The Provence Way of Life
If eating is the national pastime in France, it is a true vocation in Provence. And the pleasure of relaxing in a shady square over a pitcher of local rosé, a bowl of olives, and a regional plat du jour is only enhanced in western Provence by quirky local specialties. Consider nibbling tiny tellines, salty clams the size of your thumbnail, fresh from the Camargue coast. Or try a crockery bowl of steaming bull stew (gardianne), a sinewy daube of lean-and-mean beef from the harsh Camargue prairies, ladled over a scoop of chewy red Camargue rice. The mouthwatering oddity called brandade (salt cod pestled with olive oil and milk into a creamy spread) has a peculiar history; cod isn't even native to Nîmes, but was traded, in its leathery salt-dried form, by medieval Breton fishermen in exchange for south-coast salt. The Nîmois mixed in local olive oil and created a regional staple.
It's true that every meal is a culinary event here, but in summer the local cafés and hotels make a special effort to make breakfast memorable. In turn, breakfast is one of the loveliest meals of the day. It's coolest in the morning—the birds chirp, the air is crisp, and the smell of freshly baked croissants is in the air. Stroll to the nearest square to sit under shady plane trees and listen to the relaxing bustle of Provence waking up. Tables are adroitly nestled in gardens or sprawled across freshly swept cobblestones, wrapped in flower-print tablecloths, and sprinkled with nosegays of local flowers. Waiters bustle to and fro calling out friendly greetings while the first gilt-edged cups of espresso are prepared. "Early morning" can be misleading: it could well be 10 or 11 am, but another example of southern charm is the option of a late breakfast. Hey, it makes a great excuse for a long late lunch!
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