"I am now in the land of corn, wine, oil, and sunshine" wrote Thomas Jefferson on a 1787 visit to the Provence. "What more can a man ask of heaven?"
The food, the olive oil, the wines of the Provence! Combine this with the beautiful countryside, its quaint villages and the cities steeped in tradition: Avignon, Arles, Orange, Aix en Provence, Marseilles, Toulon, Antibes, Nice, Menton and you have a perfect recipe for a wonderful holiday.
Many of the dishes of the Provence will already be familiar to you, so much has been written about them and so many restaurants have them on their menus. But you will be surprised how many local culinary treasures are yet to be discovered visiting the Provence. One thing is for sure: In gastronomic terms there is not one Provence but many Provences. Because each region has its typical dishes. The common denominator is the abundant use of vegetables, olive oil and typical spices of the Provence, such as rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, bay leaf (laurel), marjoram and sariette (summer savory). And let's not forget the garlic. All this makes for very healthy cooking, meeting today's demands for tasty, low cholesterol food. Many famous chefs have realized the potential of Provençal food and have turned these simple local recipes into delicious, mouth watering fares. These masters gave a new style and a fresh look to these ancient recipes. They strike a chord here with the French, a very urban society, but with a sentimental attachment to the countryside you rarely find in other cultures.
Between November and January the olives are crushed to make the fragrant olive oil that is the cornerstone of the Provençale cuisine. You can visit the oil mills and see first hand how its is done. The shrubs of the hills and mountains of the Provence, the "Garrigue", produce the many herbs, which are essential to the cusine of the Provence.
One of the great pleasures vacationing in the Provence is drinking great wines for a fraction of what you pay at home. You can also discover many wines you probably have never heard of. This is one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world, going back to Greek settlers who introduced the Syrah grape (originally from Shiraz in Persia). The Romans expanded wine growing; their troops were partially paid in wine and growing wine locally cut down on transport costs. Later the nobility of the Provence and the Popes in Avignon cheerished their glass of wine. In the 1930's a local lawyer and wine grower in Châteauneuf du Pape lead the effort to upgrade quality and obtain the valued Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (A.O.C) classification, a quality control system for food and wine.
The most highly regarded wines of the Provence are the Southern Côtes du Rhône, the northern section being part of the Rhône-Alpes region. The reds of Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cairanne, Rasteau, the rosé wines of Tavel (the king of rosés) and the red and whites of Lirac are top quality yet still affordable (as compared to wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy). Most wine experts include the Côtes du Ventoux and the Côtes du Luberon in this region.
Next in line are the wines grouped together under the Côtes de Provence A.O.C. denomination, a wide area stretching from Marseilles to Nice. Roughly 80% of this wine is rosé - a light, dry, slightly fruity wine, perfect for summer. Very popular in France where sales of rosé are expanding while overall wine consumption in France declines. The Provence accounts for more than 50% of France's rosé production.
Other smaller wine growing regions are:
Bandol: the oldest vineyards of France dating to 600 BC produce a highly regarded, deep-flavored red wine blend dominated by the Mourvèdre grape.
Les Baux de Provence: red wine
Bellet: small wine growing region close to Nice, wine is consumed locally.
Cassis: white wine, small production mainly consumed locally.
Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence: mainly dry rosé and reds, mostly produced by wine cooperatives.
Coteaux Varois: mainly rosés and light reds.
Palette: a tiny area (50 acres) close to Aix en Provence, highly regarded wines, mostly reds.