Aix’tremely sweet Aix en Provence – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
There are so many reasons why you would want to visit Aix en Provence! Walk in Paul Cezanne’s footsteps and discover the houses where he lived and painted most of his masterpieces. Stroll along the old town streets lined with beautiful 17 and 18th century facades going from one mossy fountain to the other guided by the melodious ringing of the water. Shop on the Cours Mirabeau the local version of the Champs Elysées and have a drink at “Les Deux Garçons” the famous brasserie that is the meeting point for celebrities and tourists who enjoy its shaded terrace or the 18th century décor of its inside rooms since 1840. Get smarter visiting one of the many museums in Aix from classical art in the beautiful Granet museum or in the newly and magnificently restored Caumont Art Center to contemporary art in the impressive Fondation Vasarely. Get pampered at the Sextius Thermae, a chic wellness centre set in the exact place where a Roman consul built his own thermae in 122 B.C. Or let your self be charmed by all the scents and colours of the local daily markets where flowers, fruits, vegetables, Provencal herbs and specialities will titillate your senses…
The Calisson: a local must
But if there was only one good reason to go to Aix en Provence it could well be the Calisson. Since the 17th century when almond trees were first grown in Provence almonds have inspired cooks and confectioners and the calisson is the pinnacle of their creations! Using white crushed almonds, candied melons, orange peels and other secret ingredients the confectioners make a paste that is moulded into small diamond-shaped tins and toped with a thin layer of white icing. After being gently cooked for 20 minutes filling the air with a mouth watering smell the calissons are ready. Although it is forbidden to use preservatives or artificial flavours to make the calissons you can keep them stored in their box for several months. But how could you possibly make your box last for several months?
In 1630 a terrible plague ravaged the area and a legend says that the calisson was able to keep the people from the disease. Ever since calissons were given to the parishioners in the Saint Sauveur cathedral every year on the first Sunday in September. This year on September the 6th you will be able to help keeping alive this fine tradition by attending the Blessing of Calissons. All day long you will be able to meet calisson makers in a festive atmosphere and get addicted to this unique delight.
If you would like to learn more about the calissons and the art of making them you can visit a factory. The Leonard Parli family has been making calisson for almost a century and after discovering their calissons, candied fruits, nougats, glace chestnuts or the Biscotins made with all hazelnuts you have the opportunity to visit their workshop. A guided tour of the Leonard Parli factory will teach you everything about making candied melons and calisson and of course you will taste their calissons. They also have a restaurant where of course all the desserts are made with their own produce. A real treat!
The “Calissons du Roy René” offers a incredibly wide range of calissons: raspberry, lemon, rose, violet, fig, pear, lavender, date… They also make plenty of nougats and icecreams, including one made with the calisson paste! Don’t miss to visit their museum and discover the way 19th century workers lived and made the calissons using the very first machines designed to crush the almonds or mould and cut the calissons.
Sweet moments at the “Pigonnet”
Like an oasis in the heart of the city the Pigonnet is a luxury hotel set in a bastide, an ancient Provencal country house built during the 18th century, surrounded by a shaded and flowered garden. Turned into a hotel in 1924 and recently restored and redecorated it is now the inescapable place to be for a tasty meal in the garden, a restful night in the stylish and comfortable rooms or to encounter artists during the famous Aix en Provence Festival, one of the most prestigious Festival of Lyric Art in Europe.
All summer long musicians entertain the hotel guests so make yourself comfortable in the cushioned sofas of the “Lounge Club Le 5” , the outside bar where every Tuesday night you will listen to live music, mostly Jazz Swing, gypsy or Latin jazz while having a cocktail and tapas! It’s a true opportunity to relieve all stress and have a good time with your friends.
Whether in the elegant white and grey restaurant room or in the shade of the big parasols of the outside terrace “La table du Pigonnet” offers a tasty Mediterranean cuisine. Make your choice in the menu concocted by Chef Thierry Balligand: zucchini flower tempura, sea bream ceviche, carpacio of prawn, lobster salad, pistachio soufflé… or a vegetarian menu. The Table du Pigonnet is the ideal place for a date night or a pleasant moment with friends. In the morning after a hearty and varied breakfast leave your car in the parking lot and set out to discover Aix, the city centre is within walking distance from the hotel. And would you feel in a lazy mood the hotel limousine is waiting to take you wherever you
Hidden in the 4 acres park with a view of the rose garden, the gazebo is the ideal place for a Thai, Ayurvedic or Shiastu massage. If you want more privacy get a massage or a face treatment in the relaxing atmosphere of the inside wellness centre where you can also have a yoga or Qi Gong course.
After getting to Marseille by a direct Eurostar train trip from Saint Pancras International, Aix en Provence is easily reached by a 20 minutes drive and really is a perfect place for a cultural, romantic or gourmet getaway.
For more information:
About visiting Aix: www.aixenprovencetourism.com
Hotel and Spa Le Pigonnet: www.hotelpigonnet.com
About the Calissons: www.calisson.com and www.leonard-parli.com
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny