Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Art in the Time of Covid

It's now been a year since the EU closed its borders to much of the outside world. For those of us who rely on tourism to make a living, the impact has been monumental. But of course I don't know anyone anywhere who hasn't been affected by Covid, so much so that I've found myself unable to write much about it at all. And yet, I've marveled at the resilience I've seen, at how people have adjusted both personally and professionally to the losses suffered. Everyone has a Covid story to tell. And when everyone has a story, how do you tell just one? Which one?        

Artist Kamil Vojnar has a gallery in St. Remy where he sells his lushly layered mixed-media photo-based art; he works with his girlfriend Pavlína Šachová, another Czech artist. They've been able to survive this year thanks to a loyal group of regular clients and the ability to sell art online. I've always admired Kamil's work and you'll see some of my favorite pieces below. Sitting in my garden having coffee recently, Kamil told me a bit about what his life has been like this year. He wasn't complaining, just stating facts, and I appreciated his soft-spoken candor. He's like millions of other good people trying to get by, worried about his kids, taking it day by day. And somehow his seemed like a good story to tell. 

The art scene in my village of St. Remy is extremely vibrant, with many art studios, galleries, art fairs, a fine-art museum called 
La Musee Estrine, an arts association called La Cour des Arts, art classes for all ages, a Van Gogh “trail” and more. We have a wonderful shop called Le Savoir-Faire des Alpilles (reopening, hopefully, in late March) where local “creators” of all types sell their work and take turns behind the desk.

And of course we have the Clinique Saint Paul de Mausole (Van Gogh Clinic), where the artist spent a year and painted roughly 150 canvasses including “Starry Night.” It’s a wonderfully serene and historic site, open to the public for visits, with a reproduction of Van Gogh’s actual room and a beautiful cloister. In the shop, you can buy paintings created by past and current clinic residents, your purchase supporting the ongoing art-therapy program.

Surrounded by so much opportunity to enjoy art of all types, it’s easy to take it all a bit for granted. We hurry past galleries on our daily errands and don’t really see them, let alone stop to think about the people who put heart and soul—and maybe life savings—into creating the spaces and all the beautiful work within them. Due to its popularity, commercial rents in St. Remy are “excessively high,” according to one artist friend. Most of the painters, sculptors, photographers and other creatives I talk with tell me, not surprisingly, that it’s a very, very tough time for anyone other than the best-known artists. Winter in Provence, like any other tourist area, can be rough for many businesses to begin with but particularly so for artists, I would think. And then add the specter of the pandemic to the mix--the missing tourists, the missing second-home owners, the cancelled art fairs and exhibits, the people who've lost their jobs, the closed restaurants, the curfews, the lockdowns--and well, you get the picture.

My friend Kamil has a gallery in St. Remy where he sells his dreamy photo montages: mostly large, uniquely layered, mixed-media pieces.  I recently asked him how he was faring and he was candid: “Like everyone, we’re trying to get to the other side of this current headache,” he said. “Covid has made things extremely difficult.” So Kamil has just put a number of pieces on sale, including all the ones you see here.

Born in the former Czechoslovakia in 1962, Kamil studied at the School of Graphic Arts in Prague and began a career as a graphic designer. In 1985 he left the still-Communist country illegally, moved to Vienna and eventually became a US citizen, finishing his studies at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Graphic design led to illustration and to creating photo-based imagery; during this time he worked mostly for book- and music publishers in New York City. Kamil and his wife had two kids (now 15 and 18, living in LA), and spent years travelling back and forth between New York and France because she had a fashion business in Antibes. 

“At that time I was doing mostly images for book and CD covers,” Kamil remembers. “And as long as there was internet and Fed Ex, I realized I could live anywhere. Visiting St. Remy, I got inspired by the idea of having own little shop on the street, where I could create my art in the back and offer it to passers-by in front. I saw artists here working that way and I realized this could be the missing link, meaning the opportunity to do my own thing, art wise, like I always wanted to do.” Kamil decided “now or never” and opened his St. Remy gallery/atelier, Autres Images, in 2005.

A few years later, he expanded, opening a second studio gallery in the Marais in Paris; he travelled back and forth each week. But a fire set by local teenagers caused an explosion, extensively damaging Kamil’s space and a number of adjacent buildings. “All the dealings with police and insurance took away my drive to continue in Paris,” he says. “It took three years to get the building fixed up again and after subletting it for a few years, I decided to let it go in 2017.”

Kamil and his wife split a few years ago and today he shares his life and works alongside Pavlína, who shows a small number of her own pieces in the gallery. She creates her images (and poetry) under the name Pavi Taire. 

“Pavi’s a very good artist on her own,” Kamil says, “and we share responsibilities, both in the gallery and with our clients and collectors online. Over the years, quite a few of these clients have become very good friends, thanks largely to Pavlína’s personality.”  

Kamil’s work consists of images digitally layered with multiple photographs and painted textures. They’re either archival prints on fine art paper or prints on semitransparent Thai or Japanese paper; they’re then mounted on canvas or wooden boards. They’re varnished with a mixture of oil and wax, with details and colors further enhanced by oil paint.

“In a painting, you can paint anything you want,” he says. “In the photographic medium, it must, on some level, exist first. That tension between what exists and what’s made up is what interests me.”

Generally speaking, Kamil says he wouldn’t see many new clients in the gallery from late November to early April anyway. “And in normal years, it’s ok,” he tells me. “It’s a time to recharge, to start in on new work and to participate in outside exhibitions. In winter, we have clients from the summer season who return to us, via e-mail and internet, and ask us to produce new artwork for them or inquire about pieces they’ve seen in the gallery. We’ve been very lucky in that many clients return over and over: in person in summer, online in the winter.”

But nothing is “like normal” now. A large exhibit of Kamil’s work that opened in Prague in mid-September had to close two weeks later due to Covid … and has been closed ever since. Ongoing travel bans and Brexit have meant that regular and new clients haven’t been able to come to France; there’s been very little walk-in traffic for a long time now. “And my regular customers already bought pieces this year, thanks to our successful email promotion during the first lockdown,” Kamil explains.

Which brings us up to today...and the sale. Kamil’s work is regularly priced from a few hundred to a few thousand euros, and he's now reduced prices on many pieces, some by as much as one third. The images above are a small selection; you can see many more in the gallery and on the website. Kamil’s work can be bought framed or unframed, custom sizes of some works are available, commissions are welcome and Kamil ships worldwide via DHL Express.  For more info: kamilvojnar.com.

Autres Images
17 rue Carnot
13210 St. Remy de Provence
+33 (0)6 33 70 43 62
*Note: You can also find Kamil’s work in galleries in Siena (Italy) and Ghent (Belgium); details are on the website. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

17 Perfect Provence Vacation Rentals

Three photos above: who wouldn't want to wake up here? This gorgeous eight-bedroom, eight-bath villa was crafted from an 18th-century olive mill, just a short drive from Les Baux.

A super-popular home with a luxurious-but-laid-back French country vibe, perched on a hillside in the Luberon, with sections dating to the 12th century. 

The roof terrace and dining/living room of a designer three-bedroom apartment I love in St. Remy.

This dreamy five-bedroom, five bath "farmhouse" in Eygalieres, restored impeccably and loaded with amenities, is nestled in an olive grove in a walk-to-town location.

A bright, airy three-bedroom on a lush, terraced property in the foothills of the Alpilles, just 1 km from the heart of St. Remy.

When I visited this gracious, old-world-style three-bedroom home (with drop-dead views, pool and tennis) I told the owner "I'd love to buy this!" Her reply? "Everyone says that!"

This magical sun-drenched compound in Eygalieres offers multiple art-filled houses, two pools, gorgeous landscaping, horses grazing next door...and the most-charming owners.

This ten-bedroom, nine-bath beauty, on 10 acres just 2 km from Gordes, has a small vineyard, lavender field, pool and tennis.

Families love this five-bedroom open-plan house in a lovely, laid-back village where you can walk to shops, cafes and restaurants. It has a separate kids wing, large yard and heated saltwater pool. Great hiking, biking and wineries nearby!

This 18th-century, seven-bedroom bastide was fully redone in 2016 and sits just 2 km from L'Isle sur la Sorgue, a postcard-perfect village with 250 or so antique shops and vendors.

If you're one of the lucky ones who can travel to France this year--or think you may be able to, once travel bans from your country are lifted--then you're probably thinking about where to stay. I know all the best hotels in Provence (for all budgets) and would be happy to help you choose. I love hotels!

But for lots of obvious reasons, this is a great year to rent a house. Provence has thousands of cottages, gîtes, apartments, townhomes, houses, villas and châteaux available for vacation rentals...all sizes, all prices. They range in style from cheap-and-cheerful to over-the-top elegant...rustic to highly refined. They're in city, village and countryside settings, with outdoor spaces ranging from tiny balconies overlooking terra cotta rooftops to sprawling terraces giving onto olive groves, lush vineyards and stunning lavender fields. Some have private pools while others have one pool for all guests to share; some have potagers and fruit trees and encourage guests to help themselves. All have kitchens, one of the major advantages of a rental house over hotel. Whether you dream of waking up in a renovated olive mill or a gorgeous family "farmhouse" with original beams or a 15th-century hunting lodge or a romantic tree house or a simple cottage among the vines, you'll want the perfect location, size, decor and amenities. And of course you want it to have that undefinable je ne sais quoi...no matter what your budget is.

But how to find that dreamy house, with so many options online...so many rental agencies...and so many villages to choose from? So glad you asked!

I have close to 400 rentals in my database and there's definitely something for every taste: from cute studios for singles and couples on up to vast multi-home properties sleeping as many as 50 people. You tell us what you want and when you're traveling...and we'll come back quickly with a selection. Then together we'll discuss pros and cons, narrow the list and help you choose. Et voila! 

This year, of course, we're all paying super careful attention to cancellation policies. We'll go over this carefully with you and make sure everyone agrees on a payment schedule and cancellation rules that are fair to both parties. My experience this year has shown that homeowners in Provence are far more flexible and forgiving than online booking sites are. And of course you'll want to buy trip-cancellation insurance, with a careful eye on the policy's specific pandemic-related coverage. Please note that I'm a matchmaker, not a rental agency, and your rental contract and payment arrangements will be handled directly between you and the homeowner.

Finally, one more quick caveat. Many houses are already heavily booked up for summer 2021 thanks to "rollover" guests who weren't able to come in 2020. So if your passport allows you to travel to France this year and you're dreaming of a very very very fine house in Provence, I suggest we start the hunt tout suite

To get the ball rolling, I chose 17 rental properties that I absolutely love and just published them on my trip-planning site ProvencePostTravel.com, arranged loosely by size and price. Click here to see the list. Why such an odd number, you ask? Well I was going for ten but it was so hard to choose that I settled on 15 instead. Then I got a bit nuts and kept going and then finally, at 17, I decided basta la comedia...that's enough! Rest assured my list of "17 Perfect Provence Vacation Rentals for 2021" is just a very-small sampling of our many offerings...an amuse-bouche rather than a full menu! Still, they're all terrific options and I'm pretty sure you'll find one (or more) that make your heart sing. So have a look and reach out to me at WhatToDoinProvence@gmail.com to discuss. Operators are standing by...

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Win a Copy of the 2021 French Country Diary

French Country Diary beautiful photos France
Photographing a Christmas Meal for French Country Diary 2021
Bistro La Fontaine de Mars, Paris, France
Thatched-roof farmhouse B&B in Normandy, France near Honfleur.
Vintage sailboats to rent in Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France
A restaurant and antiques emporium in Normandy, France
Umberllas on the beach at Deauville, France
A rustic French inn
Breads at Breakfast at Baumaniere

Every day I hear from people telling me how they can’t wait to travel again...and can’t wait to get back to France. Meanwhile, I thought the newest French Country Diary by Linda Dannenberg might take the edge off the cravings. So I dropped a note to Linda and asked if she’d like to offer me a copy or two of the 2021 edition, to give away here on my blog. In classic Linda style, she came back tres vite: “Oui, bien sur! How about three of them? And I’ll sign them, of course!” 

Linda is one of the biggest Francophiles I know, the author of 12 books on French design, lifestyle and food. She was bitten by the bug early, during a post-grad year in Paris spent working at a couture textiles firm. “I fell in love with the bistros and cafés on every corner, with the galleries on the rue de Seine, with the smell of Gauloises in the air, with the Paris Métro,” she remembers. When her Gallic escapade was over, Linda moved to New York and launched a media career, starting at CBS News and moving on to editorial jobs at Family Circle and Working Woman.

“The jobs were amazing and fulfilling,” she says, “but eventually the Lorelei call of France, and a book contract, proved impossible to resist!”

