Ten days in Aix en Provence; the south of France.  Even the name, Provence, sounds soothing to the soul. Pretty much the perfect final destination to wrap up this 3-month, 6 countries incredible journey we’ve been on.  I adore France and I’ve been known to say I could live in France if it weren’t for the smoking.

Life in France

The French do love their cigarettes.  I think it’s an unfair advantage that smokers get the best outdoor cafe tables, but what can one do?  We’ve learned to navigate the crowded cafes and sit at the very edge, and down wind of the heavy smokers.  We don’t want to be banked in a cloud of smoke, but we also don’t want to miss out on the charm of the outdoor cafe experience.

Cafes in Aix en Provence.
Cafes in Aix en Provence.
With One Exception

Our days in the south of France met every expectation dream I had with one exception. Marseille. Oh, how you let me down.  I mean come on, even the name is so French… “Mar-say!” Go ahead, say it aloud, you know you want to. It never occurred to me to research Marseille, because, well, it’s Marseille!  I went looking for a voice of wisdom, a voice that might validate my disappointment – to some degree – and came upon this statement by Rick Steves:

“Most tourists leave Marseille off their itinerary — it doesn’t fit their idea of the French Riviera or of Provence (and they’re right). France’s oldest and second-biggest city (and Europe’s third-largest port) is an untouristy, semi-seedy-but-vibrant city with a history that goes back to ancient Greek times — and challenges you to find its charm.”

Oh, it challenged me alright.  And I think “semi-seedy” is a bit of an understatement but I’m sure I hope, Marseille has its finer points. Ten minutes into our day in Marseille I was ready to get back on the train but Abi was more open-minded than I, so we hung in for about 3 hours and then we’d I’d had enough.

What Would Julia Say?

I should say that I’m fairly certain Marseille had so much more to offer, from the waterfront to the steeple on the hill, there was great potential. Unfortunately, as we exited the train station the sights and smells that confronted us set the pace for the day and I couldn’t shake it off.  It was so not at all what I was expecting hoping for.  After all, my idol, Julia Child fell madly in love with Marseilles when she and her husband, Paul, moved from Paris.  I console myself with the notion that Julia fell in love with the city in the 1950’s and I’m guessing it was vastly different in that time.  But, maybe not.  I wish I could ask her.

The very busy port in Marseille.
The inner port in Marseille.
Arles & Vincent

Arles, on the other hand is all kinds of fabulous. I could easily hang out in that quintessentially French village for days, meandering up and down the alleys.  It simply oozed charm and walking in the path of Vincent Van Gogh added the perfect touch to our day trip from Aix en Provence. From the lunch we enjoyed in the town square cafe, to exploring the Roman Amphitheater, to walking along the Rhone River. Our day in Arles was near perfection.

Walking in the path of Vincent Van Gogh.
Walking in the path of Vincent Van Gogh.
Provence; A Veritable Playground

The south of France is a veritable playground.  Aix, Arles, Avignon, Orange, the Pont du Gard, and the beautiful Rhone Valley. And wine tasting in the 14th century pope’s caves of Chateauneuf-du-Pape is an experience in itself.

One of the pope's caves/cellars.
One of the pope’s caves/cellars.

Ten days is not enough, but we took in as much as we possibly could and hopefully, we’ll make it back for 10 days more.

The Rhone River in the distance.
The Rhone River in the distance.
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