What’s first on the Aix to-do list when we arrive? Flowers, of course! And what a glorious morning we have for our first market foray! The usual produce, flowers, clothes and textiles fill stalls, and the annual Santon Fair is set up beyond the grand Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau – every imaginable figure for your creche scene.Most of the week we’re walking around familiar lanes, but for a couple of days we rent a car to see friends further afield. After a near-freezing morning, we’re off to La Ciotat, where we’re surprised to see hardy souls braving the water – from stand-up paddlers beyond the waves, to swimmers and sunbathers. Our friends Jean-Marc and Kristin (author of one of our favorite blogs, French Word a Day) have recently moved here from a few miles away, and after that chilly start to the day, it’s turned out to be perfect for a garden lunch. Kirk channels Van Gogh in one of Kristin’s hats, and we while away the hours together in the sunshine.After stopping for some big box store supplies outside of Aix while we have the car, we take a side road home and pull off to take in a glorious sunset.One more day with a car, and we’ve invited new friends Jim and Brenda to see more of the area – the lush and varied Luberon north of Aix calls us today, beginning with ochre-toned Roussillon, always a favorite.Rewinding south towards Bonnieux, we pause at Pont Julien, a hearty Roman relic that survived when new bridges perished in floods over the centuries.
Just down the road is bonnie Bonnieux, where we pause for a look across the rooftops and the lower church – to the valley beyond. A few elegant doorways from centuries ago attest to the former wealth of the village, popular again since Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Pulling away towards Lourmarin, we’re grabbed with the sight of the village tumbling down its hill, framed in glorious autumn colors – wow!Between Bonnieux and Lourmarin we stop for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They left Italy where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Last stop, chic Lourmarin, with its eye-catching chateau. The guys pause for a coffee while Brenda and I peek in the shops.
Mt. St. Victoire greets us in the sunset as we approach Aix, where a surprise awaits us. Our friend Xavier told us to call him when we got back since he had something to bring us. He’s a collector of contemporary art, but has saved for us a piece from his parent’s estate that he gave to them years ago – of a place he knows we enjoy. Venice! We’ve been looking for something for this corner – how nice to have a piece with a personal connection!
Friends and family make life so delightful….the family arrives tomorrow!
Knowing that Karen plans to sell this house and we’re not likely to ever return to this memory-packed home of our friends, we took a long last look and lots of pictures. Maybe if we return to the area and tell the new owners that Vic is “buried” under the olive tree, they’ll let us stroll through and pay our respects if we promise not to pick any pears in the garden.
Our first stop is at Gigondas on our drive to Marseilles. We pull in the driveway of the Domaine de Tourelles and find out why the two towers are on the bottle. The chateau on the edge of town looking west over some of the Rhone’s best vines is framed by two cylindrical 40 foot stone towers topped with inverted cones. We followed the signs to the retail shop and rang the bell, but the vignerons must have been in church. So, though we’d rather buy a bottle from the vineyard, we settled for the wine shop about 100 feet away in the heart of Gigondas.
From Gigondas, we went in search of Venasque, heading southeast through Carpentras. Ensemble Morandi, the string quartet whom we’d heard Friday night at the Domaine de Mourchon in Seguret had a concert Saturday night at the Auberge de la Fontain in the center of Venasque, so we thought we’d check out the venue. We’d heard the name before but have never been there. When we were about a mile from the village, we could see it was dramatically topping a very high hill. So from the foot of the mountain we zigged then zagged while we salivated thinking about the views we’d enjoy from the top. We parked French style (wherever we wanted to) by the fountain and Kirk stayed with the car while Anne and Jill got a tour of the hotel’s concert venue.
We’d never driven north to south through the entirety of Provence like we were about to today. We usually either spend all our time in the haute Provence or below the Luberon mountain range; but today we’re going to connect some previously unconnected points. From Venasque, we emerged from the forest at the Abbaye de Senanque, about a month away from any lavender blooms, but we could use our imagination to see the purple rows, hear the near roar of the bees, and smell the fragrance rising in the valley.
Within minutes, another photo-stop at Gordes. The hilltop villages of Tuscany have nothing on these high altitude villages and Gordes is one of the most picturesque.
From Gordes, looking almost due east we could see our next stop, Rousillon, the village beside the multicolored cliffs whose rocks were crushed, sifted, and sold as pigment for paint for all the famous French painters. The pigment was also used for coloring plaster and almost every house in Rousillon is one shade or another of the ochre/rust still visible in the cliffside adjacent to the village.
We had a quick salad lunch on what used to be a home’s patio then drove past a poppy field and the hilltop town of Lacoste, crowned with the fortress/castle of the Marquis de Sade, to Bonnieux.
Between Bonnieux, and Lourmarin we stopped for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They leftItaly where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Loumarin is always worth a stop and walk around. Lots of other people had the same idea but we pushed through the upscale crowd to get a Loumarin specialty, Le Gibassier de Lourmarin. It’s about a foot long and looks like a fougasse – a hand-shaped flat bread – but is sweet like a cookie. It contains lots of olive oil which makes it sweet in a sophisticated sort of way. We also stopped at the wine shop and got a couple bottles of rosé from the region to fill out our six-bottle Styrofoam case.
From there the very familiar drive south through Cadenet and Rognes to Aix en Provence. We did an informal high-level tour of Aix for Jill and took a little break in the lobby of the Hotel des Augustins before dinner at Jacqu
es le Croquant featuring specialties from southwestern France. After duck, goose and rabbit, we drove south to turn in the rental car and check in to the airport hotel at Marseilles. We reluctantly asked for a Monday morning wake-up call for our early flights to Frankfort and Paris then on to Dulles by mid afternoon.
As always, we’ve gotten more than we had hoped for in a short week’s visit – some planned adventures, and some wonderfully serendipitous surprises! We can’t wait til the next time!
Au Revoir, France!
Music and Markets Blog
Slip into the window seat in our aisle and join us on our search for a symphony of views, flavors, culture, sounds, and friends. We'll let you know when we hear the harmony we seek - whether in a WOW classical concert, an awesome night of jazz, a magical vineyard or olive farm, or an outstanding bistro, trattoria, wine, garden, or experience. From our delightful maison de village near a Languedoc beach* to a canal-side string ensemble in Amsterdam, you'll read and feel like a real local.
The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we're interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We've visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and in the the south of France. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with you.