It is my imagining that France is one of, if not the country that most people hope to travel to at some point in their lives.
And holy heck, do I empathise. I spent three years at school studying the French language and Paris was the first city I stepped foot in, outside of my native country of Australia.
The love affair ended shortly after that, despite a return trip a few years later. Now, after a weekend jaunt to Aix-en-Provence in the country’s south, I can’t help but wonder if the problem isn’t actually France – rather the blame lies with the capital.
After all, London is not representative of England. New York seems a realm away from the rest of the USA. Similarly, I found Aix-en-Provence captured my heart in a way that Paris has never succeeded in doing.
Aix-en-Provence is everything I spent years imagining France to be. Quaint, yet chic. Cutesy, but cool. People sitting in cafés, sipping on café as they blew smoke in each other’s faces. They wandered through the narrow alleyways and backstreets, leading their dogs on a leash. I didn’t see a single poodle, but I counted nine French bulldogs in one day. That was pretty special.
Fun fact: Aix-en-Provence was the birthplace of the painter Paul Cézanne. While in the city, you can follow a trail marked by monuments, stuck deep within the pavement. They lead you from the house in which he was born, to where he was buried in Saint-Pierre cemetery. Significant places are marked along the trail, including his studio, his favourite cafés and the buildings where his family lived.
[bctt tweet=”This is what it’s like to stroll the picturesque streets of Aix-en-Provence in #France.”]
Aix-en-Provence is colloquially known as “The City of a Thousand Fountains”. While this may be quite the exaggeration, there’s definitely an abundance of them there. They come in all shapes and sizes, with some of them going back hundreds of years.
My favourite was the Fontaine Moussue (see above), which dates back to the mid-seventeenth century and was creepy to touch.
People tend to head to Aix for two reasons – to spa it up, or head out to the nearby famous lavender fields. Unfortunately, the window for seeing them in bloom is small – July to August at best (this is what the lavender fields in Porvence look like during this season). The town itself is inundated with lavender products, their enticing scent wafting out from the doors of the many boutique stores that line the streets.
The city is easily navigated by foot, so that’s what we did – strolling through the streets of Aix-en-Provence. We wandered where our hearts and feet led us. Around any corner that looked inviting. Along any street that spiked our interest. Towards any café that held the promise of red wine, fromage and escargot.
Although the reality of France has never quite lived up to the fantasy that once resided in my head, I could see the charm of cities like Aix-en-Provence. It made me wish I’d eased myself into the French experience, starting small rather than jumping into the thick of it by heading straight to Paris all those years ago.
Oh well. You live and you learn. C’est la vie, n’est pas?