Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King
9
comments

40 In France: Pleasures of Provence (6th in a series)

posted by in Food Tripping

In Aix en Provence, the City of a Thousand Fountains, and exquisitely beautiful light.

Paris – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

LyonPart 1, Part 2

Aix en Provence - here

Marseille - here
~
It’s almost a relief to come to Aix en Provence. My Bin and I have been traveling for almost a week and a half, and our senses are close to short-circuiting on the constant stimulus. The books that I’ve read on Provence, notably those by Peter Mayle and Patricia Wells, speak of this southern part of France as if they’re under a spell of enchantment and wonder.

It’s all true.

France 2014 1124

France 2014 1167

First, there’s the light: sometimes scintillating, other times darkly dramatic. Objects appear multi-textural and make for breathtaking photos, even with my simple point-and-shoot. No wonder Aix’s most famous son, painter Paul Cézanne, produced his most spectacular works here.

France 2014 1096

France 2014 1100

Aix, regarded by many as Provence’s most graceful city, is also idyllic, a merging of modern and historical. An easily navigable city in Provence’s heart, artisanal shops, big brand boutiques, and cafés sit side by side with hôtel particuliers (mansions, above).

France 2014 1092

The Cours Mirabeau is an historic quarter, an avenue landscaped with plane trees that are currently bare in the winter’s chill.

France 2014 1249

France 2014 1247

Les Deux Garçons on Cours Mirabeau, the city’s legendary brasserie also known as the 2Gs. The elaborate gilded interiors have witnessed several famous people within its walls such as Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hugh Grant, George Clooney, and of course Cézanne, who used to come almost daily for a cup.

France 2014 1091

Ah, fountains. While it really only has about 20+, Aix is called the City of a Thousand Fountains. Originally made for practical purposes (feeding of cattle, etc.) in the late 19th century, the fountains eventually became ornamental. We encounter several of the distinctive ones while wending our way through the picturesque streets.

Undoubtedly the most magnificent one is the La Rotonde fountain (above), built in 1860. Situated regally in the middle of a roundabout, the plumes of water shoot through a trio of statues depicting Aix’s main activities: Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts.

France 2014 1155

The Fountain of the Four Dolphins is the star of the Mazarin quarter. Constructed in 1667, the four dolphins support an obelisk, a baroque style suggestive of the Italian design influence on the Aix nobility during that time.

France 2014 1160

At the end of Cours Mirabeau is the 19th century Fountain of Roi René. King René is credited with introducing Muscat grapes to Provence, used in plenty of the region’s wines, and he’s thus depicted here holding a bunch of grapes in his left hand.

France 2014 1109

France 2014 1175

France 2014 1234

Life in Aix revolves around the various places or squares. This is the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, one of Provence’s most famous squares. It boasts an array of differing architectural styles, from simple to baroque. Historically significant monuments border the square: the Town-Hall, the Corn Exchange Hall and the Clock Tower. On various days of the week, a food and flower market takes place here.

France 2014 1243

France 2014 1158

France 2014 1099

Some of Aix’s residential houses have colorful stone façades.

098

And in the middle of it all, a Place For (my) Bin.

France 2014 1113

See what I mean again about the amazing light here?

France 2014 1192

In Aix, it’s like walking through an open-air history book complete with equally ravishing blue skies and heart-stopping sights. This is the Pavillon de Vendôme, a 17th century French palace.

France 2014 1241

France 2014 1212

Provence is France’s largest supplier of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. In addition, the region produces exemplary…

France 2014 1214

Olives, and naturally, olive oil too.

France 2014 1235

Honey.

France 2014 1232

The Provençal people have a predilection for sweets. Their exceptional honey is used to make all manner of sweet things such as these jaw-dropping (and imaginably, jaw-breaking!) nougats.

France 2014 1112

Calissons d’Aix, the city’s specialty sweet. These almond boats have three parts: a rice paper base, a paste made from crushed almonds and candied fruits, and frosting on top. These sweets taste like a very dense macaron.

France 2014 1236

Pommes. Apples. No other region in France has such a diverse selection.

France 2014 1227

France 2014 1179

Herbs, specifically herbes de Provence, an assortment of dried herbs specific to the region. It commonly contains dried fennel, basil, marjoram, rosemary, and of course lavender. The blend makes meat and poultry dishes shine.

France 2014 1221

France 2014 1222

Even if it may be untrue, any Provençal native regards aïoli as a local invention, and that goes too for pistou (basic-garlic paste). The two, in addition to various tapenades, make for a veritably Provençal feast together with bread, crudités, and air-dried sausages. Don’t forget the cheese and red wine!

France 2014 1223

France 2014 1141

Some food experiences I have in Aix that I won’t forget

France 2014 1207

France 2014 1198

Yes, just like in Paris, people in Provence want their meat in patty form. Burger Bar is super popular especially at night. The French eat their burgers with a fork and knife, and prefer to eat their fries with mayo if at all, not ketchup.

I have a duck burger, perhaps the only time in my life where my patty is more like a steak that yes, I have to eat with a fork and knife, as the meat is too thick to bite straight into. Quite an experience, eating a burger in France.

France 2014 1172

For lunch on most days, my Bin and I buy various food from the market and make a meal out of them, usually while sitting on the steps of the square. Here’s one meal of ours: torn baguettes smeared with tapenade, two cheeses: Morbier (cow) and Crottin de Chavignol (goat). Sips of Schweppes for my Bin, and for me, a rosé that I buy specifically because it’s from the region; I glug it down straight from the bottle. Our utensils are plastic, and we’re freezing, but there’s nothing like sharing a meal, no matter how rustic, with someone I’m madly in love with, and he with me. Ah, la vraie Provence!

Later this week, the conclusion to my France series: Marseilles.

9 Responses to “40 In France: Pleasures of Provence (6th in a series)”

  • that pic of your last meal of the street. *sigh*

    so much awesomeness!

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:


    jay p-
    I’m sure you had similar meals with J when you were in Europe :p

    [Reply]

  • Oh my! It’s like a second honeymoon!

    [Reply]

  • Oh, Miss Lori! Your France posts are wonderful! Will definitely add Provence in my travel bucket list! :D

    [Reply]

    Lori Reply:


    Thanks for taking the time to read the post, Ren!

    [Reply]

  • Can I invite you to be a speaker in our school for the next school year? Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • Wah! I’m so envious! I’ve always dreamed of going to Provence, drinking Pastis in the afternoon after a game of Pétanque.

    Is it true that locals always walk on the shady part of the road? :)

    Love your post! Hope to see France next year!

    [Reply]

  • Thank you for this post. It brought back wonderful memories of our very short (4 days, I think). My husband had a project there, and I decided to fly out w/ our almost 2 year old son at the last minute — later realizing that my passport had expired and had to get an expedited renewal. We’d love to go back!

    [Reply]

  • The picture I posted was taken from Aix-en. I can’t remember where exactly, but I definitely caught my eye. I love your blog and you take great pictures.

    [Reply]

Leave a Reply





Heads up! You are attempting to upload an invalid image. If saved, this image will not display with your comment.

Top 10 Books of 2013

Follow Us

Followgram