Linda returned to France to write The Paris Way of Beauty (Simon & Schuster) and more than a dozen books followed, including a quartet of iconic Pierre Deux French Country titles. Her Paris Boulangerie-Pâtisserie was nominated for a Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award while her book with 3-star chef Alain DucasseDucasse: Flavors of France, was nominated for a James Beard Award and went on to win the Versailles International Cookbook Award.

She’s also written on cuisine, design and travel for Town & CountryThe New York TimesThe Los Angeles TimesTravel & LeisureHouse BeautifulHarper's Bazaar, Elle and Departures.

And every year, for 33 years now, Linda has published the much-loved French Country Diary, a weekly hardcover calendar showcasing sumptuous interior design, lush gardens, extraordinary landscapes and lots of “poetic art de vivre.” Published by Abrams Books with photos by the Paris- and Brittany-based photographer Guillaume de Laubierthe latest edition takes us to a thatched-roof farmstead in Normandy’s Marais-Vernier to the majestic Château de Montgeoffroy in the Anjou (a time-capsule of 18th-century style) to a gardener's cottage in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Among the amazing private collections featured are 19th-century faience in Bordeaux, Napoleonica in Paris and a home devoted to parrots (!!) near Dieppe. The Diary also notes nationally recognized holidays and observances, with ample space for notes, appointments, addresses and reminders. As in years past, the book is embellished with Provençal textiles from OlivadesIt has a cloth spine, a ribbon marker and 58 gorgeous photos.

“My readers tell me they use it as much for decorating ideas and planning French travel itineraries as they do for recording important dates throughout the year,’’ Linda tells me.

Madame Dannenberg, for her part, says the thing she misses most when she can’t visit France (she hasn’t travelled more than 10 km from her home in Westchester, NY since mid March!), is definitely the bistro cooking.

“I miss the ambiance and romance of an iconic bistro such as La Fontaine de Mars in Paris or Le Bistrot du Paradou in the Alpilles,” she says. In place of the real thing, Linda reaches for books filled with evocative descriptions of memorable meals, such as A. J. Liebling's classic Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris, Amanda Hesser's The Cook and the Gardner and Martin Walker's Inspector Bruno series.

“And when I’m truly inspired and longing for Paris,” Linda continues, “I pull out one of my own early cookbooks, Paris Bistro Cooking, and prepare a family meal of classic bistro favorites: a Salade Verte au Chèvre Chaud (Wild Greens Salad with Warm Goat Cheese) from Michel Rostang's Bistrot d'à Côté; Boeuf à la Mode (Braised Beef and Carrots) from Benoît; and a Tarte au Citron (Lemon Tart) from Polidor."

Lucky family!

So speaking of luck...on to the contest! To win a signed, personalized copy of the 2021 French Country Diary, simply leave a comment below and tell us what you miss most about France when you can’t be here...and what do you do to visit virtually. Do you cook French? Lose yourself in French music, movies or books? Do you brush up your French skills with language-learning apps or an old textbook? We want to know! This contest is open to anyone in any country, including France.

To comment, click where it says COMMENTS just below. If your name comes up in the little box, choose that. If it doesn’t, choose NAME/URL from the drop down. (If you don’t have your own website or blog you can leave URL blank.) Please be sure to leave us your email or we can’t contact you if you win. If you have any problem commenting at all, drop me a note (provenceblog@aol.com) and I’ll help. Or send me your name and your thoughts and I’ll be happy to post them for you. Linda and I will choose three winners, confirm your mailing address and send your beautiful Diary right off. (I told Linda I’d be happy to help with shipping and she said “Oh don’t worry...just send me some Herbes de Provence!”)

For those of you who prefer to enter on Instagram, the contest is on my page here. (To follow Linda, her page is here.)

Bonne Chance! And if you'd like to just go ahead and buy the Diary, you'll find it on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Calendars.com and in English on Amazon.fr.

