Camargue : La Guardienne
I know where I want to get married now. I’m not even sure if I want to get married, but now I know where I will when/if I do. There is a little nature reserve in the South Of France and unless you’re one of the many in-the-know French families who rent un gîte (summer home) there, chances are you’ve never heard of La Camargue. On paper it sounds like children’s book where some petit enfant's favorite things were thrown together into one fanciful make-believe land: Beautiful stout spotted horses the color of beurre-blanc, wide marshes of green dotted with Chanel-chic pink flamingos, fragrant fields of wildflowers and wilder bulls passing lazy afternoons in their company, crushing their stems, releasing a beautiful perfume into the clean warm air with their hoofed-feet and earthy, tan French cowboys called Les Guardians, with thick countryside accents and a rich history.
Tucked into this little world is a family-owned ranch turned-retreat – Le Mas De Peint – where beautiful rustic stone buildings, with creeping vines of roses, now hold parties for lovebirds instead of four thousand sheep. The famous Guardian whose life’s work was building this place is being honored by his son, who has modernized it as a gorgeous 21st century escape.
When we arrived in the gravel-stone drive, we walked directly into an interwoven natural canopy of green, twisting into lace-like shapes doming the (5 star) in-house restaurant, Mas De Peint. The meal unfolded like a song… An intro of light fresh home made cheese followed by – what I’m told was a wonderful – farm-raised beef for Vivienne and our guides. The well-appointed waiter looked at me before serving this course and said, “Vegetarienne?” “Oui” I replied. (The French have no word for a fish-loving pescitarian like me, but as we were on a farm, a half-hour from Arles, I figured seafood wasn’t on the menu anyway.) “I have just the thing!” He said with a sense what I thought I recognized as a flourish of pride in his eyes. I thought silently, maybe they don’t receive many “veggitariennes” here and have something special lying in wait. I was right. The dish he placed in front of me was a colorful impressionist painting on a plate. A bold stroke of carrot purré, splashes of herbed local olive oil, finished with slices of perfect asparagus, giant green fava beans, with purple and white aubergines. I think it was the most beautiful bit of food I’ve ever seen and by far the most healthful and delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. Of course, it was followed by a perfect tuille-topped mousse-au-chocolat spun into a rose shape in a martini-glass-like-cup.
Then, after a quick tour of the gorgeous grounds, I was helped by rough French-Cowboy-hands into into a luxurious high-backed leather saddle. I mounted my own white horse and rode myself off into the sunset. Who needs the groom? La Camargue whisked me off my feet.