Sharing A Real Taste Of Provence

Sharing a Real Taste of Provence

We at Only Provence don’t spend all of our time on the phone or booking luxury villa rentals in the South of France. Knowing the Truffles in Provenceregion first-hand and spending quality time with the owners of our listed luxury properties is a big part of being able to deliver the best experience to families and groups pf friends choosing to spend their holiday in Provence. A couple of weeks ago, some of our staff (Stan, Ingrid, Louise and I), had the pleasure of passing a fresh Spring morning with Bernard Roussel, the owner of villa Pierres des Luberon, traversing his magnificent 120 acre property on the edge of the Luberon National Park near Bonnieux. It is during moments like these that we are reminded of how much joy our owners receive from simply sharing what they believe makes their property so special. The desire to open their homes goes well beyond the need for supplemental income. A certain pride emerges— perhaps better described as an honor or dignity, in allowing others to enter their sacred sanctums. Offering families and groups of friends what they believe to be a real taste of Provence, truly matters to them – plain and simple.

On this particular day, when the Spring rains had given way to the first warm days to lunch on the terrace, we were all in for a treat—one that had been on my bucket list for years, even after having lived in Provence for seven years. Bernard had invited us to join him on the last of the season’s truffle hunts. Gosh this job certainly has its perks :) sigh.. ok I think I can squeeze that into my schedule. Luberon before us, Louise and I shot each other glances —I knew full well what she was thinking. If all went well we would be eating well tonight!

With dogs Carmel and Babu, happily bouncing along by our sides, Bernard and our little team stretched out our legs along the ancient, Provence herb-studded paths, past fields filled of oak trees and perfect rows of sleeping lavender. With a well-worn satchel slung on his shoulder, that had no doubt carried many a truffle, Bernard guided us through blooming almond trees while sharing his family stories of having been raised on the property. At one point, he motioned to a medieval castle on the opposite hillside (the Fort of Buoux) dating back to the Middle Paleolithic age— I found it hard to even fathom how long ago that was. And with such seemingly endless rolling hills and fields around us, nobody would believe we were only a few short miles from the famous Provence villages of Lourmarin and Bonnieux.

Bernard guided us to a field a bit further from his normal hunting spot— “I am not sure if we will find anything there,” he warned. Shortly after arriving Babu began to dig.. Eying the the dogs with nervous anticipation, we watched as Babu began a casual scrape to the earth under an mid-sized oak tree—within seconds his scraping became an all out scrounge. Bernard quickly trotted to Babu’s side and with a mini garden pitchfork, he gently pushed the dog to the side for fear he would either damage the truffle or gobble it up if it were small enough. The dogs were known to snack well on these outings! Bernard then carefully pushed the earth surrounding the hole where Babu was digging. And lo and behold… didn’t the most precious little nugget emerge? We hooped and hollered, each taking turns holding it and breathing in its earthy musty goodness—an aroma that I have decided is truly like no other on this planet.

But the spot didn’t produce much else. Caramel and Babu just frolicked around in the warm sun, so Bernard had us backtrack to a field that we had passed on the way, closer to his ancient stone home. It was evident this was a trusted spot; we could see freshly dug holes under the oak trees where truffles had been found. For the next hour the dogs led us from one tree to the next, digging madly, unearthing one black beautiful black truffle after the other. Some were big, like the size of a small plum, others more like a walnut. It didn’t matter to us how big they were— it was all gold in our minds. I could sense Louise’s mind skipping from the evening menu…will it be pâtes aux truffes… soufflé aux truffes, ou tous simplement les oeufs aux truffes? The choices were so painfully difficult!

Only ProvenceA quick look at Stan and Ingrid revealed faces pasted with grins— mine was most likely the same, although I don’t remember much outside of the numb contentment that comes from a divine experience. We took turns helping the dogs as they located the jackpot spots. Bernard’s aged sack soon began to swell— as did the joy that radiated on his face. He does this weekly, I thought. Probably even more–so why the sense of such fun today? What was in it for him? But what I saw in that smile was a genuine sense of satisfaction of having shared something very precious, coupled with gratitude that his family had been the trusted steward of such gifts from Mother Earth. I could be wrong though, maybe he was just bemused at us —a handful of overgrown kids, thrilled at having spent a morning under the Spring sun, with a couple of happy dogs digging in the earth for forgotten treasure.

With a bounce in our steps, overwhelmed at having acquired struffles in Provence Franceo much with our own hands—ok, the dogs helped— in such a short period of time (although I think time stopped somewhere in there), we made our way back to the Roussel’s rambling stone home. Stan and Ingrid had email to tend to, Louise had chef services to book and I had projects at Mas de Gancel. Conscious of having taken up his entire morning, we veered towards our cars, ready to return to our “real worlds.” But Bernard’s wife Mathilde quickly ushered us in and onto their terrace—“It is nearing noon—surely time for an aperitif!”

March in Provence, especially in the Luberon where the nip in the new season breeze can still bite, can be idyllic, if you find the right perch in the sun. Mathilde directed us to a small terrace basking in the full midday sun overlooking the Luberon. Within minutes she had brought glasses, a bottle of local white wine, Bernard following with a basket of toasted baguette and a small dish of butter mixed with generous amounts of freshly shaved truffles. “I have to admit to something awful,” Mathilde said to me with a sly grin. “Bernard and I indulge in this every day!” That to me— sums up Provence.

–Lydia Dean

                                     Lydia Dean   Provence Truffles

Provence Villas

Trading in a Life for One in Provence

Trading in a Life for One in Provence….Jumping The Picket Fence

 Jumping The Picket Fence
Lydia Dean (co-founder of Only Provence) writes about leaving their lives in the US for a simpler one nestled in a quiet village in the South of France.  In this beautifully balanced mixture of travel memoir, business-building and soul searching, she shares high and lows as they tend grape vines, renovate Mas de Gancel, build a small villa business and raise a young family in Provence. Neither of them knew in the moment, that the lessons they would learn during these years would offer the foundation for so much more…


In 2000, Lydia Dean finds herself at the top of her game professionally, yet on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Quitting her job and convincing her husband John to join her on a more meaningful path, the family takes a leap of faith, moving to the South of France where they rediscover themselves and the benefits of time and simplicity.
Reconnecting with her with early childhood dreams of humanitarian work, Lydia’s adventures then take her further from the comforts of home as the young family travels extensively to areas lacking access to education and opportunity.
Join Lydia on a fearless, inspirational path around the world-into shelters for children across India, through the jungles and back roads of Costa Rica, Southeast Asia and Venezuela, and to China where the Deans adopt their third child. Motivated by the simple ideal that small personal actions can make a difference, the family returns to the US where Lydia and a passionate team build a non-profit organization-GoPhilanthropic, supporting vulnerable women and children.


From magical and entertaining to painfully raw and unsettling, Jumping the Picket Fence shows us how to put fear aside, peel away all that insulates us, and listen to our inner selves. The book ultimately becomes less about what the author has done in her own life and more about what each of us can do to explore our own dreams and jump our own fences.


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Chef Services

Chef Services In Provence

One of the absolute pleasures of renting a luxury villa in the South of France is having a gourmet meal prepared in the comfort of your private villa by a talented chef. Together with the chef, design a fantastic meal incorporating fresh, local ingredients from the village markets. Opt for simple or elegant, celebratory or casual, either way, this tremendous dining experience will be one of the highlights of your stay in Provence.

To learn even more about the wonders of Provençal cuisine, consider a cooking course with one of our gifted chefs in the privacy of your villa rental.

We asked one of our exclusive chefs, Chef Ronald, to describe his history, what brought him to cook privately for clients renting villas in Provence, and what a typical day is like doing what he loves to do:

I am Ronald Guillaume the son of Chef Elie Guillaume. My father was a private chef for prominent families in Paris and the surroundings, as well as renowned restaurants in Paris.

