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The Mystery of the Mistral

Provence is well known for the fierce and cold wind known as the Mistral. Mistral in Provençal literally means “dominant” or “master”. It can come any time of the year but typically occurs in winter or spring in the gulf of the Mediterranean Sea. It develops as a cold front moving down across France. The air piles up in the Alps before spilling over the mountain’s top and rushing down into the Rhone valley.

National Geographic contest winner Yves Vernin's photo

It can blow for several days at a time reaching speeds of up to 50 m.p.h.! Just notice the bend in the cypress trees, or the way that rows of trees are planted (oriented to the wind) in the farmer’s fields. See all those stones on the tiles of roofs? Yes, these are there to combat the Mistral. Many dominant architectural features like church bell towers have open frames made of iron grill work which allow the winds to pass through. The traditional “Mas” large country homes in France were build to face south, (not to capture the sun, there is plenty of that), but to keep the Mistral away from the front door.

Going back 400,000 BC there is evidence to show that early man built his fireplaces protected by rock walls to prevent the Mistral from blowing them out or spreading the fire beyond control.

“Behind the Mistral is the beautify of Provence. Its fierceness blows away clouds and grime and doubt, leaving colours the depth of dreams and a freshness that can come only after the Mistral’s scouring. Provence needs the Mistral or it ceases to be the Provence of my dreams. I need the Mistral to cut through those dreams to truth-beautify comes after the wine” Kamiah A. Walker

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