La Provence, cultural région of the South-East of France, is after Paris, the most visited place in France. Often associated with the movies Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, endless fields of lavender and olive trees, picturesque villages and towns such as Aix en Provence, Avignon and Arles, Provence has been the home and inspiration of a lot of artists such as French writer Marcel Pagnol, painters Paul Cezanne, Van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse and Picasso to name a few.
I spend some summer holidays near Cannes years ago, but I’m afraid I don’t know the region as much as my friend Cecile. Cecile moved to Provence from Algeria with her husband in the sixties. They found a home and settled in Salon de Provence, a village 40km west of Aix-en-Provence. Cecile invited me for lunch and we had a chat about Salon and her life in Provence.
Isabelle: Where are you originally from?
Cecile: I’m from Algeria and moved to Provence with my husband in the sixties. We moved a lot in the region for work reasons and settled finally at Salon de Provence. My two children were born just 5 min away from Salon, all my cousins live in the same area as well. My mum still lives in Salon.
Isabelle: Where do you live now?
Cecile: I live in Mona Vale, Sydney. I moved there with my husband 7 years ago to be reunited with my daughter and help her when my grand-daughter was born. I’ve been living in Sydney since but I’m coming back to Salon de Provence every year to see my mother, friends and family members.
Isabelle: What do you miss the most about life in Salon de Provence?
Cecile: I love living in Sydney, walking down the beach and being able to see my granddaughter every day. But what I miss the most about Salon de Provence, I will say, is the village atmosphere especially in Summer. Bars from the “place centrale” (the main square) set up barbecues outside and people are cooking special “brochettes” made with sausages or andouilles (sausages made of chitterlings) and a bit of Irasa, a spicy sauce, served with a glass of rosé or Pastis. There is a lot of music and people are dancing. It is a very convivial.
- There is as well “le grand marché du Mercredi” (the big local market held every Wednesday) in the centre of the village, place Jules Morgan. It is a wonderful colorful mix of all the products Provence has to offer: provencial tablecloths, clothing, shoes, bags, soaps perfumed with the local scent, lavender and stands of fresh food like fish, meat and olives. You will see endless stands of different variety of olives and tapenades (a typical provencial dish made of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil) made from local produce by local producers.
Isabelle: Which are your favorite local products?
Cecile: Endives, I find some here but the taste is different, clémentines (a mix of mandarines and oranges and smaller). They taste so much better. I will add tripes and a good aioli. The aioli I taste here is more like a mayonnaise, it is not made with a lot of garlic as it should be. Served with heaps of vegetables and cod it is delicious.
Isabelle: what were the provincial meals you use to cook or still cook today?
Cecile: Bouillabaisse, a fish soup and the pistou soup (made with beans, carrots, courgettes, lots of basil, garlic and olive oil). I use to cook “les oreillettes”, a light thin waffle served with icing sugar on top.
Isabelle: any places you will recommend to visit?
Cecile: there are so many beautiful walk, ride and drive to do around! You can visit the town centre (full of history and beautiful architecture), the savon de Marseille soap museum, the Grevin museum of Provence, the Rampal Latour local soap factory ( master soap makers since 1828) or simply enjoy the local markets, concerts and festivals held all year long. There is a lot to see and do at every season.
Rendezvous en Français is Sandrine & Isabelle, two French natives sisters living in Sydney, who wants to share their country language, culture and lifestyle with all France enthousiasts. If you need any assistance to organise your next trip to France, Isabelle is your travel guide. And remember that French locals appreciate the effort of you talking French. If you need to learn a few basic and polite phrases, don’t hesitate to contact Sandrine for traveller classes.