A Quick Escape to the South of France

Take a few minutes and dream of Provence with its Mediterranean coastline, enchanting villages, and delicious cuisine. What interests you most about the South of France? Are you looking for recommendations for specific cities, hidden gems, or tips on regional wines? Here are articles about city highlights, wine tasting in Bandol and Cassis, places to stay, and trip planning.

While February is not lavender season, you can dream about visiting in June on this tour. However, this month is excellent for visiting museums, art galleries, and historic cities like Aix-en-Provence, Arles, and Avignon. If you go to Nîmes to see the Roman sites, try a Crocus de Nîmes, an inspired sandwich. On the French Riviera, it’s party time until March 3 with the 151st Nice Carnaval (“King of Pop Culture”) and 90th Fête du Citron (Olympic theme) in Menton.

With Love from Provence Mid-Winter Amour Recipes and More

If you are like Nutmeg, by this point in the winter, you are looking forward to warmer, longer days. February in Provence reveals early signs of spring’s arrival. Mimosas bloom along the coast, with towns along the 130 km “Route du Mimosa” hosting festivals, parades, concerts, and workshops celebrating the yellow flowers. Meanwhile, almond trees display their delicate white and pink blossoms in other parts of the region. Please watch for Virginie’s article on Provence’s Almond Trees, along with some tempting recipes.

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, Martine of Goût et Voyage has curated a delicious multi-course meal for a romantic evening à deux or a dinner party with good friends. If you like her menu, why not book a spot on her Taste of Provence gourmet and cultural tours in June?

While we don’t need a reason to drink rosé, Valentine’s Day is a good excuse. Wine guru Göran wrote an interesting article about the viability of the rosé business in Provence.

For gifts that won’t break the bank, here are some books about Provence that are (almost) as good as a trip to France.

Please keep reading here for more mid-winter amour from Provence.

Where to Stay in Provence Côte d’Azur in 2024

This newsletter is the 10th edition of the Where to Stay in Provence Côte d’Azur newsletter, and Perfectly Provence turns 10 this year. Please watch for special promotions throughout the next 12 months. Depending on where you live, you might already be tired of snow shovelling. One way to eliminate the winter blues is to book a holiday to the South of France, where the sun shines 300+ days yearly. Our travel partners are filling the final spots on their 2024 tours. Here are some of our curated collections for dreamy places to stay in Provence and the Côte d’Azur 

One challenge with visiting Provence is choosing from the incredible range of options. Sue Aran shares her thoughts on the best of the Camargue, from towns to wildlife. Art lovers should check out these 12 places for contemporary art. Author Keith Van Sickle is happy to answer questions about visiting St-Rémy-de-Provence in the Alpilles.

A Golden, Silver and Bronze Year in France

Perfectly Provence: Newsletter January 5, 2024

Happy New Year to all! 2024 is an Olympic year for France. While many events occur in and around Paris, there is plenty to get excited about in Provence. There will be sailing and football (soccer). However, before that all starts, the Olympic flame arrives in Marseille’s Vieux Port on Bélem, a beautiful three-masted ship from 1896. From there, the flame travels around the country after a few regional appearances. Here are the details.

January 6th is the Epiphany. So, in Provence, it’s time to enjoy Galette des Rois, a delicious puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) filled with frangipane and a fève, which can be a bean or a tiny ceramic figurine. Don’t break a touch on the fève. It could be your chance to rule the roost for the day. As with the rest of the holiday period in France, there is a ritual around eating this pastry.

Our 2024 winter menu is a culinary creation from Chef Burnell Shively. Start with some nibbles, then move on to swaddled oysters. Check it out below, and in case you missed it, here is her article on the ancient grains grown in the Var. 

January 21st is La Mess de Truffes in Richerenches, with an auction and gourmet meal to follow. Please look for Keith Van Sickles’ article on this event next week.

Depending on where you are in Provence, the weather in January is an assorted mix. In the countryside, you might wake up to heavy fog, crunchy grass, or even the odd dusting of fleeting snow. However, if it snows, it’s magical and fleeting. Watch the website for the article on winter travel essentials for visitors by French immersion teacher Virginie.

Thank you for reading this Perfectly Provence newsletter. We love to hear readers’ comments. If you like our content, please share it with a friend.

We hope to see you in Provence this year,

Discover the Alpilles Vineyards in Provence

AOP Les Baux de Provence

Launched in 1995, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Les Baux de Provence was a bold step for a group of winemakers. They joined forces to carve out a unique identity in the ocean of, at that time, mediocre Provencal wine. Previously (since 1972) these wineries fell under the umbrella of the AOP Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The les Baux vintners felt that their production was blurred in the vast volume produced by that large AOP. Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) Les Baux was re-established in 1995 reverting to the original appellation formed in 1956. Today ten vineyards are members of the AOP and follow the same guidelines for making wine.

Discovering vineyards of the Alpilles Provence

The Stunning Alpilles

The landscape of the Alpilles is not exactly the land of milk and honey. Rather this is a harsh alpine climate that supports the growth of grapes, almonds, herbs de Provence, and olives. Known as the Alpilles (small Alps), this 30km band of jagged limestone cliffs and scrub brush is a protected regional park infused with wild aromas of herbes de Provence. At its highest point, the ridgeline of the mountains is only 498m (1,634 ft). Yet the gnarled limestone fingers reaching towards Provence’s blue heavens are simply arresting. The Park and its unscathed terroir are why the vineyard owners felt that their wines would be better served under the AOP Les Baux de Provence banner. Continue reading here for information about these vineyards in the Alpilles.

