Aix Marks the Spot

Summering in the south of France is one of the highlights of my year. It isn’t long after New Year’s Day I begin fantasizing about my escape from dreary England – lounging poolside, propped up on a chaise under the canopy of a parasol, its canvas tips flapping in the Provençal breeze. I am finally here! After a few days though, I was keen for a day trip. So we rented a little Fiat with no air-conditioning, cranked down all the windows, and sputtered into nearby Aix-En-Provence.

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Cezanne4

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Aix is well-known for its fountains, scattered around the old town; it’s also home to modern painter Paul Cézanne. It was a foregone conclusion that my first stop would be his studio. Atelier Cézanne is nestled amongst the trees on Lauves hill overlooking Mount Sainte-Victoire, where Cézanne practiced from 1902 – 1906. The upstairs room is still cluttered with furniture, ceramics and other items which long ago posed for his still life masterpieces.

Cézanne's Studio

Cézanne’s Studio

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The image above is a poor quality stock photo from the museum website. It was an immense disappointment to find that the Aix Tourist Office forbids photography inside the studio – such a shame for me, but also for researchers and art enthusiasts – especially after the United States was so generous to raise the funds to buy the property in 1954 and donate it to the University of Aix-Marseille. I was told that permission to take photos can be requested in advance by e-mailing the Adjoint of the Office de Tourism (Michel Fraisset: info@atelier-cezanne.com)

Back in town we settled in for lunch on the terrace of Les Deux Garçons, a lively brasserie on the humming Cours Mirabeau. The food was basic and the service was terribly French (slow) – but which could almost be forgiven as standards have understandably slipped a bit since opening day in 1792!

Aix

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3Garcons2

Gaspacho with watermelon and smoked lard

Gaspacho with watermelon and smoked lard

Roasted salmon with lemon butter

Roasted salmon with lemon butter

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Gelato

After polishing off my gelato and larking around the shops for a bit, we toured the Cloisters of Saint-Sauveur Cathedral, and spied the Burning Bush Triptych by Nicolas Froment.

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Cloister

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Burning Bush Triptych, Nicolas Froment

Burning Bush Triptych, Nicolas Froment

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Dinner was at Le Formal – inside the former wine cellars of Henry IV. The chef there is obsessed with truffles; they were in nearly every dish of our seven-course “Emotions” tasting menu. Maybe the emotions were about how much he loves cooking with truffles.

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Oeuf de poule fermier cuit à 64º, sur une fine tartlestte d'asperges et truffle, jus iodé

Oeuf de poule fermier cuit à 64º, sur une fine tartlestte d’asperges et truffle, jus iodé

Pan Pagnat | de thon en sashimi et truffle (tuber brumale), tartine artichaut, camus, ratte de Noirmoutier, crème de choux fleur aux noisettes torréfiées

Pan Bagnat | de thon en sashimi et truffle (tuber brumale), tartine artichaut camus, ratte de Noirmoutier, crème de choux fleur aux noisettes torréfiées

Noix de coquille Saint Jacque "al dente" et foie gras de canard poêlé, Bruschetta à la truffle, jus de pur Arabica à l'eucalyptus

Noix de coquille Saint Jacque “al dente” et foie gras de canard poêlé, Bruschetta à la truffle, jus de pur Arabica à l’eucalyptus

La petite pêche inattendue "retour du petit bateau" | sauce façon hollandaise à l'orange, poêlé d'épinard aux agrumes et amandes grillées, jus de pistache de Sicile

La petite pêche inattendue “retour du petit bateau” | sauce façon hollandaise à l’orange, poêlé d’épinard aux agrumes et amandes grillées, jus de pistache de Sicile

Gâteau de brie de Meaux à la truffle, "affiné par M.Mons"

Gâteau de brie de Meaux à la truffle, “affiné par M.Mons”

Le fruit, éveil de l'enfance...

Le fruit, éveil de l’enfance…

Comme une mille et une feuilles | Panna-cotta, poire en tatin épicé, jus de calvados, crème caramel au beurre salé

Comme une mille et une feuilles | Panna-cotta, poire en tatin épicé, jus de calvados, crème caramel au beurre salé

Dans un baba d'ici à l'armagnac et griottes, shampooing d'orange sanguine, jus de maltaise

Dans un baba d’ici à l’armagnac et griottes, shampooing d’orange sanguine, jus de maltaise

A throughly indulgent supper in a modest historical setting – made for an effortless end to a lovely day in Aix.

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