This July, Paul and I celebrated 5 years of marriage in Aix-en-Provence. After a week of city living in an apartment in Paris, we boarded a train at Gare de Lyon and headed for the more relaxing part of our vacation: a smaller city in the south of France and a hotel with a pool.
Before I begin, I would like to thank Julie, author of the The Provence Post, for all of her help in arranging our Tastes of Provence tour and for her assistance in helping us find some answers to some transportation questions we had about getting from the train station to our hotel. If you are even thinking about planning a trip to the south of France, Julie’s blog is one of the best resources you can find about everything Provence. We highly recommend checking out her website and we advise you bookmark it right away because, if you are like us, you will utilize her site again and again.
Getting to Aix-en-Provence from Paris is an easy and relaxing three and half hour high-speed train ride from Gare de Lyon to Gare Aix-en-Provence. Once you arrive to the TGV station in Aix, simply make your way to the basement of the station and hop the bus into town. For 4 Euros a person, Bus #40 will take you straight to Gare routiere d’Aix-en-Provence, the central bus station of the city.
From the bus station, we had an easy walk to Hotel Roi René, an MGallery Collection property that is part of the Accor Hotel chain. We picked this hotel for both its location and its pool. The hotel is situated just a few blocks from the Cours Mirabeau, the most popular and most beautiful street in town.
Many people often ask us how we find and decide upon places to stay when we travel. The answer to this question is that we do a lot of research. One of the websites I always head to first when we are looking for a hotel is Jetsetter. Since the hotels listed on Jetsetter must be Jetsetter approved, you won’t find any hotels that the company themselves haven’t already visited and verified. Plus, their website is appealing to the eye with gorgeous photographs and tidbits about each property. I especially love the “What We Love” and “What to Know” sections as they provide practical details that are helpful to any traveler looking for a comfortable stay. Of course, Jetsetter doesn’t have every great hotel listed on their website so it is important to keep your options open and look around. On this trip, we found our hotel using Jetsetter, but got a better deal by booking it straight through the hotel website. Take a look at the Jetsetter listing of the Hotel Roi Rene by clicking on this link:Hotel Roi Rene Jetsetter
Aix-en-Provence looks and feels like a smaller version of Paris. The city streets are clean and walkable, with markets taking place almost every day somewhere in the city. From our hotel, we could walk across the street to a little boulangerie for a croissant for breakfast or a sandwich for lunch.
At dinnertime, we could walk up to the Cours Mirabeau, stroll past the vendors selling everything from lavender soap to black and white photographs, then cross over to the busier side of town to the bustling cafes and restaurants.
While most people travel to Provence and move around from town to town, we spent the entire week in Aix. We spent a great deal of time reading our books, sipping Perrier by the pool, and dipping in the water at five-minute intervals due to the extreme heat. We would venture into town for meals and a little bit of sightseeing, but essentially, this part of our vacation was specifically designed for complete and utter laziness. It was divine.
Tastes of Provence
If there is one thing you just have to do when visiting Aix-en-Provence, it is to go on a Tastes of Provence tour with Mathilde. We did the Savouring Aix-en-Provence tour and when I tell you it was worth every Euro we spent, I mean it. For 60 Euros a person, we took a slow stroll through the streets of Aix, stopping to learn the history of the city while sampling traditional treats from the local food purveyors. Mathilde takes you on an incredible journey through the farmer’s market, introducing you to the local farmers and giving you the opportunity to taste everything from fresh fruit to homemade jams and chutney.
Mathilde even carries her own bag of sliced baguette for you to have a hearty sample of many varieties of olive tapenade.
At the conclusion of the tour, Mathilde welcomes you into her very own cooking school for a wine and cheese tasting in her beautiful kitchen. Here she will provide you with a copy of her Foodie’s Guide to Aix-en-Provence, a spiral bound booklet filled with information about Aix, restaurant recommendations, and traditional recipes.
We booked this tour with the help of Julie from The Provence Post, but you can also book directly through the Tastes of Provence website. There is also a Shopping the Markets Tour offered that I’m sure is just as amazing and worthwhile as the Savoring Aix tour.
