The region of Provence has always fascinated me for its natural beauty, fields of lavender and sun flowers, beautiful mountains and gorgeous landscapes. And let’s be honest: the wine is simply superb! The cuisine is “right there” as well. So needless to say, it makes for a perfect destination for a summer trip.
This past summer I started my trip by visiting the regions of St. Remy and Avignon – both covered on my previous post which you can view here. After spending 3 magnificent days there, we headed out to Aix en Provence.
I strongly suggest renting a car if you will travel to Provence. Public transportation is scarce between the regions and the various points of interest are pretty far away from each other. The travel from St. Remy to Aix will take about 1 hour by car. Roads are extremely well signaled and the speed limit is awesome for drivers who like to go fast!
Aix en Provence was a true surprise. The town is so lively and full of culture. Coming from the towns of St. Remy and Avignon, which were medieval – more on the rural side almost – it was a huge change. I am more of a “medieval style” kind of girl, so I definitely prefer chateaus and castles in lieu of buildings. We stayed at a great hotel called Grand Hotel Roi Rene Aix en Provence. It is a 4 star hotel and had everything we needed – considering we spent very little time there, and most of the time sightseeing. But, I so missed the view from my window at Chateau de Roussan in St. Remy!
The main reason we picked this hotel was because of its location. It was literally a 5 minute walk to the main street, leading to the main square and all the shops. The center of town was absolutely beautiful with people everywhere, restaurants, bakeries, shops, the most beautiful fountains and everything you can expect from a busy town center.
The streets in Aix en Provence were so full of life and the walk was so pleasant. You could smell fresh baked goods in every corner, ranging from fresh breads, pies and madeleines. In fact, we went to the Madeleines De Christophe “window store” – the smallest little street store I had ever seen – that sold ONLY madeleines. Located at Rue Gaston de Saporta, they are famous all over town and by 5PM there were barely any madeleines to be seen. The entire street smelled like its sweet scent. You also could not miss Boulangerie Paul with its many locations in the center of town. They had the most delicious looking pies, breads and anything your appetite is calling for.
While we explored boutiques, bakeries and every corner of the center in Aix en Provence, I noticed a big poster announcing the Aix Festival. It is a yearly international festival of the arts during the Summer months – mostly in July – devoted mainly to opera, also including concerts of orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo instrumental music. I love the arts and whenever I am traveling, I always stay tuned to opportunities to watch a concert, opera or a ballet. We only had one night in town, so time was of the essence: I needed to find out if there was an opera that evening and hope there were tickets available. I asked the locals for information and a few minutes later I was inside a public building ready to purchase tickets. It must have been my lucky day because not only they had an opera that evening – Erismena by Cavali – they had some last minute tickets on sale. I was going to an Opera in Provence!!!
Next morning it was time to continue our journey. We were heading to the sumptuous Gorges du Verdon. I had once driven by it during a trip to Saint Tropez…we were en route to a splendid restaurant up in the mountains specialized in “truffles” and drove by this majestic spot. Gorges du Verdon is the largest canyon in Europe, with turquoise or ink-blue waters winding between abyssal gorges and breathtaking landscapes. We were a good 3 hour drive away, and without a certain address to plug into a GPS, our adventure was ahead of us. As we made our way, we admired the scenery around us, the small villages on the way and the stunning fields lavender and sunflowers.
Over 4 hours later, after getting lost several times – including going the opposite direction in the windy mountain – we finally made it. The long ride was absolutely worth it. The Gorge was as majestic as I remembered it from previous years. We planned to go either kayaking or canoeing on the river since it was a gorgeous day. The lines were long but we waited anyway. We just asked for the first available “water equipment” so… after almost 1 hour, kayaking it was!
Getting out of the Gorge du Verdon presented itself to be another challenge. We were only there for the afternoon and had plans to arrive in St. Tropez early that evening. Starving and tired, we needed to find a place to eat before embarking on another long drive. Funny enough, every little village we drove by was pretty much empty. It was about 5PM on a Wednesday (or maybe it was Thursday) and every deli or bakery was closed. We finally drove by a small town that looked promising.
We spotted a restaurant with 2 people sitting on the deck outside. We parked and went in. I asked if they were open. A delightful host said “yes, please have a seat”. We didn’t hesitate and I immediately ordered a glass of their house wine. Once wine was there, I asked for the menu. She then looked at me and said “No, no, it is past 5PM, the kitchen is closed”. Ha! Points to the French who think being “opened for drinks” is the same as “opened for business”! I could not believe it. I was drinking the most delicious glass of house white – which by the way cost me 2 Euros, no joke – and was not going to get any food! But… when in Provence, you don’t stress about a thing. We continued with empty stomachs on our trip to St Tropez which was fabulous… but that, is the story for my next blog!
I hope you have enjoyed my blog and learned something useful for your next trip to Provence! Please let me a comment if there is anything specific you would like to read about during my travels. I would love suggestions or feedback. And do as I do: Travel. Eat. Repeat!