Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Where to Stay: Moulin de la Roque in Noves


In 2002, Gaby Janney came to stay at Guy Fallon's Moulin de la Roque...and stayed. It's a very-beautiful, historic property--a hamlet of vacation homes--and I wanted to 
share the story with you.


A River Runs Through It: The Anguillon borders Moulin de la Roque. Until 1977, it powered the centuries-old mill, which remains on the property, fully intact.


Today the historic property offers nine vacation houses and apartments on 12 lush acres, a short walk from the village of Noves.


Entering the property. Welcome! We have tarte and rosé for you!

Guy (at right) bought the run-down property in 1994 and his first business was quince; he knew nothing about farming. In this photo from 25 years ago, he talks shop with a neighbor and his "five drunk workers" found at the local bar.


To make a few extra francs per kilo, Guy regularly drove this tractor 25 or 30 km, with three tons of fruit in the trailer...and no brakes. 


Eventually Guy decided to convert the property to welcome travelers. Here's the main courtyard, before renovation. Guy's mom took one look and said: "Guy! You bought so much roof!"



The same courtyard, today. They must adore Guy and Gaby 
at the local garden center!


The Manor House and mill, before renovation and today.


Grain grinders and a turbine in the mill. The grinders replaced earlier stone ones and boosted production four times over; the turbine replaced a water wheel in 1870.The turbine's cogs are wood; if one were to break it could be replaced quickly without 
having to shut down the mill for too long.


The three-story mill building is a dusty and evocative time capsule, with cool things to photograph everywhere. Guy knows all the history and will give interested guests a tour.


Milling remnants remain across the property.


All the original buildings served the mill in some way; there's been no new construction. The house called La Bergerie used to be a sheepfold; these photos show before and after.


The house called La Tuilerie, before and after.


Les Cigales, before and after.


In the house called Mas des Oliviers, high kitchen counters are topped with wood from an old barge. Gaby found it in a field and dragged it home.



 Terrace of the house called Maison de Meunier, in spring.



The magical property just after dusk, shot by a guest through a window. "Whether the sky is cloudy or clear and full of stars," Gaby says, "there's a curious and beautiful light 
that bounces off the cliff."  


Leaving the property, towards Châteaurenard and Avignon.  
"Arrive as a guest, leave as friends or don't leave at all," 
Gaby says.


For a couple years I had heard there was an American living in Noves, a small village roughly 15 minutes from my home in St. Remy. Not that there aren’t plenty of Americans around but most are on vacation or have second homes; not so many stick around all year.  “So who’s the American in Noves?” I asked my friends at lunch one day. “Oh, that’s Gaby!” they said. “You have to meet her!” I sent an email, Gaby said please come visit and we’ve been great friends ever since.

Gaby's partner Guy is the owner of Le Moulin de la Roque,  a beautiful and very-unique estate on the site of a former flour mill dating to the 15th century.  The property has a vast garden, a large Roman-style pool and several lovely historic homes for holiday rentals. They call their place “a little Provençal village” but that doesn’t really convey the “wow” I found when I first ambled up the tree-lined lane. I could see immediately why travelers come back here year after year…and knew immediately I wanted to write about it.

Le Moulin de la Roque sits deep in the countryside, a short walk from the village, in an area known as La Roque (meaning cliff, in Old French). Nine separate accommodations--all renovated from existing historic buildings which once served the mill in one way or another--range from a small studio apartment to an eight-bedroom home. There’s a pétanque court, badminton, volleyball, two large trampolines and plenty of safe space for kids to run around. The beautifully landscaped 12-acre estate nestles up to a rocky, forested cliff (with 750 acres of hiking trails) and is bordered by the pretty Anguillon River, which fed water to the mill for hundreds of years. It’s all very secluded but just a five minute walk from the closest boulangerie for your morning croissants. The old mill is still largely intact.  (For more about the property’s history, click here.)

For 400 years or so, this was one of the most prominent properties in the region. Twenty-five years or so years ago it was a total ruin.

And that’s where our story begins! That’s when Guy Fallon, his then-wife Christine and their three kids came down from Belgium, looking for a slower, sweeter life and a two-year sabbatical from Guy’s career as an oil trader for Petrofina.  

Trained as an engineer and passionate about the outdoors, hiking and adventure, Guy originally thought they’d spend their break in the Alps or near Lake Annecy. “But every time we went house hunting, it was pouring rain or snowing like crazy in either place,” he remembers. “And every-time we visited friends in Provence, the weather was absolutely beautiful. It was Christine who finally said ‘Why don’t we try Provence instead?’’’

The last thing the couple visualized was buying an abandoned 500-year-old mill and undertaking a massive restoration project. But when Guy laid eyes on the old property...well you know already how that went.  The land was very green and lush, home to a small vineyard and some 1500 quince trees, and Guy loved the idea of agriculture. The still-intact mill appealed to Guy’s engineering side...and the kids could attend good schools in nearby Avignon. Plus, the property seemed to have infinite potential.

