Provence Q&A with Sonia Ratcliffe

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I was lucky enough to be able to interview our newest staff member, Sonia Ratcliffe. She is a travel nut and has spent a combined 18 months in France—two study abroad stints and a year teaching English, au pairing and working on a vineyard. Take a look at what she has to say about her experiences and what makes Provence her favorite region in France.

Q: What is something you are sure not to miss when you have the chance to return to Provence?

A: If I have the opportunity to return to Provence (which I sure hope I do!), I would be sure not to miss hiking along the Calanques between Cassis and Marseille. The first time I visited Cassis was back in 2011 during my semester abroad and the small port town jam-packed with seafood restaurants instantly bestowed its cham upon me. The Calanques, eight in total, are the rocky inlets between the two towns. You can take a ferry ride in and out of these cliffs, watching sun-worshipers take a dip in the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea. I was very happy to visit by boat, but the next time I go, I would like to have the full experience exploring between each wondrous cliff a piéd.

Q: What makes Provence unique among our other French Untours?

A: The lifestyle is just different down there. You don’t have the hustle and bustle of Paris, nor time-sensitive German influence you can find in Alsace. Everyone you meet, whether it is the local butcher, a waitress or a passer-by on the street seems to have the time to take a second and chat with you. The atmosphere of the whole region is relaxed – don’t rush and just enjoy the pleasures life has to offer.

Q: What are your favorite neighborhoods in Provence?

A: Hands down, Aix-en-Provence, where I did my semester abroad. I could be biased for this reason, but this seemingly small city is bursting with culture of all sorts. It was the capital of Provence (before it attached to the crown of France in the 15th century) and was thus a center of learning and art. The city dates back to 123 BC during Roman times and you can still find many Roman vestiges to this day.

The Cours Mirabeau runs through the center of the city and features many restaurants, cafés and stores, some of which are older than the US! Aix was home to the famous Provençal painter, Paul Cézanne, whose works adorn the walls in the perfectly-sized Musée Granet. If you want a “city break,” Mont St. Victoire is just a short bus ride away, where you can hike to see the spectacular view. Just make sure to bring a picnic as there aren’t any vendors for miles! In my mind, Aix flawlessly combines the sophistication of French city living with museums and culture, while still retaining the relaxed, outdoor Provençal lifestyle.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Provence when you have leisure time?

A: Sit back, relax and enjoy an apéritif with friends and family listening to the hum of the cicadas under the warm sun.

Q: What are your favorite local food and drink?

A: The Provençal cuisine is one which resonates best with my culinary preferences. It is a mediterranean diet, so there’s lots of fresh vegetables, fish and olive oil. Ratatouille is definitely my favorite dish. It combines succulent tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, peppers, olive oil and of course plenty of garlic. You can make it either in a casserole, or in the warmer months, outside on the grill. I unfortunately haven’t taken to the local apéritif of choice yet—Pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur, but a cool glass of rosé wine can’t be beat.

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