A local’s view
Why one couple left their high-flying city jobs for truffle-hunting tours in the Luberon
What were you doing before you moved to Vaucluse?
Before moving to France in 2003, our lives were very different. We lived in Chicago, where Johann worked in hedge funds and I worked in marketing/public relations. Our time spent ‘out in nature’ consisted of waiting on the platform for the train, sometimes in sub-zero temperatures.
Why did you decide to take on the farm?
Johann was raised on the Les Pastras farm by his grandparents, so when they told him that the property’s caretaker was retiring and the ageing couple would be left alone to manage the land, he suggested a change. We made the decision almost on a whim.
Tell us about the farm.
As with most big farmhouses in the countryside, Les Pastras was split into two residences. It was already assumed that multiple generations of the family would live there and work the land together, so the housing situation was ideal. In the countryside between Cadenet and Lourmarin, Les Pastras sits on a hill with 11 hectares that are rich with grapes, olives, peaches, plums, apricots, pomegranates, cherries, almonds, and hazelnuts. It was a little piece of paradise.
How did you both adapt to the change in lifestyle?
Johann found a job in finance in Aixen-Provence and I started doing some freelance translating. We easily made the transition to being ‘gentleman farmers’, doing our best on the weekends with our limited knowledge to keep up with what was really a lot of land for two people with no experience. It was easy to get used to the lifestyle change, honestly.
Tell us about the truffle-hunting tours.
Everything changed for us the day our British neighbours asked us if we knew anyone who could verify the rumour that the former owners of their home used to find truffles there. Johann contacted his childhood friend, Jean-Marc, who has two skilled truffle-hunting dogs. They found truffles right away, so Jean-Marc suggested offering their hunting services to the other neighbours. Soon, the team made the rounds of the neighbourhood every weekend, searching for truffles and then splitting the treasure with the landowners, over an apéritif, of course.
Enough people showed an interest in the hunt and said that they’d pay to experience it that we thought we’d try offering it as a tour of the property; a truffle hunt followed by a tasting that included our cousins’ excellent champagne. Lespastras.com went online in December of 2012 and quickly picked up momentum.
What other tours do you offer?
After a while, enough people expressed their enthusiasm for the property and its bounty that we began offering grape stomps and olive harvest activities as well. The vineyard had always sold its grapes to the local co-op and its fruit to organic distributors, but this was the first time the farm itself became an attraction and welcomed tourists. Johann’s grandparents still can’t believe that people come from around the world to pick grapes, stomp them while dancing to Édith Piaf in giant barrels, and learn French drinking songs.
What else can your guests discover?
We also take guests on mushroom-hunting and fishing excursions and we even offer pétanque lessons, complete with a tournament and apéritif at the end. We have activities to offer during every season of the year! We like to think that our guests don’t just go home with photos of monuments and scenery, but with memories of good times and new friends.
Where is your favourite market?
Lourmarin is a fabulous market, but as locals, we find it too crowded in the summertime. Cucuron is smaller, but has even more charm.
A truffle-hunting tour