Photos: (1) You deserve to win this more than anyone! Actually if you win and want to give the Diary as a gift, Linda will inscribe it to your giftee and ship it directly to them. (2) Linda and her photographer Guillaume de Laubier shooting a holiday meal in Paris. Photo by Françoise Hontebeyrie. (3) One of Linda's favorite Paris bistros is La Fontaine de Mars. (4) A thatched-roof farmhouse and B&B called Les Cigognes, in the Normandy countryside near Honfleur. (5) Vintage wooden sailboats, for rent at Le Grand Bassin in the Luxembourg Gardens, have been delighting Parisian children for over a century. (6) Le Perche, a bucolic region tucked into the southeastern corner of Normandy, makes a perfect destination for a weekend trip from Paris. An essential stop when you're exploring the area is the lovely hilltop village of La Perrière, where you'll find La Maison de L'Horbé, this restaurant and antiques emporium. (7) Linda writes: "At sunset, when Deauville's vast white sand beach is tinted pink in the rosy light, the large, vibrantly-hued parasols are closed and wrapped with swaths of contrasting canvas. It's a gorgeous time to be on this iconic beach." (8) Hôtel d'une île is a small rustic inn set in the deep woodland of Le Perche, near the town of Rémalard. (9) On a sun-dappled terrace, crusty breads await you at breakfast at the three-star L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux. * All photos, except as mentioned above, are by @guillaumedelaubier and appear in either the 2020 or 2021 edition of the French Country Diary. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

My Big Expat Gardening Gaffe

The following story might seem familiar to some of you but I hope to many of you it won't! I originally published it on October 31, 2011 about something that had happened nine years earlier. Normally, I don't republish old content. But tomorrow is Toussaint (when the French visit the graves of their loved ones) and the stores and garden centers are once again filled with gorgeous chrysanthemums (meant to be placed on graves) and even though I still get teased about this little incident all these years later, why not? Today is a strange day all around. It's Day #2 of our second lockdown in France and there's a full moon tonight for Halloween (which won't happen again until 2039) and our normally buzzing little village is completely, eerily silent.  Earlier this evening I bought myself a large, beautiful chrysanthemum to celebrate the weirdness and also to honor those who've died and tomorrow I'll plant it in my garden. Meanwhile I hope you enjoy this little tale, whether it's your first or second time around!

All of a sudden, the stores were filled with mums. Every market, every roadside stand, every InterMarché parking lot--overflowing with mums. Fat, healthy, brilliant mums, just 35 francs per pot. It was late October, 1999, and my little garden was calling out for color.
Having left Manhattan (and my one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side) for Provence just four months before, I was ecstatic about having a house. A real house! With thick stone walls, heavy shutters, a traditional tile roof and wooden beams. I had colorful neighbors who left homegrown grapes on my table and tomatoes dangling from my front door, just like in the movies. I had an olive tree! 
And for the first time in my life, I had a garden. But it was definitely looking drab.
So I called the family's guru of greenery, my dad in Wisconsin, to talk about mums. Though not a mum fan himself, Dad got behind my plan in a big way. "If that's what the stores are selling," he said, "then it's a good plant for the season. They're cheap. Put a bunch in and see how they do."
Just to be sure, I called my friend Carol, another American here in St. Remy. Was this the right time to plant mums? Would they make it through the winter? How deep should I plant them, how long would they bloom, how much water did they need?
Off we went to the garden center, and after much deliberation--such beautiful colors, such variety!--Carol and I settled on three rosy pinks and three brilliant whites.
And into the ground they went. My neighbors smiled as they strolled past and I basked in their approval, pawing around in the dirt, lovingly planting my mums. Some people paused to chat but moved on quickly when they realized I spoke no French. Didn't matter: I was happy. I had a house--and a garden--in Provence!
The next day, my friend Philippe stood in my yard and stared, grinning. I'd grown accustomed to his teasing about my American-in-France faux pas, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what was so frigging funny about mums.
"Did you notice that the stores had mums for just three days?" he asked, "and that they disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived?" I confirmed that I had found that odd, and that I was thrilled to have slithered through that narrow window of horticultural opportunity just in the nick of time.
"Yesterday was Toussaint," he explained. "It's like your Memorial Day."
Mums, it seems, are the traditional flower for graves. The reason they'd all disappeared overnight from the stores was that they were now in cemeteries all over Provence. Save for the six in my yard, of course. 
"You've made a nice little graveyard in your garden!" Philippe giggled.
So I decided that my mums would be a memorial to the people I'd loved and lost, including three grandparents and a brother. All of them are buried at home in Milwaukee, 5,000 miles away. And my mums thrived. Then the famous mistral blew down from the mountains and caught St. Remy in its grip. My mums were buried under a mountain of branches and crunchy, golden leaves. Then it snowed, and I left the country for a time, and that was pretty much the end of the mums.
When I returned in spring, I planted lavender, rosemary and other things more conducive to the climate and culture. And now my garden looks pretty much like everyone else's: lush vines, hardy perennials and hardly any color left as we head into November.  But tomorrow is Toussaint and the sun is shining and the shops are full of mums. They're cheerful and so fresh looking and just 7€ or 9€ per pot...

