If Paris is idyllic, Provence is positively magical. With stunning fields of lavender, bountiful olive groves, bobbing tufts of sunflowers and a temperate Mediterranean climate, it’s easy to understand why over two millions tourists include the region on their ‘explore France’ itinerary each year. As previous Franco Files from the South of France have attested, life generally moves at a slower pace. A bit too slow for an urbanite like me but nonetheless appealing.
Julie Mautner of Provence Post was also an urbanite in one of the most fast-paced and dynamic cities in America but fell hard for Provence when she visited over ten years ago. Unsated by a paltry two week vacation, she returned the following year and promptly came to the realization that her life as a frenetic New Yorker was over. The move to Provence was never really official – “somewhere the escapade just became real life”, she explains.
A freelance food and travel writer, Julie’s work has been published in NY Mag, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel + Leisure, and Bon Appétit among other publications but it has been documenting life in Provence on her blog that has led to a new role – that of travel consultant. She can hold forth about the region like a native and is a perfect addition to this series! Meet Julie…
Describe what you love about France in three words.
Delicious Daily Surprises. I’ve been in France on and off for 13 years and feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. Even though I work long hours, my life here still feels very much like vacation. Each day brings wonderful new experiences: interesting people, undiscovered villages, foods and wines I’ve yet to try, a road never driven, a Roman ruin to explore, festivals and markets galore, a brand-new word or phrase in French, an ‘ah ha!’ moment. One day that grassy field over there has white horses grazing in it…and the next week it’s ablaze with poppies. The longer I’m in Provence, the more deeply I love it.
Sales pitch: why should travelers make a point of spending time in Provence?
So much has been written about the charms of Provence—the food and wine, the light, the landscape, the climate, the history–that to list them seems cliché. So I’ll just say: there’s something very magical here and I felt it the first day I arrived. Plus, the Provençal people are very welcoming to travellers…and have a wonderful sense of humor.
Favorite spot outside of Provence and why?
The small towns of the Côte d’Azur. I’ve always loved being on or near the water and there are villages there that still feel just like old-fashioned barefoot beach towns. I love the pretty ports and the harbors, where raggedy fishing boats bump up against gorgeous multi-million-euro yachts. I love all the contrasts, the high and low all mixed together. I love the museums, the legacies of amazing artists who visited, lived and worked there over the years. I love how much it feels like Italy…how diverse the landscape is…and how it attracts people from all over the world.
The one thing you miss from New York?
Barnes & Noble. My ‘’how to get books in English’’ problem has been solved by Amazon and Kindle but there’s nothing like an hour spent browsing in a huge bookstore, while sipping a Starbucks iced coffee of course…
Most amusing or frustrating interaction with the French?
If ‘most amusing interaction’ means ‘stupidest thing you’ve done,’’ there are far too many to mention. I’ve made every mistake in the book: like planting mums in my garden when it turns out they’re only for cemeteries…like sending my car through the car wash with windows wide open…like turning right on red for years before I realized that it was illegal…like getting myself completely lost at night, deep in the French countryside, with my tank virtually empty and no cell phone…and scores of other silly mistakes I’ve long forgotten making or was never aware of in the first place. Can you imagine the snickering that’s gone on behind my back?
When it comes to frustration: closing times. We Americans are accustomed to stores and businesses being open all day and many evenings…and being able to return things when they’re not right. Here, lots of places close on odd days of the week or close half the day on certain days or close for no apparent reason. It’s hard to get the hang of it. And if you try to return something, Mon Dieu
! Big drama! There’s a ‘’because we’ve always done it that way’’ sensibility here that’s usually utterly charming…but sometimes totally exasperating.
Agreed. Thanks, Julie! Work with Julie to plan your next trip to Provence, subscribe to Provence Post and follow her updates on Twitter: @ProvencePost.
(Photos courtesy of Julie Mautner)