Unique Provence Blog
The latest travel news and experiences from
Provence and The Riviera . . .



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Regine Damiana-Galvez

Regine is the Chef's mom, though some call her la Maman chef (the Chief Mom). Her son Fabien Fage is the Michelin starred chef who runs the show in the kitchens of the 5* hotel Le Prieuré in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. Sensing the motherly pride, I chatted last night with sweet Regine about local folklore and especially that of Arles, their home and where Fabien is very proud to have been born and raised. I asked Regine if, after watching her son's career develop over the years and seeing him awarded a Michelin star 5 years ago, she was still a tough judge of her son's cooking. She started by saying "oh yes of course!" and then after a few seconds, she and her husband agreed "...though it's true, we have less and less to criticize as time goes by." To taste Regine's son's fabulous food (flawless, even according to the chef's mother!), head to this 14 century priory-turned-luxury hotel Le Prieuré.

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Patrick Laurent

The French version of the Lousiana wetlands is the region of Camargue, a protected national reserve famous for its rice and salt beds, Camargue horses and bulls and unique wildlife and flora. A Camargue farm is called a manade and its cowboys are manadiers. Patrick is a third-generation manadier breeding Camargue horses and bulls, raising them in semi-liberty as manades traditionally do. His farm"Les Marquises" is one of the most renowned manades of Camargue for the family's contribution to the organization of Courses Camarguaises as well as to the extraordinary animals bred there - Goya the bull and Esterel the horse, among others. Speaking English is no problem in this manade and Patrick and his wife Estelle are wonderful hosts, so proud to share their passion for their region with visitors. Check out their Facebook page for more information Les Marquises - Manade Laurent.

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Here is Alexis, alias "XL", one of the most friendly and talkative Provençal guys on the block. With a New Zealand birth certificate, Ukrainian last name and his French family's coat of arms tatooed on his shoulder, he is not your typical local color kind of guy. In fact, of all the wacky and unique jobs in the world, XL is very proud of the time he spent working as a - get this - New York cab driver. "I know I was born to drive a New York cab. I love talking to people and I love that crazy city that is one of a kind in this world. I miss that job so much," XL says. This was years ago when XL moved to New York and fell in love not only with the American way of life but also with his wife Jennifer. They moved back to Provence together to be closer to the French side of their family and started an American food truck that is by far the best I have yet to come across in Provence - Brooklyn Foodz. Born and raised in Manhattan, XL's wife Jennifer is of Puertan Rican and Polish descent. With such a variety of cultures and nationalities in their family tree, it's no surprise they named their sweet and talkative little girl (whose birthday is today by the way!)... Gaïa.

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Caroline Bernard

Each year the high season for tourists in Aix-en-Provence gets a day or two longer. I walked into the Office of Tourism in Aix a few days ago and can testify to this year's season having definitely started. According to Caroline, the season basically starts early April and now goes through October, sliding even a bit into November. The main reason? Provence's unrivaled climate and over 300 days ofsunshine every year. These assets naturally lure new families to the area as well, and Caroline says they have FIVE new families come into the Office EACH WEEK in search of information on settling down in the area. Caroline's life and work may revolve around Aix-en-Provence, but the minute she retires, she says there's no doubt in her mind, she will head to the more remote and quieter areas of Provence.

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Whether or not to draw a positive portrait of France's farming industry is one of the country's favorite debates. Meanwhile, France is the leading agricultural producer in Europe and 40% of its farmers are under 40 years old (compared with 14% in Europe). Romain is one of these young farmers and like the vast majority of farms in France, his is a family affair. A native son of Aix-en-Provence, Romain's paternel grandmother managed to research 11 generations in their family tree - all farmers - and the furthest address from Aix-en-Provence was in the small town of Jouques, just 30 minutes away. I asked Romain what the easiest and hardest part of being a farmer was... he said the hardest is a schedule defined by Mother Nature and beyond his control... the easiest? "No other job has offices like this one!", laughs Romain. Yes, I agree, the fields and vineyards of Provence make for a nice office with a view.

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Suzanne Sutton

Abraham Lincoln said "You cannot escape the responsability of tomorrow by evading it today." An adopted child of Provence, Suzanne is a fervent and passionate supporter of sustainable tourism and living. Born an activist, Suzanne migrated from the US to France in the 70s and today, she dedicates most of her time to the protection of the environment, to animal and women's rights as well as to those of the physically and visually impaired. Her eco-gite in Roussillon was the first in the Vaucluse and one of the first in Provence, to receive the "Tourisme & Handicap" label a few years ago. Suzanne has many strings to her bow including tour guiding, teaching English, running her gite Artemis en Provence http://artemisenprovence.com/ and organizing festivals such as "Luberon Jazz" in Apt. Her knowledge of Provence and care for its development and protection make her one of the most charismatic ambassadors of Provence I have ever met.

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Raffaele, proud to be "Marseillais"

As the only French team to have ever won the European Championship Cup (1993), the Olympique de Marseille football team is a legend and a modern day "religion". The city's stadium - the Velodrome - just this year completed massive renovations to add a roof and another 7,000 seats, making it the second largest stadium in France after the Stade de France. Raffaele arrived in Marseille from Catania when he was 14 years old and like many of the Sicilian families who have been immigrating to Marseille since the late 19th century, Raffaele is a devout and loyal fan of "l'OM". I am sad to report that the all-time record capacity turnout at the stadium last night for the "Clasico" Paris vs Marseille (66,000) was not quite enough to earn a winning score for the OM... But Raffaele never loses hope.

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How would you like to be in charge of maintenance in the one of the world's most outstanding tributes to the legacy of the Roman empire? Thanks to Fred's watchful eye, no new crack or fallen stone goes unnoticed in the Antique Roman Theater in Orange. This bright eyed and friendly native Provençal keeps a close watch on this world heritage monument which is so cleverly kept alive by the efforts of its director and the Culturespaces Foundation. Fred admitted to taking this job as a fine way to wrap up his career - i'm not sure I'd ever retire if I were him and if it meant giving up on watching sunsets after visting hours, as sole spectator in a glorious 2000 year old Roman amphitheater.

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Jean Bernard LeTemple

Jean Bernard worked for years as an accountant for a high-fashion luxury goods manufacturer in Paris, before dropping everything to head (back) south and embark on a radical change of pace in his life. Twenty years later, no tree or hiking path in Provence is foreign to him. I had the opportunity to walk with Jean Bernard up the beautiful Lure mountain in the first days of 2015 and can confirm that Jean Bernard's passion for Provence is contagious.

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Manu “Lo Pichotome”

After a career in singing with the polyphonic ensemble "Lo Còr de la Plana", Manu "Lo Pichotòme" (that's "little man" in Provençal) reverted to his original learned trade - baking - and bought and refurbished one of the oldest pizza trucks in Marseille, offering among the most delicious artisanal pizzas in Provence. He shyly didn't admit to this when I snapped this cliché yesterday, but on a previous occasion, I can testify to having seen Manu sing to his pizza. When I asked him at the time, he said that that guaranteed the pizza would be good. That night I brought home a cured ham and mozzarella pizza like I had never eaten before.

Inherited from Southern Italy, pizza trucks are a pure Marseille tradition. This 1974 vintage refitted Peugeot is literally one of the very first pizza trucks to have filled the streets of Marseille with the smell of tomato sauce and mozzarella some 40 years ago. Manu "Lo Pichotome" bought and embellished this beauty a few years ago, pursuing his family's pizza-making legacy. Find out where you can see this artefact of Mediterranean culinary history, every week, at  goo.gl/KqKv8F

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