It was bright and sunny when we woke this morning. Felix, our genius cat, knew something was afoot when the suitcase came out….this is never a good omen for him. We packed for our two-day trip to Provence and readied the cottage for Felix’s solitary confinement……two bowls full of dry kibble, two sinks and one water fountain filled to the brim, two blankets on the couch, two cat boxes with fresh litter….everything he should need while we’re gone. We bid him “adieu” and departed on our quest for Christmas markets.
The first stop…..Marseille…..was a three hour drive away. About halfway there, we needed a break so we rolled off the péage into a rest area…..a random decision but a fortuitous choice. This rest stop, Aire de Caissargues, is home to the remnants of a 19th century theater and a museum that was built after a burial site was discovered during the construction of the highway.
The museum houses a recreation of the grave of a young woman, “the Lady of Caissargues,” who died over 3000 years ago and includes depictions of what her village life was like. Not your ordinary rest stop.
As we left Languedoc and entered Provence, the skies darkened and the winds kicked up. By the time we neared Marseille, the rains had started. As we entered the city, the rain became a torrential downpour. While we maneuvered our way through the streets of this unfamiliar city toward our hotel, the downpour became a hail storm. Unsure of where we were or where we were going, we thought we’d pull over to wait out the storm, when….like a beacon calling to us….we spied the name of our hotel on the side of a building just a few blocks away. Eureka!
Craig somehow fought through the traffic and the hail and turned around a corner, made a U-turn, then a right turn, and then a final right turn into what looked like a pedestrian walkway. Voila! We had arrived. After we checked in, Craig happily turned the car keys over to the valet and we went up to our room.
A room….a warm room….with a comfy bed….with not one, not two, not three, but four pillows! A bathroom….with a tub and mood lighting! Ah, yes…..there will be more mini-breaks in our future.
The Christmas Market was beckoning and the skies had calmed down so we put on warm coats and headed outdoors. There were wooden stalls lining the sides of three streets near the hotel. Although there was a charming booth with a lively elf helping childen write their letters to Père Noël, the wares at the first booths we saw were a disappointment….with items you could just as easily buy at an import store…..but then we crossed the street and found booth after booth of Santons…..hand-painted clay figurines that (along with Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the Three Wise Men) are included in the Nöel Crèche (Christmas Nativity scenes) in Provencal homes. The Santons represent local townsfolk visiting the Holy family.
We bought the Santons that best represent our time here in France….the Vagabond, the Potter (Salleles d’Aude is the site of an Amphoralis-Pottery museum), the Wine Merchant, the Nurse, the Fireman, the Breadmaker, the Woman in the Wind….and of course, the Chat Noir.
From there, we headed back to the hotel and had cocktails in their bar overlooking the harbor. Dinner was at a brasserie around the corner. Craig ordered “Six Hour Beef” and thought it would have benefitted from another hour. I had Pasta with Procuitto….good but nothing special. Dessert was a trio of panna cottas….caramel, mango and rouge fruit (perhaps currants and gooseberries?).
After this brisk morning walk, it was time to leave Marseille behind and head out to our next destination….Aix en Provence.
Bonne route…..have a good drive