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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 wind that cleans the air
The Mistral is a local wind which hurtles down the Rhone valley from the north, veering to north west by the time it gets to Marseille and coming from the west on the Cote d’Azur and over Corsica. It’s a strong, cold, normally dry, wind. As its name suggests (Mistral means masterly in the local language of Occitan), it’s fierce, with gusts sometimes reaching speeds of more than 100km (62 miles) per hour. It’s more frequent in spring and winter but can occur at any time of year. Legend has it that it blows for either 3, 6 or 9 days but it can just as easily blow for one day or one week. Legend also has it that it can induce madness. The consolation of the Mistral is that it normally scours the sky and leaves the air crystal clear – an effect that is unique to Provence. Painters such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, de Stael, Gaugin, Picasso and Matisse all came to Provence for the special quality of the light. And it’s mostly thanks to the Mistral that Marseille has an average of 2800 hours of sunshine per year. The Mistral is an integral part of Provence: next […]
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 […]
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 […]
The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence – Officially!
Which are the most beautiful villages of France? It’s a fun discussion to have over a bottle of rosé. Or you could just look it up. Because in France there is an official body that confers on villages the status of being one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France). To earn the status of one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ is not easy. A village is judged on 27 different criteria. For a village to make it on the list, it must have an outstanding heritage as well as a beating heart. Consequently in all of France, with its 30,000+ small villages, there are only 156 that make it on the list of Most Beautiful, and 19 of those are in Provence. They come in all shapes and sizes and given the rather excitable medieval history of this region, most are perched up high, affording a good view from which to spot the next marauding tribe passing through. Some villages stretch along a high ridge, sometimes only a couple of houses wide, offering cool shade on one side while the other basks in the sun. Views of vineyards and fruit orchards […]
Christmas in Provence
Winter in Provence is a well-kept secret: you can visit popular attractions and feel like you have the place to yourself, the skies are still blue and some days lunch can be eaten outside in the sun. And though it may feel unseasonal to eat Christmas lunch outside, Provence is decidedly festive over the winter months. The region is steeped in Christmas customs and traditions, making for a magical holiday. Here are a few of our favourite things when we spend Christmas in Provence: Christmas markets Yes, Provence has Christmas markets too, beautifully lit, with wooden chalets selling arts & crafts and Christmas gifts, with traditional carousels for the little ones and mulled wine for the grown-ups. Some even have a skating rink. The bigger Provence Christmas markets can be found at: Aix-en-Provence: mid-November to end December, Cours Mirabeau. Christmas village/market, children’s rides, carousels. Carpentras: December, centre of town. Christmas market, free shows, lights, skating rink. Marseille: mid-November to end December, on the old port. Including the 142nd local Santons Fair (Foire aux Santons de Marseille). Monaco: December 2 – January 2, on the port. Christmas village/market, skating rink, activities. Nice: December 3 – January 1, Jardin Albert 1er. Christmas […]
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 […]
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!)
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 […]