Chef Services My earliest restaurant experience began at the age of six in my parents’ restaurant, “Le Cheval Blanc,” just outside of Paris in the town of Magny en Vexin. As a child, I would help my father in the kitchen and learn all about traditional French cuisine. At 14 years of age, I became my father’s sous chef cooking on coal burning stove with copper pots and pans.

After three years of culinary studies, I took a giant step to become the sous chef at Maitre, for Chef Michel Pommier of Chateau d’Aveny. I was also elected “Best Worker in France,” and became a Michelin starred Chef at Restaurant Le Cabouillet in L’isle Adam.

It was now time for my Military service where I became the chef for General J. Genest.

Upon returning from Military service, I parlayed my years of experience to Chef de cuisine in Restaurants, Private Chef for prominent families, Professor in Hotel School, as well as a Restaurant Consultant.

Today, I do what I love and where my heart is. I am a private chef in Provence as well as around the world. During the Spring and Summer, I cook in private Villas for clients from all over the world. In turn, they ask me to join them in their countries and cook for them privately or, as on some occasions, to teach hotel staff French Cuisine.

On a typical day in Provence, I meet my clients at the Market in Aix and we proceed to purchase items for the evening meal. We laugh and we enjoy the camaraderie as well as the beautiful sights of Provence. That afternoon, I arrive with the purchases and begin baking, chopping, stirring, and preparing all for the menu my clients have chosen. They can choose or participate or just enjoy the aromas from the kitchen.

The decoration, the final touches, the seating and voila, we are almost there.

I do what I love and love what I do.

Interested in renting your own private luxury villa in Provence? Contact Only Provence to get the inside scoop and plan your holiday

ChefServices in Provence

Christmas Traditions in Provence

Provençal Christmas traditions are rooted in both charming local customs and historical religious rituals. During this festive season, called Calendale, villages throughout Provence host Christmas Markets, Santons Fairs, Lighting Festivals and Tours of Nativity Scenes leading up to Le Gros Souper on Christmas Eve and Les Treize desserts following Midnight Mass. Rent a luxury villa the south of France with family and friends for the holidays and delight in the regional mores.

The season officially kicks off on December 4, Saint Barbara’s, or St. Barbe’s, Day, when wheat and lentil seeds are planted into small dishes. Once the shoots grow, symbolizing a good harvest and prosperity for the new year, they are decorated with ribbon and are used as part of the Christmas Eve table decorations.

Christmas Traditions Provence

The Christmas crib, or crèche, is an important part of the nativity scene in Provence, dating back to the 17th century. Santons, or little saints, are small, handmade figurines sculpted from wood and clay. The santons are painted and decorated to represent various traditional professions, such as a baker, fishmonger or butcher, farm animals, and biblical characters to populate the nativity scene. Santons Fairs and Christmas Markets are a wonderful opportunity to add to one’s ever expanding santons collection.

On Christmas Eve, the dining table is covered with three white tablecloths of decreasing size, so that each layer is seen, and three white candles, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The sprouted lentils and wheat planted on St Barbe’s are adorned with ribbon and sprigs of myrtle or holly to decorate the table.


Christmas Eve Dinner, or Le Gros Souper, is a meat-free meal featuring seven dishes of vegetables and regional fish specialties, such as l’argo bouido, a garlic and herb soup, and brandade de morue, made with cod and potato. The seven dishes represent the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary.


Traditionally, the table remains set for three days of celebration, from the 24th to the 26th. As the family leaves for Midnight Mass, the leftovers remain on the table so that the angels and ancestors may also enjoy the feast.


Perhaps the most popular of the Christmas festivities is les treize desserts, or the thirteen desserts, to be enjoyed after Midnight Mass. These ritual deserts represent Jesus and the twelve apostles at the last supper and thus always number thirteen. Though the exact desserts may vary by local or family tradition, in essence they remain similar and fall into four basic categories — dried fruits and nuts, candied fruit, fresh fruit and pastry.


