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Saturday, 01 September 2018

Comparing Tuscany and Provence

Written by Emily and Russ Firlik
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We spent two months (October & November) driving about 3,500 kilometers in both Tuscany and Provence. After extensively exploring both we considered these questions: How does Tuscany differ from Provence? Conversely, how are they similar? Our unavoidable bias and unscientific observations are indeed noted.

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(1) We found the Provence countryside, landscape and topography much more diverse with more vineyards than Tuscany.

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(2) Missing in large parts in Provence towns and villages are the piazzas that are found in Tuscany.

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(3) The churches in typical Provençal villages were mostly near the top of the hill, not at a focal point at the center of Tuscan towns and villages. Provençal churches were always closed except on Sundays. Tuscan churches were open parts of the day and many contained some bits of fresco, paintings or sculpture.

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(4) Between French and Italian cuisine it is still a toss-up! There is such a wide range of dishes on both Provençal and Tuscan menus. However, Provence did not have the variety of pastas and sauces, but Tuscany did not have the diversity of quiches and cheeses. It must be noted that we are not epicureans. The Mediterranean cuisine in Provence, e.g., fish, paella, bouillabaisse, tarte Provençal, salad nicoise, olive oil and Roquefort, Banon and Petit Provençal cheese all are uniquely from Provence. Our choice of whole grain bread (pain cereales) wins hands down in Provence. Essentially, it is both the quality of life, and natural fresh ingredients in the food preparation in both countries that is respected, admired and enjoyed. Italian olive oil is the best! Tuscan olive oil is made from Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoiano olives. Simplicity is central to the Tuscan cuisine. Legumes, flat breads, cheeses, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruits are always available and used in their cooking. White truffle were a special treat in October and November. The best beef comes from the Chiana Valley, specifically known as “Chianina” used for Florentine steak. Pork is of the highest quality and taste.

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(5) We found the outdoor markets in Provence (complete with textiles, herbs, pottery, olives and cheeses) far more interesting than those in Tuscany. Many outdoor markets in Tuscany were full of pajamas, underwear, assortment of shoes, with some leather mixed in.

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(6) Pottery in Provence is varied in texture, and of fine quality, and is frequently displayed indoors and out of doors. There are more clay deposits in Provence than in Tuscany.


(7) We found the people in both Provence and Tuscany to be equally friendly, helpful, and kind. There appeared to be an equal amount of English speakers, however, more so in the major tourist towns of Tuscany.


(8) In terms of general ambience, cafes and variety of antiquities, Provence is on top. After all the great Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374) chose Provence as his base. Explanation point - nothing can compare to Florence as the center of art and sculpture.

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(9) In Tuscany the hot and long, warm days had encouraged a surprisingly diversity of wildlife. Tuscany’s national parks, wildlife reserves, mountains and vast woodlands provide a habitat for wildlife to flourish. We found evidence of flora in both regions. Deep in the Tuscan countryside we saw and heard deer, wild boar, red foxes and pheasants. In Provence we found Mimosa, white oak, lavender and various wide flowers. Fauna in Provence resulted in spotting one eagle, a couple of white owls and a beaver. We found more dedicated forest areas in Provence and the Languedoc region than in Tuscany. There are fewer Cypress trees in Provence than in Tuscany, but more oak and plane trees in Provence.


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(10) Behold - there are no marble mountains in Provence - Hold on, there are no ochre mountains in Tuscany!

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(11) There is no Camargue area in Tuscany - this 346,000 acres of nature reserve its unique character and unusual traditions: white horses, cowboys/cowgirls (guardians) and local bullfighting, called Course Camarguaise. This type of bullfighting involves men (called raseteurs), in which they try and pull ribbons off the bull’s horns - the bull is never killed. Nothing in Tuscany can compare to the huge salt flats and salt mountains of this Camargue. Tuscany has no tradition of bullfighting as there are many other sources of entertainment for the Tuscanitas.

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(12) We found more parking fees are required in Provence than in Tuscany. Almost every large town and small city requires a parking sticker. The fees range from 2 to 5 EUR ( $3 - 6 @ exchange rate of 1.34) depending on location and time allowances. For example, when in Avignon we payed 3 EUR for three hours parking; we certainly did not complain about the small parking fees.


(13) The population of the Provence region is 4.9 million as opposed to the population of Tuscany’s 3.7 million. The area of Provence is 12,000 square miles Tuscany is 8,900 square miles. Due to the larger area, Provence has more beaches and beach fronts than Tuscany. This was most pronounced when we visited the Mediterranean area from Stes-Maries de la Mer to Marseille to St. Tropez to Nice.


(14) Many more farmers markets, selling clothing and antiques in all the villages, towns and cities we explored. We rarely found such diversity and market largeness in Tuscany.

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A few incidental comparative observations we gathered during our months of exploration in Tuscany and Provence:





Gelato French Ice Cream

Pizza Crepes/Quiche

Cornetto Croissant


Brunello Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Chianti Cassis

Limoncello. Bandol



Baroque Romanesque

Rococo Gothic



G. Puccini Bizet



G. Fattori Cezanne

Michelangelo V. Van Gogh

Leonardo da Vinci. Pierre P. Puget




R. Benigni. F. Mistral

Dante Alighieri P. Mayle



What were our preferences after two months in Tuscany and Provence? Number one was the food in Tuscany. The churches and architecture in Tuscany exhibited numerous frescoes and paintIngs. The Renaissance architecture found in Florence, Volterra, Pisa, Lucca and Siena were very difficult to compare to anything elsewhere. However, the architecture in Provence which was as varied and marvelously maintained included:


Roman (Pont du Gard);

2nd to 17th centuries in the hilltop village in Gordes;

12th century Senanque Abbey

12th century Medieval at Pont Saint -Benezet, Avignon;

14th century Gothic- Palais des Papes;

17th century Louis the Fourteenth in Arles.


Architecture in both Tuscany and Provence are unmatched in their structural beauty and historical significance. The driving was a bit less hectic in Provence, although we had to drive further to reach the villages and towns. In Tuscany one must confidently navigate the many steep hills and sharp turns. It is very difficult to prefer Tuscany over Provence, as both regions have so much to offer in terms of for example, food, wine, and architecture. Most importantly were the people. They were unbelievably friendly and helpful. The French and Italians are very modern people who learn English at school, see American films, love American music, and have British and American TV programs on their businesses and homes. Neither of us spoke the language other than a handful of Italian and French polite phrases and courteous expressions. If one must make a preference, that challenge is to experience Tuscany and Provence and you decide; you will love the experience no matter the outcome.


One last important fact is the cost: leasing cars, flights, accommodations, food, petrol, travel insurance, museums and parking fees and incidentals all require a major amount of researching and planning considerations before any meaningful ‘slow” traveling can occur. Slow traveling is just that: traveling slowly - not just to see, but to carefully observe the surroundings.


I am reminded of what a seasoned traveler in his day said, “Never travel with anyone you do not love.” E.H.


(c)Emily and Russ Firlik

Emily and Russ are retired educators who have been “slow travelers” since retirement. We can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..





Last modified on Tuesday, 18 September 2018