Visiting the Vaucluse – a wild food foraging and cooking class in Brantes

BrantesTitlePlate © J Horak-Druiff 2013 All rights reserved

As you drive down the Toulourenc valley road, hugging the majestic cliffs, with the mass of Mont Ventoux towering above you and the greenery pressing in on both sides of the road, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were miles from human civilization, and that the GPS navigation system  had sent you on a wild goose chase.  And then suddenly you glimpse the corner of a stone house or a window, impossibly high above the already-precipitous road along which you are travelling – surely an abandoned mountain village?  But no – a kilometre further down the road, there it is – a sign proclaiming this to be the turn-off to Brantes, a tiny village perché in the Provençal departement of the Vaucluse. Let’s just say it’s not a place you’d stumble across by accident.

 

BrantesVillage © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesMontVentoux © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBuilding1 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBuilding2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

We were on our way to meet Odile Daniel, a former Parisian resident who moved to Brantes a number of years ago to start a new life and now runs Les Aventurières du Goût, a cooking school with a difference.  This is no shiny Michelin star kitchen, but the kitchen of Odile’s own character-filled mountain home to which she welcomed us with her quick, warm smile.  After a brief orientation, we set off armed with baskets and secateurs following Odile’s business partner Jacqueline who was to lead our foraging walk.  As we walked, Jacqueline not only educated us on the edible plants that abound in the village, but also provided us with some fascinating insights into Brantes.  The village is seriously tiny – I believe Jacqueline mentioned 80 inhabitants – and it is hard to imagine a life more different to the one we lead in London.  We were told that everyone in the village has two jobs (and indeed, Jacqueline later had to excuse herself to mind the local bookstore for a while!), and that they had gone to some trouble to ensure that the village retained all the amenities that a working village should have (a small school, a post office, a church), rather than become just a pretty façade for tourists to admire. There are no cars in Brantes (you park in a small parking area just below the village) and as you clamber up and down the terraced gardens and meandering crooked stone staircases, you constantly encounter views of the valley and mountains that take your breath away.  Even if you do not visit for the cooking school, the village is well worth the detour for the views alone as well as the various artisan shops selling pottery, wood carvings and wrought iron.

 

BrantesJacqueline © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBuilding3 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesSteps © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBuildingsDiptych © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesDoor © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesView © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBuildingGeraniums © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesCeramics © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

But back to our foraging!  The summer hillsides around the village were full of edible plants – from the more mundane like wild sage, rosemary, rocket and thyme to the more esoteric like mallow flowers, clover flowers and plantain leaves.  Jacqueline explained that as the seasons change, so do the foraging courses, with the Autumn courses being more focused on mushrooms and roots, while in summer there are wild berries to be had. We also stopped in the shade of an elderflower tree to pick masses of fragrant lacy white flowers before we headed back to Odile’s house with our baskets full of wild bounty.

 

BrantesPath © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesWildflowers1 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesFlowersYellow © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesFlowers3 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesFlowers2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBasket2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBasket1 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

There we found on only Odile, but also two charming village ladies who immediately set to work deftly removing the elderflowers from their stems while chatting companionably, their fingers gnarled with age but made dextrous by years of practice.  Meanwhile, Odile set is to work chopping, cutting, mixing and preparing lunch.  You will notice that we relied heavily but not exclusively one did not use only the foods we had foraged – “We are not purists, we are gourmandes!” laughed Odile, “We eat what is fresh and tastes best.”  It’s a hands-on affair with Odile cooking alongside you, offering encouragement here, correcting your method there, and always providing information on the ingredients we were using.

 

BrantesElderflowers © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesElderflowerlady © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesElderflowerCordial © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesOdileDaniel2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesSalad © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesGroupCooking © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesHerbedCheese © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesOdileDaniel1 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesApricots © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesCookingApricots © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesTomato © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesBlinis © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesElderflowerTarts © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesOdileDaniel3 © J Horak-Druiff

 

So what did we cook?  The meal was completely vegetarian and sourced locally or as close to locally as possible (goat’s cheese and honey from neighbouring villages, for example), but anybody who thought that vegetarian and local wasn’t indulgent would be wrong.  Our menu included:

  • elderflower corial
  • fresh apricot halves stuffed with herbed goat’s cheese, nuts and wild flowers (possibly the best thing I tasted all year)
  • a peppery salad of radish, orange, wild rocket and wild flowers
  • bruschetta of ripe red tomatoes, basil and black olives (so good that I have already repeated at home!)
  • lentil flour blinis stuffed with pea, courgette and mint mousse (sumptuously good)
  • deceptively simple elderflower tartlets with nuts in the base and sprinkled with brown sugar before baking, served with macerated strawberries

And once all the food was prepared and beautifully plated, we took off our aprons and carried plates, glasses, cutlery and serving platters out to Odile’s tiny stone terrace and sat down to feast, observed by the local cats and overlooking the magnificent Toulourenc valley below.  It was one of the more magical moments of our trip. Odile is an inspirational teacher full of wisdom, not only about the way we eat but also about life.  The best part is that you never feel as if you are being taught, but afterwards I remembered all sorts of tips that Odile showed us and that I now use in my own kitchen – and that’s the best travel souvenir you could wish for.

