Sophie’s Travel in Provence Explores the Authentic Mediterranean Lifestyle
Combining Passions into Work
Born in Provence, Sophie Bergeron is bilingual (English and French) and fully conversant in the realm of local wines. Her technical studies at Université de Vin in Suze la Rousse and the WSET certification transitioned into work at several Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards, including Domaine de la Janasse. In 2016, Bergeron decided to combine her work experience and delights (food and wine) and launched a boutique travel company.
Here, is what Sophie had to say about her company — Travel in Provence.
I started Travel in Provence as a wine tour at first, and then as an official guide. It had always been my dream to do this type of work as wine, food and the history of Provence are my passions. My “off-the-beaten-track” tours include genuine contact with locals because that’s what I look for when I travel abroad. In my opinion, clichés are useful for promoting a country or a region, but we do need to go beyond that to get to know a real culture and an area. The people who contact me (for tours) want authentic experiences. Please check my website for suggested tours or contact me for any excursions you might fancy.
Sophie agreed to answer some questions on what it is like to live in Provence, her views on the authentic Mediterranean lifestyle in the South of France.
What is a Provencal Lifestyle?
How would you describe the lifestyle in Provence to someone who has not visited?
Difficult! As it goes beyond culture, it is first and foremost an attitude. The Provençaux are stubborn, overprotective and deeply rooted in their terroir and history and very passionate about it. You get the feeling that these people have roots instead of toes that keep them tied to their land and culture. But, the positive side is that you get all the authenticity that goes with the rest.
When you think of Provence what are the words that pop into your head?
Light, sunshine, authenticity, and photogenic scenes.
To some degree, Provence lives on its clichés in photos – scenes of lavender, sunflower fields, and boules players. Is this your Provence?
It is part of my Provence. Although, where I come from is Northern Provence (Drôme South and the Mont Ventoux area) with its natural, remote character covered with wild garrigue.
What does the Mediterranean climate mean to you?
Hot, dry summers with aromatic garrigue and sea breezes. Cold and windy winters with excellent truffle hunting!
What is your favourite season in Provence?
All seasons have many things to offer regarding food. Traditionally, we eat the fruits and vegetables of the season. However, my favourite time of year is summer as I like hot weather and the vast choice of available produce.
What is your favourite activity in Provence?
When you first return to Provence what aroma “says” I have arrived?
The fresh smell of the garrigue and wild herbs.
When you leave Provence what is the thing you miss the most and wish you could take with you?
Sun, light, food, and the landscapes.
When you hear or see the term “Provence-style” what is your first thought?
The sun-faded colours that you find on shutters and walls: lavender-blue, Provencal green, saffron yellow, red ochre.
Provence and the Cote d’Azur appear to evoke a decorative style in homes, restaurants and hotels. How might you describe this trend?
To me, the decorative approach in the south is quite relaxed as compared to the Parisian style. The trend is much more rustic with specific colours and shades. There are even particular types of wood used for furniture like olive and cherry that are “cérusé” (whiten, sun-bleached) or “patiné” (patina). You also get objects adapted to the weather and lifestyle like the “radassier” (a 2 or 3 seat sofa) where we relax during summer siestas.
The Provence that many imagine today is relatively “new” thanks to the likes of Peter Mayle and others. What is “Authentic Provence” to you?
I would say that Provence is not exceptionally unique. Provence is just a place where there has been a lot of cultural crisscross over centuries. It is the result of the mixing of different populations and customs that have created Provence.
We have a great deal in common with Italy, but also Spain and the other countries around the Mediterranean. As an example, Provençal recipes are influenced by cuisine from other countries that have comparable climates and plant life. You will see (and taste) similar shared cooking influences are in regions of France that are close to a foreign border. In Alsace, there is a lot of German-style cooking, and “le Nord” shares classics from Belgium, you even find some British influences in Normandy and Brittany. I think this is part of France’s cultural wealth, diversity of language, and of food.
Food and Wine 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?
Food like language is the mirror of culture, and as I mentioned above food in Provence is a blend influenced by many of its neighbours.
What are your favourite things to eat in Provence?
Tapenade, anchoïade, brandade (or anything with morue (salt cod)),
poutargue, soupe au pistou, tomates à la provençale, artichauts barigoule,
truffle tartines, and pieds et paquets.
Originally printed in 1897, La Cuisinière Provençale by J-B Reboul with the preface by Frédéric Mistral is the reference guide to classic Provençal cuisine. This “kitchen bible” is often handed down from one generation to another within local families.
Is there a food or ingredient that you wish you could find outside of Provence?
Yes, a specific type of olive variety called Tanche that grows within the AOP region of Nyons.
Can you talk about the wine in Provence?
The exciting thing about the Southern Rhône is that it is part of Provence and there are many cru wines. The red wines from this geography have a typically Mediterranean profile, with a lot of aromatic concentration, which makes them entirely different from their other regions (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire). The white wines in Provence, have similar characteristics as the reds; quite full-bodied with great complex aromas.
Provencal red wines (Rhone Valley, Châteauneuf du Pape and all the way to the coast) have much in common with Spanish and Italian wines as well as those from other countries around the Mediterranean. Although the type of land (terroir) is essential, the sun makes the difference. For example, generally, I don’t like a young Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bordeaux area. For my palette, these wines typically have too many vegetal notes (capsicum sometimes). On the other hand, I recently tasted the same varietal from a small estate in Languedoc, and the wine was very jammy and overripe! (the Languedoc is typically much hotter than the Bordeaux region).
As a note, I believe we are all heavily regionally stigmatized with our wines in France (chauvinistic). We tend to prefer the first wines we sampled, but to me, there are delicious wines everywhere!
Can you tell readers a bit about your focus on food and food events in Provence?
To me, food is important not only because it’s part of my culture, but also because it was central to my upbringing. My grandmother used to cook with her right hand while holding me in her left arm. Her cooking was very much Mediterranean orientated. I also love going to local food festivals and markets, and there are lots to choose from including:
- The olive festival in Nyons in December.
- The truffle markets (full list here) in Saint Paul 3 Châteaux and Richerenches in December and January.
- Les Printemps de Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the first weekend of April is a huge tasting event.
- Check la Farandole for food festivals and events
- Weekly markets are very much part of life in Provence and the Cote d’Azur.
- Les Halles in Avignon (daily morning food market) have a weekly event on Saturdays at 11 am which is called “la petite cuisine des Halles” where the regional chefs come to share their art.
Image Credits: Photos provided by and published with the permission of Sophie Bergeron