It’s autumn in Provence: the grape harvest is finished and the vines are slowly turning red and gold. Out walking, you’ll spot the occasional blue-black bunch of table grapes the pickers have overlooked. The grapes will be sweet and delicious, and as the month goes on they will turn more raisin-like, and you might prefer to spit out the tough skin.
But it’s not just the vines that are glowing, cherry orchards drip red and gold too and in the woods the pistachio bushes turn every shade from ox-blood to palest apricot. You’ll find yourself gazing at trails of ruby-red Virginia creeper flowing over a fence or at a clump of bright golden autumn crocus at the foot of a dry wall.
Provence in October is special. Whilst you’re unlikely to take a dip in the pool or have dinner outside, it’s still warm enough for lunch on a sunny terrace or a picnic now that the hiking trails are open again. The famous Provencal light has lost much of its summer harshness and is soft and golden. The sun stays lower in the sky, it’s a wonderful time for photography all day.
Day-time temperatures are warm and perfect for walking and cycling, you’re quite likely to spend a day in the hills on one of the many tracks without meeting another soul. On the roads there are fewer vehicles so biking is more peaceful and relaxing, and you don’t have to time your efforts around the cooler parts of the day.
On the coast the beaches are sparsely populated by sunbathers and those who realise that the Mediterranean can be a very swimmable temperature in October. It will be easier to get a table at the best restaurants or those with a stunning sea view.
The height of the tourist season has passed and you’ll rarely have to queue. Provence’s markets in October are quieter and smaller with the stalls aimed at tourists packed up for the winter. The ones that remain are the ones the locals use, so take time to talk with the remaining stallholders, chances are they’re the ones who’ll still be there in the middle of winter, setting up on frozen dark mornings.
Autumn vineyards between the villages of Methamis and Blauvac, near the Mont Ventoux in Provence.
With far fewer tourist numbers, autumn is the perfect time to visit the most popular visitor attractions of Provence such as the Camargue, St Tropez, the Gorges de Verdon, Les Baux de Provence, Gordes, Senanque Abbey, Roussillon, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie or Aix-en-Provence, to name but a few.
The days should be warm but the nights can be chilly so you’ll probably smell the scent of wood smoke as fireplaces come back to life. If you have an open fire where you’re staying, buy a few sweet chestnuts, cut a small X on the flat side of the shell (this stops the chestnuts exploding when they get hot) and grill them on the embers, ideally in a special pan with holes in it, or in a suitable pan or roasting tray. They’re ready when the shells start to come away and the insides are tender. Tip them into a towel and leave them wrapped up for 5 minutes before peeling. Chestnuts are low in fats & calories and high in minerals and vitamins (particularly vitamin C). Consume whilst still hot, lightly sprinkled with Camargue sea salt and accompanied by a large glass of red wine. What better way to celebrate autumn!
Autumn festivals in Provence
Our selection of Provence festivals in October:
Sunday, 8th October 2017: Fête des Champignons (mushroom festival) at St Trinit (Vaucluse) – near Sault. A market and all sorts of mushrooms. Communal meal with local products 18€ (reservation advised: 04 90 75 01 85) or lunch at the Bistrot de Pays in St Trinit (04 90 64 04 90).
Saturday, 14th October 2017: Fête de la Courge (pumpkin festival) at Petit Palais (Vaucluse) – near l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Delightful small market where all the stallholders produce a sweet or savoury pumpkin/squash dish which you can taste. It’s not a competition, just a convivial tasting. Get there early (it starts at 8am) to have the best choice of dishes!
Saturday, 14th October 2017: Le jour de la nuit (the day of night) – various events are organised all over France to show the extent to which light pollution is disturbing the natural world. They include night walks, star gazing and whole villages and towns turning off their lighting for the night. Check the website to see what’s happening near you.
21-22nd October 2017: Le Pèlerinage des Saintes at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (Camargue)
The second of two annual pilgrimages (link to Camargue article). On Saturday: evening prayer, sons et lumières (sound and light show) on the beach. On Sunday: mass and a procession and blessing in the sea. Check the website for details.
Sunday, 29th October 2017: Fête de la Châtaigne (sweet chestnut festival) at Revest du Bion (Alpes de Haute Provence) – between Sault and Banon: You can pick your own chestnuts in the orchards, or taste them grilled from one of the many stands. A huge festival with market stalls, a falconry display, country dancing, music, a communal meal featuring game and chestnuts (reservation: 09 52 70 15 80) There will be a lot of people but few of them will be tourists.
Sunday 15th, 22nd and 29th October 2017: Fête de la Châtaigne (chestnut festival and market) in Collobrières (Var).