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PROVENCE - Chapter 5

Provence - cicada logo

Shopping in Provence

According to Maribeth Clemente in The Riches of France (see inset below), the commodities most native to Provence include: lavender sachets, bouquets and pillows; le croquant Villaret ; rugs; pottery; embroidered house linens; dried-flower topiaries; French cowboy wear; piqués de Marseille (highly worked, decorative quilt-like textiles); Provençal prints; handmade tiles; hand-painted faïence (earthenware, crockery); antique jewelry; trendy womenswear; antiques; santons (clay figurines); old garden furniture; paper sculpture; savon de Marseille (soap); trompe l'oeil plates; cicada-inspired creations (la cigale is the consummate symbol of the Provence region); sandales tropeziennes (sandals of St-Tropez); boating attire; table arts; candy-colored candles; fashion trimmings; images of Cézanne.


During the French Revolution, when churches were closed, a Marseilles sculptor named Jean-Louis Lagnel began making small figurines that the locals, deprived of their nativities at Christmas, could use to create their own creches. These figures, called santons ('little saints' in Provençal), were modelled in clay, fired and painted in bright colors. Their appeal was immediate, and santon cribs soon became an important feature of Provençal homes. Following the Revolution, when churches re-opened, the santon makers turned their hands to more traditional local figures, such as fishermen, knife grinders, milk maids, and others. Santon making has survived to this day as one of Provence's most traditional crafts, and the figurines are a popular souvenir item with tourists.

Santons Fouque, 65 cours Gambetta, Aix-en-Provence

Provençal Food Staples and Cuisine

In The Riches of France, Ms. Clemente attributes the following foodstuffs and delicacies as Provençal specialties: olive oil; anchoïade (mashed salted anchovies, olive oil and garlic on bread); tapénade (purée made from capers, black olives, anchovies, and olive oil; used as a dip or spread); calissons d'Aix (little candies made from ground almonds blended with candied fruit, glazed and resting on a thin wafer); home-made jams & honeys; navettes (cookie-like snacks); truffles; herbes de Provence (thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, bay leaf).

Glynn Christian, in his book Edible France, A Traveler's Guide, explores in detail the traditions and origins of Provençal cooking. While the Provence landscape offers scant topsoil yet lots of sunlight, olive trees, vines, and orchards abound. Since there is little in the way of pastures on which to graze cattle, the Provençal diet features many vegetarian dishes; if meat is involved it is usually lamb. Fish and shellfish from the Mediterranean are also components of the Provençal diet. Dessert customarily involves fruit, rather than cheese products common to other parts of France; the variations of cheese made here are primarily from one style, a small, white, fresh cheese called a brousse, mainly from sheep's milk (though sometimes from goat's milk).

Among the best Provençal wines: Cassis, Bandol and Palette, Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence, Coteaux Varois, Coteaux des Baux, Côtes de Lubéron, Côtes de Provence, Côtes-du-Rhône, Gigondas, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The traditional Provençal apéritif is Pastis, a licorice-flavored liquor made from the fruit of the herb anise (similar to the Greek ouzo), diluted with water until cloudy white.


It is believed that the Phoenicians brought the first vines to Provence, and the Greeks brought the Persian Shiraz (grape) to grow on the banks of the Rhône. There's no doubt that wine production has a long history, and that the French AOC (Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée ) naming and quality control system for wines began here.

Wine & grapesChâteauneuf-du-Pape was not named for its wines, however, but rather for the castle built here between 1316 and 1333 for Pope John XXII as his summer residence. Though it has been plundered over the years (the last assault was by German troops who blew up most of the huge keep in 1944), thankfully the pope's vineyards continue to produce the divine elixir known the world over for its quality and potency: reds from Châteauneuf reach an unbelievable 15% alcohol content. Today Châteauneuf produces around 13 million bottles annually (about 650,000 white wine, the rest red).

Rows of green vines rise out of a sea of limestone pebbles once rolled by the Rhône. They act as a furnace which reflects the sun's heat onto the ripening grapes. Up to thirteen varieties of grape may be used in making the wine. As might be expected, there is a museum to the wine trade in the village; several producers stage tastings and sell distinctive bottles emblazoned with the crossed-key papal crest.

The hardy, gnarled olive tree cannot grow at heights or far inland, but flourishes in Provence; oil mills remain essential to everyday life here. The insignia "Huile de Provence" is a guarantee of quality, and -- like so many other French food and wine products -- is graded strictly, in this case according to its acid content (the lower, the better).

Truffles are also found in Provence, growing around the roots of certain white oak trees, truffle oaks (chênes blancs truffés ). Their season runs from mid-November through the middle of February, when they are ripest, most flavorsome, and cheapest. Since they grow as much as a foot underground, trained pigs or dogs are used to find them, though the country folk out walking can spot them by tapping the ground with a stick as they walk toward the sun. Once the light glitters on a disturbed swarm of tiny transparent flies, they've found a truffle.

Bibliography: 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v9.0.1. A Year In Provence, Peter Mayle, 1991, Vintage Books, division of Random House, Inc., New York. The Road from the Past - Traveling Through History In France, Ina Caro, 1994, Doubleday, division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., New York. The Riches of France (A Shopping and Touring Guide to the French Provinces), Maribeth Clemente, 1997, St. Martin's Griffin, New York. Fodor's 97 France, Fodor's Travel Publications, New York. Provence & Côte d'Azur Visitor's Guide, Richard Sale, 1996, Hunter Publishing Inc., Edison, NJ. Edible France - A Traveler's Guide, Glynn Christian, Jenni Muir, 1997, Interlink Publishing Group Inc., Brooklyn, NY. The Roman Remains of Southern France, James Bromwich, 1996, Routledge.

Provence Links:


Camping Sites in Provence
Russ Collins of Beyond the French Riviera has assembled this comprehensive directory of camp sites in the departments of
Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, and Vaucluse.

Paul Cézanne
Born at Aix-en-Provence, the French painter Paul Cézanne is regarded today as one of the great forerunners of modern painting, putting down on canvas exactly what his eye saw in nature, and employing a unique treatment of space, mass, and color.

The Game of Boules (or Pétanque )
Perhaps the sport that is closest to French hearts, the game of "Pied-Tanqué" originated in Provence around 1910. Similar to British lawn bowling or Italian
bocce , the French version is traditionally played with metallic balls on a dirt surface beneath plane trees, with a glass of pastis at hand. Learn more about its history, playing regulations, equipment, and the international federation which numbers some 600,000 players.

More Recommended Reading:


Eating Out in Provence and the Cote D'Azur:
A Personal Guide to over 220 Local Restaurants

by Edward Roch ; Paperback - 192 pages, 1st edition ; Published 1992 by Interlink Publishing Group.
Usually ships within 24 hours. List Price: $12.95 -- Our Price: $10.36 -- You Save: $2.59 (20%).

Patricia Wells at Home in Provence:
Recipes Inspired by Her Farmhouse in France

by Patricia Wells, Robert Freson (Photographer) ; Hardcover ; Published October 1996 by Scribner.
Usually ships within 24 hours. List Price: $40.00 -- Our Price: $28.00 -- You Save: $12.00 (30%).

Chapter 1:

Provençal History & Language

Chapter 2:

Provence Geography & Climate

Chapter 3:

Cities and Regions of Provence

Chapter 4:

Traces of Roman Civilization

Chapter 5:

Shopping, Cuisine, Provence Links

Nostradamus bust

Physician, Astrologer, Prophet
~ and son of PROVENCE ~

(click here)

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