Provence France - French Holidays
Provence is a very alluring place: from the snowy Alpine peaks, to the flamingos of the Carmargue, there are fortified towns, culture, history, sunshine, wine and food bursting at you from every direction, enticing you back year after year. The coastline is a stomping ground for the rich and famous. Inland, Provence has managed to escape the ravages of time and its history speaks for itself through the villages perched on hilltops, ready to defend themselves against invading Greeks, Romans or Sarracens, popes and princes alike.
The region was only finally integrated into France in the 19th century. Although the language is almost extinct, the southern accent is very noticeable: imagine an Italian speaking French, and you have a close approximation of the accent.
There are great towns in Provence, including the Roman cities of the Rhône valley: Arles with its connections to Van Gogh; Orange with its Roman theatre and the counts of Orange (remember William and Mary from 1688?); and Carpentras, which has Celtic origins going back to 5BC. Avignon is an old papal city. Aix-en-Provence, a university town and the 'Paris of the south' was favoured by the painter Cézanne.
Landscapes are an important feature in Provence. In fact, in the east, the landscapes are more spectacular than the towns, with the Gorge du Verdon being Europe's answer to the Grand Canyon. There is nothing like the plains of the Carmargue anywhere else in France, famed for its flamingos and horses. Western Provence produces much of the region's fruit, vegetables and wine along the banks of the Rhône and Durance rivers. The most famous wine regions are between Vienne (south of Lyons) and Valence, including the Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage labels. Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine is made on the route towards Avignon, where the popes used to live. In the north, shepherds flock to village markets to sell their wares during the summer months, and these markets close during the snowy winters, leaving the modern Swiss chalets and ski resorts to thrive.
The Parc National du Mercantour runs for 75km along the Italian border from Barcelonette in the north to the pretty Italian-influenced village of Sospel in the south. The park is a haven for wildlife and you can see ibex, marmots and even golden eagles there.
As for the food, Provence has a whole gamut of olive oils, from golden yellow to green, and a luxurious truffle season. The chestnut and olive groves contribute to the fantastic landscape of this colourful and Mediterranean region.