Book Review: Lavender, Loss & Love at the Villa des Violettes

“Families come in all shapes and sizes.”

This phrase, spoken by one the women in Patricia Sands’ new novella, is a good summary of what this lovely book is about. And what families they are! United by love, friendship, and sometimes even biology. Sands shows us how families bind us together, forming the center of a life well-lived.

As with all of her books, Sands does a wonderful job of capturing the sights, smells, and flavors of this unique part of the world. We see the stunning ocher mines of Roussillon, the austere beauty of the Abbey de Senanque, and the magical sound & light show inside the Carrières de Lumières. We learn about Provencal traditions like la vendange—the grape harvest—where each new vintage begins with a joyous celebration. And of course, there are meals, lots of meals, with tables bursting with the bounty of Provence.

Learn more about this fun new book at Perfectly Provence!

5 Top Hilltop Villages in Provence

Provence is famous for its hilltop towns, known in French as villages perchés. These lovely villages, with their winding, narrow streets, were situated as high as possible back in the old days, as protection against brigands and invaders. Today we can take advantage of their lofty perches to enjoy their charm and their fabulous views, while the only invaders are tourists.

Want to discover some of the best of these villages perchés? Then read my article in The Good Life France!

How to Spend a Day in St-Rémy-de-Provence

It may be the middle of winter, but what better time to plan a trip to sunny Provence? And if you go, you won’t want to miss St-Rémy-de-Provence, where my wife and I live for part of the year.

Provence has so many great places to visit that you may only have a day for St-Rémy. I’m here to help you plan that day, with ideas on art (Van Gogh!), markets, restaurants, nature, and more.

You can read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

The Most Beautiful Villages in Provence

My friend Annette Charlton is a part-time Frenchie like me, splitting her time between homes in Australia and Brittany. She has a wonderful website called A French Collection that you should definitely check out.

Annette recently asked me to write an article about the most beautiful villages in Provence. “But they’re all beautiful!” I protested. “Yes, yes, I know,” she said, “but please try to keep it to under 10.”

So I wrote the article, reluctantly leaving out gems like Egalières and Oppède-le-Vieux. And of course I led off with my own St-Rémy-de-Provence. All of these towns are worth a visit on your next trip to la belle Provence.

Check out my article at A French Collection!

Wines of the Rhône Valley

If someone asked you, “What are the wines of Popes and Presidents?” what would you say? You might guess Bordeaux or Burgundy or maybe even Champagne. But the right answer is the wines of the Rhône Valley.

The mighty Rhône River bursts forth from Lake Geneva in Switzerland and flows 500 miles south to the Mediterranean Sea, passing Lyon and Avignon along the way. Along its shores are grown the grapes that make some of France’s greatest wines.

Many of these wines are produced near where Val and I live in St-Rémy and we just love them. I’ve written an introduction to the wines of the Rhône Valley that you might enjoy…and maybe you’ll discover a new favorite!

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

Discover Marcel Pagnol, the Bard of Provence

Jean de Florette…My Father’s Glory…Marius and Fanny. These and other beloved works were all written by Marcel Pagnol, the bard of Provence. Ask a local what author best describes their part of the world and chances are they’ll name Pagnol.

A fascinating character, Marcel Pagnol was not only an author but also a great filmmaker, the first to be elected into the prestigious Académie française. And he’s my favorite French author. No one else can conjure life in the south of France the way he can.

Want to learn more? Read my article about Pagnol in Perfectly Provence!

Christmas in Provence

Provence shares many Christmas traditions with the rest of France, like sapins de Noël (Christmas trees) and Père Noël (Father Christmas.) But it also has some unique ones of its own.

One is the santons, those cute little figurines sold all over Provence. They depict characters from village life such as the baker, the fishwife and the scissor grinder. They are popular with tourists, kind of like Hummel figurines but with a French twist. And their origin goes back to the French Revolution.

Crèches (nativity scenes) had long been popular in France but were banned by the fiercely anti-clerical leaders of the Revolution. What to do? An artist from Marseille came up with a clever solution. He invented santons and turned the crèche into a “village scene,” using his little figurines in place of the usual Biblical characters. This passed muster with the anti-religious zealots, who somehow missed the fact that santon means “little saint,” and a new tradition was born.

Another Provencal Christmas specialty is le gros souper (the big dinner) eaten before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is full of religious symbolism, like the three white tablecloths representing the holy trinity and the seven dishes representing Mary’s sorrows. It also requires a great deal of preparation, so fewer families today have this big dinner than in years past.

Perhaps the most famous Provence Christmas tradition is the treize (thirteen) desserts. Wait, thirteen? Yes!

These are eaten after midnight Mass, which means in the wee hours of Christmas—what a great way to start the day! Like the gros souper, the treize desserts are full of religious symbolism. Thirteen, for example, represents the number of people at the Last Supper.

Each family can decide what to serve but the desserts usually include fruits and nuts, candies and some sort of sweetened bread. My favorites are the two kinds of nougat, one white and one black, symbolizing good and evil.

Like the gros souper, fewer families prepare the treize desserts today than in the past but they maintain a loyal following. Some people just skip the dinner and the Mass and go straight to the desserts!

So at your Christmas dinner this year, when you are debating whether to have another slice of pie—go for it! Just tell your family that you are taking part in an ancient and noble French tradition.

Questions We Ask About Provence

Google knows a lot about us, A LOT. We ask it billions of questions and it keeps track of every one of them, constantly tallying what we really want to know. For example, a few of the top questions that Americans asked last year were, “Where is my refund?” (tax day), “Can dogs eat apples?” (yes), and “Is Europe a country?” (time to go back to school!)

Google uses its vast database to aid us when we pose a question, using auto-fill to complete what it thinks we are going to ask. So when we type “Why is”, Google might complete our question with “the sky blue?”—another of last year’s most popular queries.

This means we can use auto-fill to find out what people really think about a subject. As an American who lives part-time in Provence, I was curious what my fellow citizens ask about this magnificent corner of the world.

Find out what I learned at Perfectly Provence!

Wines We Love in Provence

My wife Val and I live part of the year in Provence and we love all the great local wines. They come in any color you like—red, white, and pink—and range from inexpensive quaffers to bottles you’d be proud to serve to anyone.

Over time we’ve visited many of the local wineries and some of them we go back to year after year. I’ve put together a list of our favorites, all of which have nice tasting rooms and (usually) English-speaking staff. If you are looking for some tasty bottles and a fun experience, check out my recommendations at Perfectly Provence.

Book Review: A Season of Surprises by Patricia Sands

Patricia Sands is at it again! The author of the popular Love in Provence series has just published a novella, A Season of Surprises at the Villa des Violettes.

Readers are treated to a new chapter in the lives of our favorite Love in Provence characters—newlyweds Kat and Philippe, their wise neighbor Simone, Kat’s wacky friend Molly, and all the rest of the gang. Kat is opening a bed and breakfast at the Villa and preparations are frantic as the first customers are about to arrive. But then something goes terribly wrong…

Read all about it at Perfectly Provence!