The Best Towns in Provence for Local Shopping
Lavender fields, rows of ancient olive trees, sparkling pink rosé. What comes to mind when you think about shopping in the best towns in Provence? If you’re anything like me, your senses are alive with the thought of sachets and soaps, culinary delights and fields of sunflowers a la Van Gogh.
Responsible travel is a hot topic these days. Keeping it local when you travel is one of the tenants of responsible travel and a great way to support local artisans and makers. The process of preserving dollars in a circular economy helps to keep traditional crafts alive. Cultural values are passed from one generation to the next. The best towns in Provence offer a myriad of options to sustain your spending in the local economy. In addition to frequenting hotels and restaurants employing the area residents, visitors can use their purchasing power to KEEP IT LOCAL when buying souvenirs in the beautiful villages of Southern France.
The climate in this region gives farmers a wealth of opportunity for particular crops that make their home in Provencial villages and towns. Made into small batch products, these are gifts that will brings back memories and be appreciated by anyone who is a lucky recipient. With eleven UNESCO World Heritage sites in the south of France, make sure to enjoy and taste the unique offerings found in each of the scenic locations.
Regional Product Labels in the Best Towns in Provence
France follows a very strict certification process called appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) to insure that all wines, cheese and certain agricultural products are made in the region of their origin, using traditional methods and specific ingredients. If you look for the AOC label when shopping, it is a good indication that quality control is heavily in place and you are buying that quintessential product from the Provence region.
Local Honey from the South of France
Finding honey isn’t difficult in Provence. Because of the endless fields of wildflowers and lavender, the bees produce honey as unique as the region itself. Lavender honey is the area’s most popular. Heavily fragranced with the flowers scent, the liquid is creamy in color and often much thicker than the local honey in the U.S.
Markets in Provence are wonderful and if you visit a farmers market, you can purchase honey and honey products directly from the source – local beekeepers and apiaries. A great example is the market in Vaison La Romaine, a large local event that is removed from the bustling markets more heavily visited by tourists. The location is close to the vineyards of the area and filled with cafe’s and live music to enjoy while you shop. The region is known for a cross section of antique, medieval and modern towns all adding to the area’s charm.
Olive Oil from the Best Towns in Provence
Wandering the streets of Arles during my visit with France Cruises, I was amazed by the variety of olive oil and olive products I found in the charming shops of the old town. Olive groves flourish in Provence’s mild climate. As travelers explore the region on various day trips, they will see hillsides full of the easily identified trees. Brought to the area by the Greeks, the olive tree produces ingredients that are the backbone of French cooking. The most popular type of olive grown here is the Picholine which is green and usually marinated in delicious herbs. Of course the nicoise also makes its presence known in the French salad that carries the name.
Almost 80% of the olives grown here are used to make olive oil. A great way to learn more about this delicious ingredient is to take a tour of an olive grove. I was astounded at the many varieties and the range of flavors available during my tour just outside of Arles. Sure, you can find high quality olive oil in any marketplace in Provence, but it’s much more fun to taste it first and discover what pleases your particular palate. An olive oil tasting, not unlike a wine tasting, is the perfect way to get a history of this Provencal delicacy as well as trying different flavors and varieties.
Two additional places to visit are the mill Calanquet near Saint-Remy-de-Provence and the mill Castelas in les Baux-de-Provence. You will receive a history of olive oil production, learn about the healing properties of olive oil and then enjoy a tasting. And then of course the oportunity to purchase a weath of olive products.
I found these one-of-a-kind cicadas in a teeny box on a shelf at the olive growers. I still kick myself for not buying one. They were just so beautifully primitive and sophisticated at the same time. What a nice paper weight on my desk one would have made, filling my memory bank with thoughts of this trip and the best towns of Provence. Lesson learned.
Cookies and Sweets in Aigues Mortes
Before you leave Provence, be sure to stock up on some cookies and sweets from La Cure Gourmande in Aigues Morte. From the moment you walk into this gorgeous shop, you will be transported into a sugary wonderland. All of the confections in the shop are 100% made in Provence and are 100% delicious. Resist the tempation to overdose on sugar with all the samples. Choose from a huge assortment of fine biscuits as well as their vast array of chocolates. You’ll also want to snack on a few of the traditional French madeleines while you take a walk around the quaint neighborhood the shop is located in.
One especially traditional French confectionery are the lozenge shaped sweets made from an addictive base of almonds and flavored with orange or melons. Topped off with a thin layer of royal icing, calissons are a Aix en Provence classic. They can be found in many colors and have been produced in their workshops since 1989. Speaking from expereince, they travel well and disappear fast upon arrival home! Plus I love their packaging reflecting the fashion of 18th century France.
