Thursday 20 June 2013

My Survival Guide to Provence

When, back in rainy London, I was planning what to pack for our holiday here in Provence, my mind went blank. With the summer weather in the UK being more like that of a mild winter in my native Finland, it was impossible to imagine a place where the sun would shine all day and it would be too hot even to sit and read a book by a cool pool, in the shade.

So, as usual, I packed too much.

Another problem I had back in the UK was food – we were due to arrive in Marseilles at nine on a Saturday evening, and after we’d picked up the hire car, I knew we might not be in our rented villa near Vidauban until after all the shops had shut. Buying food & wine at Gatwick seemed so totally wrong, so instead we opted for a bottle of gin and hoped for the best…

Unfortunately, our flight was delayed and we had some fun and games with the complicated navigation (in the pitch black of a Provence night), which meant we didn’t get to our villa until well past midnight.

Since our only food & drink provision consisted a bottle of gin, we went to bed hungry and sober. The Englishman promised to get up at crack of dawn to do the first of our daily pain et croissant runs.

All was well since in Vidauban itself has several boulangeries, a fab local cheese shop, a Co-op as well as a supermarche.  And a few café’s where The Englishman and I have already after only half a week become regulars for our morning café au lait.

So, having now experienced some of the life here, I thought it might be useful to do a quick guide to how to prepare yourself for a villa holiday in Provence.

1. Pack lightly, remembering that if the forecast says it’ll be sunny and 30 degrees C , you will not need much more than a cover up and a few bikinis and or swimming costumes (especially if you have a pool or sea nearby).

2. Print out a map of where you are going (if you don’t know the way, obviously). The days of rental cars having a courtesy map in the car are well gone, and using the satnav in a language you don’t speak fluently can be a challenge (especially in the dark…).

3. If at all possible, ask for a ‘welcome pack’ for your villa. Unfortunately we were not able to get one, but in my view these are worth the weight in gold since you never know if your journey to the villa will be delayed (as ours was). It’s so nice to have the basics, like loo paper, water, milk, coffee and tea there when you arrive. 

4. In Provence there are markets almost every day in one of the nearby villages (see below), so it’s worth checking where and when the nearest one to you is open.  There are several stalls selling the perfect summer wear (including espadrilles for 6-7 Euros!) at reasonable prices. I had great difficulty in sourcing cover-ups etc. which didn’t cost the earth in London before I left, so I wish I’d waited until we got here to get mine.

5. Most supermarkets in Southern France are open until till quite late (the one in Vidauban closes at midnight), and they will not close for lunch unlike most of the other shops. So it’s worth remembering if you want you bread for breakfast, the boulangerie will close for lunch between 12.30 and 14.30.

6. Take mosquito etc insect repellents and creams with you. Most sunny resorts have these little blighters wanting to feed on your flesh, so it’s best to be prepared. I also find that taking anti-histamines for a few weeks before you go will help with the degree in which the bites affect you. (But that might just be me!)

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