GORDO has been invited to ‘call in’ at Marcella’s farm ecologique, Les7Soleils in Le Beaucet, a charming village about 40 minutes west of Avignon in the hills of Provence, in the South of France. The first visit was at the end of March, after Gordo had spent a couple of nights at a property conference in Cannes, called MIPIM. It’s French for a Piss-Up on Expenses.
Our voyager caught the 10am TGV on a Saturday morning to Avignon, which doesn’t go that fast until you come out of a tunnel the other side of Marseille; at which point the driver clicks on Bat out of Hell on the iPhone and puts his foot down. The bloody thing flies. With 20 miles to go before Avignon, he thought it safe to get a coffee and use the toilet. That train really was flying; the fat one was sat on the throne when he heard the announcement that the train was approaching the station.
Standing on the platform holding his pants up, Gordo was wondering what the hell just happened. His hastily closed luggage was scattered around him. Had he left the iPad on the train? It had just taken off like a rocket. Rain was coming down in horizontal stair rods. The South of France? Blimey.
Zipping up his flies, he walked off the platform, looking for Marcella’s friend, Caroline Gerfaud, whom he had met in Manchester at a fundraiser in the newly opened Point at Old Trafford cricket ground. She was in a little black dress at the time looking dead fit and acting very lady-like.
She wasn’t in a little black dress when she grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him in the farm truck.
“Zees fucking bastards. Zat fuckeeng wancare, zat leetle sheet, ’ees fuckeeng zis cuntree up to sheet..” La Gerfuad has been having trouble sorting out her papers for her new business by all accounts. Currently, she is holding Sarkozy personally responsible.
More forthright than Gordo remembered, she spends most of the journey up to Les7Soleils, the ‘ferme ecologique’ up in Le Beaucet, explaining to a pale-faced Gordo – holding on for his life as she drove the farm vehicle with a complete lack of understanding of what roundabouts are for – what she would do to ’that fucking dwarf’, the French President, if she could get her hands on him.
One hour later, Gordo is sitting steaming in front of a log fire in La Gerfaud’s house, beer in hand, having had a tour of his quarters and how everything works.
“You ’ave to sit on the toilet to ’ave a sheet”.
Err, yes, Caroline, we do that in England as well, we aren’t good at levitation.
“And you ’ave to sit on it to take a pees as well”
“And ‘ere is ze shower, where you can wash yourself. You Know?”
Yes Caroline, we know all about that as well. Let’s not go into the bidet please.
On that first night, a hurricane came roaring up the Rhone valley; the electric generator failed, Gordo thought his bit of real estate was going to be off blown off up the yellow brick road with him in it. He had been given a wind-up torch and a dozen stern pieces of wood to keep his fire alight.
Five weeks later and Gordo is on his way back to Les7Soleils, staying in Avignon on the first night having travelled by air to Paris late on a Saturday, stepping straight onto the TGV and arriving in Avignon three hours later, at ten pm and staying at a four star hotel called Cloitre de Saint Louis (pictured at the end of the gallery), nicely located within the walls of the city.
It wasn’t cheap, 200 quid without breakfast. The breakfast was 18 euros as well, but of a good standard. Just try not to get in the middle of French children and the egg boiler. If the parents weren’t watching, one or two would have had their plump little fingers held in the boiling water.
The hotel is a 16th century Jesuit seminary, with a remarkably beautiful courtyard, close to the Pope’s Palace and the Pont d’Avignon, a bridge that everyone but Gordo has heard of.
A good walk round the city centre has left him wanting to come back and engage a guide. More next time.
La Gerfaud picks up the fat one in the Place des Pie, well named. She was a good deal more relaxed than the previous time. The little dwarf-shit Sarkozy had sorted out her papers, it seems.
It was on the journey back that Gordo realised just how well Les 7Soleils and Le Beaucet were placed for anyone interested in Rhone wines. Within an hour’s drive you have all of Southern Rhone within your grasp, along with many very, very good restaurants. Gordo isn’t that knowledgeable on this area; during a one day trip around though, he re-acquainted himself with Gigondas, learnt that not all Condrieu is to die for and that his old friend Paul Boutinot has his own vineyard at Cairanne, on La Cote Sauvage.