Rosé Everywhere in the Best Towns in Provence
The Provence region is home to many amazing agricultural delights including the grapes needed to make the famed rosé wine. Provence is a major producer of this delightful drink; a warm weather, summertime favorite. As they say-rosé all day! The light and airy taste has grown popular in the US, where sales are skyrocketing.
When in Provence, there’s no better way to experience rosé than at one of the wineries that produce the fashionable wine. Although you have many to choose from, if you are in the area, I suggest Château D’Esclans. It houses the oldest wine cellar in the region dating back to the 12th century and visitors get tours and tastings with a twist of history.
Make sure if you buy duty free that you are on a direct flight, other wise if you change planes in another country, the wine will be confiscated even if it is in Duty Free packaging. Travel prepared and bring a pack of these wine wings with you. They take up very little room in your suitcase and are re-usable.
Fabric from Provence
In markets and stores around Provence, you will see the brightly colored fabrics in yellow and blue in fanciful patterns. The aestetic of these fabrics is reminiscent of the bright colors of the French countryside. The current fabrics found in the best towns in Provence are influenced by the rich fabrics brought many years ago from India. Today they are manufactured here in Provence and made into products like tablecloths, tea towels, drapery and other home goods by local craftsmen. Visitors can find them sold around town in small shops.
A great place to stock up on home goods in traditional Provence fabric is Aix en Provence. La Victoire has a wide selection or just visit your favorite Provence marketplace where there will be artisans who craft this fabric into many different products.
Lavender From the Best Towns in Provence
Although you can trace the roots of Lavender back to Spain, Greece and North Africa, nowhere has it been more promoted than in the Provence region of France. In fact, it’s been growing there since the Romans brought it to the region over 2,000 years ago. The climate in this area makes for ideal growing conditions.
Although you can find lavender anywhere in Provence, one of the most beautiful places is Point Flavien on the edge of Saint Chamas. Be sure to stop at a local grower to buy a bunch or again, have it on your shopping list when you visit the local market. Products made from lavender, like lavender oil, soaps and sachets can be used for a variety of ailments. The calming scent will immediately transport you back to the endless purple fields of Provence.
L’occitane Skin Care
Although L’occitane is a world-wide skin care brand, it stays true to its Provencial roots and their commitment to sustainable sourcing. The company uses local farmers to produce their high-quality ingredients. In addition, the company is fully committed to giving back to the towns and villages of Provence. Aside from the fact they make a great product, supporting this brand helps keep French small farmers in business. The farmers in turn employ over 10,000 pickers in their various fields.
Their packaging is also created with the environment in mind. L’occitane has a trade in program for plastics and uses materials that are recyclable. From lotions to high quality skincare, L’occitane has something for everyone and makes a great gift for a friend (or yourself). Be sure to Try the Lemon Verbena line of lotions, soaps and fragrances. Heavenly!
French Country Pottery in Southern France
The French are exceptional artisans and this is ever present in Provence. The pottery created locally is unique from others found in the world. Taking its influence from the Meditterranean, Italy and Spain, pottery found in this region is bright, colorful and created by highly skilled craftsman. It’s hard to pinpoint one place to find it in Provence as it’s everywhere. One of the markets like the one in St Remy represents many artisans from which to choose.
Pottery is also well represented in the hilltop ancient village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert. As one of the most beautiful villages in all of France, shopping among the ancient winding alleyways is a pleasure and a truly unique experience.
Salt from The Camargue Region
Technically, The Camargue is not in Provence, but right next door. One of the most beautiful villages I came across in Southern France was Aigues Mortes. This medieval village takes it name from the salt producing heritage found there. A castle like forte stands guard overlooking the salt-marshes.
Translated, the name refers to dead waters. The high level of the mineral in the waters is one of the chief industries in the area-producing a whopping 500,000 tons of salt a year. The salt is found in a variety of flavors and colors all over the region. The boutique packaging makes it a pre-wrapped gift.
Rice Patties in Southern France
Camargue red rice is well-known in the south of France. It has a long history in this region, where it started as wild rice growing in the local marshes. After World War II some of the salt marshes were desalinated and the rice we know today as Camargue red rice was born. I had the opportunity to taste the delicious and nutty flavor during my travels on the Anne Marie hotel barge on the Rhône River.
Thirty percent of the rice consumed in France is from Camargue and this rice is unlike any other because of the region its grown in. The color of the rice comes from pigments in the germ which don’t get lost during harvest. Pick up some of this colorful rice around the markets in Provence in regular and organic varieties. It can also be found in the lovely shop at the end of a tour of the salt marshes in Aigues Mortes.
It’s not suprising that France is continually named one of the world’s most popular destinations. The best towns of Provence and the beautiful villages of Southern France never seem to go out of fashion. With a stunning countryside, sleepy riverways and glittering seas, visitors can be assured of a picturesque and stunning vacation. Coming away with a suitcase filled with sensational local treasures is the icing on the cake.
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