In Marseille, Aix or Aubagne, shops and workshops offer tours showing how traditional Provençal products are made, combining modernity and respect for traditional craftsmanship. Seeing their fabrication up close, it’s hard not to fall for santons, pottery, ceramics, fabrics, soaps or gastronomic specialities made in Provence.
Santons and Pottery
Handmade figurines fabricated by filling a mold with clay, santons are iconic symbols of Christmas in Provence. In Marseille, Aubagne and Aix-en-Provence, many artisans like Marcel Carbonel, Maryse Di Landro and Fouque to name a few, offer visits to their workshops where they sell their creations. If you are more into pottery, ceramics and faience, go to Ravel in Aubagne (near Marseille) or to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie in the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, for a studio visit. Characteristic of traditional local arts & crafts, santons are available today in contemporary versions.
The Fabrics of Provence
Fairs and markets brim with typical Provençal shawls, including boutis, which literally means “humped embroidery.” Popularized in the 18th century, this quilting technique works by quilting two layers of fabrics together with stuffing sandwiched between the design for a raised effect. Another Provençal fabric, the painted or printed cotton Les Indiennes, arrived from India to the port of Marseille in the 16th century. Having become quite fashionable these last few years, they are marketed by Souleiado and Les Olivades, whose factory is open for tours.
Since its appearance in the 18th century, Marseille soap has re-established its reputation thanks to an increased interest in organic and “DIY”. But be careful: real Marseille soap has to be produced in a cauldron using a traditional 5-step process, made exclusively of plant oils (without perfumes, colours or preservatives) and manufactured in Marseille or its region. Finally, it is traditionally sold in 600‑gram blocks, although it can also be found in bars or liquid.. To buy some, look for Savonnerie du Fer à Cheval,the Savonnerie de la Licorne or Marius Fabre at their factories or local shops.
Tapenade and Olive Oil
Among the specialities of Provence, there is of course tapenade (a purée of olives, capers and anchovy fillets) and anchoïade. If you are more into charcuterie, try the saucisson d’Arles and terrine de taureau (bull), a recipe from the Camargue. Olive oil lovers, you should know that Provence obtained an AOC status for olive oil in 2007. It is mainly produced in the valleys of Les Baux-de-Provence, like Huile du Moulin du Calanquet and in the Vaucluse, like Huile Moulin Dauphin. And don’t forget the famous Pastis, which can be found on every street corner and terrace in Provence!
In addition to the essential Calisson du Roy René (made from ground almonds, Provençal melon and candied orange peel), a speciality of Aix-en-Provence, you can taste delicious Nougats Sylvain and those of the Nougaterie André Boyer. Don’t forget to try out Marseille’s navettes and the pompe à huile, a famous traditional Christmas dessert made from flour, olive oil, sugar and orange blossom. Still a bit hungry? The croquants de Vinsobres (almond biscuits), papalines d’Avignon (hot pink chocolates filled with oregano liquor), candied fruits from Apt and the berlingots of Carpentras (hard candies) at the Confiserie du Mont Ventoux, are sure to be a treat for your taste buds!