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Tour de France is coming to Provence
The 108th edition of the Tour de France is coming to Provence in 2021 and stage 11 sees the peloton tackle a 199km stage completely within the department of the Vaucluse, from Sorgues to Malaucène. The stage promises to be a real spectacle with the first ever double ascent of Mont Ventoux, the 16th and 17th ascents since it’s first appearance in 1951, with the finish in Malaucène for the first time. The 2021 route is a great one, as well as our local stage, the race also features another iconic climb on Stage 18 up Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. There’s also the longest stage in 20 years as the riders face 248km from Vierzon to Le Creusot on Stage 7. The Tour de France will start on June 26 with Tadej Pogacar defending the yellow jersey. The start or ‘Grand Depart’ will be in the north-west city of Brest and the race will finish, as always, in Paris on the Champs-Elysees. Where can I watch Le Tour? As we said, this year’s Tour will feature a double ascent of the iconic Mont Ventoux after the stage starts in Sorgues and finishes, 199km later, in the village of […]
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 […]
The magic of Cezanne’s studio
Visit the studio where Cezanne painted his masterpieces, his actual coat and bowler hat still hanging on their hook, and you may feel like Cezanne has just popped out for a coffee. The spirit of Cezanne is everywhere in Provence, but one of the most moving places to visit is the Lauves Studio (L’Atelier de Cezanne) in his beloved home town of Aix-en-Provence. He painted here every single day during the last years of his life, producing the ground-breaking work that earned him the title ‘the father of modern art’. This is a very special place – all around are the easels, canvas satchels and umbrellas he used to paint on location, along with objects that crop up again and again in his still lifes: ginger jars, olive pots, fruit bowls, a plaster cupid. The drawers of an old wooden cabinet open to reveal mementoes, photographs, letters – even one written to Monet. The studio, or ‘atelier’ was built on land that had views of the city to the south and Cézanne’s revered Mont Sainte-Victoire to the north. Don’t expect the same view today – his garden has matured and trees now shield the house from the outside world. Though […]
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, […]
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 […]
A guide to French public holidays
Whilst the UK has eight public holidays, and the USA seven, France has eleven national public holidays a year. These fall whenever they fall according to the actual date and if they happen to fall on a weekend, an extra day may be given to employees in compensation, but this is not obligatory. What usually happens is that if the holiday falls on a Sunday the Monday is taken off, but if it falls on a Saturday that is hard cheese. When a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, many people take a long weekend (which is called faire le pont – literally, to make a bridge). The only statutory (paid) public holiday in France is 1st May. In French a public holiday is a jour férié, and if a day is a holiday you may be told c’est férié! Here is the list of French public holidays: • 1st January – New Year’s Day (Jour de l’An) • Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques) • 1st May – Labour Day (Fête du Travail) • 8th May – VE Day – (Fête de la Victoire 1945) • May (40 days after Easter, always on a Thursday) – Ascension […]
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 […]
What to pack for Provence
Toiletries Supermarkets stock big-brand toiletries but local pharmacies (there is one in most villages, look for the green cross sign) will have the better quality ‘cult’ brands of skincare, suncare and haircare such as La Roche-Posay, Darphin, Bioderma and Nuxe. Bigger towns will have a Marionnaud or Sephora selling perfume, make-up and skincare. For even basic medicines such as aspirin you will need to go to a pharmacie. One medicine that may be sold over the counter where you live but needs a prescription in France is anti-histamine, for example Clarityn for hay fever. Food ‘Bio’ is French for organic – more and more Bio shops are cropping up. Look out for Bio-Coop – a mini supermarket selling organic and special dietary foods, also organic skincare brands such as Dr Hauschka. All supermarkets have an organic (bio) section and a special dietary section (gluten-free, sugar-free, weight-loss). Most also have a ‘global foods’ section – the focus is on Asian food with some American and British staples. You can even find Marmite, proper teabags and baked beans if you look in the right place. Clothing – summer In Provence in summer you will probably be eating outside 3 times a day. […]
The secrets of lavender
Lavender has a big role to play in Provence – it feeds the bees, scents the soap, flavours ice cream and provides confetti at weddings, but its oil is also used every day. In fact lavender oil is the most used essential oil in the world. When there is a nit outbreak at the village school, the air will fill with the scent of lavender oil – a well-known insect repellent. And small cuts heal faster with a dab of lavender oil. It is also thought to be helpful in treating conditions as diverse as fungal infection, anxiety, acne and even hair loss! In Provence, locals soothe their headaches by rubbing lavender oil on their temples, and some swear that having the dried flowers by the pillow helps you sleep – hence the market stands everywhere in Provence that sell little decorative bags of dried lavender. Science agrees: studies repeatedly show an improvement in sleep regularity when a pillow is scented with lavender. Pain relief too! Muscular aches, rheumatism, back pain – rub some lavender oil in and you may well feel better. Recovering from major surgery? Then have the anaesthetist add lavender essential oil vapour into your oxygen and […]
Bonjour from Provence
In Provence, where life is lived determinedly in the slow lane, nothing is more important that stopping to say bonjour. If you only speak one word of French, make it bonjour. Nothing is more certain to put your waiter or sales assistant in a grump than not saying hello as you enter their domain. Taking time to smile and say bonjour, even if you have nothing to follow it up with, will ensure decent service. After about 6pm bonsoir will replace bonjour, and though au revoir is a catch-all for goodbye, you may hear bonne journée (have a good day), bonne après-midi (have a good afternoon) or bonne soirée (have a good evening). A bientôt! (See you soon!)