What does the Barefoot Blogger think about the Provençal lifestyle after moving to the south of France?
Perfectly Provence’s Carolyne Kause-Abbott asked questions you’ll want answered if you consider a significant change in your life after retirement.
Choosing the Provencal Lifestyle to Embark on a Retirement Adventure
Deborah Bine spent her childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, dreaming of “faraway places” (her words). Her early travels included visiting her Aunt Rose in exhilarating Manhattan. “Aunt Rose owned New York — or so this sixteen-year-old ingénue from the Carolinas assumed.” On this voyage, Deborah learned some travel lessons she continues to follow today:
#1 Take a guided tour of the new place you’re visiting (ideally the first day).
#2 Wear comfortable shoes
#3 Life is an adventure
Since those early days in New York City, Deborah’s thirst for travel has taken her to Asia, West Africa, Central America, and beyond. Newly retired from her corporate marketing job and recently divorced, Deborah followed a dream and moved from South Carolina to Uzès in France.
The Barefoot Blogger is Deborah’s blog, which she launched as the reservoir for her travel stories. The blog posts are records of her approach to life and adventure as a solo female traveler – a dose of humor, a quest for discovery, and mostly lots of fun.
We asked The Barefoot Blogger to answer some questions related to the lifestyle in Provence and her experiences as an expat living in the South of France.
What is Provençal Lifestyle?
How would you describe the lifestyle in Provence to someone who has not visited?
To me, the lifestyle in Provence is like life was in the 1940s and 50s, or as it was portrayed in movies and images. Shopkeepers know you by name in the small towns and villages of Provence. You can walk to most of the places you want to go. People are generally friendly and smiling. No one seems in a hurry unless you drive on the roads. That’s an entirely different experience anywhere in France!
When you think of Provence, what words pop into your head?
History, flowers, wine, olives, and blue skies.
To some degree, Provence lives on its clichés in photos – scenes of lavender, sunflower fields, and boules players. Is this your province?
Yes, the clichés work for me, but Provence is much more than cliché. Most important is the fact that Provence changes with the weather. Summers in Provence are busy, bustling with tourists and holiday vacationers who fill the cafes and markets. There’s a constant buzz of noise and activities.
During Autumn and Spring, the rhythm of life in Provence is calmer, more relaxed, and less frantic. Everyone and everything slows down to a pleasant pace so you can enjoy the beauty of the villages and the countryside.
In Winter, Provence is asleep. It’s a peaceful time of year perfect for cocooning, taking stock of your life, and planning your year ahead. Only a few cafes and shops are open during Winter, and that’s OK. The atmosphere is warm there and oh, so French. It’s like a scene from an old French movie.
What does the Mediterranean climate mean to you?
Mediterranean climate means “warm” to me. I’m from the southern part of the United States, so the weather in Provence is much like in the Carolinas. It’s hot in the Summer and not too cold in the Winter. It rarely, if ever, snows. The most significant difference in the weather to me is the wind. Le Mistral is ferocious and lasts for days if not months.
What is your favorite season in Provence?
My favorite season in Provence is Autumn. There’s something unique about the colors of Autumn here. Perhaps it’s the way the shades of brown, beige, and yellow meld into the stonework of the houses and buildings. When the leaves of grapturn turn red and gold, it’s magical to drive through the country countryside, where vineyards stretch out as far as you can see along the roadway.
What is your favorite activity in Provence?
I love to go to Sète in the Summer, to eat all the seafood I can possibly hold, and sit under an umbrella at the beach — attended to by handsome and lovely young bar staffers who are serving icy, tall drinks, of course!
When you first return to Provence, what aroma “says,” I have arrived?
I know when I’m back in Provence when I smell the fresh, clean air. There’s no pollution where I live in France because there are no large industries, only a candy factory – Haribo. Highways are far away, and streets are primarily one-way with speed limits of 30 kph. So, no smelly gas fumes. Vineyards and olive groves surround the old town of Uzès.
When you leave Provence, what do you miss the most and wish you could take with you?
When I’ve gone back to the States to visit family in the past, I’ve tried to take some favorite foods from France with me – tapenades, truffle oil, s, ea salts, and the like. For some reason, the things I love in France don’t transfer to my life outside France.
When you hear or see the term “Provence-style,” what is your first thought?
The term “Provence-style” stirs thoughts of brightly colored things – bright yellows and reds, blue shutters on stone houses, and rows of stately white and green plane trees.
Provence and the Cote d’Azur evoke a decorative (home decor, restaurants, hotels) style – how might you describe this trend?
To me, Provence’s decorative style is ageless. A simple farmhouse’s decorations and color scheme can quickly adapt to a country estate’s living spaces or a seaside resort’s veranda.
What about fashion style in Provence?
realized how much my fashion style has changed since moving to France until I posted photos of myself and said I looked “so French.” My style here is simply practical and suits the climate and my activities. Yes, I wear many skirts and slippers instead of jeans and sneakers, but that may have more to do with my age than a fashion statement. Hats are a “must” nearly year-round. Read French Fashion: Bobo Style.
Many imagine that the Provence today is relatively “new,” thanks to Peter Mayle and others. What is “Authentic Provence” to you?
If I could label anything or any place in Provence as “authentic,” it would be Arles. The tiny town with its Roman arena and amphitheater, the shops with brightly decorated linens and gift items, the outdoor cafes, the festivals, the food – it’s all so Provençal. Arles seems like it has always been and how Provence is meant to be to me.
Food in Provence
Life in Provence seems to revolve to a degree around food. How would you describe the food in the region to someone who has not visited?
The foods of Provence are influenced by geography and the cultures of its bordering countries. You see, experience, and taste foods originating in Spain or Italy from one end of Provence to another. The Mediterranean influences the diet, featuring fish, poultry, fresh fruits, vegetables, goat and sheep cheeses, and olive oil.
What are your favorite things to eat in Provence?
I could eat fish every day. The easy access to fresh fish and local, seasonal produce makes me love to dine and cook in Provence.
Is there a food or ingredient you wish to find outside of Provence?
I crave anchovy tapenade! There’s nothing like a dollop of “tapenade d’anchois” on a thin cracker and a “verre de vin rosé.”
Expat Living in Provence
How important is it to have decent French comprehension and speaking skills in Provence?
Those who follow the Barefoot Blogger know that I have a love/hate relationship with learning the French language. I know how important it is to communicate in the language of my place. However, I continuously resist the discipline that comes with learning the language. Fortunately, I’ve been here long enough now that a bit of the language is rubbing off on me. I can hold my own ordering food in a restaurant, and with the help of sign language, I can pretty much make myself understood when I need to.
What resources might you recommend to others to improve their language skills?
I discovered the audio tapes of Michel Thomas this year through a friend. Thomas’s approach to teaching and learning French is unique. It speaks to me. Now, I hope to get the nerve to enroll in a French immersion class.
What resources might you recommend to expats and those considering a move to Provence?
There are many blogs written by expats like myself who have gone through the experience of moving to France. Check them out. Don’t hesitate to write the author for suggestions and information. When you relocate to France (or anywhere), be open to your new home and environment. Don’t try to make it like the place you left. Embrace the new, enjoy the differences, and get out and travel as often as possible.