Part of the reason for coming to beautiful Aix en Provence was to be able to wake up in the morning and know that it would be hot, the sky blue and the sun would be shining. I wasn’t disappointed. A little bit of cloud covered the sky briefly in the middle of the day but in the main it’s been a glorious day; hot and sunny but not uncomfortably hot. Just perfect.
I breakfasted in the hotel. It seemed easy on my first morning, though in general I’m not fond of hotel breakfasts. I like just some cereal, yogurt and fruit so a huge array of food isn’t my thing and, in this case, a waste of €16. For me, coffee and pastry comes a little later.
There are lots of things I want to do here but a gourmet traveller’s priority has to be seeking out the local food market. In Aix there’s a daily market in Place Richelme. I’m starting to know my way round. I walked through a quiet Place Cardeurs – a complete contrast to the liveliness there last night – and first found a flower market in Place de l’Hotel de Ville.
Here there was a magnificent array of local produce. What is so lovely for the food lover is the sight of luscious ripe fruit, some much larger than you’d ever see in UK but packed with flavour. At home now you pay extra in the supermarket for fruit ‘ready to eat’. Just how ridiculous is that! It’s almost impossible to buy an avocado or peach that really is beautifully ripe and truly ready to eat. Worse, picked before ripeness, they never really acquire their full taste potential. Here is Provence taste is all. The fruit might not look perfect but it sure tastes it!
By the time I’d bought some bottles of water and a few more things I decided I had to go back to the hotel to unload before doing anything else. Next stop was Musee Granet. Housed in the 17th century priory of the Knights of Malta, it’s home to some of the finest modern art: Cezanne – of course, son of Aix – but also Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Klee and others. At the moment there is a major exhibition there – Le Grand Atelier du Midi. Run in conjunction with a gallery in Marseilles, I was able to see just half. But what a wonderful half: Cezanne to Matisse. First I had to negotiate a route up the famous Cours Mirabeau, lined with Aix’s ubiquitous beautiful plane trees with their bleached smooth trunks.
The exhibition was wonderful but it was far too gorgeous outside to spend more time indoors seeing the permanent exhibition. I headed back towards the hotel and food market, finding a snack lunch, and admiring the beautiful architecture.
I took the photo after breakfast. It was a good deal busier mid afternoon! The hotel is attached to Thermes Sextius and hotel guests have free and direct access. For those inclined, there’s a sauna, hamman, jacuzzi and exercise room. The Single Gourmet Traveller chose a gentle swim and a sunbed!
Late afternoon after I’d showered and changed for the evening I went off exploring again. It’s just so lovely wherever you walk but I was particularly pleased to see a notice for an art exhibition in a cellar gallery quite by chance.
They were lovely paintings and it’s probably as well I hadn’t come by car as I might have been tempted to at least ask a price. I may have left without a painting but I had a long a great conversation with Joelle and she introduced me to the artist himself, Yves Calmejane, who arrived just as I was leaving.
A lot of restaurants in my guide book are closed but I was delighted to find Le Petit Verdot open.
With cooking this good I couldn’t resist a dessert. ‘Apricot crumble’ hardly does justice to what came. This was like no crumble I’m used to and was definitely a ‘dessert’ in its fineness rather than a ‘pud’. A thick layer of gorgeous cooked apricots, a scattering of crunchy topping and a caramel rich ice cream.
But the food wasn’t the only highlight of the meal. A family of three generations of Canadian (but living in US) women sat nearby: 9 year old twins Anna and Sophia, mother Karen and grandmother Jean. They were so friendly and it was such a delight to talk to them. They kindly offered to let me join them but the table was a bit small for five and anyway, we were close enough to talk.
I have so many more wonderful encounters with strangers when I travel alone: the stall holder in the market, Joelle in the gallery and the family at dinner today; the kind woman who gave me a lift yesterday. And one can indulge in total ‘me’ choices, like giving the permanent exhibition at Musee Granet a miss today. And making a decision about tomorrow. I’d had every intention of taking a day trip to Arles tomorrow. But now here, I realise that while possible it will be a lot of hassle when I have only three full days. And Arles needs more than one rushed day anyway – so I’ll just have to come back for longer! There’s also so much more to do in Aix, like visit Cezanne’s studio. More importantly, it is a holiday and thus crazy for this sun-loving traveller to give up the chance to enjoy her perfect holiday: a morning’s sightseeing followed by an afternoon’s sunbathing and swimming. Then a lovely meal in the evening. So, with no one to please but myself; no one to upset or negotiate with, I happily made my way back through the busy and darkening streets of Aix to my hotel.
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