Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

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!




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!

Lunch with a View

Lunch with a View

Monday, February 16, 2015
Seaside South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – how about the Prague Spring Festival in May?

The doorbell rings Monday morning – first the electrician to fix a few things, then a morning meeting with potential renters for next year – a lovely couple who would take excellent care of Ambiance d’Aix and really enjoy their time here, I’m sure. Then we’re off to pick up a rental car for some out-of-town errands and pleasures. We stop at Columbus Café, checking it out for a possible meeting place for future Music and Markets Tours.02161501 am mtg tnen coffeeExcellent coffee and pastries, and what a beautiful use of this historic space, a centuries-old chapel!02161501 coffee angel

Who wouldn’t like an angel blessing their morning cuppa from above?!
Driving southeast, we soon dip down to the Mediterranean,02161501 dip down 2 sea

and not long after arrive at the charming home of Jean Marc and Kristin Espinasse. Kristin, whose French Word a Day blog has been a favorite of ours since she began it years ago,  shows off the improvements they’ve made since our last visit – embellished by a lavish gift of mimosa from a neighbor.02161501 kristin mimosa link to previous blog

Talking about the frigid snowy weather back in Virginia, we relish the beautiful day with an al fresco aperitif – their son Max, studying in Aix, is here today too. The South of France is sure a great place to be in February!02161502 aperoSurrounded by olives and pines, with views to the sea (continually improving as Jean-Marc lops off the tops of surrounding pines), this prime spot looks better than ever.02161502 horizon seaThe dining room used to have just a small window, and Kristi’s idea of a full wall of windows, with a spacious window-seat built in, has made all the difference.02161502 space view and window seat

Jean-Marc takes us down to his cave, filled with wines he’s gathered through the decades, and invites us to choose the wine for lunch. Kirk checks out the Italy racks,02161502 wine from cave

and this wine from Sicily, which Jean-Marc helped harvest and name (Rosso Azzurro=Rouge Bleu, the name of his vineyard in the Côtes du Rhone which we visited years ago02161502 wine from cave sicily photo of cave and link to previous blog st cecile goes great with Kristi’s delicious lunch,02161503 a tablecompleted with a raspberry tart we brought from an Aix patisserie.02161503 dessertDriving back towards Aix, Mt. Saint Victoire fills our vision – it looks so different – long rather than a triangular peak – from this direction!02161503 looks like diff mt

We’re on the hunt for a slender rail for the renovated bathroom stairway, and stop at a favorite destination, Materiaux Ancien, north of Aix. What a treasure trove of beautiful ancient objects!02161503 rail huntHow about a Washington monument for your front yard?02161503 wash monument for yard

Or a cooling basin for those hot summer days?02161503 wash monument or basinWe stop to talk with an ironworker too…but we still haven’t found just the right solution for our narrow bathroom stairs. Several times when we’ve talked with hardware salespeople or those involved in construction they listen to our description, ask us where our apartment is, and then knowingly nod, “oh yes, an Aixoise apartment…” . Guess Aix is notorious for these ancient historic places, where builders through the years have done their best to fit in the necessary modern trappings into any available space.



Mountains and Music

Mountains and Music

Summer in Aix 2014

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

Our overnight at beautiful Hotel les Lodges Saint Victoire put us the closest we’ve been to Cezanne’s mountain, and an afternoon drive and walk got us even closer.

We continued to be surprised at the depth of the countryside feel – just minutes from bustling Aix. Loved this vintage road sign directing us back to the city.

And just down the road, an old 2 Chevaux – we do see more of those in the country than in the cities.

We got a lazy start Friday – enjoying a lavish continental breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, then driving southeast to the Bandol area for lunch at Mary Lou and Ken’s.

Mary Lou’s latest novel in the Verlaque and Bonnet Mysteries  series featuring an Aix lawyer and law professor will be out in a few days, and we heard juicy details of the next one in the works. When we first met, Mary Lou and Ken were living in Aix, but have settled in happily to life in the country – who wouldn’t love this vineyard – surrounded beauty?!

On our way back to Aix we stop at Suffrene, a recommended Bandol vineyard tucked beneath the hilltop village of Le Castellet

to pick up a bottle to bring to our neighbors this evening.

We get back to Aix just in time to climb the stairs to the Oordobadis, with whom we hiked last week. Ali leads us to the table, describing the apertif feast as “Colors of Provence”  – gorgeous, and delicious too!

We’ve been blessed with such wonderful neighbors in Aix – thankful!
Saturday finds us back at the market, picking up all that we need for lunch with friends. Walking under the clock tower, where a mime entertains, we pass through the flower market,

where a table of flower children begins their fun early in the day.

Fresh flowers on the mantel, lunch all ready, we await our guests…

and soon we’re sharing stories  with Jean Marc and Kristin (whose French Word a Day is a favorite of all of us francophiles) and Anne and Aldo.

JM and Kristin brought the most delicious ice cream we’ve EVER tasted for dessert…6 glass pots of pure and intense flavors – passion fruit, pistachio, dark chocolate and more. What a treat!

Thanks, friends,

for traveling from hours away to join us!
Tonight is the first night of Aix’s last festival of the summer, Musique dans la Rue, and Anne and Aldo stay a bit longer to catch the first couple of concerts with us  – first, medieval tunes in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Ville,

then a lively and colorful chorale in the Place de l’Archveché – with an impressive Star Wars rendition.

