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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 […]
Tipping in Provence
It’s often quite hard to know when and how much to tip in France – particularly when the final price shows that the tip (15%) is included (service compris). There are no real ‘rules’ – tipping generally isn’t expected – think of it as a gesture of appreciation. It’s up to you but tips should always be given in cash – don’t try to add them on to your credit card. Here are some pointers. In a hotel Bellhops: 1-2€ per bag Concierge: 5-15€ if he or she goes out of their way to help you book reservations, gives you recommendations, directions etc. Doorman: 1-2€ if he or she hails you a cab or helps with your luggage Hotel maid: If you’re pleased with the state of your room, tip 1-2€ per day or at end of stay (in cash) Room service waiter: 1-3€ per delivery even if a service charge has been added Travelling Porter or skycap at airport or train station: 1€ – 2€per bag Taxis: 5% to 10% depending on the quality of the service. You never tip an Uber driver. Tour guide: about 10% of tour price In a café and bar When you pay for […]
Van Gogh returns to Provence!
In 2016, for four months only, a van Gogh retrospective in the very place that so inspired him: Provence. Wherever you look in Provence you’ll see the wonders that fill van Gogh’s masterpieces – from almond blossom and irises to immense star-filled skies, from the colourful cafes of Arles to fields of sunflowers and olive trees. From May 14th the Vincent van Gogh Foundation in Arles hosts an exhibition to showcase his transition into one of the modern greats, with 31 works from early to last days. Van Gogh moved to Provence in the hope of finding the colour of the Japanese landscapes, popular at the time. He found more than just colour however – he found extraordinary inspiration – and his creative output soared. Based mainly in Arles and Saint-Remy-de-Provence, van Gogh produced 500 Provence paintings in the 2 years he had left to live, and many of these are considered his greatest works. But so revered is van Gogh now that there is currently only one of his paintings on permanent exhibit in Provence. So this is a rare opportunity to experience his works in Provence itself, where he found his muse, but tragically also lost his mind. […]
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 […]
A Provence Christmas
You won’t get carol singers but Provence has its own intriguing Christmas traditions and rituals that reach far back in time. Christmas in Provence starts on 4th December on Saint Barbara’s day, and goes through all the way to Candlemas on February 2nd, when you should take your Christmas lights down. That whole Christmas period is known as la calendale. St Barbara’s day Traditionally on St Barbara’s day (la Fête de la Sainte Barbe) you should put a handful of wheat on some damp cotton wool on a saucer. Many bakers sell little sachets of wheat for germinating. Keep the cotton wool damp and if, when it germinates, it is bright green and upright, the following year will be a prosperous one. You then keep the saucer of germinated wheat to decorate your crèche. If you happen to be a farmer, after Christmas you would plant the wheat in your field to ensure a good harvest. Provence Christmas crèche The crèche (nativity scene or crib) is a big part of a traditional Provençal Christmas. Today’s crèche has its roots in the Middle Ages when religious plays were performed portraying the birth of Christ. During the French Revolution, religious […]
Flea markets in Provence
One of the best ways to feel instantly immersed in Provence life is to wander round a flea market on a Sunday morning. Even if you plan to keep your wallet firmly in your pocket, it’s worth going for the sights: tables piled high with antique linens, silverware and glasses, giant spools of colourful thread, curious garden and farming tools, memorabilia of a bygone age, and a mysterious number of huge iron locks and keys that surely belong to a nearby chateau… A popular find is the linen – heavy, hand-embroidered and frequently monogrammed. You just may be in luck and find your initials. Also fun to take home are old French school posters and encyclopaedias – charming reminders of pre-internet schooling. Other good souvenirs are vintage promotional items from classic French brands such as Pastis 54 and Citroen, while metal advertising plaques are still easy to find. Doorknobs, handles and boxes of chandelier crystals are plentiful; old iron cots, weathered shutters and elaborate mirrors whisper of their past. Some of our favourite finds have been shoe lasts and heavy flat irons (they make great door stops), industrial lamps, delicate glass perfume bottles and intriguing faded postcards. Brocante is the […]
Remember the Ice Saints!
Saint Mamert, Saint Servais, Saint Pancrace, de leur passage laissent souvent trace (Saint Mamert, Saint Servais, Saint Pancrace often leave their mark) The weather is always a major topic of conversation in Provence and during April and early May when the sun is shining and the temperatures seem more appropriate to June, you might well hear a local say ‘Remember, the Ice Saints haven’t been yet!’ This is normally accompanied by a gloomy shake of the head and a little ‘tut tut’ of the tongue clicking against the roof of the mouth which always signifies disapprobation. This means that until the feast days of Saint Mamertus, Saint Pancras and Saint Servatius (called the Ice Saints) on 11, 12 and 13 May have passed there could still be frosts. ‘Avant Saint Servais, point d’été, après Saint Servais, plus de gelée’. (Before the feast of Saint Servais, no summer, after Saint Servais, no frost.) Of these three, apart from the fact that his feast day marks the end of frost, Saint Servatius might be the most useful in day-to-day life as he’s the one to invoke against rats and mice as well as ‘foot troubles, lameness, rheumatism’. It’s not clear what the […]
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 […]
Eating out in Provence
Our guide to eating out in Provence will help you negotiate the menu, order, pay and tip – even if you speak no French at all. Lunch and dinner (less so breakfast) are taken seriously in France – rarely will you see the French snacking in between meals or eating on the go. Lunch is often a three-course affair with a glass of wine and usually a cooked main course. Time will be taken over dinner – in the more expensive restaurants you may end up with five courses. Types of restaurant in France Restaurant: Here you’ll get a complete meal of 3 to 5 courses and a choice of ordering a la carte or from a fixed price menu. The quality and price range of restaurants will vary widely. We say look for where the locals are eating or do your research well. (See our restaurant recommendations – we only mention those we have eaten in ourselves – and we are fussy!) Brasserie: A more relaxed affair, brasseries tend to have similar menus with dishes such as steak frites (steak and fries), salads, croque monsieur (cheese and ham on toast). Again, the quality and price range of brasseries […]