Sorry, I’ve been neglecting Wandering Italy these last few days. It’s because I’m spending a week in Provence. Peter Mayle’s Provence, meaning the Luberon. This would be a good time to discuss the differences between the two regions, Tuscany and Provence, since they seem to be many people’s favorite regions in Europe.
First of all, the food in Provence is very, very, good. Not better than Tuscany, just differently good. That said, prices for it are astonishingly expensive here. I’ve been rejoicing when the price of the “formula” lunch, a main plate and a dessert or cheese, is €13 or so. But that doesn’t include wine or coffee. In the Lunigiana I get a pasta course, a meat course, vegetables, wine, bottled water and sometimes dessert for 10-13 Euros. A decent lunch for two in Provence seldom costs less then €50 when it’s all added up.
And if you’re looking at real estate the gap is even wider. There’s little in Provence for under €300,000. A country farmhouse will easily set you back €500,000. You can buy a decent place in the Lunigiana for €100,000 and there are some “monolocales” (one big room with corner kitchen) going for as low as €40,000. The rest of Tuscany (the part the tourists have discovered) is a little more expensive, but they can’t match what’s going on here. Locals blame Mayle.
Ok, so what’s “better” about France? The seemingly infinite number of cheeses for one. Sure, Piemonte lists about 160 different local cheese variations, but outside of the region that borders France you have to dig for interesting cheese variations (they exist, but production is so low that they aren’t found in many markets or supermarkets).
And I have to hand it to France for the open-air markets. In Italy the markets are big on clothing that comes from somewhere else and is cheap, from stalls increasingly manned by foreigners from Asia. This section of the market doesn’t mean much to me except when I’m running low on socks or I need some sexy underwear. There are lots of vegetables, but fewer butchers and specialty food items like olives cured and spiced in various ways, something Provence has a profusion of.
So those are a couple of quick observations. Two countries, two deservedly popular regions to explore. In either, if you rent a house or apartment and stay a week or two, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy, if not to keep you enchanted.
I am looking forward to returning to my big Tuscan kitchen though. But Provence is pretty…