Meet Our Guides: Olivier Girault

Time at DuVine: 4 years
Hometown: 
Champagne, France
Ride With Olivier:
 France
Bike: Crossing the Southern Alps—especially the 500 km between Grenoble and Sisteron
Eat: Oysters paired with a glass of Picpoul at the market in Uzès, France
Drink: 
A good Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Sleep: 
Hostal Empúries in Costa Brava, Spain

Born and raised in the Champagne region of France, Olivier is much like his home’s signature drink: effervescent and bubbly. When he’s not cycling the French countryside in his backyard, Olivier is at work in his art studio, caring for his family’s pony, Chip, and baking homemade quiche with his daughters at their family-run bed and breakfast in southern France.

How did you find your way to Provence?

As a creative and rambunctious little kid, I grew up painting and drawing alongside my grandfather, who was an artist. When I wasn’t making art, I spent hours running through the woods, exploring on my bike and taking it all in: the smell of the soil, the flicker of the light, the rough texture of the bark on the trees. I loved being in nature and became a strong athlete.

By the time I was 20, I was forced to make a choice between art and athletics. I chose the former and moved to Paris for five years of art school. Paris inspired me with its incredible cinema, theatre, and creative energy but I deeply missed contact with nature. After an awe-inspiring mountain bike expedition across the Pyrenees, I returned to Paris and realized it was time to change. Ten days later, I packed my bags and moved to Provence.

What made you fall in love with Provence?

I’m not at all religious, but I have a spiritual connection to nature. Feeling the grass between my toes and listening to the sound of rain gives me energy. And Provence inspires me to feel this sense of unity. From the saltiness of the Mediterranean air to the diversity of the landscape, it’s a region that connects you with all of the senses. It’s a place where you can feel the energy of the land.

The Provençal way of life is also important to me. For example, every Friday I head to the village market to meet my friends for a leisurely glass of wine. I stroll through beautiful stalls of produce, cheeses, and freshly baked breads. I buy food for lunch then head home to cook with my family. After a big meal together, we all go take a nap.

This is how we live in Provence. We choose to keep it simple. Food is important to us. Connecting with loved ones is important to us. We slow down and take our time; life is too quick already.

At my family’s bed and breakfast, my daughter Jade wrote a note in the kitchen that I love. It says, “We do not have wifi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1995.” My guests are often surprised at the simplicity of life here, and how much happiness comes from this simplicity. This is the magic of Provence.

Much of your artwork is of Provençal landscapes. What’s the connection between art and nature, and how do you channel this into your artistic process?

For me, painting is like finding your spirit. It’s a process of going deep inside yourself to find the light and positive energy. In this way, making art gets you in touch with your inner nature. Sometimes you don’t know where to go, and so you keep looking carefully, following your intuition.

When I paint, I start by putting on different layers of acrylic paint and ink. Then I introduce liquid to dissolve the layers and the landscape starts to materialize, much as an archaeologist brushes away dust to discover the hidden treasure underneath.

Whenever I’m painting, I’m dancing.  If I wake up in the morning and want to paint, I always know exactly the kind of music I want to listen to. Sometimes it’s soft classic music and sometimes it’s crazy. Either way, the energy of the music is channeled into the art as I dance around the studio.

In addition to an artist, you consider yourself an environmentalist. How does this translate into your work as a guide and B&B host?

There’s a beautiful Native American story that illustrates this. In France, it’s called The Legend of the Colibri.

As the story goes, an immense fire broke out in the forest, burning everything in its path and terrifying all of the animals. Helpless and afraid, the animals ran away and watched the impending tragedy with despair.

Except for the colibri. As all the animals fled, the quick little hummingbird headed back towards the fire. Shocked and confused, the lion stopped the bird and asked, “What are you doing, my friend? Run for your life!” The hummingbird opened its beak to show the lion the drop of water inside and replied, “I’m doing my part.”

That story deeply resonates with me. We’re each responsible for contributing and setting an example for others. Each of us is so small compared to the immensity of nature, and yet together the impact we can make is huge.

I do my part as the little colibri by helping people get back in touch with nature. As a guide and host, I’m very simple, very direct, and in love with everything. Smell the thyme! Look how the sun shines through the leaves! Feel the wind on your face! So often, we become disconnected from the world around us. We turn nature into an object that either gets in our way or that we take advantage of. This leads to distress and feelings of isolation. I hope to revitalize people and show them a different way. I deeply love and respect my guests, and I try to transmit to them my zest for life and my appreciation of Mother Earth. It’s very natural for me, and I think it works!

Up Next: Biking for Your Brain: The Neurology of Cycling