We were up bright and early in the morning. I wanted to explore Cannes a little before we left for Provence later in the day. It seemed like such a waste that we did not get to see much of the city. Hubby, mum and me were keen to get moving but dad had just about had enough walking and decided to stay back at the apartment. So we set off on the 10 minute walk from the apartment to the beach. It was early in the morning and the shops were still closed, but the morning traffic was starting to build up. Still, it was a very pleasant walk in the early morning sun. The air was fresh and the streets were still quiet.
The Festival de la Plaisance was in full-swing in Cannes, as evidenced by the banners and pop-up tents that were everywhere along the beach. The Festival de la Plaisance is the annual yacht exhibition. Potential yacht buyers flock to Cannes to see the latest yachts on the market. It was clearly not our thing as we do not have a few spare million dollars lying around.
The beach was almost deserted when we got there. There was a group of local young adults engaged in a team-building activity of sorts, and one lone swimmer who was braving the morning chill. She didn’t last very long in the cold waters though. There were big cruise ships anchored in the harbour, a reminder of what a popular tourist destination the French Riviera is.
On our way back to the apartment, we decided to stroll down Boulevard de la Croisette. This famous street is lined with expensive luxury hotels and designer boutiques of every name imaginable, testament to the glitz and glamour that is often associated with Cannes.
We also walked down rue d’Antibes, which seemed like a nice shopping street for those of us who don’t have an unlimited credit card limit. There were a few French labels that looked interesting. I would have liked to have spent some time here but we were already running late. Walking back to our apartment, we grabbed some croissants and pastries from a boulangerie for breakfast. It was late morning when we finally checked out of our apartment and began our journey to Aix-en-Provence.
We got to Aix-en-Provence early in the afternoon. Aix-en-Provence is the former capital of Provence. It is now an international students’ town thanks to the university, which was founded by Louis II of Anjou in 1409. The fountains for which Aix is well-known for were added to the town centre in the 18th century.
Aix’s grandest boulevard, Cours Mirabeau is a beautiful street lined with trees, cafes and hotels. Clothes stalls line this boulevard every Tuesday and Thursday. When we got there, it was closing time and most stall-holders were beginning to pack up.
It was very pleasant indeed, strolling down this beautiful boulevard, with the sun shining on our faces. Aix’s famous fountains greeted us along the way.
Along the way, I saw a confiserie. Eager to try the Calisson d’Aix, I went in to have a look. Calisson d’Aix is an almond-paste delicacy with sugar icing. The little boat-shaped pastries are given out at the Notre Dame de la Sed church in Aix-en-Provence every September 1st, to celebrate a vow made to ward off the plague in 1630. The Archbishop of Aix chanted the latin ‘Venite ad Calicem’, which was translated in provencale to ‘Venes toui i calissoun’, or ‘Venez tous au Calisson’ and the name stuck. The confiserie was a sugar wonderland, with sweets and treats of all sorts, displayed to tempt the strongest-willed among us. I bought a bag of calissons and mum, with her sweet-tooth, could not resist trying one of the many sweets on offer.
We decided to explore the many small cobble-stoned streets. We passed chocolate shops by Meilleur Ouvrier de France chocolatiers. The Meilleur Ouvrier de France is a title given to craftsmen as a recognition of being among the best in their profession. The competition is held every 4 years. In this competition, the candidate is given a set time and materials to create a masterpiece, which is then judged by his peers who were previous MOFs winners. The MOF is a very prestigious title in France and preparation for the competition can take years. A MOF is a craftsman who is recognized by his peers as being one of the best in his profession and are held in the highest regard in France.
Walking down rue Fernand Dol, I came across the most amazing homeware store, Coté Bastide. It has an amazing array of French griege (mixture of grey and beige) homewares – there were table settings, candles, napkins, soaps, bath oils… all so French, all so divine. I wanted to buy everything, but sadly realised we did not have the excess weight in our luggage. Walking further down to Aix’s first gothic church, Église St-Jean-de-Malte, we came across a designer clearance store. Hubby spent some time agonizing over some blue loafers before we finally moved on.
Église St-Jean-de-Malte, which now houses the Musée Granet, is a former priory of the Knights of Malta. Tummies rumbling, we decided to head back to Cours Mirabeau to grab some lunch. We got some fruit and cheese from the local grocer, some bread and croissants from a boulangerie, and sat on a bench along the boulevard. How very French of us!
I wonder if it was the glorious surroundings that made our simple lunch so satisfying. By the time we were finished, there was not a single crumb left. We decided it was time to head along to our chambres d’hôtes. We arrived at the lovely Le Clos de l’Acacia, which was to be our home for the next 4 nights, late in the evening. We were warmly welcomed by our hosts Monique and Serge Corbier and shown to our rooms. Both Monique and Serge speak a little English but when they learnt that I was learning French, they insisted I speak to them in French. I was delighted to find that I was going to be practising my French a lot with them after all. This was mum and dad’s first experience with a B&B in France, and boy were they in for a treat!
Prior to our arrival, I had asked Monique to book us a restaurant for dinner as I predicted that we would be arriving rather late in the evening and didn’t want to be hunting around for a restaurant in a little town. Maussane-les-Alpilles is a small village with about 2000 residents and there are not too many restaurants in town. We were told that we had reservations for 8pm and were given directions to get to the restaurant.
We arrived at restaurant Fleur de Thym right on time, which wasn’t that difficult to do considering it was about 2 minute’s drive away. We were promptly shown to our table by the friendly staff. We were so glad we had reservations as we watched other people getting turned away. The restaurant was at capacity on a Thursday night. There was a choice of two menus – 20 or 30 euro. It was an unanimous decision – we were going with the 30 euro set menu. The menu was in French (but it can be explained to you in English if needed). I was very proud of myself as I managed to translate the menu for my family without any help. I asked the waitress to recommend a bottle of local rosé and really enjoyed the bottle that was brought to our table. It was very well priced too! The food was simple but so well cooked to highlight the the natural flavours, and oh so delicious. Service was attentive and excellent even though there were only two waitresses working with the restaurant at full capacity. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I even got to chatting with one of the waitress as she came round to clear our plates. Turns out the chef was her husband, and she was rightfully very proud of him and pleased that we enjoyed our meal.