Winter in Provence February 03 2018, 0 Comments
Provence in winter is very different from the tourist clichés of lavender fields and rosé wine. So let explore this less known side of Provence with Calissons by Gilles.
English people are known to spend their winter in Provence. Winter tourism in Provence began at the end of the 18th century. Wealthy English, notables and aristocrats experimented the “mild winter” of Provence. We must admit it was mostly to the French Riviera, “la Côte d’Azur” where the weather is warmer.
The climate is more extreme in Western Provence than on the Riviera. It's hotter in summer and colder in winter. The fierce and cold wind from the north, the Mistral, roars down the Rhône Valley towards the coast. The Mistral can reach 60 mph and last for days (usually 3 or 6). Inhabitants will tell you, Mistral is powerful and cold, but the reward is a bright blue sky and shiny sunshine. Only in Provence!
When the wind is down, daytime winter temperatures in Marseille can reach 12°C (53°F). For sure it will be cold for a swim but it is pleasant enough to lunch outdoors in a sunny and sheltered spot.
In Southern Provence snow is very rare, but it is very likely in the southern Alps and Luberon region. The village of Gordes under snow is totally wonderful and the views are stunning.
Keep in mind that, in winter, weather can change suddenly. The further east you go, the less severe is the Mistral. La Ciotat, near Marseille, enjoy a delicious and warm microclimate all year. Generally the villages and cities along the coast from La Ciotat to Monaco are very pleasant all year.
Provence's winter festivals celebrate seasonal products, wine, and gastronomy.
One exception: Avignon has one of the largest equestrian shows in Europe, Cheval Passion is a must for horse lovers. It takes place in mid-January.
If you're looking for a romantic and unusual destination for Valentine's Day, try Roquemaure. On that day the whole town dresses up in 19th century costumes to celebrate true love with a procession, a banquet and dancing.
Don't come to Provence in search of Mardi Gras carnivals. Except for the famous one in Nice, most towns in Provence prefer to wait for the warmer weather.
In the Var, (Eastern Provence) the mimosa trail, a route mapped out by the Var Tourism Office, takes you along the coast where, from January to March, these spectacular bright yellow trees are blooming. One of the towns on this route, Mandelieu-La Napoule, has a famous mimosa festival in mid-February.
The hill-top village of Tourrettes sur Loup has a violet flower festival also in mid-February, and the village of Menton will charm you with its lemon festival.
Wine festivals in Provence are held from September to December. The seaside village of Bandol holds the last major wine festival of the year, the Fête du Millésime, on the first weekend of December. Expect plenty of wine tastings and street entertainment!
The Winter Sports
The Provence and especially the Departments of Hautes Alpes and Alpes de Hautes Provence enjoy a wide range of winter sports resorts. The Mountain area is called Les Alpes du Sud.
They offer all types of winter activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ski bike etc… Some also have cultural activities.
Calissons by Gilles will bring you there next month.
Calissons by Gilles tip: The Winter Sales
Good to know: Dates of sales in France are strictly regulated by the French government. They take place twice a year and les soldes d’hiver (winter sales) start the second Wednesday in January and last for exactly six weeks. For some years now, Marseille has widely developed its shopping districts around the city.
One of the biggest commercial and shopping area of Europe is located 5 km to the north of Marseille. The area is called Plan de Campagne. You will find absolutely everything there, from clothes to houses ! Hotels and entertainments are readily available.
On weekend Calissons by Gilles advise you to go there before 10:00am and leave before 3:00pm to avoid the huge traffic jams which totally paralyze the area, and even more on sales periods. Plan de Campagne’s famous bouchons!
The sights and attractions
Usually Provençal villages close down between November and Easter. It will be harder to find a restaurant or place to stay. However many places remain very active at this period of the year. It is also the time to discover a more peaceful Provence. For instance, visiting Les Baux de Provence in summer can be very exhausting given that this is one of the most visited village in summer.
The Medieval Castel remains open throughout the year and has a very busy cultural program. The village of Lourmarin is one of the “In” place to be, with plenty of bars and restaurants operating in the low season.
The best open air attraction according to Calissons by Gilles is definitely a visit of the Calanques from La Ciotat (see our November 2016 article’s). No worries about parking!
You can also take a tour of the Camargue. It's a good time for bird-watching. The famous pink flamingos will still be there - and their plumage is at its most vibrant in winter.
Provence's usual street markets will continue through the winter with seasonal produce. But the gastronomic star is undoubtedly the black truffle. If you are looking for more information on the black truffle, have a look to our November’s article dealing especially with the black diamond.
Also happening around this time of year is the olive harvest usually coupled with olive oil festivals and fairs. There you will taste a wide variety of olive oil with a wide range of flavors: acid, salty, fruity.
The vocabulary which characterize an olive oil is extremely furnished ; we can compare this to oenology for wine !
The Provence cooking in winter is both healthy and heavy and will keep you warm inside.
You can taste a Daube which is a beef stew, with onions, olives, carrots in a red wine sauce.
Do you like sweets? You will be in heaven in Provence : you can try the “pompes à l’huile” (olive oil brioche) slightly perfumed with orange blossom; the “Navettes” of Marseille (biscuits made in Marseille); the brioche des Rois with its jewel colors; dark chocolate and the famous Calissons.
With Calissons by Gilles the rest of the world can experience a piece of Provence. Do not hesitate anymore and taste one!
About The Author:
Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.