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Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azure

Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur

Generally known as PACA, this region covers a large area of south-eastern France and includes the old French province of Provence. Its situation, bordered by the Mediterranean in the south, Italy to the east and the Rhone Alpes to the north have made this region one of the top destinations for UK visitors and second home owners for decades.

Its attractiveness is enhanced by the typical Mediterranean climate it enjoys, having hot dry summers and mild winters. Obviously there are local variations but coastal areas are high in sunny days and experience very little, if any, frost or snow, being sheltered by the higher land to the north.

One of the main geographical features is the River Rhone which has traditionally constituted an important means of communication. It runs through the region, eventually emptying into the Mediterranean. One of its branches forms a rural wetland area at its delta, the Carmargue. This is home to the famous bulls and horses of the Camargue and also over 400 species of birds, including the exotic greater flamingo.

With several large cities, including Marseille (the second largest in France), Nice, Toulon and Aix-en-Provence, PACA is economically prosperous with a number of industries and some of the busiest ports in Europe. It also benefits from good transport links with other parts of France: the Paris – Marseille autoroute, opened in 1970 and the high-speed TGV can complete the same journey in just 4 hours.

Being typically Mediterranean and in places sparse in terrain, the agricultural products of the region reflect this. Livestock is limited to mostly sheep and goats and some cattle. Olives are widely grown as are vines, fruit trees and herbs. Photographs of the region often feature the vast fields of lavender which is used for the perfume industry.

Since the damage caused during the Second World War much redevelopment has taken place and this alongside a cultural revival has given rise to the Avignon (theatre) Festival and prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Many other such high profile events bring visitors from far and wide.

Tourism plays a major part in the area’s economic strength. Its glamorous Cote d’Azur resorts are familiar even to those who have never been there through the numerous films which have used the dramatic coastal scenery and high class venues as their back-drop. Also known as the French Riviera, large beach resorts such as Nice, close to the border with Monaco, the glamorous and expensive Cannes and arty St Tropez are all noted for their celebrity status.
Further inland there are many notable places to visit: Arles has numerous Roman remains; Avignon its Papal Palace, ramparts and ruined bridge (made famous through the song) and Aix-en-Provence is an artistic centre which was the home of Paul Cezanne.

The cuisine of the region is varied and considered one of the healthiest. The basic cooking ingredients are the locally grown olive oil and Herbes de Provence, a combination of rosemary, marjoram, basil and thyme which add a distinctive flavour to the dishes.

Sea food is also a very important component. Bouillabaisse is a speciality of Marseille and includes from 5-7 types of fish. The word which in English means to boil and reduce produces a dish which is more of a meal than just a soup and is served with bread. Other typical dishes are made using vegetables- such as beef casseroles and ratatouille or with fish like anchovies and sardines.

Cheeses are mostly made from the milk of goats living in the hillier parts of the region. The best known is Banon which is wrapped in vine leaves. It goes particularly well with the local rose wines.

The distinctively flavoured Pastis, distilled from the star anise plant blended with other herbs, is widely consumed here for all occasions! Ricard, known as the ‘Original Pastis of Marseille’, enjoys massive sales throughout France.

Wine-making in the area dates back to the ancient Greeks. Production is largely of a delightful rose but you can also find some spicy red and a little white wine. The Cotes de Provence is the largest wine growing area that has the AOC designation with Bandol being probably the best known.

Small open-air markets can be found on different days of the week in villages throughout the region. These mainly sell rustic handicrafts including lace, pottery and perfume alongside local fare such as bread olives, sausages and preserves.

It is to be hoped that Provence -Alpes- Cote d’Azure continues to balance the importance of its unique culture and landscape in the face of its recent economic development, particularly in the south. Visitors who can speak French will be fascinated by the regional differences in pronunciation and dialect and it would be a pity if these were lost.

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