Just a couple of days in Provence.

First allow me to pay homage to a lovely writer who passed away this week. Peter Mayle wrote A Year in Provence and other luscious memoirs about life in Provence, as well as several fun mystery novels. I’m sad that I’ll never again read one of his detective capers, filled with characters who eat bouillabaisse and drink rosé while gallivanting about the French Mediterranean coastline solving mysteries.

I did get to visit the scenes of his works this fall, however, and the setting was as delightful as he describes it. This autumn was the season of Following V on His Business Trips. I highly recommend this gig if you can get it, by the way. I found cheap flights to exotic destinations, stayed for free in a hotel and paid only for my food, explored during the day on my own timeline and agenda, and dined with my favorite mealtime companion in the evening. The first stop on this tour was the south of France, a location I’ve long wanted to visit.

We stayed near Toulon, in Hyeres. There are direct flights between Toulon and Brest, likely because both are major bases for the French Navy. Toulon is not the most exciting city (much like Brest), and its port isn’t as picturesque as you’d hope. However it’s a great central base from which to explore the regions of Provence and the Côte d’Azur. And there are some cute streets to wander down, of course, since it’s France.

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V’s sister joined me in Toulon. She was doing some work in Paris and was able to take the (super fast and comfortable) TGV down for a few days of R&R. Together we strolled the streets of Aix, a charming town that smelled like lavender.

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I was amused by its municipal buildings. Europeans take themselves so seriously sometimes.

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There’s not a lot to do in Aix besides stroll the quaint streets and sip café in a courtyard. (To be fair, there was an intriguing museum that was closed on the day of my visit.) I suppose that’s the whole point of Provence, though.

Our next stop was the bustling port city of Marseille. It’s France’s second largest city and it is a busy center of commerce and culture. It has been colonized by the Greeks and Romans, alternately, since ancient times and accordingly it has a great range of architecture ranging from ancient to medieval to modern, with Spanish influences thrown in as well.

This photo of the brand new Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations was taken from Fort St.-Jean, built in the 12th century, with a spire of the 19th century neo-Byzantine Cathédrale La Major poking out in the background. That’s the kind of delightful architectural contrast you will see in Marseille.

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Fishmongers sell their wares right after they bring their haul to port.

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The Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde is perched high on a hill above town and offers an expansive view of the sprawling city.

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The interior is decked out in a gilded, neo-Byzantine style with ornate mosaics.

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In the afternoon we stopped at the cute seaside town of La Ciotat. It stood in stark contrast to the busy city of Marseille but was a relaxing spot to have a portside coffee after a day of sightseeing.

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Next week: we follow Peter Mayle to the Cote d’Azur and the grand yachts of Antibes.

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