands for the 40-minute show but small folding chairs and wheelchairs are welcome. 

The show will be offered every evening, in French at 9:15 pm and English at 10:15 pm. 

Tickets can be bought online here...or at the Palais des Papes during opening hours... or at the Avignon Tourist Office (see link and phone below). 

Prices are 12 € for adults, 10€ (reduced rate) and free for kids under age 8. Info on group sales, private events, getting to Avignon, tickets and much more  is on the Luminessences website in English here. They're also on Facebook. For info by phone, call the Avignon Tourist Office at +33 (0)4 32 74 32 74. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Free Classical Concert Aug 12 in the Luberon

Every summer, a group of talented singers from Nice and the UK known as Ristretto arrives in tiny, charming Lumières in the Luberon to enjoy good food and wine, the beauty of Provence and a week of intensive choral singing. The 2017 program will include works by Monteverdi, Bach, Gershwin, Esenwalds, Mundy and Girdlestone. 

And then when everything is polished, they give an open-to-the-public concert. This year it's Saturday August 12 at 6 pm, in the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Lumière, next door to the Hotellerie Notre Dame de Lumières, a very-special hotel in a former 17th-century convent. Admission to the concert is free...just show up! 

For a casual dinner afterwards, stroll over to Le Garage, grab an outdoor table and tuck into a terrific selection of tapas, small plates and cocktails. Or head up the hill to La Terrasse, which my local chef friend Giuseppina calls "the top" for light, creative cooking, super-fresh ingredients and great views. Definitely reserve at either place...they fill up.

Lumières is just off the D900, just below the village of Goult...about 15 to 20 minutes from Gordes and the 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque. 

And if you're planning an event of your own, the highly regarded Ristretto and its musicians are available for weddings and other gatherings. Learn more at RistrettoVoices.com then email or call: choralsummer@aol.com, +33 (0)6-17-71-71-70.