As we’ve guided our guests through the beautiful town of Aix en Provence for the past 17 years, we’ve pointed out the many niches,
filled with Madonnas and saints, on corners of buildings, explaining that “in medieval times these comforting icons were installed during the plague so that the quarantined residents, unable to attend mass, could instead pray to these figures that they could see from their windows”.
Did we ever imagine that, once again, the world would be confined to their homes as we are today? France is currently on a 15-day lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
We can see the cathedral bell tower from Ambiance d’Aix, our home in Aix en Provence – do you think that would “count” as a prayer niche?!
One of the things we love about our French home is the sound of those church bells. On Wednesday last week church bells rang out throughout France for 10 minutes, beginning at 7:30 pm, as an act of solidarity and hope, and people were encouraged to light candles in their windows at the same time.
In secularized France, I wonder if many now look out their windows to the Madonnas and pray?
Even if not, those peaceful Mother and Child statues
seem to bless the lively squares below (can you spy the figure on the corner?).
I think of this one as the market Madonna.
A rare snow draped the shoulders of this one a few years ago.
Just around the corner from our home is this unusual Black Madonna,
on the corner of “scrape your elbows” lane – a cobbled path so narrow you have to hold your arms against your body as you walk through.
Pray we will, that this virus will soon be conquered,
and the calm Madonnas can smile down on busy-once-again squares!
Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Aix en Provence, France
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!
July 14, 2017
Aix en Provence, France
France is celebrating today, and so are we – It’s Kirk’s birthday! As you may remember, he LOVES spending it in France since the whole country parties for him 🙂
How does he want to start the day? With a walk up the hill to Cezanne’s atelier and oft-used painting perch beyond, now the Terrain de Peintres, showcasing several of his portrayals of Mt. Saint Victoire painted from right in this spot.
In the afternoon we take in Aix’s newest museum, the Hôtel de Caumont in the Mazarine district. We were there years ago when it was the headquarters of the Music Conservatory, and although we’ve attended a concert in the courtyard, this is the first time we’ve been inside since the complete and lavish restoration. As we walk through the rooms with decor faithful to the 18th century, the period of the building, I’m reminded that a friend encouraged me to see the interior to get ideas for decorating our apartment of the same era. Our budget is not quite the same as the Caumont 😉
Upstairs, the rooms are always devoted to a particular exhibition, and until October 15 Sisley the impressionist is the beautifully curated collection. The rooms are spacious and uncrowded, allowing us to absorb the superb paintings at our leisure.More than any other artist Sisley draws you into his spacious landscapes. You feel as if you’re walking under that vast sky, brushing your fingers in the rippling river, listening to the twitter of birds in the trees. We’ve been to countless museums in our lives, but this is a new favorite…and the visit will be memorable since it’s part of our birthday celebration!
From top to bottom the Caumont is a treasure…and then there’s the tea room and garden! After sipping a cup in the shade, we snap a birthday selfie then just sit and enjoy – even on a hot summer day it’s cool and comfortable in the garden.
The party’s not over yet! After a delicious birthday dinner we listen to a string quartet in another beautiful mansion’s courtyard, then join the revelers on Cours Mirabeau – watching all ages sing along to French pop standards that we’ve never heard before – even the très cool teens and twenties sing the oldies as they dance!
Bonne fête, France, and Joyeaux Anniversaire, Kirk!
Not a day goes by that we don’t walk through the market – a visual feast, which always includes smells – breathe in the lavender, the olives, the goat cheeses – and sometimes tastes urged on us by friendly vendors. So even if we’re on our way elsewhere we must walk through the daily market on Place Richelme.
Evenings find us at friend’s homes – in the countryside near Bandol, east of Aix, or up near the rooftops of Aix on a terrace, where grill-master Xavier tosses something fabulous onto the heat.One day friends come into town for the market, and we meet for lunch at the legendary Deux Garçons, where Zola and Cezanne used to hang out. A couple of ladies order the Plateau des Fruits de Mer, towering piles of fresh seafood, but find they can’t quite finish it up – Kirk to the rescue! Three of the group were our first visitors to Ambiance d’Aix the week we bought it in 2010, so we convince them all to stop by on their way to see the cathedral – first time we’ve ever had 15 people in our apartment! On one scorcher of a day we buzz over to the beach – hot as it is, the water’s still chilly and refreshing, and the sea breeze even cools down everything at night more than in the city, as we find when we spend an evening with friends in Cassis. Out the window we watch as water jousters practice for the upcoming tournament. “Who are you rooting for, the red or the blue?” asks Yann.
