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The Culture, Traditions and Heritage of the South of France

With its picture postcard landscape, celebrated gastronomy, diverse nature and rich cultural heritage, the south of France offers one of the most beautiful destinations for your next holiday.

The Culture, Traditions and Heritage of the South of France - Provence

The History of the South of France

The Greeks first came to the region in 600 BC and founded the colony of Massalia, now Marseille. Later, the Celts and Romans came and colonised Provence, before it was finally ceded to the Franks in 536.
 
During the Middle Ages the region was divided and marred by numerous power struggles. But upon Louis XI becoming Count of Provence in 1482, he reunited the region. However, the calm was short lived, as Provence was caught up in the French Wars of Religion and then ravaged by the plague. After the French Revolution, it was divided once more into the different departments we know today: Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Vaucluse, Alpes-Maritimes and Luberon.

The Culture, Traditions and Heritage of the South of France - Provence

Heritage

A medieval past: The south of France is a land possessing a unique heritage. Some of the most beautiful villages in France can be found here, such as Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a must-see for any visitor to the region. Steeped in a rich medieval past, the village also boasts one of the oldest arcs de triomphe in France. Then there's Avignon, the city of the popes, a true cultural centre, where the palace of the popes, a UNESCO heritage site, dominates the horizon. Aix-en-Provence, the city of a thousand fountains, le petit Paris of south-eastern France, is a dream come true. Magnificent medieval and Renaissance castles are scattered throughout the region, such as the castle of Gordes, which dominates the hilltop village of the same name in the Luberon, or the castle of Lourmarin, which remains intact. Naturally, this medieval past is accompanied by a rich Christian past, with many churches and abbeys available to visit. The most famous, the Abbey of Sénanque, surrounded by fields of Lavender, is a real picture postcard of Provence.
 
Roman remains: Conquered by Rome in the 1st century BC, the south is also endowed with an unprecedented architectural and cultural heritage from that era. Among the many Roman remains are the ancient theatre and the Triumphal Arch of Orange, the Arles Amphitheatre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the archaeological site of Vaison-la-Romaine. On the Côte d'Azur, there is the Trophée d'Auguste in Monaco and the site of Cimiez near Nice.

The Culture, Traditions and Heritage of the South of France - Provence

Culture and Traditions

The south of France holds a distinct regional identity, marked by a singular language: Provençal. Provençal or Occitan was the common language of the south of France until the 19th century, when it was replaced by French. It was spoken in historic Provence, from Arles to Nice. Today there are about 250,000 speakers left in France, but it remains important to the Mediterranean tradition and the Provençal identity. A region of tranquillity and joie de vivre, many festivals and carnivals are held here each year. These include the Nice carnival in winter, the largest carnival in France, the ferias in Arles where bullfights are held, and the bravades, which are patronal festivals held in every town in the region.

Lavender, the region's treasure: When one thinks of Provence one thinks of lavender and vice versa. Thanks to the region's bright, humid and mild climate, lavender grows exceptionally well. This versatile flower has a great many uses: essential oils, candles, bath oils, and perfumes among others. Moreover, it is highly prized for aromatherapeutic purposes, in perfumes and soaps. When the lavender fields are in full bloom, it is a true visual and olfactory delight.

Pétanque and pastis: A favourite sport in the south of France, petanque is a game of boules that is said to have been invented in 1908 in La Ciotat near Marseille. However, the traditional game of boules from which it is inspired dates back to ancient civilisations, notably the Romans, who strongly influenced our Gaulish ancestors. It is a convivial sport, which on a sunny day, is ubiquitous throughout the south, often accompanied by a good glass of pastis during the aperitif. This aniseed-flavoured alcohol is the drink par excellence to represent the south. It was the famous Paul Ricard who marketed this alcoholic drink, flavoured with aniseed and liquorice, with fresh water, which he then called pastis.
 
A land of endless inspiration for painters: With its diverse landscapes, lush flora, magnificent castles and towering mountains, Provence became the ultimate muse for many 19th and 20th century painters.  Cézanne's hometown of Aix-en-Provence (1939-1906) was the inspiration for the majority of his paintings. He felt such a love for the region that he dedicated a collection of over 86 paintings and 29 watercolours to it. His main source of inspiration was the Montagne Sainte-Victoire on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, which he painted over 87 times. The Dutch artist Van Gogh (1853-1890) painted a great deal of Saint-Rémy de Provence and Arles, highlighting the beauty of the Alpilles landscape and its olive groves. Meanwhile, the city of Nice acted as the muse of Henri Matisse (1869-1954), a place whose colour palette, light and proximity to the sea fascinated him. Picasso (1881-1973) also fell under the spell of this region and was particularly fond of Arles, whose bullfights and atmosphere reminded him of his native Spain.

The Culture, Traditions and Heritage of the South of France - Provence

Provence, a tradition of craftwork: The soaps and santons of Marseille. The south of France is a land of savoir-faire in which craftsmanship and tradition mingle. The soaps of Marseille are an excellent example of this. This soap is made from the local olive oil, which, historically, has a content of 72%. Today, there are only five traditional soap factories that continue to manufacture soap in the traditional way. Santons are another treasure of the region's traditional handicrafts. They are figurines that represent the Christian Nativity, as well as professions and characters traditional to Provence. They adorn the nativity scenes at Christmas time. You will find the most beautiful Christmas santons in Carpentras, in Baux-de-Provence and at the santon fair in Aix-en-Provence.
 

Discover our selection of luxury villas for your next trip Provence

Maison Solal

6 Bedrooms

Maison Axeline

10 Bedrooms

Villa Minaya

4 Bedrooms