Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, in the south east of France, spans the sunny beaches of the Mediterranean Riviera, the dramatic southern Alps, the bustling coastal cites of Marseille and Nice as well as the varied villages and plains of the interior. Although part of France for the past 400 years, Provence retains a distinct cultural identity and local language, particularly away from the coast. With the Italian border close by, these lands have changed hands repeatedly over the centuries and the food displays a clear Italian inflection – fresh, flavoursome, Mediterranean cuisine that deliciously span the two nations. I spent a sunny November week in this incredibly varied landscape, sampling, tasting, experiencing and breathing in the delights that Provence has to offer.
And the delights are many. Gorgeously fresh fish and shellfish feature heavily in the local cuisine, but as a vegetarian, for me the greatest joy was to be found in the food shopping. Bakeries piled high with crafted breads, savoury pies and delicate pâtisserie. There are cheese shops at every turn, displaying the nation’s wonderfully varied output, as well as raw dairy products that have all but disappeared from British kitchens. Fruit and vegetables, with flavours and aromas rarely experienced in northern climes, grow abundantly in the sunny south. Oils and vinegars, herbs and spices, honey and preserves – all beautifully packaged – constantly tempt. There are wines for which the country is rightly famous, but also artisan liqueurs that rarely make it abroad. The land’s wild bounty is treated with reverence and each new seasonal wave is celebrated. Traditional methods of production, though niche in France as elsewhere in the industrialised world, are still highly prized. In this we can learn a lot from the French.