From rosé wines to summer sunflowers, there’s nothing gray about France’s sunlit south. If you love art, history, kind weather and good food, the pleasures of Provence are almost endless. And what’s more, the Mediterranean is its playground.
April is too early for the famous lavender fields to be in flower, but it’s not too soon to enjoy the sensual taste of sweet garriguette strawberries. Gardens are already swagged with blossoms: golden mimosa, white mock orange, the shadowy purple shades of lilac and wisteria.
Market days are pure joy—and almost every small town has a market day. The larger ones have plenty more to tempt you with than fruit and vegetables. In Vence, I came across crystallized violet petals sparkling like a fairy hoard of amethysts. At the Sunday market in St Cyr sur Mer, pottery reflected the ochre-red earth and the glistening black of olives. Tablecloths celebrated the blue Mediterranean and butter-yellow sunshine.
Color is everywhere. Many of Provence’s crinkly-roofed houses seem rainbowed by an artist’s palette rather than ordinary paint from a Mr. Bricolage hardware store. Designed to waft in the aromatic scents of gardens and countryside, powder-blue wooden shutters are the traditional style—and they look stunning against stone exteriors or walls that color-washed in salmon pink. But you’ll also see plenty of dark lavender shutters. And pale green eau-de-nil shutters are a perfect match for ochre or apricot walls.
Homes in Southern France: In Search of a Bargain Gem
As you can probably guess, homes in Southern France aren’t the cheapest in France. As I don’t have 435,000 euro ($550,000) to spare, living within sight of the Med in a village house in arty St Paul de Vence is something I can only daydream about.
“Prices do not come down,” said one real estate agent. “Not in Provence.”
But farther from the coast and the tourist crowds, you can find more reasonable value. For example, I came across a lovely village called Villars sur Var that’s only 40 minutes drive from Nice.
A medieval village of stone-built houses and vaulted passageways, Villars sur Var fits my idea of “the real France.” Following the farming community’s rhythm of the seasons, life probably hasn’t changed that much for decades.
Perched above the Var river and surrounded by vineyards, the village centers around a fountained square shaded by plane trees. Its focal point is the Bar des Platanes, a terraced bar-cafe-restaurant where old boys really do sit around swigging pastis and red wine before noon like something from a Peter Mayle novel.
The food is sublime—the charcuterie starter I had for lunch was a meal in itself. This is traditional food: slow-cooked casseroles (daubes), rabbit in garlic, a pear tart to die for. Three courses cost around $23, but you won’t regret it.
Along with a bijou town hall and a stunningly ornate church adorned with statues of Jeanne d’Arc and St Roch, the village has a doctor, a boulangerie for your fresh crusty baguettes and morning croissants, a butcher’s, and a small supermarket. Vans call with fresh fruit and fish—and during my visit, a traveling shoe shop van set up on the square for an hour.
If this sounds like your kind of France, a small, restored village house is on the market in Villars sur Var for 124,000 euro ($156,000).
Editor’s note: If you’re interested in homes in Southern France, look for more properties and agent contact details in an upcoming magazine issue of International Living magazine.