Secret Provence is one of the older titles from the French publisher Jonglez, and was first published in 2006. However, one of the joys of the 'Secret' series is that most of the entries in them don't date, and as we love these books we're delighted to take a look at Secret Provence.
Provence is one of the most magical regions of France, and though visitors might have an image of it – usually including lavender fields and pétanque players – it has a wealth of history, of different cultures and influences. And, yes, lots of secret places.
The book is written by Jean-Pierre Cassely, who also wrote the Secret French Riviera guide that we've already reviewed enthusiastically. Jean-Paul used to work for the France 3 TV network before becoming an independent in the fields of TV, radio and video. He first got interested in some of the secrets of Paris, where he was working, and on the train home to Provence began thinking about all the stories he'd collected about his native Provence. He started seeking out more stories, then did a daily radio broadcast about the secrets of Provence, before collecting many of them together in this book and on his website: www.provence-insolite.org.
The secrets revealed in the book are the usual wide-ranging topics, typical of these 'Secrets' guides. They include touring a steel-making plant (not the Provence of most people's imaginations), explaining why you'll see a tall poplar tree leaning against a church from May to August in the village of Cucuron, and where you'll find a fountain that flows with wine – now that is what you'd expect to find in Provence!
As is usual with this series of guides, the book is arranged geographically by chapters, starting with Aix and Around and ending with Haute-Provence. Each chapter then begins with a map revealing where the secrets can be found, and most entries then get a full-page write-up, often with a full-page photo opposite.
The guide rounds off with two indexes, one a straightforward alphabetical index of names, the other a thematic interest grouping the secrets and under headings such as Religion and Esoterica, Shops, Architecture and Museums.
A typical entry in the Luberon section is headed The Statue of the Rabassier. Now if you happen to speak Provençal you'll know what the man (right) is carrying in his hand. If you don't speak the language you'd be forgiven for thinking he was playing boules, but a rabassier is a truffle-gatherer, and the man is Joseph Talon.
The statue stands in Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, a village about 50kms east of Avignon, and Talon is the man who, in the late 18th-century, is thought to have invented truffle cultivation. It's a suitable symbol for this whole book, as that's what it's about - looking for truffles of information, the black gold, the hidden nugget.
Do we recommend this Secret Provence guide? Of course we do, just as much as we recommend Secret Paris, Secret Amsterdam, Secret Dublin and all the other titles we've seen in the series. Thankfully, the secret of how good the 'Secret' guides are is now well and truly out!
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