The Highest Road in Europe?

In the easternmost part of Provence, near the border with Italy, lies the wild and rugged Mercantour National Park. It is famous for its natural beauty, its Bronze Age stone carvings and its growing population of grey wolves. It is also home to the Route de la Bonette, a road that claims to be the highest in all of Europe. But is it?

The Swiss, Austrians, Spaniards and others would disagree, as they all believe they possess higher roads. But the proud French claim top honors and even have official road signs proclaiming their triumph.

What’s not in dispute is that the Route de la Bonette is a high road indeed and is famous among cyclists–it’s been part of the Tour de France a number of times. My article explores the history of the road, some interesting sights to see, and a link to a short video of this beautiful part of France.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

Brilliant Roussillon

If you love color, you’ll love Roussillon.

This charming village is perched on a hilltop in Provence’s Luberon Valley, the region made famous by Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’. But Roussillon’s fame came long before Mayle, as it was once the world capital of ochre.

Ochre is a naturally occurring pigment that comes in an astonishing variety of colors, from bright shades of yellow and orange to vivid red and purple. It is embedded in certain clays and prehistoric people used it for cave paintings. The pigment can be extracted to create dyes, and ochre mining was once a big business, with Roussillon its world center.

The ochre quarries are now abandoned but they are a delightful place to visit, walking though an almost unbelievably colorful landscape. The village is also a pleasant place to wander through, with its buildings all painted in different shades of ochre.

Read all about it in My French Life!

Light and Magic in France

What do you do with a giant cavern?

That was the question that vexed the Provençal village of Les Baux-de-Provence. For centuries, giant blocks of white limestone had been extracted from a nearby mountain to build the town and its towering château. But by 1935, competition had forced the limestone quarry to close, leaving behind a massive, ghostly chamber. There it sat for decades, cold and silent, waiting for someone to restore it to glory.

That someone was Albert Plécy, a photographer and filmmaker, who arrived in 1975 with the idea of a “total image.” He installed a few giant projectors that flooded the cavern with color, projecting images that he coordinated with music. For viewers inside the cavern, it was a kind of total immersion that he called the Cathedral d’Images–the Cathedral of Images.

From this modest beginning, the program has slowly become more sophisticated and today it uses hundreds of cutting-edge projectors and complex computer control. Now called the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light), the site is run by Culturespaces, France’s leading private manager of museums and art centers. Carrières de Lumières has become one of Provence’s leading tourist attractions and has led to the creation of “siblings” in Paris, Bordeaux, and South Korea.

Read about these magical siblings in France Today!

The Sardine that Blocked the Port of Marseille

“C’est la sardine qui a bouché le port de Marseille!” (A sardine blocked Marseille’s port!)

This local saying is famous throughout France. Another that is less well-known is “Chercher Molinari” (look for Molinari). Both expressions, curiously, come from the same famous disaster that took place in the 18th century.

Can a little bitty sardine really block a great big port? Yes! Well, kind of.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

Provence and the Greatest Power of the Ancient World

Fontvieille is a charming Provençal village in the south of France, close to Arles and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

This quaint town has a lovely old lavoir (wash house), a shady central square, and a bustling open-air market on Monday mornings. It is a delightful place to spend a few pleasant hours and is also the perfect base for exploring three outstanding nearby sites.

First is the windmill immortalized by Alphonse Daudet in his beloved classic Letters from my Windmill. Then there is the ancient Montmajour Abbey, a favorite of Vincent Van Gogh. Finally there are the remains of the Romans’ Barbegal aqueduct and mills, part of the system that brought water to the city of Arles. They were so vast that they could mill enough grain for 12,000 people a day and have been called, “the greatest concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world.”

That is quite a lot to see! It makes for a lovely day trip.

Read all about it in The Good Life France!

Celebrity Rosé Wines of Provence

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, John Legend, and Jon Bon Jovi are just a few of the celebrities who have fallen in love with the delicious rosé wines of Provence. And not only do they love them, they make them! (well, maybe they hire someone to do the actual work…)

Who are these famous vignerons and, more important, are their wines any good? I decided to do deep research on this vital subject and am happy to share what I learned.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

My Provençal Summer Menu

Summer is a wonderful time of year in Provence, with blue skies everywhere and brilliant sunflowers and lavender in bloom. My favorite time of day is the early evening when the heat of the day is past and you can look forward to a long, lazy meal.

Even if you are not in Provence right now, here’s a menu that will bring the flavors of the region to you. We start with a refreshing aperitif, move on to an appetizer and a main dish, and finish with a cool and refreshing dessert. I’ve chosen some of my favorite dishes, all very Provençal, and I hope you’ll enjoy them.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

7 Favorite Villages and Vineyards in Provence

My wife and I spend part of every year in St-Rémy-de-Provence, a charming town nestled up against the northern slope of the Alpilles mountain range. It’s our favorite town in the area but there are others we love as well. There’s tiny Les Baux-de-Provence, for example, sitting just below a great fortress. Or rustic Eygalières, where I sometimes see horses at hitching posts, waiting patiently for their riders.

There are plenty of vineyards as well, because Provence is famous for its wines. Would you like white, pink, or red? We’ve got them all and they are terrific.

Let me tell you about some of my favorite villages and vineyards near where I live. You might like to visit some on your next trip to Provence.

You can read all about them at Perfectly Provence!

Where I Live

I was asked recently by Perfectly Provence to describe St-Rémy-de-Provence, the town where my wife Val and I live part of the year. What is there to see and do? Where is our favorite place for coffee or an apéro? How about our top picks for a romantic meal or for a casual bite to eat?

For anyone considering a visit to St-Rémy, you might find this helpful.

Read all about it in Perfectly Provence!

Roman Provence

Provence is famous for its charming hilltop villages, brilliant sunflowers, and fragrant lavender. It is also where you can find some of the best Roman ruins in all of Europe. This is because Provence was once an important part of the Roman Empire. The Romans even gave it its name: “Provence” comes from the original Latin “Provincia Romana.”

If you like beautiful temples, magnificent amphitheaters, and stunning aqueducts as tall as an 18-story building, then Provence is the place for you. Let’s take a look at some of the best of these Roman sites.

Read all about it at The Good Life France!