Aix en Provence is only 15 miles away from Marseille, but it feels worlds apart. With over 20 universities, colleges, institutes and secondary schools, Aix en Provence is a college-town. It has a comfortable, laid-back feel…..which Craig and I finally started enjoying after successfully winding our way through myriad roundabouts in our search for our hotel, Hotel des Augustines, a former convent that housed Martin Luther after his excommunication in Rome.
Our room was PINK…..not painted, but covered with cloth and backed by a soft batting; the seams rarely visable….a testimony to the artisans who covered these ancient walls. The hallways, too, were covered in cloth, a lightly patterned golden beige material.
We felt at home immediately….the hotel is very comfortable and is right off Cours Mirabeau, a bustling, tree-lined street in the heart of Aix en Provence and the home of Aix’s Christmas market.
We walked the length of the street…..
We dined at Chez Grand Mère, a charming restaurant near the hotel. The amuse-bouche (a little appetizer prepared by the chef to excite the taste buds) was a homemade black olive tapenade. It was an excellent start to a great meal.
We moved on to the appetizers…..a Crespeou (which can be made in any number of ways….this one had multiple layers of egg omelet, tomato coulis and pesto held together by a clear gelatin) and a Tomato Mousse with Cheese Quenelle (which is similar to a dumpling). The thinly sliced Crespeou was very mild….the flavors needed to be coaxed out. The Mousse and Quenelle were coarsely chopped together and served like a rillette. This dish needed no coaxing…..it was a delicious melding of flavors.
My entrée was Coquelet with pesto, fresh coriander and “jumped” prunes. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the “jumped prunes” were the main ingredient in the sauce that was served with the chicken. Craig had Rack of Lamb in a rosemary-thyme reduction. The herb reduction was a wonderful complement to the meat. Both dishes paired well with a local red wine.
For dessert, we shared a Millefeuille de Fruit Rouge (puff pastry layered with red fruits and whipped cream). A nice change from the vanilla custard that usually comprises this delicacy.
The sights, the sounds and the scents of the market…..followed by a delicious meal….with every sense totally sated, the day couldn’t have been any better.
C’est la vie…..la bonne vie.