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Provence and the Côte d’Azur: a palette of beautiful colours

A sunny land graced with a myriad of natural areas, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region offers up a particularly rich palette of colours. From azure blue to bright pink and tangy yellow, discover the many shades of the South of France.


Nature, dye and paint

From azure skies to indigo, blue is the flagship colour of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. As the name implies, you’ll find it lining the shores of the Côte d’Azur and Côte Bleue. The former, stretching from Toulon to Nice, needs no introductions: it embodies the beauty of the Mediterranean coast. Head down into the wild coves lining the Estérel hills, climb back up to Cape Dramont to admire the Big Blue panning out to the horizon, or stretch out and bask in the sunshine on the expansive beaches of the Bay of Angels in Nice. On your way down, stop off to pose on the iconic blue deckchairs lined up on the Promenade des Anglais. The best way to explore the Côte Bleue coast is to venture onto the coastal footpath or hop on a regional express train (TER). With your gaze fixed on the water, let your feet or the rails guide you from cove to cove and port to port, from Niolon to Sausset-les-Pins. Blue can also be that of indigo, the dye originating from Asia that today lends its colour to the jackets of Marseille’s dockers. It was used to tint the cotton yarn used to make twill fabric from Nîmes, the birthplace of denim. Still keeping up? Good, because the odyssey of blue in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur doesn’t stop there. You’ll find it at the region’s art museums too: at the MAMAC – the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum – in Nice, where a permanent show is dedicated to Nice-born artist Yves Klein, master of the colour blue and father of its official shade called International Klein Blue. Last but not least, let’s not forget Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur’s much-loved sky blue: that of the Olympique de Marseille football shirt, which lights up the city’s streets, bars and Vieux-Port (Old Port) every time the team is playing.


When the South dons a cloak of greenery

From the forests of the Southern Alps to the olive trees of Provence and waters of the Verdon river, green is one of the foremost colours adorning the decor of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. In the Hautes-Alpes, on the frontier of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence area, lies Boscodon forest, designated an Exceptional Forest by France’s National Forestry Commission. Mainly lined with firs and larch trees, it is criss-crossed with walking trails steeped in scents of the underwoods. If you’d rather walk out in the open, the trails departing from Boscodon Abbey take you to Cirque de Morgon, with its verdant, plush, fairytale meadows, much appreciated by the local marmots. Further south, Haute-Bléone valley with its pastoral scenery is the perfect place for immersing yourself in a green and rejuvenating environment. Alternatively, head to the Verdon to revel in the emerald-green waters winding through one of the world’s most famous canyons. The river owes its colour to the presence of micro-algae and fluoride, while the clay bottom of the adjacent Sainte-Croix lake magicks the blue into turquoise. Spanning the Var and Bouches-du-Rhône areas lies another haven of greenery: the Sainte-Baume massif. Like Boscodon, its forest also harbours the remarkable natural riches that have earned it the Exceptional Forest label. The Cedar forest adorning the Luberon adds another beautiful touch of greenery to the landscapes of Provence. Home to exceptional flora and fauna, it is a must-do during your stay. Last but not least, olive oil with its many shades of green definitely has its place on our list. Wherever you roam in Provence, olive trees form an inseparable part of the landscape.


From blooms to fleur de sel

Pink comes in many shades in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, tinting the region with its gentle little brushstrokes. First on the list is the Centifolia rose from Grasse, also referred to as May rose due to its flowering period. It has been grown in Grasse and Siagne valley for many hundreds of years. Particularly delicate, the Grasse rose is reputed for its powerful, fruity scent, which has made it one of the foremost flowers used in perfumery. And because you have to smell it to believe it, don’t miss a trip to the International Perfumery Museum in Grasse. Although rose means pink in French, roses aren’t the only flowers sporting this delightful colour. From May to November, bright pink bougainvillea adorns the streets, gardens and house frontages of Provence. From Bormes-les-Mimosas to Grimaud, home to the sublime “Balade des Bougainvilliers” walk, the dazzling colours of this typical southern shrub invite passers-by to drink in their beauty and grab their camera for a stunning pic. Further west, the landscapes of Camargue are swathed in pink too. The waters of the saltmarshes and, especially, those of Aigues-Mortes, regularly turn pink for a few weeks as summer approaches: a phenomenon owed to a micro-alga called dunaliella salina. Used in cosmetics for its many properties, it is also much appreciated by the fish and shellfish that live in the marshes. And the flamingos of Camargue turn pink when they eat it!


