A lo­cal’s view

Why one cou­ple left their high-fly­ing city jobs for truf­fle-hunt­ing tours in the Luberon

Living France - - Contents -

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

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