Would the famous artist Paul Cezanne have ordered squid risotto?
Perhaps not, but, more than 100 years ago, Cezanne did like to enjoy an afternoon coffee with his childhood friend Emile Zola at Le Deux Garcons, Aix-en-Provence’s wide, plane tree planted, Cours Mirabeau.
My foodcation has taken me south of Paris in France on the TGV (high-speed train) to this classical Provençal town, which is famous as the hometown to coffee-loving, French artist and Post-Impressionist painter, Cézanne.
It’s usually simply called Aix and the old town has narrow, winding streets lined with tall mansions that date from the16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The Cours Mirabeau is a convenient mix of restaurants on one side and banks on the other, so you’ll never have to wash the dishes to pay for your dinner as long as there’s still money available for you at an auto teller.
Built in 1792, Le Deux Garcons has served meals to many famous people including Edith Piaf, Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill. It’s a classic spot to eat, more for the history than the food, however I did enjoy the creamy squid risotto.
French Australian chef Gabriel Gate, who I chatted to in the lobby of my lux hotel, Grand Hotel Roi Rene M Gallery, recommended L’Esprit de la Violette in close by Cassis as good dining experience with young chef Pierre Reboul creating exciting food.
It’s not hard to find a good food experience in Aix. The patisseries and boulangeries are full of crisp French sticks filled with leg ham or roasted chicken, and the most enticing pastries. I loved smelling the sweetly fragrant strawberries each time I passed a pavement fruit stall.
Aix is also known as the birthplace of the traditional French candy Calissons. These oval-shaped sweets have a smooth, pale yellow paste base of candied fruit (usually melons and oranges) and ground almonds topped with a thin layer of royal icing. You could be forgiven for assuming calissons were made of marzipan with a slightly fruitier flavour.
Trafalgar Tour Director Sarah told me that we have good King Rene to thank for these small treats. They were created in 1473 for the wedding feast of his second marriage starting four centuries of tradition in Aix.
Walking through the streets of Aix is like traveling in time from Roman to modern ages and back again. Every fountain has a secret, each door tells a story, every courtyard has a history.
Steeped in history, Aix-en-Provence is an invitation to travel in time.
Disclaimer: Kerry Heaney travelled to Aix-en-Provence as a guest of Trafalgar on a Trafalgar Insider tour.