Expat Living and Real EstateKeith Van SickleLiving in Provence

Living in Provence Getting Deep Into Local Culture

Living Part-time in Provence

My wife and I live part of the year in St-Rémy and it’s been fun to get to know the place. One way we’ve done it is through local associations, which are groups organized around a common interest. Associations are popular in France and every town and village has at least a few. They might be cultural, charitable, athletic—you name it. A friend of ours is in a walking group and she joins fellow members for “randonnées” in the countryside every weekend.

Living Provence Local Culture St Remy Associations poster

Local Associations

We found a list of our local associations through the St-Rémy tourist office. The list includes several groups focused on history and culture, which we like. These associations host regular talks on interesting subjects, usually in the town’s movie theatre.

Like many of the associations in town, they have been around for years but are not big adopters of technology, so they don’t have websites. But that’s no problem—to see what they’re up to we occasionally drop by the tourist office or look around town for posters announcing a talk.

Cultural Interest

And what talks! We’ve been to a number of them and they have all been excellent, helping us to understand our corner of France better and better.

For example, one of the most famous landmarks near us is the Pont d’Avignon, the bridge made famous by the song many of us learned as children (“Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse.”) Like a lot of people, I was disappointed when I first saw it because it’s only about 100 meters long, the rest having been washed away centuries ago.

Pont d'Avignon Provence Rhone River

I’ve always wondered what the bridge looked like in its glory days and I’m not alone—a lot of people wonder the same thing. So a group of Provençal historians, archeologists and graphic artists worked together to build a 3D model of the original bridge. Then they turned it into a film that lets you “cross” it as it was back in the day, along with sound effects!

Another speaker discussed the legend of Mary Magdalene in Provence. I’ve always loved this story about how Mary was put in a boat and cast out to sea from the Holy Land, then miraculously came to shore in Provence. Could it be true? An expert on the subject explained the surprising origin of the legend and how it has been embellished over the centuries (spoiler alert: Mary Magdalene was never in Provence.)

Mary Magdalene Tintoretto public domain

Local Heroines and Castles

Then there was the presentation on The French Resistance in St-Rémy, where we learned that fully HALF of its members were women. At the end of the talk, we were introduced to one of them, a brave and inspiring lady still vigorous in her nineties.

Living Provence Local Culture Simone Segouin

We also enjoyed a talk on The Châteaux of the Alpilles that was held in a nearby town. As interesting as the talk itself were the audience questions that went on for nearly an hour after the presentation. It was impressive to have so many knowledgeable questions from the residents of this small, rural town.

Chateaux Aureille from the village

The presentations are in French and so are not for everyone. But the presenters usually speak slowly and show lots of pictures, so perfect French isn’t needed. For anyone interested in getting beneath the surface of French culture, going to a talk by a local association can be a delightful way to do it.


Image Credits

St-Rémy and lavender: Pixabay
Poster: Valerie Van Sickle
Pont d’Avignon: Pixabay
Mary Magdalene by Tintoretto: Public domain
Simone Seguoin: Wikipedia
Chateau d’Aureille: City of Aureille website

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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