Corey’s tablescapes are always as lovely as they are delicious – dig in! As usual, I’m entranced by the view, changing by the minute.Before dessert we all walk out to the lighthouse and back – the purple glow marks Chez Gilbert, and the apartment above we’re getting to know and love.
Thanks, friends, for memorable moments!
In search of a cool escape, we’ve booked a night at a B & B north of Aix, pre-requisites: a pool and air conditioning! Passing the iconic Provençal village of Gordes on the way, we look forward to returning for dinner – it’s the closest village of any size near Les Jardins d’Eleusis, the B & B we’ve found. We meet the friendly owners, spend an hour or so by the pool, join them and the other guests for an aperitif, then wind our way back on the narrow country roads to Gordes. One of the most well-known Luberon villages, Gordes is often a victim of its own popularity: wall-to-wall visitors, full parking lots and fully booked restaurants and hotels making it difficult to enjoy. But this evening in early July, just a few folks wander the lanes, and a table’s available in the most popular restaurant with views across the valley. La Trinquette, we learn, means to toast – as in “cheers”! And cheered we are, sipping a local rosé along with a delicious dinner, as the lights twinkle on below.Crowned with a massive chateau, hovering over the pale stone homes tumbling below, Gordes is deserving of its award as one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages. It’s a pleasure to leisurely walk through quiet squares and lanes on our way back to the car.
Today will be another scorcher, but it begins with a light sprinkle. We shelter under the broad overhang on our private terrace and get a good start to the day with an abundant breakfast, brought to us on a tray by Stephanie, our hostess, then walk to the nearest hamlet, Murs. From the top we look out over the surrounding fields, peer across the rooftops, take in the immaculate garden of a private chateau, and check out the ancient stone homes, some adorned with old farm implements. It’s lavender season, and that’s one of my must-sees on this jaunt. We’ve read that the nearby village of Lioux boasts a few fields, and a spectacular setting beside a towering cliff, and when we track down the field, we just stand there, letting the fragrance and the beauty flow over us. Walking through the village, we don’t see a soul…but DO spy a few photo-worthy corners. The door to this ivy-covered church is open and we pause in the quiet space before snapping the town hall…where IS everybody? Maybe it’s just a film set?
On the way to Joucas, our next stop, we find another purple expanse then move along to the village since it’s lunch time.
Sculptors have left their mark in Joucas…from the parvis of the church to the vineyards and orchards below. An atelier is tucked beside a lane – keep walking, what we will find next? The stone paths are almost as intriguing as the houses lining them.
Hostellerie des Commandeurs is the most popular place in town, with an inviting terrace – beside a VERY inviting pool. Can we dive in after lunch? Snails starts us off, and we both choose the fish of the day for our main course. Of course I can’t resist a Café Gourmand for dessert! Our next stop may be the most touristed in Provence today – the crush of huge buses dwarfing a string of crawling cars makes it almost impossible to see. What a difference from the quiet villages we’ve paused at earlier!
It’s the lavender that we, and hundreds of others want to view….we had planned to walk the significant distance from the parking area to the Abbaye de Senanque and it’s signature purple fields, but I chicken out and stay by the car, parked up a hill heading out of the valley, and leave the photo op to Kirk. Yes, it’s gorgeous, but definitely spoiled by the out-of-control buses and crowds on a summer Sunday.
And our next stop is not much better… Fontaine de Vaucluse, home of the mysterious source of the rushing river flowing through town and into the region,proves to be another popular Sunday destination. You’d think that all that water would make it cooler, but I’m nearly fainting from the heat by the time we climb the hill leading to the source….and thinking that I’ll get closer to the chilly stream on our way back down. Aaaaah……I think we’ll stick to lesser-known villages on summer weekends from now on!