Monday, September 28, 2020

20 Questions for: Alexandre Lafourcade

Architect Alexandre Lafourcade is an expert in historic renovation and restoration

A book available in French and English features Lafourcade projects, family history, gardens and more.

In France, when you hear the name "Lafourcade" what comes immediately to mind is the impeccable restoration of gorgeous, historic estates, usually in an aristocratic, 18th-century style. But the company also builds from scratch and does contemporary projects too, on sites ranging from run-down farms to abandoned industrial sites to stunning vineyards. So I thought it would be interesting to chat with Alexandre Lafourcade about how this specialty came to be, what he’s working on now and what it’s like being entrusted to create--or bring back to life—some of the most-magnificent properties in Provence (like Le Mas des Poiriers, an expansive private estate near Avignon, pictured just below).  

Les Mas des Poiriers in Provence, France

Alexandre was born in 1973 in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in the Gironde. His mother Dominique is a painter and garden designer; his father was the self-taught architect Bruno Lafourcade, who developed an expertise in historic restoration and opened an office in St. Remy in 1977. Alex left school at 15 to work with his dad and, by age 20, had his own clients and projects which he managed from A to Z. He was named director of the company in 1997, by which time father and son were handling an average of 15 large-scale projects each year, from Narbonne to Monaco, many of them with sumptuous Mediterranean gardens designed by Dominique Lafourcade. The company took on its first hotel clients in 1998, with two projects for the owners of the five-star Relais & Châteaux property Baumanierethe restoration of  La Guigou (a mas in the hills with a view on Baumaniere) and Le Manoir (below the village of Les Baux). Seasoned by 25 years of experience, Alexandre took the reins from his father in 2012; Bruno Lafourcade passed away four years later. In 2014, Alex transformed two luxurious hotel properties--the Château de Berne and the Domaine de Fontenille--then expanded further into wineries. Today Lafourcade Architecture employs a team of ten, which includes designers, decorators, interior architects, a PR director, support staff and more. With budgets ranging from €1.5 to €2 million euros, current projects include the restoration of Château Primard near Paris (former home of actress Catherine Deneuve). A 210-page hardcover book (available on Amazon) was published in 2018, in French (Lafourcade: Magiciens en Provence) and in English (Lafourcade: Magic in Provence). In his down time, Alex collects and races cars; he developed a passion for motorbikes at age five and by age 20 was winning prestigious auto racing competitions. Alex and his wife Céline met in the office and married in 2012; today she is the director overseeing coordination of all the company’s building sites. The couple lives in St. Remy and has five children, ranging in age from 11 to 23. So read on for my Q&A with Alex...and more stunning photos of course!

Farmland "before" shot at Les Confines in Provence
The gorgeous "after" at Les Confines in Provence.
The gorgeous gardens by Dominique Lafourcade at Les Confines in Noves, Provence, France.
Before...and two afters at the home and garden called Les Confines, just outside the village of Noves.

Hi Alexandre! So...what are you working on today?

Each Monday, I try to stay at the office to meet with my employees. Today, I’m working on two wineries: Château de Mille in the Luberon and Château d’Estoublon in the Alpilles. At Estoublon we’re creating a new winery, a new olive mill and a sheepfold with agricultural outbuildings. Also I have an administrative file to supervise, dealing with the restoration of a huge mas in the Camargue.

And what about the rest of the week?

I’m working on eight architecture projects (in the studies stage) and five architecture projects (in the building-site stage). I’m checking the good progress of building sites in St Rémy and in Eygalières. Also I’m going to fly near Paris to have a meeting at Château Primard. It was the magnificent home of Catherine Deneuve and we’re transforming her château into a deluxe hotel.

The Domaine de Fontenille, a hotel and winery, in the Luberon region of Provence, France

Winery at Domaine de Fontenille in the Luberon region of Provence, France

Hotel, winery and property overview at the Domaine de Fontenille in the Southern Luberon

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The discovery of THE IDEA of the house transformation project...and the enchanted surprise of my clients astonished by the final result.

And what is the most difficult part of your job?

Modern technology in ancient buildings. It is, for example, very difficult to place an invisible elevator in a château. The administrative obligations related to town planning in France are daunting!

