Discover Provence - Present Day
Discover Provençe... Modern Day
Modern Day Provence
Stretching from the Rhône to the Italian border, the "Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur" region encompasses the south-eastern French départements of Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes and Var. Each of these in turn are sub-divided into smaller subprefectures.
It’s the most important tourist region in France, with a population of 4.7 million concentrated largely on the coastal strip and in the Rhône valley. The regional capital, Marseille, is France's second city and most important port, and with 2 million inhabitants, greater Marseilles is the second largest urban area in France. There are few big cities besides Nice, Toulon and Avignon, and away from these, in the hills and the mountains of high Provence, even small towns are few and far between.
Provence is full of chocolate-box towns and villages, many of them are members of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (the Most Beautiful Villages of France). Defined by their cobbled streets, squares, fountains, arched passageways and sweeping views of the coastline and countryside, many such as Lourmarin, Ménerbes, Séguret, Uzès, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and Gordes can be found in the Vaucluse département.
Avignon, a city of less than 100,000 people, was the seat of the Catholic popes in the 13th century and its history is today preserved in chapels, churches and convents, plus the largest gothic palace in the world, the Palais des Papes. It is home to the Pont-du-Gard, a 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct that is one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Pont Saint-Bénézet also known as the Pont d'Avignon and the Petit Palais museum containing over 300 paintings and sculptures from the middle ages and renaissance. Each year, France’s largest performing arts festival, the Festival d’Avignon, takes place over three weeks every July.
Sur le Pont d'Avignon - Le Pont Saint-Bénézet
Many great French writers and artists have come from or lived in Provence. Frederic Mistral is to Provence what Robert Burns is to Scotland, an iconic national poet who wrote in the local language. Many artists have chosen to live in Provence, because of its legendary light. Chagall lived in Nice, Picasso resided in the small village of Vauvenargues and Paul Cézanne, one of the greatest of the impressionists, was actually a native of Aix-en-Provence which is considered the cultural capital of Provence and has a long association with history and nobility.
Perhaps nothing could be more quintessentially French than the Provençal market. Almost every city, town and village in the region has a market day featuring everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to flowers and antiques, warm bread, ripening goats cheese, sun-baked tomatoes and buckets of olives. Some of the best include the flower market in Nice, the Marché Forville food market in Cannes and the fish market in Marseille.
The quintessentially French Provençal market
The seemingly endless coastline of Provence, one of the most picturesque in France, boasts sweeping sandy beaches with some of the cleanest waters being on the French Riviera. Marseille’s Corniche Kennedy, with its private beaches, hosts bars and restaurants such as Le Rhul, which has specialised in bouillabaisse since 1948.
The Calanques National Park, stretching between Marseille and Cassis features meandering fjords that have been carved out by the sea over centuries, plus the Massif des Calanques, terrain that spans over 4km with staggering limestone cliffs that spill into turquoise coves which are peppered with underwater caves.
To the west are the Côte-Bleue, the Gulf de Lion and the Camargue region, a vast plain comprising large brine lagoons or "étangs" cut off from the sea by sand-bars and encircled by reed-covered marshes. The Camargue Regional Natural Park, covering more than 900 square kilometres and comprising salt-flats and lakes, is also home to an astonishing array of wildlife, including semi-wild bulls and the famous Camargue white horses.
Known for its wonderfully sunny weather and clear skies, Provence is home to “Le Mistral”, a strong, cold, north-westerly wind, occurring mostly in the winter and spring. From the old Occitan dialect meaning “masterly”, the mistral is forceful, brisk, and bitterly cold. It can reach speeds of up to 100mph as it blows through southern France into the Gulf of Lion.
Originating in the Bay of Biscay, between low and high-pressure fronts, it pulls air from the foothills of the Alps and accelerates through the valleys of the Rhône and the Durance Rivers all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean around the Camargue region.
Acting like nature’s vacuum cleaner, and bringing crystal clear skies in its wake, it’s a boisterous dry wind that speaks of adventures because it is said to capture the fragrance of the rolling vineyards, olive groves, pine forests and lavender fields it has crossed on its journey to the sea.
The lavender fields so synonymous with Provence
Visible effects of The Mistral
Flowers bloom throughout the year in Provence, but none could be more synonymous with the region than lavender, which turns vast swathes of the countryside purple. With more than 2,000 producers and roughly 25,000 people employed in the industry, working across 20,000 hectares, lavender is big business in Provence.
Overall, the cultural heritage of Provence is profoundly Mediterranean, Provençal life is rooted in its countryside, small towns and vibrant markets. Many people in the region speak French with a strong regional accent, a reminder that the traditional language of a large part of this region is not French at all, but Provençal, a south-European language resembling Catalan or Spanish more closely than it resembles the French spoken in Paris or the north of the country. In many towns and cities, street names and other signs are written in both French and Provençal. In the east of the region, towards Nice and the Italian border, local dialects and culture are much closer to Italian.
This sunny south-eastern corner of France is a cultural melting-pot offering a rich palette of experiences, historic, architectural, artistic and above all, breath-takingly scenic.
Marseille soaps have been produced by French artisan craft master soap makers using
traditional methods for over 600 years.
Uniting the rich organic produce of Provence with natural and ecological values, they create exquisite soaps with exceptional skin care properties.
Here you can discover their heritage and find out why they are internationally recognised
as some of the best soaps in the world.