CASSIS, France – Every once in a while, you get really lucky in life.
As Travel Editor at the Star, I’m pretty lucky every day, to be honest. But Wednesday was just a shade above the norm. For the most part.
I left Aix-en-Provence a little after 10 and, after getting stuck on crazy/slow roads outside Marseille, arrived in Cassis a little after 11. The sun was struggling to come out after some rain overnight, but the harbour looked lovely with multicoloured boats bobbing in the water in front of typical Provencal-style buildings lining the waterfront.
I grabbed a coffee at a waterfront place called Le Grand Large Café, which I found rather amusing, and watched a fairly angry Mediterranean roll in. The waves were pretty big crashing on the shore on an overcast morning, but it was still a joy to be overlooking the beach.
Cassis isn’t as well known as Nice or Cannes or Marseille, even, but it’s a nice, manageable town with some lovely shops. They had a lot of Christmas stuff out for sale, but I also managed to find some great fruit stands and a guy from Corsica selling Corsican sausages and sheep’s cheese, which I couldn’t resist. Not to mention the luscious tangerines, apples, and other stuff on display.
I drove out of town a couple hours later and headed up a snaky road called the Route des Cretes. I heard it led to a nice overlook but I had no idea the sun would suddenly come out and that I’d quickly climb hundreds of meters above the crashing Mediterranean, perched on a high overlook of white and yellow stone with seemingly all the world stretched in front of me.
It was an absolutely glorious drive, topped by a few minutes sitting and watching the coast far below as I snacked on a typical picnic lunch of fruit, cheese, sausages, fresh French bread – and a coke. (Hey, I wasn’t going to go driving around the south of France with a glass of wine under my belt).
I tried to find the village of Rousset but the highway I took wouldn’t let me off until I was 20 km past. I ended up checking out a village that had been recommended to me. It’s called Vauvenargues, and it’s pretty for sure, nestled in a valley with a large rock mountain/hill flanking it to the south. But at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday in December it was completely and utterly deserted. Not a single shop was open, and I only spotted one person and two dogs out and about, so that was too bad.
Still, it gave me a chance to wander about in Aix-en-Provence and to relax a bit at Les Deux Garcons and at the Hotel Pigonnet. It’s a nice, quiet spot a few blocks outside the main part of Aix, and it has lovely gardens and a great dining menu. The bathrooms are nice but the rooms are a touch tired and fairly small. That’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, but the coffee, mon dieu, was rather weak, and that simply won't do for visitors to France!
Finished it off with a remarkable dinner at a very modern spot called Le Passage, across from Le Cezanne Theatre (on the other side of town from Lycee Cezanne). It's a French restaurant on one floor and Thai on the upper floor, with a kind of old-factory feel to it. There's a central atrium, if you will, surrounded by seating that feels like you're almost suspended in mid-air. That's a lousy description, but it's a very fun and enjoyable place to eat; a modern spot in a relatively old part of town with exceptional food. I tasted a sort of pumpkin cake served with creme fraiche mixed with goat cheese, as well as a lovely pork terrine with onion confit; always a popular choice. They do a pretty good job with flank steak and duck, too, plus a nice raspberry/rhubarb tart and other desserts.
Checking out the Atelier Cezanne on Thursday, then back home to what looks like a White Christmas!