In late April, my partner and I decided to take a long planned trip for our 15th anniversary to the South of France. He loves planning these sort of things carefully, so out came a new Provence travel book and very quickly it became earmarked with places of historical significance to visit. For me though, I had visions of balmy Mediterranean coastal views, pastel colored buildings, desert vegetation, sand and gastronomic visions of bouillabaisse, niçoise salad, organic vegetables and roasted provençal chicken danced in my head. Wait, no – what I really wanted to say was that apart from those images, I desperately wanted to know what the fashion scene looked like as I only had Paris as my barometer to measure the whole of France.
Although it was sunny in late April and into early May, the Mistrals were still blowing through Nice and St. Tropez, so this dictated cozy fishermen’s sweaters, light scarves and spring jackets. Not quite the weather I would have liked to enjoy as I packed capri pants, stripped sweaters and sandals. Instead, my black leather jacket and leggings underneath short skirts were my best clothing choice most of the time. This weather didn’t stop the style though of the nouveau riche who were walking around in their best sailing outfits and flashy gold jewellery stopping at every luxury boutique and chic restaurant with their purebred dogs..whom I might add included the cutest Chihuahuas sitting on their owners’ laps enjoying late suppers.
Nothing stood out for me on the fashion front except that the younger women seemed to like those gold colored shiny wedge heeled running shoes. A look I thought was finished last year. I was disappointed that I could not dress in my Brigitte Bardot style white sundress and sandals, that will have to be donned in the Canadian summer.
Nice, France is a beautiful port city melding both older charm and modernity. I enjoyed browsing the historic part of the city looking into small clothing stores at the sundresses on offer, soaps and body lotions. I deliberately avoided the chain stores such as Zara, H&M and Galeries Lafayette on this trip. I did nip into my favorite discount and multipurpose grocery store, Monoprix. This time I bought cleansing soaps, nail polish, cheese and pate.
As we travelled by bus and train on to other places such as Nîmes, Arles and Aix-en-Provence, I gained a sense of the rythmn of the region with its relaxed vacation vibe, small towns and villages and enclaves of the rich all within close proximity to the big city of Marseille. It was interesting to see how diverse France has become with its long standing Muslim and African population very much a part of the society, at least on the surface to tourists, along with newer arrivals from Eastern Europe working in the hospitality and service industries and exotic Tamils from Sri Lanka driving taxis and working in restaurants and airports. They all spoke French admirably and it gave us a push to try harder.
I came to appreciate the physical beauty of the land, its people, Roman history and architecture of each place. It was too early in the season for lavender, but poppies were in bloom and many places had planters with flowers. We enjoyed our B&B, Mas des Pinède, in St. Tropez with its coastal themes of white and grey with gentle sea views. St. Tropez has a lovely town, however, it is really for those with disposable income who can indulge, so I shall move along next to Arles.
St. Trophime hotel in Arles with its earthy provençal theme of gold, yellow and blue was outstanding, especially, its lobby décor with large earthen ware vases and sculptures and grand staircase. I was touched with story of Van Gogh and his life in Arles and kept imagining what it would have been like in his era. I was amused to learn of the history of bull fighting in the South of France and my partner impulsively purchased a bolo with a sea theme from a cute shop in Arles. Also, on the same street, I was tempted to buy a cute black hat but held back because places to where it in Canada would be non existent.
By this time, I was running ragged searching for souvenirs for family who had requests for Provence soaps and chocolates. These products were in abundance but I discovered a lovely chocolatier in St. Tropez called La Pause Douceur to buy nugat and a specialty soap store in Aix-en-Provence to complete the shopping.
I was happy to see that the beauty of women of all ages is celebrated in France. An older woman can have long hair and wear makeup and tote her Louis Vuitton bag around town with her groceries with as much allure as a younger woman. I did not see the average woman with frozen botoxed faces. Skin care is taken seriously in France and it shows in the older women’s faces. Of course, a few had overly tanned skin as is a common trap for many in sun filled regions.
After two weeks of white baguettes, butter and rich coffee, I was getting really comfortable and decided I could function there quite well as both of our French language skills are good from Canada. Moreover, my partner is Franco Ontarian and maybe we could be a plus for France, however, he said we had to go home and so we said au revoir to Aix-en-Provence. Luckily, we were headed to Montréal, so we stretched out the good French feeling for a bit longer.
Looks from your local shops to complete the Provence summer look: