We chose to spend a week in Aix in the hopes of timing our visit to see the lavender in bloom. We did not see as much as I had hoped however our time here was still interesting with numerous “hanging” towns to visit in addition to being close to the Mediterranean Sea.
We spent our first day doing a self guided walking tour of Aix-en-Provence town center. Blair found a route on the internet that highlighted the historic sites of the town so with Google Maps turned on, we were on our way. As it turns out, the historic center of Aix is very compact and easily navigable in a short time.
The construction of St. Sauveur Cathedral began in 500 but with numerous interuptions and rebuilds all the way into the 19th century this church has Roman, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque features blended together. According to legend it was built on the site of a temple to Apollo. On one interior wall a few stones have been removed to reveal an old Romanesque fresco.
Aix reportedly has over 1,000 fountains in the city. The Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins, in the Mazarin district, was built in 1667 and apparently the first free-standing fountain in Aix. It caught our attention because of the dolphins.
We were surprised at how busy the town is with tourists. Walking tours of 40 to 50 people criss-crossing the streets, locals out shopping and hundreds of random tourists (us included) wandering aimlessly about snapping photographs. Ahhh, summer in Provence, the busiest time of year!
The next day we embarked on a driving tour of “the villages of Provence” visiting L’Isle Sur Le Sorgue, Gordes, the Senanque Abbey, Roussillon and Lourmarin. L’Isle Sur Le Sorgue is a pretty town surrounded by the river Sorgue with numerous small canals running through the town. Gordes is a picturesque town perched on a hill with cobblestone streets and stunning views of the Luberon valley, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. We most definitely enjoyed the views from this town!
From Gordes we went to the Senanque Abbey to admire the lavender fields, and buy some of the fragrant soap and perfume made there. After the Abbey we continued to Roussillon, another beautiful hilltop town. This village is situated in the heart of one of the largest ochre deposits in the world and is famous for it’s red, orange and yellow cliffs. As you wander the streets of the town the ochre colored facades of the houses range from light yellow to dark red with brightly painted shutters and doors, it was a lovely place to visit and have lunch.
We enjoyed the variety of these Provencal villages and the lavender in bloom at the Abbey. Surprisingly that was the only lavender we found during our travels, although we did see acres of olive trees, almond trees and vineyards.
Two days later we headed to Les Baux-de-Provence to meet up with friends, one of my former Wednesday ladies tennis partners from Cayman. We were thrilled to meet up with Sandra and Mike for a good wander around Les Baux, enjoy a leisurely lunch and catch up on the news from Cayman. Once again we were fortunate to be in the same part of the world as an old friend 🙂
Les Baux is a listed heritage site and beautiful village perched on a spur of rock, and half way between where each of us were staying. The citadel towers over the surrounding countryside and the town is filled with small squares, narrow streets, shaded terraces and small shops. We chose one of the many terraces for lunch offering expansive views of the valley below.
A friend suggested we visit Cassis, a beach town on the Mediterranean. It was a hot, sunny day and the crowds were out en masse at the beach. We had a walk around the marina and beaches, enjoyed a coffee, then hiked up the hill to the castle overlooking the town. The castle is now a very expensive hotel which we could not access, but the views from beside it were worth the walk. Back in the town we took a boat tour covering 3 calanques, which are narrow inlets along the limestone cliffs. At the end of each inlet is a beach and beautiful clear water ideal for swimming….just a little cool for us but the locals seem to enjoy themselves. The various inlets along the coastline are only accessible by boat which keeps the crowds to a minimum.
After the boat trip we had lunch in Cassis then drove the steep and winding cliff top road to La Ciotat, the next small town along the coast. The drive was the highlight, offering stunning vistas over the Mediterranean and the French coastline.
We have enjoyed our week in Aix-en Provence and vicinity and were certainly blessed with gorgeous weather every day. Now we are headed further inland towards the excitement of Le Tour de France…..