Dried figs, raisins, almonds and hazelnuts symbolize “the four beggars,” the Religious Orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustin monks.

Candied fruits include quince paste, white nougat, made of hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachio, and black nougat, made of honey and almonds. Near Aix-en-Provence you’re likely to see Calisson d’Aix, a specialty of the region made from candied melon and ground almonds.

Fresh fruits are likely to be oranges, tangerines, apples, pears and grapes.

The star of the thirteen desserts is pompe à lhuile, sometimes called fougasse, a sweet, light, openwork bread made with olive oil and flavored with orange blossom water or lemon peel. To insure good fortune for the coming year, pompe à lhuile must be broken by hand, and never cut with a knife, the way Christ broke bread with the apostles.

Traditionally the thirteen desserts stay on the table for three days to share with visiting guests.


Calendale is a wonderful, celebratory time in the south of France and a fantastic time to visit. Travel to Provence for the holidays when you’ll find great options for villa rentals and lots of activities in which to partake throughout the region. Aix-en-Provence hosts celebrations throughout December, from lighting ceremonies to markets to an acclaimed santons festival. Enjoy the Festival of Nativity Scenes in Bonnieux, get in some last minute shopping at the Gordes Christmas Market, and try not to miss the famed Christmas Market in Saint Rémy de Provence.


Joyeuses Fêtes!



Interested in renting your own private luxury villa in Provence? Contact Only Provence to get the inside scoop and plan your holiday!

11 Fun Things About Gordes

11 Fun Things About Gordes While Renting Your Luxury Villa

Designated one of the most beautiful villages in France, Gordes resides on a giant cal-careous rock from the monts de Vaucluse in Provence. An inspiration to artists such as Marc Chagall, the panoramic views of the Luberon valley from this hilltop village are nothing short of spectacular. There’s much to see and enjoy in and around Gordes and while each of these could stand on their own, here are 11 reasons to visit this special Provencal village.

1. You won’t find a wooden building in Gordes (or fences for that matter). All buildings are required to be made of the beautiful stone Provence is known for and use terra cotta roof tiles.

2. The castle, located in the center of the village, dates back to 1031 and was partially rebuilt in Renaissance style in 1525.

3. Locals and visitors love the vibrant, weekly Tuesday Market. Fresh bread, local pro-duce and fabrics abound. The farm land surrounding Gordes is known for growing al-monds, olives and grapes. While exploring the area, be sure to stop in at a few wineries to sample the local vin.

4. Space is limited in a fortified hill village. For protection during turbulent times, Gordes developed an underground network of more than 50 rooms dug into rock, now called the Saint-Firmain Palace cellars. Once used as storage areas and artisan’s workshops, this subterranean labyrinth also provided hiding places and escape routes.

5. The Cercle Repulicain, a historic café founded in 1911 as part of France’s network of Cercles Républicains, resides in the heart of the village. Ask to sit on the terrace enjoy to the picturesque views.

6. Surrounding the village are many little, quiet, well-preserved hamlets. The largest, in the valley southwest of Gordes, is called Les Imberts, which has it’s own 18th century church and two soccer stadiums. Consider renting a luxury villa in one of these hamlets for a peaceful getaway.

7. Just a short drive from Gordes, the Abbey de Sénanque was established in 1148 by Cistercian monks. The lavender fields blooming in front of the Abbey is perhaps the most recognized photograph of Provence. Today the the monks who live at Sénanque grow lavender and tend honey bees for their livelihood. The landscape of the valley where the Abbey lies is simply stunning and should not be missed.

8. The nearby Village of Bories, Le village des Bories, consists entirely of small, ovoid buildings made only of stone. Classified as a Historical Monument, the ancient drystone huts were built without the use of mortar and are thought to go back several centuries BC.

9. Set in a traditional Luberon farmhouse, the Lavender Museum, Musée de la La-vande, is filled with the delightful aroma of genuine lavender. Watch a short film and learn about about growing and distilling the iconic flower of Provence, take an audio tour of the museum including stills dating back to the 16th century, and do some shopping for authentic lavender products.

