The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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Silent Sunday - 28 September 2014

Posted by on in Sunday Photo

  rosé in supermarket


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Postcards from Aix-en-Provence

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

I've just discovered Aix-en-Provence!  After more than 7 years on the Côte d'Azur and having heard only good things about Aix, I can't explain why it took me so long to get to this adorable city. But for whatever hopeless reasons I failed to get there, I have finally rectified the situation and have at last visited this gorgeous, graceful, cultured place.  Aix is artistic and cosmopolitan, bourgeois and yet full of students, urbane, refined and very very beautiful.  

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Aix was founded by the Romans as a spa city, and although water is no longer so vital to its well-being, much of its charm lies in the many fountains found throughout the town.  There are 17 in total ranging from enormous to tiny, ancient to contemporary.  The main street, elegant Cours Mirabeau, separates the old town from the newer (17th century) Quartier Mazarin.  Cours Mirabeau is lined with imposing plane trees (very severely pollarded when I visited) and grand mansions, most of which on the north side are bustling cafés and banks or lawyers' offices on the south. 

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Nowadays Aix has a reputable university and a formidable legal reputation with France's biggest appeals court outside Paris.  It is home to one of the most important classical music festivals in Europe which takes place every summer attracting some of the most reputed musicians in the classical world.  It is also heavily associated with the painter Cézanne who was born, studied and spent much of his life in Aix.

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Aix-en-Provence is small and compact, perfect for walking around, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying its beauty.  There are plenty of lovely cafés to spend time in over a coffee or glass of rosé (from the surrounding vineyards) whether on the elegant Cours Mirabeau or in one of the smaller, tucked away streets in the vieille ville.  There are also several markets for food, flowers, arts and crafts and bric-a brac depending on the day.  It's an easy day trip from Lou Messugo, taking just over an hour and a half from us to the centre of town.  I know I won't wait another 7 years to go back and explore further this totally lovely place; I've fallen completely under its charm and can't wait to return.

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main fountain in Aix en Provence

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I hope you enjoyed this little taster of Aix-en-Provence.  Have you been there?  Would you like to go?


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Aix en Provence France



Wander Mum
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Silent Sunday - 8 June 2014

Posted by on in Sunday Photo

      Aix en Provence


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Market Day in Provence

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

I've always loved going to markets wherever I've been in the world and find it's a great way to get under the skin of a place.  Whether it's a genuine farmers' market selling locally produced food or a tourist-trap night market selling tat, there's always something interesting going on.  I remember going to Christmas markets in Prague in the early 1980s, but these weren't the Christmas Markets of today, with chalet stalls selling mulled wine, cookies and tasteful decorations.  These were functional affairs, markets at Christmas time rather than actual Christmas Markets, where you went to buy your live carp for Christmas Eve dinner, hauled out of an enormous tank of thrashing fish.  Urgh how I hated those fish!  I remember street markets in Sofia a decade later in the early 1990s where sellers would hawk a handful of onions on a trestle table, or a pile of radishes, hopefully trying to make a few Lev in times of absurdly rife inflation.  Just thinking of Paddington and Glebe markets, favourite hangouts during my student years in Sydney, brings back great memories of bargain hunting for unusual clothing.  I could go on and on (oh the markets in Vietnam...) but I digress, I set out to write about my local market, now!

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France is justly famous for its markets, they really are still a part of every day life and always have been. They are not recently invented fashionable "farmers' markets" selling superfoods in designer eco packaging but genuine places where ordinary folk get their daily food.  Not everything is locally produced by any means, much comes from the wholesale markets on the edge of big cities, having been shipped in from around the world. You can usually tell these stalls as the fruit or veg is uniformly perfect and polished and the prices may be a bit cheaper than on the local stalls.  But mixed in with these generic sellers are plenty of local producers selling their wares direct, offering the best in quality and the lowest carbon footprint.  And that's what makes markets in France so interesting.  Regional variations in cuisine are so great that a market in Normandy will focus on entirely different produce than one in Provence, or one in Alsace.  Don't go to a market in the south expecting a selection of Camemberts, nor hope to find a range of olive oils in Lorraine!

      Valbonne market 04

      Valbonne market 06

In my area there's at least one street market in a nearby town every day of the week, and in places like Antibes, Cannes and Nice they are daily fixtures.  Roquefort les Pins market is on a Wednesday. It's small and functional, nothing to write home blog about.  My favourite local has to be Valbonne, every Friday morning.  Not only does it take place in an absurdly pretty medieval village, typically Provençal, with pollarded plane trees, shuttered windows, narrow cobbled alleys and a colourful central square, but it's so full of beautiful stuff!  The stalls ramble throughout the village, not just in one place but really, all over. Ambling around you can find everything from shoes, scarves and children's clothing to hand-painted ceramics, olive-wood bowls, kitchen ware, Provençal fabrics, artists' paintings, lavender cosmetics/soaps and lovely flowers.  And this is even before I've started on the food.  There's a wonderful selection of olives, tapenades, saucissons, goat's cheeses, olive oils, honeys and spices and several fruit and veg stands.  You can find fresh pasta, chicken roasting on a spit and the most delicious bread at a tiny stand by a hole-in-the-wall, straight out of the oven. The smell is heavenly. There is surprisingly little junk, with only one stall selling iPhone covers and other such tat made in China.  Just out of the main central part of the village, in front of the church, there is a section devoted to very local farmers/small holders.  Now, Valbonne is not exactly a cheap place, and the market prices can often reflect this, but there's at least one genuinely good value stall I head for every time.  The reason they sell at such a good price is that they only sell whatever fruit really is in season that day. Take a look at what was in season the last time I went: strawberries and asparagus, perfect early summer fare.

      marché valbonne fraises asperges

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Valbonne market can get very crowded and in high season is absolutely packed.  My advice is to get there early - it starts around 7 am - and enjoy the best produce without the crowds.  Take your time to chat to the sellers, and even if your French is limited, a friendly "bonjour", "merci" and "au revoir" will always be appreciated and will almost certainly get you better service and possibly better produce too.  (See more on this here).  You can always ask to sample a bit of what you're interested in, or ask for advice.  Did you know that it's normal to ask for a certain product, such as a cheese/melon/avocado, to be ripe for a certain day? (For example, you want a fresh goats' cheese for a dinner you're having in 3 days' time, so tell the seller and s/he will pick you out the perfect one for that day).  Even if you're just looking and photographing, still make eye contact and smile - it makes a huge difference!  By the time everyone else arrives as the morning wears on you'll be ready to sit down and watch the world go by over a coffee in the Place des Arcades. You'll still be right in the thick of it, but at one of the coveted tables on the terrace rather than squabbling and pushing with the masses.

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All photos were taken in late March.  Come back again in summer for a different selection of fruit, vegetables and herbs.  Do you like going to markets?  Do you have a favourite one?  I'd love to hear from you.

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      Marché Valbonne 05

      olives valbonne

      valbonne place des arcades

      asparagus asperges

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 Do you like markets?  Do you have a favourite?


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