Haute Provence is a land of flavours that values the concept of terroir – this is evident in its gastronomy and folklore. The street markets are an integral part of life for the locals and are an ideal place for getting to know the character of the region. Producers will talk to you about their honey, olive oil, goat’s cheese and even saffron with real passion and enthusiasm. An explosion of colours and scents in a sun-drenched region where the sun shines, as we say here, 300 days a year!
The big Provençal market, normally held on Saturday mornings on the main square of Digne, occupies the main street in the summer from the end of June. The street is closed off to cars during the duration of the market allowing people to wander about freely under the shade of the century-old plane trees that line the boulevard. Every Sunday, the second biggest market in the department is held on Place Pechiney in Saint-Auban. In the many surrounding villages, market stalls are replete with products from a local and diversified agriculture, such as the organic market of Aiglun or that of Château-Arnoux on Thursday afternoons all year round.
A whiff of lavender
In the land of lavender, you will of course easily find lavender essence with multiple and magical properties (healing, calming, antiseptic…). You will also find other derivations of the product such as soaps, creams, honeys, cookies and syrups that you will have to taste! In gourmet restaurants, chefs will surprise you with their use of lavender, in the form of a sorbet, for instance, or a sauce accompanying a local lamb dish.
If you’re curious to learn about how the delicately sweet-tasting lavender honey is produced, producers in the region are happy to open their doors to you and share the world of bees with you and your family. Visit the apiaries in the Bastide Blanche in Estoublon, the Ecosphere in Chanolles or L’Atelier Bleu Lavande also in Estoublon.
The Boîte à Biscuits in Digne who make a variety of cookies (including lavender-flavoured ones!) and chocolates share their secrets during workshops that they conduct. For an immersive hands-on experience, other available workshops include chocolate-making workshops in the Manon confectionary in Peyruis, soap-making ones by artisanal soap makers Eco Logis based in Draix, as well as olfactory discovery workshops by the local enterprise Lothantique – makers of perfumes and scented products.
The olive tree in Haute Provence
The cultivation of olive trees is an essential part of the region’s agriculture. In Haute Provence, the local olive oil with fruity vegetal notes is inseparable from Provençal cuisine. Les Mées is the largest olive-growing municipality in the Alpes de Haute-Provence, with nearly 100 000 olive trees around the village. Click on English or French to find all trails leading to the discovery of this ‘green gold’ of Haute Provence.
A 4km “Olive Grove Trail” allows you to walk amid the olive groves and admire olive trees that are centuries old. Several oil mills can be visited throughout the year. You will find different varieties of olives seasoned with garlic, chilli and other condiments. Visit the Vieux Moulin in Estoublon as well as the Moulin des Pénitents in Les Mées to learn more about the production of olive oil. There, both modern methods and the traditional method of extracting olive oil using millstones and presses will be explained.
On the subject of local specialties, let’s not forget the anchovy fougasse (type of flat bread typically associated with Provence), small spelt, goat’s cheese and even truffle mushrooms! Taste all our regional products whilst enjoying a meal at one of our “Bistrots de Pays” or restaurants labelled “Pays Gourmands”; both types of establishments are committed to excellent cuisine made with local products.
Digne-les-Bains is equally a place where you will find many skilled artisans. Patrick Volpes, the well-known santon maker, cleverly transforms clay into emblematic characters of the Christmas holidays. Santons (“santoun” in Provençal or “little saint”) are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region of south-eastern France. Claude Verchot turns wood into works of art while sculptor, Benoît de Souza, gets his inspiration from the geological heritage of the region. Local painters capture the beautiful light and colours of Provence onto their canvases.