Back in the day, at the peak of production, eight full time millers were producing seven tons of flour here per day,  as well as electricity for themselves and part of the village. The Roux family, which had bought the property in 1682, grew very wealthy from milling and when they rebuilt the manor house in 1910, they gilded the balconies with real gold. “They became a little bit fancy,” Guy says, “and called their home Château de la Roque. They were a bit showy but the property was definitely industrial.”

Flour production ceased in 1962 and the mill began producing electricity exclusively. That ended in 1977, when a stone dam on the river was destroyed to prevent flooding, leaving nothing to power the mill. As various Roux family members died or became estranged, the property fell into disrepair and they finally sold it in 1984.  There were two subsequent owners and when Guy bought it ten years later, all the rustic outbuildings were crumbling: a tuilerie or large stone kiln for making terracotta roof tiles (tuiles), a bergerie (sheep barn), a large building for storing grain, a miller’s cottage.  Along with the purchase Guy inherited an alcoholic caretaker, which somehow lent to the charm (until it didn’t).

When Guy signed the contract in 1994, his mom—having being raised in old Belgian châteaux with always-leaky roofs--proclaimed “Guy! Are you crazy? You bought too much roof!”  Today he says he’s in total agreement!

The first order of business was the orchard and Guy set out to learn everything he could about quince. “It’s very unusual in Provence to cover a field with quince trees,” he reports. “It’s a very old-fashioned tree and the market for the fruit is narrow. But since the trees were already there, I figured I might as well do something with them. I told myself, how hard can it be? Selling a barrel of oil or a ton of quince...same thing...it's just selling!"

Guy dove into quince farming with abandon, doubling production his first year. Which of course led to the next problem: what to do with 36,000 kilos of quince? "I had absolutely no idea who’d buy them," he remembers. "I now knew how to grow and treat them but had no idea how to pick or sell them."

So Guy’s caretaker asked around at the local cafe and “five drunk guys” came to help. Together they haphazardly harvested the fruit, Guy watching in horror as they tossed quince from one to the other, dropping most on the ground.  And then off Guy went off to the wholesale food market in nearby Châteaurenard, the biggest in the region, his ancient tractor and trailer overflowing with quince. Only then did it become apparent what a true outsider he was: a city slicker and gentleman farmer who—word had it—was actually a Baron back in Belgium (true).

"I was not of this world!" he says, laughing. "There were 5,000 trucks there...and just two of us on tractors: an old guy who looked like he would die any minute and one crazy Belgian."

Soon Guy hired a more-professional crew and the word spread that the crazy Belgian in Noves was producing lots of beautiful fruit.  That’s when he got a call from a wholesaler in Pernes la Fontaine, 30 minutes away by car. “He wanted three tons of quince in one go...quite tempting!” Guy remembers.  “I was picking two tons a day, more or less, and if you don’t sell them within two or three days, you have a warehouse full of quince.  He offered me an extra franc per kilo but only if I’d deliver. But all I had was my ancient tractor!  To go 25 or 30 km on a two-ton tractor, with three tons of fruit behind you and no brakes, is totally stupid but of course I did it: across the river...across the big bridge...down the big N900 towards Apt, one of the busiest roads around... then down a big hill...no way to stop...and all that fruit behind me. And then every day the same guy wanted the same tonnage, so I did it over and over again. It was really, really dangerous.”  

Guy eventually bought an old truck and quickly became the biggest quince-grower in Provence, producing 50,000 kilos each year. And then after seven or eight years of quince-shlepping, the royal Belgian farmer said basta...he was ready for a new challenge. 

Guy had already begun to think about renovating the property and as many other farmers in the area were renting farmhouses to summer travelers, he thought, “why not?” Christine, on the other hand, decided the “Green Acres” life with paying guests was definitely not for her. So she moved to Avignon, the kids stayed at the Moulin with Guy, and the couple divorced in 1998.

From that point on, Guy went full steam ahead, transforming the property for tourism. “I read A Year in Provence like everyone else,” he recalls, “and I knew how complicated a large project like this was going to be.” With a cranky local “builder” he renovated three houses over three years, repairing old broken stone walls and transforming the interiors into beautiful homes. Fairly rustic at the beginning, the houses got nicer and nicer as time went on. Guests came...and came back...and brought their friends. Traveling couples loved the relaxed atmosphere and authenticity of the “real Provence,” while families loved the space and the activities for kids. Painters found the property to be the perfect backdrop for art workshops.

In 2002, Gaby Janney showed up from Virginia, a guest in one of these workshops. Turns out Gaby was having her own mid-life crisis—similar to Guy’s ten years before--and she was hoping that some painting time in Provence would offer a nice reprieve. “I was in a big transition and I came to France to lighten up my life a bit,” she explains. So the pretty blonde American landed in Provence, all set for her restorative vacation, but her luggage never turned up. As Gaby had no transportation and spoke no French at the time, Guy the charming host jumped into action: taking her shopping, calling the airline, doing everything he could to help.

Gaby fell quickly in love: with the property, with the region and with Guy.

