actress and author Carol Drinkwater reveals the real Provence – far from the crowds – .

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actress and author Carol Drinkwater reveals the real Provence – far from the crowds – .


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Provence has become a mobile festival. To the south, the sparkling Mediterranean; to the north are the Alps, while to the west and east the margins are blurred and seem to expand more year after year.

This is because the tourist offices do not take any risks. Provence is big business.

Technically, my husband and I are residents of the Alpes-Maritimes, where we are nestled in our olive farm overlooking the bay of Cannes in a still relatively unknown area.

Carol and her husband have an olive grove overlooking the bay of Cannes (pictured)

Property in Provence can cost a fortune if you don’t know where to look and a glass of champagne sipped on the pristine whitewashed terrace of one of the beachfront hotels in Cannes can put you down the price of a meals at any other establishment.

I wrote about Cannes, its film festival, its dizzying nightlife and its fabulous endless Forville market. And about Antibes, where in high season you might think you’re dodging the crowds lining the streets for a sale at Harrods.

Carol says that in Antibes, in the photo, in high season,

Carol says in Antibes, pictured, in high season, “you might think you’re dodging the crowds lining the streets for a sale at Harrods”

So what do we do when the crowds come down? Well, we grow our own vegetables, stay by the pool, and give the coast a chance. But if we decide to venture out, we carefully choose our haunts. Most of the time, we go inland, in the deep Provence. Deep Provence.

Each season has its attractions, its delights. Provence off the beaten track offers silence, stillness, sweet scents, eagles, chestnut trees, endless avenues shaded by plane trees, fabulous walks, cycle paths and beaches to die for.

The Camargue is one of my favorite places. But avoid Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, especially in summer, because even if you escape the tourists, the mozzies will distract you.

While the fortified medieval city of Aigues-Mortes in the sleepy and red months before Christmas is a balm for the soul.

In the photo, the fortified medieval city of Aigues-Mortes.  Carol recommends walking the city walls at sunset

In the photo, the fortified medieval city of Aigues-Mortes. Carol recommends walking the city walls at sunset

Carol warns that the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, pictured above, is teeming with tourists and mozzies during the summer months

Carol warns that the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, pictured above, is teeming with tourists and mozzies during the summer months

The name of Aigues-Mortes – which means “dead water” – comes from the salt marshes that border the town (photo)

We feast and stay at the elegant La Villa Mazarin, with its elegant antique furniture and spacious rooms, or at the family hotel Des Remparts, located along the ancient city walls. Aigues-Mortes translates to “dead water” or “stagnant water”. Its name comes from the salt marshes that flank the city.

Stroll the ramparts at sunset and marvel at these salt marshes that turn crimson. Above you, waves of flamingos will sail silently to feeding grounds under a purple sky.

The Espiguette Camarguaise offers kilometer after kilometer of golden sand, without a hut spoiling its immensity. Drive there on a windy day, watch hang gliders and listen to the calls of the birds.

During the filming of Channel 5 this summer, in the heart of the Camargue, we crossed from one marshy lake to another on the small Bac du Sauvage ferry, propelled by two paddle wheels and guided by a cable.

Right on the water’s edge we came across a new restaurant that opened that day. The place enchanted us so much that we spent two splendid days in this place off the beaten track where we served pike the size of small sharks caught directly in the Rhône.

“The Espiguette de Camargue offers kilometer after kilometer of golden sand, with not even a hut to spoil its immensity”, writes Carol

Carol reveals that during the filming of Channel 5 this summer, in the heart of the Camargue, she crossed from one marshy lake to another on the small ferry of the Bac du Sauvage (photo), propelled by two paddle wheels and guided by a cable

Carol reveals that during the filming of Channel 5 this summer, in the heart of the Camargue, she crossed from one marshy lake to another on the small ferry of the Bac du Sauvage (photo), propelled by two paddle wheels and guided by a cable

Actress and author Carol pruning olive trees at her home in Provence

Actress and author Carol pruning olive trees at her home in Provence

La Cabanette du Sauvage is one of the craziest restaurants I have ever come across, but it serves delicious food and a very drinkable rosé, produced from vines grown in the sand. The local lager beer is Montcalm. It hits the spot on a hot summer day.

