Madeleine Vedel ’89 was born in the U.S. but identifies as a Francophile, and for years she has harnessed that love while building her career in the south of France. Although now living in northern Michigan, she still celebrates that passion in her work.
Vedel grew up in Westchester County, New York, studying French in school and speaking it at home. Both were encouraged by her mother, a professor of French literature. During her teens, Vedel spent summers living in France with friends.
She graduated from Princeton with a degree in East Asian Studies. After spending time studying in Japan, she returned to France for a graduate degree in art management and a photography internship in Arles, Provence.
Taken with the beauty and charm of southern France, Vedel soon met a young French chef who would become her husband and business partner. His ambition was to start a school dedicated to his passion for cooking; she thought a bed and breakfast would make good business sense. Students attending one or two weeklong sessions would also rent rooms for the duration. Together the couple acquired the buildings for both facilities and did a thorough renovation. Family and friends provided guidance for online marketing, and 10 years of success followed.
“I modelled the business after the goat-cheese makers I knew in Provence. I had translated their methods to my non-French-speaking guests thousands of times, so I was familiar with their techniques,” she says.
Preparing for her new venture was a job in itself. “Once I decided to do it, I interned, took classes in goat husbandry, and read extensively,” Vedel says. “It was a steep learning curve, and a huge challenge to get up to speed.”
Vedel separated from her husband in 2011 and moved to Northport, Michigan, to set up and run the farm. “After 20 years in France, it was a way to be back on American soil and place my kids into American schools for a while,” she says.Her cumulative experiences eventually led to another venture: A series of intimate tours around Provence, each limited to just six people. Vedel takes her guests hiking, feasting, and exploring little-known art museums around the region. The most decadent is her semiannual Truffle Tour, which shows guests how to hunt for and prepare black truffles along with foie gras and fresh pasta.
During the pandemic she had to cancel several tours and switch gears. She opened an online shop offering hand-dipped chocolates authentic to Provence, with ingredients such as cardamom, rose petal, and roasted hazelnut. “Chocolate is wonderful creative outlet. It involves mastery of flavor, chemistry and communication and beauty,” she says.
Now, as COVID recedes, Vedel’s tours are making a comeback. She emphasizes they’re for the serious student of French culture, and that the personal nature of the experience is truly unique.
“I take people into a world they couldn’t know without a personal guide,” she says. “They’re meeting my colleagues and friends and getting a real first-hand look at what life in Provence is.”