On the menu
Olive oil
The markets
Marseilles soap



Provençal cooking is flavoursome and naturally tasty with its sun-kissed produce. There are vegetables, sardines, anchovies, "bouillabaisse" (fish soup), meat casseroles, ratatouille and pesto right through to the special spicy sauces which give a taste of the land that is incomparable with any other in France. And then, of course, there are the big stars: garlic and olive oil.

A Provençal proverb says that fish live in water and die in oil. In any case, this cuisine, which is largely based on vegetables, is worth tasting when the weather is hot, simply accompanied by a cool glass of Provençal rosé wine.



On the menu

Tapenade : a purée of black olives crushed with a mortar and pestle and mixed with garlic, capers and anchovies. It is eaten simply with a slice of grilled bread flavoured with garlic or served as an accompaniment to fish or meat.

Aïoli : mayonnaise made with olive oil and generously seasoned with crushed garlic. It accompanies vegetables and fish.

Pistou : : a basil, garlic and olive oil cream. The name comes from the Latin "pestare" which means "to crush", because it is necessary to crush the basil leaves with a mortar and pestle in order to incorporate them in the recipe.

Bouillabaisse being preparedBouillabaisse (fish soup): the special taste of Mediterranean fish (scorpion fish, mullet, monkfish, conger eel, spider crab and dory) makes the renowned Marseilles bouillabaisse. It is served with a traditional spicy sauce: rouille.

Cod Brandade from Nîmes : a creamy cod purée with olive oil and milk, seasoned with garlic and sometimes truffles.

Loup : the Mediterranean name for bass fish, which is grilled over a barbecue or in the oven after having been stuffed with plumes of fresh fennel and sprinkled with dried fennel.

Catigau :a fricassee made from grilled or smoked eels from the Rhône river.

Sisteron lamb : intoxicated with the flavours of the scrub land, it fills gourmands with joy with its subtle and silky meat.

Ratatouille : pepper, courgette, aubergine, tomato and onion stew prepared with olive oil. It is eaten cold as a starter or hot as an accompaniment to fish or meat.


.Olive oil

There is no life, no smell and no Mediterranean cuisine without olive oil! It was already used on the island of Crete during the time of Minos, 2500 AD.

The olives that are used to make the oil are crushed as soon as they have been picked in order to avoid oxidisation. Extraction is carried out according to traditional processes, such as the stone millstone. The olives are kneaded into a creamy paste. The oil is thus squeezed out by cold pressing. Generally, 4 to 5 kilos of olives are needed to make just 1 litre of oil.

How is it served?
One single oil is not necessarily the right one for all dishes. There are three categories of flavour at the connoisseur's disposal.
The "very fruity" oil heightens the sweetness of a lettuce, a tomato and basil salad or a slice of grilled bread.
The "moderately fruity" oil is recommended for antipasti, seafood salads and carpaccio.
The "lightly fruity" oil is reserved for foods with a strong taste or when spices should be the dominant flavour.

How should it be used in a vinaigrette?
Usually one should count three spoonfuls of olive oil for one spoonful of vinegar. The proportion of oil can be increased for very delicate dishes or if one adds mustard.
Olive oil goes particularly well with balsamic, wine or sherry vinegar and lemon juice.

How should olive oil be chosen?
Olive oil should be bought like wine: it is very important to look at the label. The best oils are sold in tinted glass bottles to protect them from the light. According to its quality and fruitiness, the price of olive oil can vary considerably.

Extra virgin olive oil is extracted from olives using a simple physical or mechanic operation. It has less than 1g of acidity per 100g of oil. It is the best. Fine virgin olive oil has between 1 and 2g of acidity per 100g.
Virgin olive oil always has less than 2g of acidity per 100g of oil.
Olive oil that is not named either virgin or extra virgin has an acidity that must not go over 1.5% of refined olive oil mixed with good quality virgin olive oil.
Refined olive oil has undergone chemical or thermal treatments and has lost most of its nutritional value.

How should it be kept?
Away from heat and light and, ideally, for no longer than two years. It is important to make sure that the top is tightly screwed on to the bottle of olive oil as the oil tends to absorb other smells.

