“When the uniqueness of a place sings to us like a melody, then we will know, at last, what it means to be at home.”
Southern France is a special place. It is magical. It is in our hearts never to be let go once you have visited. The centuries of time have carved sculptures of homes, churches, Roman Temples and other great architectural wonders along with a people to match. The charms of the Cafes and shops are unmatched in such numbers. There may be the occasional small shop here and there that are as charming, but it is rare to find a street of them, or a city of them, or in the case of Southern France, a 3rd of a Country of them.
With the ‘discovery’ of the Côte d’Azur in the 1920s, the South’s mighty tourist industry was set in motion – and a powerful myth was born. Blame the artists and writers whose work made the Riviera a byword for bohemian sophistication and belle-époque elegance, forever imbued with the glittering promise of Raoul Dufy’s colour-saturated canvases of bathers, palm-fringed promenades and sailing boats, or the glamour of Scott Fitzgerald’s brittle, beautiful socialites and despair-tinged decadence.
Inland Provence is similarly hard to separate from its idealised image, shaped by everyone from Van Gogh to Peter Mayle. Its name alone is enough to conjure up a series of painterly vignettes: fields of lavender and tangled vineyards stretching under a cloudless sky; games of pétanque on plain tree-shaded squares; mimosa-clad stone Provençal farmhouse, enticing stressed urbanites with their promise of rural bliss.
Spend a week or two exploring and you may well encounter all of the above – but that’s by no means the full story. The bleakly beautiful horses and saltmarshes of the Camargue and the student filled social scene in Avignon are much a part of the South as its yacht-filled harbours and perched medieval villages, and equally worthy of a visit. Times have changed, and the chameleon South is busy reinventing itself for the 21st century, from rough diamond Marseille’s rebirth as a cultural hub to Nice’s daring, art-dotted piazza. Even the age-old Southern wine scene is changing, with a once-unthinkable swing from reds to rosés, and a small but influential band of organic and biodynamic wine producers.
One can get lost in this captivating carefree world that makes a lasting, permanent bond. My photographs try in their simplest forms to capture this charm, this magesty.