 

BrantesLunchTable © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesCrudites © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesLunchGuest © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesMyPlate © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

BrantesDessert © J Horak-Druiff 2013

 

VISITOR INFO

Les Aventurières du Goût  run wild food courses run every Thursday at 16h00 and every Saturday at 10h00 from April to November.  Classes (the walk, cookery class and lunch – about 3 hours in total) cost €35 a head.  Maximum group size is 5-10 people and German or English speakers can be catered for.  Wear walking shoes – and bring an umbrella/raincoat if the weather looks rainy!  Aventurières is at the top of the village on the left, beside La Poterne.  Odile and her team also offer a half-day workshop on the theme of your choice (e.g. gluten-free cooking, cooking with tofu or algae, soups, jam with wild fruit) in your own home, or in her kitchen.  Prices range from €30 to €50 per head.

GETTING THERE

By plane: The nearest large airport is Avignon.  By train: Avignon station is the nearest large station, served by the TGV Méditerranée.  You will need your own car to get to Brantes.

GOOD TO KNOW:

The Vaucluse Tourist Board has more information on their website about Brantes as well as ideas for other hilltop villages to visit or other food and cooking themed events in the Vaucluse.    

 

DISCLOSURE: I visited Les Aventurièrs du Goût as part of a self-drive trip that was partially funded by the Vaucluse Tourist Board – meals, accommodation and this class were  paid for by the tourist board.  I received no further remuneration for the trip and all opinions are my own    

Other posts in my Vaucluse series include:

 

BrantesKitty1 © J Horak-Druiff 2013
BrantesKitty2 © J Horak-Druiff 2013

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    • Jeanne says

      It was, Jen! Defintely worth considering next time you are road-tripping through France! And thanks for the kind words – a great compliment coming from you :)

    • Jeanne says

      aaah, yes, but your tiny entourage will grow up one day :) It’s hard to believe that all the stuff we did in the Vaucluse was all in one trip! (another anniversary and post-anniversary posting – aaargh!)

  1. says

    Travel and food bloggers get to experience it all, but normally its the regular things most people would go and do. This on the other hand is a truly unique experience and I’m sure you will never be sorry you did it.

    The fresh apricot halves stuffed with herbed goat’s cheese, nuts and wild flowers sounds absolutely divine.

    • Jeanne says

      I must say, I felt very very lucky to have been able to experience this. This is what I tell people – the best thing about press trips organised for you is that you discover these out of the way places that you would probably not have stumbled across on your own. Seriously – you should try those apricot halves. Just play around with quantities of goat’s cheese and herbs of your choice till you like the taste. They were ridiculously good!

  2. says

    Amazing – I love those tiny stone villages that cling in some seemingly impossible manner to the side of the mountain. And the food looks wonderful, might have to add this to my list of *want to go* places

    • Jeanne says

      I know – I have a soft spot for villages perché :) And I think this definitely SHOULD go on your list – you’d love the course (and Odile!)

  3. says

    What a wonderful post and trip! What a gorgeous part of the country that I don’t know at all but definitely worth a vacation there! Stunning! And the foraging adventure and lunch sound just wonderful. Thanks for sharing this with us and your beautiful photos. Living in France, I don’t think to take advantage of things like this but I am really looking into this!

    • Jeanne says

      Oh Jamie, you and JP should do a road trip! Such a fabulous part of the country, especially in terms of food and wine (but then, where in France isnt?!)

  4. says

    Wonderful, wonderful – I’d have loved to be part of that day and taste those lovely fresh foragings! So beautiful that the village is keeping its heart with a school and post office too.

    • Jeanne says

      Trust me, it was right up your street, Kit! The whole day was really inspiring in terms of realising how it is possible to live in a totally different way to what one gets used to in a big city like London.

    • Jeanne says

      I can’t believe we actualyl did this – it looks like a movie set! Glad you liked the images and yes – a v impressive idea and setting!

    • Jeanne says

      Oh it was a stunning village – but the best was that they resist becoming just a tourist attraction and want to remain a functioning community.

    • Jeanne says

      Glad it’s not just me! Don’t think we’ve ever spent so much time not knowing where exactly we were as in the south of France! But hey, it’s all about the journey, not just the destination, right?