When you go on vacation to a place like France, everyone you know who has ever been there will weigh in with suggestions about what you should see or do. Much of the advice will be the sort of generic guidebook stuff you can ignore. Not Amanda's.
Amanda, a family friend who spent many childhood summers in France, wrote: "If you are staying near Sivergues, you must have dinner at Ferme-Auberge Le Castelas. It's a little super-old inn with a goat farm. While you eat outside at wooden tables and eat fresh goat cheese, the goats come outside and you can pet them. It's totally ridiculous!"
That last bit—about it being ridiculous enough to warrant an exclamation mark—was an understatement. The rocky, steep climb from Sivergues turned out to involve one of those dirt roads that tests the strength of a marriage. Luckily, by the time this became obvious, my husband was in another car. Even luckier, when a few dozen saucy goats capered up to block the road, my friend Amy announced, "I've seen worse in Haiti," took over the wheel, and revved the engine. Here's what we found after we finally reached the goat farm at the top of the world:
Photographs by Josh Quittner for Gardenista, except where noted.
Above: Somehow we skipped over the part of Amanda's email that mentioned the goat farm also was an inn. Had we booked rooms, my husband and I (designated drivers) could have enjoyed the endless pitchers of sangria that got everyone else so jolly.
Above: The producers of the cheese—one of the endless delicious courses served for €30 a head, at long picnic tables. The meal gets underway as the sun starts to set.
Above: On a map, it looks like an easy half hour drive from Apt to the goat farm at the top of the world. Do not be fooled. It is a scenic, winding, hair-raising trip along a narrow ribbon of road that hugs a mountain range. Everything you have heard about the bravado of French drivers is true.
Above: Settling in for a leisurely, four-hour meal. The goats think they own the place. They're right.
Above: At twilight, servers appeared magically with big platters of food and many, many baguettes, which diners passed family style down the length of picnic tables that each seated a couple of dozen people. Tear off a hunk of bread, pass along the loaf. Image by Esmes Vos, via Flickr.
Above: To say that every building in the Luberon region of France is picturesque would be an understatement on the order of saying, "The view from up here was pretty good."
Above: The cheese course. Image by Voyages 27, via Trip Advisor.
Above: There is something a little disconcerting about watching a pig peacefully sleep in the grass next to your table as you eat...roast pork. Do the pigs not feel even a twinge of foreboding?
Above: When the main course appeared, there was a ritual parade of the roast pork platters. It was very exciting.
Above: Another thing we did not realize until too late was that the goat farm only takes cash. There is no ATM machine at the top of the world. Around midnight, when the meal ended and the bill arrived at the table, in a panic we emptied our pockets, bummed euros off our children, and scrounged in glove compartments for change to pay the tab. Learn from our mistakes: Stay overnight, and take cash. None of this is Amanda's fault, of course. She warned us it would be a ridiculous evening.