“We met Michele Mattei in our village of Bonnieux in 2008. A retired pediatrician from Marseille, she had inherited two large historic houses in the oldest part of the village from her parents. She and her son (then a university student) had carried on her parents’ work to restore these houses and preserve this important history.
Both houses are built into the ancient walls of this hilltop village. One house– called Maison Forte– extends five or six levels, built into the rock that was once a quarry. In the 6th century early inhabitants fled their homes down near the river when Barbarians invaded. They created primitive dwellings in the rock, now the lowest level of Michele’s house. Later, in the 12th century, the Knights Templar had a post here, watching over the Luberon valley. Soldiers lived in the lower level while the officers had more impressive dwellings above. There was an olive mill, a cistern, a vat for wine storage. The last part of the house was added above in the 17th century. There are at least 25 rooms. This has been a real labor of love by Michele and her son. It’s not open to visitors, though they have created two rental apartments to generate some income for ongoing restoration work.
We made a personal connection with Michele, and she and her son Jean-Camille are dear friends. Since 2009 we’ve brought all our Luberon Experience groups here on a Sunday afternoon to visit the oldest areas of the house with Michele– over 50 groups! She usually drives up from Marseille (more than an hour south) to welcome us. Michele learned English so she could communicate with our groups, and after our tour she invites us into her garden for refreshments and conversation. She is so genuinely interested to meet people from other countries, and everyone is so interested to learn about her. This visit is one of the highlights of our week in the Luberon.
This photo was taken by one of our travelers in 2016 and entered in our photo contest. I love this photo of Michele… the eagerness and joy in her face as she welcomes our group, holding the big bunch of old keys that open the many doors in her vast house.”
We’re a woman-owned company, and all our tours are led by me or by my business partner, an American woman who lives in Provence. We formed our partnership during the pandemic, when the future was unclear. Our tours are mostly based in one place for a full week, and we immerse ourselves in the local culture. Many of the local people we visit and get to know are women: winemakers, artisans, farmers, gardeners, cooks… always inspirational!
What can women travellers do to support other women when they travel?
Support women-owned travel businesses. Encourage and help other women to travel and seek new experiences. Be attentive to women travelers who may need help.
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