Learn everything there is to know about the olive tree



It is the end of the afternoon. The light is growing softer. The heat is diminishing slightly. It is the time of day when the people of Provence gather on the village square to play bowls or else drink pastis in the shadow of the plane trees.
Pastis is an institution and its name instantly evokes the sound of cicadas.
The different types of pastis are made from a mixture of alcohol concentrated to 96.3%, star anise, aniseed essence that comes from the distillation of the star anise plant, liquorice powder, water, sugar and an infusion of numerous Provençal plants such as thyme, rosemary, savory, sage and verbena. The blend is left to stew for between two weeks and several months. The preparation is then filtered, water added (in order to bring the liqueur to 45°) and checked before being bottled.
Thus the pastis is ready to be tasted. In general one should have one volume of pastis for five volumes of water. Some add mint cordial and the drink then becomes a "perroquet" (a "parrot"), grenadine cordial and it becomes a "tomate" ("tomato") or barley water and it becomes a "mauresque" ("Moorish woman").



The markets

The markets of Provence are particularly good. There is of course the sun, the conviviality, the local humour and the way of taking one's time, talking, joking, feeling and appreciating the produce on the stalls. One catches oneself talking and gesticulating naturally.

A market

The markets abound with delicious colours and smells which tantalise even the least sensitive nose. There are sun-kissed fruits, melons, peaches and apricots next to the vegetables, tasty tomatoes, the aubergines and courgettes that are indispensable to Provençal cuisine. On the following stall, garlic is king. One can admire the different ways in which it is plaited. The black and green olives (prepared with herbs or spices), oil, aromatic herbs, thyme, rosemary, savory and bay leaves as well as lavender, perfumed soaps, material and leather goods.

Among the most popular markets are those of Carpentras, in the heart of the old town - in winter it includes a truffle market, Richerenches, Apt, Valréas, Aix en Provence and Arles.



Does the sun give one a sweet tooth? In any case Provence abounds with sweets each subtler than the last.

Berlingots de Carpentras : around since the 17th century, this hard red sweet that does not stick to the palate is mint-flavoured. Today the colours vary and the choice of flavours has grown: orange, lemon, aniseed and coffee.

Calissons : petit fours made from marzipan, delicately flavoured with orange blossom and topped with Aix en Provence icing sugar. These sweets were first produced in 1454 at the wedding of King René.

Fougasse d'Aigues-Mortes : this traditional sweetened bread is delicately flavoured with orange blossom.

Glacé fruits :the popes and Madame de Sévigné encouraged the development of glacé fruit manufacturing, of which Apt is now the capital. The sun-kissed fruits are candied by numerous successive dips in sugar. They are deliciously flavoured and very soft.

Lubéron honey :the bees gather pollen from the thyme and rosemary flowers and the lavender in the shrub land. This produces very flavoursome honeys which have therapeutic and disinfectant qualities for when winter comes.

Navettes : from Marseilles, this traditional biscuit is made with orange blossom and comes in the shape of a boat. It is eaten at Candlemas, but is now available all year round.

Nougat :whether it is from Allauch, Sault or Montélimar, creamy and tender white nougat and delicately caramelised black nougat are made from lavender honey and almonds.


Papaline : this sweet, made from fine chocolate, sugar and oregano liqueur, first came into existence in Avignon in 1960 in memory of the popes who, if we are to believe the story, had a very sweet tooth!

Tartarinades : chocolate sweets from Tarascon.



From the western basin of the Mediterranean, lavender was used by the Romans in order to perfume their laundry and their baths. From the Middle Ages on, in Provence, the wild lavender flowers have been picked, but it was in the 19th century that cultivation developed.

There are more than twenty species of lavender, but three of them are predominant on the hills of Provence: real lavender, aspic and hybrid lavender.

Real lavender or Lavandula Angustifolia is also known as fine lavender or female lavender. It is cultivated at an average altitude, from 800 to 1300 metres above sea-level.
The olfactory virtues of its essential oil are extremely prized by perfumers.

Aspic or Lavandula Latifolia, also known as great lavender or male lavender, is very similar to fine lavender except that its leaves are larger and its branches consist of lots of spikes. It grows between 600 and 800 meters above sea-level and flowers a bit later in the season. Its smell is strong and camphorated.

