Let me start by saying that my husband & I both hate grey! It’s a colour that we’ve never really got on with …… I’m sorry as I know lots of people love it when the skies are a monochrome slab of grey cloud, encouraging fires to be lit and giving rise to ideas of cosy afternoons in or taking a gentle dog walk to a café for cake and hot chocolate. We understand it, we really do, but it just isn’t for us. We find ourselves constantly yearning for colour and even a clarity of light that makes our eyes hurt. Happily that’s something we find in Provence (even in the depths of Winter when the skies can be simply grey).
The colours are so vivid throughout the year and there is always something to catch your eye and make your heart sing. It’s easy to see why so many artists have been drawn to the area over the years and why so many of the world’s most recognised paintings come from the area.
At school we learnt the colours of the rainbow through the simple rhyme ‘Richard Of York Gained Battles In Vain’ so I thought that would be a good place to start to run through some of my favourites in Provence.
Where better to start than with the poppies that fill the verges and fields in May? They are so vibrant and really bring a dramatic splash of colour to the landscape. There was a time when fields were sprayed and the poppies were fewer and farther between, but now you regularly see fields that are simply a mass of red and they really are quite spectacular
Then of course there are the strawberries and cherries, with nearby Venasque being at the heart of the orchards of ‘les diamants rouges’……..
and of course the tomatoes, from the small to the huge, meaty and delicious ‘Coeur de boeuf’
I couldn’t do orange without mentioning Roussillon and its ochre cliffs. It is a real favourite of mine, bringing a dramatic injection of colour. It’s simply the colour of summer, with its painted houses glowing brightly, even on the dullest of days. The cliffs and earth shift in colour from a russet red to sunny yellow, but the predominant colour is orange, staining your skin and shoes whenever you come into contact with it (tip – don’t walk the trail in white shoes)……
Then in Winter the market stalls are filled with citrus fruits from the Cote D’Azur and Corsica – not the perfectly formed fruits we find, wrapped in plastic, in the supermarkets, but large, uneven, sometimes lumpy fruits that squirt juice the minute you try to peel them. Slightly messy, but simply delicious ……
And also the bright gourds and squashes, which make either delicious soups or great decoration!
From mid January there are always large buckets at the flower stalls filled with bunches of sweet-scented Mimosa and you can follow the Mimosa Route from Bormes-les-Mimosas to Grasse ( http://routedumimosa.com/fr/ ) surely a perfect way to welcome in the New Year. This really dies feel like the first sign of Spring & the colour lightens even the darkest of Winter evenings.
This has to be the Sunflowers. So often in films you will see a Citroen 2CV being driven along a French road edged by sunflowers and happily, in this case, fiction mirrors reality. The sunflower season never seems to last very long, but the sight of the flowers, twisting to keep track of the sun is a delight and always brings a smile to my face.
Then there are the golden courgette flowers, sold in the markets in early summer to be dipped in batter and fried. I must admit I wasn’t too sure what they would be like and bought some for the first time last summer – I can honestly say they were delicious – so I have a feeling they’ll become a regular treat this year.
In the height of summer the heat tends to drain some of the colour from the trees, but in Spring the new leaves bring a freshness to the valley. Who would imagine that there are so many different shades of green, from the bright new foliage on the shooting vines to the subtle shades of newly sprouting lavender. It’s such a wonderful time.
There is also the weed that grows in the river at Fontaine de Vaucluse, not dull & slimy, but a bright green weed that seems to thrive in the clear, cold waters of the Sorgue river that emerges from the base of the sheer rock-face above the village.
The first thing that always come to mind is the sky, what else could it be? From the pale shades as the sun comes up……..
to the intense cerulean blue above the heat-haze at the summit of Mont Ventoux…….
or the softer, deeper shades as the sun sets again.
I can’t think of a colour I like more!
This always brings to mind the night skies, which can be seen really clearly, thanks to the lack of light pollution in the area away from the main towns. It’s easy to see what inspired Van Gogh to paint ‘Starry Night’ when he was in the Asylum at nearby St Remy. The small village of Vacheres, a short distance from us, is classified as a ‘starry village’, in the same way as others are classified as ‘floral villages’, thanks to the clarity of the night sky there.
Then there are the Figs, with their deep purple skins, which fill the markets in July and August. Last year the fruits seemed to be smaller than I have seen in previous years, but a simple breakfast of fresh ripe figs and yogurt, or a light lunch of figs and goats cheese (in my mind) can’t be beaten!
There are so many violet coloured flowers that I love, but Lavender has to top the list! When you think of Provence, one of the first things that comes to mind is Lavender and it must be one of its biggest agricultural products. Last year was the first time we have been able to spend time in Provence at the height of the lavender season, when the fields are purple and bright patches of colour can be seen from every vantage point. The sight (and scent) is incredible and I can’t recommend it enough. Not only are the flowers beautiful, but the essential oil has so many uses and is now a standard part of our cleaning and first aid boxes!
Then there are also the irises (another Van Gogh favourite)…….
And of course the Wisteria, which flowers about 6 weeks earlier in Provence than at home ( which suits me perfectly as if I time my trips properly I get to see these spectacular blooms for a very extended period of time!)
Yes I know there are grey days in Provence and it does rain too, but somehow the colours are always there to brighten even the dullest of days and it doesn’t matter how much time I spend there I dont think I will ever tire of it!
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