Food writer Rebekah Peppler on the flavours of the South of France

Sun-ripened produce, from aubergines to olives, takes centre stage in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

All the clichés about the south of France are true. The light takes on new forms by the hour, adding beauty to the simplest pleasures. There are open-air markets selling sun-ripened produce, and there’s the surprisingly loud, surprisingly comforting sound of cicadas in late summer. Olive trees, lavender and sunflowers spread for acres, and cliffs drop into turquoise coves. And the food? It meets all expectations, from figs and Provençal melons to crispy panisse (chickpea flour fries) and rotisserie chicken. Plus, of course, the overwhelming variety of local cheeses and fresh seafood from the rivers and coasts.

The southeastern region known as Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is also where the French go on holiday — and where throngs of Europeans descend for summer vacances, doing their best French impression.   

While visitors may picture it as a uniform fantasy land, it’s actually a place of wonderful variety. It’s bounded in the north by the snow-capped Southern Alps and in the south by the French Mediterranean. The Italian border marks the east; the Rhône river makes up its western edge. Within its borders are pine forests, rivers and the Camargue plains and marshes where you’ll find prized produce such as nutty, aromatic Camargue red rice and fleur de sel, a finishing salt. 

The region’s food culture reflects and draws directly from these landscapes, and it’s made first and foremost at home. Translating the region’s terroir onto the plate, local flavours are vivid, fresh and largely unadorned, veering away from technique-heavy dishes associated with French haute cuisine. And while there are countless Provençal dishes that serve to exemplify this particular magic, tapenade (a spread of olives, capers and anchovies), pissaladière (a tart with savoury toppings) and ratatouille are an excellent starting point.

Adapted from Le Sud: Recipes from Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, by Rebekah Peppler. Published by Chronicle Books (£26).

Published in the April 2024 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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