14 juillet – Bastille Day, 2018
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! How about an unforgettable holiday with us at New Years’ Jazz in Italy?
“Where can we see some great Bastille Day fireworks near Aix?” we asked our in-the-know French friends…and Marseille was the top reply – now we know why! In addition to festive fun (Kirk’s birthday happens to be the same day as France’s National Holiday, you may remember!) we were looking forward to an air conditioned respite from the oppressive heat, and a swimming pool thrown in for good measure! Right on the historic Vieux Port, the Radisson Blu was a perfect choice – with a fabulous view from our 4th floor windows! Although we were tempted to stay in the marvelously cool room (you don’t know how much you miss air conditioning until you live without it for a while!), we decided to relax poolside instead – cooled with a refreshing dip and breezes as we basked in the sun, the 17th century Fort St. Nicolas looming beyond. Since Marseille is such a big city, I always imagined it as hotter than Aix – but no, it’s seaside location tempers the heat nicely – it’s bearable to stroll around near the water, unlike on those 89 degree afternoons in Aix. Enjoying the beautiful architecture as we seek out a restaurant for an early (for France, that is – around 8) dinner, we find many well-recommended spots right near the Vieux Port, and request an outdoor table at L’Oliveraie, on restaurant-lined Place aux Huiles. Jazz from the restaurant next-door entertains us as we relish a delicious dinner under the olive trees – we do recommend this place!
Police and Emergency Medical Teams are setting up all around the Vieux Port in preparation for the fireworks at 10, and early arrivers are claiming their spots chosen for the best view. After a sunset stroll along the water, we head up to our room, waiting for the show. Just after ten, the streetlights surrounding the port turn off, music booms from the speakers, and here we go! 16 pontoons are lined up down the middle,
and flare in unison with beautiful firework displays, while to our left, above Fort St. Nicolas, more fireworks fill the sky – what a show! Happy Birthday Kirk!
The celebrations continue on Sunday – France is in the World Cup! But the day starts quietly, with a walk around the port (check out the mermaids!) after the delicious buffet breakfast at the Radisson Blu.
You’ve heard of Savon de Marseille, I’m sure – now available worldwide, and one of the most popular booths at any south of France market – well why not buy fragrant olive oil soap right here in Marseille, IN the Vieux Port?One more delicious Marseille meal – fresh seafood -with-a-view at Caravelle – thanks, Corey of French La Vie for the recommendation!
Then under the so-cool reflective canopy we walk, snap a photo of ourselves, metro to the station, and bus back to Aix with revelers ready to watch the big game – yes, Les Bleus are World Champions again! Last time was 1998, and we were in Paris for that unforgettable revelry. Aix celebrates more calmly, we’re glad to say 🙂
What fun this second-largest city of France, Marseille, has been – we’ll be back!
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!
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!
the Languedoc region of France
It’s been over 13 years since we purchased La Belle Cour in the village of Vias, in the Languedoc region, the “other south of France”.Everyone knows about Provence, on the Mediterranean Coast towards Italy, but this coastline, towards Spain, is much less on traveler’s radar…and as we pause on our drive southwest we’re inundated in a memorable sound – the cicadas of summer!
Others have been taking care of the property, a charming village house that sleeps 8, for us for a few years, and it’s time for us to spend some time there, making sure that it is still a delightful holiday rental for savvy travelers in search of a different take on southern France. We walk into the sunny “beautiful courtyard” mid-morning, drop off our luggage and walk through the property to get an idea of what we need to purchase for needed upkeep and replacement of items, then head to the waterfront for lunch.
Just east of Vias, Grau d’Agde is another pretty village, set where the Herault River meets the Mediterranean. Walking on the jetty of familiar black stone of the area (the church in sight of La Belle Cour is constructed of that same basalt from a long vanished volcano) out towards a lighthouse, we marvel at the vista – blues of all shades to the horizon and beyond, above the hazy Pyrenees near the Spanish border.A delicious lunch awaits us, water lapping underneath our feet – under 20 euros for three courses and a glass of wine. That fish couldn’t be fresher! And as we finish our dessert we see the evening meal on its way in – seagulls circling and diving above the boat as fishermen prep their catch and toss the inedibles out for the birds.
Ready to shop, we pass a roundabout with a replica of the basalt church in Agde and head for a Bricoman, where inside it’s just like being in the Home Depot down the street in Virginia – even to the orange decor and aprons on the staff! Of course it’s a little more challenging to choose the right painting and hardware supplies in french!
The next day we’re warmed by the sun as we do errands in the village – paying the water bill at the town hall, checking out shops and sights to make sure our House Book is up to date.
We sample a new restaurant, Remise de Christian, in the center of the village – a welcome pause in the hours of cleaning, repairs, multiple trips to the trash collection center, and painting.
Our friend Anne, who took such good care of La Belle Cour for a couple of years, has moved back to the area and is living in the elegant city of Beziers, north of us. Paul Riquet, the genius behind the Canal du Midi (which passes right through Vias), constructed in the 1600s to connect the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, is honored in his home town. Anne has found a gorgeous apartment in one of the most beautiful properties in Beziers – we’re so happy for her!
Wednesday’s market day, added during the season to the all-year Saturday market, and oh has the market expanded! We hear the vendors setting up early in the morning, and walk through the swimsuit and beach blanket laden stalls (the beach is about a mile away),happy to see how popular our little village is….and well-taken care of too, with some lovely additions like abundant flower boxes scattered through the lanes, and an update for the ancient market hall in the center of town.
We pick out a few lunch items to enjoy in the courtyard, then spend the rest of the day painting and prepping the house for the next renters.
One more visit to Grau d’Agde for dinner – if we had time we would join the crowds for the Sardinade, so much fun to watch as the fishermen toss down a blanket of fish on a grate, top them with another grate,
and char those sardines. They’re done in just a few minutes, shoveled off the grate onto plates handed off to the servers, and the line of hundreds inches along, balancing sardines in one hand, wine in the other.
What a pleasure to be back in the Lovely Languedoc – we look forward to returning with friends! Let us know if YOU would like to book a week or two – although La Belle Cour is full for the rest of the summer, we highly recommend a fall visit – September and October are particularly lovely, with weather warm enough to enjoy the beach too!