You may ask, “Isn’t Provence sad and dull in winter?” I would answer, “Not at all.” I know Provence in all seasons and winter has gotten to be a favorite time to visit. First, there is usually bright sun, warm enough to sit at a sidewalk café or enjoy walks in the crisp air. Tourists and visitors are few. Life is normal. In winter the simple, rustic atmosphere of magical Provence casts a deeper, penetrating spell on people than in summer.
Magical is the first word that came to my mind many years ago when I needed to describe Provence. I wasn’t the only one to settle on this description. Almost everyone who experiences Provence eventually comes back to this word. What is magical about it? Other parts of Europe have picturesque, centuries-old villages too. My conclusion is this: First, it’s the air and, second, people don’t have any ‘airs.’
The powerful Mistral winds sweep down through the mountain ranges clearing the air and dispersing the subtle aroma of Herbs de Provence – thyme, laurel, rosemary, lavender, sage – while in Marseille, after a Mistral, the salty sea air is particularly strong and stimulating. Walking along the corniche is the perfect mid-winter health generator. These are heady combinations, but Provence is also unpretentious. It is a place where defences quickly dissipate; people become normal and natural. Even happy. Small things become great pleasures. In Provence it can’t be any other way.
Each time I am in Marseille visiting family, we make an excursion somewhere in Provence. This last time, over the Christmas and New Year holidays, it was a drive to the Luberon, stopping along the way to have a look at the 16th century castle ruins of Tour d’Aigues, then to a wine estate to pick up some foritfications and finally to Lourmarin, for a leisurely lunch at Restaurant l’Antiquaire, followed by a visit to it’s fine castle museum. In summer the narrow streets, cafés and boutiques of most towns in Provence are teeming with tourists. Off season it’s you and whoever you’re with. Here and there some people, mostly from around the area, are on an excursion, like you.
In winter, Provence is yours.
Photos: dvgarabedian; Header photo: Lourmarin in January