Colours, scents and flavours

When we think of Provence and its flowering plants, lavender immediately springs to mind. Its blue-purple is an intrinsic part of the palette of the South of France. Also referred to as “blue gold”, it stretches endlessly across the fields of the inland areas and has many uses: cosmetics, essential oil, decoration and even honey. Lavender is harvested in summer, but in autumn, another flower lights up the region with its violet hues: the saffron tulip. Renowned for its delicate and refined spice of the same name, particularly found in our traditional Bouillabaisse recipe, saffron has been grown in Provence since the 16th century. The region is still home to many saffron farms. Violets take up the torch from the end of autumn to the end of winter. Although less-commonly associated with Provence than lavender or saffron, violets are widely found here. In Tourrettes-sur-Loup, an authentic and picturesque village in the Alpes-Maritimes area, you’ll even find a museum dedicated to them – the Bastide aux Violettes– where you can learn all about the history of the Victoria violet, an emblem of the Nice hinterland and, of course, take all the time you need to breathe in its delicious scent, often used in perfumery.


From Bormes-les-Mimosas to Menton

If we say Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and yellow, you’ll almost certainly think of sunshine… Or perhaps a Pastis aperitif! But if we add winter, what comes to mind? Mimosa of course! In actual fact, just one variety of mimosa blooms in winter, while another flowers all year round. To make the most of the sunny atmosphere of mimosa in bloom, take time to roam the Corniche des Maures coast road, the Estérel hills or simply the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas. In February, Bormes is the venue for the fabulous Fête du Mimosa, with its markets, folk dances and flower parades: an event also celebrated in Tanneron, Mandelieu-la-Napoule and Sainte-Maxime. But aside from mimosa, can you guess what other tree variety embodies South of France yellow? Its fruit is not very large, kind of round and truly delicious. It’s the “Citron de Menton” of course! Endowed with a Protected Geographical Indication, this Provencal lemon is renowned for its intense aromas and gentle acidity. You can sample and celebrate it at the end of winter at the “Fête du Citron” in Menton; this time, the floats are fruity rather than flowery, for the promise of a zesty atmosphere!


From rocks to pigments

Among the many colours found in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, red definitely deserves a place on the podium. Of course, you’ll find a whole palette of reds in the famous ochres of the Luberon, ranging from vermilion to tawny. Still used today as natural pigments, these ochres offer a unique natural spectacle. To appreciate it to the full, take a stroll along the “Sentier des Ocres” trail in Roussillon. Another must-do: the stunning site we refer to as the “Colorado of Provence“, located a little further east in Rustrel in the Vaucluse area. The Estérel massif, standing majestically over the shores of the Côte d’Azur, also boasts a gorgeous decor of fiery red rock. Striking magnificent contrasts with the azure-blue waters below, the Estérel provides an exceptional backdrop to a colourful day out. Red is also the colour of the “tomette” tiles produced in Salernes. These small, hexagonal terracotta tiles typically adorn the floors of Provencal homes. Last but definitely not least, the story of the colour red in Provence simply wouldn’t be complete without mentioning madder. This plant, whose root is used to obtain a natural red pigment used as a dye, was widely grown in Vaucluse in the 19th century. Madder was used to dye the trousers and kepis of infantry soldiers until the start of the World War I. Although synthetic dye has now replaced the original plant dye, you can still delve into this fascinating ancient know-how at Scop Couleur Garance and the Jardin Conservatoire des Plantes Tinctoriales in Lauris, a holder of the Remarkable Garden label.


Mistral, mineral or floral

Let’s wind up our foray with a colour that is also omnipresent in Provence and often described as a blend of them all: white. When the Mistral wind blows, it whisks the tips of the waves into white foam and swathes the choppy sea with creamy spray. You’ll find white on the summitsof the Southern Alps too, and sometimes all the way down into the valleys and plains, when snow covers the landscape in a pristine blanket. But pure white mountains aren’t just found in the Southern Alps: in Camargue, mounds of sea salt locally referred to as “camelles” form a unique landscape of immaculate dunes, especially in Aigues-Mortes. This marine mineral also inspired the decor of the Atelier LUMA, the design and research laboratory for the LUMA Foundation in Arles, where an entire wall is dressed in blocks of salt. Camargue is the home of wild, white horses too: saddle up and head out to discover the endless, raw scenery of this unique area. But that’s not all! You’ll also find South of France white in the limestone rocks lining the shores from Cassis to the Côte Bleue via the Calanques fjords near Marseille, striking a quasi-blinding contrast with the blue of the sea. In bygone days, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur’s limestone rock was quarried in Fontvieille, Oppède and Pont-du-Gard; it was notably used to build villages such as Bonnieux and Lacoste in the Luberon, or the Roman arena in Arles. Last but not least, let’s wind up our colourful tour on a fragrant note with white jasmine from Grasse, celebrated every year at the “Fête du Jasmin“. Its delicate and delicious scent has made it one of the perfumery world’s most coveted flowers.

To discover