What is so special about Provence? Everything - above all what its charms bring out in YOU.
Prior to flying to Europe, every time I mentioned that my husband Eric and I would be spending a June week in Provence, the reaction was similar:
“Aren’t you lucky? I’m sooo jealous!”
During our honeymoon in 2014, we had spent two glorious weeks at a rented villa in this region in southern France, and this time we’d booked a different house with our son and his family. Both properties are located outside small villages and have private swimming pools.
Recently saying goodbye to this unique part of the world has stimulated my writing gene. I want to capture some of the magical feelings Provence triggers in my heart and to figure out what makes time there appear to stand still. If I had no friends or family, I could happily live there indefinitely.
What drives this love? Let me count the ways.
First, the light.
There is a clarity and softness to the light that has inspired artists like Cezanne and Van Gogh and makes photography a joy. Agriculture, vineyards, and tourism are the economic engines so there is no industrial pollution to desecrate the air.
Driving from the Avignon train station to our house in Eyguières, the two-lane road is well-paved and sprinkled with easy-to-manoeuvre roundabouts, rather than stop-and-go intersections. That alone makes the drive relaxing. Every so often, you pass through an avenue of lovely, evenly-spaced, large plane trees — maybe 20 on each side of the road. In the distance you see softly rounded hills with occasional outcroppings of rock; closer to the road lie waving fields of wheat, olive groves, vineyards, and the ubiquitous lavender.
Next: the architecture.
Ancient villages feature plenty of dry-stone walls and row houses. Built of either fieldstone or grey stucco, all buildings have wooden shutters and matching front doors that are painted gorgeous shades like mauve, yellow, turquoise, purple, red, or green. Even the most ordinary town is a treat for the eyes. Signs for stores or boulangeries are attractively designed, never garish. In spite of their weathered appearance, residents of these French towns enjoy the modern convenience of bank ATMs and the Internet.
Recently-built houses are golden stucco with red tile roofs. Wrought-iron gates are painted black, green, or turquoise. Being mid-June, flowers spill out of window boxes and leafy vines trail around the stone columns marking driveways.
Residential streets are narrow; many can only manage one car at a time. That was the case on our Chemin des Aubes where Le mazet d’ange (little angel house) sits, so there is a stoplight a few metres before our driveway to prevent collisions.
After the solid black gate opens by remote control, our car pulls onto the property and gravel crunches beneath our tires. The property’s privacy is assured by a high stuccoed wall and the beautiful 150 year-old house awaits. The online photos do not do the house justice. Gutted and renovated in 2013, its beauty is breathtaking.
Exterior walls are made of fieldstone and each window and door opening is surrounded by wide cut-stone, with a prominent keystone in the centre of the top border. Its wooden shutters are painted pale grey, and lavender perfumes the air as we carry our bags to the wide front door. The inviting turquoise rectangular pool has no metal ladder, so gradual steps as wide as the pool make slipping in a treat.
Third, the design.
After settling into the house, I am struck by the exquisite interior design of Provence: solid colours of white, taupe, brown; bedspreads embellished by quilted floral design rather than multicoloured prints; cool beige stone floors; black wrought-iron lamps; objets d’art with heart motif; attractive woven baskets; billowing white curtains held by grommets on thick rods. All the décor is marvellously relaxing; classy without being formal. We learn how to shut out early morning sunshine by leaning out bedroom windows and closing the shutters before going to bed. None of the four enormous showers needs a shower curtain.
In the dining alcove outside the kitchen, the ceiling-mounted lampshades are made of twisted sticks. The curved awning over the sitting area nearby is made of straight twigs. A mauve wisteria vine creeps up the wall. Carefully placed shrubs hide a small clothes-drying rack, beside an outdoor shower head.
Fourth, the sounds.
The full moon shines on Eric and me as we take a magical swim before bed and we are in paradise. We hear nothing: no traffic, no neighbours, no planes overhead, perhaps a dog or two in the distance. During the day we hear magpies and mourning doves and watch the occasional salamander creep up a wall. Bees drunk on nectar buzz noisily among the lavender blooms.
Fifth -- who can forget the food... and simply the way of life?
Provençal cuisine is renowned for its interesting flavours as cooks use plenty of fresh ingredients like garlic, onions, white wine, oregano, parsley, tomatoes, and fish. The cheeses, croissants, and baguettes are incredible. Although every village has easy access to modern supermarkets, market days bring locally grown fresh fruits, flowers, and vegetables and wine is sold at countless vineyards. I especially adore the rosé.
The village of Eyguières lies between the cities of Avignon and Aix-en-Provence and has only 7,000 inhabitants. We seem to be the only tourists and very little English is spoken. Thanks to Eric’s developing a cough, I have a chance to try out my medical French in the pharmacy and with the wonderful doctor whom we see for only 25 euro. As the house is in the village, walking into the centre takes all of 10 minutes. We walk single-file as the narrow sidewalks are overtaken by enormous plane trees.
We buy a few locally-made treasures on the main street and find the proprietors most welcoming. Our son has a great time mingling with the locals during a couple of games of boules in public parks. On our final evening, we pick up pizza from a tiny storefront and a bottle of rosé at the convenience store next door. Such delightful people and such a joyful way of life!
Photo: Le Mazet d’Ange, Eyguières, France, June 2019. Photo credit: Eric Hillmer