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Favourite Squares of Provence – Place Richelme, Aix
This is the first of an occasional series on our favourite squares in Provence – for a market, a cafe, or watching the world go by, and preferably all three. One of the best squares in Provence for letting the hours slip by and the blood pressure drop is Place Richelme in Aix-en-Provence. Place Richelme is a gorgeous setting with the high golden facades and wooden shutters so typical of Aix, and the towering plane trees that bring welcome shade in the summer – you feel you are right at the heart of the town here. Place Richelme has two distinct personalities, by day and by night. Its daily food market is one of the key attractions of the old part of Aix, and yet it is not overrun with tourists. This is where the locals shop as they have done for centuries, from the elderly down to students pulling together a picnic lunch to munch on a sunny step. It is this demographic smorgasbord that makes Place Richelme so great for people-watching, and the best place to do that is at one of the cafe tables on the square, where the colours and sounds of the market and its […]
Provence in the movies
There’s no better way to get in the mood for a trip to Provence, or indeed to reminisce upon your return home, than through the medium of the movie. Here are our favourite films set in Provence to whet your appetite. To Catch a Thief (1955) Cary Grant & Grace Kelly (Côte d’Azur) Classic Hitchcock crime caper on the Côte d’Azur in the golden era, with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly messing about on the Riviera. It was while promoting this film that she met the prince of Monaco, who would quickly make her his Princess Grace. And God Created Woman (1956) Brigitte Bardot (St Tropez) The film that launched Brigitte Bardot and put St Tropez on the map, taking it from sleepy little fishing village to the place to be seen. Jean de Florette & Manon des Sources (1986) Gerard Dépardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Yves Montand (Aubagne, Vaugines, Ansouis, Mirabeau) A wonderful pair of films, faithful to the books of Marcel Pagnol, that made quite a splash on release in the 1980s – these films forged the idealised image of Provence and the region has never looked more beautiful on film. La Gloire de mon Père (1990) […]
Carpentras strawberries – Provence’s delicious early crop
There are about 190 Fraternities (Confréries) in France and at least 30 of them are in the Provence region. They exist for the promotion and protection of apples, wine, bread, crèche figures (santons), truffles, figs, olive trees, garlic, pumpkins, Brignoles plums, mimosa, sausages, chickpeas, etc. And strawberries. The members of the Carpentras Strawberry Fraternity have very jolly red and green costumes that actually make them look quite like strawberries. However, members of the Fraternity have a serious role to play in making sure that strawberries advertised as ‘Fraises de Carpentras’ are, indeed, from Carpentras in Provence. And not, as has apparently happened in the past, from places as far away as Toulouse. Strawberries have been grown around Carpentras for about a hundred years and the scented red berries are amongst the first on the market. Annual production is about 4000 tonnes. ‘Fraises de Carpentras’ means the strawberry you are buying comes from the area around Carpentras, not what variety it is. It could be round (for example the Pajaro or Clery varieties) or more elongated in shape (Gariguette or Ciflorette). Where to buy the strawberries of Carpentras? The best place is any of the hundreds of markets in Provence, from […]
Provence alive to the sound of music
If you haven’t sat outside under a starry sky listening to live music, you haven’t truly experienced Provence. For this is a musical land and in the balmy summer nights wherever you turn you will find it. Whatever your musical bent there is something for everyone in Provence this summer, from jazz to opera, steel bands to baroque. Many concerts are free, ticketed events start at around 15€ and you can usually book tickets online. Here are our favourites: Jazz dans les Vignes, Vaucluse 25 June – 6 July A series of concerts set in some prestigious vineyards just to the north of Avignon. Sit back with a glass of Gigondas or Vacqueyras and let the music wash over you. http://www.jazzdanslesvignes.fr/ Aix Festival, 30 June – 20 July A huge festival with 3 main components: Opera – this is serious stuff – most evenings are in the stunning Grand Theatre De Provence and it kicks off with Così fan tutti. Also works by Debussy, Handel, Stravinsky. Tickets start at 30€, expect to pay 270€ for top tickets. Concerts – in a variety of venues in and around the city. There are many free concerts and a huge choice of music […]
One of the joys of being in Provence is a day-trip to Marseille. Already a dazzling city, the €7 billion spending spree to prepare it for European City of Culture status has transformed it into a must-see destination – in fact the New Yorker magazine has ranked Marseille at no. 2 in the list of ‘must-see’ cities of the world. Marseille used to have a reputation as lively but run-down, intriguing but risky. That view has now changed… “it has just about everything a visitor could ask for. Until Marseille was made European Capital of Culture for 2013, it may have been one of the most under-appreciated cities on the continent” New York Times “brimming with cutting-edge architecture and art” Conde Nast Traveler “Marseille now feels richer and not at all dicey, but it has something in its character that wealth can’t wash away. I don’t think it’s nostalgia that makes me love it like this. I just think I was right all along” Zoe Williams, travel writer “tremendous beauty and culture… a picture-book seaport, bathed in light of blinding clarity, crowned by larger-than-life neo-Byzantine churches, and framed by massive fortifications” Fodor’s Travel “one of the most invigorating, exciting and […]
