Thursday doors #60

We’re back on home soil, specifically that of Provence, with a few doors from a recent trip to Aix-en-Provence which has some truly magnificent doors, many more of which I have featured in earlier door posts.


Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Another trip to Aix-en-Provence

A few weeks ago my beloved met one of his business contacts in Aix-en-Provence, a well known favourite of ours which we’ve previously visited many times. I went along for the ride as I love wandering around its honey-hued, cobbled streets. This time I thought I’d take a closer look at its many fountains, not for nothing is it known as the City of a Thousand Fountains.

The Romans – those boys were everywhere – called Aix, Aquae Sextiae (The Waters of Sextius) once they discovered its natural thermal water source and installed their Roman baths.

After the demise of the Roman empire, Aix was known as a city of many fountains though I doubt that there are indeed 1,000 of them. The fountains come in all shapes and sizes and, historically, the locals had many uses for them.

Wandering around I realised that pretty much every street or junction has a fountain of sorts. But, don’t worry, I’m not proposing to cover all of Aix’s fountains, just the main ones starting with the most iconic.

Fontaine de la Rotonde

The most well-known of Aix’s fountains and certainly the most imposing is the Rotunde fountain in the centre of the town. The fountain’s construction in 1860 marked a turning point because not only were its dimensions exceptional but it was also the first with a cast iron basin.

The three statues atop the fountain reference the town’s main pursuits of justice, agriculture and fine arts.  At the time of its construction, the fountain was a symbol at the entrance to the modern town, which had neither ramparts nor gates and was open to the world. Indeed, the town has grown up around the fountain.

The Rotonde features heavily in the town’s activities. The regular markets start here before winding their way up the town’s main boulevard, Le Cours Mirabeau which, thanks to its many bars and restaurants, is always a hive of activity.

Fontaine Moussue

Moving my way up the Cours Mirabeau, I come to this moss fountain, the first one built in the Cours in 1667. Its water source is natural (from the Bagniers spring), so the water is warm. Its unique vegetation has built up over decades and botanists are attracted by the diversity of mosses and plants which cover it.

Fontaine Sanglier

The modern Boar Fountain (1980) is on a small square just off from where the daily produce market takes place, outside restaurant Le Pain Quotidien. It’s similar to the marble Renaissance one in Florence, reinterpreted in bronze. The boar’s snout is the water canon and the fountains’s base is decorated with snakes, turtles and snails.

Fontaine des Cardeurs

A few steps away from the Boar Fountain, youll find this one. Not dissimilar to that mossy one in the Cours Mirabeau, though a more modern iteration (1980) from local sculptor Amado which is made from basalt. Aside from its decorative attractions, the fountain facilitates the diffusion of air into the underground parking area below.

Fontaine des Trois Ormeaux

In 1524 Constable Bourbon, leading the troops of Charles V, arrived to take over the town. But when Bourbon’s procession was acclaimed by the crowd, one Provençal peasant refused and was hung on one of three elms shading a small well.

The Three Elms Fountain, built over the well in 1632, is surrounded by three tall trees which protect the square from the sun and keep the water cool. It’s likely that the trees in question were initially elms however, a disease destroyed those trees in the 19th century, and they were replaced first by plane trees and then by maples.

Fontaine des Augustins

Built in 1620, the fountain on Place des Augustins was converted into a public wash-house in 1786. It was completely rebuilt in 1820 and been classed as a historic monument since 1949. In days gone by, the water from the basin was used to supply the steam locomotives in the nearby train station.

Fontaine de la Lumiere

Despite looking quite modern, this one was built during the so-called Enlightenment Century (XVIII). Again, the fountain’s source is the warm water of Bagniers. On the other side, it’s decorated with a spiked star, inspired by the one adorning the previous Fontain des Augustins.

Fontaine des Prêcheurs

The main law court, in Place des Prêcheurs, was formerly the heart of public life before the Cours Mirabeau. Its fountain was built by Jean-Pancrace Chastel in 1757 and its water used to come from the Pinchinats spring. It was destroyed in 1793 and then rebuilt in 1833, thanks in part to American sponsorship.

