Maison Basse. Image courtesy of Emme Raus.
If you’re a SCAD student looking for quiet contemplation and a peaceful environment to dive into your artwork, Lacoste is definitely you’re slice of paradise. An eight-week excursion in the French countryside, Lacoste is one of SCAD’s two study abroad programs that parallels nicely against the urban hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. Every day Lacoste students get to immerse themselves in the pastoral landscape, sweeping orchards and French village culture all while taking classes and going on extended field trips around Provence. I’ve only been in Lacoste for a week, but I’ve already picked up on some less-talked-about treats that make day-to-day living all the more magnificent. To all the SCAD students still on the fence about making the leap to France, these hidden treasures will definitely shed some light on the perks of living in ‘le Midi’.
1. Trips to Apt
Since Lacoste is a petite village with one convenience store – with unreliable hours, I might add – getting basic living supplies can be tough. That’s why every Saturday morning a SCAD bus departs for the nearest town, Apt, where students and staff can run errands and mosey around the biggest market in Luberon. This is a great time to interact with locals, buy souvenirs and check out locally-made goods and cuisine. This includes clothes, jewelry, farm-fresh produce, cheese, plants, shoes, soaps, hand-stitched bags, and an assortment of goods made from regional favorites: lavender, olives and grapes.
2. Trips to Bonnieux
Also nestled in the Luberon Mountains, Bonnieux is the closest village to Lacoste (and also the closest ATM and English-speaking doctor). With more amenities than Lacoste, like restaurants and shops, Bonnieux is a worthwhile visit that SCAD students can easily trek to along a designated trail in the Lacoste lower valley. Walking time is 45 minutes whereas renting a SCAD bike for 10 euros that lasts the whole quarter cuts that time in half. Even though Bonnieux and Lacoste get along fine now, these rural neighbors weren’t always so friendly; during the religious wars in the 16th Century, Catholic Bonnieux and Protestant Lacoste residents constantly battled it out. There’s even an old wall near the lower village dorm of Maison Basse that still stands after being desecrated by a Bonnieux cannonball!
3. Marquis de Sade Castle and the Quarry
Lacoste is most known for its most notorious resident: the treacherous revolutionary Marquis de Sade. The ruins of his castle, Chateau de Lacoste, and its extended quarry still overlook the upper village; and let me say, in the right light it’s still pretty menacing. If you’re not familiar with who Marquis de Sade was, I’ll give you a quick hint: the term ‘sadism’ comes from his last name. The castle is open for tour sparely throughout the year and its quite fun roaming around the quarry. Every summer the castle’s current owner, fashion designer Pierre Cardin, hosts plays and musicals in the ruins as part of a local arts festival.
4. Maison Basse
The most recent addition to the SCAD Lacoste campus, Maison Basse is located in the Luberon valley and opened as a dorm and workspace in 2012, ten years after SCAD Lacoste was founded. This gem isn’t quite as under the radar as some other items on this list, but it still needs to be noted as a beautifully restored space with a rich history. On our first day, Fall 2016 Maison Basse dwellers, including yours truly, learned on a tour of the house that it also served many other purposes including a barn and Marquis de Sade’s private whorehouse … at the same time! One of the SCAD Lacoste caretakers, Cody Rosenbarker, even lives in a small villa that used to be the pig house. But jokes aside, Maison Basse is gorgeous and offers residents a kitchen, an attached dining hall, a studio classroom, and several stylish lounge areas – not to mention WIFI and a pool!
5. More ‘Lax Studio Classes
If you’ve been pushing off that pesky studio elective, Lacoste is the time to get that sucker done. Lacoste professors are usually new to SCAD and because the eight-week quarter goes by so fast, projects are more subject to change and the primary goal for students is to let Provence inspire their work, not to be up all night putting the finishing touches on a painstakingly intricate still life.
6. Art History Friday Field Trips
I’d also suggest to those students who don’t relish art history lectures to save room for either Treasures of Provence or Architecture of Provence. Both classes only meet once a week in the classroom and again on Friday’s for frequent field trips to spectacular cities around Provence. There are NO TESTS in these classes, and students are expected to keep a journal to sketch and write about various field trips as well as write a few papers and put together some presentations. This fall, Lacoste art history students get to visit: Nimes, Pont du Gard, Glanum, St. Remy, Arles, Paris, Buoux, Avignon, Marseille and Rousillon. If all you got out of that was Paris, trust me, the other places are mind-blowing, too.
7. Weekly French Classes
Rosetta Stone and Duolingo are great to practice on your own, but nothing compares to speaking French aloud with other people. SCAD Lacoste knows this and offers weekly French classes that are optional for students to take. It’s a great opportunity to brush up on those three years of French you took in high school and never used again. Plus it’s always good to know how to ask a local where the bathroom is.
8. Free Freshly-grown Fruit
This is my personal favorite; who doesn’t love being able to mosey on over to some grape vines and grabbing some breakfast to go? In the lower valley of Lacoste, SCAD owns a mix of freshly-grown fruit vegetation that students are welcome to eat from when it’s in season – as long as you are careful to wash the fruit first! Depending on the time of year, you can find pomegranates, pears, apples and cherries blossoming outside Maison Basse. At the moment, I’ve been enjoying picking bushels of green and purple grapes for a tasty dorm snack.
9. Lacoste Market Day
Even though Lacoste is a teeny village, its citizens still manage to celebrate their community with occasional Lacoste market days. This past Tuesday, the Lacoste Market featured a selection of clothing and cheese and even a French pizza station. Market days are another great opportunity to get to know Lacoste residents and sample local cuisine.
10. Students Sell Their Work at Open Studio
At the end of every quarter, SCAD Lacoste features an Open Studio where all students can sell the artwork they made while studying abroad. The work can range from paintings, drawings, printmaking projects, fashion projects, jewelry and more and the studio is open to the public. The best part though is if someone buys your artwork, you get to keep 100 percent of the profit! It’s a great way to earn back the money you spent in Paris before returning home.
If you loved this article, check out more articles by Emme Raus, and stay tuned for more reporting on her study abroad life!