Chez Gianni, Ferme-Auberge Le Castelas

Le Castelas

GO:: Granted, reaching today’s featured restaurant requires a little more effort than the usual metro ride. This ferme-auberge*, owned and operated by Gianni from Sardinia, is located atop the Luberon mountain range and can be reached after a breathtaking — both literally and metaphorically — two-hour walk up curvy dust paths. Nothing superhuman though, and this guarantees rosy cheeks when you reach the top, not to mention a lion’s appetite and a euphoric feeling of entitlement and pride. (Cheaters and those who don’t feel up to the exploit can get there by car — much less picturesque of course.)

In one of the farm’s stone buildings is the restaurant room, an impressively large affair with low ceilings and two huge communal tables going all the way across. Other guests are already crowding it, little children running around among the staff (some local, some Sardinian) while they work to set things up for the feast to come.

DRINK:: Pitchers of homemade sangria (a red wine and fruit cocktail) are set out before the meal. You can take your glass to the wooden tables outside and enjoy the view, or take the kids out to look at the brown goats grazing on the little hill in the back. During the meal, a seemingly endless procession of jugs will follow, plenty of red wine and moutain spring water to quench your thirst.

EAT:: The fixed menu is different every day, and the food is passed around in platters among the guests, family-style. For starters we enjoyed a lentil salad, a delicious game terrine and slices of homemade boudin noir (blood sausage), served with fresh country bread.

The main dish followed: racks of lamb à la broche (fire-roasted) brought into the room in clouds of steam and smoke, to be expertly cut and sliced by Gianni and his team. This was served with a dish of stewed potatoes and turnips — a great complement to the flavorful meat, which was rosy and tender in places, wonderfully crispy and smoky in others.

The cheese course followed: a plentiful selection of goat cheese, courtesy of the aforementioned four-legged brunettes, served with farm-produced lavender honey in tiny wooden tumblers with matching spoons. The selection demonstrated, counter-clockwise, all the possible stages of ripeness. From fresh and creamy, to ripe and melty and developping a surprising walnut flavor, down to so aged and dry they were reduced to the size of coins, making your eyes water, the inside of your mouth pucker up in protest, and your mind go “wow!” — certainly not pleasing to everyone’s standards, but I’ll take this over forgettable cheese any day.

Then came dessert — why yes, did you think we’d skip dessert? after all that walking? — in the form of square pieces of chocolate cake, one of the best I’ve recently been given to enjoy: dark and moist, not too dense, heavily chocolaty and not too sweet, with a soft velvety glazing.

PAY:: 30€, all included.

REMEMBER:: The warm and welcoming service. The hearty, satisfying food. The boisterous, joyful, carefree atmosphere. The acute feeling of there being nowhere else in the world I’d rather be, sharing this memorable Easter Sunday lunch with the twenty members of my family I spent the week-end with. And of course, Gianni’s incredible guimbarde (Jew’s harp in English) concerto at the end of the meal.

FORGET:: I would be hard-pressed to find anything lacking in this experience. Maybe the fact that ten of us decided to go back to the house on foot, guided by my cousin, while the kids and those who were too tired took the cars: we promptly chose the wrong path and got irretrievably lost in the middle of the steep foresty mountainside, battling our way through the underbrush, crouching beneath the low branches and sliding on loose rocks, forever thinking we had recovered a general sense of our position (“Là! Un chemin!”) and forever realizing that no, this was in fact not an actual path, just a vague clearing.

But even that may have been the best part of the day: we were all in an excellent mood and reasonably good shape, it was still broad daylight and we had cellphones anyway, should we decide to break down, abandon all pride and call for help. And such a re-enactment of The Blair Witch Project is exactly the kind of fun this Parisian girl hopes for in a week-end getaway to the countryside — minus the witch of course.

* A ferme-auberge (“farm-inn”) is a farm that also functions as a — usually un-fancy — hotel and restaurant, serving mostly products that they grow or produce on the farm.

84400 Sivergues
+33 (0)4 90 74 30 81

  • Alisa

    oh my wow this is so beautiful
    the writing, the photos, the experience
    thank you for taking me along

  • Yum, yum. This sounds fantastic and lots of fun. Were all the people you ate with your family, or did you get to meet new people too?

  • Oh wow, that sounds wonderful. I love it when you write about places you go to, you seem to head for all the nicest places.

  • Oh! You are killing me!!! What a sensational post. I lived in Sardinia in 1972 and have nothing but the greatest memories. How deprived we are in the US of locales that feed not only our appetite for food, but also our soul’s desire for discovery, history and culture!! Enjoy what you have. I look forward to checking back often.

  • Wendy Hutton

    How do you get to this marvellous Ferme-Auberge? Where’s the nearest town/village. I hope to visit this September. And is there any accommodation?

  • ddj

    This is fantastic! Just reading about the journey up into the mountains has ignited my appetite for the roasted lamb.

  • Fantastic; my mouth gets damp and hungry as I read this. Thanks for the recounting!

  • June

    Thanks for writing about Le Castelas. We’ll be in Saignon for a week this September. I think that’s in the same neighborhood? I’m also looking forward to visiting Auberge de la Loube, too. What a Sunday lunch they do!!

  • mimi

    I just came across this . We stayed there a few years ago and had a marvelous time

  • Sam Fort

    I was 11 when my grandparents took me and my family to that resturent.
    A goat came into the dinning room and jumped on the table. It was hilarious, it offered entertanment as well as a story to retell. It also broke a plate:) We had jambon-sec as a starter. Goat as a main. The wine and fruit cocktail sangria. (they always have that) The dessert was the cheese (goat and everything else) followed by thyme tea. At the end the owner played the “guimbarde”. (Gam-Bard) Ok…Ok I don’t know what it is either. It was beautiful, at the end my brother and I ended up tap-dancing on the tables outside. It is a really great place for kids!!!!!!!!

  • Tim

    Can you recommend any ferme-auberge in Bourgogne or Provence? My wife and I are looking for places like this to stay and/or dine at while we are passing through.

    Or, do you know of any listing or website that has information on ferme-auberges?


  • mimi (marysnn) taylor

    Les Castalas is in Provence near Saignon,

  • lauren

    On a little day trip from Aix-en-Provence my family found ourselves within a short distance of this place. I’d seen this blog post, written down the contact info and prayed that we might actually find our way to what sounded like wonderful place. It being close to lunch time, we gave them a call and soon enough we were pulling up to this amazing place. We had our 2 year old son with us and our promises of a farm and lunch at the end of a long drive were the only thing keeping us from a complete meltdown. He stepped out of the car ran to the farm and cried “Piggies!” sure enough the company for lunch included some very nice pigs, an overly friendly little goat and a cat or two. For us adults, the setting and the food could not have been better. We ate at long farm tables set outside on a beautiful September day. The only question we were asked when we arrived was red wine or white and after that we were left to speculate as to what our lunch would be. Our wine was from a local vineyard (we passed it on the way back to Aix) and lunch was a platter of goat cheeses with herbs and honey, bread, an enormous salad with a perfectly garlicky vinaigrette, bread toasted with an herbs and goat cheese, fruit and fudgy, chocolate cake. It was a remarkable place. Thanks so much for the introduction!

  • Rachel

    I am sorry but I was not happy when, inviting some English friends for lunch time at “le castelas” we had a salad and cheese goat with a carafe of wine: no more…….really nothing special, except the goats on our table when we were eating ….and the bill was 120 €uros !!! we were 3 people !!!!!!! very expensive for some salad leaves :I think we have been stolen . september 2007

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