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!
Easter Week 2017
The South of France
We’re sharing some favorite villages of the lush Luberon region north of Aix with our Aix Easter Festival tour guest today. And as she collects artisanal pottery, we’re seeking out more than just fabulous vistas. At the top of the russet-hued village of Roussillon is a tiny boutique specializing in local ceramics – and now Janice has a few choice pieces that will wing their way to her US home! From atop the Castrum we take in the views – the shocks of red clay amidst the dark green of the pines, a lone poppy in the grass,a chateau nestled far below. It’s a perfect day to take in all the colors of Roussillon. In the parking lot below, market stalls cluster among the surrounding colors. Beside the cliffs, scraped in decades past for their ochre pigments, we pause for lunch, then we’re off to our next village, Lourmarin. On the way we pass Bonnieux, tumbling picturesquely down a hillside – it always demands a photo stop!
After zigagging through the Luberon range, we coast down to Lourmarin, with its elegant chateau, and wander through the peaceful lanes for a bit before returning to Aix.
This evening’s concert is in the historic Jeu de Paume, a restored handball court originally constructed for the entertainment of the nobility in the 1700s. Beneath this elegant ceiling we listen to tenor Mauro Peter sing Schumann, Strauss and Liszt, ably accompanied by Helmut Deutsch on the piano, before completing our day with a Moroccan feast at Le Riad – the best tagines in town! Our waiter effortlessly pours tea from yards above the cups – that takes some practice, I believe!
South of France
Yesterday we went south to the Mediterranean, today we head north to the lush Luberon area of Provence. A couple of years ago when Cassidy and Connor were with us in Virginia we watched A Good Year, so we thought it’d be fun to show her the unique village of Cucuron, with the big basin that featured in a memorable scene of the movie. As we approach we notice a lot of people with full baskets and bags walking towards us – it must be market day! Yes – an array of stalls surround the iconic basin and there’s quite a buzz as locals and tourists browse the stalls, pause for a cup of coffee, and catch up on the latest gossip.
There must be quite an abundance of water here – we notice no fewer than three open-air laundry shelters as we walk through the town. Passing an elegant clock/bell tower, we hike up to the church, telling Cassidy the tale of how we happened upon the annual May Tree celebration years ago, as the men of the town maneuvered a huge tree trunk up to the church, then set it up for the prettily garbed girls to dance around. We take in the vista from the top of town, then make our way back down to the market square and enjoy lunch by the basin. Next stop, lovely Lourmarin, where we stop by L’Apothecaire de Lourmarin – Pablo, the owner, found Kirk on Facebook through a post of a mutual friend. It’s always fun to meet social media acquaintances in person, and we certainly like his new addition to the boutiques of Lourmarin – a treasure chest of enticing things! Cassidy comes away with a couple of bracelets, and Pablo gives both of us his “it bags” – shopping bags with his logo.
We peek at charming lanes, point out the chateau and the unusual fountain, Cassidy tags it the barfing fountain 😉 and stop by Villa Saint Louis, a delightful shabby-chic B & B, where the garden is as inviting as we remember…On our first Music and Markets Tour, in 2003, we picnicked with our group by this very basin.
Then we breeze through Bonnieux, stopping just to take in the view across the valley to Lacoste, pause at Pont Julien, a Roman bridge, and pull off the road to walk among the vines, admiring the grapes nearly ready for harvest. If you’ve been reading our blog or following us on Facebook, you know we never miss a chance to stop in colorful Roussillon! Kirk drops us off and continues searching for a parking place while we walk through the village. Parking has been more of a challenge than we recall. Yes, the south of France is an ever-popular destination, and the highways and trains are jam-packed with French families heading south each August, but it’s never been this crowded since we’ve been coming. Kirk drove nearly to the next village and couldn’t find a spot!
Cassidy blends right in to the ochre colored beauty!
A day full of beauty – in all shades!
Monday, April 21, 2014
Aix en Provence, 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
We’re off to the rolling hills and perched villages of the Luberon today, and make a quick photo stop in Lourmarin, where the tour buses are already rolling into town,
and another pause before passing Bonnieux.
We’re on our way to rosy Roussillon, a stunner for those who are seeing it for the first time, and a well-loved favorite for us who return time and again. All three of these lovelies are officially designated ” Most Beautiful Villages of France” – no wonder!
Taking our time,
we pause for photo after photo,
relishing the ochre hues.
Jill chose a perfect outfit for this town, didn’t she?!
We’ve left plenty of time for a leisurely lunch at L’ Arome in Bonnieux, recommended by our friends the Woods, whom we joined last spring on one of their Luberon Experience days.
Each dish is as beautiful as it is delicious, from this salmon tartare,
to my fork-tender lamb, the best I’ve ever had!
Ruth comments, not for the first time (she and Sam are on their third Music and Markets tour, and Jills on her sixth!), that we really should call our tours Music and Marvelous Meals rather than Music and Markets – what do you think?
Back to Aix, where we gather at Bar Teddy atop the Grand Theatre for a light apero (yes, it has been a few hours since lunch!)
and share the program notes that Stephen Ackert, Music Director of the National Gallery of Art, generously prepared for us.
Tonight’s eagerly anticipated concert, Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott, is even better than imagined. Delphine, our contact at the Easter Festival, with whom we met with in November as we planned the tour, chose wonderful seats for us – we’re in the center, fifth row, and feel like the duo are playing right to us! The program is delightful, taking us around the world via Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, de Falla and Brahms, and they respond to the thunderous ovations with several fabulous encores – an unforgettable night of music!
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Provençal Villages, France
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! Join us on our fall tour – delightful Bath for the Mozartfest!
After our colorful morning in Roussillon, we’re surrounded by the stark contrast of pale, pale stone in the village of Ménerbes. The use of local materials determines the hue of the buildings… as does the pale golden stone used in our beloved Aix en Provence or the Cotswolds, the brick of Siena, or the pietra serena (a gray stone) in Florence. I love how the construction is so linked to the earth in each place – it adds depth to the beauty.
A playful weather forecast is chalked outside a boutique: Sun – alot!, Wind and clouds – once in a while, Rain – rarely, Snow- are you kidding? True to form it’s a bright sunny day, and we find a shaded table for lunch at Café Veranda.
The melons from nearby Cavaillon are luscious – we’ve been enjoying them all week at home in Aix, and have to have just ONE more before we head back to the States tomorrow.
noting the touches of color in shutters and flowers,
to the top, crowned by a lacey belltower.
A quirky sculpture surveys the vines on one side,
One more Luberon stop before we head for the coast – the evocative ruins of Oppéde le Vieux, slowly being brought back to life after destruction in religious wars centuries ago.
It’s been decades since we were here, and although there are a few more signs of life than then, it’s still a peaceful and somewhat eerie place above this square, with tumbled stones all that’s left in many places.
We hike up to the lower church, then back down to relax in the square with an ice cream.
What better way to complete a summer sojourn in the south of France than dinner by the Mediterranean?
We find a table-with-a-view in the lively town of Sausset-les-Pins and say goodbye…. we’ll be back as soon as possible!