Music and Markets in Aix

Music and Markets in Aix

The South of FranceAix and around
Saturday, August 4, 2012

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Why not join us in Bath, in November, for the Mozartfest? 

Season after season, the beauty of the markets cries out for a photo as we pass by… memories to sustain us until our next visit.

And as we stroll, sniff and sample we’re serenaded by a new- to- us market entertainer, singing as he rolls the music through his player.

We continue our wander through the market squares, passing through the Passage Agard , where there’s a new Fromagerie – now this shop would definitely pass EU regulations, unlike the open-air vendor where we picked up a sniff-worthy, unrefrigerated, drippy and delicious Brebis (sheep cheese.

A wall of nicely priced wine is a worthy backdrop to a rosé tasting, and upstairs is a smart bistro, topped with a terrace – a good addition to the neighborhood.

Walking through the orderly (unlike the old medieval center, with narrow twisted lanes) Mazarin Quarter, we follow the jive of a lively combo playing on Cours Mirabeau – they’ll be performing in the upcoming Jazz à Pertuis, north of Aix, for the 14th Festival of Big Bands.

And we fit in one more performance of the Nuit Pianistique, this time at the Darius Milhaud (an Aixoise composer) Conservatory.

The bass and “Bande Electronic” duo plays contem- porary music…. the job of the stripe-shirted “performer” is to press the button of the machine – a tape recorder? – when it’s time to add the pre- recorded shrieks, scrapes, and howls to the acoustic bass. Need I say that we much preferred the afternoon band?!

Snow in the Courtyard – Aix en Provence

Snow in the Courtyard – Aix en Provence

February 11-13, 2012
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Can you see the tiny flakes floating down into our newly -restored courtyard? So pretty that I video-ed too.
We’re doing our best to sample some new-to-us restaurants while here for a few days, so that we can include them in the information for those who rent our place. I so enjoy confit de canard, and when I spy that on the snowy menu of L’Alcove, and see the smiling chef, we decide to try this cozy restaurant on tiny rue Constantin.
One of the twenty-two apartments we looked at before finding our little treasure, Ambiance d’Aix, was at the end of this street, with a view to the awaiting-restoration church at the opposite end. If I remember correctly, it was about 60 steps up to that top-floor apartment….so we kept looking!

We step inside out of the snow, and descend the space-saving staircase spiralling down to the vaulted alcove where we join several others in the warm dining room.

And oh the confit was everything I hoped for – crispy skin on the exterior, melt-in-your-mouth tender duck leg inside. And served on cubed butternut squash, with creamy purées of broccoli and parsnip – wonderful!

Aix is so lovely no matter the season, and we walk to some of our favorite squares after lunch, enjoying the dusting of snow decorating the ancient fountains.
Sunday’s our last day – church in the morning, where despite the hard-working heaters, it stayed cold enough to keep our coats on during the entire service.

Just down the block is Cours Mirabeau, where we marvel at the icy fountains… this one was designed to be low enough for sheep to drink from it when traveling through town for the long-ago Transhumance, the move from mountains to lower pastures and back again twice a year.

Did you know that Aix also has a boar fountain, similar to Florence’s Il Porcellino? As far as I know, though, there’s no tradition of rubbing his snout to ensure your return. Maybe we should begin that here in Aix..

Almost time to go home, but wait, I have not had a Café Gourmand! So we check all the menus posted outside until we find a restaurant that serves this treat for dessert – right on Place de Prêcheurs. Isn’t it fun to have just a bite or two of FOUR desserts rather than one? And I even shared them with Kirk 😉

One more Winery, then Ciao Italia

One more Winery, then Ciao Italia

Weekend of February 4 -5, 2012, continued
Orvieto, Italy to Aix en Provence

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Next on the itinerary: Our spring tours in Barcelona, Venice or Prague

Neither snow, nor rain, nor ice, nor hail stops the Umbria Wine Tour!! Our last dinner will be at Il Palazzone, a majestic grand palazzo set on a hillside outside of Orvieto. Can the bus get us up to the estate? No, but does that stop us? Of course not! Our super-driver Vanni brings the bus as close as possible, then the gracious owner of the vineyard and palazzo ferries us up, four by four, to the house. And what a house it is – a palazzo built in 1295 for Cardinal Teodorico as a hostel for pilgims on their way to Rome to celebrate the Jubilee of 1300 A.D. After falling into disrepair through the centuries, restoration began by the Dubini family, the current owners, in the late 1960’s, and today it is truly a show case for Italian design and use of ancient structures.

Due to the snow and ice, we could not visit the nearby winery, but oh were we happy to stay nice and warm by the fire,

enjoy an apertif and Palazzone wines,

then feast on a delicious dinner downstairs, fascinated by the stories that Giovanni told us of his father’s finding and rebuilding this awesome treasure, and of the beginnings of the vineyard in the ’80s. Today Palazzone wines are some of the best known from Umbria and we certainly enjoyed each one we sampled.

On Sunday morning we descended from the pinnacle of Orvieto, through the familiar eagle-topped portal.

An ape chugging ahead of us moved aside for our big bus, and we were on our way.

