18 Curious Facts in the New Book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence

Provence - girl reading a book in a lavender field and basket with lavender in the foreground

An Insider’s Guide to Provence is your South of France companion by Frenchly writer and author Keith Van Sickle and his partner, Val. The two possess an infectious love for the beautiful region of rolling hills, wine, and delicious cuisine. In this modern guidebook, Van Sickle unveils all his secrets about the region and its villages. Her serves up insider-ey things like where to eat, what knowledge it would be good tp have in your back poche  as you travel, and he suggests a 1-week-itinerary, and so much more. Think of he and Val as your true Provence confidantes, who will take care of you as you travel.

Keith and Val Van Sickle split their time between California and the lovely village of St-Rémy-de-Provence. Their guidebook shares a local knowledge that feels intimate. And as conscious travel is gaining gears across the world, Van Sickle does just that as he steers off the tourism track and dives into the nooks and crannies of Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, the Luberon Valley, Nîmes, St-Rémy-de-Provence, and more. The generous compilation of must-visit addresses is accompanied by the author’s own humor that keep the text moving along at a swift tempo.

We’ve rounded up taste of the most interesting facts that we’ve learned from the book. But don’t take it from us–read An Insider’s Guide to Provence to learn more!

  1. Bouillabaisse is a famous Provençal fish stew. But you have to be careful how you make it, because it can explode.
  2. France is a Catholic country and meat was long banned on Fridays. So, the Provençaux came up with their traditional Friday meal of le grand aioli: fish and steamed vegetables, served with large dollops of garlicky mayonnaise. Many restaurants still serve it on Fridays.
  3. Provence is full of fun expressions. For example, when you call someone a tightwad, you say he has “sea urchins in his pocket” and can’t reach his wallet. A sardine once blocked the port of Marseille. If you don’t believe it, just ask any Marseillais—they’ll swear it’s true!
  4. Local legend has it that Mary Magdalene sailed from the Holy Land and landed in Provence, where she helped establish Christianity. It’s one of the legends in the great book, The Da Vinci Code.
  5. Nativity scenes were banned after the French Revolution, so a clever Provençal invented “santons,” the little figurines so beloved today. The fanatics of the revolution never figured out that “santon” means “little saint.”
  6. The most famous local sport involves young men in “tight white pants.” Very popular with the ladies.
  7. Years ago, stone was quarried from inside a mountain, creating giant caverns. After these were abandoned, someone had the clever idea to create an immersive sound and light show that has been duplicated all over the world. Today it is know as the Carrières des Lumières
  8. Provence produces the best olive oil in France and producers have won numerous world titles. You need to read the book to find out where to get the best. 
  9. A popular local glider airport with a grassy runway uses flocks of sheep to mow it several times a year.
  10. One town is so crazy about their melons that they built a giant melon statue at the entrance to town. 
  11. You can visit Château Romanin, a winery that sits on the site of the medieval Court of Love, where noble ladies presided over “questions of gallantry.”
  12. One winery in Provence makes wines using ancient Roman recipes. Fenugreek in your Chardonnay, anyone? Find it on page 114.
  13. Most popes have lived in the Vatican, but for a century the papacy moved to Provence, where seven different popes lived in the massive Papal Palace. Who could blame them?
  14. At the foot of a cliff, a river seems to appear out of a calm pool of water. It’s actually one of the world’s largest springs, over 1000 feet deep, called Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
  15. 300 years ago, the last great outbreak of the Plague occurred in Provence. To keep it from spreading north, the King and the Pope built a seven-foot-tall stone “plague wall,” or mur de la peste. 
  16. In the 1950s, the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape passed a law banning UFOs. And it has been effective—none have landed since then!
  17. The world’s oldest cave paintings are just north of Provence in the “cave of forgotten dreams.”
  18. For centuries, the center of Jewish life in France was Provence. You can visit numerous important sites, including the oldest synagogue in France. 
A close up of a sign


Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Read more

Frenchly newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Frenchly Newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly stuff.