A month in Provence
Aix-en-Provence is, without a doubt, my favourite place in the whole of France! It’s not often that somewhere exceeds all of the swishy romantic ideals you have about it… Aix-en-Provence did! It took me less than 12 hours to fall utterly in love with the place.
It is so beautiful, and scenic, and rustic, and quaint, but also so full of life and culture – it is just so FRENCH! In truth, before I arrived, my education on Provence came mainly from reading A Year In Provence and watching Jean de Florette, so as you can imagine, I was expecting nothing less than cobbled streets bathed in golden sunshine, splashing sounds of water fountains at every turn and the smell of freshly baked baguettes to follow me everywhere. But shockingly that is EXACTLY what I found in Aix! It is a bustling university city and does have everything your typical 21st century westerner ‘needs’, (ie. Internet café, public transport… The Gap), but quite honestly, wandering through the old town you couldn’t be blamed for thinking you had been transported 100 years back in time.
There are no skyscrapers, there are no dual carriageways, there are no subways, in fact, you can’t even get cars down most of the narrow streets in the old town. Instead, there are chirpy outdoor cafes lining the streets, lively market places, outdoor antique and art fairs, old men playing boules on dusty patches of grass (they even wear berets!), and the air in Aix-en-Provence really does smell of lavender and fresh bread! The place is timeless!
I stayed with a French host family in Aix and one of the most wonderful discoveries was that between 1pm and 3pm life comes to a complete standstill! Seriously, I know it’s a francophile cliché but those two hours of the day are most certainly hours are not just about eating. Friends, family, everyone comes together; there is red wine, local olive oil, smelly cheese, rustic loaves, lively conversation – the works! (See – I told you it was just like the book A Year In Provence!). It was one of the most wonderful cultural experiences I have ever had. A real eye opener. Not only did I enjoy wonderful food, but I really felt like one of the family. I came away really envying the French, their strong sense of community and their appreciation of the simple things in life.
I am a person who is used to rushing around, eating lunch at the same time as text messaging and watching the TV, seldom taking time out. Experiencing life in a French household was a breath of fresh air. I certainly learnt a lot about myself and left my French course in Aix-en-Provence intending to place much more value on the simple pleasures of good food and good company. Ha ha, the perfect excuse to up my red wine intake!
I truly adored Aix-en-Provence, it is a beautiful, vibrant town, every day there was a pleasure and my wonderful host family were just the icing on the cake. I can’t think of a more perfect place to learn French!