Hard to believe, but the snow was even deeper as we drove south, gazing at the lovely winterscapes from our cozy bus.

These forested hills looked more like an alpine scene than an outskirts-of-Rome vista!

The closer we got to the city, the more abandoned cars lined the road. The tunnels looked like parking garages!
We had planned to revisit some favorite Rome spots since we had several hours until our evening flight, but after taking the train into town from the airport, where we were dropped off, and sliding on the ice for a few blocks, we determined it was just too dangerous. So we ate our last Italian meal at a forgettable trattoria not far from the Termini train station, and returned to the airport.
Flights had been cancelled on the previous days, but today they’re departing on time, so we arrive in Nice, pick up a car, and drive past snowy vineyards gleaming in the moonlight, arriving in Aix around 9 pm. As we rounded the Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau we both gasped at the wintery scene, and Kirk pulled over so we could grab a photo of the icy fountain – what a beauty!



Hunting for treasure in the south of France

Hunting for treasure in the south of France

Saturday, January 23, 2010
Aix and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!

Our hunts today will take us from the colorful markets of Aix to the remote countryside of the Luberon.
Passing through the Place d’Hôtel de Ville we enjoy the sight of masses of sunny mimosa, a reminder that spring is not far away.
We know just the right merchant to fulfill our first search: my favorite tablecloth booth is close to the Palais des Justice, and this time I’ve remembered to bring our table measurements. It doesn’t take long to choose a lovely linen cloth to take home.
Around 11 Xavier and Gloria pick us up to drive to pursue our next treasure – we’re going truffle hunting in the Luberon countryside about an hour north of Aix.
We’re scheduled to meet the hunter in the afternoon, and have left early enough to have lunch in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a former mill town with several charming waterwheels remaining, now a renowned antiques center.

Nearly all of our previous visits have been on summer Sundays, the main antique and market day, as part of our Music and Markets Provence tour, and it’s quite different to see the town empty of booths.
The historic Café de France, where we always stop for breakfast, is usually hidden behind a flower sellers booth.
And I didn’t even realize there were arcaded lanes around the main square since they, too, have been hidden behind market stalls.

Lunch is at a Bouchon, a typical restaurant of Lyon, where Xavier and Gloria have eaten previously.
Kirk surprises me by ordering andouillette, a sausage that he tried years ago, and said he was not going to order again, since it was “too close to the barnyard” for him.
He says this one is better, but he really won’t order it again. He’s braver than I am!

We walk around the town, sometimes called the Venice of the Vaucluse (this area of Provence) and admire the little bridges and water wheels around town.
On the edge of the village, where the Sorgue widens, a fanciful holiday decoration still floats in the water.
Then we’re on our way to the hunt, driving out of town to meet our guide, Geo of Truffles of the Luberon, and other treasure seekers. We rendezvous at a roadside picnic area, meet and greet, and get back in our cars to follow Geo down a backroad out into the country.
There are about ten of us, all French except for Kirk, Gloria, and me.
Geo tells us about the fragrant black truffles of the area, prized by restauranteurs and foodies, and his two dogs,
one an Australian shepherd, and the other, who’s just starting to learn the skills of the hunt, a Corsican hound.
The dogs bound off to sniff below the scrub oaks, and soon are scratching at the ground.

Geo hurries over as Beirut begins scratching in earnest, and pulls the dog away as he carefully explores the area with his pick.
It’s a big one!

And the reward?
Lots of affirmation and cuddles for Beirut…

But he does want something more concrete, and sniffs Geo’s pockets. He knows what’s in there! And soon gets his treat.

Geo passes the truffle around – aah – imagine it generously

grated over pasta, or risotto, or tucked under the skin of a roasting chicken.
I’m getting hungry…

What fun it is to tramp around the countryside, enjoying the views and the fresh air.
Across the valley is the pretty village of Saumanes,
tucked up against the cliffs.
One of the ladies, who knows the area well, tells us it’s worth a visit, with a charming square and church.
There are so many beautiful places to explore in France – we could never run out of discoveries!
Another intriguing feature of the Luberon is the old stone shepherd huts, bories, that dot the countryside.
No one knows how old they are, how long they’ve been here, and it’s always a bit like finding another treasure when we spot one.

We all head back to our cars and drive to Geo’s home, where he empties his pockets of today’s “catch” and weighs the truffles. It’s rather a slim haul today, as it has been this season, due to an extremely dry summer. For truffles to grow, there has to be enough rain from June to September, and this year there was almost none.
Back in Aix, we pack our bags to head to Paris tomorrow….where we’ll arrive just in time for the Bonjour Paris gathering at Karen Fawcett’s apartment.
We can’t leave without one more stroll down fountain-
lined Cours Mirabeau,
where the mossy fountain, fed by a thermal spring, steams into the cool night air.

A little further down is the low fountain, designed for the flocks of sheep to take a sip as they passed through town long ago for the tranhumance, when livestock was moved from mountain to plain a couple of times a year.
I’ll be back next week, but Kirk flies home on Monday, so we say au revoir together to evening on the Cours.