Fontaine de l’Hôtel de Ville

In 1737, Georges Vallon was appointed to rebuild Aix’s city centre. He built bourgeois houses to the east and the Corn Exchange to the south, in the centre there’s a fountain, designed by Esprit Brun. The Avignon artist Jean Chastel was chosen to decorate the fountain. In the centre of the circular pond is a cube-shaped pedestal adorned with garlands and flowers at each corner, as well as gargoyles representing water gods and goddesses, from which the water flows.

Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins

The Square of the Four Dolphins is a must-see on any tourist itinerary. It was built by Jean-Claude Rambot in 1667. This was apparently the first free-standing fountain in Aix. It’s in the Mazarin district; the beautiful, leafy residential heart of Aix. It’s near the Mignet, the school attended by the painter Paul Cézanne.

Fontaine d’Albertas

The Albertas family arrived from Alba in Italy in 18th century to take possession of a house they had inherited. Several members of the family made dramatic successive renovations, including building an ornate Baroque square. In 1862, a fountain, in keeping with the style of its surroundings, was added and, in 2000, the square became a national monument.

Fontaine des Bagniers

Placed at the intersection of two streets (rue des Chapeliers and rue des Bagniers), the Bagniers fountain, supplied hot water to its working-class residents. Increased traffic meant the fountain was moved from the road in 1759 and installed against a wall. This deprived the fountain of its supply of hot water which now flowed to the Mossy Fountain on Cours des Mirabeau.

In 1926, noticing that the entire top inner part of the fountain was an unused space, Ambroise Vollard, the art dealer and friend of Paul Cézanne, asked for permission to pay tribute to the famous painter by installing a medallion there with his portrait surrounded by a wreath of flowers and fruit. Permission was granted and a drawing by Renoir was used as a model for the portrait. The fountain is nicknamed the “Cézanne Fountain”.

As I discovered, wherever you look, there are fountains all over Aix, often providing much-needed cooling water to a town that can be dry and very hot in the summer months.

Thursday doors #20

Two weeks ago I featured a handsome door on the oldest building in the Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence. Last week I featured a further selection from Aix and this week I have a few more. The town is a veritable treasure trove of old doors.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #19

Last week I featured a magnificent doorway in Aix-en-Provence from the oldest building in its main thoroughfare, Cours Mirabeau. This week I have a selection of handsome wooden doors from the Cours and its surrounding streets.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Thursday doors #18

Recent trips to towns such as Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence have greatly added to my stock of doors. This handsome example is on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix, a wide thoroughfare and one of the most popular and lively places in the town. The street has pavements planted with double rows of plane trees. It also divides Aix into two portions, the Quartier Mazarin, or “new town”, which extends to the south and west, and the Ville comtale, or “old town”, which lies to the north with its wide but irregular streets and its old mansions dating from 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

This one is the entrance to the l’hôtel Maurel de Pontevès, also known as the hôtel d’Espagne, located on the  Mazarin side of the Cours. The oldest building in the Cours, built in 1648 by Pierre Maurel, a wealthy cloth merchant. It has two muscular sculptures by Jacques Fossé either side of its front door. The building now houses the Commercial Court of Aix-en-Provence.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Days out: Chagall exhibition

We were recently able to combine a trip to one of our favourite towns, Aix-en-Provence, with a visit to a Chagall exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont (pictured above), lunch at a nearby hotel (Hotel Le Pigonnet) with a gorgeous garden and watching our first live cycle race of the season (stage 4 of the Tour de la Provence) in which a number of our friends were riding. I call that a definite result!

It was a pleasant 90 minute drive in glorious sunshine from home to Aix. The scenery was magnificent: from the rusty-red rocks of Roquebrune to the stern grey of the Sainte Victoire, the mimosa provided flashes of gold among the dark evergreens while the vines were just starting to emerge from their winter pruning.

We left the car in the hotel car park after availing ourselves of the hotel’s facilities and enjoying a coffee ourdoors in its garden. We wandered into town and purchased some goodies from its Sunday market before returning to the hotel for a leisurely and delicious lunch, after which we visited the Hotel du Caumont to see its Chagall exhibition.

