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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) […]
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 […]
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, […]
Riding the Beast on Bastille Day
Taking on the legendary Mont Ventoux for the 10th time in its history, the Tour de France will reach the summit on France’s National Day – Bastille Day, the 14th of July, 2016. The Mont Ventoux is known as the Beast of Provence, it is one of the most feared mountains in cycling – the climb to the 1,912m summit finish is a punishing 21 km (13 miles) with long stretches at almost 10° gradient. The real killer is that there is no respite, no flat bits, it’s just uphill all the time. But if they’re looking, the cyclists will have the most dramatic views across Provence! How to watch the Tour Real cycling fanatics will no doubt want to watch the tour on the Mont Ventoux itself, but that means getting there well in advance. If you just want to experience the tour, pick any spot along the 115-mile route for that day. Bring a picnic or have lunch before in a nearby village and then walk away from the crowds when the time comes. When and where to see the Tour Assuming an average speed, on July 14th the Tour will reach Tarascon at about 2.10pm, St Remy […]
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. […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]