Why Choose Provence Lifestyle? Experiences by Author Keith Van Sickle
Welcome to the first in a series of articles based on Provence lifestyle. These posts are an attempt to separate fact from fiction and dig into what it means to live in Provence. To discover more we ask a series of questions to understand why some people choose to visit Provence and others change their lives to live here. What does it mean to live in Provence? What are the challenges associated with living in Provence as an expat?
Keith Van Sickle and his wife Val are smitten with Provence. The couple’s home is near San Francisco in, California’s Silicon Valley. However, an expat assignment to Switzerland changed their outlook on living in Europe. Once the work term ended, they were bound and determined to find a way to recreate the experience. It took 20 visits to Provence before the Van Sickles decided to make the region their part-time home. Now, they spend part of the year (every year) in Provence embracing everything the area offers. Keith has written his first book about their experiences “One Sip at a Time, Learning to Live in Provence” available on Amazon. Please read the book review and backstory here.
What is Provencal Lifestyle?
How would you describe the lifestyle in Provence to someone who has not visited?
Life in Provence is not rushed. People here take time for friends and family, whether it is around the dinner table or hiking in les Alpilles or around Mont Ste Victoire. It is an area with small towns and lots of countryside and agriculture, so there is a real focus on food. The residents of Provence appreciate its traditions and guard the history.
When you think of Provence what are the words that pop into your head?
Sunny, easy-going, friendly, countryside, beautiful. Plus, excellent hiking and biking.
To some degree, Provence lives on its clichés in photos – scenes of lavender, sunflower fields, and boules players. Is this your Provence?
We think of lavender and sunflowers as being more the “picture” of the Luberon. Our Provence, in the Bouches du Rhone, is covered with vineyards, olive groves, big stone homes (mas), rolling hills, local markets, wildflowers, and bull culture (manades, courses camarguaises, abrivados, and more).
What does Mediterranean climate mean to you?
Sunny, temperate, dry, comfortable, which means you can be outside a lot.
What is your favourite season in Provence?
Spring and fall are both great times of the year. The weather is comfortable, and you can spend a lot of time outdoors. During those periods, the area is more French, with fewer foreign tourists. There is a wide selection of fruits and vegetables available in the markets during these months.
What is your favourite activity in Provence?
We love long meals with our French friends. Then we hike and bike to work off all those calories!
When you first return to Provence what aroma “says” I have arrived?
The Garrigue of the Alpilles and the Luberon, that mix of rosemary, thyme and other wild herbs that grow everywhere.
When you leave Provence what is the thing you miss the most and wish you could take with you?
Our French friends.
When you hear or see the term “Provence-style” what is your first thought?
French country-style, relaxed and comfortable (though too often overdone and kitschy in the US).
The Provence that many imagine today is relatively “new” thanks to the likes of Peter Mayle and others. What is “Authentic Provence” to you?
Friendly, down-to-earth people, proud of their land and with a sincere appreciation for food and wine, but no need for things to be fancy. Over a simple meal, a friend there once said, “I enjoy good food and wine and have a roof over my head. I can spend pleasant moments like this with friends like you. I can hike in the hills and enjoy the most beautiful scenery in the world. What more do I need?” That kind of sums it up. Authentic Provence is also the food, like aïoli, daube de boeuf, and so much more. The bull culture remains an important living part of life in the Bouches du Rhone.
Food in Provence
Life in Provence seems to revolve to a degree around food. How would you describe the food in the region to someone who has not visited?
Hearty, country home cooking. Not that fancy pants nouvelle cuisine nonsense. A real emphasis on high quality, fresh ingredients, mostly from the area—lamb, seafood, and fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
What are your favourite things to eat in Provence?
Lamb from the region
Melon de Cavaillon!
Olives (especially picholine) and olive oil
Tapenade, pistounade, anchoiade
Sausage and paté
Le grand aïoli
Roast chicken from the market
We could go on.
Is there a food or ingredient that you wish you could find outside of Provence?
Local sausage and paté
Expat Living in Provence
How would you rate your French Language skills?
We are bilingual (almost), we describe ourselves as “conversational.”
How important do you feel it is to have a decent level of French comprehension and speaking skills in Provence?
For a vacation? Not important
To live there? Conversing in French is essential if you want to engage with the people and culture. If you are ok living only among expats, it’s not that important. Once you start to learn the language, you will understand how hard French is. However, if you want to learn French, this will affect what kind of experience you have in Provence (and the rest of France).
What resources might you recommend to others to improve their language skills?
Please see the Resources section of my book. In the appendix to his book, Keith covers language resources (online, news sources, and language partners) as well as travel tips.
What resources might you recommend to expats and those considering a move to Provence?
Perfectly Provence and other local blogs.
Local tourist offices are helpful.
AngloInfo has a lot of good information.
Renestance specializes in relocations to the South of France.
We strongly recommend that you spend considerable time where you plan to live, especially in the less-pleasant months. Sure, it’s ideal in May, but you are also going to live there in January. Are you ok with that?
The Art of Learning French in Aix en Provence by Aixcentric
Learning French to Enjoy Life in Provence by Vaucluse Dreamer