I arrived at the very quiet and almost desolate NICE airport at 8:30 this morning. By 9:00, I was in my rental car and heading away from the sea and into the mountains. Knowing I would have a few days to explore a little on my own, I began re-reading Peter Mayle’s classic “A Year in Provence.” In it Mayle, and Englishman, details his life as he and his wife move to Southern France, buys a house, and set up housekeeping. From his descriptions I’ve learned that his home in not too far from this village of Bonnieux.
Earlier I made a stop in Aix-en-Provence for lunch and the Sunday market. Aix main street, Cour Mirabelle, is lined with shady plane trees, double width sidewalks, quintessential outdoor cafes, and today, hundreds of white tents housing every type of craft, food, oil, lotion, clothing, and souvenir known to man. Even with all this, the Cour Mirabelle is beautiful! At one end stands the Hotel de Ville and a inviting square and at the other, a large fountain that is the signature piece of the city.
After wandering around a bit I stopped for a coffee at Café Duex Garscon, which was one of Mayle’s top recommendations for Aix. People watching has never been better. Afterwards I attempted to find a restaurant that in 1986 was one of Mayle’s top choices for Aix. But alas, it must be no more. I wandered up and down rue Frederic Mistral in search of Chez Gu, jugs of wine, and amazing food.
I settled for a glass of wine, a Perrier, and some olives at Les Grillion, a perfect outdoor café on Cour Mirabelle. For the price of a drink, I could spend the afternoon here at this table, watching life happen. There is no place like a café in France, it makes you slow down and enjoy the experience. However, the mountains were calling….
It is 7:00 p.m. and I’m at the local bar at the top of town in Bonnieux. When I arrived thirty minutes ago, I was the only person here but with ten minutes, it filled with regulars. The man here next to me must have been drinking Pastis all his life! The smell of sweet licorice comes across my nose as he stirs his drink. Others are catching up on today’s news over a beer. I don’t understand too much French, but I know enough to understand a couple of the fellows are hanging out here while their wives attend Mass at the church down the hill. They all know one another. They all walk here, and if they stay too much longer, they will stagger home together.
Bonnieux is a great find. I just happen to set my GPS to it today because it was mentioned in Mayle’s book. After four hours, I’m in love with Bonnieux. Situated atop a high hill it reminded me of the village in Andalucía Spain or even the Dordogne region of France. I’ve walked the whole town top to bottom and its well worth an afternoon and a night!
Its 7:30 and I have a dinner reservation at my hotel restaurant. Catch up with you later.