4 reasons to fall in love with Provence, FranceFeb 27, 2023 11:59AM ● By Victor Block
Some places are more than a destination and topping that list is Provence, France. The Maryland-size enclave, nestled in the country's southeastern corner, immediately immerses visitors in a setting and lifestyle that cajoles and captivates.
While the glitzy French Riviera has many advocates, I limited my recent stay to what I call the “real” Provence. It's an area of tiny towns and even smaller villages. Mountain chains overlook valleys blanketed by a checker board of vineyards, orchards and olive trees.
Against this backdrop emerge the jewels of Provence that lie at the heart of its charm. These are history-rich hilltop villages of stone buildings crowding narrow, winding cobblestone streets and walkways, and compact tree-shaded squares lined by sidewalk cafés.
These casual brasseries represent one of four other factors that make a visit to this corner of France more than memorable. I am referring to the history, food, wine and people.
Phoenicians who arrived six centuries before the birth of Christ were followed by Greeks and later Romans. While Rome held sway over this swath of fertile land, from about 100 BC until its empire disintegrated five centuries later, Provence became one of the realm's wealthiest provinces.
In the Middle Ages, the region was invaded by successive waves of fierce marauders. Evidence of this colorful past abound. In the town of St. Remy, remains of the once-grand Greek city of Glanum stand near a Roman triumphal arch and funerary monument. The two-tiered Roman amphitheater in Arles, which was built in 90 AD, once held more than 20,000 spectators who watched chariot races and gladiators.
Food & Wine
Much of France's well-deserved reputation for fabulous food and wine is based upon what is grown, made and cooked in Provence. The vegetables on my plate, often seasoned with garlic and local olive oil, was grown in fields close by. Regional specialty sweets like artisan chocolate, candied fruits and nougat tempt the palate and challenge your next step on a scale.
Wine has been made in this region for at least 2,600 years, first by the Greeks and then Romans. Provence is known predominately for rosé wine, which accounts for about half of the local production. Some oenophiles also praise its spicy, full-flavored reds. I felt obligated to sample both.
Friendly Frenchmen (and women)
Even given these pleasures of the past and palate-pleasing flavors of food and wine, I found the people of Provence to also be among its most endearing treasures.
When I struggled with my elementary school-level French, they offered help with their elementary-
level English. When I encountered a car problem, an off-duty policeman cheerfully came to my rescue. If I looked lost while walking in town, a local passerby invariably offered assistance.
The genuine friendliness and welcoming attitude of the Provencales might be reason enough to visit this inviting corner of France. Given the many other enticements, it's no wonder why the destination is placed high on many travel bucket lists.
Live like the locals
I traveled to Provence with Untours, a company with which I have traveled in the past. It's motto and goal to enable participants to “Live like the locals” is perfectly suited to a stay in Provence, as I was immersed in its local culture and customs.
Untours provided my wife and me with a wealth of helpful pre-trip information, accommodations, a rental car and a first-day briefing by the on-site company representative.
We stretched our budget by enjoying some meals at our home away from home—and I don't mean a hotel room. That's a "no-no" for the company. Instead, where you stay becomes part of the travel experience.
In Provence, we stayed in a beautifully renovated century-old house in Pernes-les-Fontaines, a fortified Medieval town named for 41 ornate public fountains that began furnishing water to inhabitants in the 17th century. The house’s interior was a treasure trove of reminders of its history and that of Provence. Wall hangings and knickknacks displayed artifacts representing both the past and present-day life. In the enclosed yard, olive trees and a grape arbor hinted at the gastronomic pleasures that abound.
Untours travels to 13 European countries and also offers canal, river and small ship sea cruises.