Belle Provence Travels

A South of France Blog

Greetings dear readers and friends. I’m very excited to bring you the latest addition to the My Provence interview series – a “conversation” with Erin Jordan of Aixploring Provence tours. Erin and her family have lived in Provence for nearly 8 years and her journey is one of those “oh wow” expat stories you come across …

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Making the Perfect Fraisier…with Guest in the City

June 11, 2017

Greetings dear readers and friends! Well, summer is just around the corner and I couldn’t be happier. Now starts the long beach days, longer lunches (capped off with a few glasses of rosé of course), and a general “slowing down” of life in the south – the time of year when Provence really shines.

And also a great time of year to visit the South of France and experience all the wonders of the region. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to participate in one such experience that is certain to be a favorite for discerning foodies visiting Provence – a pastry class in the heart of Aix-en-Provence. Continue reading

Market Day in Aix-en-Provence

March 22, 2017

Greeting dear readers and friends! Well, spring is finally here, hurray! Of course winters in Provence are not as terrible as elsewhere in the world, but we do get our share of bad weather, whipping Mistral winds, and the occasional thunderstorm. So these first few rays of sunshine and blooming flowers are greatly appreciated.

And I felt especially lucky to sneak in a trip to the Aix-en-Provence market during one chilly Saturday morning in the beginning of February. Much to my surprise, the Saturday market on Cours Mirabeau has grown by leaps and bounds and was almost nothing like I had remembered.

First of all, the actual market on Cours Mirabeau is confined mainly to stalls selling clothing, textiles (tablecloths, dish towels, placemats, etc.), housewares, and “brocante” items. I had my eye on some very interesting pillowcases stamped with a portrait of Marie Antoinette (you don’t find that every day), and I would have loved to take home each of the lovely scarves I spotted for €5 each.

Dubbed the “Le Grand Marché” on the Aix-en-Provence tourist office website the market takes place every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Normally, the market is “textiles, artisans, & brocante”, and it seems a few of the stands have been moved temporally (actually quite near the tourist office) while work is being done on places (squares) Madeleine, Prêcheurs and Verdun – where part of the market usually takes place.

There is also a daily market that is held solely along Cours Mirabeau.

At the end of Cours Mirabeau, right in front of Aix’s most famous fountain, the market literally spills into the streets and is comprised of every gourmet treat you can imagine. Like most Provençal markets, you’ll find beautiful displays of fruit and vegetables, and local products like olives, olive oil, and honey. The day I visited, there was also a line of “mobile” stands offering everything from goat cheese to fresh cuts of meat. And as is customary for weekend meals, several (very busy) roasted-chicken “trucks” were on hand.

Not to mention that the market continues past the fontaine de la Rotonde, and winds itself up Cours Sextius which runs parallel to Cours Mirabeau and is also shut-off to cars on market day. Truth be told, it was one of the last weekends of “les soldes” (the semi-annual sales) so I never made it that far…

I did catch just a bit of English being spoken around the market, but other than that, I saw very few tourists.  And I have to say that I was surprised at the “liveliness” of Aix-en-Provence, even in these cooler winter months. A trip to the city in this really “off season” period could be quite an interesting idea. Especially considering that the sun decided to favor us with a few rays right around noon.

After all, what’s a Provençal market without a healthy dose of South-of-France sunshine?

 

 

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Where:

Cours Mirabeau to the Allées Provençales (in front of the tourist office), Aix-en-Provence

(also places Madeleine, Prêcheurs & Verdun).

When:

Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday

8am – 13pm (ish)

Special Interest:

Don’t forget to check out the Saturday-morning flower market (on Place de l’Hôtel de Ville) and also the adjacent food market on Place Richelme. There are more cafés and resturants in Aix-en-Provence than I can even count, and they are conveniently along, or next to, all of these markets. What better way to finish your market morning than with a long lunch or a cool glass of rosé… while watching the world go by?

The modern, and very well-organized, Aix-en-Provence tourist office provides a wealth of information on local tours, wine-tastings, and all of the places worth visiting around town. They even organize walking tours around the historic center. You can find all of their offerings on the tourist office website (in English, French, and half-a-dozen other languages!).

 

The Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market

December 17, 2016

Greetings from a sunny, but quite cool, Provence. And as I think I say in almost every post, it’s a great time of year to be in the South of France.  All of the towns and villages are decorated for the holiday season –  twinkling lights are hung around the main squares and neighborhoods, the Christmas markets are buzzing day and night, and Provençal crèches (Nativity scenes) are on display (some complete with lavender fields!) to be marveled at by children of all ages.

aix-christmas-market

And I was lucky enough to visit the Aix-en-Provence Christmas market last week. Although markets in the south don’t have the same “wintery” ambiance as the Christmas markets in the north of France, a Provençal market has a charm all its own.

