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Chateau Borely small5 March is the first Sunday of the month - and that traditionally means free admission to museums and galleries in Provence (and, in fact, all across the country).

Arrive punctually at opening time to beat the crowds - or wait until around 12noon-1pm, when the locals all head off for the sacred tradition of Sunday lunch. And do check whether the museum you're eyeing up is part of the scheme: it doesn't apply to all private foundations.

Click here for our full guides to the museums and galleries of Aix en Provence, Arles, Avignon and Marseille.

Mpalaislongchamparseille isn't famed for its green spaces. But in fact there are some really lovely spots tucked away if you know where to look.

This spring the City of Marseille is offering a series of free guided walks to discover its undiscovered "countryside".

One of the five routes available goes along the winding, picturesque back alleys that snake down from Notre Dame de la Garde to the coast. Another starts at Montredon, at the beginning of Marseille's Southern calanques.

Others explore parks and gardens in the centre of town, around the Canebière or the Palais Longchamp, pictured. There are one or two excursions a week between now and the end of March.

These easy walks last a maximum of three hours and you need to enrol as numbers are limited. Email patrimoineenpartage[at]gmail.com or telephone (+33) 6 88 84 87 83.

lemon festival menton smallFebruary can be awfully grey in the South of France. The weather's still cold and there's not much going on. Or is there?

On the Côte d'Azur, it's all happening with a trio of colourful late winter festivals to lift the spirits. Best of all, their dates overlap, so you could party at them all.

Towards the Italian border, Menton's sunny climate is ideal for growing lemons and in February they're at their peak. The town celebrates with a long Fête du Citron that takes over Menton for most of the month. This year it runs from 11 February-1 March.

Throughout the festival there's an exhibition in the main public gardens, the Jardins Biovès, but the real highlights are the corsos (carnival parades) featuring floats covered with thousands of lemons and oranges, all accompanied by music and street performances. Each year has a different theme.

Previous festivals have featured Jules Verne and Alice in Wonderland; in 2017 it's the Broadway musical. Will there be a fabulous Fred Astaire made out of lemons? You'll have to head along to Menton to find out. Click here for the full programme.

The most famous of the these three festivals is the Nice Carnival. Dating back to the 13th century, it's one of the oldest and largest events of its kind in the world.

carnival niceIt centres on a series of parades of floats starring giant papier mâché puppets, and the festival's signature Bataille des Fleurs, during which spectators are pelted with flowers.

This year the Nice Carnival runs from 11-25 February. It attracts up to a million visitors - but do expect super-security to guard against a repeat of the terrorist attack in the city on Bastille Day in 2016. Click here for the full programme.

At this time of year the vivid yellow mimosa is in full bloom all over Provence and is celebrated at the Fête du Mimosa in Mandelieu La Napoule, near Cannes. It runs from 15-22 February. Expect processions, concerts and walking and coach tours along the "mimosa trail" in this part of Provence. See the Mandelieu Tourist Office for the full programme.

Draughtsmans ContractRunning throughout March in Marseille, Mars en Baroque is an imaginative and unusual multi-media festival dedicated to the spirit of the baroque in the 21st century.

Several concerts juxtapose baroque and contemporary music. And they are held in some of the most beautiful venues in town, from the Musée des Beaux Arts in the Palais Longchamp to the Abbaye Saint Victor.

Now in its 15th year, the 2017 edition celebrates the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi, who is the star of numerous concerts and other events. A highlight of the festival is a special production of Il ballo delle ingrate, the composer's 1608 ballet, reinterpreted by the Ballet de Marseille.

Another diary date is the afternoon harpsichord concerts by students at the Paris and Lyon Conservatoires of Music, in the gorgeous setting of the Château Borély on 19 March. These performances - as well as some of the other events in the festival - are free.

Mars en Baroque runs from 1-31 March and is one of Marseille's cultural highlights of the early spring. Click here for the full programme.

designer outlet village miramasThe first designer outlet village in the south of France is set to open on 13 April just outside the town of Miramas in Provence.

Operated by the British company McArthurGlen, this huge 120 million €uro complex will offer discontinued items from luxury brands at hefty year-round discounts.

A new provençal "village square" will house some 120 shops and eight restaurants. Pictured: an architect's impression.

Confirmed brands so far include Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Maje, The Kooples, Sandro, Zadig & Voltaire, American Vintage, Marc O'Polo, Karl Lagerfeld, Pinko and Illy. Enough to keep even the most avid shopper happy.

The village, complete with fountain, vaulted arcades and a vegetable wall, is designed by Marseille Architecture Partenaires (MAP), who did a splendid job recently with the restoration of the sleek 1940s Musée Regards de Provence in Marseille.

The existing mas (country house), pigeon loft and century-old plane trees on the site will be all be preserved too.