10. Filmmakers are taken with Gordes’ magnificent setting. Scenes from several mov-ies and television mini-series, including A Good Year, Mistral’s Daughter, A Year in Provence and Mr. Bean’s Holiday were filmed in Gordes.

11. The biggest festival in Gordes, Les Soirees d’été de Gordes, is an annual music festival in early August. As with many Provencal villages, Gordes holds festivals throughout the year — a wine festival in mid-August, a village festival in early October and an almond tree festival in spring.

Gordes is lovely to visit year round, whether it’s admiring the chateau, exploring the caves or simply enjoying a glass of rosé on the terrace, this charming village is a must see.

Interested in renting your own private luxury villa in Gordes? Contact Only Provence to get the inside scoop and plan your holiday in the Luberon!

Gordes Luxury Villa Rentals

Winter Festivals in Provence

Is there anything better than sitting around the fireplace with family and friends on a brisk, winter’s evening? Yes, yes there is —sitting around the fireplace at a luxury vacation villa in Provence.

Consider visiting Provence in the off season. The weather may be a bit crisp, but it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy winter festivals and celebrations in a region so full of tradition and culture. Whether you opt to rent a villa in the Luberon or the Alpilles, in Gordes or St Rémy, you’ll be near fun festivities and never too far from local specialty vin chaud, or hot mulled wine.

From mid-October through all of November, villages throughout Provence host the Festival des Soupes, when locals prepare delicious soups from traditional recipes handed down from generation to generation. During the event, the soups are evaluated by a jury and then visitors are invited to taste.

Truffle fans won’t want to miss the Carpentras Truffle Festival. On Friday mornings from November 15, 2014 to March 15, 2015, find beautiful, aromatic black truffles harvested from the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

Aficionados may also want to visit Pernes les Fontaines Truffle Market on January 25, 2015 for truffle tastings, truffle searching demonstrations, and an array of truffle products.

Provence kicks off holiday celebrations on December 4th, Saint Barbe Day, and continues through February 2nd, Candlemas. This period is called Calendale.

Santons, tiny clay figurines depicting the Nativity scene, are part of the Provencal holiday tradition. Santon fairs and exhibitions begin as early as November and are held through the first part of January. Find great gifts, enjoy Provencal culture and musical performances.

The Santons Fair in Marsielle starts on the last Sunday of November and goes through December 31st.

The Aix Santons Fair begins November 20th and runs through December 31st.

Sorgues hosts a Santons and Crafts fair November 22 – 23, 2014.

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a favored village among visitors to Provence, is the place to be if you’re looking for festivities during the holidays.

Nocturne de Noël takes place in early December, when the town’s holiday lights are all switched on. Shops stay open late and live music plays.

The Christmas Market, Le Petit Marchédu Gros Souper, offers crafts, santons, christmas caroling and all the ingredients for the Gros Souper, or big dinner, and the thirteen desserts traditionally eaten in Provence on Christmas Eve. The 2014 market will be held on December 21st – 23rd.


The Mimosa Festival is held for ten days each February celebrating the beautiful, yellow mimosa flower with decorated floats, music and street entertainment. You can explore a mimosa forest, learn about the plant’s cultivation, or visit a perfumery to see how the mimosa fragrance is captured in a bottle. In 2015, the festival takes place from February 18 – 25 in Mandelieu.


The Lemon Festival in Menton, February 14 – March 4, 2015, features giant designs made exclusively from citrus fruits as well spectacular floats decorated with oranges and lemons.


And while not exactly a festival, stores in France are only legally allowed to hold sales twice a year, in January and July, so if you’re in Provence in January, enjoying the blooming mimosas, why not drop into a shop or two.


In sum, exploring Provence during the year end holidays is a fantastic alternative to the busier summer season, with the weekly price of luxury villas rentals at significant reductions.

Festivals in Provence

Interested in renting your own private luxury villa in Provence? Contact Only Provence to get the inside scoop and plan your holiday!