and weather in Provence and the French Riviera
climate of Provence
is often said that the climate of Provence is "typically
Mediterranean". But this is to oversimplify the complexity of a climate
that is very particular, and marked by two distinct parameters: firstly
its position with regard to the Alps and to the Mediterranean; secondly
the influence of the Rhone valley.
The classic image of Provence weather - blue skies warm days
Considering that it is one of the most northerly points on the
Mediterranean coast, Provence has a particularly favoured climate.
Thanks to the mountains behind them, the coastal areas from the Var to
the Italian border - the French Riviera
- are singularly well protected
from weather fronts
coming down from the north, and for this reason benefit from a climate
that in parts is more similar to that of the Andalucian coast than that
of other closer Mediterranean areas. For the same reasons, they are
In the Alpes Maritimes department, at the eastern end of the
French Riviera , where high mountains come
right down to the coast, the climate on the coastal strip (in places
just a few hundred yards wide!) is particularly mild, and the town of
Menton, on the Italian border, has the mildest winters of any place in
France. In this part of France, where frosts are virtually unheard of,
plants such as bougainvillia and aloe vera can grow profusely in
sheltered outdoor locations.
Yet the most significant aspect of the climate of this part
of France is its dryness. Compared to other parts of France at similar
altitudes or latitudes, this south-eastern corner of France has far
less rainfall. The southern end of the Alps have less rainfall than
areas further north or east.
The dryness of the climate is most particularly
noticeable in the department of the Bouches du Rhone, the area around
Marseilles, Aix en Provence and Avignon. this is the driest region in
France, and a region that is considerably drier than most other parts
of the north Mediterranean coast. This dryness is particularly due to
the effect of the Mistral
wind, which can blow down the Rhone valley for weeks on end.
It is particularly strong when a ridge of high pressure stands over
western Europe, and a depression is over central Europe. the northerly
winds between these two weather systems are pushed south as they reach
the western edge
of the Alps, and surge down the Rhone valley towards Provence. They
bring generally clear skies, but not warm temperatures. A strong winter
Mistral, coming over from eastern Europe, can send temperatures
plummeting in the lower Rhone valley, and even on the coast, at
Marseilles, sub-zero termperatures are possible. In Avignon, winter
temperatures frequently hover at or just above zero, and though snow is
not common, a cold winter Mistral can send
temperatures down to several degrees below freezing.
The lines of tall cypress trees, emblems of
Provence and notably the lower Rhone valley, are there for a purpose -
to protect growing plants from the force of the cold (or sometimes in
summer, hot) Mistral wind.
The Provençal Alps are the sunniest
part of the range, and Briançon, at an altitude of 1350
metres, is reputed to be one of the sunniest towns in France, with over
300 sunny days per year.