by Betsy Herbert
After a stressful day of driving rental car from Aix-en-Provence 90 km north to the village of Forcalquier, my 5-day respite at La Campagne Berne was to be a great compensation.
Surrounded by gardens, La Campagne Berne is an old Provencal farmhouse that has been converted to a bed and breakfast for 10-12 guests. Located in Montagne de Lure within the Luberon Regional Nature Park, it has panoramic views of the Southern Alps, the small village of Lurs and Lure Mountain.
Eric and Bruno, the owner/managers of La Campagne Berne have the relaxation business down to a tee, and they do it with genuine hospitality. Bruno is the chef and Eric is the concierge. They have three dogs who keep an eye on everything.
This was my first trip to Provence and I speak only a few phrases of French. But no matter, they made me feel at home the moment I arrived. It sits on top of a hill overlooking rolling green hills and farmland. My room was in the lower floor of a converted barn called the Sheepfold, where I had great views both day and night. Sometimes during the day, hot air balloons drifted over the pastures and fields of bright red poppies. There were red and orange sunsets, and nightingales sang through the starry, starry nights.
The first evening I had dinner with the other guests in the small and charming La Campagne Berne dining room. I was seated with two visiting German artists. Albrecht was a retired military officer, who explained that he had taken up painting some 18 years ago after he took an early retirement and his wife insisted that he find something else to do. Since then, he has traveled to Provence every year, finding scenes in scores of old villages and natural areas to paint with watercolors and pastels. And each year he has visited, he has stayed at La Campagne Berne. For the past five years, he has been accompanied by an aspiring student of his, Jan, whose day job is a dentist.
That evening, they had brought the day’s paintings to the dining room for the guests to view. That’s when Eric told us that, over the years, Albrecht had painted the murals on the walls of La Campagne Berne’s guest rooms.
During our dinner conversation, I mentioned to Albrecht and Jan that I had recently completed two drawing classes at Cabrillo College near my home in Santa Cruz, and that I had brought a sketch pad with me with the intention of drawing scenes from my trip around around the world. So far, I said, I had not managed to draw much.
Albrecht and Jan then invited me to accompany them on their next day’s painting session in the old village of Saignon. They also offered to share all of their materials with me, and insisted that I ride with them in Jan’s Audi, which he had driven from Germany.
I enthusiastically accepted their offer and the next day we departed shortly after breakfast. It was sunny and about 75 degrees as we drove through the rolling hills, vineyards and poppy fields of the Luberon Valley to the 12th century town of Saignon.
As we approached the town, we could see the ancient houses and walls built right into the rock at Saignon, which overlooks the valley. According to Wikipedia, the 12th century Romanesque church in Saignon has been a stopping point for religious pilgrims on their way to Rome along the Via Domita as well as others headed for Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
We parked the car at the edge of town and Albrecht led the way to the location of our day’s painting session: The town square surrounded by ancient rock-walled buildings. In the middle of the square a fountain spouted water over the ancient stone floor laced with ferns and moss.
There’s a photo below.
Below is the pastel drawing that I made. Albrecht supplied the paper and pastels, and some excellent, though never over-bearing advice.
Jan was extremely focused in his work and was a true perfectionist. We joked that while Jan drove and talked very fast, he painted at a snail’s pace. But I was also very slow compared to the freehanded Albrecht who effortlessly produced three paintings in the same time it took me to do one.
From left to right are Jan and Albrecht at lunchtime in Saignon and some other scenes of the town:
After a couple of hours we broke for lunch at a small cafe in town. Then, it was back to work.
By the end of the day, we packed up all our supplies and our somewhat finished paintings, trekked back to the car and headed back to La Campagne Berne.
Albrecht and Jan invited me to go along with them the next day, where we would paint in water color. We would go to Lure Mountain which sits at the intersection of the Alps and Provence, to paint in the village of Oppedette, and where we would have a picnic at the spectacular Luberon Regional Geologic Reserve with its deep gorges and limestone caves.
That evening we displayed our paintings at dinner, and I admit I felt proud to be part of that exhibition! That evening Albrecht was kind enough to pack my three drawings for travel in my suitcase.
I want to thank Albrecht and Jan for their wonderful artistic mentoring, and my hosts Bruno and Eric for a most memorable stay at La Campagne Berne.
I would be off in the morning on a three day train journey to Zagreb, Croatia where I would join a two-week Sierra Club International tour of hiking, biking and kayaking.