I’ve visited the museum in nearby [to Nice] Cimiez devoted to his works several times but am always keen to learn more about someone whom I  consider a local artist. A Franco-Russian by birth, he moved to Vence in 1949 and then, like many of his contemporories, settled in Saint Paul de Vence until his death aged 98 in 1985 – a good innings!

This is an interesting exhibition that sheds light on an unexplored dimension of Marc Chagall’s work. He was celebrated as a master of colour by the artists and critics of his day but this exhibition, which is devoted to the latter part of his career, highlights his change of style in the period from 1948 until his death.

Over 100 works (paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, engravings, washes, gouaches, and collages) reflect Chagall’s artistic exploration of monochrome (black and white) and his mastery of particularly luminous, intense, and profound tints. After spending the WWII years in exile in USA, he adopted a bolder artistic approach, in which the study of volume led him to explore the world of light, shade, materials, and the transparency of black and white. The study of the chromatic and luminous subtleties of black and white resulted in the use of intense and bright colours that gave his pictorial oeuvre a completely new dimension. It was an illuminating exhibition in a gorgeous location.


Days out: Alfred Sisley exhibition

As I was driving past Aix-en-Provence the other week on the way back from the start of stage five of Paris-Nice 2018, I was reminded of a lovely day we had spent there last October. When we stayed in Aix-en-Provence in July to watch two stages of the Tour de France, we noted that Aix’s Hotel de Caumont had an exhibition of the works of Alfred Sisley. I resolved we’d return to Aix to see the exhibition before it closed in mid-October. We duly set aside a day in our diaries to visit both the exhibition and the town. It was a truly glorious day with temperatures peaking at 29C in Aix!

After a trip to the market for some fruit and vegetables, we headed for the exhibition on the assumption it would be quieter over lunch. Our assumption was correct, the museum wasn’t crowded. The exhibition of some sixty works, not all of which have regularly been exhibited in public, retraced the various stages in the development of Sisley’s works by focusing on some of the painter’s favourite locations – very appropriate for a landscape artist – and works from his entire career.

Although we’ve admired his work, we really didn’t know too much about him other than he was brought up in France by British parents. We discovered that, more than any other Impressionist painter, Alfred Sisley utterly devoted himself to painting landscapes, and remained faithful to the movement’s founding principles of painting the scenes in situ, outdoors. Said to be inspired by John Constable in his approach to painting landscapes based on rural motifs, Sisley would carry out a systematic visual analysis of precise places based on his knowledge and experience, exploring them in every direction, noting down the differences between the scenes with the changing light, weather and seasons.

We both love his way of capturing the effects of the light dancing on the surface of the water, the brightness of the winter sun on the snow and the ice, the movements of the trees in the wind, the depth of the rural scenes, and the immensity of the skies which produce moving works worthy of peaceful contemplation. Archive photographs of the landscapes Sisley observed are exhibited alongside his paintings to illustrate the specific methods he adopted to analyse the scenes and takes the visitor from one favourite location to the next; from those where he lived—Louveciennes, Marly-le-Roi, Sèvres, Veneux-Nadon, and Moret-sur-Loing— to those where he stayed for short periods, such as Villeneuve-la-Garenne and Argenteuil, Hampton Court and the south coast of Wales.

Feeling much more knowledgeable about his work, we departed before the hoards returned to enjoy a late lunch in the open air. It’s rare to visit an exhibition where I’d be happy to have any of the artists’ works on my walls – I should be so lucky! – but I could honestly say that of this beautifully curated exhibition. It may now have departed Aix but I’m sure it’ll pop up somewhere else soon enough.


Trip to Aix-en-Provence

We spent much of last week-end in Aix-en-Provence, principally to catch a couple of stages of the Tour de France but also to enjoy some time in one of our favoured spots. Typically, I meet up with friends in Aix a couple of times a year as it’s pretty much the mid-way point for both of us and we have an enjoyable day out.

Friday we drove to the centre of Salon de Provence, the finish for 19th and longest stage of 104th Tour de France. We were billeted in a sports centre, 500m from the finish line, which did not have air conditioning. It was mighty hot and humid. On the plus side, it had refreshments, toilets and television. We avoided the press buffet by lunching beforehand at a restaurant near one of our dental clients on the outskirts of town.

