Finally, the market! After our the hike, we were hungry and on the search for some delicious local delights. The streets were filled with people enjoying their Sunday afternoon, but many of the local shops and restaurants were closed. Because we had spent the morning hiking, we almost missed out on the best of the Aix market. Many of the produce stands were sold out of goods and had begun packing up for the day.
As I mentioned in my last post, my friend was adamant about his desire for cheese – so we asked our cab driver and several other locals for the names of the best sit-in cheese shops. We had a list of three.
The first place we were sent to by all the locals looked delicious – huge wheels of cheese behind glass, on shelves that stretched to the ceiling of the little shop. Alas, closed. So we continued to walk… passing beautiful shops like this yellow chocolatier shinning in the yellow sun.
The other two cheese shops on our list were also closed for the day. Hungry and determined, we decided to pick up some bread and cheese from one of the stands of the markets that were closing down soon to munch on as we strolled the streets for a place to sit and eat.
Each selection at the market was more lovely than the next. The bread — oh, the bread! — it was so amazing. Crusty on the outside, soft and fresh on the inside.
We paired it with a small sized roll of goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto and local herbs. It felt wonderful to be hungry, strolling the little streets with sun on our backs eating such amazing delights as we watch others enjoy their Sunday. Our last purchase was a pressed roll of pungent cheese that came wrapped in dried leaves.
The allies and little off-shoot streets were lined with small cafes packed to the brim with diners.
We sat down at a table mixed among many outside. A bottle of pinot noir promptly followed along with some additional eats to share. Conversation easily took us into a second bottle and we compromised by sharing the apple terrine and crème brûlée.
But that’s not all…
The most exciting part of the afternoon happened on the way back to the hotel. All three of us were leaving on flights out at the same time, so we had called the cab to meet us in front of the hotel at 15:00. Our quest for cheese and consequent binge on all that is good about France put us on a tight schedule to make it back on time. As we briskly made our way through the streets of Aix, we happened upon a parade of people dressed in costumes of what the towns people would have worn in say, the 1700s.
I immediately recognized what was happening!
In researching Aix before the trip, I learned of the Calissons d’Aix – the specialty sweet of the area. As Wikipedia informed me, calissons are small diamond-shaped treats made from almonds and crystallised melon. Each year in early September, there is a mass in the medieval church of St Jean de Malte to bless the local sweets. Apparently the ceremony dates back to the 17th century and marks the deliverance of Aix from the plague.
I had picked up a small package of them a day or so earlier to take back with me as a souvenir. But here in front of me was the parade!
I snapped a shot of four pastry chefs carrying a statue of a Saint situated on a box that is decorated with the calissons. The whole thing was a site to be seen and I couldn’t believe we caught a glimpse. A man was selling the specially made, and blessed, calissons on the street – and as we hustled to the hotel to catch our cab, I purchased a few from the vendor.