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Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Provençal Tastes, Sights, and Sounds

Easter Week 2017
The South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

Come along for a day filled with provençal delights, beginning with the Wednesday market in St. Remy de Provence…stalls fill the charming squares,their colorful produce enticing – how about Kristin Espinasse’s (of French Word a Day) Tarte à la Tomate with a few of these beauties? 
Palest blue shutters whisper “south of France” on this boutique, one of the many enticing home-goods shops worth a visit.
Sated with sights and smells, we’re ready for lunch at Kirk’s all-time favorite, Bistro du Paradou, down the road towards Le Baux de Provence. It’s Wednesday, and rabbit is today’s main dish, but the meal begins with MY favorite of their first courses – meltingly succulent aubergine, with a side of rich tomato coulis. After the remarkable cheese basket, a meal in itself, we finish with dessert and coffee, then trundle out to the car to make our way to an olive oil mill.
With the hilltop ruins of Le Baux in the distance, we walk through the mistral-tossed olive groves before purchasing a tin or two of some award-winning oil.
Beneath that menacing fortress are the towering rooms hollowed out from bauxite quarries, now the Carrières de Lumiéres – Quarries of Images, a sound and light spectacle that is a highlight of our Provence tours. This year (the spectacle changes yearly) the artists Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo are featured – a more gruesome, at times, focus than we’ve ever seen here. Not one of our favorites – but worth a visit regardless to be surrounded by art and sound – a unique experience.
Senses sated, back to Aix we go – more Provençal delights await us tomorrow!

Van Gogh Was Here

Van Gogh Was Here

Music & Markets April Easter Festival, 2015
Aix-en-Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer – join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast in July?

We’ll walk in the steps of another great artist who was inspired by the south of France, Van Gogh. Driving north through the Alpilles, we’re charmed by the yellow carpet of wildflowers under the olive trees. Van Gogh colors – yellow and blue!04081501 Alpilles driveThe carpet continues beside St. Paul de Mausole outside of St. Remy de Provence, where Van Gogh checked himself in after the ear episode, and spent a prolific year of painting. 04081501 another art focused dayEaster is early this year, so there are just a few pansies in the cloister – not warm enough for more blooms,04081501 asylumand just a lone iris in the fields (last year we were here later and the garden was a purple haze!). 04081501 iris loneContinuing in the steps of the masters, we’re enveloped in the Giants of the Renaissance, this year’s theme at the Carrieres des Lumieres in Les Baux. 04081501 ren giantsThe cavernous rooms of a disused bauxite (yes, it’s named after Les Baux) quarry provide gigantic screens for richly hued photographs of locations or artworks, all accompanied by glorious surround-sound music.What a thrill to be immersed in the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, noting details impossible to take in in the actual room in Rome. 04081501 thrilling surrounded sistineWell this has been a full morning – now for some delights for the palate after all these other sensory pleasures! And where better than the wonderful Bistro du Paradou? Today’s Prix Fixe lunch begins with a Frisée Lardon Salad, and unlike previous meals it’s not plated, just brought in a big bowl for us to dish out ourselves – fun!04081502 bistro foreverAnd then a favorite cool weather French specialty, cassoulet – we’ve never had this here before either, and it is one of the best we’ve tasted! 04081502 cassouletAnd you know what’s next, right? That amazing cheese platter, in which we make a hefty dent 😉04081502 that amazing cheese basketAfter dessert and coffee on the terrace, 04081502 then dessert on terracewe’re on our way back to Aix, passing a surprising addition to the Maussane des Alpilles town hall – knitted patchwork cozies on the huge tree and the balcony and lamposts!04081503 art contemporary maussane mairieI glance down a side street as we roll through the town –  “Oh please stop!” This wisteria draped cottage just cries out for a photo!04081503 stop for wisteria
An evening concert of clarinet, viola and piano in the elegant Jeu de Paume,04221405 ceiling

then it’s time for a bit more to eat before we turn in for the day….crepes at Crepe Sautiere, in an old olive oil mill in the center of town. This one has a bump in the middle – ice cream!04081504 bumpy crepe after jeu de paumeBonne Nuit, Aix.

From the Coast to the Hills in the South of France

From the Coast to the Hills in the South of France

 
 

Saturday, May 11, 2013 
Delights in the South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium.

 

Who knows what a flat white is?  Our friend Lynn has written in Aixcentric that our local coffee shop, just around the corner, makes a great one – it’s an Australian coffee style. Since reading that, I’ve been wanting to try a flat white for myself, so this morning we pick up a couple of pastries at the bakery across the street for breakfast and ask the Adrien at Coffee to Go to whip up one for me.


Isn’t it pretty? Less foam than a cappuccino, but very creamy and satisfying – I’d order it again!