Our Moment with Marc de Passorio
Paul and I have been very lucky to spend each of our 5 wedding anniversaries in a very special place. Year 1 was celebrated in Florence, Italy, year 2 in St. Remy de Provence, year 3 in Napa Valley, year 4 in London, and year 5 in Aix. While we are very grateful to have the opportunity to travel the way that we do and celebrate in these grand places, it was year 2, as I’m sure Paul agrees, that always stood out as the most memorable anniversary we’d ever had. Some may think it was because Le Vallon de Valrugues unexpectedly upgraded us to their nicest room in the hotel, a massive suite complete with a private infinity swimming pool. Yes, that would have been enough to make it unforgettable, but it was dinner at the hotel’s restaurant where we learned the name of a Michelin star chef, Marc de Passorio, and we ate the best meal of our entire lives. We had the tasting menu with the wine to match each course and while the whole dinner cost way more than we’d ever fathomed, it was the most delicious and eloquently prepared food that we’ve ever had.
Of course, when we decided to return to Provence, the first place I wanted to return to was Le Vallon de Valrugues, but there was a part of me that knew it was important to travel to new places and experience new things. So you can imagine how excited I was when I realized Marc de Passorio left the hotel and opened a new restaurant in-you guessed it-Aix-en-Provence!
It was like it was meant to be. When we originally started planning our 5th anniversary trip, we went back and forth about where we would go. But, Marc de Passorio’s new restaurant sealed the deal on our Aix-en-Provence vacation, and as a result, our 5th wedding anniversary was spent dining at the gorgeous and incredible l’Esprit de la Violette.
We even got to meet Marc de Passorio and his wife!
The story goes like this: our hotel only had one iron and ironing board, and so getting your hands on the thing pre-dinner time was a bit of a struggle. We’d requested the iron early, around 4:30pm, after learning on a previous night about the limited availability of this precious and well sought after iron. The iron finally arrived around 6:45pm and after quickly passing it over Paul’s clothes, we headed downstairs to have the front desk call us a taxi to take us to the restaurant. We were told it was going to be a bit of a wait since everyone wanted a taxi at the same time. Was there only one taxi as well? Luckily, no, but the demand was high and we were going to have to wait. I got a little nervous since our reservation was at 7:30 and I kept telling Paul that Marc de Passorio was waiting for us and that he was going to surprise us at the restaurant. Paul insisted that I was dreaming and convinced me that the restaurant probably just bears his name and that there is absolutely no way that we are going to meet a Michelin star chef at his restaurant on a Saturday night. When 7:30 rolled around and there was still no taxi in sight, Paul called the restaurant and told them we would be late. I continued to tease Paul that we weren’t going to meet Marc de Passorio now because we didn’t get there on time. He may have rolled his eyes at me countless times, but eventually the taxi did arrive and once we were seated at our table for two on the lovely terrace of l’Esprit de la Violette, he couldn’t believe his eyes when Marc de Passorio came walking up to our table to shake our hands. I was in awe and Paul was wondering just how I could have predicted the future so clearly. It was simply a twist of fate. We had the Summer flavours menu of 5 courses with a lovely bottle of local rosé to accompany it. Click here to view the menu. While everything was superb, I was most impressed with the dessert, a poached strawberry (it looked just like a red egg yolk) and a strawberry/basil cake topped with popcorn. We were both amazed by this magical creation and how perfect popcorn goes with strawberries!
Here is the happy couple celebrating 5 years! I wanted a photo with the chef, but I was too shy to ask.
This blog post would not be complete without mentioning Le Patio, an adorable little restaurant that we discovered on our first night in Aix. The food at Le Patio was so delicious that we made it a point to dine there twice. While they may not have a Michelin star like Marc de Passorio, the people who work at Le Patio welcome you as if they are inviting you into their home. They are extremely patient with English speakers and they are more than happy to translate the menu. One of my favorite dishes from Le Patio was the Ragout de Coeurs d’Artichauts, en Barigoule, which basically translates to a traditional Provencal dish of braised artichokes and white wine. This dish was so fabulous that I can’t wait to try to replicate it at home.
Picture Us in Provence Again…
We have this habit of planning the next vacation while on vacation. Our conversations always start with, “Next time we’ll make sure to do this…” and then it just goes on and on until we get home and realize how much “this” is going to cost. We’ve decided that on our next trip to Provence we are going to rent a car and drive to all of the smaller villages of southern France. Of course, we are going to have to familiarize ourselves with French road signs and laws before we begin that adventure. Or, we’ll just book a wine tour and let someone else drive us from vineyard to vineyard. Now that’s not a bad idea. If only we could get the Travel Channel to finance all of this, we’d be golden.