By Natalie Evans-Freke (original here)
For a year I had been hearing rumours about a New Zealand woman who had ditched drinking flat whites in Devonport and headed to the south of France with hopes of creating a more, well, exciting life. To find out if there was any truth in these rumours, I decided to track her down. And so it was I found myself 40 minutes' drive from Avignon on the slopes of St Maximin - a lazy village of fortified rocks that gazes gently down upon local Cote de Rhone vines.
"Welcome, welcome. Champagne or rosé?" From her cheerful first sentence, Amanda Taylor-Ace, a former Auckland restaurateur, proved herself a wonderful reader of minds and over the next few days would continue to meet our every whim - many we didn't know we had. "Let me show you around, darlings. Bring your glasses."
Taylor-Ace is in love with all things French: food, wine, men, language and a culture that is recognised globally for celebrating woman. [...] "Even as an older woman here, you are treated like a fascinating, interesting person. Gorgeous young Frenchmen like being with older woman. Frenchmen find me a refreshing change compared to the French girls that watch what they eat and drink and perhaps don't enjoy life as much as I do. They have a saying about me that is 'je mange la vie' - I eat life."
There is most certainly nothing invisible about Taylor-Ace - she oozes with passion and a wonderful feminine energy. And it was this passion and energy that saw her, 12 years ago, put her plan into place. She fell in love with and invested in two picturesque 18th-century stone houses in this Provencal hillside town, and transformed them into two self-catering homes. With a total of nine bedrooms between the houses, she hosts a steady flow of guests - mainly from New Zealand and Australia - throughout the year. Appropriately, Taylor-Ace named her business 'Joie de Vivre' - the joy of living - the ethos by which she lives her life.
Joined at the stony seams, the homes are everything you could dream of. The main house - wittily named "Maison de Maitresse" (the house of the mistress, as opposed to the traditionally named "Maison de Maitre") - has at its centre an imposing, yet elegant, staircase. Climbing its way through the building, it passes classic French antiques, charming wall hangings and airy windows, which look out over the pretty, surrounding countryside.
Outside, two terraces overlook a huge inviting pool, quirky ceramics abound, and a long table "if it could speak" would have tales to tell of the many alfresco meals that have been held around it. In the backyard, a fountain is another interesting detail. This, laughs Taylor-Ace, was squeezed into her convertible and driven back from Italy. "That fountain nearly cost a girlfriend a seat in the car, but in the end we all managed to fit."
Taylor-Ace has built her own private boudoir away from guests, in the cellar. It is a wonderful irony that a woman who has been engaged seven times sleeps under a bedspread made of "very old and very expensive" wedding dresses.
There is never a dull moment when you are in Taylor-Ace's company. She will organise walking tours to visit uplifting sunflower fields, old Roman ruins (there is the 2000-year-old Pont-du-Gard aqueduct just five minutes away), escargot farms, vineyards and more.
By the Saturday, as we dawdle through the historic stone arches of the nearby medieval town of Uzes, I am starting to see why such a drastic lifestyle change can end up being so worthwhile.
To find out more, go to joiedevivre-unlimited.com.
To read the article in its original (un edited) version, click here.