It’s always much warmer inland as it doesn’t have our cooling littoral breezes. The stage from Embrun passed through some idyllic countryside, much of which we’ve cycled on previous trips to the area. My mission was to deliver cakes to the riders I know who are still in the race. I confess my projected bake had been much pared back (sadly) due to abandons. One team is down to three riders. I think you can guess which one that is. Their cakes (gluten free organic brownies and organic vegan banana loaf) should last with ease until the final stage in Paris.

Salon is famous for being the home of the French Red Arrows and we heard them buzzing overhead while we sat melting in the heat. We could certainly have used one of those ice vests which we saw the teams using in Saturday’s individual time-trial. I did have some ice-packs but they were keeping the cakes cool.

After dropping off the cakes at the coaches, watching the sprint finish followed by an aerial display – probably practising for Sunday in Paris – it was with some relief we returned to the air-conditionned car to drive back to Aix-en-Provence where we were spending the next two nights.  Our hotel is right in the centre of town, overlooking the Cours Mirabeau. It too has air conditioning, a necessity in this weather.

After lunch, I wasn’t overly hungry and neither (unusually) was my beloved, I blamed the heat! Instead, we elected to have cocktails and nibbles at our hotel before a long stroll around Aix. Okay, the shops are all closed but I do enjoy a spot of window shopping.

After a really good night’s sleep we woke at 08:30 and walked to the market to buy vegetables for Sunday’s meals. Aix has a brilliant market and I buy tons (slight exaggeration) of different coloured beans and masses of fresh herbs. The perfume of the basil is positively heady, I’ll make an avocado/basil pesto dressing for the bean salad. After a leisurely breakfast, I have to explore the two bookshops in Aix, one either side of our hotel. Both have an extensive selection of cookery books but none that I absolutely had to add to my collection.

We left Aix to drive to Marseille to watch the penultimate Tour de France stage, a short individual time-trial starting and ending in the Velodrome, home to Marseille’s football team. We noted with some amusement that the route visited the best bits of Marseille. When going to a stage start or finish, you have to follow a certain route, usually well sign-posted and just when we despaired of finding the right road, we chanced upon it and the Velodrome.

Despite the heat, there’s a fantastic atmosphere ahead of the final stage of the La Course, the ladies’ two-stage race, being held before the men’s time-trial. We cool off in the press centre which, this time, is blissfully air-conditioned. We’re now reluctant to leave and settle down to watch the racing only popping out from time to time to catch it live and encourage our friends, none of whom are entertaining any thoughts of winning this particular stage.

It’s also an opportunity to catch up with friends among the press pack and check who’ll be at the Clasica, the one-day race in San Sebastian the following week-end. Many are facing a long drive to Paris for the Tour finale. Others are heading home. The time-trial threw up some surprise performances with the winner having to sit tight in the hot seat for almost three hours and one of the podium contenders hanging onto his third-place by a single second.

We swiftly exit the Velodrome and drive back to Aix. The town’s buzzing, it’s a very popular tourist haunt. We eat oysters at one of the well-known restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau, allegedly a favourite haunt of Cezanne, before a relatively early night – spectating’s tiring!

The following morning my beloved enjoyed a relaxing breakfast in the sunshine while I wandered round taking photographs with my iPad – so much easier when there’s fewer people around. I adore all the honey coloured stone buildings with wrought iron canopies and balconies. I love wandering up and down its cobbled lanes. There’s a massive architectural dig in the centre of town which has revealed more of the town’s Roman origins and I note there’s an art exhibition which I’d like to see before it closes mid-October.

Aix, a bit like Alassio, is the perfect spot for a few nights away. There’s plenty to see and do, it’s pleasurable to wander around, there’s plenty of bars and restaurants and it’s just a 90 minute drive away. The hotel had pretty much my perfect hotel room (post on that coming soon) and was a charming blend of old and new. It was a very enjoyable couple of days and we’ll be back to sample Aix’s delights again soon.

