At La Pitchoune, Julia and Paul Child’s former home in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France, the guest list included such names as James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher. And now, you can add your name, too.
Technically, you’ve been able to stay at La Pitchoune for two decades. The property’s second owner had quietly repurposed The French Chef’s vacation home as a simple cooking school and B&B in the early ’90s. When the property hit the market last year, it was unsurprisingly and quickly nabbed. Now it’s owned by Colorado native Makenna Johnston, who will—along with her immediate family and a small batch of investors—turn La Pitchoune back into a seasonal cooking school called La Peetch next year. As if struck by carpe diem, they’ve also extended the invite to others by opting to list the property on Airbnb.
The Childs’ property had always been shared. After noting she wanted a vacation home in France, Julia’s coauthor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simone Beck, offered a parcel of her Provençal estate on which the Childs built a modest, one-story place, outfitted primarily with Beck’s kitsch furnishings but entirely the Childs’ design.
Fittingly, the main entrance is through the kitchen.
And what a kitchen it was—well, is. You won’t find another like it, except the one from the Childs’ home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, now housed in the Smithsonian. You might stumble into their French kitchen—La Peetch, as they referred to it—after two or three glasses of local rosé and mistake it for a toolshed. To accommodate Julia’s height, the counter is raised as if it were a proper workbench. Hanging from three walls covered in pegboard are more gadgets than you will know what to do with: copper pans, sauté pans, Nordic waffle-pans, large whisks, cage whisks, a balloon whisk. Wobbly outlines that Paul traced around each utensil keep the array in place.
Like an interactive exhibition, the kitchen alone is a splendid reason to visit.
You will snoop further, of course, not for dirty secrets but for relics and remnants of Julia in La Pitchoune’s nooks and crannies. You’ll browse her scattered collection of books, spotting the occasional anachronism, such as a DVD copy of Ratatouille. Curious, you’ll flip through the “Black Book,” a dossier to La Pitchoune that’s full of the Childs’ recommendations for friends to whom they’d lent their home, instructions on basics like how to light the gas heater or more important things, such as which markets to visit (the Childs’ favored Grasse) or which to avoid (“We don’t shop there anymore,” reads a note on Plascassier).
The Yellow Room, which Julia shared with Paul (due to his snoring, she actually slept in the Red Room) includes her packing list: reminders of her essentials, like her passport, alarm clock, eye drops, and stockings—and, of course, a bottle opener.
The experience hasn’t really changed since the Childs vacationed there. While many of the markets the Childs favored are long gone, you should, without a doubt, still go to market. After flying into Nice, meander Marché aux Fleurs, the flower market; on Friday, visit Valbonne to peruse the vendors branching from the town square (pick up a coffee and profiteroles from Salon de thé Jean Jacques Lenoir while you're at it); on Saturday, visit Marché Forville in Cannes, where the hulking market hawks more varieties of produce than you could prepare in a week. Pull fresh basil from the estate, cook in the tall kitchen, and dine on the patio underneath an olive tree planted by Paul himself.
This house is distinctly Julia’s. She was a colorful personality in an era of black-and-white broadcast: a bygone, unfiltered celebrity. You come not to bask in her celebrity—for this is where she came to escape it, after all—but to linger in the warmth of her kitchen and the afterglow of her joie de vivre; to understand her Francophilia, to perhaps develop it yourself. If you do it right, you will live, cook, and enjoy.
© 2016 AFAR Media