Each half hour from 6 to 9 pm there are two or three choices in some of Aix’s most beautiful squares, cloisters, and courtyards.
We say goodbye to Anne and Aldo and finish our evening with a Beethoven Quintet in the St. Catherine of Sienna courtyard, a new venue for this year,

followed by a Soirée Ravel by one of the best pianists we’ve heard – glorious music! And all just steps from Ambiance d’Aix!


Seaside in Southern France

Seaside in Southern France

January, 2013
The South of 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

We’ve rented a car for a few days so that we can check up on La Belle Cour, a two hour drive from Aix. After a stop for lunch by the water, a steaming mini-cauldron of seafood stew, we’re happy to see that, unlike last year when major work was required before the rental season, our little village house is in very good shape inside and out.
We straighten and clean up to make the rooms look as we like them to look…no one leaves it quite like we do: there are always sheets, towels, fans, pillows, chairs and more in different places than we expect. Inside and out, we see what else needs to be done before the renters begin to arrive… a bit of painting, the annual trim of the jasmine in the courtyard, some colorful annuals for the pots. We’ll return after the annual Rendezvous France tourism conference in March to take care of these things, and La Belle Cour will be ready for this year’s line-up of renters to enjoy!
Rather than the speedy autoroute, we take the seaside route home, stopping to snap a photo of the long sandy beach between Agde and Sete.

The next day we’re once again by the Med- iterranean, meeting our friends Jean Marc and Kristin for lunch in St. Cyr sur Mer, near their new home.

Across the bay the jagged peaks of La Ciotat anchor the edge of the shore. When Jean Marc visited us in Virginia last year, he talked about his desire to live closer to the sea and AWAY from the strong mistral wind, while still keeping involved in their vineyard inland near Vaison la Romaine, and when we got together in the summer here in France, they shared with us that this dream was close to becoming a reality.

It wasn’t easy to find just the right place in the very desirable Bandol area, their target, and Kristi tells us how they prayed together one evening, almost ready to give up, that God would help them find what they were looking for. The next day a vigneron friend of theirs told them that he had been offered a hillside farm, as an insider, and did not want it. They were able to see the property, and  both knew “this is it!” and one of the first things Jean Marc, who grew up by the shore in Marseilles, did after they moved in was have a tree trimmed so he could have a view of his beloved sea. Kristi tells us how each time the mistral howls down from the north, Jean Marc boasts about this perfect setting, sheltered from that relentless wind.

There is much to do, inside and out, to get the house up to their standards, but the four of them have happily settled in, and Jean Marc has even found a nearby parcel of land where he can plant some vines and grow his own Bandol wine.

Kristi’s often written about her easy-and-delicious yogurt cake recipe, and the chocolate one she’s made for dessert today is as yummy as we expected – merci!

We stop by the sea again before heading back to Aix – the little beach by the port is quiet now, but will bustle when the weather warms up.

Fun with Friends in France

Fun with Friends in France

The South of FranceAix and around
Mon-Tues, July 30-31, 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!


Sometimes it takes a while to get out of Aix, but for good reasons… such as being stopped in the adjacent square by neighbors as we’re on our way to get the car. One asks us to stop by for an aperitif this evening, and another joins us for a chat. We’re watching a stage being set up in front of the Archbishop’s Palace while we talk – what’s going on? “There’s a spectacle tonight because the Woodyards are back” our neighbor jokes – ha!
We don’t often have a car while we’re in Aix, but since we had to drive here from Nice we booked a three day rental, which is relatively inexpensive and does not incur a drop charge for turning in in a different city (which a one- day rental would do).  So it’s fun to have the opportunity to visit out- of- town friends and favorite places outside the city while we have wheels.We drive east this morning, to the village of Trets where the friends we met at Chateau La Coste yesterday have rented a villa. We’ve often heard about Trets from our friend Xavier, who has a home there, and enjoy seeing it for ourselves – a few interesting squares, a plane-tree lined street or two, and a lively bustle.
The villa is quite a ways out of town, up,up, up a rutted dirt and gravel road, with a worth-the- drive view.
Kirk and Eric talk business, with Mont Saint Victoire in the distance,

while Marian and I relax in the pool.

Back in Aix, we go downstairs where our dear neighbor M. Farcy shows off the flower- filled courtyard, which we enjoy so very much out of our windows, then treats us all to champagne and a spread of delicious nibbles that make dinner unnecessary.

He decides to stay home, but Mme. Tomme, another neighbor and guest for this evening- and the two of us have heard the music starting – now we’ll find out what that stage we saw was for!
And we enjoy a terrific concert by the brass and percussion ensembles of the Young Orchestra of France, whose summer session in Aix we appreciated last year as well – but they didn’t perform right next door then – this is a treat!  By the end of the concert they have the majority of the crowd on their feet, clapping and dancing.
Kirk brought down a couple of our beach chairs so Mme. and I could listen in comfort 😉
These unexpected musical treats are a part of life here in Aix   – don’t you love surprises?!
Tuesday’s full of errands, then we’re off again in the car, meeting our friends Jean Marc ( of Rouge-Bleu wines)  and Kristin (the talented French Word a Day wordsmith) in Isle sur la Sorgue for dinner. This lovely village is half way between them and us (about an hour’s drive for both of us) and is such a pretty place to enjoy whether you’re buying antiques (which the village is famous for), or just strolling through.

As we wait, teams pole by in the flat bottom boats used in times past, practicing for a “celebrating history” weekend coming up.

We had such a good time talking that I hardly noticed what we ate – but do remember that it was delicious!

Finally stopped and took a photo of dessert – a pretty orange Bavarois.
Our first three days in Aix have just FLOWN by – we’re already figuring out when we can come back!