White Camargue horses grazed in the fields just behind us, waving their tails. The locals arrived for lunch on horseback. They tied their mounts to wooden rails. All that was missing was Clint Eastwood.

After the Camargue go north to the medieval village of Bonnieux then turn south towards the A8 near Brignoles, the Green Heart of Provence.

At the bottom of this wine belt lies the sleepy village of Correns. It has been a wine-growing area since the Benedictines produced their own bottles in the 13th century. I love Correns, with its pastel-colored shutters. It’s the epitome of Provence, with Citroën 2CVs parked near splashing fountains, crimson geraniums tumbling from boxes everywhere. There is a bucolic atmosphere, with absolute tranquility.

A few kilometers from the village, you might see the Château Miraval, bought in 2008 by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The wine produced on this estate is organic.

Correns is renowned for being the first village in France to go fully organic. It is thanks to one of its most visionary inhabitants and extraordinary winemaker, Michael Latz. I first met Michael in the 1990s during his 25 years as mayor. It was during this time that he worked to convince local farmers, from beekeepers to goatherds, to switch to organic. Or organic, like the French term.

The battle was tough; he met a lot of resistance. Today, not only the village, where he has lived for 60 years, but the whole region has boarded the biobus. And it is evident everywhere. The river which crosses Correns is no longer polluted. The fish have returned to its waters. Birds and butterflies are everywhere. The wines, cheeses, olive oil and honey are exceptionally good.

Go deep into the sloping vineyards to Domaine Aspras, owned by Michael.

In the photo, the river that crosses the village of Correns, which Carol describes as

In the photo, the river that crosses the village of Correns, which Carol describes as “essentially Provençal”

After exploring the Camargue, head north towards the medieval village of Bonnieux (photo)

After exploring the Camargue, head north towards the medieval village of Bonnieux (photo)

Bucolic: Place de Bonnieux.  After visiting the village, Carol advises heading south towards the town of Brignoles

Bucolic: Place de Bonnieux. After visiting the village, Carol advises heading south towards the town of Brignoles

Buy a bottle of fresh rosé for 12 euros, take it to the river, find a shady spot and listen to the bubbling water while munching on a hot baguette from the oven stuffed with goat cheese.

Then, head east to the 11th-century pilgrimage village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. You won’t be disappointed and you might very well have these steep cobbled alleys and passageways to yourself as the world and his wife battle the crowds in the famous Gorges du Verdon canyon nearby.

Moustier is located between two imposing limestone cliffs. A metal star hanging from an iron chain hangs like an angel above between them. It is a truly magical spectacle.

The 11th-century pilgrimage village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, pictured above, sits between two limestone cliffs

The 11th-century pilgrimage village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, pictured above, sits between two limestone cliffs

Tourists should expect to beat the crowds in the popular Gorges du Verdon canyon (pictured), according to Carol

Tourists should expect to beat the crowds in the popular Gorges du Verdon canyon (pictured), according to Carol

'' Stay at La Bastide de Moustiers [pictured], 'says Carol,' where the bed linen is scented in the old Roman way: with sachets filled with lavender '

” Stay at La Bastide de Moustiers [pictured], ‘says Carol,’ where the bed linen is scented in the old Roman way: with sachets filled with lavender ‘

Legends abound as to why the star is there. Some say that a grateful crusader, who came home safe and sound from the wars, hung it up in thanksgiving to God.

Others tell the sad story of upset lovers who jumped to their deaths from the cliffs. Their parents hung the star in memory of their lost offspring.

How it originally found its place is to be guessed. Today, on the rare occasions when it needs to be cleaned or replaced, the work is done by helicopter.

This enchanting little village is famous for its pottery shops.

The art of ceramics was introduced to the village in the 17th century by an Italian monk, called Lazzaro Porri. Many local pieces are decorated with a bird, signature of the village.

Stay at the Bastide de Moustiers where the bed linen is scented in the old-fashioned way: with sachets filled with lavender.

It was once the country house of a wealthy pottery merchant. Today, Alain Ducasse is the owner. Savor its sublime Provençal dishes. Every bite produced is grown in the region. I promise you, you won’t want to leave.

The colors, flavors and scents of Provence will captivate you at any time of the year.

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