Provence and the Art of Fine Food

Quality of life, climate and gastronomy have the largest positive influence on buying property in France. Few regions in France can rival Provence for the quality of life available, its climate and its cuisine. 

According to a survey carried out by BNP Paribas 86% of buyers sited quality of life as a positive influence on their purchase of property in France, 79% sited climate and 70% sited gastronomy.

The region of Provence stretches from the remote Alps to the romantic Riviera. Within this area there are six distinct departments: the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Vaucluse, the Var, the Alpes de Haute-Provence, the Hautes-Alpes, and the Alpes-Maritimes. The cuisine of Provence is therefore enormously varied. Provence was occupied by both the Greek and Roman empires and local cooking across the region has retained these influences. For example tapenade and aioli hail the regions Greek ancestry; whereas ingredients such as tomatoes, artichoke, aubergine refer to their Italian neighbours.

The Provençales are virtuosos in the art of fine food. They are both passionate eaters and serious gardeners. You will find grapevines on every terrace, olive trees in every garden and there is always a chicken scratching away in the yard. Foraging, whether for wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, or truffles, is a common family pastime.

Seasonal eating is the natural state of affairs in Provence. No-one in Provence (or anywhere in France for that matter) would bother to name their local weekly market a ‘farmers market’. The food found at local markets across Provence is seasonal and because it has often travelled just a short distance it is extremely fresh. In Provence ‘local’ means ‘better’.

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With over three hundred days of sunshine per year fruit grows in abundance: peaches, apricots, strawberries and cherries adorn markets stalls and fruit bowls. The Gariguette strawberries appear in early summer – pinker, longer and far juicier than their artificially ripened Spanish cousins. Muscat grapes with their soft, dusky purple skins and rich juices are a far cry from the crisp acidic grapes found in supermarkets in the UK. Later in the summer the figs arrive, ripe to the point of eruption and sweeter than anything else found in the northern hemisphere.

The soil is fertile and the climate perfect for growing a huge array of vegetables – tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, squash, chickpeas, artichoke and fennel – the choice is endless. During the dry hot summers the scent of thyme, rosemary and garlic fills the air. These flavours (Herbe de Provence) are used generously in local cuisine – in ratatouilles and daubes which are all variations of simple rustic stews, be they made with beef or served alongside the famous and delicately flavoured Sisteron lamb.

The consumption of garlic, olives and olive oil is an essential part of everyday life in Provence. Les Baux de Provence olive oil is widely regarded as the best in the world. Olives are used in pissaladiere (the Provencale answer to pizza) or ground with capers and garlic to make tapenade with anchovy for anchioade.

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Seafood is cause for celebration across Provence and lavish dishes of sardines, rockfish, sea urchins and octopus are plentiful. But there can be no true discussion of the cuisine of Provence without mention of bouillabaisse. There are as many varieties of bouillabaisse as there are regions of Provence, possibly more! It was originally a simple fisherman’s stew cooked using the bony fish that couldn’t be sold at market. In the last hundred years this poor man’s soup has been gentrified with the controversial addition of lobster and langoustine. Simple or luxurious the bouillabaisse will be served with rouille (a paste made from garlic, saffron, olive oil and cayenne pepper), garlic croutons and bread.

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The first days of autumn bring the earthy scent of fresh fungus to every market in France. Truffles and wild mushrooms are only available for a few short weeks in the calendar and perhaps this makes them all the tastier. There are only a few experiences in life that can rival the taste of a wild mushroom omelette quickly folded and tossed in butter.

To eat well is to love life, it is the ultimate life-affirming positive act and nowhere is this truer than in Provence.