Delicious Provence

There are plenty of delicious sweet treats to be found in Provence. The manifold patisseries and confiseries are like jewels in the high street, their windows piled high with tempting sugary creations. Aside from the pain au chocolat and brioche that you might expect to find, there are luxuries such as candied fruit, marshmallows in pastel colours, macaroons in every colour and flavour, meringues, luxury chocolates. Many of these eyecatching products are traditionally crafted by skilled artisans, and many have stories attached to them.

One such confectionary is the calissons d’Aix. The gastronomic emblem of Aixen- Provence, calissons were said to be created for the wedding of Roy René and Jeanne de Laval, and the name comes from calin, the French word for cuddle. The sweets are made in three layers: the first is rice paper; the second is a candied melon and almond paste; and the final layer is royal icing. The sweets are made in moulds which give them their distinctive
leaf shape.


During the 18th century, many Swiss people came to Provence, bringing their confectionary know-how with them, and the region quickly became the capital of gourmandise because of the large proportion of skilled confectioners in the area. In 1874, Léonard Parli opened his factory is Aix-en-Provence and began distributing his sweets in France’s major cities. His purposebuilt factory in the centre of Aix is now considered an important piece of the city’s architectural and cultural heritage.

Another provençal treat with a long history is the navette biscuit. They are created in the oldest bakery in Marseille, Le Four des Navettes, founded in 1781. Situated across the road from Saint Victor abbey, high on the hill above the Vieux Port, the bakery is in an ideal position to supply the pilgrims that come to the abbey for candle mass. The founder of the bakery, Monsieur Aveyrous, is said to have settled on the distinctive canoe shape for his biscuits to represent the boat which carried the saints to the shores of Provence.

Navettes have a pale golden colour and can be flavoured with orange blossom, giving them a delicate and unique taste. The aroma is instantly recognisable to those who have tried navettes, and it draws in those who have not, eager for their first taste.

With so many local sweet specialities, it is little wonder that the people of Provence traditionally eat thirteen desserts at Christmas, to represent Jesus and the twelve apostles.

Jane O’Donoghue