If you turn the map of France upside down, Provence would be on top. No matter its geography, Provence was a top French province for a sponsored university tour this past September.
The setting of Provence was appealing to the ancient Greeks 2,600 years ago. They brought their olive trees and grape vines with them. The limestone hills with Celto-ligurains on them put up with the Greeks. The Romans came along later making Aix their capital.
Hillside homes in Luberon
Aix was our place, too, for the month. A comfortable apartment hotel with efficiency kitchens worked well for 30 of us from Chicago to Toronto to beyond and in between. We had French classes in the morning or afternoon with class levels according to our French language skills. Some of us were beginners, some had travelers’ French and our Canadian friends with French growing up solved all the U.S. political problems in French.
There were optional French cooking classes. I took two. Anyone eating my French cooking would still be in great peril, but I do know now how to debone the spine of and fillet a fish. Heat the sugar in the sauce pan for caramel a la crème. Simple!
We ate often as a group in nine 3- or 4-star (Michelin?) restaurants in Aix. the food was excellent and mostly a gustatory treat, the service was excellent and the owners were happy we were there.
Aix is a town for walking in narrow streets to restaurants, shops, museums and Cezanne’s studio. Cezanne with his post-impressionist still life and mountains spent a large part of his life in Aix. The Cour Mirabeau in Aix doesn’t quite equate with Champs Elysees. It is fun though to stroll on market day or be observed or observe from the sidewalk cafès.
13th-century bridge at Avignon
Arles was not far away. Van Gogh’s cypress trees, drawbridges, yellow cafe and Rhone river were all there to see. It takes a day to visit the Popes’ castle in Avignon. One can dance “sur la pont” on the remainder of the 13th-century bridge there. The harbor at Marseille is wide and spectacular from the cathedral of Notre Dame on its steep hill.
The villages of the Luberon are cliff-high with houses in orange, brown and red. The tour bus drivers had no trouble finding their way to wineries for wine history and tasting including Rosea, the principal wine of Provence. The limestone formations along the way with cube-like morphology may have led Picasso on to cubism. Provence is well-placed for more distant exploration like Nice, Cannes, Antiles or Corsica.
If Napoleon had started his return from Elba at Marseille and marched up through Aix to Avignon he might never have had his Waterloo. The clear blue skies, French cuisine, Rosea wine and pleasant climate would have kept him there. If he did we would now have the Republic of Napoleon.
From resident Public Relations Committee member Dr. James Scatliff