The Pallières Windmill in Pennes-Mirabeau Back to Milling Flour
Named after a rocky outcrop in Pennes-Mirabeau, the 18th-century Pallières windmill stopped working sometime between 1862-66. Finally, after a lengthy restoration project commencing in 2019, the mill is functioning and open for visitors. Once again, sitting on its rocky ledge, the Pallières windmill has operational blades and a dedicated miller – Guy Lagier – producing flour for a local organic bakery.
The wind has long shaped the architectural elements in Provence. The typical farmhouse or Mas faces south with its back to the northern mistral wind. Church belltowers have openings and ironwork grills, allowing the wind to pass through. Stone walls and interior courtyards offer minor relief from these unseen elements.
Perhaps, the best-known wind is the forceful mistral that blows from northwestern France, picking up speed as it heads down the Rhône Valley. In Provençal, mistral means masterly, and the wind lives up to its name. There is little that can stop Tour de France riders, except for a mistral at the top of Mont Ventoux. In 2016, due to excessive winds, the stage finish moved down the mountain to Chalet Reynard instead of the summit.
Like any wind, the mistral is invisible, yet, you feel its presence. Photographer Rachel Cobb captures the impact of the mistral in her book of the same name. There are two French expressions when it comes to the mistral “le vent qui rend fou” (the wind which makes you crazy) and “le vent des voleurs” (the wind of robbers). The mistral can blow for one day or as long as a week. Whether the mistral has driven you crazy or not, when the wind stops, the relief is palatable and the calm almost surreal.
However, the mistral is not alone in creating Provence’s windy conditions. There are 32 typical winds experienced in the region and reflected as compass points. Eventually, each of the winds brings with it a change in weather conditions. “Traditional compass roses in Provence (see illustration, which shows Midi, or the South, at the top) have the names of the winds by the points of the compass.” ~ Wikipedia
Windmills of Provence
Before the advent of industrial grain mills, windmill blades turned on many of Provence’s hilltops. Windmills in the region leveraged the frequently windy conditions turning grains and nuts into flour and olives into oil. Many of these windmills, including the Pallières mill, had 360° rotating roofs so that the blades could catch the wind from all 32 directions. Despite this clever engineering, the old windmills were not competitive with modern facilities and fell into disrepair.
The Pallières windmill’s construction is typical of others in the region, of a stone façade, a rock or dirt floor, a rotating roof, and wooden blades. But, according to Jacques Palmesani, the tourist information office president, “It was more of a postcard than a real mill.” Despite a few attempts starting in 1982 to revitalize the mill, le moulin de Pallières remained derelict. However, in 2018 the idea of restoring the windmill gained traction within the town’s elected officials. Perhaps a functional mill could be a tourist attraction? Maybe this would spark a revival of the old village?
Now, after the restoration, the Pallières windmill operates year-round, whether the wind is blowing or not. Discover the mill on a guided tour and purchase a bag of flour milled on site. With the mill functioning, Pennes-Mirabeau’s residents hope to attract additional tourism and spur artisanal activity in the town.
Guy Lagier, the miller, is passionate about sharing his work with visitors. He even built scale models to demonstrate how the milling process. Some of the flour comes from wheat grown in the vicinity, including seisseto, a grain also known as le blé du Roussillon.
Enterprise Croix, a company that has restored windmills since 1850, was engaged for this project in les Pennes Mirabeau. One of the criteria was ensuring continuous power to the mill when there is insufficient wind during the planning process. Despite a compass rose of 32 winds, the wind does not always blow in Provence, or at least not enough to mill grain. Therefore, the final design incorporates an engine that turns the roof and a generator for additional power when required. On windy days, any surplus energy that the Pallières windmill generates feeds back into the commune’s power grid.
Le Moulin de Pallières is the only functioning mill in the Marseille area, but there are other windmills that you may encounter in your travels around the region.
Fontvieille in the Alpilles: Inscribed in the stone and fixed to one side of the St. Pierre windmill is an Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) quote. Although he was born in Nîmes and spent time in both Lyon and Paris, it was here in the Alpilles where he described his affection for Fontvieille and its windmills. The Ribet or St. Pierre windmill in Fontvieille sits proudly on the crest of a barren, rocky knoll, in full retirement after 100+ years of operation between 1814 and 1915.
Goult in the Luberon: There are many reasons to visit Goult, a charming village in the Vaucluse. This town is a must-see with its walkable streets, adorable storefronts, fortified castle walls, and even a windmill at the top of the village. The 17th century Moulin de Jerusalem milled flour until 1919. It has been restored and is occasionally open to visitors.
Moulin de Pallières
Rue de la Lanterne
13170 Les Pennes-Mirabeau
Call +33 (0)4 42 02 55 14 for information on guided tours
Price: 2 euros, and 1 euro for children under 12
The flour is sold at the Syndicat d’Initiative, tourist office, and mill depending on the production.
While you are in Pennes-Mirabeau stop by l’Atelier du Gavothé at 2 Rue Marcel Liotard and purchase organic bread made with flour from the Pallières windmill.