Christmas in Provence

Christmas is a very important time of the year for the most traditional people in Provence.
So, what would be the experience of a Traditional Christmas in Provence for travellers meeting an authentic Provencal family ? The answer involves germinated wheat, 13 deserts, and small clay figures, called santons.

La Sainte Barbe

In Provence, Christmas Time (a period called Calendale) starts on Sainte-Barbe day (December 4th). People grow wheat grains in three different plates (the number three reprensenting the Holy Trinity) on moist cotton. If the wheat sprouts straight, the year will be successful. The germinated wheat will then ornate the Crèche and the Gros Souper table.

La Crèche

No Provencal Christmas would be complete without a Crèche, a representation with santons (ie. small saints), clay figures of the nativity scene. An ideal Crèche represents a Provençal village, with characters like the village fool, the miller, the sheperd and obviously Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.  There is even in Provence a village showing different crèches all around it!
Where to buy santons at traditional makers’, or on Christmas markets ?

The Cacho-Fio

Christmas Eve starts in Provence with the ceremony lighting of the Yule log, called cacho-fio. The fruit-tree log is splashed 3 times with mulled wine while the oldest of the family blesses it in the provençal language. Then the youngest of the family takes the log and turns arround the dinner table three times before putting it in the hearth. Once the log lit up, the Calendale Eve can start, with songs and cantics in Provecal, counts and music.
Also, people would go to shows mixing music and theatre called Pastorales.
Where to see a pastorale ?

The Gros Souper

While waiting for the Midnight Mass, Christmas Eve’s dinner is very important in Traditional Provence. The table is dressed with 3 white table clothes, one being smaller than the one before. There are three lit white candles next to the Sainte Barbe germinated wheat. Christmas roses, and holly are also decorating the table.
Christmas dinner is actually a lean meal, as Christmas Eve is still in the Advent Time. The Dinner would be made of season vegetables, snails with cardons, poivrade celery, artichokes, …
Provence is also famous for its 13 deserts : Hazelnuts, Dry figs, Almonds, Raisins, pompe à huile, white nougat, black nougat, dates, Aix calissons, Quince fruit paste, fresh white grapes, christmas melon, fresh oranges…
The number 13 is symbolic, representing Christ and his 12 apostles.
What about learning to cook with a local with Decouvertes and discover grocery stores?

The Midnight Mass

Some part of Provence perpetuate the tradition of the Pastrage Ceremony of the Winter Solstice.  A pastor  and children in traditional Provencal costumes roam the countrysiad and enter the church to the sound of galoubets and drums. A lamb is drawn in a small carriage decorated with ribbons, branches and candles and drawn by its mother. The lambi s thenpresented to the prior who takes it in his arms. The sheperd then tells his story to come and adorate baby Jesus.
Go watch the Pastrages in Les-Baux-de-Provence.

So, what would your perfect Provencal Christmas sound like ?

Discovering Provence with Decouvertes

Decouvertes made 7 of his top seller Travel Agents for a lovely pre-ILTM tour. We wanted to relax before ILTM, enjoy to be together, know each other better and discover off-the-beaten-path places.
We wanted to show you the places we loved in Provence and the Riviera.
So, what was the experience of the pretour? Take a glimpse of those 4 days of fun and information.

A One-Michelin Star Restaurant at the Intercontinental Marseille

I was waiting at the airport, wondering what John Galante would be like. I mean, I had already seen his photo on Virtuoso.com, but would he be nice, demanding, strong-headed ?
When I first saw his face and large smile, I knew all would go smoothly ! I greeted him and rushed him in the Renault Espace.
‘Have you driven this car before ?’
‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘my first time was yesterday !’ He smiled.

In the morning, we visited Notre Dame de la Garde, a Cathedral at the top of a rocky peak, overlooking the City of Marseilles, second biggest city in France. We then visited a small and busy district of Marseille, le Panier. The narrow and hilly streets give it a village feel, with people from all origins speaking together.
Then, we visited the Intercontinental Hotel, with our friend Elodie. The location is great and the atmosphere is very cosy. In some rooms, you can even have a bath while enjoying the breathtaking view on Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde.

Afterwards, Emmy and Bertrand joined us for lunch at the Brasserie. The Mayor of Marseille was even having lunch next to us ! the œufs pochés by their One-Michelin Star Chef were to die for.
In the Afternoon, we drove to the Domaine de Manville, next to Les Baux de Provence. Florence showed us a lovely property, complete with suites, villas and even a kids’ club ! In the gorgeous surrounding domain – in the midst of vineyards and dominated by the rocky chain of Les Alpilles – you can even play golf.
We then had High Tea by the fire in the beautiful cosy cafe and Raenette had there a first Pastis in Provence ever!

