Wild Kingdom

St-Rémy-de-Provence, where my wife Val and I live part of the year, is a beautiful Provençal town. It has long history, starting with the original Roman city of Glanum—you can still see its ruins on the edge of town. St-Rémy is the birthplace of the medieval sage Nostradamus and the place where Vincent Van Gogh spent his year in an asylum and painted masterpieces like Starry Night.

The old city center has terrific restaurants and our Wednesday morning market might be the best in Provence, drawing tourists from all over. The town’s population is just ten thousand but it seems larger, enough so that I sometimes forget that we’re out in the country. But if I walk just a few minutes in any direction, I’m reminded of where we are.

If we go left out of our front door and walk five minutes, we are right in the middle of town. But if we instead go to the right and walk five minutes, we’re in the country. Really in the country.

All around town are the farms that supply our great Wednesday market. When we go for walks we pass olive groves and vineyards and the rows of trees that protect crops from the fierce winds of the mistral. We walk by orchards of cherries and almonds and apricots, the trees covered with brilliant white and pink blossoms in the spring. Here and there we’ll spot a mas, a farmhouse hundreds of years old, with walls a foot and a half thick.

And then there are the animals—flocks of sheep tended by a shepherd and his dogs, a few bulls here and there, goats napping in the shade of a tree. And somewhere the escargot ranchers round up their herds, ever so slowly.

We see horses a lot, and have to be careful where we step when we go for a hike because the locals like to ride their horses on the trails. In fact, they like to ride them everywhere. I was walking our dog Mica last Sunday and she suddenly got low to the ground like she was tracking something. I couldn’t see anything but then heard the clop clop clop of a horse out for a ride, its owner in the saddle. And this was just minutes from our house.

Then yesterday we rode our bikes to the nearby town of St-Étienne-du-Grès. As we rolled along the quiet country road, a baby stroller popped out from a little path off to the side, followed by a mom and her dog. Out to get some fresh air, no doubt. But then I noticed that the mom had a leash in her hand but it wasn’t attached to the dog. Another dog, perhaps?

No, the next moment a horse appeared and the whole family started ambling down the road. Mom, baby, dog and…horse? I guess even horses need to stretch their legs.

Bulls Go For a Swim in Provence

An abrivado is a special event in Provençal towns, where French cowboys called gardians run bulls through the streets and into the arena. It’s an exciting test of horsemanship that not all gardians can master.

Even more exciting is the Gaso de Taureaux. Here, instead of running through the streets, the bulls are driven through a lake. It’s not clear why—maybe they need to freshen up?

Read the whole story at Perfectly Provence.

Living Dangerously in Provence

“The bull has escaped!”

I looked up to see a thousand pounds of anger barreling down the street at me. Everyone scattered, frantically jumping over the metal barriers to safety. The bull thundered past, followed by closely by French cowboys on horseback. It was a terrifying moment, the kind you remember all your life.

Read the rest of the story at Perfectly Provence.

A Trip Through Jewish History in Provence

Despite having deep Catholic roots, France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States. Jewish communities have existed in the country since the first century and it has long been a center of Jewish learning.

You might think that Paris, with its famous Marais neighborhood, is the center of French Jewish life. And while that is true today, it hasn’t always been. For centuries, it was Provence.

Read more about Jewish history in Provence at Frenchly.

 

A Great Website About France

This past spring I had the pleasure of meeting Janice Chung in Provence. Jan runs the great website France Travel Tips, with information about things to see and do all over the country. I love reading her stories about hidden corners of France that most tourists never see. An example is this story about sculptured seaside rocks in Brittany.

If you aren’t already a subscriber to Jan’s website, you should be!

The Best Restaurant in Provence?

There are a lot of great restaurants in Provence, with Michelin stars galore, like Le Petit Nice in Marseille and Baumanière in Les Baux. But for my money, the best fine dining in Provence is at L’Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles. Val and I go there every year to celebrate her birthday and it’s always great.

Find out all about L’Atelier at The Provence Post.

9 Reasons Why Provence is the Best Part of France

Everyone wants to go to Paris when they go to France. It’s one of the world’s great cities, with the Eiffel Tower, romantic cafés, great museums… what’s not to like? (Okay, the Parisians not so much, but the rest is great.) But you’d be wrong to put Paris at the top of the list. Instead, you should follow the insiders who know better and head south to Provence. Here’s why.

Read the rest of the story at Frenchly.