Just call me Florence

Our days have quickly settled into a routine which totally revolves around my beloved and the treatments for his broken leg.  It starts with a good breakfast before an hour long physio session at the nearby hospital during which I go food shopping. After all I have to cook him three square meals a day to aid his (hopefully swift) recovery. Back home we ready ourselves for the daily visit from the nurse for his anticoagulant injections and change of dressings. Lunch and then a short nap for my beloved which allows me to get on with some work work, rather than house work.

My beloved stirs in time for a cuppa and checks on his emails. I start to prepare dinner and tidy up. While I’ve not been able to get out for a ride, I’m getting plenty of exercise being at his beck and call 24/7. He’s moving around well on his crutches and the swelling in his leg is subsiding. He is supposed to give it plenty of rest, particularly after the punishing physio sessions. This means I am chief fetcher and carrier for someone who’s not renowned for being patient. Our evenings are generally spent catching up with work before an early night.

While everything appears to be progressing well, there have been side effects. The anticoagulant injections affect the kidneys which means he’s popping to the toilet more frequently. Consequently I’ve allowed him to use my en-suite. A huge concession on my part given cleaning his bathroom usually sees me donning a haz-chem suit.  It’s also given him gout in the big toe of the broken leg. He’s suffered from this in the past but we’ve not had a flare up since 2012. All of which has meant much searching on the internet, quizzing of nursing staff and speculation as to whether I should run him to the GP for something for the gout. Fortunately, it’s starting to subside.

Yesterday, after his stitches had been removed, I was given time off for good behaviour. Yes, just over two weeks since the accident, I’ve been allowed out to catch up with one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since we were eight years’ old and have kept in touch since being at grammar school for five years together. She lives in Austin, Texas but summers in the Luberon where she has a lovely honey stoned house in the pretty village of Gordes. She comes over in spring to ready the house for the summer season and was going to stay with us but, because of my beloved’s infirmity, we’ve opted for lunch in Aix. I’m taking my sister with me as she’s over here enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.
It would have been nice to spend the whole day in Aix particularly as there’s so much to see and do, including a fabulous market in the mornings. We arrived just in time for lunch at my chosen venue – you don’t honestly think I’d let anyone else pick the restaurant, do you? We dined in the beautiful enclosed, walled garden just a stone’s throw from Aix-en-Provence’s Cours Mirabeau.
My menu choice was somewhat limited, sea bass with mashed (with olive oil) potato and a green salad, but then I’d gone for a break not the food. My sister and my friend fared rather better. The other guests slowly departed and we went for a gentle stroll round the garden before enjoying a quick dash around Aix. It was my sister’s maiden visit and I wanted to show her the gorgeous town if only to encourage her to re-visit.
All too soon we were chugging back down the A8, remarkably free of traffic until we hit the toll in Antibes and the evening rush from whence we crawled home. I had had already prepared dinner – carrot and sweet potato soup with smoked paprika – so my sister dined with us before I dropped her back at her flat. My beloved claimed he was exhausted from looking after himself, so we opted for an early night. Today I was back to same old, same old……………


Given that most of the northern hemisphere is snowed in, it hardly seems fair to mention that it was wet and damp on Monday and Tuesday, confining me indoors to get on with a myriad of chores. Today it’s been cold again but gloriously sunny with a clear, bright blue sky. Near lunchtime, my beloved and I escaped from our workload to ride several times around Cap d’Antibes. The cough has almost, but not quite, disappeared and I made far fewer snot stops than last week.

We’re now in dangerous territory. We’re entering the third week of my beloved being at home, albeit he has now returned to working in the home office. I can sense that I’m getting fed up with the routine of cooking/preparing three square meals a day. Indeed, yesterday my beloved went for a lunch time swim and on his return found me still glued to my office chair. Sensing that enquiring what was for lunch would be unlikely to find favour, he foraged in the fridge for sustenance.

Wisely, he’s hired a car and is going to visit a French client near Aix tomorrow. So we’ll have a day apart. He’s just advised me that on account of the severe weather conditions, he’s cancelled his trip to Germany next week. This means he’ll be home for yet another week. The week after that we’re going to the UK together by which time I’m hoping the snow will have disappeared and we’ll still be talking to one another.