4000 sheep go window shopping in St-Remy-de-Provence
The elegant Provence town of St-Remy-de-Provence will be transformed on 16th May by a tidal wave of sheep (not forgetting goats and donkeys) sweeping through the streets accompanied by their shepherds, sheepdogs and a cacophony of bells! For this is the Fete de la Transhumance – an enduring tradition marking the day that the sheep leave the drying lowlands and head for pastures new in the high Alps. During winter in Provence, flocks of sheep and goat are moved around the fertile lowlands – often keeping the grass at bay in vineyards and orchards, but as the ground begins to dry they are moved back up to the mountains. The journey used to take 10 days on foot, but is more likely to be done by truck today. To join in you’ll need to park outside of the old town of St-Remy-de-Provence by about 10am and find your spot along the side of the road. Festivities carry on for the whole day with sheepdog trials, cheese market and bric-a-brac stalls. To really feel part of the action, join the lunch held on the Plateau de la Crau – buy tickets in advance from the Mairie (Town Hall). Timings for Fete […]
September in Provence
September is a glorious month to visit Provence. The heat of summer has passed, and most of the visitors have gone home, leaving cafés, restaurants, markets and roads relatively empty. In Provence in September you are more likely to be held up by a tractor and trailer taking harvested grapes to the local co-operative than anything else. Here are some of our favourite things to do at this time of year. Wine time You’ll notice aisles in the supermarkets full of stationery, books and backpacks for ‘La Rentrée’ (the start of the new school year). If you do find yourself in a supermarket, steer clear of harassed mothers checking lists as they fill their trolleys with shiny new exercise books, pencils and pens, and head to the wine section. Most of the major supermarkets have a ‘Foire aux Vins’ (a wine sale) in September or October and you should be able to pick up a few interesting bottles. The grape harvest in Provence takes place in September, although thanks to a warm spring and a very dry summer, harvest in parts of Provence started about two weeks early this year, in August. It’s a busy time for wine makers […]
Come and taste the Black Diamond of Provence!
“Food-lovers of all eras have never been able to utter the word ‘truffle’ without tipping their hat” – Alexandre Dumas It’s winter in Provence, and one of the consolations of colder days and longer nights is that it is also truffle season. France produces more truffles than any other country, and 80% of them come from Provence. So if you love truffles there is no better place to be at this time of year. In the middle ages, monks were banned from eating truffles due to their apparent aphrodisiac effect. Today you are free to indulge. Pigs, dogs and goats are used to hunt for the truffles, though small flies may also mark the spot. The Ancient Greeks believed that a strike of lightning on damp soil created a truffle. In fact they are fungi that grow around the right sort of tree, like an oak, but they were right about the dampness of the soil, as truffles grow best after rain. The location of fertile truffle grounds is highly secretive, you will never be told where to go and look, unless you are being deliberately sent in the wrong direction. Fortunately you can buy truffles more easily than finding […]
The shutters of Provence
It’s hard to imagine a Provençal house without shutters. When you think of hilltop villages, towns or coastal fishing ports you imagine the different coloured shutters against the rendering or local stone. Open or shut, they give character to houses. However, you can’t just paint them any colour you like. If you live in a town, a National Park, or within 50 metres of a National Monument, the palette of colours you are entitled to use is restricted and controlled. Traditional colours in the Luberon region of Provence are deep red, dark green and brown, but lavender has been popular in recent years, and shades of beige often denote second homeowners. Shutters on the coast tend more to blues, greens and beiges. Nice has a very specific palette depending on the facade; recommended colours are browns, beiges, greys and green or grey blues. The colours in the old town of Aix-en-Provence are the most strictly regulated and you must apply to the town hall to check the approved colour for your facade before you get out your paintbrush. Traditional shutters are wooden and, in many places, modern metal shutters are not allowed. Depending on where you are in Provence, shutters […]
The tree as high as the church
Cucuron is one of Provence’s prettiest villages and every May it hosts one of its strangest festivals: Le Mai de Sainte Tulle. Le Mai de Sainte Tulle dates back to 1720, the time of the Great Plague that killed 100,000 people in Marseille, and had spread out to the provinces. In Cucuron, 1,000 lives were lost when the villagers prayed to Sainte Tulle for salvation. And suddenly… the plague stopped in its tracks. To thank Sainte Tulle for saving them, every year since and for ever more, the people of Cucuron pledge a poplar tree as high as their church in honour of their saint. To take part in the 2016 running of this intriguing festival, head to Cucuron on May 28th. You will be met with a tide of humanity bearing a great poplar tree, ridden by a child dressed in period uniform and bearing the tricolore flag, till they reach the church square. With shouts of encouragement and much advice, the tree is hoisted into position against the church to verify it really is as high. When the bells are rung, the village is safe for another year, and Provencal dancing ensues. If you miss the festival itself, […]