In the evening, the nine of us had dinner at La Villa Beaulieu, Berangere’s unique and incredible Château in the midst of vineyards. Raenette loved its ‘beauty and warmth’. That really was her favorite place for the whole week-end. Lina, a Travel Advisor and Stephanie, a guide at Decouvertes joined us around a traditionnal French Dinner.
Everyone discovered his/her room and we all had great fun discovering the property.

Villa Beaulieu, a travel agents’ favorite

After a good night’s sleep, we had breakfast at Villa Beaulieu, with all the traditional treats of a French Breakfast : biscuits, croissant, brioche and even homemade marmelade.
Later on, we had a walking tour in the charming narrow streets of Aix-en-Provence.
We tasted a Choux à la Crème (puffed pastry filled with cream) at Monsieur Chou.
Then, we did a quick visit at the Hotel Caumont, great exhibition place in the historic center of Aix en Provence, inviting us to discover the great Art Masters of History in a recently renovated Town Mansion.
Rue d’Italie, we then tasted cheese at Aix’s best cheese shop and discovered a jam store, where each trave advisor could choose his/her favorite flavor. We ended at the open-air market, full of colors, smells and sounds of French people selling all one could eat in early winter.

For lunch, we visited the Villa Gallici in Aix-en-Provence. This hotel has the feel of a lovely villa, with baroque and rococco. The lunch at the Hotel’s restaurant was incredible. Foie Gras, maigre fish and sweet apple dessert made a very complete mediterranean menu, full of different tastes that went very well together.

In the afternoon, the whole group went for a 4WD wine safari around the domain and a very instructive wine tasting in the cellar with David and Berangere.
For dinner, the group had aperitif grand salon and had small talk in a beautiful Private Salon bibliotheque herbal tea  vin villa beaulieu which is usually closed and was open especially for the group.

Abbaye de la Celle, an Oasis of Calm

In the morning, we drove to the Abbaye de la Celle. This Provencal mas, in the middle of the countryside, though quite close to the main road is an oasis of calm. Charlotte showed us around the property. Rooms are very soothing yet warm, with beamed ceilings and lovely tiled floor.

We drove to Grasse in the afternoon, where we had a great perfume workshop with  Claire. I have been able to create a perfume with fragrances of. John had lots of fun and called his home fragrance Pledge. Everyone passed their perfume exam. They even got a certificate !

The Saint Paul, feeling like home

Night had fallen when we arrived in the Saint Paul, where we discovered a lovely property that opened just for us. We were welcomed with a glass of Champagne. The hotel had a very comfortable feeling, one of being at someone else’s but still feeling home. The deep carpets, heavy curtains and made us feel very welcome.
We had then a wine tasting with Romain, which was a lot of fun. We learnt a lot, drinking amazing vintage wines and Champagne.

Château St Martin & Spa, a château with a view

We drove in the morning to Château St Martin & Spa. We visited the incredible huge cellars full of vintage wines. The view from the Château is just breathtaking.
We then visited the Maeght Foundationwith our guide Cecilia. Everything there is beautiful and we all thought the place would just be great for kids.

We ended this great week-end by a drop-off in Cannes.

In the end, our top-sellers had a lovely week-end, discovering breathtaking hotels and real French people in Provence and the Riviera. The weather was great and we created a strong relationship with seven different agencies.
So, who will come with us next ?


Linda's stay in Paris

Most of you are still wondering how life is in Paris these days, and how secure one would feel in the City of Love.
Linda is an independent affiliate of Protravel and needed 3 flats in St-Gemain-des-Prés for her family stay in Paris.
Charlotte found for her client 2 very typical two-bedroom flats and 1 practical one-bedroom flat, in the lovely 6th Disctrict.
You can find below her answers about the general feel of Paris Streets.

How did you like your apartment in Paris?

We all liked our apartments. I was confused on figuring out how to get into the building.  My transfer driver was great and showed me how to use the codes that were on the contract.

What was the feel of the streets of Paris? Did you feel secure?

People were out and about their business.  We felt very safe.  Many Parisians thanked us for coming even after the terrorist attacks.
How did you feel the general atmosphere in Paris?
We walked many miles, visited many museums, took the RER to Versailles, rode the buses everywhere, shopped and enjoyed the Christmas Market on the Champs Elysées. 

Were the access difficult into museums, airports, tourist attractions?

NO!  There were no lines for entry anywhere.  We walked right up to the ticket window at the Eiffel Tower and bought tickets right to the top. The security lines were not long, either.  The airport security line was very, very long upon departure, however.  We were in the DL Priority Line, so our wait wasn’t too bad, and we arrived at the airport very early to avoid stress.

Did you enjoy your stay?

We enjoyed our stay immensely.  Paris is a beautiful city and should be on everyone’s “bucket list”.  We loved shopping for food and bringing it back to our apartments to prepare.

As you can see, the streets of Paris feel very secure, with the Police patrolling very regularly.
Also, there is only small lines to go into museums in Paris. However, for security measures, line can be longer at airports and train stations.
What about you ? When are you clients next coming to Paris ? Is there any more specific information you would need ?