Provence is well known for its fierce and cold wind known locally as Le Mistral. This wind is the result of an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs mainly in the winter and spring in the gulf of the Mediterranean Sea. The Mistral usually 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 Rhône valley between the Alps and Cevennes.
The Mistral may blow continuously for several days at a time, attain velocities of about 100 km (62 miles) and reach a height of 2 to 3 km (1 to 4m) towards the French Riviera and the Gulfe de Lion. Marseilles and St.Tropez often take the full brunt of this cold, strong wind as it finally reaches the sea. These winds can affect weather in North Africa, Sicily and throughout the Mediterranean. It is strongest and most frequent in winter, and sometimes causes considerable damage to crops. Trees in Provence are forever bent in the direction of this fierce wind.
Le Mistral can cause tiresome headaches. Many a mother will claim this wind incites a general restlessness in children – even pets are said to be affected! But as inhospitable an element as it may be, this beneficial wind does clear and dry the atmosphere in the region, leaving the sun to shine some 2800 hours per year!
“Behind the Mistral is the beauty 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 – beauty comes after the wind.” Kamiah A. Walker
Photo by Qcom/Flickr
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