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The Place: Provence, France
The Poison: An aperitif made from star anise and herbs, pastis can taste odd to the American palette, with its strong wave of licorice plus hints of fennel and pepper. The bright yellow liquid becomes milky when diluted with cold water (as it should be, liberally).
The Buzz: The lavender fields, the southern sun, all those famous landscapes favored by Van Gogh and Co.…Provence is the glorious cliché you've always hoped for. A visitor could spend months and not quite cover all the small towns, from Arles to Nîmes to Vaison. But wherever you go, there's bound to be a bar filled with crusty Frenchmen sipping pastis. Maybe it's because the bright yellow color is reminiscent of sunflowers, or that it's so refreshing on sweltering days. Or that if you drink enough of it, you'll go as nuts as Van Gogh.
Down the Hatch: As you may know, pastis is descended from absinthe, the hallucinogenic drink banned by the French in the early 1900s. Absinthe makers like Pernod and Ricard rushed to create a new liqueur without the prime mad-making ingredient, wormwood. Today, the anise may come from China, but distilleries also use as many as 70 locally grown herbs in their concoctions. The mixture of plants are placed in pure alcohol for three weeks, until the liquid is infused with the taste, whereupon it is twice distilled. Don't expect Toulouse-Lautrec–worthy hallucinations sans wormwood, but all those flavors do disguise a strong alcoholic kick.
Sleep It Off: Über-chef Alain Ducasse loves Provence, and he loves pastis. The next best thing to staying chez Alain is La Bastide de Moustiers, a 17th-century hotel Ducasse owns in Moustiers Sainte-Marie. A Gold List property, it sits at the bottom of a massive gorge and has a mere 12 rooms, plus a stupendous kitchen staffed by chefs under the master's tutelage.
Drink at Home: Pernod is the pastis you're most likely to find at your local bar or liquor store ($25); mix it with five parts water or tonic.
La Bastide de Moustiers
Tel: 33 4 9270 4747
Doubles from $200