Crisp alpine air, crystal blue streams, steep valley views and traditional valdostana cuisine. These are just some of the elements that put the joy of living in a weekend visit to the northwestern region of Valle d’Aosta. I had absolutely no idea that lavender is cultivated in this area, but driving south towards Fort Bard (SS26), we were taken by complete surprise when our eyes glimpsed this field in bloom. It led me to discover a stunningly beautiful photo on Flickr, the likes of which I thought existed only in Provence, France. Trust me and have a look at Forte di Bard; I promise you’ll see the imposing fortress in a different light.
Moth is an aficionado of roses, so when I learned that the Abbaye de Valsaintes cultivated several HUNDRED varieties to admire and perhaps even purchase, I didn’t even bother asking if he wanted to have a look. Situated just southeast of Simiane-la-Rotonde on the D18, it’s about another 2.5 km inland on a narrow access road. Dogs allowed (on leash) and the price for the entrance fee is only 6.50€ for adults.
Most likely due to its warmer and drier climate (the abbey sits in a natural “bowl”), this was the only place where we saw lavender in bloom. Ok just patches of it, but finally, lavande! On the other hand, many of the rose blossoms seemed to have succumbed to the heat, so it wasn’t as lush and vibrant as we had expected. A good thing we could retreat into the cool interior of the church, where a collection of present-day stained glass windows added a touch of color to the walls. Upon admission at the garden entrance, you receive a pamphlet that tells a bit more about Valsaintes history, like the fact that monks once called this place home until the French Revolution in 1789!
Leaving Valsaintes smelling like roses (quite literally!), we headed out to find a picnic spot. Nailed all the essentials: wine, cheese, a baguette, sweets and something that I had never tried before – brindille, a very long and thin dried sausage from Melchio’s charcuterie in Banon. We always plan ahead, from the folding picnic table and chairs to the cheese knife, but everyone knows that the french are the true picnic pros, n’est-ce pas?
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
~ Virginia Woolf
Made from unpasteurized goat’s milk and wrapped in chestnut leaves, banon is pungent and deliciously creamy. It is one of our favorite french cheeses, and come to think of it, we really should’ve bought more than just seven.
Spontaneous outdoor meals isn’t an activity that italians have learned to fully embrace (yet) without a religious or national holiday attached to it, so an impromptu picnic is like icing on the cake whenever we vacation in France. The country was made for picnics, and I am just sorry that we weren’t able to do more than a paltry two. Every day felt like a hundred degrees in the shade, and it dictated what we wanted to eat even if that didn’t matter much as the simplest foods are perfectly suited for dining en plein air. A baguette, cheese, salad, fresh fruit, plus a bottle of wine and we’re happy to set up camp wherever there’s a spot to park the car. We’ve even seen people stopped on the side of the road having a picnic breakfast! Maybe for next time?