Alpilles Vineyards in Provence

A Visit to the Tarascon Castle and the Legend of a Monster in Provence

No one expects to find the Heart of Darkness or Niger Focus (later Nerluc) in Provence. It might have been an appropriate name for the hamlet on the shores of a murky, swampy river. The muddy, opaque waters fueled rumours cultivating the nightmares of residents who asked was the beast:

A huge serpent?
A dragon?
A fierce half-lion?
A vicious turtle?

Tarascon Monster #Tarascon #Tarasque #ProvenceLegends @GingerandNutmeg

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Pablo Picasso at Rest near Aix-en-Provence

Château de Vauvenargues is located in the village by the same name, a few kilometers from Aix-en-Provence. This castle has a lengthy history.  The present structure was built on the site of a former Roman settlement. Over the centuries, Provencal counts and then the Archbishops of Aix occupied the castle. Clearly, it pays to be the doctor of a king; in 1474 Roi René gifted the Château to his physician Pierre Robin d’Angers.

chateau-de-vauvenargues

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Learn about Casanova and the Jardins d’Albertas of Bouc-Bel-Air in Provence

Whether fiction or not, Nutmeg thinks it is appropriate that Casanova the infamous Venetian writer, gambler and reputed womanizer is weaved into the history of les Jardins d’Albertas.

This garden, owned by the Albertas family, is located just a few minutes outside of Aix-en-Provence in the town of Bouc-Bel-Air, where the ancient village was built on a bouc (small hill).

The roots of the Albertas family stretch from Alba, Italy to Aix-en-Provence, where their influence on the Provençal city is notable. Henri and his son Jean-Baptiste d’Albertas, both held the high-ranking title of Président de la Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors).

Jardin d'Albertas FountainOne of the most recognizable and photogenic squares in Aix is Place d’Albertas.  This sunny plaza carved out of the narrow winding streets of the old town resembles a small Italian piazza. Henri felt that the exterior of his home and his “view” were not distinguished enough. He commissioned a local architect to renew the façade of his house and establish a vision for the future square. The work done in 1745 included the demolition of buildings across from his house in order to create the plaza. The fountain was only installed in 1912.

Jardin d'Albertas middle level

It was Henri’s father Marc Antoine, who through marriage had acquired a plot of land outside of Aix-en-Provence in 1673, now known as the Jardins d’Albertas. The land had previously been envisioned as a garden although it was Jean-Baptiste who developed plans for the classical Franco-Italian garden. The drawings from 1751 include a chateau that was never built.

Jean-Baptiste was assassinated in 1790, on the eve of the French Revolution, and never witnessed his vision completed. The garden was neglected for many years; it was not until 1949 that Jean d’Albertas began restoration work.

Jardin d'Albertas Le Grande Canal

Towering plane trees provide a leafy parasol for the driveway and garden’s entrance. Visual dimension is created within the rectangular plot by multiple terraces. Symmetrical water basins and statues form a highly appealing result.

It is almost surreal on a blistering Provencal day to believe that there are natural spring sources feeding the water features. In reality, it is clever engineering creating the supply of water to decorative ponds and fountains, as well as liquid nutrition for the plants.

The official entry to the Jardins d’Albertas is through an imposing metal gate, which is adorned with the Albertas’ family crest.

Jardin d'Albertas grille d'entree

On the right, just after the gateway is la salle de fraicheur designed as an imitation grotto. You need to allow your eyes adjust to the dim light and let shoddy first impressions go, the spider webs certainly do not help. Spend a few moments and you begin to recognize remnants of seashells that would have at one time decorated the entire ceiling. Empty alcoves remain, begging their statues of the seven planets to return.

Jardin d'Albertas salle de fraicheur

The Grand Canal is a large rectangular basin establishing the horizontal width of the garden. A statue of Neptune contemplates his fluid mirror, which reflects his botanical surroundings. This pond with its concrete border physically defines the boundary of the garden and symbolically represents a private river.

A grass lawn leads to the next water feature, le Bassin des 17 jets, or so it was named on the 1751 plans. Here, eight tritons blow water jets from their horns, and the back wall of this fountain creates the physical edge of the first level. The fountain appears to be almost announcing the heavyweight of testosterone emotion just behind it.

Jardin d'Albertas Fontaine des 17 jets

Four male statues stand ready for military action at the edge of this second level. Hercules, David, Mars and the gladiator Borghèse are a powerful stone representation of mythical heroes.

Jardins d'Albertas

 

It is only in the final section where the garden has a slight feminine touch with two sphinx statuettes bearing the Albertas’ family crest.

Jardins d'Albertas

 

The garden is easily covered in an hour although you may want to linger in some of the shady sections and contemplate what it may have looked like had the original vision been achieved.

The unfinished garden might be a little like the Casanova love story. The famous man is said to have stayed in Bouc-Bel-Air in 1769, but did not realize that Marie-Anne d’Albertas was his previous lover. They never met again.


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Sunny Sunflowers Why We Love The French Tournesols

Provençal postcards, Pinterest boards and Instagram are filled with photos of sunny sunflowers. Long before the Internet these beautiful flowers inspired Vincent Van Gogh to paint a still life series called Tournesols (Sunflowers). He painted the first of the group in 1887, in Paris, and then later (1888-89) in Arles.

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Visit Beaucaire for Visions of a Different Time in Provence

Beaucaire is a small Provencal town located on the banks of the Rhone river and the Rhone-Sète canal, the name means beautiful stone. There is evidence of a Gallo-Roman settlement in this hilly area as early as 11 B.C.. The ancient community gave way to a medieval town in 1067 and the establishment of a castle in 1180.Beaucaire Castle Provence Travel

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