Although there are little remnants of the forced labour camps known as the Bagne in Toulon, their history remains a fascinating and integral part of the city’s identity. The Toulon Bagne were established in 1748 and abandoned in 1873. The French penitentiary system which was managed by the Navy built labour camps in Toulon, Brest and Rochefort before moving overseas.
Absinthe is making a come-back. The anise flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including wormwood, was banned in France in 1914. It had been portrayed as a dangerously addictive hallucinogen because of the presence of the chemical thujone. A revival of absinthe began in the late 1990s and today there are several dozen brands manufacturing and selling in France.
The French Foreign Legion recruiting office happens to be down the road in Aubagne, just east of Marseilles. Young men from around the world can be seen lining up with their duffle bags in the morning in hopes of making the cut. If you’re a man between the ages of 17 and 40 and in incredible physical condition you can give it a go. Keep in mind your first mission is for 5 years.
The small Provençal village of Vallabrègues located on the shores of the Rhone (near Tarascon) has been hosting a basket festival "Fête de la Vannerie" for the past 15 years. Over 80 basket weavers from across Europe are scheduled to attend the 2010 event scheduled for Saturday August 7th through Sunday August 8th.
On Sunday July 18th 2010 the village of Valensole will be celebrating the harvest of this years lavender crop. The parade will be followed by distilling demonstrations using antique copper stills. It's a festive and fragrant occasion to discover the virtues of this aromatic plant that thrives in Provence.
If you haven't seen the BBC Walk on the Wild side series you can watch part it here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAcSDYKPkZc) or you can drive 2 hours north of Aix en Provence into the Parc National des Ecrins and watch these incredibly playful marmottes interact.
From June 4-6, 2010 the owners of France's most remarkable gardens (a designation awarded by the Ministry of Culture) open their doors to all garden enthusiasts. Over 1.5 million people are expected to visit the most spectacular gardens in France. There are over 2000 gardens open for the occasion. 50 of them are located in Provence.
April 29, 2010 - The 40th Annual Rose Festival welcomes rose growers from around the world to compete for the prizes of most beautiful rose and sweetest smelling rose. From May 13th to 16th, 2010 the city of Grasse, known as the Perfume Capital of the World, will welcome over 14 000 visitors. Last year over 63 000 cut roses were on display throughout the town.
What better way to start your trip to Provence then by having a bite to eat at the elegant landmark restaurant Le Train Bleu located inside the Gare de Lyon in Paris. The restaurant was built in 1900 for the World Exhibition by PLM (Paris-Lyon-Marseille) which has since become the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer). It’s a grandiose restaurant serving 500 meals a day.
L'Hôtel-Dieu de Marseille was a hospital built just above the Vieux Port in the 12th Century. It underwent several renovations in the 18thC with the introduction of wrought iron works which are still visible today. A statue of Jacques Daviel, the eye surgeon who was the first to perform crystalline lens removal in cataract operation at this facility in 1745 stands in front of hospital.