And now our Provence/Riviera private tour begins. We pick up our guest, Steve, at the Marseilles airport and head north for the mountaintop redoubt of Le Baux – erupting from the rugged cliffs in the distance.

Up the steep cobbled paths to the Chateau de Baux we climb,stopping at Les Varietes for lunch…. Steve’s first taste of the fresh flavors of the south of France, topped off with a signature sip of rosé.

Not a typical southern taste, but so unique that I just had to try it, my duck breast salad is served with foie gras ice cream!

The mistral, the legendary strong wind of the south, is definitely gusting today, and oh do we feel it atop the rock! The medieval “big guns” are firing rocks to the valley as we approach the plateau.

From this perch the medieval lords of Le Baux could spy the approach of enemies in the distance,
and any who dared to make it to the top were generally gotten rid of by being thrown off the cliff – no mercy from the bad boys of Le Baux!

Traces of elegant Gothic windows remain in the fortress/ chateau walls, rising out of the rugged cliff,

and below the more- recent con- struction of the town clusters beneath the ancient ruins.

We take our time descending, peeking into shops and a peaceful hillside cemetery.

A short stroll down the road are the old bauxite quarries, which for the past decade or so have been transformed into a fascinating light and sound multimedia spectacle. Van Gogh, Venice, or Australia, among others, have been featured in the past. This year we are enveloped in Monet – water lilies around and beneath us,

Renoir – thirty- foot- tall dancers surround us,

then Chagall images floating by on the walls. The Carrieres de Lumieres show changes each February, and is a don’t- miss for us each year.

The sleek and elegant Du Coté des Olivades in Paradou is a perfect stop for Steve’s first night in Provence – with views across the olive groves to Le Baux,

and a wisteria shaded terrace beside the pool and gardens.

A favorite awaits tonight – our much-loved Bistro du Paradou, where we’ve enjoyed delicious feasts with friends for decades. There’s a full house tonight -reservations are essential here!

The main course this evening is Poulet de Bresse –  France’s “gold medal” chicken. Simply prepared – just rotisserie grilled – it’s amazingly good, and accompanied with the creamiest Gratin Dauphinois (scallopped potatoes) we’ve ever tasted.

And the cheese course – a total wow, as usual! They generously leave it at our little table too long… we all make pigs of ourselves!
Welcome to Provence!

Art and Music in Provence

Art and Music in Provence

The South of FranceAix and around
Thursday, August 2, 2012
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on our featured (and expanded!) summer Amsterdam/Belgium tour!

Thursday’s a major market day in Aix. There’s a fruit and vegetable market every day on the square closest to us, but on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday ALL of the vendors show up, from produce, to tablecloths and placemats, to pasta, to vintage, spreading through several squares, and during the summer the Cours Mirabeau fills with a clothing and textile market. This year it’s hugging the street rather than further over on the walkways – so we look at the vista of colorful stalls and ancient fountains as we browse.

The latest art installation in Aix (from June til 17 September) is Nicolas Lavarenne’s Les Yeux au Ciel (Eyes to the Sky),The first one we noticed was hanging from the side of the gorgeous old clock tower, which we nearly always take photos of every time we’re in Aix – the blue sky beyond the beautiful old structure stops us in our tracks often –  hope we never get used to it!  Lavarenne’s sculptures exhibit the dream of dance or athletics in midair.
We’ve kept the car for another couple of days so we can meet our friends from Virginia once again – this time in Kirk’s favorite restaurant, Bistro du Paradou. It delights us all, as always – from the melt- in- your- mouth roasted eggplant starter, through the Bresse chicken, to the dripping – with- flavor cheese platter.

During our Music and Markets Provence tour, our Wednesdays go like this: Saint Remy market, lunch at the Bistro du P, and an afternoon visit to the cool (feels SO good on a hot summer day) spectacle of art and music in the ancient quarries of Le Baux. The former Cathedral des Images closed for a couple of years, and has now re- opened as the Carrieres de Lumieres (Quarries of Lights) with a theme of Gaugin and Van Gogh.

Accompanied by music, we’re enveloped in the works of Gaugin
and Van Gogh  – a fabulous way to spend an hour or so, seeing these marvelous works in a way impossible anywhere else.

On the way back to Aix Kirk mentions that he’d like to go somewhere this evening since we have the car just until tomorrow – and I’ve been thinking the same thing! And, surprise, both of us are thinking Lourmarin, a favorite through the years, in the beautiful Luberon area of Provence.  So that’s where we end up for our last “evening out”, sitting at our own Café de la Nuit on one of Lourmarin’s prettiest squares.

The people- watching’s great, as is our light dinner (don’t need much after a Bistro du Paradou 4 course meal!) and the accompanying Django Reinhardt- style jazzy duo.

A full moon over the town bids us goodbye – Bonne Nuit, Lourmarin. We’ll be back, I’m sure 😉