With a background in business and marketing, Gaby’s passions have now shifted to Provence and all that it offers: from fabrics, cuisine, antiques, decorating and art to the people, culture and history of rural France.  She loves to share her knowledge with guests; she herself is a painter and she enthusiastically welcomes artists and workshops on the estate.

A few weeks ago, Gaby and Guy invited me for dinner by the fire in the house they call Mas des Oliviers...and I mentioned that I loved the old wood they had used to top a high kitchen counter. “These planks were part of an old barge that I found in a field and dragged home,” Gaby told me. “The workers thought I was nuts when I told them what I wanted them to do with it!

“Everything here is historic and original,” she continued. “We’ve done no new construction at all. We use old materials wherever possible to keep the traditional Provencal charm and style.” 

The various layouts and sizes of the accommodations make Moulin de la Roque a terrific option for large family vacations and other gatherings that require lots of rooms. The largest house (eight bedrooms, seven baths) has a large atelier perfect for workshops, reunions, meetings and receptions.

Whereas guests stay in typical Provencal farmhouses or cottages, Gaby and Guy’s house –the one the Roux family and the villagers called a château—is more noble, the type of grand Bourgeois home commonly built by wealthy families in cities such as Avignon or Aix. Dating to 1910, it has soaring ceilings, Italian marble, mosaics and beautiful tile floors, all done in the Art Nouveau style which was very in vogue at the time.

In the area surrounding Moulin de la Roque, the late afternoon sun is dazzling as it bathes vineyards, orchards and olive groves in light; biking in the area is fabulous. In the early evening, guests love to hike up the hill to see the sunset, gathering wild rosemary and thyme.

Guy and Gaby welcome all guests personally, with a fresh seasonal tarte, a nice bottle of rosé, a tour of the property and a where-to-go guide filled with their favorite “secret” places. They often host weekly cocktail parties which allow guests from all over the world to mingle. A huge number of guests are repeats, including some who met here originally and now schedule their trips to coincide.  

When Guy’s daughter was married here two years ago, the Priest came from Belgium and brought a white dove to be released during the ceremony. But instead of flying off as he was supposed to, he decided to stick around. Given the name Bello, he's now a pet and the happy mascot of the Moulin.  Which is of course just perfect, given Gaby and Guy's motto of warm hospitality:  “Arrive as a guest, leave as friends or don’t leave at all!”

Moulin de la Roque is just a 20- to 30-minute drive from many of the most-interesting, most-popular sites in Provence: the Luberon,  Avignon and the Palace of the Popes; Châteaufneuf-du-Pape and the Southern Côtes du Rhône wine region; the Pont du Gard, Arles and Les Baux. It’s 45 minutes from Aix and just over an hour from the Camargue and charming seaside Cassis.

For more info, see the website here,  their TripAdvisor page here or email: moulinprovence@gmail.com.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Major Antiques Fairs in April and August


The 51-year-old, twice-a-year antiques fair in pretty Isle sur la Sorgue was formerly known as the Foire Internationale Arts et Antiquités. This year it's under new management and has been renamed Isle sur la Sorgue Antiques Art & You...but I trust everyone will just keep calling it “The Big Antiques Fair” as they always have! And very big it is indeed...one of the biggest in Europe, with 100,000 visitors expected at each fair. It always happens in Spring (usually Easter weekend) and again in late summer. This year’s dates are April 13 to 17 and August 11 to 15, 2017.

You'll find roughly 550 vendors selling in the Parc Gautier and all over town, including the 300 or stall-holders and shops that normally call Isle sur la Sorgue home. Look for antiques and brocante, ancient books, design and decor, art and much more; at the August fair there will also be collectible cars on display and for sale.

This year, a new area will be dedicated to everything vintage (from the 1950s to the '80s) and only professional dealers will be allowed to sell there. One-on-one consultation will be available from Robert Gaillard, a certified antiques authentication expert and columnist for radio France Bleu; email the address below for more info on meeting with him. There will also be conferences, concerts, awards, receptions and more.  Fair organizers have two partnerships with transporters for delivering and shipping.

To protect buyers, all exhibitors, merchants and their business partners sign a charter agreeing to work within the profession's best practices. And a certified label from experts allows buyers to differentiate between ancient authentic objects, in their original condition, and newer, decorative or reproduction pieces. 


Show hours are 9 am to 7 pm (Thursday April 13 to Sunday April 16) and 9 am to 6 pm (Monday April 17). August hours are to be announced.

The regular weekly Isle sur la Sorgue market will still be held on April 16 (Easter Sunday) and on August 13.

All the info is on the show site hereFor the full program in English, including five art exhibits on view during the show, click hereQuestions? Email to: commercial@antiquesartandyou.com. 

Photos: (1) This year's poster. (2-5) Scenes from fairs past.  (6) The pretty Sorgue River runs right through town; guidebooks call it "the Venice of Provence." (7) Everyone loves Coté Parc, with their over-the-top sidewalk displays. [Credits: Daytime fair overview photo copyright Jeff Marseille. Coté Parc photo by Doug Crawford courtesy of The Good Life France. River photo courtesy of Avignon-et-Provence. ]

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