What project are you most proud of...and why?

The complete transformation of Le Mas des Poiriers, for the attention to detail and exclusive top-level finishing work. It was a huge building site! Fifty people were involved on the site, plus all the craftsmen working in their own studios: stonecutters, iron workers, wood carvers, cabinet makers, etc. The entire restoration (there are several buildings on the property) lasted a year and a half.

Describe your dream project. 

I’m immediately passionate about the challenges that clients entrust to me. A dream project is one where the owners are confident in me. Mas des Poiriers was a dream project because the client, Shauna Varvel, confirmed our plans very quickly and did not change her ideas. She was very enthusiastic.

Le Mas des Poiriers

What’s one job/project you didn't get...but wish you wish you had...and why?

An inspiring winery project ordered by a famous movie star. But finally, I did not have regrets because the man gave up the idea.

What's your best advice for anyone starting their own renovation/restoration project?

Make a list of your dreams, the ideal way you would like to live in your future house.

What’s the wildest, most-expensive or most-unusual thing a client has ever asked you for? Did you do it?

Our clients are reasonable and they love following my ideas. The only thing they must let me know is number of bedrooms. Then, I draw a pilot study of the property. And most of the time, they confirm. Once I was asked to design a bathroom for a dog (!) but ultimately we didn’t finalize the project.

What are three things you absolutely couldn't work without?

My faithful team at my office, since decades. And of course my wife Céline, who is director in charge of the coordination of the different firms and craftsmen involved in every architecture project.

The summer dining room and the wine-and-cheese cave at Château de Berne, the five-star resort and wine domaine in Flayosc, in the Var. 

What's it like working with your mom?

Lafourcade is a family business and I’ve been working with my mother for decades. It allows us to remain close. Her beautiful garden creations blend perfectly with my architecture.

Tell us one shop you love in Provence that sells beautiful things for the home.

La Maison F in St. Rémy.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the area for a quick lunch?

I’m always delighted by the food at the restaurant Aux Ateliers chez Franck et Flo in Maussane.

And how about your favorite restaurant for a special occasion?

The Michelin three-star L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux. The food is excellent and the view on Les Baux is breathtaking.

What’s one place in Provence that you suggest all visitors must see?

The beautiful road through the Alpilles leading to Les Baux – the D27.

Sainte-Marie-de-Pierredon Abbey is a unique private property where a group of Chalais monks lived in the 13th century. The property, with its Romanesque chapel, is set on a vineyard and olive/almond grove in the Alpilles Mountains, near Maussane. Alexandre rehabilitated the home, chapel and outbuildings while Dominique Lafourcade did the gardens. 

What haven't you accomplished yet that you'd like to?

The transformation of a huge ship, such as an Antarctic expedition ship. I’d like to work with a naval architect. The challenge would be to transform an ancient paquebot (a ship or liner) and to modernize it, to make it cozy. So...the same work I'm doing with my buildings.

Where was your last great vacation and why was it great?

Carqueiranne, in the Var on the Mediterranean coast...and “Les îles d’Or,” off Hyères. When we're there, we feel as if we're in Corsica.

Where would you like to travel next...and why?

I’d love to see Iceland because I’m fond of wild dramatic landscapes.

What do you wish you had more time for?

Driving racing cars.

Alex, ready to race in the Circuit de Ledenon, in 2017. He drove a Proto CN.

If you hadn't chosen this career, what might you have liked to do instead?

I would make my passion for car racing into a profession.

And if you won the lottery next week, what would you do?

I’d give more support to a number of charities, especially to the Institut CurieAnd I’d buy a race circuit!

Photos: (1) Portrait of Alexandre Lafourcade by Mathieu Garçon. (2) The Lafourcade book is available in French and English on Amazon. Many of the projects mentioned here appear in the book. (3) Mas des Poiriers photo by Bruno Suet. (4-6) At Les Confines: Before photo courtesy of Lafourcade. After photos (house) by Clive Nichols and (garden) by Bruno Suet. (7-9) Domaine de Fontenille photos by Bruno Suet with drone overview by Filmatik Production. (10) Le Mas des Poiriers interior photo by Bruno Suet. (11, 12) Château de Berne photos by Bruno Suet. (13-15) Pierredon photos by Bruno Suet. (16) Alex in racing clothes, photo by Bruno Suet.