I am frequently asked about good wineries to visit as a day trip from our Olive Farm in the south of France. The fact is there are dozens to suggest. So I thought it would be fun this month during these very hots days – in French we call such a heatwave la canicule – to offer a few snippets about our local wine history as well as making one or two suggestions of fabulous chateaux or more modest vineyards. Havens, where you can sit in the shade and sip a chilled glass or two of local wine.
From Banyuls, close to the Spanish border, to Bellet above the coastal city of Nice, wines are produced. The South of France is a rich wine area with many varieties growing in the vineyards. Although all colours are being produced, the Midi is most renowned for its rosés. The hot climate marries well with a chilled lighter variety. This is a land of hilltop towns and sleepy villages where the most exciting event of the week is market day and where the playing of boules or pétanque in the village squares, shaded by plane trees, is still the most popular pastime.
The south was its own country. Links with Paris were almost non-existent. Southerners, with their own rich cultural identity, communicated and conversed in their own language, the langue d’oc, until 1539 when the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterets made French, the langue d’oil, the administrative language of France. By 1789, the time of the French Revolution, these richly-poetic southern tongues had been outlawed. Provençal is a dialect of Occitan and was spoken in the eastern half of southern France. These are romance languages, once the language of the troubadours.
The great port city of Marseille, originally Marsilia then Massalia was founded by Greeks from Asia Minor sometime around 600 BC. These intrepid sailors were Phoceans from Phocaea, known now as Foça in Modern Turkey. That entire western coast of Asia Minor, today Turkey, was inhabited by Greeks until the population exchange of 1922/1923 that followed the Greco-Turkish War of 1919 to 1922.
Within striking distance of Marseille, you will find …