Around France

It’s A Blustery Day in France: Le Mistral

When I was first considering the move to Uzes, France, a new friend mentioned the “wind” in the winter, Le Mistral. 

Since she chooses to return to her home in London each year from late September until April, I figured the “wind” was a convenient rationale, rather than a real reason to leave. That was before I experienced the “wind” for myself. It is so prevalent and so powerful that it has a name: “Le Mistral.”

What is 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 where Le Mistral is prevalent, 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.

Why does Le Mistral happen?

Piglet in a blustery windI 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.mistral_map

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 rainstorm that lasted all day. The rest of the week was rainy and cold.

Winnie and the wind

Summer winds

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 Provence and Uzes’ area 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 Provence region’s beauty and the clarity of the air, Van Gogh seems to capture it all — and the wind. During my road trip to St. Reme 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

vincent-van-gogh-starry-night-oil 2

Rest Work, Van Gogh 1890 (Clear, calm sky)


Les 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, townhomes and buildings have small windows on the north side.

French farmhouse

Roof tiles France

Roofs are gently sloped with sturdy tiles to endure the winds and rain of Le Mistral.

(Visit this site to learn more about wind and architecture in the south of France.)

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.

wind in the bell tower Uzes, France

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…

Plane trees Uzes France

… to the abundance of foliage on one side.

Plane trees

Everything in sight seems to tilt with the wind and grow that way.

Plane trees

Imagine the storms this tree has weathered.

Plane tree


Revisiting the works of Van Gogh, I was amazed to see this familiar representation of Le Mistral. I am truly walking in his footsteps!

Van Gogh Lavender

2013-06-026Barefoot Blogger’s  own photo!

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.

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Even the birds know when Le Mistral is on its way.

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Le Mistral

Summer days on the Mediterranean boast mainly clear skies.

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On a lighter note, Marilyn Monroe, stationed at the neighborhood bar, seems to know when Le Mistral is in town.

2013-11-12 18.00.19

Plane trees?

I mention these plantings along the roadways in France so much you might want to know more. Visit this blog for details.

7 replies »

  1. we are considering buying a summer house around Uzes, such as Castillon Du Gard. some people say Mistral does not go to the east of Mimes, which I think includes Uzes. but from your post, I realized it is not true.

    1. from my reading, most winds happen in Winter and Spring occasional summer wind is actually pleasing as it gives some breeze to the hot weather and clear the sky. Am I right?

    2. but the day you went out to take some photos, the wind was so strong that you had to hold a tree. which season was that? Summer?

    3. are there flood in Uzes or Castillon du Gard during raining season?

    4. Your friend leaves between Sep to Apri is to avoid rain and Mistral, right?

    Thanks very much

    • Hi Camille. You will love Castillon Du Gard or any of the villages around Pont du Gard. There are lots of expats in the area, too, if that interests you. Mistral is a fact of life here. It was not much of an issue at all while I was here this year; however, I understand mid-March to mid-April it kicked up a bit. Expats don’t really leave here because on Mistral, they generally go back to their home countries in the Fall to spend the holidays with their families and to travel until April/May. Everyone wants to be here in the Spring through October. It’s glorious. There has been one flood since I’ve lived here, but quite a serious one in 2002. Uzes itself doesn’t really flood since it’s higher than the surrounding area. During floods, however, roads are sometime closed because of the water. The terrain here is rocky so water doesn’t absorb well when it rains. The truth is, I’ve never lived anywhere where the weather is perfect. This is about as close to perfect as I could wish. The rain in the winter and Mistral only bring sunshine and cloudless days the rest of the year. Hope this helps?

  2. I love your connection to Winne the Pooh’s blustery day!! I was on a Rhône cruise in April 2012 and I can attest to the strength of the Mistral winds. In fact our local guide on Arles told us that in times past, people were often not charged with crimes including murder during the Mistral because it tends to make people crazy! I never noticed the wind effect in some of VanGogh’s paintings. Thanks for pointing that out. I love the plane trees; we were told that Napoleon had them planted along the roads to provide shelter for his troops.

    • You’re right. There’s a lot of folklore about Le Mistral that I want to explore. Also, I was told the same about the plane trees. They are truly remarkable… and a threat to drivers because the roadways are so narrow between them.

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