Hybrid lavender is, as the name suggests, a hybrid species produced through the pollination of real lavender and aspic lavender. Its spikes are much more developed and form clumps that are rounded and regular in shape. Its yield per hectare is four or five times greater than real lavender or aspic lavender and its essence production is ten times greater. It is cultivated the most.

The essence or essential oil is extracted for cosmetic as well as for medicinal purposes because it possesses numerous properties. Bees provide us with an excellent lavender honey and the dried flowers make pretty bouquets or perfume the linen in wardrobes.



Marseille soap

An institution, Marseilles soap became outmoded in the 1960s, but with a rise in ecology and the search for the most natural products possible, it has regained its popularity. It has the reputation of being kind to the skin and it is recommended for washing laundry, silk, lace and baby's clothes.

The manufacturing of the soap has been a tradition since the 18th century. About fifteen soap factories have made Marseilles the Mediterranean centre of production and shipping of the olive oil and natural soda-based soap. It was in 1688, under Louis XIV, that the first regulations concerning soap manufacturing and branding were introduced. The laws that were established by the Sun King are still in force today.

True Marseilles soap is a natural product made from copra, palm and olive oils, with no colouring or artificial additives. It has to contain 72% oil, the percentage being stamped on each bar of soap. Two weeks are necessary to make a soap. The vegetable oils and soda are first mixed in a large cauldron. The paste is then cooked for ten days at 120°. Then it is washed in order to eliminate the soda and left to rest for two days. Having dried for 48 hours at 50-60°, the soap is ready to be cut up into bars of 35 kg. From the start of its production to its being put on sale takes a month.

The genuine Marseilles soap site



At Christmas, in order to make or complete the nativity scene, the people of Provence buy one or two "santons" every year.

The tradition of these ornamental figures began during the French Revolution in order to replace the nativity scenes that were in the churches that had been closed during this period.
At first, they represented biblical characters made of dried clay and hand-painted. Then the manufacturers took their inspiration from the characters of Marcel Pagnol.

The nativity scene is a Provençal cowshed and all those who come to pay their respects to the divine birth are craftsmen of rural life: wheelwrights, blacksmiths, joiners, carpenters, and the people of the street, dressed in traditional Provençal costume, all bringing offerings.

The bible says that God made man from earth. Provence underlines that "santon" manufacturers mould their figurines using the same earth saturated with water and sun. The whole of the "santon" makers' art lies in an expression, a gesture. The people's history is fed on stories that tradition embellishes and the "santons" of Provence bear witness to the people's tradition.

The "santons" are a pleasure for all. The diversity of the characters seems inexhaustible and it is hard to resist. As Christmas approaches, everyone goes to the "santon" markets and fairs. The most popular are those of Aubagne, Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence.

Santons : production, history, characters and manufacturers.



This is the popular pastime par excellence. One must throw the steel balls as close as possible to the small wooden ball called the "cochonnet" and knock the opponents "boules" out of the way. The most talented manage to do this by repeating the opponent's gesture exactly and thus take the opponent's place. This is known as "faire un carreau".
Over a short distance, the game is called "pétanques", in other words, the feet are kept together and the game is played within a circle. Over a distance of more than ten metres, the game is called "longue". The latter game is typically Provençal.
The southern French love of chatter and the presence of a passionate audience, quick to tell tall stories, turn these meetings into a modern day theatrical comedy acted out with exultation.
With regards to the assessment of distances between the boules and the cochonnet, lively controversy ensues. Each insists that they are right, calls upon Mother Mary and ends up admitting defeat when confronted with the folding rule's verdict.



All Provençals, young and old, yield to the "pénéquet": the little after-lunch nap. It's a ritual which cannot be overlooked when the heat is overwhelming. The shutters closed, it is nice to take one's time in the half-light and coolness of the houses, cradled by the cicadas' song.
Of course the siesta belongs to Latin folklore, yet there are more and more people who believe that the siesta is not a layabout's reflex, but a way of improving one's memory, mood, creativity, judgement and communication skills.
And if one were to believe the President of the Republic himself, "it is a fact that siestas make life a lot easier for those who take them regularly". In the preface to "The art of the siesta", a book by Bruno Comby, Jacques Chirac continues "The siesta is a recipe for equilibrium available to all when one considers that only quarter of an hour of good rest is enough to repair even the greatest tiredness".




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