Living in the south of France is a beautiful thing. Except for the wind. It is so prevalent and so powerful that it has a name: “Le Mistral”
Residents of Uzes have a saying about Le Mistral:
“It sometimes lasts only one or two days, frequently lasts several days, and sometimes lasts more than a week.”
Let me know if you can figure out that prediction. From my brief experience in this part of France, I’ve known it to last more than a week. Having lived next to the Atlantic Ocean, I would describe it as a strong ocean breeze during hurricane season. In France, the wind can be dry or wet, warm or cold, There are times when Le Mistral is so strong, you feel it will knock you off your feet, literally.
What is Le Mistral?
I know nothing about meteorology; however, I will paraphrase the description of the weather pattern during Le Mistral to say that it occurs when the flow of air from north to south creates a current of cold air that picks up speed through the foothills of the Alps and Cevennes. It then spills out into the Languedoc region of France, Provence, the Rhone Valley, and as far southeast as Sardinia and Corsica — sometimes as far as Africa. Wind speeds can reach more than 90 kilometers per hour.
Le Mistral winds generally blow from the north or northwest. At certain times, the airflow is channelled by the mountains through pre-alpine valleys and along the Cote de Azur so that it blows from east to west.
Le Mistral that blows from the west brings air that is not so cold. It is generally followed by clear skies and warmer temperatures. This type of mistral usually blows for no more than one to three days. The mistral from the northeast, on the other hand, is very cold, sometimes bringing heavy snow to low altitudes in the winter. Le Mistral with these characteristics it is felt only in the west of Provence and as far as Montpellier — right where I live.
Depending on the direction, the wind can bring weather conditions that quickly change from good to worse.
One Sunday I experienced a torrential rain storm that lasted all day. The rest of the week was rainy and cold.
The good news about Le Mistral is that conditions brought about by the winter winds help make the year-round climate very desirable — 2700 to 2900 hours of sunshine a year. During the summer — mostly July — Le Mistral sweeps through the area around Provence and Uzes when the temperatures are particularly warm. It is caused by a flow of air from the north toward the east and it generally means sunny skies — even when the surrounding areas may be cloudy. The summer winds can clear the sky in less than two hours, blowing away dust and pollution, to make a cloudy day crystal clear.
Van Gogh’s Inspiration?
Among other artists who were inspired by both the beauty of the Provence region and the clarity of the air, Van Gogh seems to capture it all — and the wind. During my road trip to St. Rémy last summer, I hadn’t experienced Le Mistral. So when visiting the asylum where he was self-imposed during his last days, I was impressed by the way this masterful artist mimicked the natural phenomena around him — the sunflowers, the starry night and more. (Here’s a link to the earlier blog)
Now that I have knowledge of Le Mistral, it is interesting to go back to look at the work of Van Gogh. The effect of Le Mistral on his paintings — the wind, the clear skies — is undeniable. In fact, I ran across a blog that describes Van Gogh’s art and temperament during that period of his life. (Click here to read the related post)
Wheat Field with Cypresses
Starry Night, Van Gogh 1889
Rest Work, Van Gogh 1890 (Clear, calm sky)
Le Mistral and tradition
Evidence of Le Mistral was found in archeological remains from as early as 400 BC. Ancient ruins in an area that is now Nice showed stone walls were erected the northwest side of fire pits to keep the wind from extinguishing the fire.
The construction of farmhouses, facing south, helped residents minimize the effects of Le Mistral. Roofing tiles and chimneys that distinguish the rural landscapes and towns have links to Le Mistral.Mostly facing south, town homes and buildings have small windows on the north side.
Roofs are gently sloped with sturdy tiles to endure the winds and rain of Le Mistral.
This early Provincial creche shows the shepherd boy holding his hat, fending off heavy winds.
Bell towers that hover over towns and villages in the path of Le Mistral were designed to filter the wind.
This particular bell tower is visible from my apartment terrace.
More signs of Le Mistral
The day I went out to take pictures of the plane trees that line the roads near Uzes, the wind was ferocious. There were times when I had to hold onto the side of a tree trunk to keep my balance.
It’s pretty evident to me that these trees have seen their share of Le Mistral … from the bare limbs on one side of the tree…
… to the abundance of foliage on one side.
Everything in sight seems to tilt with the wind, and grow that way.
Imagine the storms this tree has weathered.
Revisiting the works of Van Gogh, I was amazed to see this familiar representation of Le Mistral. I am truly walking in his footsteps!
Le Mistral brings beautiful skyscapes
These are some of the amazing views around Uzes before, during and after Le Mistral. Photos were actually taken from the windows of my apartment. Perhaps bearing the wind is worth viewing how it brews up turmoil in the skies.
Even the birds know when Le Mistral is on its way.
Summer days on the Mediterranean boast mainly clear skies.
On a lighter note, Marilyn Monroe, stationed at a bar in Nimes, seems to know when Le Mistral is in town.