b&b and bed and breakfast in the old bishop's hotel of vaison la romaine


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rooms and guestrooms in  beds and breakfasts of the medieval city of vaison

Aude & Jean-Loup VERDIER
Chambres d'hotes en maisons d'hôtes

14, Rue de l'Évêché  - Cité Médiévale

Tél 1: 33 (0)6 03 03 21 42
Tél 2: 33 (0)6 48 24 08 29
email: eveche@aol.com

siret: 333 183 846 00034
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Carry Marriott
©Gourmet (April 1994 - Volume LIV - Number 4)




As I walked the narrow, cobbled streets of Provence's Vaison la Romaine, I came upon this sign: "Chambres d'hotes... Bed and breakfast ... Gastezimmer". Draped with ivy and illuminated by a small light, it seemed to entreat, "Please stay here". I did not, that night, answer the call. But the image of the place stayed with me. And so, months later, an onother visit to the region, I sought out this inviting bed-and-breakfast called L'évêché.
In many travels to France I had slept in a tent, on a barge, in five-star hotels, and in everything in between but had never thought to stay in a chambre d'hotes  - perhaps with good reason. Only in recent years has a new generation of superior French B&B's opened (...)
These guest rooms had a reputation for being a repository for unwanted furniture and were not always the height of French elegance and comfort. Now people all over France, a number of them big-city dropouts, are embracing the idea of operating an exemplary B&B. Perhaps another reason for this relatively new phenomenon is that, as L'Eveche's owner, Jean-Loup Verdier, suggested, "the French are becoming less xenophobic"(...)

We stood at the door to L'évêché one spring afternoon with our suitcases and high hopes. I had by then allayed my worst B&B fears : greasy breakfast, skimpy towels, and hosts indifferent or, worse, too chatty. I had decided not to worry about breakfast, for I have seldom been disapointed in cafe au lait and French bread with jam and butter. Over the telephone I had confirmed that the rooms came with private baths and had also discovered that Monsieur Verdier was friendly but not too friendly. On the threshold, I reminded myself that my most memorable travel experiences, from Idaho to India, had taken place at residents' homes. Enough talking to hotel clerks and shopkeepers-it was time to encounter a local. I rang the bell.

Monsieur Verdier, who instanly became Jean-Loup, let us into the reception area, a small sitting room with a sofa, a few chairs and a mantel lined with regional guidebooks. He wore informal clothes, sneakers that squeakerd on the tile floor, and the air of a man who had the day off, as indeed he did, from his primary metier as an architect/builder. He speaks some english , but this hardly seemed necessary, as his expressive hands communicated salient points. He led us up a steep, narrow staircase to the "yellow room", named for the bright provencal bedspreads. Before leaving us he asked the B&B owner's most important question : What time did we want the breakfast ?
Inside the room the terra-cotta floor, whitewashed beamed ceilling, and pink geraniums along the windows assured us of a choice well made. The room, though small-as was the bathroom-was clean and fresh, and the closet held extra blankets and good pillows. Our window opened onto a street so narrow I felt I might be able to reach out and touch the genoise, or scallop-tiled eaves, of the house on the other side.

Before dinner we rambled through Vaison's medieval section - residential except for one hotel and a few galleries, shops, and restaurants and walked up to the ruins of the chateau, where we had a view of Mont Ventoux to the south and Baronnies Mountains to the north. Vaison la romaine has a population just large enough (about six thousand) to support about a dozen cafes, and its history is so complex and fascinating it could take years of study just to cover the roman era. Vaison is like several cities in one: The medieval or "old" town - itself built on top of the southern capital of the Vocontii, a Celtic people who lived here in the fourth century B.C. - is perched above the left bank of the Ouveze River, while the modern section, on the right bank, coexists with the ruins of the Roman town, still in excavation.

We headed down the hill and then over the river, via the two-thousand-years-old Roman bridge, to the "new" town and "Le Bateleur"-the Verdier's favorite restaurant. We had learned one of the most significant advantages of staying in a Chambre d'Hotes : insider information. In this eight-table, lace-curtained establishement, we dined on excellent fish pate and rich pintadeau (young guinea fowl) braised with cepes cooked by Monsieur Montagné and served by his wife.
Another night we made a restaurant discovery of our own in Nyons, fifteen minutes north. The young chef at "Resto des Arts", who spent ten years in California, offers a Cal-French menu, its fresh flavors a departure from standard Provençal fare. Returning to L'Evêché after evenings out, we let ourselves in and tiptoed up the stairs, which seemed the polite thing to do in what felt like the house of a friend.

Breakfast on the terrace came with a view of the mountains as well as the International Herald Tribune and homemade blueberry preserves, delivered by Aude Verdier - whose medieval name comes from the Chanson de Roland. Between trips to the kitchen to serve the coffee, fruit and croissants, she told us a little of her life. Married more than twenty years, Aude and Jean-Loup bought this rambling eight-bedroom house - un "évêché" (a bishop's residence) of the fifteenth century - in virtual ruins in 1979 and have been renovating it ever since, an obvious challenge even for a man of Jean-Loup's skill. They opened their home to the public a few years ago when the eldest of their three sons flew the nest.

Both Aude and Jean-loup joined the consultation on one morning's itinary: the Tuesday market in Vaison la romaine, followed by a visit to the town's Romans ruins (where it is easy to picture Romans in togas living amid the blocks of villas, boutiques, and baths).

We bought topographical map Number 3140, printed by the Institut Géographique National, for an afternoon hike. We followed a trail of poppies and irises along the golden dirt roads between the nearby villages of Saint-Romain-en-Viennois, Faucon and Puymeras, the last two recognizable at a distance by their distinctive bell towers, a regional trademark.

One day we found the world's best picnic spot in the grassy ruins of the chateau in Piegon, a town seen by few visitors because it is on a small road to nowhere just north of Vaison off the D 938. High up, past the village's one-room schoolhouse, past the church, past the bell tower, at the site of the remains of the castle, is the unexpected panoramic view of Mont Ventoux and the Ouveze River valley. The small culinary trove we had collected in the area was all we needed : olives, tomatoes, strawberries, goat cheese, basil, bread, a beautiful bottle of olive oil with its red wax seal from Les Vieux Moulins near the romanesque bridge in Nyons, and wine from the nearby Cotes du Rhone. Vaison proved to be a perfect jumping-off spot for exploring this wine-growing region : Seguret, Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas, Rasteau and Cairanne, all on hills within a vibrant green sea of vines at the base of the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range (...)
Time and again, French bed-and-breakfast owners said to me , "Once you stay in a chambre d'hotes, you will never choose a hotel again". "Never" might be too strong a word because sometimes only an elegant hotel will do. But on returning to Paris for our flight home, I knew I had become a convert when, presented with the choice of hotel or Chambre d'Hotes . I opted for the latter without a moment's hesitation.












Photography : Julian Nieman