One of my favorite things about France is that everywhere appears so steeped in history that continues to feel living. Here is a cafe Victor Hugo frequented every Sunday. There is the tree under which Paul Cézanne sat while painting his landscapes. And over there is the house in which Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec grew up. These places, this history, are touchable, tastable, enjoyable. At the restaurant, the same traditional dishes are served, and the menu has not changed, nor have the recipes. Order a boeuf bourguignon and a glass of wine and sit a while. The chestnuts that lay scattered on the ground around Cézanne’s easel came from the same tree in whose shade you should spread out a picnic blanket and read a good book, perhaps with a piece of baguette and some cheese.
Le parc du domaine de Méric is such a place. Here, next to the Lez river and amidst the fields of wild flowers and apple orchards Frédéric Bazille was born. Meandering down the paths through the overflowing fruit trees you wonder whether, as a young boy, he ever reached up and plucked the heavy pomegranates. Sitting next to the river you can hear his laughter as he jumps in and swims with his cousins. It’s echoed in the giggles of a toddler jumping along the shallow shore with his puppy. At the farmhouse you can imagine the al fresco meals that were hosted for Bazille’s artist friends when they visited the south of France – Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet.
Following the river through the property, which is now a large public park, you may eventually come to quiet, tree-lined paths that wind behind the zoo where trails and waterfalls can be found. Here are lovers and park guards, their muddy boots kicked off as they sit, enjoying a cigarette and laughing. In this calm place there is the sense that perhaps Bazille came here as well to sit amongst the tree roots, dangle his feet in the water, and think about life’s questions.