Greetings dear readers and friends! Well here we are, at the end of the summer, and sorry to say that I haven’t been a very active blogger because, well….summer! A summer in the south of France is something not quite of this world… full of festivals, bbq’s, lazy beach-days and 5 weeks of vacation that almost seem illegal. Keyword being “almost”… don’t think you’ll find many French folks complaining about all that holiday time, or any *ahem* expats, for that matter. France has spoiled me for good!
So now that we’ve entered back-to-school life, and the days will slowly start to cool off, September and the fall months are an excellent, far-less crowded time, to visit Provence.
Here are 10 of our favorite ways to spend the season in Provence… with indeed many more festivals, events, and places to visit than just this short list (feel free to add your own favorites in the comments below!):
- Porquerolles island
This is a top destination any time of the year, but especially great in early fall and spring as it’s your chance to avoid the crowds and have this little slice of paradise all to yourself! We took an early-morning ferry from Hyéres to the island one Saturday in September to find the beaches all but deserted (photo shared above). Spreading out our beach towels, we couldn’t get over the stillness of the water and the tiny waves lapping gently at our feet. Giddy with excitement, I rushed in waist-deep and had asked my husband to take photos of me in the crystal-blue water (photos not shared!)…just an example of what a day on Porquerolles will do to you.
- Harvest festivals
Another favorite way to celebrate what the south does very well… wine, and a lot of it! You’ll find harvest fêtes all over the area (good websites to check for dates and locations are Visit Var and Provence Guide). We attended a festival in the nearby village-town of Le Beausset and were treated to a real local celebration – complete with food stalls, a parade, and ceremonial “wine-tasting”. Just be careful of those first few batches of “new wine”!
- Wine fairs
Well, these aren’t like the traditional “fairs” I grew up attending in Southern California… the term in French here is “foire” and the fair in this case means one big, humongous wine sale! Since fall in France is synomous with harvest-time, the French do the good & decent thing and offer large reductions on wine at all of the major supermarkets and numerous wine merchants. This is a perfect time of year to pick up some great deals on French wine to stow in your suitcase or savor during an outdoor picnic. Vive la France!
- Outdoor picnics
Well, there you go… you’ve got your wine from the “foire au vin”, now all you need is a quick trip to your local Provençal market and you’re all set for a picnic-day. Cooler temps mean nicer beach days, not to mention the beautiful colors of the changing leaves in the countryside. Pick up a bicycle on your way and you’ve got the makings of an idyllic French getaway.
- Markets, markets, markets
No post is complete without a mention of what makes Provence such a special place to visit… the Provençal markets! Each season brings something new and special to the local markets, and fall is no exception. My favorite “fall finds” include pears, mushrooms of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and purple figs from Solliès-pont.
- The Chestnut festival in Collobrières
A top foodie festival (with sister festivals in other regions) in our area is the Chestnut festival in the village of Collobrières. So popular that it takes place over 3 Sundays during the month of October and shuttle-buses in thousands of eager chestnut-buffs to sample chestnut crème, cakes, cookies, ice cream, liquor, and of course, hot-roasted chestnuts. You can’t get any more fall than that!
- Quieter Provençal towns (Saint Rémy de Provence, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon)
Fall is a great time of year to hit up some of the most popular towns & villages in the south minus the heat and crowds of the summer season. We’ve had some wonderful, and quiet, trips to Saint Rémy de Provence, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and Avignon during the months of October and November and besides enjoying Provence “like a local”, we also ate really well. Take advantage of these slower months to book at off-the-beaten-track restaurants.
- Provençal daube
It’s still a little early in the season for this, but a Provençal daube is one of the “foodie-highlights” of the region when temps start dropping. Think of it as the south’s answer to boeuf bourguignon… slow-cooked meat in red-wine sauce with carrots, potatoes, and a handful of olives if it suits your fancy. Served with polenta or pasta, and a generous heaping of sauce, daube is a fantastic fall stew.
- Having the beach (almost) to yourself
Early September is perhaps the best time to enjoy the beaches as the south stays quite hot until the middle of the month. I was fortunate to have this last Wednesday morning free and found myself all but alone at the Mourillon beach in Toulon. The temperature of the water was just perfect and besides a few (lucky) retired folks, I got to enjoy this pretty little corner of our city quite alone.
- Changing colors at the hilltop villages
There’s nothing quite as cozy as sitting in a café with a hot chocolate and taking in the fall colors at a hilltop village. Le Castellet village is one such place to marvel at the creeping yellow, orange, and golden vines along the stone houses or admire the changing colors of the grapevines along the hillside. Provence really knows how to get dressed up for fall.
These are just a few of the highlights of fall in our neck of the woods, feel free to share your favorite experiences in the comments below, bonne journée!