It sits at the crossroads of three motorways, the A7, the A8 and the A54 and therewill be 1,500 parking spaces for drivers.

But it's also easily accessible by train (Miramas is the terminus of the beautiful Blue Coast line, as well as several other major rail axes from Arles, Avignon and Marseille). Two public buses and a special McArthurGlen shuttle bus will run from the station.

Where: McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Provence, Mas de la Péronne, Miramas.

truffles in handWinter in the South of France can be cold, cold, cold. But there are compensations. Like the black truffle season in Provence: four full months of gastronomic treats.

The season is beginning to reach its peak and the next big event is in Avignon on 29 January, when there are all sorts of truffly activities centred on the Les Halles gourmet food market, including a special truffle-inspired lunch.

The area around and north of Avignon is the "truffle capital" of Provence. But you can find the black diamonds, as they're often called, much further south too.

Late January - early February is the best time to buy black truffles, as their quality is at its best then and the markets have calmed down after the holiday rush.

This said, 2016-2017 is not a good year for truffles. A long period of very hot weather and drought over the summer means that yields are very low and prices almost twice what they were the previous year.

Still, there's lots going on: not only the festivals and weekly markets all across Provence but also fun truffle hunts, cookery demonstrations and truffle tastings. And many hotels and B&Bs, such as La Parenthèse, offer special themed weekends. Click here for our full guide.

french calendarIf you're planning a trip to Provence in 2017, it's wise to check the dates of France's public holidays (jours feriés).

Road traffic will be very busy around these times, rail, ferry and air fares will be more expensive, hotels will be more booked up and many shops will be closed, especially in small towns and villages. So you might want to plan your travel to avoid these days.

May is a particular bottleneck and in some years there are four bank holidays in this month. Some are are secular, some (despite France's insistence on the separation of Church and State) are religious.

The ones around Easter are moveable feasts, of course, but many other holidays in France are fixed dates. So, if they fall on a Sunday, the Monday will be a normal working day.

On the other hand, if they fall on a Thursday or a Tuesday, many French people will take an extra day off to make it a long weekend (this is referred to as "faire le pont" - "bridging the gap").

Here are the public holidays in France for 2017:

Sunday 1 January - New Year's Day (le Jour de l'An)

Monday 17 April - Easter Monday (lundi de Pâques)

Monday 1 May - Labour Day (la Fête du travail). Despite the name, no-one works on this day and shops and supermarkets remain closed - they don't even have Sunday opening! The custom in France is to offer friends and family a sprig of lily of the valley for good luck and you'll see these on sale everywhere.

Monday 8 May - VE Day (la Fête de la Victoire - though this day is generally just known as "le huit mai"). It marks the surrender of the Nazis in Europe and General de Gaulle's victory speech. There is likely to be some sort of patriotic parade or other commemoration in most French towns.

Thursday 25 May – Feast of the Ascension. This is the day when Christians believe Jesus ascended into heaven.

Monday 5 June - Whit Monday / Pentecost (lundi de Pentecôte) Another Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Christ's disciples.

Friday 14 July - Bastille Day (la Fête Nationale). France's national holiday marks the beginning of the Revolution with the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789. No-one here seems to call it Bastille Day, though!

FireworksIt's usually referred to as "le quatorze juillet" or "la fête nationale" and is the pretext for showers of fireworks lighting up the skies.

In 2016 on this day, 86 people died in a terrorist attack at the display in Nice, so expect the shadow of this memory to be cast over future celebrations.

Tuesday 15 August - Feast of the Assumption (l'Assomption). The day when Christians believe the Virgin Mary ascended into heaven. This public holiday has its origins in 1638, when King Louis XIII vowed to consecrate France to the Virgin Mary if his wife (who was pregnant) gave birth to a son and heir. The future Louis XIV came along a few months later and the rest is history.

assumption procession marseilleThere are some fervent religious processions on this day, especially in Marseille, pictured.

Provence also celebrates the anniversary of the Allied Forces' landings in Toulon and Marseille on 14-15 August 1945 and the beginning of the Liberation from the Nazis.

Expect fireworks and spectacular aerial displays in Marseille and Toulon by the Patrouille de France, the Air Force's crack aerobatics team.

Wednesday 1 November - All Saints' Day (La Toussaint). A Christian festival in honour of all the saints. The French honour their dead on this day and is traditional to lay white chrysanthemums on family graves (never offer these flowers as a gift, by the way!)

Half-term holidays in Provence fall around this time. The North American tradition of Halloween is rapidly gaining popularity too.

Saturday 11 November - Armistice Day (l'Armistice). This marks the end of the First World War in 1918. Whereas VE Day has a celebratory tone, the 11 November is, as elsewhere in Europe and North America, a sombre day to remember and honour the fallen.

Monday 25 December - Christmas Day (Noël). No explanation needed! Click here to read all about celebrating Christmas in Provence.

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