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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A very provincial summer: Aix en Provence

It's not everyday I ride through a tunnel of trees to land in the pebble coated motor way of my house in Aix en Provence.  But it was for fourteen short days this summer.  I will never forget that drive.  That drive way.  That house.  That summer.  

Choosing a spot to vacate your life and spend time in the region of Provence can be daunting.  My second summer in a row, I can tell you that you really can't go wrong.  This summer was spent in Aix en Provence, a bit more northwest than last year, with as many wonderful things to do and see as the last.  The town of Aix is indeed charming.  Streets are crowded with shops, churches, squares, and people.  There is a joie de vivre that only can occur in France.  

The Festival D'Aix pulls many visitors in, especially those wishing to see music set in an unusual setting.  I was with a group of friends when we were able to see the Opera, Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verde.  Shown at the intimate theater of Théâtre de l'Archevêché in the heart of Aix, we enjoyed a modern interpretation of an 1851 Opera story in the beautiful outdoor theater.  Spectacular.  Word to the wise: arrive on time.  Apparently when it comes to operas, the French are quite prompt.

Right in the middle of Aix is the Atelier Cezanne, his studio where he painted amongst the beautiful trees and flowers of Aix, 'chemin des Lauves'.  It's a quick visit, but one of the most personal.  His paint brushes remain from his death, as well as his over coat, canvas stretching machine, letters to Zola and Picasso, books and so much more.  



If you are looking for a shopping expedition, Aix has much to investigate.  There is the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday market at the place de Verdun.  Filled with sundries of old and items of new, there is something for everyone at the market.  Fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, desserts all abound.  And if you are feeling more corporate it's easy to pop into the local Hermes for some air condition and luxury goods.  My group especially loved the locally owned boutique Gago (24 Rue Fabrot, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France).  I scored a cobalt blue marabou feather jacket, saving to wear for Paris Couture Week! And the Michelin Star restaurant, Restaurant Pierre Reboul, will not disappoint.  In fact, it will amuse and surprise you!

Aix French Laundry
Market shopping with friend Kay Fernandez
A table fit for friends and foodies
If you have the need to get out of town, there are many options.  As a wine lover, I demanded (without much coaxing) from my friends that we visit Châteauneuf-du-Pape. First stop: Les Caves Saint Charles in its 13th Century Cellar.  This place feels, sounds and smells like an ancient monastery, and the Master Sommelier, Guy, plays the role of pope well.  We also stopped by a much smaller cave, Domaine du Banneret.  There we were able to taste wines from our birthday or anniversary years.  And we were even allowed to put a few labels on the wine bottles.  My favorite wine there was the 1997.  The year I was born.


Lunch outside at the beautiful Chateau des Fines Roches was exceptional.  A romantic spot to sit, eat and drink...  (They have great wine tour drivers to ensure the safest of day trips!)

 Walking the small, sweet streets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is as special as the grape varietals.

Another great side trip is to rent a boat and cruise down the Mediterranean Sea.  No matter your destination, the shoreline is blue and calming.  You can choose to go north or south (we went south past St Tropez), and that is truly a coin toss.  We had a day cruising to .....  Stopping at St. Tropez's Club 55 is always a treat, no matter how quick the visit.

I'm glad to have just now written this post from July memories.  I'm already more relaxed and sun kissed just thinking about it.  I love Provence.  I'd like to go again and again, if the French are willing.  My favorite moments were spent at the house, by the pool or walking the grounds.  Whether alone or with family or a friend, there was a quiet peace there.  A serenity of wholeness that rarely comes in the real world.  Oh vacation...

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