36 Hours in Claviers
We spent our last two nights in France in the village of Claviers, at Blandine’s summer house, which has been in her family for many generations. It’s a special place, for which superlatives won’t do. So, our homage to Claviers takes the form of a satire of the snobby yet useful New York Times travel column “36 Hours in…”, which gives weekend itineraries for destinations all around the world, squarely aimed at well-heeled travelers interested in the hip more than the historical. We can’t believe they haven’t written up Claviers yet!
36 hours in Claviers
Neon-filled nights? Yoga with dolphins? There’s none of that in Claviers (pop. 200), an old medieval village perched on a hill in Provence. Claviers is not on the way to anywhere else, and the only way to get there is up a long series of switchbacks on a country road. Its isolation makes it a choice getaway for stars like David Beckham, who is rumored to have a house in its hills. Recently, village life has continued as usual, and you could fill a weekend simply gazing out over the centuries-old olive orchards into the pine-filled hills. However, Claviers’ appeal stretches far beyond those Provençal views.
Leaves and Grass | 4 p.m.
Since the journey here was so long (60 km, or about 1 hour, from Cannes), the first thing to do is simply relax (read: wine). Walk around the garden of your summer villa and admire the olives on the olive trees. They were pruned back after the deep freeze a couple decades ago, and the new growth sparkling in the sunlight might remind you of a van Gogh. If you’re in need of a snack, olive oil made from these very same trees should do, just look in the shed. If it’s rest you need, float around in the pool.
You have a French mom, right? | 7 p.m.
Enjoy a home cooked French meal that miraculously emerges from the tiniest kitchen you’ve ever seen. Surrender your dietary restrictions, tear into the bread, and pass the jambon cru. Drink some more glasses of the rosé that your hosts got in a big metal drum from somewhere nearby.
Starry Night | 10 p.m.
Make some tea, put on your pajamas and hang out in the windowsill as the last rays of the mid-summer sun disappear. Then hop into bed; there’s nothing else to do. Unless the World Cup happens to be on, in which case you can pour a nip of home-made Eau-de-Vie and settle into a chair in the salon.
Sweet Start| 9 a.m.
After you’ve woken up and lingered in bed for a while, walk downstairs to find that your hosts have already returned from the local bakery with pain au chocolate. Tea and pastries are served on the patio.
Street Scene|10 a.m.
Wandering through the narrow lanes of the village center might be Claviers’ simplest pleasure…if all the other pleasures weren’t just as simple. It could be fun to get lost, but no, it’s too small for that. Many buildings date to the 1000s, with picturesque doorways and fountains among the many striking features. The fountains emerge gracefully from the ancient stone walls and the basins sometimes hold tiny gardens. A standout example is the one the black, white and orange cat hangs out in.
Assis à Sylvestre | noon
St. Sylvestre Chapel is Claviers’ most appealing architectural relic. Built in 1026, the last mass was held in 1949; it’s now used as an exhibition space. This is the epicenter of the Claviers contemporary art scene, and there are no current or upcoming showings posted. Sit on the bench under the tree next to the chapel.
World Connection | 3 p.m.
The cafe (one of two in town) on the main square is mostly frequented for its wifi. Getting a seat at a patio table only requires competing with the local cats, which outnumber human patrons. Even if the waitress says the cafe is closed, it’s possible to beg for an espresso to justify sitting and getting an internet fix. This is also the place to catch up on local gossip with the old village woman.
Feet Anchored | 6 p.m.
The town’s nightlife really starts to pick up once the locals gather under the leafy trees across from the church, split off into teams, and settle in for their intensely competitive and dearly loved native sporting tradition: Petanque. You might associate the game with daytime boozing and elderly men, but this quintessential Gallic pastime has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide in recent years. It can be taken quite seriously – recently there was a death threat scandal at the World Championship – but in Claviers, everything is laid-back, so don’t be afraid to join in.
Art & Politics | 9 a.m.
There’s not much more to do here, and spending a morning sleeping in is one of the most popular activities in the region. Your French country house probably has a stack of eclectic old books perfect for a casual read in the morning light. Maybe van Gogh’s letters to his brother or something on French socialism.
French Feast | noon
Sunday lunch is traditionally the finest meal of the week in French homes. Go downstairs to the rustic patio overlooking the small stone-walled shed. The sunlight filtering through the vine canopy overhead and the family atmosphere makes for a sweet intimacy. It’s noon, so you should have a glass of rosé in your hand by now. The gratin is made onsite.
Country Roads | 2:30 p.m.
Provence in the summer is hot. The wine from lunch is wearing off. For a final, unforgettable experience, lie down in the shade next to the pool and have a nap before your departure.
How to get there:
Begin studying French at age 13. Have a high school French teacher who is from France and has connections in France. Be a star student and eagerly learn the language so that your teacher takes notice and arranges for you to spend a semester of school in Paris (winning the National French Exam helps, but is not required). Now you have a French family! Make sure they have a summer house in Provence, and stay in touch and visit them over the years.