The devastating frost of 1956

People still talk about the frost of 1956. Whilst only a few locals can claim they witnessed the devastating temperatures first hand, the catastrophic consequences of that February night can be clearly seen today.

On that destructive night a fierce frost wiped-out olive orchards across Provence. In one foul stroke, the temperature plunged from + 21ºC in the daytime, to a painful – 17ºC in the night. The sun-seeking sap that had crept up the trees as the temperature climbed to during the warmth of the day was totally frozen in its tracks.

Legend has it that on the day following the frost the sound of olive trees crying pervaded the orchards as the sap exploded and cracked the trees.

If it were not for that frost some of trees could have boasted being over 1,000 years old. Instead, the ugly survivors stand out, the beautiful original trunks amputated from the base and four, five or six charpentières, or main branches, have grown again from the old root system. Deformed yet resilient, these olive tree can still bear beautiful fruit.

After the catastrophic freezing conditions only around one-third of the olive trees survived. The Var region alone had 2.5 million trees before this devastating frost paralysed the entire region and in the end, most of the olive trees were replaced with vines, to meet to the burgeoning demand for wine.