Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Provence

Louise enjoying a cheeky harbourside vino in Cassis. Image by Louise Bastock Louise enjoying a cheeky harbourside vino in Cassis. Image by Louise Bastock

Louise Bastock, Editorial and Community Assistant at Lonely Planet, is just back from eating her way around the southeast of France.

Tell us more… I spent a long weekend travelling around Provence on a press trip investigating the delicious foods and flavours that make this region so special. Provence is undergoing a bit of a foodie revolution – highlighting the importance of utilising quality local products – so taste buds at the ready and elasticated waistband secured I set off to sample some local delicacies.

In a nutshell… Provence is blessed with year-round sunshine and has a unique Mediterranean charm that really sets it apart from other regions I’ve visited in France. In half an hour you can travel between sprawling cities and quaint coastal towns, but the real beauty of the region is its iconic lyrical landscapes – I’m talking lavender fields, olive groves, vineyards, rugged mountains and an azure coastline. It’s easy to see why artists like Van Gogh were so inspired by such rich and colourful landscapes – Starry Night anyone?

Good grub? Quite simply, the best! In Provence quality is key and it doesn’t get much better than the region’s own local produce. From olive oil to fresh fish, tomatoes and goat’s cheese, Provence serves up impressive fare. But despite being treated to many a Michelin-starred meal (jealous much?), for me the best food was the simple stuff; I loved the tapenade, a crushed black olive paste, and the seafood around the coast was exquisite.

Clos St. Magdeleine vineyard. Image courtesy of Louise Bastock Clos St. Magdeleine vineyard. Image courtesy of Louise Bastock

Quintessential experience… This has to be a visit to the Clos St Magdeleine vineyard in Cassis. Provence isn’t the first place that springs to mind when you think of French wine, but the region is actually famed for it’s cool, crisp whites and rosés. A tour of this sprawling estate, set on the slopes of the Cap Canaille sea cliff, is utterly idyllic and if the taster session doesn’t have you feeling a bit giddy, the stunning views of the bright blue bay below just might.

Bizarre encounter… With a bit of time to spare one afternoon, I was out exploring the historic town of St-Rémy when I came across massive metal barriers blockading the street. I had accidentally stumbled upon St-Rémy’s answer to the bull run. Unlike the Spanish ‘fights’ where the bulls are often killed, this is more a display of farming traditions and doesn’t involve physical harm to the bulls. Six cowboys riding stocky Camargue horses herd a bull down the street whilst brave (or perhaps just crazy) locals tried to cut a string tied around the animal's head. Regardless of my views on such events it was quite a captivating spectacle, if only for the complete disregard for health and safety – only moments before they released the bull children were running across the street and at one point the safety barrier consisted merely of plastic tape. I stood well behind a group of OAP’s who didn’t seem at all bothered that I was using them as a human shield.

Favourite region… I love being by the sea so the coastal town of Cassis was a real highlight for me. Snuggled between two incredible natural sites – Cap Canaille (Europe’s largest sea cliff) and Calanques National park – this small harbour town was a postcard-perfect scene.

Louise travelled to Provence with support from Railbookers (railbookers.com) and Bouches-du-Rhône Tourism (visitprovence.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.