Aix-en-Provence (pronounced like the letter X) is such a lovely place, we will have to try and refrain from gushing too much in this post! It has everything - tree-lined boulevards, 100 fountains, wonderful cafes and restaurants, interesting quirky shops, a well organised tourist centre, and the great little old backstreets that we've come to love so much. The difference between the backstreets of France and some of the other cities we've visited is that in France the old parts of the cities seem to be just another part of the city and everyday life, rather than preserved for the tourists, so they seem much more real.
And then, there were the markets!!! The markets we've seen on this trip have just been getting better and better, and Aix-en-Provence takes the cake. From fruit markets, to flea markets, spice markets, and the beautiful flower markets. We had been wanting to find an original painting on our travels, and everything we'd seen so far had been fairly touristy and mass produced, but Aix presented us with a small street market of local artists and authors displaying their works. We found a beautiful painting of Aix's flower market, and bought it straight from the artist himself.
On our first day in Aix, after spending the morning browsing through the markets, we followed the Cezanne walking route (much better than the one in Marseille). It was a Saturday afternoon, and the city centre was bustling, so we joined the locals in poking around the shops and the streets, and soaking up the atmosphere over cups of coffee, gourmet buscuits and nougat. We love how accepting the French are of dogs (even more so than the other countries we've visited) - there are little dogs everywhere, in shops, restaurants, public transport - Bella would have a lovely time!
The next day we caught a bus through the countryside to a village on Mount Sainte Victoire, which turned out to be a very sleepy little village (maybe because it was Sunday morning). We filled in a couple of hours before the next bus back to Aix, admiring the countryside, and checking out the old buildings. The afternoon we were back in Aix, and since nothing was open, we again followed the locals' example, grabbed our books and headed to the park.
This post wouldn't be complete without a mention of the Provence food. The district has a very rich culinary tradition, and some of things we sampled were Bouillabaise, baked duck breast, crepes and baked cod. And given that Aix is still so close to North Africa, we had brekky at a Moroccan bakery, and found a Tunisian restaurant for a wonderful cous cous lunch.
Given that we only had time to see one small part of France other than Paris, we're so glad that we chose Provence, and Aix-en-Provence in particular!