Saturday, 12 April 2008
Aix en Provence
Well, Aix has become my new favorite city in the South of France. I recently had an opportunity to go to Provence for a few days, and my view of Aix-en-Provence has vastly improved since my last trip in October. I went down with Liaisons Delicieuses, a culinary travel experience that gives an authentic flavor of a place.
We stayed at La Royante outside of Marseille which is set in a very peaceful region with olive and fig trees on the land.
This is Bernard, our very hospitable leader, and with his wife, owner of the Royante, who gave us interesting details about Marseille and Aix en Provence, and also drove us around in the "Jumper", which I can attest is appropriately titled after spending a few days bouncing in the back.
Our time was spent cooking and eating. Oh, and of course, some sight seeing.
On our third day we spent the day in Marseille, watching the fisherman pour their catch onto the market tables. After seeing the fellows were were going to eat, we entered Le Miramar and began our classe de cuisine. We participated in all the steps in making a bouillabaise. It's a little tricky cooking the fish just right, without over doing it, and saffron is a principal spice used in the dish, so it can be a bit costly, but the results sure were tasty.
After our filling and savory meal, we headed to Notre Dame de la Garde, which is seen from the road when in the Marseille area. It is set high on a hill, and the sailors could see Our Lady far out at sea. In perilous weather, the sailors would make offerings to Notre Dame if she saw them safely to shore. And true to their word, offerings were brought almost daily to the church, some of which are mounted on the interior walls of the church. Thus, there is a very nautical theme to the church, with a grand sailing vessel in mosaic behind the altar and mobiles of boats hung throughout the church. It was the most colorful church interior I've seen.
I only spent a few hours in Aix-en-Provence before a death-defying dash to the train station. I was on the quai one minute before the train approached. Too close for comfort. What I enjoyed about Aix were the wide streets lined with the Plane trees, apparently a hybrid of a sycamore and another tree which I can't remember. The many scenic plazas which were filled with local produce and delicious local products like olive oil, tapenade, lavender, thyme, and the region's specialy, calissons, an almond citrus confection. The town had a great overall feel to it, the light, the buildings and the number of places to sit at a cafe under a big tree.