Provence, located on teh Mediterranean coast adjacent to Italy has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times (2 ½ million – 10 000 BC) mostly because of its mild climate and fertile soil.
Archaeologists discovered Neolithic sites (a.k.a New Stone Age starts 9500 and comes to an end 7500 years later) dating back to 6000 BC in Marseille, which was founded by trading classical Greeks from Phocea (today located in Turkey and called Foca). The Greek name of Marseille was Massilia.
The history of Provence is tumultuous as many kings, emperors, and fiefs were interested in exploiting both the land and its population.
From 200 BC to 500 AD the senate of the Roman Empire directly from Rome governed Provence: Christianity arrived in the third century.
Provence offers beautiful scenery, the most famous of which is the garrigue, composed of soft-leafed scrubland, mostly found on limestone soils around the Mediterranean, along with juniper tress, lavender, sage, rosemary and wild thyme. In Provence, Occitane is the common language derived partially from Latin. The soft and diffuse light attracts painters and artists. Cannes, one of the cities of the region, is the site of world famous annual film festival.
Nice and Marseille are the two other important cities along the coast are well worth visiting while staying in the region. Marseille with its diverse population, (many inhabitants came from Algeria) and its markets, bustle with almost oriental commotion, shouts, traffic and trade.
Inland of Provence, life is more leisurely and decidedly less expansive. Here the visitor can actually witness how the true Provencal lives.
You can rent a house at a reasonable cost, and make daily excursions to Nice, Cannes, Marseille, and even Aix-en-Provence, all of which are beautiful and highly interesting.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the English nobility used to spend winters in Provence and there are still architectural remnants of this era to be admired in Nice and/or Cannes.
Provence is famous for its perfume industry, mainly due to the availability of flowers. Over time, inhabitants perfected essence extraction techniques, and the town of Gers is the centre of the industry.
Provence is famous for its food, Here olives, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, seafood (rouget, loup de mer, sardines , rock fish, sea urchins, octopus) lamb, goat, chickpeas, fruits ( particularly melons from Cavaillon), vegetables, and herbs reign supreme.
Boillabaisse consisting of onions, tomatoes, fennel, saffron, sage, laurel, white wine or cognac, a mixture of Mediterranean seafood including langouste (spiny lobster), not to be confused with lobster (homarus americanus) is a specialty every visitor ought to experience at least once. “Honest” and well-prepared bouillabaisse is expensive but well worth the expense. Then there is ratatouille, a rich vegetable stew wich originated in Nice, escabeche, poached fish marinated in vinegar, olive oil spices and herbs, brandade de morue, creamed crushed cod fish, olive oil, milk, garlic and tomatoes and sometimes truffles, rouille, mayonnaise with crushed garlic, soupe au pistou, fish soup flavoured with basil, daube Provencale, beef stew with herbes de Provence, fougasse, round, flat bread with holes, and olives and nuts, la pissaladiere, invented in Nice is a square pizza-like finger food made with puff pastry, and callison, a cookie from Aix-en-Provence.
As you can see, the cuisine is rich and varied.
Provence also grows a lot of grapes. There are three wine producing regions Cotes de Provence, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, and Coteaux Varoisien. Each has several sub-regions – Bandol, Cassis, Bellet, Palette, Les Baux de Provence. This region is famous for its rose wines which complement the cuisine well.
For those who like exotic alcoholic beverages, pastis flavoured with liquorice and herbs is highly recommended. There is nothing better, and refreshing than a pastis on the rocks with a little water on a hot day while relaxing in a sidewalk café and watching the world go by.
There is no shortage of sites in Provence, Paul Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence, V. van Gogh painted in Arles and where he cut his ear, the castle in Les Baux de Provence, the city of Avignon, the former papal summer residence and towering medieval palace, the Pont d’Avignon (26 km. Eat of the city) is an engineering marvel of Roman building art (it is still in good condition), Gordes, the prettiest town in Luberon, and the set of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.
Getting there: You can fly from any major European city to Marseille, and from North America via Paris, or London, or Frankfurt/Main.
There are excellent TGV (Trains de Grand Vitesse) connections from Paris to Marseille or you can fly to Paris, rent a car (Renault achat rachat programme recommended) and drive via Burgundy to Provence.
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.