Provincial Roots with Provençal Flair By: Peter Easton avier Mathieu’s neatly fl owing mane of gray-streaked, shoulder length hair ages the thirty-six year old super chef prematurely, but only in appearance. Deep in the scrubby forest that drapes the hillside of the village of Joucas in Provence, Mathieu tends to his property like a farmer tends his crops, a herder herds his fl ock and a vintner tends his vines. In addition to being a remarkable chef, Mathieu is all of these, exuding the electrifying combination of disciplined artist and young chef extraordinaire while maintaining the steely gaze that personifi es life in the Luberon. Cycling from the tree lined driveway of Mathieu’s luxury stone enclave, the expansive and incredibly fertile Luberon plain bridges the northern Vaucluse Mountains with the Petit and Grand Luberon Mountains to the southeast. Th e cycling -a network of tiny back roads that seem to haphazardly connect farms, vineyards and ancient hilltop towns -is a rouleur’s dream. Th e food and wine are a resounding testament to the bounties produced by the land and the proud people who farm it. Th e personality, exemplifi ed by Mathieu and hidden behind the thick skin of Provençal life, is at once serious, creative and playful, the art of a man who personifi es a way of life that can be viewed as uniquely ordinary. Th is refreshing take on life fi rmly planted in the soil of one’s roots leaves little to the imagination, until you sit at Mathieu’s table for an unparalleled dining experience. And much like cycling in the Luberon, there may be nothing to initially draw one close other than a desire to experience the original reasons I started riding my bike in the fi rst place -the simple sensations of freedom, exploration and sensory indulgence. As an outsider, simply categorizing Provence as a contiguous region is an unfair assessment, both geographically and culturally. Each of the départements that comprises the region -there are six in all -maintain a unique expression of French life based on history and culture, food and wine, sports and business. Within the boundaries of the Vaucluse, which includes the Luberon region and the expansive Luberon National Park, the iconic Mont Ventoux and its slopes step forward as the watchtower of the area, the sole proprietor for the adventurous and crazy alike. Upon X conquering Mont Ventoux, it is necessary then to expand the cycling adventure and investigate what experiences lay beyond the massively stripped peak of Provence’s giant. In doing so, I believe the search can be a short one, as a multi-layered indulgence into the essence of what defi nes Provence lays just over the shallow ridge of the Vaucluse Mountains, in the heart of the Luberon. Southern France is best known for the allure of the Côte d'Azur, and the seemingly perfect lifestyle that is draped across its beaches. But it is as overpriced and overrated as it is overdeveloped. Further inland, the Vaucluse region stretches across a vast area of mildly developed land, highlighted by acres of vineyards, miles of forests and unique geological formations that rise out of the landscape. Th e physical enjoyment of cycling through the Vaucluse is complemented by the heightening of two primary senses -visual and aromatic. Amidst the emerald green spruce trees bowing gently in the breeze, clay colored limestone gorges, cliff s and mountains rise in stark contrast to the deep ruby shades of plump vineyard rows and the fi rst hint of the changing leaves. Th e Roman Empire fl ourished amidst the plains and rolling hills as the Rhône River yawns into the marshy bouchon that meanders and spreads into the Mediterranean. Time passes at a slower pace in this part of France, and the change is marked in centuries as Roman ruins remain proudly at the center of cultural life. Th e dizzying array of artistry from the local kitchens that is so meticulously crafted and elegantly presented is the perfect center piece for linking the physical sensations of cycling, the terroir and the sensory delights that come with tasting it. Add to this an endless selection of beautifully crafted wines, many unavailable outside of local boundaries, and one is forgiven for indulging in a prolonged descent into culinary excellence unrivalled anywhere else in the country – a remarkably diverse experience, even within the confi nes of what constitutes Provence. One element the varying landscapes share is the light, a magical combination of pink and orange that dresses the hillsides as if there is a great spotlight in the sky, and the
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