The Secret World of Herbs: In Provence (Episode 5)
Its native fragrant flowers and aromatic herbs have made the Provence a brand known worldwide. The wealth of flora found in this region, between the French Alps and the Mediterranean, is unequalled among the French provinces.
Around Sault, near Mont Ventoux, the valleys and high plains are carpeted with bright violet: In the hot climate of the South of France, lavender blooms and exudes its fragrance. Monastic healers have been using its aromatic medicinal oil since the Middle Ages. And today an entire industry is based on the trade with this fragrant flower.
Yet the livelihood of Provençal lavender farmers is emperiled. In France’s major lavender-growing region, the “Plateau de Valensole”, our viewers encounter Gérard Blanc, who has been hit particularly hard. The lavender farmer lost sixty percent of his harvest to one tiny insect: the leafhopper. This insect has already destroyed half of the lavender acreage, bumping France from its market position as the world’s top producer of lavender oil. The film visits a resolute farmer who, not about to give up, is testing methods to fend off the voracious insect.
Even the huge perfume industry owes its success to the climate – their fragrant ingredients grow right next door. Parfumer Delphine Thierry escorts us out into the pungent hills around Nizza. The film shows her creating an exquisite perfume, capturing the characteristic aroma of the Cote d’Azur.
In a garden in Luberon, the camera encounters another inventive Provençal: Catherine Pisani has turned her passion for herb collecting into a business model and currently raises a total of 60 varieties of basil. Then things get exotic, as we visit a restaurant kitchen in Aix-en-Provence. Here, molecular cuisine chef Pierre Reboul transforms earthy kitchen herbs into a colorful haute cuisine product; seasoning his anise creation, for example, with oregano.
Each summer, the pungent herbs on the mountain pasture lure thousands of sheep up into the Alps. With breathtaking aerial photography, the film accompanies the transhumance, the annual sheep drive up into the mountains, recording a century-old tradition. The sheep migrate, following the plants’ stages of growth. On the alpine meadows around Sisteron, the viewer is introduced to the protein and mineral-rich herbs that lend the sheep’s meat its especially delicious flavor.
From the Alps comes also great hope for the Provence: Above 1000 meters, is where we find wild lavender, specifically: the variety known as true lavender. The camera accompanies local farmer Claire Chastan to the steep mountain slopes where she harvests the fragrant bunches of herbs, laboriously, by hand. The young farmer knows what her customers associate with this plant thriving in the wild: “It’s a way back to nature. They’re buying a small dream.”
Directed by Ilka Franzmann, the film presents the Provençal herbs in majestic super-slow-motion images. Brilliant HD aerial footage explores the varied landscape, with its gentle hills and wide plains, rugged mountain ranges and dense forests, vineyards and olive orchards.
A film by Ilka Franzmann
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