The idea of a working holiday might not instantly appeal – but when it’s olive picking at Le Preverger Estate in the Provence – you probably want to think again. The helicopter softly touches down on the chateau’s landscaped gardens high in the hills of Garde Freinet that overlook the millionaire’s playground of the Cote D’Azur. Le Preverger sits proudly amid 150 acres of olive groves, oak & chestnut woods filled with wild mushrooms, and a vineyard. A private haven of calme, luxe, et volupte..
The autumnal sun is setting on the Provence and I make myself at home in front of a roaring log fire with a large glass of Bordeaux in hand and a gourmet plate of Mediterranean delights … Heaven! With a contented smile, I drink in the sophisticated interiors of Nicky Haslam: a mix of old English and old French with the over-the-top flamboyance of over-stuffed sofas, oversized chandeliers and a smattering of tiger print and leather.
A cluster of framed familiar faces smile back at me. Pictures of Princess Diana, Margaret Thatcher and Bridgette Bardot are displayed on the antiqued drawing table. All of these legendary women have graced this chateau with their presence. As I contemplate the extraordinary environment that I find myself in I pop a large juicy green olive into my mouth, instantly reminding me of the task at hand. It’s the Olive picking season in the region of Garde-Freinet and I am here to lovingly collect and press this ancient fruit.
The following morning I take in the scents and views of the wildflower meadows as I head towards the olive grove with neighbours and friends of Le Preverger Estate. It was a jovial crowd and the morning’s olive picking experience was filled with laughter and story-telling. Lunch of warm baguettes, gourmet cheese, cured meats and plenty of crisp Karma Rose wine were served before our educational afternoon tour of the cold press mill.
We watched as the leaves are separated from the fruit by pouring the olives, letting them drop a few feet, while a leaf-blower separates the leaves from the fruit mid-flight. Next, the olives were washed by hand and piled into a funnel over the milling machine. The press whirs into motion and after a minute or two the oil released. Leftover baguette from lunch is handed to us and we taste the green stream of elixir. The flavour is intense, peppery and grassy.
Not only did I have a ‘money-cant-buy’ experience at this magnificent Karma Estate but also I was excited to receive the ultimate souvenir a few months later in the form of 10 litres of Preverger olive oil and a box of crisp Karma Rose wine. With dreams of the Provence a distant memory, the gift was a welcomed compensation for returning to my busy London life.