Sticking close to our home base of Saint Rémy at the start of the day, our fourth full day in Provence, we drove down a very, very narrow chemin (French for “path” or “alley”) from our hotel to a nearby olive oil mill, Moulin du Calanquet. Along the way we had to slowly edge past a group of school children walking single-file along the side of the road. We decided that they must be out on a field trip; we soon learned that we were all headed to the same destination.
The olive mill’s setting was, not surprisingly, in the middle of a large olive grove. Some harvesting was underway, with the olives being shaken out of the trees onto nets on the ground. November is when the harvest is usually done in Provence. The mill’s sales shop and extraction machinery are housed in the same building:
Since we were the only shoppers in the shop at that early hour in the off-season, we had a personalized tasting of the multiple varieties of olive oil made here. No bread was used; we tasted the oils dropped onto tiny tasting spoons. We learned that not all oils taste or even feel alike. The oil blended from multiple varieties of olives was smooth and tasted familiar, but the peppery Picholine and the buttery and sweeter Grossane were wonderfully different. We bought a few small cans of oil to bring home in our luggage, but have since placed a much larger on-line order after we quickly exhausted our initial supply. Their olive oil is sooooo much better than what you can usually find in a supermarket back home.
This video shows the mill owner/manager checking out the machines doing the oil extraction. The temperature of the process is carefully monitored; a cool extraction avoids damaging the oil. We learned that the pits of the olives are also crushed as part of the process and that the seed inside contains a natural preservative for the oil. The remains of the crushed olives are used as fertilizer for the olive groves. Note the brand name on the equipment; apparently the Italians lead the way in the manufacturing of olive mill equipment.
Back behind the mill, farmers had been delivering the day’s harvest in these large bins. We’re not sure what variety “TV” is, but “PICH” must be Picholine olives.
Here the manager shows the students the first step of the milling process – feeding the olives into the system that does the initial cleaning:
After our olive mill visit, we decided to brave the traffic and potential Yellow Vest blockades to head for the Luberon region of Provence to visit some of the hill villages. We had a small Yellow Vest delay on the way at one roundabout, but were able to quickly continue on. There are many villages to visit, but we decided to head for Roussillon, previously known for the mining of ochre there that had been used to color textiles. Along the way we drove past Gordes, which almost tempted us into a detour; maybe next time!
Once we arrived, we quickly determined that Roussillon is indeed another hilltop town, as you can probably also tell from these photos (be sure to click to enlarge):
The ochre-colored soil and stone of the area makes it way into practically all the buildings:
Being a hilltop town means more than just steep streets. It also means that there are views in practically every direction:
We finally managed to take some pictures of each other in our cold weather travel gear on this trip that we didn’t hate. Maybe it’s the framing of the arched entrances?
We had hoped to visit more villages that day, such as Menerbes (site of Peter Mayle’s home in his book, A Year in Provence) or Bonnieux. However, the roads in the Luberon are windy and narrow, making for slow driving. We’d also started a bit late and lingered longer than expected in Roussillon, so we intended to head straight back to try and avoid driving on the narrow roads at night.
Well, that did not happen. We encountered some Yellow Vests in Cavaillon:
One roundabout blockade isn’t bad, but there were multiple intersections involved that evening that tied up traffic on highways heading over and along the Durance river. Compounded by a wrong turn that we made, we ended up spending over an hour sitting on an overpass until we were able to eventually eke through the blockades just as the protesters headed home for dinner that night. Thanks to GPS, we made it back to our hotel just fine.
After that, we accepted that our plans to head to Nimes for more Roman ruins (and a brand new museum) or to the Camargue to see flamingos were just too iffy and ambitious, so we decided to stick close to Saint Rémy the next day, our last full day on our own in Provence before beginning our river cruise with Viking.