It’s been a bad time for celebrities in our area. First of all we heard that Johnny Depp was selling up about 15 miles away. It’s not so much a house but rather an entire hamlet near Plan-de-la Tour: the asking price is around 50 million euros. Then the Beckhams have decided to sell their place at Bargemon about twenty miles away: much cheaper – apparently only €10 million. Last but not least has been the sad but celebrated split between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Their château and organic vineyards 20 miles away in the other direction at Correns are coming up on the market soon. Actually most of these people don’t seem to have spent any real time down here so it’s not as though we will miss queuing for baguettes with them in the boulangerie.
But the news about Brad and Angelina made us realise that we had never actually visited Correns so one Saturday we decided to head over there and take a look around. We discovered yet another charming old-world village, this one without the insidious creeping sprawl of new housing estates. Like many villages in Provence, the oldest part of Correns is built in a circle round a massive 12th-century castle, Fort Gibron, once owned by monks, now a place for hosting traditional music.
Correns is proud to boast that it is the first organic village in France. We passed an organic shop on our way into the village for coffee though we can’t say whether our coffee was organic or not. Rather than just wandering around we thought we’d try the tourism office, who suggested a route for a walk. This led by easy tracks through vineyards and olive groves that looked like they had been in use since well before the Romans declared Provence to be well, a province. One feature was the presence of many old walnut and almond trees which no one seemed to be harvesting; we could have picked up a good number if we’d had time.
Finally, we reached a weir on the River Argens and turned up a small ridge which was signed to an ancient ‘apie’. You won’t find this word in the French dictionaries, but it means a place for keeping bees; we suspect it’s Provençal from the Latin for bee. Presumably the organic farming gives bees and other insects a real boost.
Then it was back to Correns, where after wandering some quiet streets that could have easily been the set of some period drama we decided to try the midday meal at the Auberge de Correns. From the outside this looked unpromising, but it proved to have a charming dining room overlooking a large garden set up for summer eating. Here the food was credibly organic as well as definitely creative and delicious.
Correns displayed a phenomenon that we have noted elsewhere at Bargemon, Plan-de-la-Tour and other places where celebrities are reputed to reside in grand châteaux and elegant villas, berth their yachts or land their helicopters. Nowhere was there any mention of either the fabled Pitt-Jolies or their unfortunate breakup. French towns and villages are only too happy to celebrate locals who became second-rate writers, third-rate generals and even fourth-rate politicians, but they ignore the big names from outside who suddenly fly in and purchase some grand plot. The celebrities themselves probably think that this is because their glory has awed the locals into reverent silence. We have a suspicion that the real reason is simply those with roots in historic communities such as Correns are not easily impressed by those currently illuminated under the spotlight of fame and fortune. The locals – the autochtones – have seen it all before. They know the spotlight will soon move on to someone else. There’s nothing like the backdrop of a vast history to make the most gleaming celebrities of the age seem insignificant and short-lived phenomena. And that’s probably how it should be.