Not a bad glass, but considered by a neighbour, caught by a none-too-shy La Gerfaud having a very civilised family lunch in his courtyard, to be ‘a little recent’. His great-great-great granddad probably got his arse tanned by Wellington. Well, it makes you feel better thinking about it.
A brief lunch in Gigondas at a small bistro called Le Croc’ Dentelle, produced an amazing Steak Tartare, Tomato, Basil and Goats Cheese Salad, and a Grilled Goats Cheese Salad Verte. Washed down with beer this, Gordo was in need of liquid. He loved it, an escapee from Marseille, called La Cagole de Marseille. The French haven’t caught on to political correctness. Roughly translated, it means “the fit slut from Marseille”. Gordo bloody loved it, he’s thinking of importing it. It may go down well at The Lead Station in Chorlton.
Back at Les7Soleils the place has come alive with spring. It smells of heaven and looks like it as well. Butterflies are there in droves and the hens are running wild, they are served by no less than five cocks. Caroline’s housemate, Marcella, won’t hear of having one cock, the rest in the pot; it’s not as nature intended.
Marcella arrived here 25 years ago. An artist, well known in Germany, her country of birth, she decided to become a shepherdess, as much as to get away from a bad marriage as to have an art installation. Over the years, she has built Les7SeptSoleils ‘off grid’. That is, she had to sink her own well (the water is a victory), while getting her energy from the sun via solar panels hidden all over the place. She designed the house (in a very loose translation of ‘designed’, it’s more a Miro than a Wren) and built it herself, bit by bit. It’s a marvel.
The two women live here with three sons and an attitude. They are a delight. Over dinner in Marcella’s kitchen, Gordo realised that this place, which on the face of it looks like the Clampetts finally went skint and ended up here, is in every way a work of an artist with a spectacular mind.
The ladies have decided that they want to do a couple of things; the first being to sell the products of their ferme ecologique, which are the by products of the oils harvested by Marcella from her abundant wild flowers and turned into various creams and potions of rare subtlety and efficaciousness.
There is a cream, simply known to Gordo as Marcella’s cream. Used in tiny amounts, it works on skin in remarkable ways, particularly a bad burn Gordo received from grasping a cast iron pan straight out of a hot oven which wasn’t healing well. t seems to produce an aroma that Gordo swears knocks him out for eight hours after a couple of deep sniffs. Ooer. To give an idea of Marcella’s complete lack of commerciality, she simply wants to sell 500 pots. Not a month; a year.
The second is to extend their ‘bed and maybe breakfast’ business slightly. People come to stay from all over Europe, some to use the place as a good centre for covering the Southern Rhone vineyards and others simply to chill out for a few days and look at nature. Others write, some paint.
At night you can see the stars. And hear yourself.
The people who do stay here have one thing in common. They have arrived by word of mouth or personal invitation from one of the ladies.
“We like people; we want them to come here and let the magic from this place take them into their dreams for a while. There are people we don’t like come here, we can normally tell straight away. We don’t encourage them to stay…” says Caroline. Gordo’s been asked back and feels quite proud of the fact.
The guest house is small; it does have a kitchenette, space to write, a bed and a good, if eccentric bathroom. That toilet works well by the way, even Gordo managed not to disgrace himself, apart from the night he got up at three to use it, fell backwards and got the wall on top of him. A story for another time.
The girls serve breakfast but don’t promise an evening meal. Indeed, they aren’t even promising to pick up the phone if you want to try your luck at booking in to try the adventure. They have, however, promised to be kind to Gordo’s readers. They believe that they know you lot already; apparently, you have the right soul just for reading him. Blimey.
bmi do a great flight from Manchester Airport to Lyon (you can do far worse than spend a night there) whilst easy Jet to Nice from Liverpool John Lennon works well; fantastic train journey direct to Avignon from both, one hour from Lyon and two from Nice. That is a James bond journey by the way.
Les7Soleils – Ferme écologique, F-84210 Le Beaucet. Tél: 04 90 66 60 17 email@example.com
Le Croc’ Dentelle
Place Rouvis 84190 Gigondas Tel: 04 90 35 67 73
Cloitre Saint Louis
20 rue du Portail Boquier 84000 Avignon. Tel.: +33 (0)4 90 27 55 55 Fax : +33 (0)4 90 82 24 01 firstname.lastname@example.org www.cloitre-saint-louis.com
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