Mistral strong winds at the Plage de Prado bay

Mistral strong winds at the Plage de Prado bay

If you travel around Provence and especially in the Marseille region and pay at least a little attention to the architecture of the buildings, you will first notice some memorable constructions, which of course have their reasons.

A very special feature of rural Provençal architecture, for example, are the wrought iron bell cages on church towers due to the frequent strong winds, here called mistral. The wind-permeable shapes offer significantly less resistance to the mistral than bell gables or pointed helmets as are otherwise common. Bell cages often consist of wrought iron intersecting bands or square bars that are forged or riveted together at the intersections. The resulting gaps are often decorated with forged iron bands, which usually only have a single bell inside.

High waves and whipping spray on Prado beach

plage de prado 01In Marseille we had already felt the wind coming up on the sea as strong, despite our origins from the German North Sea coast with the usual “air movement”. We were still on our way to the Plage de Prado bay, first with the bus line mentioned above, then on foot. Out here, without the protection of urban buildings, you could notice the Mistral much more clearly. The mistral can initially blow quite gently and is still warmed up by the landmass and therefore warm. After a few hours or even days, it can develop into a strong to stormy wind that blows from the northwest over France into the Mediterranean region. What is typical is a cloudless, almost dark blue sky, good visibility, an impressive starry sky at night and a significant drop in temperature. We would soon find out that it was great weather for kite surfers and surfers. The Mediterranean shows that things can be different.

Mistral attracts surfers and surfers to the sea

plage de prado 02The term “Mistral” is mainly used in connection with Provence, but the province of Languedoc, the Var department (Fréjus) and the entire lower Rhône valley (from Lyon to Marseille) are also affected. The eastern part of the Côte d'Azur, the so-called "French Riviera", with its higher mountains, is protected and is almost always spared from the wind, which is usually perceived as unpleasant.

At sea, the Mistral, even as a strong or stiff wind (6-7 Bft), leads to a pronounced and constant wind field over days and nights, which can cover the Golfe du Lion and reach as far as the islands of Menorca and Sardinia; With stronger winds in foothills, it extends further into the Gulf of Tunis and the African north coast.

plage de prado 07If a low moves eastwards over northern France, the classic starting position for the Mistral is given. The wind is caused by polar air flowing into the Mediterranean.

The Alps and Cévennes form a blockade so that the cold polar air reaches the Rhone Valley, a rift between the two mountains mentioned.

This channelling (nozzle effect) creates high wind speeds of 50-75 km/h, with peaks of over 135 km/h. The typical Mistral weather situation is characterized by high air pressure over the Bay of Biscay and a low-pressure area over Italy.

The Mistral winds – an adventure at sea

plage de prado 03And as is always the case when it comes to weather conditions, it's a curse for some - but others are thrilled.

So when we arrived at Plage de Prado under a clear blue sky, we were initially surprised at how few visitors were by the sea, but we quickly realized the reasons for this. The strong wind caused blowing sand, which had a severe impact on the skin.

Despite the sunshine, the rain jacket was an effective remedy against the pelleting effect of the sand.

plage de prado 04The view of the sea made a completely different picture appear, because the roaring sea also offered a real adventure for many people, at least for the numerous surfers and kite surfers.

It was almost a spectacle to see how the really high and uneven waves repeatedly demanded a high level of skill and strength from surfers and kite surfers.

On the other hand, the athletes seemed to really enjoy it. Hardly anyone was willing to sit on the beach to relax.

plage de prado 05We sought shelter in the lee of a building because the strong wind was really affecting us. So we were able to watch the roaring sea and the surfers for a while in the shelter of the building and used the “Petit Déjeuner” we had brought with us with croissant and coffee for a second breakfast.

It was exciting to concentrate on individual athletes and follow their path through the waves. However, the Mistral also brings with it some problems, because the Mistral is very dry and removes a lot of moisture from the ground, which significantly increases the risk of forest fires in Provence.

plage de prado 06It causes damage to tree growth, which is particularly important for fruit and olive cultivation, as these are only possible in wind-protected locations. However, it also has advantages for crop cultivation, as fungal diseases and harmful insects can spread only slightly or not at all.

As already mentioned, all natural occurrences always have two sides and two effects on us earthlings: what is a blessing for some becomes torture for others. For us it was an experience!

Please read as well:

Goslar - old town with narrow streets and half-timbered houses

Fort Saint-Jean – imposing city fortifications at the harbour


Life | Outdoors