Provence is the perfect antidote to stress. Renowned not only for the startling luminosity that lured artists like Paul Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Mistral, Camus, Pétrarque and Vincent van Gogh, as much for its tranquillity and lavender scented hinterland that has a very calming effect.
The scorched limestone blast of 30°C has a happy knack of grinding you to a halt, feet up with a glass of chilled wine to hand. Plans for the day often involve little more than a gentle saunter into the village for a croissant and coffee.
The area of Provence
Provence extends from the left bank of the lower Rhône River to the west to the Italian border to the east. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and largely corresponds with the modern administrative region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. It includes the departments of Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and parts of Alpes-Maritimes and Vaucluse. The largest city of the region is Marseille. While this centre of the bouillabaisse hierarchy may be top dog, there is every bit as much to relax body and mind across the wider area, the exact boundaries of which are in some corners no more than a vague notion.
The Romans made the region into the first Roman province beyond the Alps and called it Provincia Romana, which evolved into the present name. It was ruled by the Counts of Provence from their capital in Aix-en-Provence until 1481. After that, it became a province of the Kings of France. While it has been part of France for more than five hundred years, it still retains a distinct cultural and linguistic identity, particularly in the interior of the region. It is this individuality that is most appealing. That and the landscapes from the Camargue in the south, north through Les Alpilles to the papal city of Avignon. There is, too, the sort of independence that in 2016 had the residents of Saint-Romain-en-Viennois, not far from the historic and picturesque Vaison-la-Romaine, up in arms at the news that McDonald’s planned to open a branch in town. Ironically, the French eat more Big Macs than any nation outside the US, but, for some, there are limits to this form of assault on culinary heritage. Macdomination is not welcome everywhere.
Enjoy slow Provence
The danger of trying to ‘do’ Provence, is that it all becomes too much, with too little time. You end up charging hither and thither like the proverbial fly. That analogy applies equally well wherever you go, of course, but any exploration of Provence benefits from a micro-tourism approach. Base yourself in one place, and explore everywhere within half an hour. Okay, by car if you must. But go no further. That way you really do get to the nitty-gritty of the region, village by village, wine by wine, cheese by cheese.
More on slow Provence
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Petite Guide to Provence