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Of course you will find the traditional stands of vin chaud (hot wine), oversized pretzels, and bonbons and candies of all shapes and sizes, but also local products like cheeses, wine, and of course, lavender.

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Another attractive feature of the market is, well, it’s in Aix.  You can visit the stands directly on Cours Mirabeau and then finish your afternoon at one of the avenue’s many cafés and restaurants. Plus, you’re more than likely to have a bit of sunshine to accompany your tour as I did during my mid-day visit.

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I also made a pleasant discovery while wandering through the city. Beside the Foire au Santons, the traditional sale of Nativity characters & scenes, another Christmas market exists just near the tourist office. A sort of “sister cities” market, the stands featured here are from all around the world – offering a chance to taste traditional foods from Italy, Portugal, and Greece, to name a few.

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And if you don’t fine the perfect gift at any of the Aix markets, Cours Mirabeau and the boutiques that zig-zag through the historic center are full of great holiday deals and plenty of French specialty items to suit your fancy.

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Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, from our family to yours!

Soul Revive Retreat at Ashtanga Yoga Shala Provence

August 4, 2016

Greetings from a very hot south of France! The beaches are full and everyone is in vacation-mode… meaning things are very lente, slow, here in Provence.

And speaking of a perfect time to relax and unwind… I had the absolute most relaxing and insightful time at the Soul Revive Retreat at Ashtanga Yoga Shala Provence in June. The retreat was organized by Claire Saunders, an accomplished yoga instructor and yoga teacher-trainer, and Sue Paget, a life coach who specializes in working with women at midlife. The retreat was held over one week, with yoga sessions in the morning, life-coaching activities until the early afternoon, and then evening strolls through the village of Calas and visits to enchanting Aix-en-Provence… with more than a bit of French food and wine thrown in for good measure.

Soul Revive Retreat

Claire helping me find just the right position

I was able to attend the Saturday yoga session and life-coaching afternoon and upon receiving the invitation, I remember thinking, “Well, if this isn’t just perfect!”. It’s not always easy to connect with English-speakers in Provence, let alone practice yoga in such a supportive atmosphere and with such a well-versed, knowledgeable teacher. Being a yoga novice (which I felt obliged to blurt out before our session started) I have never felt so comfortable, and so relaxed, in a class.  Claire made sure that we each advanced at our own pace and suggested different positions that might be easier / more challenging based on our individual needs. Plus, she has just the most soothing voice… ever.

And I thought I was most certainly dreaming when, at the end of the class, she gently placed a blanket over each participant, followed by a lavender sachet for our eyes, and then, well, I’ll leave the last “treasure” we were treated to as a surprise for anyone who is lucky enough to attend a class at Ashtanga Yoga Shala.

Soul Revive Retreat

The ladies & I sharing our thoughts after our life-coaching session with Sue

I was quite literally on another planet when our class finished and we were gently guided to the cosy kitchen area and offered an array of tasty treats lovingly prepared by Sue. She also provided each participant with a workbook to use during our life-coaching activities, and made sure that we all got to know each other through introductions and sharing a bit of what was going on in our lives at the moment. As Sue specializes in helping women at midlife, I found the session particularly helpful and have already applied several of the tactics we discussed to my own personal life. The overall theme was about finding out what’s most important to you, your core dreams, and giving a voice to them – however great or small.

My day spent at the Soul Revive Retreat was about as relaxing and insightful as they come. It was a chance to connect my physical self while being mindful of my own emotional well-being. Claire and Sue will be hosting another Soul Revive Retreat in June of 2017 (dates to follow) and I’m looking forward to being even more involved in this lovely event.

The Soul Revive Retreat is also coming to several locations in Australia in 2017 – you can book early-bird pricing now, for either Australia or Provence, directly on the Soul Revive Retreat page of Sue’s website, The Change Guru.

Soul Revive Retreat

A delicious welcome to our life-coaching session.

And if you’re living in (or traveling to) Provence, you don’t have to wait to take advantage of Claire’s fantastic yoga classes, Ashtanga Yoga Shala Provence is open throughout the year and you can find the class schedule on Claire’s website. Ashtanga Yoga Shala Provence also has a Facebook page where you can catch up on news of the studio and also follow Claire’s travels to India (wow!).
A big “merci” to Claire and Sue for a truly enriching experience!