Do you have a favorite French village? Of course you do.
Favorite is the key word here, not best. Because, if I’d written “best” French village, it could have set off a never-ending argument and destroyed friendships. Favorite is a personal choice, something you get to decide, and is based on: Sentiment, romance, memories, photographs, geography and history, the weather, people you meet and sometimes meals and even logistics. Or a swimming pool.
We have a favorite, and it’s … Seguret, in the heart of Provence, along the slopes of the Dentelles, which really do look like lace curtains from afar..
Here’s our Seguret “origin” story …
July 29, 1995: We were cycling from Uzes, headed for Vaison-la-Romaine, where there are Roman ruins and a famous market where you can buy 6 million different types of cheese and cheap socks and underwear. It was hot, we were tired, and saw a sign on the D 977 pointing up the hill, toward Seguret, a town we’d never heard of and had no plans to visit. “Wait, let me look it up in Let’s Go France,” I said. And yes, back then you carried a guide book with you on a bike trip. Remember them? Let’s Go said there was a very nice youth hostel in Seguret with … get this … a swimming pool.
A swimming pool!
That was quite the luxury back then. For us. And it was really hot. Susan was tired. And Vaison was another 10 kilometers down the road.
And so, we headed up the hill to the youth hostel, which sits at the base of what turned out to be a medieval, walled town with the ruins of a castle way up above. It was actually a combination youth hostel and hotel, with a dorm room for men and a dorm room for women, and six or seven private, hotel-like rooms. We lucked out, and one of the private rooms was available. It wasn’t expensive and the price included breakfast and dinner. The “and dinner” part was almost, but not quite, as wonderful a perk as the swimming pool.
We spent a few hours at the pool, which has an amazing view over the vineyards and valley down below, and across the Ouveze River.
Everyone gathered at a couple of long tables for dinner, which the owner, Henri, proudly cooked and served, and described in great detail. As in, where he acquired the local meat and vegetables and how we prepared them. There were also unlimited carafes of local, red wine – and this is an excellent region for red wine. Needless to say, everyone sat and drank a lot of local red wine, and stuck around after dinner to drink more local, red wine.
We wound up staying three nights and circled back for another three nights later on this bike trip. Here are a few of the people we hung out with …
Beth: Who lived near us in suburban Philadelphia, and had just finished a work study program in which she helped rebuild the nearby and crumbling stone village of St-Victor-la-Coste. She was working at the youth hostel/hotel for a couple of weeks.
Maurice: A Frenchman who totally looked like Gene Wilder, and told an endless stream of really bad jokes in broken English. Perhaps they were funnier in French.
Gary: An aspiring, and slightly snooty, chef from California on his way to Bonnieux to apprentice with a famous chef who took in four people at a time, into her house, and made incredible dinners every night for these four guests. He went on and on about the art of making pizzas.
Pomme: This was Henri’s dog, some sort of spaniel. Pomme was the nicest, friendliest and smartest dog ever. You’d be sitting at breakfast or dinner, and he’d wander over, jump up on your lap and rest his head on the table so he could see everyone else. Or, he’d follow you, into your room, to hang out. Pomme? It means apple.
Diane: She was from South Africa and was working at the youth hostel/hotel. Diane was on some sort of world tour and had extremely limited funds. She had arrived in Seguret a few days before she was scheduled to begin working for Henri and, out of money and too proud to ask for help, she camped in the woods. Henri found out, and had her start working for him that very, same day. Diane said she had met people from 18 different countries at the youth hostel/hotel in the past month and planned to stay with several as she continued her world tour. She had the addresses of several people from the United States, and was trying to save enough money to get to the land of Uncle Sam.
Diane: “I have met several people from Illinois. Where is Illinois?”
Me: “In the middle.”
Remy and Evelyn: They had driven from Belgium to Seguret to fill up their car with as much local, red wine as it would hold. Remy’s English wasn’t very good, but definitely got better and better the more he drank. And Remy was a world-class wine drinker. Remy is the one who told me that “crazy” people cycled up to the top of Mont Ventoux, which meant I had to try and do it the next day. Here’s the link to that story.
Every night, after dinner, and a few more carafes, several of us would head up, into town, led by Pomme. Who seemed to know everyone in town. People and dogs. Even a few of the cats.
Seguret is well preserved, with gates on either end, and in between it’s filled with narrow, cobbled and winding streets and beautiful stone buildings. While there are some tourists during the day, there aren’t many at night and it’s peaceful and calm, with an even better view over the vineyards and valley down below and across the Ouveze River.
According to the Avignon & Provence website: Clinging to the hillside like a brooch of precious stones, made up of rubies, pearls and emerals – its roof tiles, cut stone and cypresses – the village of Seguret watches its back.
I don’t really understand what the “watching its back” reference. Does it refer to its history, which goes way back? Or the fact that the walls around the village provide protection? Or that the town watches the back of the hillside?
We returned to Seguret in 2000 and … Henri and Pomme were gone. The combination youth hostel/hotel was now just a hotel, La Bastide Bleue – a great place to stay. It’s more expensive, but still affordable and … the pool is still there. And you can still eat dinner in the courtyard. The food is excellent, but we missed the unlimited carafes of local, red wine and the company.
We returned in 2007 and 2018 … and will be back again. See you at the pool or up in town at the café.
Here’s the link to my Biking Provence eBook, which includes everything you need to know for a wonderful bike trip to this amazing region. And, it’s still on sale, for $2.50. As are my books on cycling Bordeaux, the Dordogne, Normandy and the Loire.