Provence

For some, Provence is just too much. Brighter and more primary than Tuscany, the rolling lavender fields, olfactorily and visually delightful, the breadth and variety of the food and impossibly beautiful landscapes dotted with medieval abbeys are sometimes just too rich for thin Northern blood.  
Peter Mayle’s classic  ‘A Year in Provence’ was captivating, made him a millionaire and attracted squadrons of curious Brits to the hitherto comparatively sleepy, but grand and sweeping, Lubéron.The eyes glaze into the far distance as the sun sets over purple hills and Mt Ventoux. I’d go down well here. Beetling, expressive eyebrows and the frequently heard phrase ..’normalement’…with a characterisic hand-waggle means your plumbing gets fixed a week Tuesday. Normalement. Unless, however…….you can fill in the blanks yourself. 
Provence is big, bigger than one imagines. Gipsy and I elected to spend a weekend beginning in brash, glitzy Marseille and meandering wherever the fancy took us.
Le Mistral is a wind so severe and persistent that it is said to ‘blow the horns off a cuckold’. It howls down the Rhone valley and drives through the narrow, picturesque alleyways of the old port and objects take flight. The sun is fierce and a hat is out of the question, so people stay in the shade, but the sea was whipped cold by the wind and will take a month to heat up enough to swim in.  Boats leave for Corsica and North Africa, as well as ferrying trippers around the islands which poke their heads up like rebellious dinosaurs in the Golfe du Lion. 
The brooding silhouette of the sixteenth century Chateau d’If hovers menacingly over the city. This Mediterranean Alcatraz was the most feared and notorious prison in France, housing thousands of Huguenot  dissidents during the nineteenth century – it really wasn’t cool to be a Protestant – as well as being immortalized by Alexandre Dumas’ tale of betrayal and revenge in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. Nobody ever escaped from it, unlike the fictional Edmond Dantès. There’s a yearly swim from the mainland which although the distance is comparatively short, treacherous currents and undertows make it an enterprise not for the faint of heart.
Smaller towns like Cassis were more manageable, decked out like a tablecloth in bright Provençal colours.

Tiny, cobbled streets and a harbour – tourists already descending like locusts on this well-behaved little place.
A boat trip to les Calanques exposed us to scenery of breathtaking beauty in this UNESCO heritage site.
Small inlets, virtually inaccessible by road are set amidst towering cliffs…
There is such a thing as being overwhelmed by beauty. But, more of this later…



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