ONCE upon a time, long before Gerard Depardieu, surly waiters and really good brie, the people of Provence worshipped the wind.
In fact, the ancient people of south-east France worshipped more than one gust, but it was the Mistral embodied by the Roman god Circius that literally shaped this enchanting land.
Most farmhouses — even today — are built with their back to the mighty north-west wind and the sudden, unexpected blast can blow away the unforgiving heat and dirt and leave the lavender and vineyard-lined valleys and meadows like new. The wind is why the local wine is so good.
Today, the people of Provence still live like their famous breeze. They blow hot and cold. They are unpredictable, fierce and proud. And they are very, very . . . French.
So any visitor to the rural regions surrounding Marseilles should be prepared to immerse themselves in another world, almost another time zone.
After the trials of a two-hour easyJet flight to Marseilles with children and a long wait for a hire car, the one hour drive to Greoux-les-Bains slowly attunes us to the rhythm of the Verdon valley and our destination — a Canvas Holidays break at Verdon Parc.
The roads get narrower. And higher. Then lower. And the view that greets us goes from motorway concrete grey to a riot of purple and green as we near the Verdon Parc campsite.
This spacious resort, right beside a mighty river, caters for every type of camper.
The dedicated with their own tents to pitch and sleeping bags at the ready, the caravan crew, the glampers in their safari-style tents with nearby toilets and us . . . the lightweights in comfy chalets with mod cons, personal hot tub and patio by the side.
The chalets are quite small, but have everything you need for the holiday including a kitchen with hob, toaster and microwave. There’s a TV (if you speak French).
And wifi if you don’t. The showers have plenty of hot water and decent water pressure, too.
Verdon Parc caters for a mainly French clientele, but Canvas Holidays is opening up Britain to the joys of sites like these.
Staff appreciate you making the effort to speak their native tongue, so a phrase book comes handy (although “deux de vin s’il vous plait” worked very well for us).
There is a small but well-stocked shop on-site, where you can order French bread and croissant every morning.
The prices are naturally higher than a supermarket, but not much higher than the Spar in the nearby village of Greoux-les-Bains, a ten minute walk or cycle up a steep hill.
The pride and joy of the town is the thermal spa, first made popular by the Ancient Romans and now a lavishly beautiful setting to soak in 42C natural spring water.
Other must-sees to tick off are the imposing castle once inhabited by Templar knights and if your language skills are really up to scratch, a cinema showing the latest releases and art house films.
The site nestles in the Verdon valley and is a delight for walkers or cyclists, with the imposing river as a guide.
For those who spend most of their time in drizzly cities, be prepared for an explosion of nature and the pollen that it creates.
Verdon Parc’s sky is filled with fragrant floating seeds and leaves and it is wise for hayfever sufferers to come prepared.
The weather is lovely and warm — easily reaching temperatures in the 30s from May to September. It’s why that sudden gust of wind can be a blessing.
The swimming pools on site are fantastic. There is a large outdoor pool with plenty of sun beds, a set of water slides for the kids and a covered glasshouse pool for serious swimmers.
There is a strict bathing suit policy in the covered pool. Think Speedos and bikinis rather than footie shorts and old T-shirts.
The one bar/restaurant has a very good selection of pizzas made fresh, from anchovies to salami and chicken. They also do a very decent burger.
On one night of the week they’ll have a special menu with mussels and chips — moueles-frites — or other seafood.
There are loads of barbecues dotted around the campsite for the DIY-diners and plenty of options off-site in the village.
GO: VERDON PARC PROVENCE
Getting there: Flights from the UK to Marseille are from £23.21pp one-way. See easyjet.com.
Staying there: One week in a two-bedroom mobile home classic is from £896 in August. One week in a three-bed Privilege Club with hot tub is from Verdon Parc is from £538 in September. See canvasholidays.co.uk or call 0345 268 0827.
Parents, never fear, the kids club is on for a couple of hours every day for ages four and above. There is a brilliant playground, club house, tennis courts and ever-smiling animation teams.
A few days here is enough to convert anyone to the Provencal life. It’s less than a two hour flight away but, unlike so many nearby holiday destinations, it hasn’t become homogenised or familiar.
So where is the ideal getaway, a place to forget all about city life? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
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