Correns: Garden of Eden

As France’s premier organic village, Correns is dedicated to sustainable development. Sylvie Wheatley discovers what makes this historic village in the heart of the Var so special Photographs by Jos� Nicolas

Correns in the d�partement of Var is no ordinary village. Even among the most beautiful and renowned villages of France, it has a special place. The natural harmony of this village, which is home to 800 people, seems to belong more to a fable than to the real world, and yet Correns is very real indeed. Under the leadership of its Maire, Micha�l Latz, it has become the Premier Village Bio de France. This means that all of Correns’ wine growers and makers have opted for strict organic methods and most other businesses are taking as environmentally friendly an approach as possible, whether they are growing vegetables, making honey, playing music or looking after a herd of goats.

Correns is a traditional village too. Its history dates from the Middle Ages and the tranquillity is typical of inland Provence. But it also knows how to catch the wind of a trend – namely organic farming and growing concerns over the Earth’s limited resources – in order to invent a new identity for itself. Correns has also managed to remain home to many local families while welcoming foreigners into its green bosom.

Maire Micha�l Latz, now in his late 50s, arrived in Correns at the age of ten. His parents were German, he was born in Burundi but this little French village on the right bank of the River Argens has become home. His vision for the village is influenced by his personal commitment to sustainable development. “This better future starts with the young generation,” he explains. “Children here learn about their interdependance with their environment. Our primary school’s canteen serves them organic food.”

It is remarkable how he was able to persuade all the local wine trade to convert to organic methods. Their challenge was to create a unique market niche for their white wine within an appellation that is mostly known for its ros�s. Today, they cultivate 95 per cent of Correns’ farming land organically. When showing visitors around they proudly take a handful of vineyard soil in their hands and demonstrate how worms and ants are naturally present, and how poppies and wild asparagus grow alongside the vines. “Organic wine growing requires very careful attention,” Bruno Guibergia, a local vigneron explains. “When you can’t use any chemicals and have to weed by hand, you must be very vigilant.” He and his brother Jean-Pierre took over the ancestral land and now make their own wine under the label La Grande Palli�re. They also grow olives, cereals and cherries.

Village vision Christophe Theunynck left his native Normandy for Provence in 1983. After training as a landscape designer, he taught for a number of years while nurturing the dream of growing vegetables for a living. Moving to Correns in 1991 turned the dream into reality. Today he lovingly grows tomatoes, melons and salads, and sells them every Saturday morning at the Brignoles market, 15 kilometres away. “I am very conscious of my own impact on the planet’s resources,” he says, “so I grow my food using organic methods and I try to live simply. I built my house according to similar principles. It stands at the end of a beautiful little lane, and I live there with my family. Who needs anything else?”

A fairly recent but key addition to village life is Philippe Cambon. He joined the Correns bio adventure in 2007 to become the chevrier. His herd of Rove goats are used to control the growth of the wild woodland areas that are always at risk of forest fires in the summer. Watched by Philippe’s dog, Anouk, the herd spend several hours a day on the hills, munching their way through the shrubs and hopefully staying away from the villagers’ rose bushes. In keeping with the rest of the village, the goat’s cheese that Philippe produces is organic.

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Correns, together with neighbouring commune Ch�teauvert, employs Brice Pichot as its garde-champ�tre. It is the job of this committed nature-lover to make sure everyone respects the rules governing the use of the local countryside. Since 2003, he’s been particularly concerned with the Vallon Sourn, a protected area of wildlife interest that is also used for climbing, swimming and picnicking. “My role is to teach both locals and tourists how to respect the natural beauty of our countryside, but I also have power to punish those who break the rules,” he warns.

In the centre of Correns stands an �picerie with a difference. It is run by Marie-Ange Gregori who is a true native and can remember a time when organic farming was not a new trend, but the only known way to grow anything. In her shop she stocks numerous organic products including local brands, but she also offers her services to the locals who can’t drive or don’t have a telephone, acting as an intermediary between them and the nearest GP who lives 12 kilometres away. “The idea is to create a welcoming atmosphere for people to share life together,” she says warmly.

Jean-Claude Sadion, President of Correns’ Office de Tourisme, was born in Correns and after a career working for La Poste, came back to the family home in the village. “It is the perfect place to retire,” he says in his typical Proven�al accent, “far away from urban noise yet not that far if you need to drive to a large town.” He is also the vice-president of La Provence Verte, an association including 37 local communes, promoting a concerted environmentally friendly quality of life. They are currently encouraging people to eat local produce in season. “Who wants to eat a peach that’s travelled all the way from Argentina?” he asks, “I’d rather wait until ours are ripe”.

When visiting Correns you might come across Miqu�u Montanaro. Although Correns has been his base for more than 20 years, he has travelled all over the world and been influenced by many genres. Now, with the help of the village and the municipal team, he welcomes world musicians into Correns, offering his audience a taste of the rest of the world.

So, is Correns a little piece of the Garden of Eden? You will have to decide for yourself, but it seems that with vision and commitment its locals have successfully recaptured the art of living in harmony with their environment.