|World Europe France Provence|
No part of France is more compelling than Provence, or richer in
scenery, art, and the sense of history. The landscape has an epic and
timeless quality, very Mediterranean. Hills terraced with vines and
olives roll to blue horizons; the warm air is scented with jasmine or
lavender; a lone cypress stands by an old stone barn, like a painting by
Van Gogh, who loved this land so well.
The long coast of Provence, from Marseilles via the naval base of Toulon to the Esterel, is in many ways pleasanter than the more famous stretch from Cannes via Nice to Menton. It is far less urbanized, and in many parts it is just as beautiful - notably the deep rocky coves W. of the little fishing port of Cassis; the Cote des Maures, where wooded hills slope steeply to little bays; the Ramatuelle Peninsula; the strip N. of Ste Maxime, where gaunt umbrella pines stand out on rocks beside the dazzling sea; and the weird coast of the Esterel, with its savage red cliffs.
Everywhere there are fine sandy beaches and delightful hotels, some not too expensive. The best resorts, small or medium-sized, for a family holiday are possibly Cassis, Bandol, Giens, Aiguebelle, Cavalaire, Ste Maxirrte, Les Issambres, Agay, Miramar, and Theoule. Just inland there are some enchanting old Proven~al hill-villages -
(Opposite) Gordes, a hill-village of Provence Picturepoint
Bormes, Ramatuelle, Gassin, Grimaud; still largely unspoilt despite the vogue among film stars and intellectuals for buying up old houses and villas all around. The only really fashionable resort on all this coast is St Tropez. Unlike Cannes or Nice, it is garish and bohemian, a tiny fishing port, thronged all summer with modish sophisticates. St Tropez is colourful and restless - and great fun.
If you want an experience even more bizarre, but also more contrived, go to the island of Bendor, near Bandol - owned and run by Paul Ricard, the aperitif magnate, as a kind of avantgarde holiday camp.
Proven~al cooking is rich and distinguished, strongly flavoured with olive oil, wild herbs, and garlic. It is a subtle blend of fishermen's and mountain cooking. Of the fish dishes, the greatest is bouillabaisse (an elaborate fish stew, with garlic), followed by the somewhat similar bourride, and loup au fenouil (bass grilled with fennel).
All are expensive. Soupe de poissons (fish soup with garlic) and soupe de pistou (vegetable soup with garlic) are both much cheaper, and excellent. Beef or lamb are often succulently grilled with herbs on open wood or charcoal fires, or: served marinaded in stews (bvuf en daube and the rest). Ratatouille is an unusual vegetable dish. Fruit is plentiful - try the sweet pink Cavaillon melons. There are some excellent full-bodied wines from the lower Rhdne Valley, both red (including Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas) and rose (Tavel). Some of the dry white wines from the coastal regions are also good - Cassis, Bandol, Pierrefeu, and others.
|2007 travel guides|