This is classic Provence, the Provence of Peter Mayle’s ”A Year in Provence” fame. A visit to the region will confirm why it is such a popular tourist destination – rugged Mediterranean landscape surrounding an agricultural basin of wheat, vineyards and fruit orchards; picturesque villages perched on the hilltops, four of which – Gordes, Roussillon, Ménerbes and Venasque – are listed among the most beautiful in France; and then of course there are the lavender fields, that incredible color that pops out of the landscape as if it isn’t real but merely painted in.
Our “weekend” in Provence began on a Monday afternoon in mid-May to avoid the weekend and summer chaos. As it was, there were just enough tourists for a lively environment without the headache of dealing with crowds. I was surprised, however, to notice that there were proportionally more American English speakers than I’ve heard anywhere else in France.
A popular restored guest house located at the bottom of the hill outside of Gordes. Although there are many hotels and restaurants along the small roads that feed into Gordes, this one is ranked #1 on Tripadvisor and is a splurge pick in the Rick Steves’ guidebook. As expected the grounds are lovely and well maintained with a covered lounge area and sparkling pool next to the restaurant terrace. The guestrooms occupy the original old stone farm buildings and are nicely appointed while maintaining the integrity of the former structure.
The breakfast buffet includes an ample selection of quality products – the croissant are wonderfully flaky, the cheeses divine and the fruits and jams flavorful.
Dinner is equally well done and in the off season is served in a lovely stone room with bright table linens in a rustic yet elegant setting. The limited menu offers two courses for 37€ or three for 43€.
We started with the scallop tartar with green apple and celery in a celery and saffron reduction – a fresh and delightful beginning; and the only real disappointment of the evening, the antipasti plate – chewy eggplant and an overly vinegary vinaigrette. The mains, however, were both excellent. St Pierre (John Dory) served with a lemon beurre blanc,
and a luscious jaret d’agneau (lamb shank) served with summer vegetables in a Provençal sauce. The flavorful meat, cooked for seven hours, melts in your mouth. For dessert house made sorbet – apple, pear and lemon – all wonderfully fruity;
and a lemon tart – rich,lemony and, yes, tart. A perfect ending.
This charming restaurant located on the D2, down the road from La Ferme de la Huppe, is comparable in terms of price and setting to La Ferme de la Huppe’s restaurant, but I would give it slightly lower marks for the food. Interestingly, the other patrons at L’Estellan were nearly all French while at Huppe they were nearly all American.
L’Estellan’s dining room is decorated with a causal yet refined hand in a country meets the stars motif – laundry hangs from the ceiling, poetry graces the walls and colors are tastefully subdued. Our starters included the smoked salmon carpaccio with a garnish of bean sprouts and shredded carrots in a vinaigrette and an asparagus terrine served with asparagus tips, also in a vinaigrette. For mains we tasted
the Dorade Royale (fish) served with roasted vegetables – nicely cooked but not served as hot as it should have been,
and the magret de canard (duck breast) served with a potato gratin – good but rather plain and unadorned. For dessert, the sorbet and a spelt pudding (like rice pudding) served with a lavender ice-cream – interesting, but more like eating breakfast than dessert.