Provence is the sunny bit at the bottom of France. There’s a seaside bit (the Côte d’Azur,) a marshy bit (the Camargue) and a hilly bit (the Alps.)
The earliest known settlement is a neolithic site from 6,000 BC located near Marseille’s railway station, which shows just how advanced they were. The Greeks established Massalia as an ’emporium’ (Cash ‘n’ Carry.) Next up were the Romans, who found the region such a pleasant holiday destination that they called it ‘Our Province.’ The Romans stayed for 300 years, during which time they built many ruins. In 275 AD Germanic tribes invaded Provence and have been doing so ever since.
Marseille is France’s second city and joins ‘New York, New York’ and ‘I Left my Heart in San Francisco’ in having a song named after it. Actually La Marseillaise was written by a citizen of Strasbourg and sung in Paris by revolutionaries from Marseille who’d heard it sung there by a man from Montpellier. So the title of France’s national anthem just means ‘That song those blokes from Marseilles sing.’
Near Marseilles is the Museum of the French Foreign Legion at Aubagne. The Legion owes its legendary status to its brave stand at the Battle of Camerone (Mexico 1863.) An expeditionary force led by Capitaine Danjou finally surrendered to the Mexican Army when they’d been whittled down to the last two Legionnaires. Capitaine Danjou himself died in the battle and his trademark wooden hand was stolen. The Mexicans later returned it to the museum, where it is paraded annually on Camerone Day. A parade not to miss, I think.
Also near Marseilles is La Ciotat, whose station has a special place in cinema history. In 1895 the Lumière brothers premièred the world’s first motion picture, their 52-second epic ‘Train Entering La Ciotat Station’. Sadly the two sequels ‘Feuilles Sur La Ligne’ and ‘Action Industrielle’ were panned by the critics.
The fashionable resort of Nice was named ‘Nike’ by the Greeks, after the goddess of child labour. Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais was built in the 18th century. English tourists wintering in Nice took pity on the town’s unemployed and encouraged them to make themselves useful by building a new promenade. Finally the English could walk along the seafront without ruining their spats.
The Alps of Provence are home to the marmot, a 5kg mountaineering hamster, which wards off predators by chattering its teeth. Must try that. Marmots hibernate for nine months of the year and seal their burrow with faeces. Marmots are an endangered species because they’re so slow at breeding. Your love-life would probably suffer too if your front door was sealed with faeces.
The Camargue is home to Europe’s most virulent mosquito. Only the female bites and she can lay eggs every three days if she gets enough blood. The non-biting male is notable for his conspicuous external genitalia. What a family.
Provence’s regional apéritif ‘pastis’ wasn’t invented until 1915, when the authorities banned absinthe because of its alleged psychoactive effects. Oscar Wilde described the feeling, after drinking absinthe, of having tulips on his legs. I think I’ll have a pastis.
© 2008 richardheacock @ mac.com
Provence is a former Roman province and is now a region of south-eastern France, located on the Mediterranean Sea adjacent to France’s border with Italy. It is now part of the administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA). The traditional region of Provence includes the departments of Var, Vaucluse, and Bouches-du-Rhône in addition to parts of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes.
The Riviera is bathed in blue – the blue of the sky and sea with its glamorous resorts Saint-Tropez, Cassis, Bormes Mimosas, Saint Raphael, Nice and Cannes. Inland features its perched villages, the Verdon Canyon, the Ventoux mount, the Alpilles and further along the coast the unique Camargue ( Arles, the Baux de Provence, the Saintes Maries de la Mer) and its wild horses and flamingos. The Luberon – made famous by Peter Mayle – with its fields of lavenders, and architectural splendour of Avignon.
When you tire of chilling out on the beaches, walking in the fields of Lavender, exploring the wilds of the Luberon and Camargue, here are some attractions to visit:
Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace), Avignon
Avignon is a delight – full of surprises – from the river and its Pont d’Avignon to the fortified city with its massive Gothic palace, Palais des Papes, there are historic treasures to admire.
Musee Matisse, Nice, Cote d’Azur
Surrounded by an olive garden, this museum has a collection of paintings spanning Henri Matisse’s life.
Granet Museum (Musee Granet), Aix-en-Provence
This museum houses a collection of French paintings from the 16th century onwards. It is named after the famous local painter François Granet.
Atelier Cezanne, Aix-en-Provence
This is the studio of the famous painter Paul Cézanne. It has been preserved in its original state.
In the spring, the weather can be very changeable with sunny days mixed with partial cloud and showers. However, when it rains it pours. Fortunately, the showers are usually brief. Beware the Mistral wind, blowing down the Rhone Valley, which can rage for days!
Summers can be very hot although evening temperatures will drop. A haze can persist in the early mornings but the sun quickly burns it away. There are days of glorious sunshine.
During Autumn (Fall), storms can spring up and be quite fierce in the mountains. Many days of sunshine with less haze and pleasant temperatures.
Along the coast Winters are mild, and the sun will be shining brightly still! Snow rarely falls at lower levels but the mountains above 1500m will be covered during the middle of winter.
By Plane: The Provence region is well served by flights from the UK. Marseilles is served by Air France, BA and Easyjet. Air France, BMI Baby, EasyJet and BA to Nice. Ryan Air flies into Toulon.
By Car: There are Autoroutes into Provence from Calais: about 10-12 hours driving! We suggest avoiding the Paris Peripherique route, and not to travel in August especially at weekends!
TGV: The TGV (high speed rail service) service is available to the South coast via Paris from Calais (or Eurostar from the UK). Arrives in Aix-en-Provence
About 4.5 million: the population is concentrated along the coast.
Marseille (830,000 – including county 1,400,000)
Aix en Provence (135,000)
This is one of the most expensive regions of France. In the chic locations along the coast Provence property prices are high and there is demand for quality apartments and villas. Away from the coast, prices drop substantially. Here you can enjoy the benefits of rural France, yet be within a short drive of the major resorts and towns along the coast.
Apartments: 90,000 (inland); 110,000 euros (coast)
Farmhouses: 250,000 +
Townhouses: 175,000 (village)
Villas: 250,000 + (more on the coast)
Land: 80 + euros per m2
Provence Property SelectionListed below are the departments in the region of Provence; the number of properties in each department are denoted in brackets - click on a department to see the properties available.
All the properties in Provence by department.
(Number in brackets = number of properties)
Alpes de Haute Provence Property (14)
Alpes Maritimes Property (27)
Bouches du Rhône Property (11)
Hautes Alpes Property (1)
Var Property (929)
Vaucluse Property (20)