Medieval Villages & Signature Scents

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

In some parts of the world, there is nothing more valuable than gold, but in France’s Provence, riches are found in the budding gems of its lavender fields, the earthy scent of black truffle and the golden oil of the olive.

It’s easy to see (and smell) why a “Provence in bloom” garners international attention, but a recent FAM trip proved that Provence has much more to show than an annual parade of purple.

Perched towns and villages like this citadel in Forcalquier are common
throughout Provence and are one of the characteristics that give the region its charm.

A group of 15 tour operators from 11 different countries discovered the flavours and fragrances of springtime Provence during a four-day biking FAM trip ahead of the Rendez-Vous en France Trade Show 2019 in Marseille.

Regional expert Anaïs Joly with the Forcalquier Tourist Office curated an itinerary that allowed Provence to show itself in all its glory, allowing tour operators to get a taste – both literally and figuratively – of what it has to offer clients and hopefully gain inspiration for their tours.

Downtown Forcalquier is a haven of ancient streets, Gothic architecture and rich history.

Exploring an area by bike, especially one so open to cyclists as Provence, is an immersive experience that grants an intimate look at a destination that can’t be achieved through the barrier of a car windshield.

Provence, overlooked by the famed Mont Ventoux, the 1,900-metre mountain where Tour de France riders are challenged, is idyllic for hardcore bikers and beginners alike.

The almond trees were in full bloom at Les Grandes Marges in Valensole.

Overall, Provence is a region embodied by charm, ideal for travellers hoping to connect with a destination on unpretentious terms. That’s not to say the region doesn’t have luxury accommodations, but most of its product is not the high-end experience offered by, for example, the neighbouring Cote d’Azur.

Medieval Villages & Signature Scents

Blooming lavender fields are a seasonal event, but between the ever-present authenticity of the region, the charm of medieval perched villages and year-round opportunities for winery hopping, there is something energizing about Provence, even in springtime, which comes without peak season crowds, blistering heat and jacked-up prices.

Tour operators watching diligently as Sebastian Gaillard, head chef of La Truffe restaurant, demonstrated how to create a dish using truffle mushrooms at La Maison de la Truffe in Aups.

After a beautiful e-bike ride through the Plateau de Valensole, our group was greeted with rows upon rows of trees awash in white petals and buzzing bees at Les Grandes Marges, a fourth-generation family-owned organic orchard. The domain grows olive trees and lavender, but the almond was the prima donna when we visited in March, at the height of its blooming.

The flavours of Provence wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the earthy, exquisite essence of the truffle mushroom, which can be discovered at the Maison De La Truffe in Aups. The museum has a new exhibit where truffle lovers can learn more about this pricey delicacy through multi-sensory games and hands-on activities.

A walking tour through Arcs-sur-Argens was the perfect way to discover the
artistry of the medieval village.

The FAM group got to sample some truffle-infused appetizers by head chef at La Truffe restaurant, Sebastian Gaillard, who woke up inspired by Asian cuisine that morning. Thus we nibbled on sushi, spring rolls and noodles, with the truffle taking centre stage.

All this emphasis of flavours and fragrances was perfectly encapsulated at a perfume workshop at Artemisia Museum in Forcalquier. For many tour operators on the FAM trip, this experience was a highlight.

With 50 essential oils available to choose from, members of the FAM group created their own signature scent after a brief explanation of the olfactory system, a history of perfumes and how fragrances are created today.

Provence Targeting Western Canada

Yannick Le Magadure, the Head of Marketing for Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, says the tourism board has been focusing its efforts on Canada for several years now and while the region has seen an increase in Canuck visitors, they hope to continue their expansion into western Canada, where France is not as high-profile and airlift not as accessible.

Canadians enjoy direct flights from Montreal to Marseille and Nice aboard Air Canada and Air Transat.

If it's wine tastings and culture that you're interested in, Provence is the place to go,
with its award-winning vintages and year-round tours. Here, operators learn about
wine-making at the Chateau Sainte Roseline.

“We are more accessible for the Eastern part of Canada, especially the francophone part, which has a cultural affinity with France. That is where we see the most visitors from. A few years ago, we started trying to gain familiarity in the west,” Le Magadure says. “We perhaps don’t have the same links with the west as those in Quebec and Montreal but when we look at the western population, we sense that there are still hooks to develop in relation in the region.”

In Provence, those hooks are a connection to nature, charming hamlets, the wines of Provence, and the authenticity of the destination. The Cote d’Azur has a rich history with a luxury and nightlife component, while the Alps have majestic mountains and alpine activities.

To attract and inspire Western Canadians to visit Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, the tourist board is seeking to build stronger links with Canadian tour operators and travel agents, especially since approximately 50% of Canadians travelling to Provence use the services of an agent or operator.

“We have interest as a tourism marketing agency to work with Canadian agents,” says Le Magadure, who notes that in closer markets, the percentage of travellers using agents drops significantly. Only 20% of German nationals who visit Provence use agents, for example, while the number rises to as much as 70-80% in Asia.

The tourism agency also works with Canadian airlines, media, hoteliers, as well as directly with the public to gain visibility through workshops, presentations and ad campaigns.

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